The Beginning or The End
“You’re done aren’t you?”, was the question I asked my wife after watching her sit and cry night after night after night. Our oldest son has severe ADHD and she just wasn’t built to handle it. That’s OK, not everybody is and she was ready to call it quits and leave the marriage. And so it was at that moment that the inevitable became reality and we were divorcing.
Fast forward to a month later; I was standing in the living room and no one was home. My wife and I were in the midst of amicably separating when the most intense pain I’ve ever felt climbed up my back and came to rest in my kidneys. I was passing a kidney stone and it was no picnic.
I called my soon to be ex-wife and she came home and took me to the doctor. It was clear to everyone at the hospital what I was going through and that the pain was intense. They administered morphine and made me comfortable while waiting for a CT scan to confirm.
“Here are a couple of prescriptions. One is for pain and the other is for nausea. You shouldn’t have any problem passing these at home.” Those were the last words I heard before becoming a full-fledged opiate addict. So off to the house I went to pass the stones. The odd thing was that the doctor didn’t give me a screen to urinate through, which is a pretty common practice. After you pass them you bring them back in for examination. You know how they say a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a tsunami on the other side of the world? Those prescriptions were that butterfly.
The next day was Monday and it was back to work after a less than desirable weekend. We had recently had a computer glitch at work and it caused a major problem with some reports I was working on. To make up for the glitch, and not get behind on other work, I had to spend every evening in my office catching up to the glitch. Cut, copy, click, paste, cut, copy , click, paste, cut copy, click, paste. That’s all I was doing from 8pm to 12am every night for a couple weeks. That first night, as I sat in my office working, I was thinking about things; the house, my kids, and all the usual suspects when one is looking at divorce. Where would we live? How often would my ex-wife want to see the kids? Would she EVER want to see the kids? Did I ever pass the stone?
When that thought crossed my mind I got stressed. The pain was fast and intense and I had no idea whether I had actually passed the stone or not. Maybe it just stopped moving? Maybe it’s about to start moving again? Maybe I should take one of those pills the doctor gave me for pain? Yes, yes I should definitely do that. So I did. To be clear, I had no idea that those pain pills did anything but kill the pain. As far as I knew they were a strong version of aspirin. I had never even heard of Oxycodone. I had been given Hydrocodone from the dentist for different procedures throughout my life but again, I had no idea what they were and as soon as the pain was gone I didn’t take any more.
I went into the kitchen and grabbed a pill and a glass of water and headed back into my office. Remember, I wasn’t actually in any pain. I was only trying to get ahead of the pain in case the stone was still on its way out. After about 20 minutes it hit me. I felt calm, relaxed even. Here I was in the middle of a divorce, anticipating the worst pain in my life both physical and mental, working long and very late hours, and I felt, well, good. I felt better than I had maybe ever in my life. It didn’t take me long to figure out why I felt that way. It must surely be those pills. I’d heard people say things about them but I had never experienced it. I was high for the first time ever; and for the first time in months I wasn’t worried about any of the nasty things that come along with divorce.
Over the next few days I took a pill every night I went to my office to work. The kids would be in bed and my wife would be asleep on the couch. It was my time to be relaxed, catch up on work, and not have to worry about a thing. When the prescription ran out all I had to do was look in my medicine cabinet for more. As I said, I had been given prescriptions from the dentist for Hydrocodone over the years and only took them when I was in pain. Like a lot of folks I rarely throw out medications when there are leftovers. Since I was taking the Oxy I had looked it and other medications up so I knew what I was taking by then and I needed to know if I had anything similar. Hydrocodone, like the Oxy, was an opiate based painkiller so I was in luck, or so I thought.
When all the pills we had around the house were gone I was done. I had no clue you could buy them on the street. So when I told a co-worker about my kidney stones and the pills it turned out he had a source for them. He asked me if I wanted some and I laughed and said no. The thought was silly to me at the time. A month later, he asked me again. That time I said sure, why not? I’d give anything to go back to that most innocent decision and say no, just like Nancy Reagan taught me but I couldn’t. The damage was done and the worst was yet to come.
It wasn’t long before I was finding other sources and buying up all I could. I still didn’t take very many but I stock piled. Little did I know, the more I had, the more I’d take. And so over the course of the next 10 years my consumption ramped up. I became more resourceful and eventually never had to go a day without. In the beginning I could only get them for about 2 weeks out of the month, but later on I would find resources on my own or steal others connections and end up with 24/7/365 access.
I’ll save some stories from the middle years for future blogs, but there’s a big take-away I want you to get from this story. I went to work every day. I had a nice house, nice vehicles, beautiful new wife, and 2 great kids. I sometimes even worked on weekends. I was reliable; an earner. I was solid and trusted. I was the last person you’d think had any addiction to anything other than cigarettes. I didn’t even drink. My employer drug tested but because I had the reputation I had I could easily get out of it long enough to clean up for the test.
By October of 2015, now 10 years into my addiction, I could no longer hide the affects. Work was great but I couldn’t handle it mentally. I was cracking under the pressure, fighting with my bosses constantly. And running. Running and running and running. Get up at 6am, go to work, drive all over the state, get back in time to meet with the dealer, get home, make dinner, and then repeat. Day after day after day. In the beginning I could take 15mg of Hydrocodone and be good for the day. I was now up to 180mg of Oxycodone and that was starting to not be enough. I was running out of steam and had to address the issue. Any much more than what I was already taking and I was going to overdose. We build up tolerance over time but at some point there’s only so much a human can take and I was tipping over that edge.
The end of the story is a happy one I’m proud to say. On December 28, 2015 I admitted my problem to my immediate family and to my surprise they were all very supportive. Two days later, on December 30, 2015, I began an at-home detox. I had my family physician, therapist, wife, and kids on board to help me do this at home. I chose to do it the hard way and go cold turkey. It wasn’t fun but I made it to the other side in relatively short order. In mid-January I started back to college after a 22 year hiatus and I ended my first semester back with a 4.0 GPA.
I’m only 5 months clean but it seems like a lifetime ago that I was using. The unfortunate truth is that there are millions of people just like me out there. Earners, workers, and people you would never suspect. In fact, I can almost guarantee there’s someone you love who is an addict and is very good at hiding it. The truth is that society sees fit to label drug addicts as low-level, street people and that just isn’t the case at all. To be honest, I saw myself as different from the rest of the “drug scum” for a long time. It’s a stigma made up by Hollywood and it keeps people, like myself, addicted longer than necessary. I didn’t want to be labeled like that so I hid out as long as possible.
One more thing and I’ll let you get back to your Starbucks. Shortly before my recovery I was making a pick up. I decided long before then that I would be getting clean. I was telling my dealer this and I asked him what his drug of choice was. He said “Heroin and meth, but I don’t stick needles in my arm or none of that shit.” I said “I wouldn’t judge you if you did! Heroin, meth, pills, whatever, it’s all the same. I’m an addict, you’re an addict, and that’s the bottom line. We are the same people in that aspect. We don’t get to pick what’s OK to be addicted to and what’s not. I don’t get to judge you because I swallow pills while you use Heroin. The alcoholic or the gambler is in no better shape than we are. We are in this together.” That was an important moment for me because I realized that an addiction is an addiction. It doesn’t matter what or for how long. If you can’t walk away from it and not feel the effects of not having it, then you’re an addict, plain and simple.
If you’re clean and reading this, good for you! If you’re not, please don’t wait another day. You may not get another day and there are millions of us out there willing to help you get back on your feet. All you have to do is reach out! It could be the thing that saves your life!
My name is Dave and this is my story…