21 years drug free. 21 years. It feels weird to say. Or think. Or comprehend. Or actually? To celebrate. I got it into my head that it’s been 21 years so it’s time to “get over” the hoopla and just give a silent nod to the day.
I didn’t tell anyone what the day meant until it had passed. I got a casual “cool” from two people. My middle son talked to me about it and asked me questions and really made me realize every day I’m not using or drug seeking (and I was really good at it) is something to be proud of. Let me tell you something. If you walked up to me right now and handed me a full bottle of painkillers, it would make that addiction part of my brain that remembers the pleasure, itch so badly I can’t promise you’d ever see those pills again.
Here’s the part where God, fate, and the world laughs. I’m a chronic pain sufferer. I have chronic daily headaches, chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, inflammatory autoimmune diseases, and RA. And? I need to avoid prescription pain meds. You tell me that’s not life laughing at me. My only solutions are to be a) checked into the hospital when it is literally unbearable or b) find every alternative pain management trick I can and c) an ER visit and anything meds I receive to take at home go straight to my husband to dole out as needed. “As needed” That is the key. I don’t do “as needed” if my addict brain is in charge. I do when I want, as many as I want, and hope I don’t die.
So, maybe 21 years isn’t the “no big deal” I’ve been blowing it off as this year. Maybe, just maybe, I can step back out of my own way and be proud of myself for fighting so hard for over 2 decades. I did this. I’m doing this. In a damn pandemic. Without my sister’s support. With very sick family members. I’m doing this drug free.
Maybe I can be a badass after all.
21 – Y E A R S
I can’t spend it but it is worth more than anything money can buy
This time of year is so hard on me. If you’ve been around here long enough, you know this about me. If not, let me explain. You see, on March 6th I celebrate the anniversary of getting clean. From pills. From an addiction that could have killed me. I can’t explain why I get so wrapped around the axle this time of year but it happens and I know it happens to other recovering addicts as well. Today- right now- I am 4,731 days clean. That’s 408,837,070 heartbeats, give or take. (Let’s hope that number continues to rise as you read this.) There is this dark place in the back of my mind that no one likes to talk about that screams at me around this time that I don’t deserve it. It screams I will screw it up. It screams that I am a poser. You’d think with 12 years, 11 months, 11 days and some change, I’d realize that one day at a time does work. But sometimes we get harsh reminders that it doesn’t work for everyone.
I read the headline tonight that Mindy McCready, another addict who struggled and seemed to have one thing after another try to bring her down, died today due to a self-inflicted gun shot wound. Her addiction won. Did she not have enough support? Did she believe the lies addiction tells addicts? Did she feel like nothing would ever be okay? Did she think the pain she felt today would last forever? So many of us addicts have felt those things. Today, it won. Every single time addiction and its demons beat one of us, it shakes me. But for the grace of God go I. I do have support but I am not immune to the lies it tells, the loneliness it brings, the pain that rips through me. I’ve learned to reach out. And when I can’t or don’t, my friends know the signs well enough to reach out to me. I wish Mindy had that.
This year feels harder on me than most others. I have been struggling with chronic headaches. I don’t mean headaches that slow me down. I mean headaches that slam me down in ways that put everything on hold. My life is a constant headache. I have learned to live around them until we can find someone who can find a reason or help me through it. But every few months a migraine comes along that kicks me so hard, I simply cannot do it without medical intervention. They do everything they can for me that does not involve narcotics. But sometimes, that is the only way to break that cycle. And that is the bitch of it.
There is no reason an alcoholic needs to have a doctor give him or her a drink. There is no reason to need to go into a bar and throw back a shot of tequila. But when you’re a recovering pill-head, there are times when there is a medical necessity for pain killers. And each and every time it twists me up inside. When I feel the effects it gives me both relief and heartache. I keep my doctors in the loop so they are very well aware of my situation. Yet, still…
Two weeks ago I had to go into the ER for a migraine. My pain was off the charts and my blood pressure was through the roof. I had to go in. I know the routine. This time I had a doctor I have never met before. After they hooked me up to an IV and gave me a shot for pain, they darkened the room to monitor my blood pressure. I supposed it didn’t help that I was crying. The doctor came in and sat by my bed. She took my hand and talked to me. Actually, talked to me. We talked about the frustration of feeling the pain medicine course through my body. And for once, a doctor gave me permission to not only be frustrated by the situation but in a way gave me permission to be grateful to feel the pain drain away. I have conditioned myself to hate the feeling of the medicine taking over even though it means the pain leaves. For the first time someone sat with me, held my hand, and told me that it was okay to feel relief that my pain was going away. That to beat myself up mentally was counter-productive. She heard me. It’s been so long since a medical professional has actually heard me. It made a difference.
As I laid there and watched the monitors and I finally relaxed, my blood pressure slowly lowered. I had permission to be okay with not hurting. It was okay. I was not slipping. I was not backsliding. I was not “using” for a high. I was helping myself medically. And that was okay.
My name is Jenn and I am a recovering addict. And sometimes, I need medical intervention. And that is okay.
So, if you will, my faithful readers, hang in there with me until March 6th and encourage me to keep going one day at a time then together we can celebrate 13 years. One day at a time (trite as it may sound) will get me there. That and the people in my life who encourage, love, and support me.
Addiction, Anxiety and Depression are Liars – Part Two
If you haven’t read Part I, you need to go read it first. It’s right here.(But wow! I can get wordy when I don’t post in a while so it was too long. But if you’re reading these back to back it is still too long.)
So where was I? Oh, yes, I was telling you about being plunged into a darkness unlike any I have known before. The trigger was a broken heart but it was far from the cause. It was as if someone had actually thrown a dark, heavy blanket over my head. I sort of, kind of tried to share with some friends but it wasn’t a true opening up. It was more saying I needed a break and was stressed out. When I saw this was different, I reached out and emailed a friend who I knew went through this and has learned to deal with it and is open about it. (I just didn’t think I could or should reach out to my friends because everyone has something going on and no one needs my extra drama. Reaching out to someone who I know has been there and come through it seemed like reaching out to another addict. You go to those who have gone before. And? I really don’t want to be “that” friend.) After a few emails (and trust me when I say it was one of the hardest things to do to even email) many of them with me apologizing for “bothering” her and sharing my embarrassment about being so weak, she sent me an email I needed to read at that moment.
Never feel humiliated for reaching out. You are worth more than you know and I’m here for you. Promise.
Many times since then I have pulled out that email and read and re-read it to remind myself that there is someone who knows where I am.
Much like when I confessed that I don’t want to talk but wish I had a friend’s hand to hold. One of my dearest friends sent me a message with no words. It simply had a picture of her hand. In case I needed to remember that someone was there to hold my hand if I ever needed it. A reminder she cared.
Many times when it seems the darkest, I stare at that picture and pretend I have not isolated and she really is there to hold my hand.
It’s a double edge sword having many of the people who know you best and are the very closest to you live so very far away from you. It is so easy to say you need some time offline and shut down connections. But then when it gets to a point where you are drowning or feeling completely alone, it is harder to reach out. It’s an ugly cycle. You need to be alone but alone makes things worse but you hear the lies of depression and don’t feel worthy of your friends so you pull further away and it gets darker and your feelings of worthlessness grow stronger and the lies are more believable and you pull even deeper into yourself… And on and on.
There were days where the hardest thing to do (and what I considered my biggest success) was simply getting out of bed and going through the motions of the day. It kicks my other two “bad guys” into gear: addiction and anxiety. I start really wishing I could just take something, just medicate myself to wellness. But I know better. And then anxiety tells me I can’t share what I am going through because I will be judged. I will be mocked. I will lose those I love. All the while depression taps me on the shoulder with the sing-song voice mocking “I told you so! Forever alone! I told you so! Forever alone!” (Assholes!)
Remember back when I told you as a recovering addict? How I don’t have the best coping skills? I’m learning. I mean, I sought out someone to talk to and we’re working through the issues that brought me to this point. From not really dealing with the death of my mother to the nervous breakdown my former “friends” slammed me to the ground with to ways of reaching out to the people I love so they can tell me what is a lie and what is real. (That last one is the very hardest for me.)
And I know that sounds absolutely ridiculous between an “obvious” lie and reality. How can anyone not know the difference? Well, sometimes it really is hard to tell. When everything to your core shouts that you are worthless and not worthy of the friends and family you have because look at what the former “friends” you had did to you, it feels so real.
I know the darkness will lift and the world will feel bright and light again. I know this. I just hope and pray that when it does, I haven’t pushed away everyone I love. I don’t want it to be too late. This? This is not the end of the story.
Addiction is a liar. It tells you to numb yourself when things get too stressful. It tells you no one will know and you it will help you out. That one drink or one fix won’t make any difference. That you really are funnier, happier, and better off when you are using. It’s not really “addiction,” you just enjoy the feeling now and then. It’s not going to effect your life. Addiction is a liar.
Anxiety is a liar. It tells you things really are that bad. It tells you the panic you feel is justified. That you may not know why you feel anxious but you should “listen to your gut” because bad things could happen. That you may be right about there not being enough oxygen in this room for everyone. That you shouldn’t go to that event because you won’t fit in, will be laughed at, or that you really don’t belong there and everyone will know it. Anxiety is liar.
Depression is a liar. It tells you that you are not worthy. That you don’t really matter even to the people who say you do. That if you disappeared, it wouldn’t make a difference to anyone. That people would be better off without you and your broken self. It tells you the darkness will last forever and you’re not strong enough to come out of it. It tells you that you are alone and no one understands you. It says it won’t get better. It tells you that even if you did share your desperation, no one would understand and it would only make things worse. Depression is a liar.
If you know anything about me, you know I have no problem talking about the fact that I am a recovering addict. And? I’ve addressed anxiety and having panic attacks before. I have absolutely no problem talking about those two things. I will share my stories. I have shared my tips on how to conquer them when you feel as if they are strangling you. I have shown you ways to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and signs to recognize that you will come out of it. (And be stronger and feel happiness when you come through it.)
But depression? Oh hell no! Don’t talk about that one. It is “t-a-b-o-o.” Depression means crazy. It means sick. It means you are weak and probably a drama queen. (Lies.) But what I learned about addiction and anxiety is when you talk about them and share your story not only do you help yourself and others but you take away the power it holds over you. When kept in the darkness, those things can set up camp in your mind and become more powerful than they deserve.
So I am sharing with you. (Because I want to take away its power.)
I’ll be honest. I never really dealt with things the way I should have after my Mom died. Hell, I didn’t deal with things as I should have during the six months prior to her dying while she was in the hospital. But life doesn’t stop just because your world feels like it fell apart. It doesn’t even pause. Life moves on. And so did I. There were some big life changes that happened in the years that followed. Big or small, good or bad, I pushed them down into the vault where I would deal with them on the surface but never really deal with them. Then in the Spring of 2010, I hit a breaking point. You see, that year I did something I never thought I would do. I stepped up into a job that I wanted to do out of passion but knew I would need the support of friends. At the time, these friends swore they would be there to help. People who said they cared and said they were there for me in truth were not. As it turns out, those “friends” very viciously and publicly turned on me and stabbed me in the back. Now, the Jenn who took drug addiction and kicked its ass would have stood up and fought back. She would never have just backed off and allowed the malicious intent of toxic people to spread rumors, lies, and downright try to ruin me. But that Jenn was buried under so many other issues in life that she couldn’t take this one on. And they broke my heart. My spirit. Me. I broke. I watched and just let things happen that shouldn’t have happened. I chose to sink deeper into myself rather than stand up to the bullshit around me. I let people who wanted to believe the crap that was being hurled believe it. And those who knew me or truly wanted the truth, I told them. It was a rough year following that. I isolated. But on the plus side, I truly saw who was toxic and who were bullies and who really didn’t need to be in my life. I made new friends who saw the truth. But really? I just didn’t have it in me to face this all head on. The broken parts of me were too broken to handle it. And life became too busy for me to truly deal with everything. My family needed me. That summer was just a time where more bits of me were broken off. But I had responsibilities that I couldn’t put off. So I moved on.
Of course during all of this I did the worst possible thing I could do: I isolated and refused to shed light on the broken parts. As a recovering addict, I know if I am struggling with addiction, I have to talk to someone. I have to tell someone the lies I am believing so they can show me what is real. When I am struggling with anxiety, I have learned I need to talk to someone who has been there who can show me that I will be okay and how to push through it. It always shatters the lies I was believing and helps me through because they show what is a lie and what is real.
But with depression? I stay silent. I always have. If anything, I minimize it and just say I am a bit down.
I got through that hard time with friends who really were friends and who loved me for me. Did I ever deal with it as I should have? Not really. And life moves on.
I could see the ebb and flow of depression and I dealt with it the best way I knew how. I started to become me again and was happy and enjoyed time with my family and my friends and life felt right again.
Obviously, as a recovering addict, I don’t really have the best coping skills. (Duh!) But I have learned (as best I can) to live life on life’s terms. I can’t change other people. I can’t make anyone be someone they aren’t or do something they don’t want to do. That’s just a fact. Good things began to happen in my life this summer. Things that make me so happy! One of my closest friends moved back to town after 3 years. I was able to spend an amazing few days in NYC with some of my dearest friends laughing, crying, being myself. Truly and without apology being myself. (That is rare but oh so needed to be around people where I feel as if I can truly be myself and am loved in spite of it. Maybe even because of it.)
And a couple of weeks ago things changed. Someone I love broke a promise to me and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And it threw me into a darkness unlike any I have been through before….
(This is becoming quite long so stick with me, take a break and then go read part II)
Hiding from the world but I can’t hide from myself
The past few months have been kind of crazy around here. A lot of changes. For me and for my son. Let’s just say it might have been easier and cheaper to just get a double room in a hospital than it has been to pay co-pay after co-pay and gas and prescriptions etc all to get a big fat “We don’t know.” My son, he whose name shall not be typed, is going through his own situation that I will write about (because we could use some advice in one area) but not until he reads it and gives me the okay to tell his story.
For years I have suffered with migraines. It was one of the factors that led me down the path to my addiction issues. The last few months I have been suffering worse than I ever have. But I’ve had other complications thrown in to confuse things. So I have see a few specialists. With each new doctor comes new tests, new theories and new medications.
You see, having a mom who had MS, a cousin with Lupus, and a grandmother with Parkinson’s, it can tend to freak a girl out when “autoimmune” is tossed around in casual medical conversations with my doctors. Especially when I already have been diagnosed with an autoimmune issue when I was pregnant. I’ll admit it. It scares me. I’ve never seen myself as strong as the people I know who fight with these autoimmune issues. I don’t know how I would handle it if something showed up.
And of course while we are figuring out what is wrong, the doctors want to manage my symptoms and try to eliminate them.
I hate seeing so many pill bottles on my counter. I hate the rattle of pill bottles in my purse. It makes me feel like I am failing. I’m not even on any narcotics or anything that is considered “addictive.” But? It still looks and sounds like “addict Jenn” and I don’t want to ever be her again.
Don’t get me wrong, I am careful. And my doctors are very aware of my situation. But being on as many meds as I am for any reason is discouraging. Especially the Prednisone.
Let me just say here, I hate with the passion a thousand suns the steroids and what the effects they have on me. When the doctor prescribed them a while back she warned me that I was on a very high dose. She even added in, “On this dosage it is not totally uncommon to hallucinate so be sure to let me know immediately if you do.” Wait. What??
I haven’t hallucinated. Though I wish the way my body was so fat and puffy was a hallucination. Even before the medications that are packing on the puff like someone is inflating me or like a giant puffer fish, I had been putting on weight and been fighting it with everything to keep it from taking over. I took a spin class. (It was a fail but I tried.) I work out at home. I walk. I have tried to watch what I eat. But the weight is hanging on to me like I’m about to hibernate for a decade or so. It hurts to hide from the world in shame.
And that was before I started on Prednisone and watched my body puff up in strange ways and plummet my self esteem even lower. I realized how much I am truly hiding from people. Friends. Family. Acquaintances. I don’t want to be the fattest woman in the room. I don’t want to be ashamed to meet my kids’ friends and their parents. I don’t like being ashamed to meet anyone my husband works with because he deserves the woman he married not the ginormous, puffy and medically screwed up woman he is now stuck with. I’ve avoided trips because I don’t want people to see me. Hell, I’ve even avoided video chatting with people I love but don’t get to see very often because of the shame of how I look right now.
I am hoping with the neurologist we have now- together with a specialist she is working with- we will figure out what is so out of whack with my body and I can come off of the medications. I can feel like myself again. So I can look like myself again. Sometimes I forget that I look like I do and when I see a picture or a video, I burst into tears. And that pisses me off because how damn vain am I that I care so much about that when one of the reasons I look like I do is because of the medication I am on to try to make me feel better. Right now, I am blessed that they have not found something scary causing my headaches, dizziness, fatigue, high blood pressure etc etc. They are managing these things.
So until we know what I am facing (and Lord willing it is something easy to deal with and minor), I will not be discouraged by the counter full of pill bottles. I will not beat myself up at the rattle of a pill bottle in my purse. And most of all, I will try to remember that the outside is just a shell and people who love me care about the inside. I’m not there yet. And I am still hiding. But I can tell you I am trying. I’ve been through tougher times and come out on top. Here’s to hoping I do it again…