I have to share something I hoped I would never have to share on this site: I have narcotics in my system. Not from a relapse per se, but I did at some point make the choice to accept them. I will also need to make the choice–an individual and deeply personal one to each addict–of whether to change my clean date as a result of this.
I was down in LA with my family, attending the Dr. Who convention. My happy geekdom was disrupted by severe abdominal pain, which was joined by vomiting 5 or 6 hours later. I thought it was a GI bug and was determined to get through it. Through most of a very long night, I processed the pain as well as I could, until at about 6 am I woke my family and told them I needed to go to an ER. Sick at the thought of what this was going to cost, we looked up the nearest hospital and headed out.
I never wanted a medical issue to be the cause of a relapse for me, so it was always important to let medical personnel know that I’m in recovery. My medical ID bracelet even says Addiction on it, in case I get brought in unconscious.
The triage nurse was the first person we told. Then we repeated it to everyone else we met, whether they seemed interested or not. I’m really glad my spouse and daughter were with me, because it’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re rocking back and forth like a Weeble and you’ve also identified yourself as having a mental health diagnosis. But the doctor was nice, and he agreed to hold off on morphine and give me a powerful anti-inflammatory instead.
So far, so good…I was doing everything recommended in this situation. I dictated texts for my husband to send to my sponsor, so she would be in the loop. She sent back supportive messages, and I tried to reassure myself that all would be well.
But I was frightened. What if they couldn’t find out what was causing the pain? I’d been processing it for 24 hours now, unable to eat or rest, and I was losing my strength. The anti-inflammatory they gave me took a bit of the edge off, enough to help me keep still for short periods so they could do the X-rays and the CT, but things were getting worse.
I’ve dealt with a lot of pain in recovery, but this acute pain was in a different league. My mind kept flashing on a scene from 1984, where Winston, arrested and knowing he will be tortured, thinks about how he wants to be steadfast and not betray the woman he loves–until the first blow lands. Writhing on the ground in the agony of a smashed joint, he feels his entire awareness subsumed by the drive to end this pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes, he thinks.
As I continued my psychotic Weeble impression, I knew that I was no exception, especially as prolonged pain and sleeplessness took away my ability to use my mental and spiritual tools. What was I going to do if things got worse, or continued like this indefinitely? Would I have to change my clean date if I accepted pain relief? What circumstances would justify not changing it, and as an addict, how could I ever be sure that I wasn’t being too quick to give in because a part of me wanted it?
My musings were interrupted by the doctor arriving with the results of my latest scan. He laid some questions to rest, and opened up new ones, with one simple word: Appendicitis. Now I knew why the pain was happening, and what to do about it. But it meant I was facing surgery.
In response to my queries about pain management for the surgery, the doctor recommended that I speak with the surgeon. When I met the surgeon, he thanked me for my honesty and said that the procedure itself would be under general, but he did recommend pain relief for the post-op. Looking wryly at my Weebling self, he said it was important to avoid putting stress on the body and the incisions. He promised that if he gave me anything at discharge, he’d give it to my husband and not to me.
So, my friends, that’s when I caved. Minutes from surgery, I decided, with my husband’s agreement, that we’d let the surgeon be in charge while I was in the hospital and my husband would take over, if necessary, when we left. I can’t honestly say what percentage of the decision was driven by practicality, or by fear of the impending procedure, or by sheer fatigue. Nor, as an addict, can I ever swear with 100% certainty that there was no part of my brain that didn’t welcome an excuse to have the sensation of narcotics again.
So, I had my appendix removed (just in time, apparently…there was gangrene involved. Yuck.) And I had morphine, given on the doctor’s schedule, during the recovery time. And my husband received some pills when we left, and I chose to accept the ones he gave me during our 8-hour postsurgical car trip. And I was relieved that none of it felt good.
I’ll write more about this when I regain more of my strength, and about how I feel and what I’ve learned. I’ll get out my trusty metaphor mill and wax philosophical in due time. But right now I just want to tell the truth about what happened, so my readers don’t worry about me. I am still here. I’m not going anywhere. However I choose to integrate this experience into my recovery, I will balance it with kindness and gratitude. Things could have been so, so much worse.