I had an odd moment of wavering the other day. My arthritis is flaring, and the pain can be quite intense, and as I rifled through the drug box, we keep in the cupboard for paracetamol and anti-inflammatory meds I thought to myself that it would be okay to take prescription painkillers again. I can’t be sure, but I may have even taken a moment to double check there weren’t any lurking in the bottom of the tray. Of course, there weren’t any. I don’t keep anything like that in the house anymore. When we moved, I found some that hadn’t been thrown away and I didn’t hesitate to bin them. That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? When you are feeling well, it’s easy to refuse something you know that can cause damage. The weakness sets in when you’re vulnerable, struggling and in need of a release.
I haven’t taken a prescription painkiller in over two years and two months. I quit cold turkey and underwent the hardest three weeks of my life undergoing withdrawal. I honestly don’t think I could do it again. The physical and mental impact it had on my body was horrendous. Yet I found myself debating whether just one dose would hurt. Would one dose be okay?
When I was in labour with Hugo, I had written extensively about not wanting prescription painkiller drugs. I didn’t want anything remotely addictive, and despite this being written in black and white in my birth plan, I was still offered codeine. I refused politely explaining that I didn’t want anything addictive to which the midwife announced: “It’s only addictive if you have more than one dose.” Is it the same principle for an alcoholic I wonder, if they only drink one glass of wine?
I wish I could pick up and put down pain relief. I wish that I could take just one dose without it grasping a hold over me. That’s what I told myself as I stood at the drug cupboard that one dose would be fine. The drugs don’t have a hold over me anymore. But I know that’s not true. I know that they will probably have a hold over me for the rest of my life. That one dose will never be enough, and I honestly am not sure I have another withdrawal in me.
It’s easy to forget how dire the withdrawal process was. When I look back initially, I just remember it being three weeks. It wasn’t until I watched the 2006 film Candy featuring Heath Ledger that I remember the intensity. It’s a film about a young couple who get high on love and life and eventually heroin. There’s a scene where they plan and begin to go through withdrawal. The symptoms and experiences are much the same as what I went through although they are withdrawing from heroin, so they are, of course, much more intense. The experience came flooding back – the pain, the sweating one minute and shivering the next. The involuntary muscle spasming, stomach cramping and overall feeling as if you are dying. It seems to gain momentum for the first few days each day slightly worse than the last, and the only thing that stopped me from quitting was that I’d come so far and I knew if I gave in to temptation I’d have to do it all again from the start, and I couldn’t bear the thought of that.
Initially, when I went cold turkey, I quit all prescription drugs – even the ones without addictive properties. I only allowed myself paracetamol. I also abstained from alcohol because it can become a crutch when you withdraw from meds, and I didn’t want to risk battling another addiction. I continued this way for a further year as I was pregnant. When Hugo was born, my arthritis spiralled, and I was cleared by the specialist to take ibuprofen and eventually oral steroids. Now that Hugo no longer breastfeeds I do allow myself alcohol – I never struggled with alcoholism and if I’m honest I rarely drink anyway. Stopping was a precaution but also more of a chance to allow my body to detox fully.
I still haven’t taken a prescription painkiller. There have been times I’ve felt like I needed to. Times I’ve even felt like I wanted to, but I know above all else it’s the one thing I can never do.
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