Tag Archives: addiction

craving again

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I’ve been clean off benzos and opioids for more than 6 years.

Until last spring, in fact–for almost 5 years exactly–that sobriety was easy…almost ecstatically easy.  Victorious and energetic.

Then something unknown happened last March that just devastated me and made me lose all that sense of independence and hope.  I still don’t know what it was.  Maybe it was turning 40 the summer before, and suddenly hitting some sort of midlife crisis, or something.  Or maybe it was just the end of a very long, 5-year rebound “honeymoon period” of feeling great without drugs.  Or maybe–and this is probably the case, if I had to put money on it–I just hit a big depressive trough.

One way or another, my desire to get high again has been steadily and strongly increasing.  I know what a bullshit hopeless life being a user is, and what a miserably false promise the drugs offer, but for those short hours…  For those short few hours when they’re in effect…  Oh, holy shit…
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One of the things that I used to tell myself in recovery that I found most helpful was the mantra, “…And then what?”  Meaning, you get high, it wears off, and then what?  What happens then?  You have to get high again to keep feeling good.  And soon you’re addicted and in the nightmarish high-withdrawal-high-withdrawal roller coaster ride. And everything else in your life suffers, no matter how precious.  And here’s the other mantra: There will never be enough drugs in the world.  Never.  Even if you were alone on a desert island, by yourself, and a shipping vessel full of millions of Vikes and Percs and Xannies ran aground, it wouldn’t be enough.  Because you’d kill yourself on them without ever feeling fully satisfied.

Those mantras–“…And then what?” and “There will never be enough drugs in the world”–are helpful to refocus me and help me remember the value in fighting.  They really are.  But I’m tired.  Over the past 14 months, I haven’t exercised worth a damn more than a handful of times.  I’m lazy and exhausted and unproductive at home.  I’ve sobbed and sobbed and SOBBED more times than I can count.  (“Crying spells” are what my therapist somewhat euphemistically calls them.)  I ruminate on suicide, even working out plan specifics in my head when I can’t sleep at night and the anxiety and pain gets to be too much.  I’ve spent spent so much time on porn–just as a way to up my dopamine pleasure release–that I’ve now found myself going to Sexaholics Anonymous meetings to try to deal with THAT addiction, too.  I’m dejected and humiliated.

And for fuck’s sake, it all finally got so bad I had to start this blog.  I want to be a good person again.  I want to be a happy person again, too.

I just want to get high.  But that runs counter to both of those goals.

so much heartbreak when my daughter was little

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There are those quiet, still moments when you stop moving, and your past burdens race to catch up to you.  And you have to bear them again.  Some of them are overwhelming.

When my daughter “C” was a toddler and later on well into her childhood, between about 2 and 8, I was heavily and mournfully addicted to prescription drugs.  Mostly functionally addicted, albeit, just barely enough to hold down my job at times, but still deeply dependent on both opioids and benzodiazepines.

I loved her so, so much.  I always have.  I tried to be a good father, and everyone says I’ve been a fantastic dad all her life: present, adoring, supportive, involved, all that.  But for those six years at least, I was also frequently zonked out of my fucking mind, and absolutely couldn’t stop.  I suppose you can be a good parent while high, but only by a combination of the degree of relative mental blitzing of the particular meds you’re on, your determination to be a good parent, and sheer goddamn luck.

I remember one afternoon after work I had picked C up from daycare.  M wasn’t going to be home until later.  Suddenly I woke up in bed with the phone ringing.  It was M.  “So where is C?” she asked.  I knew instantly from the tone of her voice that it wasn’t a question.  It was a challenge.  M had come home, found me stoned unconscious on the bed, and our toddler child awake somewhere in the house and completely unsupervised.  M had taken her and driven elsewhere, probably to her parents’ house.  I was instantly both sober and devastated.  Crushed by my own parental failure and moral culpability.

But it didn’t stop me.  The worst self-inflicted cut, with the blood reflected in the eyes of my precious daughter, was yet to come.

It was a few years later.  When, I don’t know, but C was still more or less an older toddler.  A young child.  Maybe 5 or 6, I guess.  I was in the habit of stealing M’s narcotic pain medication.  She kept it locked in a zipping travel pouch, but like all addicts desperate for a fix, I had figured out a way to get into it undetected.  One afternoon in the kitchen I was doing exactly that when C ambled in, gasped, and exclaimed, “But that’s MOMMY’S medicine!”  Of course she didn’t know anything about narcotics or addiction, just that I was doing something genuinely wrong.  Even little kids know that stealing isn’t OK, and she could tell that’s what I was doing.  And that’s when I did something I’ll regret for the rest of my life.

Upon hearing her exclaim “But that’s MOMMY’S medicine!” I quickly shot C an angry look and put my finger to my lips in the universal SHH! gesture.  M was in the next room and could have heard her, and I couldn’t risk my own kid getting me busted.  So I silenced her.  Forced her into complicity.  Took her tiny young moral conscience and strangled it.

I’ll never forget that, and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself.

All addicts have different stories, different scars.  Mine are relatively tame.  I never killed anyone or prostituted myself.  But I lied, I stole, and worst of all, I endangered my daughter or betrayed her goodness.

So what I can remember of her young life, is soaked with that heartbreak.

rage

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I am by almost all measures a gentle and patient person.  Loving, kind, and generous, able to get along well and with nearly anyone.  Utterly vanilla.  I’m a librarian, for fuck’s sake.

Most who know me, though, will also recognize that I can get very irritable from time to time, especially on the job.  No biggie there.  Everyone can.  Just part of being human.

What’s disturbing, however, is how much seething, latent RAGE I perpetually carry that no one perceives.  Most of the time even I am not aware of it.  Only in the past year or so have I come to recognize this about myself.  It’s not directed at anyone or anything in particular: fury doesn’t need a target or a purpose.

I’m not sure where exactly it comes from, but I have a theory that the cocktail is two parts severe chronic anxiety, one part boredom, and one part broken heart.

I want so much to be a good father and husband, and I’m TERRIFIED of failure.  I’ve sobbed so many times in sheer terror over whether or not I’ll fail my daughter in this regard.  That kind of anxiety will crush you.

At the same time, I’m bored shitless by my job.  Although there are some responsibilities and aspects of it that are challenging, I spend half the day working the circ desk: basically doing the job a trained monkey could do.  $65K in student loan debt to be a library desk clerk.  I’m paid ridiculously well, so I really can’t complain, but I feel so bored and useless.  The only nice part of my day is seeing my friend and getting to chat with her.

Which brings me to…

Heartbreak.  I have no real friends outside of work.  My only lifelong friend broke off contact with me when I moved to Texas.  It became clear that for years I had been nothing more than a convenience to him.  And now, given my responsibilities as a father, husband, homeowner, employee, citizen, commuter, bipolar patient etc, I just don’t have time to make new friends.  Plus, in some ways, I feel profoundly alone, even at home.  I do a massive amount of housework, without a lot of help from M.  It’s so stressful, and I feel resentful.  Oh, and nine years later, I still haven’t recovered from those two weeks of combined Sub and benzo withdrawal.  I was traumatized.  That torched my heart and mind into a gory mess of throbbing melted ash.  I didn’t ask for it.  I didn’t ask for any of that.

Sometimes I fantasize about suicide, I’m so angry.

I AM FILLED WITH RAGE.

“It’s in the fuckin post…”

[Note: This essay dates from sometime in the period of 2009 to 2011, when I was in the last years of opioid addiction and raw from episodes of withdrawal.  I repost it here just for for the historical record, so to speak.]

“Ah’m no sick yet, but it’s in the fuckin post, that’s fir sure. … The great decline is setting in.  It starts as it generally does, with a slight nausea in the pit ay ma stomach and an irrational panic attack.  A toothache starts tae spread fae ma teeth intae ma jaws and ma eye sockets, and aw through ma bones in a miserable, implacable, debilitating throb.  The auld sweats arrive oan cue, and lets no forget the shivers, covering ma back like a thin layer ay autumn frost oan a car roof.”

-Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh

Cows assess this syndrome.  OK, not cows cows; C.O.W.S.  The Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale.  An instrument that objectively assigns a numerical value from 0 (or, chilled-out) to 4 (or, yir fucked, mate!) to the externally observed level of intensity of eleven different opiate withdrawal symptoms.  Sweating, pupil dilation, tremors, nausea, quickened pulse, aches, anxiety, chills, etc.  Doesn’t really sound so bad, does it.  Especially not when it’s in a nice tidy formatted list with accompanying point scale.  Clinical.  Sterile.  Like the monotone voiceover of a prescription drug TV advert where the gent says, “Symptoms may include…”.

But those banal, familiar symptoms that we’ve all experienced at one time or another (usually in non-addiction contexts) become much greater than the sum of their own clinical descriptions, the further up that COWS ladder one climbs.

I know this.  I’ve scaled that thing too many goddamn times.

“Here ah am in the junky’s limbo; too sick tae sleep, too tired tae stay awake.  A twilight zone ay the senses where nothing’s real except the crushing, omnipresent misery n pain in your mind n body… Doctor Mathews sais that it’s jist really like a bad flu, this withdrawal…  When wis the last time auld Mathews hud cauld turkey?  Ah’d like tae lock that dangerous auld radge in a padded cell fir a fortnight, and gie um a couple ay injections ay diamorphine a day, then leave the cunt for a few days.  He’d be beggin us fir it eftir that.  Ah’d jist shake ma heid and say: Take it easy mate.  What’s the fuckin problem?  It’s jist like a bad flu.”

That’s the way a lot of doctors and therapists and counselors and clean lay folks describe opiate withdrawal: like a bad flu.  And lexically, technically–matching up and comparing the words in both symptom lists–I guess it is.  But they don’t know this from personal experience.  Nor do they understand the severity of the psychological component, which is after all what addiction really is: a brain disorder.  I don’t know of any strain of flu on this planet that precipitates soul-crushing anxiety, drives its victims mad with the craving-ridden knowledge that just one hit, one dose, will make it all go totally away, or denies them any and all rest for days and weeks at a time.

Why no rest, you might wonder?  Well, opiate withdrawal, experientially and neurochemically, is a (seemingly endless!) sustained fight-or-flight reaction.  Literally.  During opiate addiction, the body’s ancient noradrenergic system, which is activated in times of great stress, fear, or pain, is suppressed.  (Which is why opiates feel so good in the first place: they relieve all that.)  In a brain soaked with opiates, the production and release of stimulating neurotransmitters like noradrenaline and norepinephrine is squelched.  With continued use comes brain adaptation to this situation, so when opiate use is ceased, production of noradrenaline ramps up again, wildly, and the brain catches fire.  A chemical fire, an internal “overdose” of the neurotransmitters behind our inherited fight-or-flight reaction: fear, panic, pain, excitement, restlessness, and all the attendant involuntary somatic manifestations of these.  All acutely intense.  

For me this extremely heightened arousal was always the worst.  It denied me sleep for days on end, which is an experience horrific enough that no human should ever have to endure it.  In the worst moments there wasn’t much I wouldn’t have done to get even one hour of the most restless, sweaty, feverish sleep.  The closest I ever came to suicide–which at times was closer than I’ve ever told anyone–was in these days of complete deprivation of rest.  It makes you fucking crazy.  A few times I tried hitting myself in the head with my own fist, as hard as I could, hoping to knock myself out long enough to get some rest.  Stupid and pathetic, but true.

“It’s still fourteen hours and n fifteen minutes until ah kin git ma new fix.”

No flu strain stops time, either.  When you’re in the trough of that drug withdrawal roller coaster–those brutal, sometimes days-long, in-between times between taking your last dose and being dope-rich again–time slows to a standstill.  Like those scenes in sci-fi movies where full-speed motion quickly slows to a frozen moment, a three-dimensional photograph.  But your brain keeps frantically pumping out the noradrenaline, so you’re keen to everything…your senses are sped up, so everything else slows way down.  Time passes, but not for you.  You’re left embedded in misery, feeling hopeless and damned for eternity, because the one thing that you most need to happen–for time to pass ‘til either you get your next dose or ‘til the withdrawal abates naturally–won’t happen.  At least it seems that way.

How many times I went through all this, how many times I counted the seconds…then the minutes…and then the hours…’til I could pick up my next dose, I shudder to recall.  How many times I phoned my docs and the pharmacy for early refills, hoping that they’d let me slide just this once…how many times I showed up at the pharmacy the very second they opened, cold yet shirt soaked with sweat, trembling, aching, sad and humiliated, and trying my best to act casual and not at all desperate…how many times I waited “just ten or fifteen minutes” more, wandering around the pharmacy waiting for them to prepare and process the script or the refilll…I literally can’t count.

Then I would hurriedly pay and greedily slip away with the Rx bag, dope-rich again.  I would dose before even leaving the pharmacy, and within minutes I was feeling warm and euphoric, like none of this had ever happened.  And I’d keep using ‘til I ran out early, and the whole goddamn cycle started again.

Coda:

If I’m ever tempted to relapse, I’m going to try to remember all this shit, because I don’t EVER want to have to go through it again.  But for now I’m writing it down here, and then going to try to forget it.  Fuck addiction.

 

Insomnia

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I’ve suffered from insomnia for years.  And the truth is, now I’m terrified of bedtime.  Unless I’m so drowsy that I know sleep is imminent (a rare occurrence) I dread powering down and entering those small black hours.  That’s when my defenses fail: there is no sun to burn off the gloom, no internet and media and television to distract, no urban din and clatter, no friendly faces or voices to accompany and uplift.  I’m left alone–completely, hopelessly, cosmically alone–with a ceaseless onslaught of terrible hurts and regrets and self-doubts and anxieties.

Second by second, it’s an avalanche of wide-awake nightmares:

There’s an active shooter at C’s school, and she’s hurt but can’t call for help.  M has died in a car crash, and besides my own devastation, I have to break the news to L, and somehow parent her through this.  What does it feel like to have your legs blown off in an IED blast–what a goddamn waste of youth and health.  It should have been me, and not those soldiers.  I should never have failed in the Army.  I’m a weakling, always have been.  What if I’m not strong enough to survive this bipolar disorder, and wind up killing myself.  Helium is the way to go.  Displaces oxygen, not messy, and it’s euphoric rather than suffocating and panicky like carbon monoxide is.  The whole side fence needs replacing; we have the cash, but it would wipe out our savings.  Savings.  We have none for L’s college.  What’s going to become of her.  Please god don’t go into student loan debt.  I’m doing my best as a father…I’m really doing my best.  I love her SO MUCH.  She’s 13 now, is that strong enough to be OK if something happened to me.  What’s my cholesterol level.  I wonder how much longer I can keep my job.  They’ll either fire me for screwing up somehow, or lay me off when circulating print books becomes obsolete.  Then what will I do.  I have no hard skills.  I bet you could buy two or three party-balloon helium tanks from Party City, and open the valves on them while sitting in your car…  Would never do that.  What a fucked-up thing to do to your loved ones.  But there might be circumstances where you’d have to, like being about to be sent to prison for something you didn’t do.  I haven’t done anything, and I don’t want to be anally raped.  Can you imagine what that feels like.  What would happen to our family if one of us lost our jobs, though.  Would we be homeless.  Where would we go.  What about everyone back in Tennessee: I can’t help them, I simply can’t.  Shit, stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it.  I have to be up in 4 hours.  If I go to sleep right now, I can get 3 ½ hours of sleep.  OK, 3.  Two hours sleep will be OK.  Maybe if I cry it’ll exhaust me…   

I’ve lived with this longer than I can remember.  Fifteen years, at least.  For at least 7 of those years, drugs diluted and clouded everything.  I think that’s partly what drove me to abuse them in the first place.  They make all these loud hateful monkeys in your head lie down and take a nap.  But in a terrible irony, the addiction exacerbated everything, of course.  So many cycles of highs and lows and withdrawals and horrible sleepless nights of restless legs and aches and nausea and cravings and cold sweats made me deeply averse to a quiet nighttime in a textbook case of classical conditioning.  (I won’t even bother trying to describe the psychology of opioid withdrawal, let alone benzodiazepine withdrawal.  It is, without exaggeration, beyond description.)

When I recovered from addiction 6 years ago, life in general got SO much better.  I’ve been stronger, happier, more functional, and more resilient.  But the lifelong bipolar disorder and anxiety, together with the trauma of innumerable sleepless nights of torturous withdrawal, left its scar.  So for years I have rushed home after work to collapse into a nap of sheer exhaustion.  Which just triggers the whole cycle again.  Wash, rinse, repeat.