Mine is a cautionary tale of medical care becoming a medical nightmare. It began with a fall off a roof thirty years ago. I was a carpenter working on a roof one early morning. As I walked up the roof with two bundles of shingles on my shoulder, I never noticed the frost on the plywood nor did I realize that the weight of those two bundles was all that was holding me to the roof. As soon as I deposited them at the ridge, I began to slide off the roof. I turned to face my fall, hoping I could control my landing. Unfortunately, my right foot caught the ladder leaning against the house and it pitched me forward and I ended up doing an awkward swan dive onto the hard ground below. After three weeks in traction, an operation to piece my right leg and left wrist back together, one on my neck and one on my lower spine; I entered the ranks of the chronically pained.
The doctor tried everything to alleviate the pain…electro implants, nerve blocks, Tens, cortisone shots, chiropractic, massage therapy, hydro-therapy, acupuncture, cranial-sacral therapy…everything. Finally, the doctor decided that pain-killers were my only option. So began my long steady road to Oxycontin addiction. It began with two (2) 40mg tablets a day; but it's a funny thing about pain-killers. Your body is full of endorphins (the body's natural pain-killer) and it is able to endure amazingly high levels of pain. However, once you start taking synthetic pain-killers the body is less able to deal with pain the longer you are on them. In other words, the more you take…the more you need. At the apex of my pill-taking I was on three 40mg tablet three times a day with 15 mg of oxycodone three times a day (and yes, amazingly, I still do have a liver). So, I think it is safe to say that at 405mg of pain-killers a day, I was no longer using them…they were using me.
The pills allowed me to work some, to drive long distances, to go dancing with my wife now and then and to take care of fix-ups around the house. What I lost, however, was my ability to think straight, to create, to feel deeply, to stay awake for extended periods of time and worst of all: to have control of my life. Every decision, every plan was centered on prescription re-fill time. If we went on vacation and I ran out, vacation was over. And as I moved from dependence to addiction, many months I ran out two or three days early due to over medication. During those times, all that existed was the pain. And all I thought about was myself. My health was failing, my marriage was failing and friends were few. The man I was before the pills came into my life was not the man I had now become. If I was ever to have a shot at a semi-normal life again it was time to get off this roller-coaster before I completely derailed.
So, after twenty years of living in an opiate haze I went to my doctor and told him it was time to move on from this drug purgatory and find another alternative for the pain. Even if it meant increased levels of chronic pain, I wanted my life back (and my brain!). Unfortunately, despite his best efforts to wean me off the pills, I ended up in the 7th level of Hell praying for a promotion. He was also unable to find an adequate alternative for the back pain. So, there I was going through the worst kind of withdrawal (often Oxycontin withdrawal is compared to heroin withdrawal) as well as mind-numbing back pain.
If you are on Oxycontin and are thinking of or are forced to withdraw at home or if you are thinking of using them as a viable choice for dealing with your chronic pain, I advise you to find another way. The following is a short list of what you can expect with Oxycontin withdrawal: constant diarrhea, vomiting, anxiety and depression, severe stomach cramping, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and of course pain…always pain. I felt like ripping the flesh from my face with my own fingernails. I went ten days on six hours of sleep. I had abdominal pains that dropped me to my knees. I felt like every cell in my body was under attack. Suicide kept popping into my head as a "reasonable remedy". I don't think I ever would have seriously gone through with it but just in case I kept three pictures fixed in my mind to stay my hand: the disappointed face of my Savior, my wife finding my body and my daughter standing at my grave.
Finally, a "light dawned on (my)Marblehead." I realized there would be no help from the medical community and I certainly couldn't keep trying to "tough it out" without going insane. So, I went in search of my own remedies.
The first thing I needed to fix was my faith. I had sunk to the level of begging God to let me sleep for half an hour and believing Him for nothing else. I knew I needed to increase the communication. I needed to get back to the place where I could go to Him with all my needs. And I needed to trust Him to care for me as "The Great Physician" that He is and with the "Abba" love I had known so many times before. I also needed to take time to listen because if there was ever a time when I needed His wisdom and comfort, it was now.
Next, I needed to figure out what essential elements the drugs and now the withdrawal had sucked out of my body and put them back in. I took each symptom as a message from my body that something was missing and then I searched out some home remedies to deal with those deficiencies. I knew that it would come down to three categories:
What I took (Herbal Pharmaceuticals)
- What I ate (Healing Foods)
- What I did (Exercise)
WHAT I TOOK
I found that there were over-the-counter medicines as well as herbs that could help with almost every symptom. However, always check with your doctor first because some herbs may react badly with medication you may currently be on as well as playing havoc with your blood pressure. That being said, here is what I found:
1. Loperamide – diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping
2. Valerian – insomnia, anxiety, restlessness
3. Bacopa – increases serotonin levels
4. Ginger – nausea
5. Passionflower – muscle spasms, insomnia
6. Tumeric – muscle pain
7. Devil's Claw – joint pain
These are what worked for me. There are others as well. Do your own research for safe levels, combinations and mg. amounts.
WHAT I ATE
I had little or no appetite and wasn't keeping much down anyway. However, once my vomiting was under control I started eating with clear broths then moved to pureed then solid. First and always I drank 8-10 6oz glasses of water. This not only helps flush toxins from your body it also helps prevent dehydration from diarrhea. Next, I ate clear broths (instant miso soup & vegetable broth). From there I moved on to homemade applesauce with cinnamon (cinnamon is an excellent spice for stomach disorder). I also ate plain yogurt with fresh/frozen blueberries (the probiotics in yogurt helps replace healthy bacteria in the digestive system plus it is easy to digest). And finally I moved on to scrambled egg whites, chicken soup and dry toast. Bananas are good as well. They help with the diarrhea as well as helping the cells to absorb water, guarding against dehydration. There are various other foods you could try as well; like pineapple, cherries and tart cherry juice. Again, do the research yourself. This is just what worked for me.
WHAT I DID
I had read in numerous places the benefits of elevated levels of serotonin and dopamine in the healing process. There is no better way to raise those levels than through exercise. It was the last thing I felt like doing but I knew I had to "bite the bullet" and just do it if I hoped to see and feel improvement. It began with walking. I started at 15 minutes and added 5 minutes a day until I was up to an hour. When I was strong enough I moved on to bicycling. I started at ½ hour for a week then added 15 minutes per day per week. Trust me, it helps! A hot tub can be very helpful for the muscle pain and if it is available to you, swimming is excellent.
Finally, (but actually all through the process) I engaged my mind in the healing process. Your brain is the most powerful healing tool that God has given you. Every day I craved the drugs but I forced myself to close that door and refused to allow myself to consider it as an alternative. I pushed every negative thought out of my head and embraced only the positive. Even in the worst pain I concentrated on the love I had for my family, the light in my wife's eyes, the way I felt when she was in my arms, the beauty of a sunrise, the sound of my daughter's laughter, birdsongs in the morning and of course, the smiling face of my Lord…anything and everything that brought joy or comforted me. This is all I would try to dwell on. I also would watch only comedy on television or DVD's (the healing benefits of laughter are well documented). Don't get me wrong, I did not always succeed. Often I would find myself camped out inside my pain or scheming how I could get more drugs; but those positive pictures were the anchors I was always able to force my mind to return to.
And through it all I prayed…not begged…but prayed with a healthy dose of thanksgiving. Because with every passing day I was a day closer to the place I needed to be. And that was reason enough to be grateful.
So, there you have it. These are the remedies I used to go from narcotic haze to withdrawal hell to clear-headed husband and father. Maybe some of them will work for you. If you can, avoid this drug completely; because there is no way to avoid the hell of withdrawal. It will come someday! You certainly can lessen the blow by checking into rehab or a Suboxone program; but if you are going to do it on your own at home, this is what is waiting. I am on the other side now and it is a good place to be; although I know that I will be fighting this addiction at some level for the rest of my life.
Looking back I can still remember the constant pain, but that wasn't the worst. I remember just wanting to curl up and die, but that wasn't the worst. I remember wanting to sell my soul for a ½ hour of sleep, but that wasn't the worst. I remember the vomiting, the diarrhea and wanting to tear my flesh off but even that wasn't the worst. No…the worst was looking back and knowing that in my desperate attempt to escape the pain for the last twenty years, I had robbed my wife of her husband and my little girl of her father. In trying to remove my pain, I had caused twice as much pain to the people I loved the most. Yes…I am a drug addict; recovering but still an addict. So, what will keep me from ever opening that door again?
The other day I experienced a miracle. I was kissing my wife and I began to notice things I hadn't noticed in a long time; the way she smells, the way her eyes sparkle when she looks at me, the softness of her lips, the smallness of her fingers, the texture of her hair and dozens of little details that just kept drawing me deeper and deeper in love with her. And suddenly I realized what was happening. For the first time in a long time I was present …really present with her. With the opiates dropping off my brain receptors like dying bats, I was completely aware of everything I loved about her and some things I had never thought of before. And in that realization I knew the four things that would keep that door closed forever: the smiling face of my Lord, the loving eyes of my wife, the soul-satisfying laughter of my child and a burning desire to be present with all three.
And by God's grace I pray I forever shall be.