During my 6th year of marriage, I began to experience aching throbbing pain in my hands and knees.
My body hurt when I wasn’t moving it, so I remedied the situation with …. well…. constant movement. I developed the skill of moving my legs in my sleep. I would sweep them across the sheets, back and forth, back and forth. The urge was just too strong to stop. I also took up knitting, but I didn’t just knit. I would knit for 8-10 hours a day. Back then we didn’t have iPhone, so knitting was my equivalent to scrolling Facebook. Scroll scroll scroll. Knit knit knit. Avoid feelings. Keep the mind busy and thoughts pushed down. A bit like sticking my fingers in my ears and going, “la la la la I don’t hear anything”. Anything to stop the pain, outside and in as it turns out.
I try to think back. I can’t remember if the pain came out of nowhere or it snuck up on me.
Did it just appear one day? Or was I tolerating it in tiny little microscopic bits that gradually increased until one day I realized I was swallowed up by pain? In hindsight, I had a pattern of tolerating circumstances that weren’t the healthiest, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the symptoms were festering for years.
In any event, I do remember the home in which the pain became so intolerable that I decided to seek professional help. I do that. I measure time by which home we lived in. During my almost ten-year marriage, we moved eight times. Five of the homes we purchased and sold. Others rentals. The last abandoned.
It’s hard to keep track of the years because of the chaos, but I most often can remember the home in which we lived in. There were more tragedies than homes. I’ll tell you that.
The pain became unbearable in the 1908 white farmhouse, that much I remember.
I always had strange looking hands. My joints are knobby, and my fingers have limited range of motion. My wrists don’t bend back. They’ve always been like that, even as a little girl. For that reason, and my obesity, I was the only girl who couldn’t be a cartwheel in fourth grade. Which was kind of a big deal.
My brothers used to curl their pointer fingers and cock back their wrists, so their hands were in the space of question marks. Then they would say, “Look over ‘dare! Look over ‘dare” and laugh. They were mocking the time I pointed something out and my finger couldn’t quite aim in the right direction.
They are my “old lady hands”
and I began to obsess about them when the pain was at its highest. “Look at them? Don’t they look so strange to you? This clearly isn’t normal. Something must be wrong”. After a few months of this I sought out a local naturopath who worked out of a chiropractor's office. Wanting to go about the pain a natural route, I thought this was the safest place to start.
Dr. Robin (name changed) did a full assessment, including x rays, blood work, 5-page questionnaire, and physical examination. While my blood work came back normal, Doctor did think the best course of action was to start with a strict anti-inflammation diet, three weekly chiropractic adjustments with stim and massage, stool samples, and $500/month in supplements in which I purchased directly from her, of course.
Around my third month of treatment and $7,000 investment, things turn from sketchy to illegal. Dr. Robin often commented on my unusual fingers. She went in for the kill.
“It’s really no wonder you are in pain. I know that if my hands looked like that, I too would be in pain. I am going to prescribe you three months of Vicodin to take as needed. You should need no more than 3 a day so this supply should last you awhile.”
And there I went with a prescription for 270 Norcos, a controlled substance with 10mg of hydrocodone, an opioid and confirmation from my doctor that I indeed was a very sick woman who needed this medication for my “chronic illness”.
Now, if you know anything about controlled substances you might say, “No way!”, but yes, back then a doctor could prescribe patients 3 months’ work of highly addictive pain medications at one time.
I left her office, headed to the pharmacy, and unknowingly changed the course of my life for the next 3 years.
Within 30 minutes, not only did the pain stop, but I was really freakin’ happy. I had never been so happy in all my life.
A little smirk washed across my face. My body felt fuzzy and tingly. My knees and hands still hurt, but somehow, I didn’t seem to care. It felt like, “Oh well, that’s life. If this is pain, I can live with it.”
Suddenly staring at my husband “horizontal” on the couch didn’t seem to bother me as much. “He was probably just tired for work”. The responsibility was no longer stressful. “I’ve got this”. I was in control. I had energy when I needed it. Everything felt manageable. It really felt like the magic pill.
I loved being a woman with chronic illness. I loved it almost as much as I loved the Norco.
I felt like I finally had an answer for my peculiar pain. I felt justified. And most importantly, I wasn’t an addict because my doctor said I needed it.
But much like life, I quickly built a tolerance. Now I needed 1 ½ or sometimes 2 to achieve the level joy I was accustomed to. This doesn’t happen over years of using. This happens in weeks! Within a 6-month period I was taking up to 12 a day. I would run out of my prescription and good old Dr. Robin would write me a script for more, provided I came in for the full treatment that ran about $350.
See how that works? Wives, mothers, women, men, teenagers, it doesn’t matter. Opioids take the weak just like pimps choose their prostitutes. They find the broken-hearted, the tired, the sad, the seekers, and they pounce when you are least expecting it.
This is by no means an excuse. In the back of my mind I knew what I was doing. I knew the best solution was for me to clean up my diet and move my body, but that felt like an impossible task, and frankly, at the time it was most likely that. I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.
The story is much longer than this. It is one for another day, but know that I left my marriage and fought for recovery. It has been over seven years. I almost can’t believe it. I’m sharing this today because I want the world to know that no one is safe from this. You may deem yourself morally superior, but you’re not. We are all venerable at one point or another. One surgery. One twisted back. One toxic relationship. One job loss. One bad doctor. Addiction has many faces.