How I Faced Addiction and Overcame It
Are you a person with a substance use disorder or a family member of someone struggling with substance abuse? Do you feel like you can’t overcome this disease? You are not alone, millions of Americans are battling addiction right now as you are reading this, and I am a person in recovery from opioid addiction use. I didn’t start out seeking drugs or wanting to become a person with a substance use disorder, who does? Here is my story of how I became addicted, what it means to have a drug dependency, and the steps I took to begin my journey on the road to recovery.
I am a disabled Army veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My PTSD is not combat-related but rather stems from physical and sexual trauma. I had hip replacement surgery due to an injury I received while on active duty. The operation didn’t go as planned and left me with more pain and complications. I was on prescription pain medication for over a year after the surgery.
I started doubling up on my medication at first because of the pain, but before too long that wasn’t cutting it for me. I was taking around ten pills at a time, and of course, my medication would run out before I could get it filled again. I began buying them off of the street to get me through until I could get my pills filled again.
I found myself self-medicating to numb my feelings, and this led to having even more emotional anguish. I was severely depressed. I felt helpless, and my inner conscience had hit crisis mode, but I had to continue taking the medication to feel normal or not become sick. I felt trapped and scared and didn’t know how to quit on my own.
I feel that my physician failed me. She refilled my pain medication for over a year without any follow-up. Early intervention by her could have prevented me from becoming an addict. Referring me to a pain management specialist would be advisable.
My family noticed a change in my behavior, but they didn’t realize the extent of it. I tried hard to hide it from them, and I guess I did a good job.
When individuals use substances or alcohol, it releases dopamine in the brain, and this makes us feel good. As we increase the use of a substance, we are rewiring the “reward center” in the brain. We start to decrease the production of dopamine on our own, as we have now developed a dependency. Addiction is a misunderstood disease. Often people who don’t understand it might feel that substance abuse is a matter of an individual’s strengths, morals, character, or willpower. Drug abuse will get worse if untreated. There is no cure for it, but it can be manageable. Left untreated it can lead to death. Merely put, addiction has no logic, no boundaries, and no limits.
I had a realization that the path I was taking would only end in my death. I had a fear that I would overdose, and my children would find me. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own so I called a substance abuse doctor for help, this was on a Monday, but there were no openings until the following Friday. The nurse on the phone could tell how scared I was and told me to head to the emergency room immediately once the withdrawal symptoms were present. My husband brought me to the hospital, and I had to be honest with the staff about my drug abuse which was very shameful, but they showed compassion for me.
The physical withdrawals lasted for days from what I can remember and were so horrific, something I never want to see another person go through. The mental withdrawal lasts a lifetime. I still have thoughts and desires to use, but I have found ways to divert those feelings.
I notified my doctor about what was going on and asked that it state in my medical records that I have a substance abuse disorder and not to prescribe me any medication that I could misuse. I had to put this safeguard in place to help with the prevention of relapse. I began attending NA meetings weekly, and I also participated in Smart Recovery meetings online. I completed a 12-week course on co-occurring substance abuse and healthy living skills.
I felt ashamed for a long time and didn’t want anyone to know about my addiction. After some time had passed, I concluded that sharing my story could inspire others to seek help and know that sobriety is possible.