My Struggle with Vicodin
I am an addict, but you probably wouldn’t know it if you passed me on the street.
I have a pretty good job, I’m not homeless, and I’ve never been arrested.
On the other hand, I have told hundreds (if not thousands) of lies about my drug habit to my wife, my friends, and even to the people at work when they looked at me funny and asked, “Are you okay?”.
I faked injuries and exaggerated my pain with more doctors and emergency rooms than I care to remember. Sometimes, even now, I can calculate in my head how long it takes to get from my house to any of a dozen pharmacies, down to the minute.
I’ve made those trips way too often.
I am in recovery now, but the life that I currently live only serves to highlight how bad my personal hell really was.
My drug of choice was Vicodin, this is the story of our life together.
It Started so Simply
My story starts out a little bit different than others I’ve heard in my little circle. The first time I ever tried Vicodin was following a dental procedure that had left me in quite a bit of pain. Like a lot of dentists, mind tried prescribing me extra-strength Ibuprofen, but they didn’t even begin to touch my level of agony.
So I went back and begged and badgered him until he wrote me a script for something stronger. All of a sudden, my pain was much more manageable.
But you know what? So was everything else.
It didn’t take long for me to notice that things weren’t bothering me as much as usual. I can’t honestly say that I remember feeling “high” during that first go-round, but I do seem to recall feeling unusually calm and copacetic.
I had been given a week’s supply, but by day three, I already knew that I liked how the Vicodin was making me feel.
What was weird at the time was how other people already knew how … pleasurable… the sensations from Vicodin were. More than one of my coworkers asked (unusually, I thought) what pain medication they had me on.
When I told them that it was Vicodin, a couple of them joked, “Oh! They’ve got you on the GOOD dope!” I would chuckle along with them, not knowing at the time exactly how right they were. Looking back, the fact that they were so interested in and seemingly knowledgeable about my painkiller should have been a red flag.
Turning a Bad Day into a Great Day
I work in a pretty high-stress environment, and while my boss is evidently efficient in running this type of office, it would be an understatement to say that his people skills need work.
One afternoon, toward the end of that first week, my boss had given me a load of frustration that only bosses can give. I was so stressed out that my blood pressure was up, and it was setting off the nerves in my teeth in what felt like a combination of fire and electricity.
Obviously, this pain wasn’t improving my mood or my productivity. If I had any hopes of getting out of there on time, I had to be able to buckle down and work.
The problem was that it wasn’t time for my next dosage. I usually took one when I got up in the morning, and they would be just wearing off by the time I got home, so I could take another. Now here it was just after lunch and I was definitely feeling the need.
Maybe it was the fact that I had skipped lunch. Maybe it was the fact that I was agitated. Maybe it was the fact that I took my pill several hours early. Or, maybe it was the fact that in desperation and frustration, I took an extra half-pill that time.
Whatever the reason, I was soon a completely different person. There were times that I felt like I was walking alongside my own body. Every bit of stress I was under just melted away.
In all sincerity, I don’t believe that I was overwhelmingly productive the rest of the day. But I can tell you this – it didn’t matter. I felt GREAT.
A Year Later
It’s amazing how easy it is to fall into addictive behaviors, even if you’ve never had a drinking or drug problem before. In just a few short months, I had become an expert in obtaining and maintaining my supply of Vicodin. At any one time, I had a few hundred pills stashed about, all courtesy of the number of prescriptions I got from my various doctors.
It had not taken me long to learn that for the most part, when I described being in pain, the doctors pretty much had to take my word for it. The trick was not going to the same doctor too often, unless I found one who was willing to write me a prescription – and refills when needed – with a minimum of fuss. Pill-pushing doctors are an addict’s best friend.
I got great at telling lies.
To my doctors – it seemed like I was always hurting my ankle, my knee, my hip, my shoulder, my neck, my elbow, my wrist, and of course, that old standby, my back. According to their charts, I have fallen, twisted, tweaked, twisted, stretched, strained, and pulled just about every body part imaginable.
To my boss and coworkers – I, who had always prided myself on never missing a day’s work, suddenly started to call in sick…not regularly per se, frequently. I had fake coughs, imaginary stomach bugs, made-up 24-hour-flus, and every other kind of exaggerated health ailment that you can have that will mysteriously clear up by the next day.
To my wife — I learned quickly to tear the labels off of my pill bottles and hide them in multiple places around the house and in my vehicle. She did not approve. I hid them, so I did not have to hear her very vocal displeasure. I took the labels off, so if she happened to find one, I could always lamely claim that it was an “old” prescription.
I learned how to make the flimsiest excuses in order to get out of the house and, while I was out, run to the drugstore. I learned how to account for the money I was spending. I was weaving an ultimately unsupportable web of lies, because each falsehood had to try to cover up for the last.
The best part? People would rather deny the reality of everything in front of them and fall for the most outlandish excuses, rather than have an uncomfortable confrontation about your behavior and moods and actions.
But the biggest lies of all I saved for myself. All the while, I felt superior to everyone else around me, because I was still “maintaining” and none of them had the slightest idea.
To me, I was only doing what I needed to feel good. I liked how Vicodin made me feel, and because I liked it, I felt that it was MY CHOICE and my business, not anyone else’s. And, because I was CHOOSING to take the pills, I COULDN’T be an addict. After all, I had a prescription.
Do you see how one lie gives birth to another?
Beyond that, I felt totally justified. Other people drank or gamble to blow off stress. Not me. Some husbands decided that it was okay to cheat on their wives. Not me.
Heck, even my wife found it necessary to go to the gym almost every day. That’s what she needed to get by, so I thought it was perfectly okay if I had this one little secret thing.
All the while, I felt superior to everyone else around me, because I was still “maintaining” and none of them had the slightest idea.
Yet Another Lie
I was wrong. The people that saw me the most – my coworkers, for example – knew that something had changed for the worse, even if they couldn’t precisely put their finger on it.
She knew. She is the one who would find my stashes. She is the one who, more than once, had to make excuses for me when I blew off family obligations or outings with friends. I had even convinced her to make the phone call couple times when I had to call in “sick”.
Most of all, she is the one who had to see the change in my personality as I slip farther and farther away from the “me” that she knew and had married.
It actually surprises me how long she put up with it before she actually did anything. After all, her father had been a lifelong alcoholic, and it eventually killed him a few years after we were married. I was the one who had been there when all the pain and shame and the trauma of her childhood came pouring out.
I should’ve known better.
But once again, in my sick mind, the father and I were worlds apart. He was a drunk. I had a prescription.
They say that hindsight is 20/20, and I can say now with an absolutely clear vision that was a long time coming. It didn’t come after some huge blowout. It didn’t come after some life-changing catastrophe like a wreck or an overdose.
It was a lot quieter than that. I came home and she was gone.
There was a note, but it was just three simple words.
“You need help.”
I was angry. I quickly searched the house and found that she hadn’t found any of my newest hiding places. The pill bottles were still there. All of a sudden, I wasn’t nearly as angry as I should’ve been.
That is the most depressing sentence in this entire story.
It was the early evening, so I was at the tail end of my daily “maintenance” buzz. It was also Friday, so I didn’t have to be at work on Monday. I had every excuse that I needed. I remember taking double my already-considerable dosage, figuring that if anybody had a right to feel better, it was me.
I lost the weekend.
To this day, everything that happened is lost in a hazy memory that seems like someone else’s dream. It’s a miracle that I didn’t overdose. It is just as much a miracle that I didn’t go out, get in my car, go looking for my wife, and end up killing myself or someone else.
I stayed in, but I was out of my mind.
The Push I Needed
Somehow, I made it into work on Monday, late as usual. I’m sure that I looked like warmed-over death, but by this point, most of my formally-friendly coworkers had learned to give me a generous berth.
I knew that everyone’s eyes were on me. I knew that there were probably whispering about me. I kind of felt like Tony Montana in Scarface, because I wanted to turn around and yell at everyone, “Say hello to the bad guy.”
I just sat in my little cubicle and accomplished absolutely nothing. After the weekend that I had, it was everything that I could do to sweat it out until lunchtime, when I hoped to find a little pharmaceutical relief. I was already planning on making some excuse – stomachache, perhaps? – and leaving early.
Right before lunch, I looked over and saw my supervisor standing there. I don’t know for sure how long he had been standing there, because I had my eyes closed. He just sighed, gave me a look of infinite sadness and frustration, and asked me to come with him to his office.
I knew that this was it.
When got to his office, I was already trying to prepare my excuses. I never got a chance to use them, because when we sat down, my boss said he wanted to tell me a story.
Over the next few minutes, I learned something that I never suspected.
My boss told me the story of himself 10 years ago. It seems that in his younger years, he himself had been living with his own demons. In his case, it wasn’t Vicodin or some other prescription medicine, it was alcohol.
He briefly let me know how far his own downward spiral had gone, and how it took him losing almost everything, including his life in a wreck, before he had realized that his life was out of control.
He told me how after he finally decided to do something about his drinking and get help, how his life had changed.
He told me that it was by far the hardest thing that he had ever done. He told me that he had faced a lot of uncomfortable truths about everything he had done and all of the people he had hurt and let down.
All of this floored me. My boss – a drunk?
The only drunk than I had ever known was my father-in-law, and he was lost in a bottle his whole life. Oh sure, he had made promise after promise, but he never followed through. I thought that’s how they ALL were.
But, my boss? He was the exact opposite of my late father-in-law. At work, he really had it together. He was respected (even if he could be hard), he was good at his job, and already he had given me far more chances than I ever deserved. I had never dreamed that they were of the same tribe.
And now, here I was sitting in front of him, about to be fired. This was really it.
Except that, it wasn’t. Somehow, I wasn’t being fired outright.
During his whole story, he hadn’t mentioned me or my shortcomings at all. When he finished with his own story, he told me a couple of other things that I never knew.
He told me that according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, that alcoholism/addiction was recognized as a disease, and as such, people suffering from either were protected by law, and if someone had a problem, they could seek treatment without repercussions.
He also told me that the law allowed companies to fire people who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol while they were at work. He let that sink in for a moment.
However, because the company had an excellent health plan that included treatment, and because of his own personal history, he had a unique level of understanding and patience when he had to deal with this issue.
Then he told me that because he himself was an alcoholic in recovery, he had the moral duty to try to help others by telling his story.
He simply looked at me, and asked, “Are you all right?”
Maybe it’s because I was weak, just coming in after a bender. Maybe it’s because my wife leaving had left me emotionally volatile. Maybe it’s because right at that moment, he was looking at me so sincerely and directly, I thought he could see into my brain and actually read my thoughts.
Maybe it’s because, for the first time, I realized that I didn’t have it all as together as I just thought.
I said, “No.” and actually broke down.
Turning it Around
So, I got professional help.
Physically, the most unpleasant part for me was detoxing. Even if I was still in denial that I was “addicted”, during this early part of treatment, I couldn’t argue that I wasn’t dependent. It had been a long time since I had gone without, so I was extremely anxious and agitated.
Even though I no longer needed Vicodin for my teeth or my imaginary ailments, I still felt achy, sweaty, and it seemed like I was constantly queasy. Luckily, the facility I used didn’t believe in “cold turkey” treatment. My symptoms were eased with the help of withdrawal medication.
Emotionally, it was not easy at all to admit the extent to which I had let Vicodin take over my life. Slowly, I began to be aware of how what started out as a legitimate prescription for my pain eventually affected my marriage, my job, my relationship with others, and my own sense of self.
My own ideas about addiction also changed as I learned more about the disease. I began to see how my father-in-law and I (and my boss) weren’t that different. We all suffered from the same disease, even if it manifested itself differently in each of us.
In particular, my opinion of my father-in-law changed. I always felt that his problem was due to a lack of character. Finding out that – in large part – he was not in control of his own actions gave me a whole new perspective.
Coming to that realization also helped me realize why my negative actions –my lies and deceptions – hit my wife particularly hard. She had grown up with an alcoholic, and had felt firsthand the pain, shame, and uncertainty that substance abuse causes.
Then she found out that the man she married suffered from the same sort of disease. That was hard pill for me to swallow, no pun intended.
I Was Lucky
So here I am today. I’ve been clean for over a year now, and for the most part, everything is back to normal. But, I can also honestly say that nothing will ever again be the same.
I have to watch myself and my thoughts, feelings, and actions to make sure I don’t slip back into old habits. I am still relearning how to feel good and how to deal with everyday stresses without the excessive help of a chemical crutch. Sometimes, it’s frustrating when I think of how fast I went off the rails, and how long it is taking to get completely back on track.
But I have been lucky, perhaps luckier than I deserved.
I didn’t die. I never overdosed. I was never arrested. I still have my job, with the respect of a boss who knows my struggle.
Best of all, my wife and I have reconciled. It was hard, because when I told her I was getting help, she could only think of similar promises that her father had made again and again throughout her life. The difference is, I am sticking this out.
She supports me and understands when I go to a 12-step meeting. For the first time in her life, she is attending meetings as well, specifically those that are for the family members of addicts/alcoholics like myself and her father.
Yes, I do understand how lucky I have been.