When You're Recovering From an Addiction and Living With Chronic Pain

75
75
2

When I first got clean and sober in 2012, I remember thinking, “Life is going to be great! No more feeling sick and tired.” I could not have been more wrong. This isn’t to say life hasn’t been amazing, because it really has. But there is something that is always lingering around called chronic pain.

Lately, I have been trying to figure out how to accept being in chronic pain while also being in recovery from a drug addiction. The medications I take have to be non-addicting. I am fearful of falling back into my old destructive habits because there is a lack of treatment options.

There is a lot of judgement in the recovery community about what is acceptable and what is not. I have been taking cannabidiol with small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol to help with the pain and inflammation. Some would say this is a relapse, but they probably have not been living with chronic pain. They are clueless about how painful it can be to live with a chronic illness.

For the past year, everyday has been hard. I wake up in pain, take some oil, it wears off, I am in pain again. At school, sometimes the pain creeps in and it is hard to focus.

On top of the pain comes shame. I feel like I have to hide my marijuana use from my friends in recovery because I will be viewed as “not sober.” Some newly sober people have even said, “Wow, you are so lucky you get to use marijuana. I wish I could still use that.” Trust me, if I had the option between having a cure or to keep using marijuana, I would take the cure in a heartbeat!

Honesty is one of the main things that has kept me clean and sober. Being honest and open is how I have learned to stay on the right path. Being open about my treatment has gone a long way to help me not fall off the deep end. Anyone who is close to me knows what I am using and I check-in with them regularly.

I have also had to learn to say out loud to friends and family, “I am not feeling well today,” or, “Today has not been a good day.” For some reason this has been one of the hardest things, but it has helped so much to get things off my chest. It is easy to hide the pain because I don’t look physically sick. I try to smile a lot and pretend I am not in pain. There is a lot pressure to get sober and then become healthy.

If anyone has ever dealt with this issue before, leave a comment. I would love to hear about your experiences and anything else that has helped you deal with this problem. We are all here to support each other.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

75
75
2

RELATED VIDEOS

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

3 'Recovery' Lessons Everyone Can Benefit From

32
32
0

In May, there was landmark gathering in New York City: SheRecoversNYC. The inaugural event was held by the namesake organization, SheRecovers, a powerful organization of women in recovery, with recovery being a broad term: substances, eating disorders, work addiction, perfectionism, etc.

As they welcomed hundreds of sober women to New York, they also live streamed the event for those of us around the world. I felt I was sitting shoulder to shoulder in a room of smart, powerful, brave women. And while my brain is still spinning from all I heard, and the implications for how I will use the teachings, I wanted to share some of the messages that resonated. They are for all of us, not just those of us “in recovery.” Because honestly we all could benefit from a program that lets us look deeply within and make the changes we need to live the lives we were created for. So, here goes.

1. Most Everyone Could Benefit From a Program of Recovery — Elizabeth Vargas

Last year the ABC journalist made headlines when she released, “Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction.”  I identified greatly with Vargas’ story — a journalist who drank as a coping mechanism for severe anxiety, worsened by her high stress media job. Vargas bravely went public with her story last fall, another huge stride in helping move the dialogue forward regarding the stigma around alcohol use and abuse. By saying, “Me too,” she showed the world this is what addiction — and recovery — looks like. And in her Saturday talk she hit on something I’ve learned about quite a bit during my journey: pretty much everyone could benefit from a program of recovery. Those of us who find one are lucky.

2. We Are All Made Up of “Ands” — Nikki Myers

When Nikki Myers identifies herself in public, she says she always starts by saying “Hi, I’m Nikki, and I’m a recovering _____” (alcoholic, love addict, spending addict, etc.) Then she goes on to say that she has an MBA, is a mother, a grandmother, a yoga therapist and an author. The founder of Yoga of 12-Step Recovery says she’ll say the same thing whether she is speaking to people in recovery, or the United Nations, which she will do soon.

“While all of those things inform my walk in the world, none of them define me.” We can be so many things all at once — we are so many things all at once — why not just claim them? Our “ands.” Also, during her talk on co-dependency, she said that two things you need to heal co-dependency are a healthy sense of self-esteem and boundaries.”We are interdependent beings — we don’t need to be co-dependent beings,” she said. Preach!

3. Honor the Wounds

The brilliant author Gabby Bernstein delivered a Saturday night address that I swear was beamed directly from Manhattan to my heart, though I’m sure everyone in the room felt the same way. That’s why she’s so good! Gabby said that the more recovery we get, the more we’re aware of deep rooted fears, what triggers us, what still brings up shame.

She said that after more than a decade in recovery, she recently realized a deep wound from childhood that just now came up — because she was ready to process it. Many are traumatized in some way or another (though in different ways) and pain points us to what we still need to heal. Surrender, she said, is not a one-time deal. It’s not just the on-your-knees “Please God” rock bottom we have, but it’s a daily, unfolding process. She said we should honor where we are today and engage in a constant dialogue of self-compassion. It’s all about reconnecting with our true selves, and that’s a long and beautiful walk home.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead photo via SheRecovers Facebook page

32
32
0
TOPICS
, , Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

10 Things I Learned in Recovery From Addiction and BPD

35
35
0

This time last year, I was probably sitting in a dark basement with my ex-boyfriend, whom I loved very much. I loved him so much that I let him teach me how to do drugs, because in my mind, “If you can’t save them, join them.” Yep, you’ve probably guessed right; I am a co-dependent, an addict and also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Little did I know, this guy was my addiction, just the same as the drug. I thought I needed both to survive. After much convincing from my peers, work and professionals, I decided to leave my hometown and go to treatment.

Here is what I Iearned:

1) I cannot fill my “emptiness” with people, places and things.

As much as I tried, I couldn’t fill the void I had with drugs or people or whatever other obsession I might have had. It was impossible. Maybe it helped for a while, but in the end, that empty feeling always came back.

2) Emotions won’t kill me. 

Yes, I really believed that emotions would kill me. I feel so intensely and I feared that one day I would just cry until I would just stop breathing. A lifetime of building defense mechanisms to protect myself from feeling was actually what was killing me. Not emotions.

3) Being vulnerable is not weak.

As a small child, I was often told to “toughen up” or “stop being a baby.” I would get laughed at when I cried, humiliated when I was scared of something. I was basically taught to not show any emotion that might make me weak. Now, I learned that vulnerability is what makes us strong. It builds character, promotes self-compassion, strengthens our personal values and helps us to grow stronger and accept ourselves as we are.

4) I need to check my facts: Perceptions often mislead me.

I often made decisions based on distorted perceptions or beliefs I had. I would quit jobs because I thought they would fire me anyway, or let go of friends because “I knew” they must be talking about me. These distorted thoughts and paranoid thinking has caused me more relationship problems and pain than anything else in my life, and always lead me to self-destructive behavior (using). Now I learned to “fact check.” Go to the source, ask, confirm and then deal with the situations as they come.

5) It takes a community to heal an addict.

Ever hear the saying, “It takes a community to raise a child”? Well, the same goes for addicts or anyone with mental health issues. Many of us (although maybe not all, I don’t want to make assumptions) are natural loners. We isolate, so much so we can feel alone in a crowded room. I learned I cannot recover alone. I need connection, love, support, family and sometimes professionals who can reflect my thoughts and behaviors back to me when I am being led down the wrong path. I need to be reminded of how far I’ve come and that I am worthy of life. Isolation is poison to this addict.

6) You can’t save me.

Community is extremely important, but the community can’t do the work for me. I need to be willing to change for change to happen. I need to do the work, ask for help, take my place in this world and keep fighting, even when it feels as though I am getting nowhere. My life is my responsibility. I always dreamed of someone saving me, fixing the broken pieces. It was a romantic fantasy I had. This almost killed me. Today, I know that although I have an army of people behind me, only I can decide to make positive choices daily.

7) Living in gratitude.

I have thrown myself an endless amount of pity parties in my day. “If only I had this, if only I had that, what if I looked like this or that.” I pointed fingers, blamed my failures on almost anyone who walked in my path. I thought no one understood me, life wasn’t fair and I had it worse than anyone else. I slowly came to realize that was not the case. Many people would love to trade their problems for mine, because I don’t have it all that bad. That feeling of emptiness I kept trying to fill only has one cure — gratitude. I learned that when I live in gratitude, I feel a sense of completeness that no person, place or drug could ever fill.

8) I have permission to be happy.

I always thought I didn’t deserve to be happy. Again, this stems from my distorted thoughts. I told myself over and over again that I was defective, broken or tainted, due to being sexually abused as a child and raped later on in life. Every single mistake I made in life after that, real or imagined, was only evidence I was bad and did not deserve happiness. Oh, how far from the truth this was. I realized depriving myself of joy, love and happiness was punishing a little girl who lived the same experiences as I had. She did not decide to be abused, neglected or harmed in any way. She built her defense mechanisms to protect herself. She knew no other way. So, if I wouldn’t punish her, why do I keep punishing myself? I am not broken or bad. I can permit myself to be happy and not be ashamed of it.

9) I have qualities and strong values.

Again, as someone who thought of herself as defective, this is a big deal! So, I will say it again. I have qualities and strong values! Here are just a few: Creative, funny, caring, compassionate, artistic, hardworking, persistent, brave, vulnerable, strong, passionate, sensitive, spiritual, leader. No one can take these away from me; I must nurture them every day and put them into practice. The moment I begin to act in a way that goes against my values or personal qualities, I need to re-evaluate myself.

10) Recovery is possible.

One year later, I am clean and sober. I finished treatment. I am free to make choices for my life that are not guided by the depths of addiction and untreated mental illness. I have all I need. I am so very grateful, loved, happy and now a productive member of society.

(Side note: I have been hired as a clinical counselor at the rehab center I attended. It is now a blessing and a passion in my life to give hope, and teach life skills to those struggling. If you are struggling too, please get help. Your life is waiting for you!)

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

35
35
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What My Parents Taught Me About Alcohol Addiction

81
81
0

What was your first memory of alcohol? Maybe an awkward high school party, when drinking alcohol felt exciting, risky and new. It might have been in a college dorm room late at night after you finished all your exams. You may have been celebrating your 21st birthday, surrounded by friends and family. My first memory of alcohol was walking five miles to school at 8 years old because my mother and father were too drunk to drive.

I love my parents. Outside of a detrimental, co-dependent alcohol addiction, my parents were everything I could have ever wanted. I played catch with my dad in the backyard every day after school. My mom showed me how to cook dishes passed down through generations every single night. On the surface, we were a perfect family. However, it was what lurked silently beneath the surface that slowly tore my family apart, and ironically, taught me a lot about alcoholism, addiction and life in general.

I remember that walk really well, surprisingly. It was early April. Spring hadn’t yet sprung, and there was a cool bite in the air. I remember looking out the window of my parents’ bedroom after trying and failing to wake them up, and starting to consider just what I’d have to do. The scent of alcohol stung my nostrils and my parents’ vacant listlessness was terrifying. I wasn’t sure if I remembered how to get to school from my house on foot. I had never walked there before, and honestly had never even considered it an option. I took great care to slip out of the door quietly and lock it behind me, using a house key for the very first time. A light mist hung over wet grass, and my adorable little dress shoes were covered in wet dirt and dew just minutes into my walk.

I don’t remember being scared, at least not of what most kids would have been scared of walking alone to school at 8 years old. I wasn’t worried about “stranger danger” or of getting lost. I was scared my parents didn’t love me anymore. Or maybe that they had died. I don’t remember even making it to the school. I only remember opening the door to the third grade room and immediately being scolded for being late and arriving in a dirty uniform. I wondered if my parents were OK as I took my seat in the front of the classroom in silence, the gaze of my classmates imbedding themselves into the back of my head.

I knew my parents drank. I didn’t know what alcohol was, but I knew what it did and I knew I wasn’t allowed to have it. Every night at dinner I’d watch a tall bottle of purple wine vanish before my eyes, as my parents slowly began slouching in their seats, forgoing eye contact and slurring any half-hearted attempts to speak. I remember them falling asleep during family movie nights. I remember the fights late into the night. And I remember everything that happened an hour after I had finally found my way to school.

I was still in a haze. I remember the phone ringing in the classroom — a rare sight — and all of my fellow classmates falling silent.

“Yes. Yes she’s here,” my teacher whispered into the receiver. “Yes, I’ll send her now.”

My teacher walked over to me and knelt by my desk. In an uncharacteristically kind tone, she asked me to come out into the hallway. She escorted me silently down the hallway, my socks still wet from the morning walk. I was sure I was in trouble. Yet, when the door opened, I saw the two people I hadn’t expected to see. My mother and father shot out of the two chairs in the office, tears covering their faces as they ran over to hold me. They apologized profusely, a seemingly endless stream of tears dampened the shoulders of my school uniform. I remember looking in my mother’s eyes and seeing something I had never seen before. I saw an unimaginable sorrow, an immense joy and somewhere deep down, a desire to change.

Things changed. It took time, but the bottles of wine at dinner started to last just a little bit longer. There were no more walks to school. No matter how hard it got, they stuck to their treatment plans for alcohol abuse and weathered an unimaginably difficult storm. There were still fights and there were still tough nights and tougher mornings, but slowly my parents started to fight back against alcoholism.

Whether they wanted to or not, my parents taught me a lot about addiction. They taught me what it looked like. They taught me just how much it can hurt. But they also taught me that it’s not an un-winnable fight. They taught me that love and support can make all the difference when family is on the line. They taught me that alcohol isn’t something to be played with. I still don’t drink, and when people ask me why, I always wonder: what was your first memory of alcohol?

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via vitapix

81
81
0
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What My Eating Disorder Taught Me About Supporting a Loved One With an Addiction

26
26
0

1. You did nothing to cause this, therefore, you cannot fix it.

There are so many factors that go into an addiction, many of which, have been years in the making. There are biological factors, environmental factors and situational factors. As the one on the other side of an addiction, you cannot take the responsibility and place it on your shoulders. It won’t help the one you love and it definitely won’t help you. There are structures and patterns of connections in my brain that have led me to be prone to my eating disorder. No one is to blame. You are not their savior. You cannot save them. You can only support them. Supporting is different than enabling which leads to the next point.

2. Supporting a loved one who is struggling shows them that you care and is the most important thing you can do.

Enabling them does neither of those. For a while, my family thought the best way to help me was to make sure that meal times were as easy and as “safe” for me as possible. As long as I was eating, I was getting better, right? However, over time, while I didn’t get worse, I didn’t get better either. I was still stuck in a world of fear where if I did not eat the same things every day, my anxiety sky rocketed. For over a year, I kid you not, I ate the exact same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything was planned and a lot of the time measured. But, I was eating. I couldn’t go out to a restaurant that did not post nutrition facts online for me to plan my meal ahead of time. But, I was going out. My day was planned around my workout times. But, at least, I did other things besides workout. It was the same hell, just with nicer wallpaper. I was not getting better. Not until those who loved me had to love me with tough love did I make real progress. They had to start living normally and pulling me along for the ride. I had to try new things and stop carrying around this mental rule book. I also had to stop exercising. And they have supported me through the days where I cry at dinner time or have to take a walk with someone so I do not run. They pick restaurants for me to try. They serve me my food so it is in “normal” portions that are not eaten from a measuring cup. They encourage me and love me for where I am, but love me enough not to leave me there.

3. Shame and guilt are the biggest enemies.

Many who struggle with an addiction (I cannot speak for everyone) have an immense amount of guilt and shame entangled in the way they see themselves, when they think about their lives or when they think about their addiction. Or if they are attempting to recover, they may think of how their addiction has and is affecting the ones they love most. I have heard it said, “Guilt says, ‘I have done something bad or wrong’ and shame says, ‘I am bad or there is inherently wrong with me.’” Guilt can lead to change. However, when it only leads to an avalanche of shame, it keeps the cycle going. And it is suffocating. Shame is why they try to hide it. Shame keeps it in the dark. Shame runs the show.

4. When they say things like, “It’s over. This is the last time it will ever happen. I’m done. I won’t do it again,” they’re not lying to you.

I have lost count of the number of times I have told my family, friends, and husband that I would stop, that I would take care of myself and make healthy choices. I have cried and cried and told them how sorry I was and that it would never happen again. I am tired of being tired. I won’t give into this anymore. This has stolen my life and I’m taking it back. I mean it this time. I am going to change. And then morning comes and I stumble. And I trip. And I fall…more like crash, actually. Bam, now I look like a liar. The feelings and the statements are genuine, but the follow through is a mountain to climb. Humans make mistakes. Don’t stop believing in someone because they fall. Trust them. Don’t trust the addiction. Separate the two and know that when they fall, they feel like a liar, a hypocrite and a failure. Accusations will only pile on the guilt and shame they bury themselves in.

5. They can’t just stop.

This addiction, this habit, took years to create. It started small, like a spark and has become a forest fire. What started as something that was “only a one-time thing,” has now enslaved them and is not letting go without a fight. It has become so engrained in their brain, it will take more than just deciding to stop for it to go away. Don’t let that deter you. It is more than a battle, it is a series of battles; it is a war. The war can be won, but it won’t happen overnight. Don’t give up and don’t let your loved one give up either. I was told that to find complete freedom from my eating disorder it would take a minimum of five years of consistent recovery. I have wanted to be free for four years now. Consistent recovery hasn’t happened until this year. So, in total, I am looking at a minimum of 10 years before I find total relief for myself and my family. Not a day goes by without at least a moment of thinking I just want to give up and go back to what I know best.

6. They do not continue in their addictive behaviors to spite you. However, their behavior, this addiction, can be their way of saying something.

The biggest factor in my recovery has been me finding and using my voice. For years, instead of taking what I was feeling and using it to figure out what I needed, I used my behaviors. I let my eating disorder do the talking. When I was hurt, angry, lonely or sad, I didn’t think about why. I just turned to my addiction. When I was anxious or upset, I didn’t talk to anyone about it, I just went out and ran forever. Instead of letting people know what it was that I needed, what I was going through, I clung to what had become my safe haven. Eating disorders are not about the food or the weight. Drug and alcohol addictions are not about the drugs and alcohol, etc. Listen to what the addiction is saying, to what the eating disorder is saying… there is something else going on.

7. Addictions have a point.

I have an anxiety disorder. I also have normal human needs, such as the need for connection, the need for belonging and the need for purpose. For me, the eating disorder, first of all, reduced my anxiety. Secondly, it either met some of my needs, gave me a feeling of belonging, purpose and control and served as a distraction. This didn’t just happen because I was bored, conceited or needed attention. There is a point to why it started. I have found when I work through what that is, the easier it is to not run back to the slave master that is my addiction. Addictions are unhealthy ways of meeting healthy and legitimate needs.

8. Be patient with yourself.

I asked my husband if there was something I have said, in trying to explain my struggle to him, that made it easier for him to understand. His response was that there was not anything that I have said that has helped as much as time has. Living with it day in and day out, learning through experience and seeing the struggle first hand has increased his understanding of what I go through. This takes time and patience. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help for yourself. I know it has been emotionally exhausting for my husband and without the support of our family and friends, we would not have made it this far. Take care of yourself too! Your needs are just as important. Which leads to my next point. 

9. You are important. Your struggles are real, too.

Just because your loved one is struggling, does not mean they don’t care about what you are dealing with also. I continually remind my husband that I want to know what’s going on in his life, that hearing his burdens does not burden me. Yes, I am dealing with a lot, but that does not change the fact that I love my husband and would do anything for him (that’s legal). We all have something we wrestle or struggle with. We all have hard weeks. We all get stressed out. In fact, opening up and offering to them your own struggles, fears or worries may ease a loneliness that is so deep. It may lead to trust, for both involved, and create a connection. Connections are life lines.

10. Take it one day at a time and remind them to take it one day at a time also.

This one is kind of self-explanatory. Addictions and mental illnesses are difficult. However, one day at a time they can be managed and can be beaten, especially when you fight as a team.

And finally, I firmly believe that all of the above can be summed up in the following:

Love one another.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via rudall30

26
26
0
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Surprising Way Alcohol Addiction Recovery Affects My Mental Health

60
60
0

The first time I spoke the words “I am an alcoholic” was 23 years ago at the age of 20. While I half believed them, I was at a place in my life where my use and abuse of alcohol to try and numb the anxiety I felt was no longer working. I knew what alcoholism was. I grew up with it. I also swore I would never drink. Alcohol was a solution for my anxiety symptoms for a while. Self-medicating with alcohol seemed like a better way to deal with things than to keep trying to play trial and error with anti-anxiety medications that did not seem to work.

After my last podcast, “Carrie Fisher — Mental Illness and Addiction, I started to think about the things that work best for me to stay well in mind, body and spirit. The thing about addictions is that the actual physical use of alcohol or drugs is a symptom of a much greater problem. Not drinking did not put an end to my problems.

I had many problems. Some of them stemmed from the feelings of inadequacy, terminal uniqueness, self-esteem, resentments, ego and co-dependency, but they all had a root directly related to my anxiety.

I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Making the decision to become sober after alcohol began to take over my life was not easy. My anxiety got worse and I had no idea how I would survive without my self-medication of alcohol. It would have been easy to just go back to drinking as a solution but I knew where it could take me. I might have had temporary relief of my anxiety symptoms, but the choices I made while under the influence were not healthy ones. I had to find new ways of coping with my anxiety. I had tried things like counseling, self-help books, meditation, mindfulness and 12-step recovery programs. All have been helpful and helped me to learn and grow within myself. I became very active in my 12-step program. I noticed a pattern in my life: when I replaced alcohol with these healthier things, especially my 12-step program, my anxiety was less. I feel like I go into remission.

At 10 years of sobriety, I stopped going to my 12-step meetings and although I stayed sober, I fell apart mentally and spiritually. My anxiety was rampant once again and I was in the bottomless pit of despair. After a few years of being in that dark place, I decided to go back to meetings to see if that helped. Within a year I became a different person again. I was on my way into remission and was feeling happy, joyous and free.
I swore I would never let that happen again, and committed myself to the program of recovery for my own sanity.

At 20 years of sobriety, I stopped going to meetings again. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I ended up right back where I was with anxiety, agoraphobia and depression setting in. I stayed stuck in this state of despair for a while. You would think the easy solution would be to just go back to meetings if that is what helped before. My anxiety had gotten so bad I had trouble going anywhere alone, so going to meetings was terrifying for me.

I began to do a lot of soulful work by reading, meditating, taking classes and writing. It brought me back to the place where I could comfortably go back to meetings again.

I went to a meeting last week and this week. The difference I am feeling is already amazing. Someone last week spoke at the meeting about his struggles with mental illness as an alcoholic and after years of being in and out of hospitals, the doctor told him: “everything you need to be well, you can find in the rooms of AA.” That is my story too. It might not be your story, but it is mine.

I am an alcoholic, I have a mental illness and my recovery, my medicine and my solution are in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

60
60
0
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.