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My Double Life as a Chronic Pain Patient in Addiction Recovery

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Living between a rock and a hard place is an accurate description of my life. I intentionally live a double life of sorts. You see, I am in recovery from addiction and a chronic pain patient. Right now, the climate in our society is very inflammatory when it comes to these two worlds. The recovery community is calling for stricter prescribing laws and the chronic pain community is upset with the addiction community for the epidemic. What either is failing to see is that both communities are struggling with chronic issues.

This is a very lonely place for me to be. I speak very little of the other part of my life when interacting with the opposing sectors of our communities. I fear judgment, criticism, anger and abandonment. I have been through it and it is painful. I have left support groups due to the backlash I have received when speaking up in a way that advocates for more understanding. I can see it from both sides of the fence and both sides have valid arguments.

I recently found out I have a rapid and ultra-metabolizer gene that causes me to metabolize opioids faster than a person without this gene. I thank my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome for that. However, for many years, this information was not available to me. I was in terrible pain all the time and nothing ever worked the way it was supposed to. The doctors just kept upping my doses trying to provide me with some relief. I took more and more. I am the only one responsible for those actions. Eventually, even the extremely high doses of pain meds did not work, and I turned to medicating myself.

Fast forward a few years, I entered recovery. I had the notion that all my pain was induced or compounded by narcotic analgesia and if I could just stop taking all of my medication, I would feel better. For a short time, I did feel much better. I worked very hard to build my life back and I left the abusive relationship I was in. My life seemed to be getting better. I was going to meetings, working a job and living in a sober living home. I started to think that maybe there was nothing wrong with me physically and that things were going to be OK. This was very short-lived.

It began the first winter I was sober. I was wracked with pain and could hardly move. I tried diets and supplements. I tried light walking. I tried stretching, yoga and meditation. I tried anything non-narcotic that my doctors suggested. Still nothing worked. Depression set in that winter and stayed for quite some time. I contemplated suicide many times and am so grateful I could never go through with it. At this point in my journey, my hEDS, Chiari malformation and all the other diagnoses that go with them were still undiagnosed. I began to think it might be all in my head. I was told I had borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and misery and unhappiness disorder. All of those except the MDD have been disproven now that I finally have answers to my health puzzle. So, you can see how I thought I was losing my mind. Still, I fought for answers, because somewhere deep inside, I knew they were wrong.

I continued to get sicker and the first surgery I had in recovery scared the daylights out of me. I was so worried I would go off the deep end. With the help of women in recovery, I did not. I have had five more serious surgeries since then and have had to be put in pain management. There, I found an amazing PA who listened to my story and was struck by my honesty. She ran the genetic tests to find out if I had the gene that caused me to metabolize medications differently. When the tests came back, it was like everything made sense. We have found low-dose medications that I can safely take without risking my sobriety. There are very few I metabolize normally and the ones I do just happen to be very low on the risk assessment scale. I am so grateful for this physician assistant’s dedication to finding answers and pain relief. We have a multi-disciplinary approach, medication and PT. We use injections and mobility devices. I use my braces and TENS machine. It is more than just medications. I eat right and use every available tool in my tool box.

Still, I do not share with the larger part of the recovery community that I need to take medications. When I have, I have been met with judgment and criticism. I have been told I am not really sober. I must let that roll off my back though, because I know my motives. I know I take my medications today as prescribed. I have no other choice. I need them to function and the ones I am on do not affect me in the way that stronger medications would. Still, it is hurtful.

I feel like I must hide part of myself. This goes for the chronic pain community as well. I see such anger and judgment for those struggling with addiction. The times I have spoken up in defense of those struggling I have had awful things said to me. I dedicate much of my time to advocating and awareness for my conditions and to be cast out as less than really stung. However, I must not let the opinions of a few pierce my heart and dampen my fire. I know from my own experience that hurt people hurt people and those living without proper pain relief in the wake of the opioid epidemic are hurting.

So, this is me stepping out in faith. Trusting that sharing this will not cause more discord but help bridge the divide. Life is not always right or wrong, yes or no, black or white but exists somewhere between all of that. There are very few simple answers to complex issues. It makes me wonder, if we stopped blaming each other, could we find an acceptable solution? Or am I being idealistic? You tell me.

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Photo via Darwin Brandis on Getty Images

Originally published: December 7, 2017
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