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Overcoming the Negative Ways I Used to Cope With Chronic Pain

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My life began falling apart due to chronic pain around the age of 20. I had spent more than five years searching for a cure, having many surgeries, being on multitudes of medications and having my hope for a cure destroyed on a weekly basis and I was done. I could no longer juggle going to college, trying to receive good grades, spending three out of seven days of the week in doctors’ offices and trying to make and keep friends.

I dropped out of college and completely gave up on myself and my health.  I drove from New Jersey to Colorado where I had a couple friends who were kind enough to let me stay with them until I figured out what I was going to do with my life. Truth be told, I didn’t believe I had a chance at life and was just trying to get by and not think about pain. I hung out with people who enjoyed drinking and loved the college scene. My friends were drinking to be social and have fun during their years in college while I was drinking to numb chronic pain. I still had yet to be told I had chronic pain, as this was not a term used widely as it is now. All I knew is that I had a terrible bike accident that nearly killed me and I was left with pain that was invisible to everyone except myself.

I had never been prescribed pain medication and taking Advil had the same effectiveness on alleviating pain as eating Tic Tac’s all day would. So, I took drinking with friends to the next level. Being in a college town that was known for its partying made self-medicating my invisible illness quite easy. I fit in. We were always able to think of an excuse to drink: Taco Tuesdays, Wine Wednesdays, Thirsty  Thursdays, then the weekend was an obvious excuse to party: TGIF!

Most of my friends were in college full-time as I had been prior to dropping out and fleeing New Jersey. They had extra reasons to celebrate and drink with everyone: doing well on an exam, the end of mid-terms and the breaks we all know and love. I felt awful celebrating with them when I was doing nothing with my life. I loved school and had had so many dreams that I truly believed were stolen from me because of chronic pain. The more I hated myself, the more I drank and ate. Within six months I had gained a lot of weight. I ate all day and drank all night.

Having a hangover was easier than dealing with chronic pain. My friends understood hangovers but did not understand how in the world I had this pain when I looked perfectly healthy on the outside. Hangovers were amazing compared to dealing with my invisible illness. I started to get more and more depressed and hopeless. Drinking was no longer fun; it was a means to an end. I only drank to numb the physical pain I felt. My tolerance went up and I needed to drink more to get the same pain relief. Instead of laughing and having fun with my friends I always ended up sitting on our deck or on a mattress crying into the bottle of red wine I had grown to hate.

Each day and night seemed to get worse until one day I woke up very late in the morning and all I could smell was stale red wine. I looked beyond my mattress and saw red wine stains covering the carpet. I started to cry like I had never cried before. I knew I had hit my rock bottom and it was either drink myself to death or find a way to manage chronic pain that I had not found in the many years I had dealt with this invisible illness.

As I cried on that mattress surrounded by red wine stains my good friend researched places that specialized in chronic pain. He looked up every hospital and Pain Center in America and finally stumbled upon the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Two days later, we were in my car driving from Boulder, Colorado to Rochester, Minnesota. A few weeks later my life changed forever as I entered the Pain Rehab Center at the Mayo Clinic where I spent a month learning how to manage pain naturally. The following year was tough as I spent that year solely focusing on my health and practicing everything I had learned at the Mayo Clinic. I never thought about numbing my pain with anything and the thought of red wine made me want to vomit. I have been using the tools I learned at the Mayo Clinic since I was 22 years old.

After my year of focusing on my health I entered college in Denver, Colorado and got my degree in Social Work. I loved learning about how to help people, especially people with an invisible illness. I am 35 now and it has not always been a smooth ride in my journey with chronic pain. There have been bumps, curves and some U-turns along the way, but nothing can compare to my days and nights of numbing my chronic pain with alcohol. My lifestyle is not conventional and I live a structured life that incorporates ways to manage pain with positive coping mechanisms. If I can find a way to live a life with chronic pain without the need to numb the pain, anyone can. One day you will believe me…maybe not today, but one day.

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Thinkstock photo via kieferpix.

Originally published: May 15, 2017
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