Painkillers are big news in my life. I love them and i hate them. There are 2 types of pain killers in my life, Anti imflammatory and narcotic. There are 2 times of pain in my life, every day pain and crippling pain.
My back is fucked. My bottom 2 vertibrae are split and crushed (through years of bricklaying/building work) and there's nothing i can do that will repair them. They are permanently fucked. I do daily physio exercises though that strengthens my core which protects those vertibrae and this really helps me live life without any painkillers.
When my back goes, the muscles around my damaged spine go into spasm.They lock and shreek and render me crippled. If you are fortunate, you can go to bed for 2- 3 weeks and those muscles will unlock and whatever shit you've done to irritate your spine will calm down. Unfortunately most builders aren't in this position. This is where painkillers come in because your daily exercises are now impossible. Normal painkillers (your paracetamols, nurofens and the stronger diclofenics and naproxins) don't work on a back locked in spasm). You need the good shit, our friends codiene and tramadol mixed with the stronger anti imflammatories Naproxine or diclofenic.
When you are weak from pain and at breaking point, the relief is delicious. You feel the warmth envelope you, suddenly you are loosening up and mobility returns.Suddenly you are singing again.You can feel heat in your lower lumber that you know isn't a good sign but you are working. They work and if you have to finish that job they are a godsend.
The problems begin if you are an alcoholic/addict and this is why i am writing this piece. If you are an alcoholic, you are an addict. Unless you take on a life of complete sobriety then you'll simply replace alcohol with another drug (that drug may be less destructive than booze, such as weed but you'll still be a slave to that drug). You are an addict, face it.
It's funny, in all my years of sobriety, i was never warned about painkillers. I actually find this hard to believe, but as i was never an AA convert, i wasn't really hanging out with other addicts to heed the warnings.
DO NOT TAKE NARCOTIC BASED PAINKILLERS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES IF YOU HAVE AN ONGOING INJURY AND IF YOU ARE IN RECOVERY.
We are talikng codiene based products available from over the counter such as Nurofen plus, co codemol, Solpadene etc and then prescription based stronger codiene pills Solpadol (stronger co codemol) and the synthetic codiene,Tramadol.
Ok so here's how my addiction to painkillers began.
It starts subtle and you won't even realise. So the first time i took Solpadene/co codamol (available from behind the counter) i didn't even see this as a problem. It didn't get me high, it helped with my aches and pains and it raised absolutely no warning bells regards the fact i am an alcoholic/addict. This was at the start of my back injury before it had become a real problem. Looking back, i remember my mum saying i was addicted to the stuff but because i got no pleasure from it, it didn't compute.
The warning bells started to ring however after i got my first taste of proper pain medication. My back was locked and i had to travel in the back of a van, horizontal on my back, to a wedding. I took some of my dad's Tramadol/ Dromadol. Bam, i was high. Like seriously high and at bliss in the back of the van. Whoops. But hey, i was injured, this was allowed. And what a treat those pills were. I'd been completely mind numbingly sober for about a decade and suddenly, release. What is interesting here is that i had taken valium (prescribed by a doctor for my fear of flying) a few times previously but this never effected my sobriety. The addiction in me wasn't stoked on these occasions. When i took that tramadol, i wasn't looking to get high, i was looking for pain relief. BUT, my addiction clicked into place. All that low strength codiene bought over the counter, suddenly got linked to the Dromadol. BAM! This shit can get you high.
And i guess, once you've been high from opiates, you notice the subtle high previously undetected. Something changed.
I didn't suddenly become a raging pill popping addict. Like all addiction, it's a progressing illness, It's gets worse over time.
Ok, so the easiest way to progress with this piece is just to tell you how my life went from here and goes these days. Are painkillers a problem in my life? This is how it used to go.
Let's start sober.I am working, my back is behaving,i am doing daily physio, i am clear of head and my life is sweet. I am not suffering from depression. I am happy.
I feel my back starting to go. But i am in the middle of a job so i start taking regular nurofen/paracetamol.
The job progresses and the pain gets worse. It starts to wear me out.I start thinking about codiene. i make it home.
Wake next morning and the back has gone. It is in spasm. Physio is not an option, taking the day off is not an option. You go to the chemist. Actually, you go to 2 chemists. 1 for the Solpadene and another for the Nurofen plus (chemists can't sell you both. This i called the magic mix and it will get you through a few more days of graft.The magic mix helps but it doesn't stop the pain.You're counting down the 4 hourly intervals between mixes.
You go to the doctors and you get stronger painkillers. These work.You are able to work.You are able to get by.
So what happens next? Well obviously you are fucking your back up by working but now you have the means to continue. You get repeat prescriptions (coz you've just gotta work haven't you?)and your tolerance to the pills goes up (just like your tolerance to all drugs go up). You are now mixing your tramadol with shop bought magic mix, you are also completely fucking bonkers moody.
Being in the building game, you have access to plenty of other painkillers from other builders. You'll never turn down the opportunity for pain relief so you'll greatly accept the offer of the odd box of Oxy Codone, valium, codiene or more tramadol. Your fellow builders are not addicts and they do not know that you are an addict (or wouldn't understand the danger they are putting you in)so they are happy to give you their old painkillers.
A year goes by and suddenly you are a crazed pill popping monster who somehow always manages to get hold of pills. Your back is still fucked so this is justified. You are eating 12 pills at a go,every 4 hours, 4 Tram,4 codiene, 4 valiums and you are bonkers. You are essentially a junky.
You also realise that your back doesn't hurt anymore. You've been aware of this now for a while but decided to ignore it.
You are extremely irritable and moody and bonkers.
You decide to go sober.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH Enjoy the ride. Coming off of presciption painkillers will be the hardest thing (physically) you have had to do. It is undescribable unless you've done it and totally different to coming off off alcohol. You now understand all the films you've watched on junk addiction but i suspect this is worse. This is my account of coming off pills.
I guess i am lucky to have an understanding of addiction being an ex alcoholic so when i decided to get clean, i meant it. I wasn't kidding myself, i really wanted this.I was serious. I chose New years day.
Day 1 is the easiest. The week before you've been going at it hammer and tongs coz you know that it's coming to an end. Day 1 you are still high. This doesn't stop you from being insane.Wound up like a spring. You loose it in a queue buying croisants from a posh bakery in Muswell Hill and threaten to kill the miserable man working on New Years day. You go home. It isn't too bad.You are confident.
The ants arrive. The ants first turn up in your gut but quickly spread to your balls. You find yourself scratching and wriggling. The ants are cunts. You can't relax. Now remember that you are an alcoholic so drinking to placate the ants isn't an option. You have to just let them ants wriggle around inside your flesh. They don't let you sleep.
You start puking and this feels like you're getting somewhere.Then you start shitting and you start getting weak. Of course you can't eat, of course you can sleep, the ants won't allow this. they are now having fun building their nests in your legs.
The groans on the carpet. Hahaha This is a good one. You are broken, you are weeping, you are tired, you are sick, you are dirty. So you moan. This is great, You lie on your landing floor at the top of the stairs in your swaety pants and your moan. You turn on your back and you moan, then you weep hahahaha. There is nothing else you can do. You haven't slept for 4 days.
The malaise. The malaise is a great day because up until this moment in your life, you've never understood what it means. It means this, you are NEVER getting better. You feel no better than yesterday.You may as well die.
The fear. The fear is hilarious because the malaise of yesterday hasn't abated. You are NEVER getting better. You may have slept the odd hour in the last week but nothing has really changed. You are still in your pants on the carpet at the top of the stairs. So you pull yourself up and venture to the living room where you sit on the sofa. Suddenly you realise that you are seriously feeling suicidal.Like seriously,And it's a really scary feeling. Weeping and groaning you pick yourself up and put some loose ill fitting clothes on. You have to get out. You have to be with people. You go to the building site where you were supposed to be all week because if you don't, you might kill yourself. The usual 30 minute journey takes a ridiculous 2 hours because walking is really fucking difficult (ones legs are awfully wobbly you know). You've spoken to your understanding boss (who knows your history) and he's expecting you. your boss opens the door to you.When he goes to give you a hug you burst into tears. This makes the other builders feel awkard which is quite funny. You sit in your ill fitting clothes on a scaffold board an offer to make the men on site a cup of tea.This takes you about an hour and after the mountainous effort you realise you have to go otherwise you will die. The ants never stop annoying you and the malaise won't let up. You shuffle off weeping whilst your fellow builders look awkward. The 10 minute walk to the train station takes an hour. You get home and lie in your pants at the top of the stairs again for EVER.
The fear again. You aren't puking, you aren't shitting and the ants have stopped building new nests. But the world is BLACK. You have a little groan and a little weep but your tears stopped bothering to flow about 3 days ago. You can't believe this MALAISE. How can you even feel like this? Why isn't it getting better. It just isn't ever getting better. You start to get scared and think you are going to kill yourself. Well you don't think you will, you just start imagining you hanging from a rafter or you jumping infront of a train and then suddenly that idea doesn't actually seem that bad and then you get scared again and realise you have to be with people. You make the 2 hours (30 min) journey back to the building site. You sit in a cold dusty room. You don't speak or anything, you just need to be with people incase you decide to kill yourself. When you realise you are making the builders feel uncomfortable you shuffle off home to groan and weep and hang on but then on the bus, you suddenly realise you are GOD! You look out of the dirty window, out over the tracks at Kentish Town and you realise you are a GOD!! The air is literally sparkling around you. You see stars.Your brain explodes.The malaise has abated. You frantically scribble the answers to life on your phone. On that 24 minute bus ride you write 10 songs. You are more dangerously insane than you have ever been. In this moment of you the supreme being you recognise that you could be feeling what a bi polar person feels when they have an episode. Your god like status blissfully last about 30 mins then you plunge into blackness.
proactive day. This can't continue, you don't feel better. You manage to eat some marmite on toast and get into that fucking hot awful bath. The water burns your flesh off and every bone in your body aches. Oh yeah, i forgot somewhere in the last 6 days, your body was set on fire. You back injury burns, your knees burn, your elbows, ankles burn. Your injuries of old are all ablaze. You remember this is why you took painkillers in the first place. This brings on a great malaise again. You sit weeping with your purple green knees pressed against each other in the water. You feel so weak you can't bare it. You NEED to sleep so you download a relaxation tape on your laptop. You listen to the relaxation tape in the darkness, lierally praying that it will work, literally holding onto that stupid voice for dear life. I am not fucking with you. That relaxation tape becomes your life, your world.You hang onto it with you whole being.Focusing, praying. It tells you to find a safe place. You are pleased that your safe place in this desperate hour of need is your partner lying next to you, the time when you first met her. This comforts you. You don't sleep but you hang on. It's morning again and you are in your pants at the top of the stairs groaning gentle.
Repeat this scenario for about 3 weeks. It is a very slow process. You heal very slowly. You go to work because you have to try. You are weak but it does you a world of good even completing the smallest of tasks. Your strength returns but it takes so long that you don't even realise when you are healed. Coming off of pills is the hardest thing i have ever had to do physically.
It is also COMPLETELY different to coming off of alcohol. I'm actually kinda stoked i've managed both.
My relatinship with painkillers is ongoing but i've never let myself go back to where i was. I've accepted that i have to earn a living and sometimes that means the pills again. This time i'm acutely aware on the addiction as it takes hold and i've been able to detox from it before it gets out of control.
The last time my back went i simple said no. I stopped work. I didn't go down the route of pills and within 3 weeks my back was better. A typical back episode previously would last 3 months.
So here's the deal Alki's and addicts, if you are on the wagon, if you have never touched codiene and narcotic painkillers in the past, DON'T GO NEAR THEM!!!! Treat them as you would a lovely can of Stella yeah, you don't pick up. Pill addiction will take you back to where you were and we don't wanna visit them places again do we!
Love you all. I just wanted to share my experience with you so you don't follow in my foot steps! Stay strong, stay sober! x