How I Took Narcotics Responsibly in Sobriety

By Olivia Pennelle 04/03/17

After falling off my bike and breaking my arm, I had to make some quick decisions about pain relief... while trying to maintain my recovery.

A woman worries about the medicine she is supposed to take.
A part of me wanted to take as many pills so I could get my hands on.

A devoted cyclist, I was on my way home two weeks ago and I fell off my bike. I broke my arm. I was in agony. Having just relocated to America, I had a very quick induction into the American healthcare system. I was astonished how freely narcotics are offered! I had to make some quick decisions about pain relief, while trying to maintain my recovery. I walked what felt like a tightrope with the decision I made—balancing between falling off into a drug-induced abyss that you hear of, and staying on the right side of my sobriety. I made it, but with some strong measures in place.

On the side of the road, I quickly looked over myself to ensure no bones were sticking out, then I got back on and cycled the remaining distance home. I went into survival mode; I was running on adrenaline. When I arrived home, I went into shock; I was shaking, crying, and confused. I have only lived in America for just three months and it has taken just as long to obtain healthcare (as a freelance writer trying to make her way). Co-incidentally, it was just approved the day before my accident! But, I had no idea how to access the American healthcare system. I was terrified.

My head flooded with the threat of assuming thousands of dollars of debt by going to the wrong hospital, when I’d only just arrived in America to pursue my creative dreams. I thought my dream was over the instant I hit the ground.

Feeling hysterical, I called a local woman I met in a meeting here and told her that I had fallen off my bike and that I thought I’d broken my arm. She calmed me down and we decided that as a course of action: I’d wait half an hour and if the pain didn’t subside, I’d go to the ER. 

I’m in recovery! I recall exclaiming in the ER.

Frightened and in shock, I said no to pain relief initially. My roommate—who took me to the ER—and the medical staff questioned that decision. Yet, I winced and cried every time I moved my arm. We settled on a strong anti-inflammatory injection, which did no more than make me shake.

You’ve broken your radial head. The doctor said.

I was devastated. They put a temporary cast on my arm and I couldn’t move it from my bicep to my fingers. I was immediately impaired. I wasn’t allowed to shower for a week—until I followed up with the orthopedic surgeon—and had to solely rely on my left-hand (my non-dominant hand). Most frightening though, I couldn’t write—this was my means of earning a living! How was I going to pay my bills? I remember crying in the ER, telling the nurse that I was a writer and questioning how long I’d be unable to write. I kept hearing 6-12 weeks.

I recalled that my sponsor had recently spoken about when she took Vicodin after having surgery. The pain was so bad at that point that I made the decision to call her, and I called a close doctor-friend, before taking stronger pain relief. I felt like I needed it. The advice that I received was to not be a martyr and to take what the doctor prescribes, as prescribed.

This is the course of action I took to maintain my recovery:

  1. I knew that I was motivated by pain, so I put my friend and sponsor on speaker phone with the medical staff and my roommate, to be transparent about an agreed course of action. We agreed that I would take Vicodin.
  2. It was a short prescription for only four days. I aimed for pain relief, not the absence of pain.
  3. My roommate dispensed the tablets to me at 4-6 hour intervals, to remove the temptation to take more.
  4. I checked-in daily about how I was feeling with the Vicodin in my system and any desires to take more than prescribed.
  5. I attended regular meetings and shared my thoughts.

As it happened, I felt horrendous after taking the Vicodin; I felt drunk, dizzy and nauseous. I agreed with my sponsor to half the dose. After three days, I chose to stop taking it.

A week later, I met with the orthopedic surgeon who delivered the good news that I didn’t need surgery, or a cast. He said that I would be healed in 4-6 weeks. He acknowledged that I was still experiencing quite a bit of pain and freely, despite my telling him I was in recovery, offered more Vicodin. We settled on tramadol, as ‘it isn’t as strong as Vicodin’. He offered me 20-40 tablets. I couldn’t believe it. There was a part of me that wanted to take as many as I could get my hands on. That reminded me that the beast of addiction still lies within me. I took 20, with the same measures in place as before.

Except this time, I decided with a friend in recovery that I would take the responsibility of dispensing of the pills, after all it is my recovery. I did just that; I took responsibility. I agreed that if I felt uncomfortable at any time, that I would give them to my roommate. I felt drunk when I took them—a feeling I no longer like, or desire, having enjoyed several years of recovery. I stopped taking them after three days, and discovered that Tylenol and ibuprofen is quite an effective method of pain relief.

It is now three weeks later, the pills have been thrown away, and I celebrated five years sober on 26 March. I wouldn’t hesitate about short pain relief in the future, if it was required, but I would be cautious with measures in place to protect my recovery.

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