Dear People Who Are Not Opioid Addicts

By maggie 11/10/17
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Dear People Who are Not Opioid Addicts,

I’m so exquisitely sensitive in my first year of recovery, I’ll turn into a crying zombie for days. It’s usually something wildly unimportant, like not being invited to a party, or someone not remembering my birthday. All I can say folks is these crying jags are not normal. They’re fueled by my endorphin-deficient brain, one that was flooded with too many exogenous opioids for so long, endogenous production is wretchedly low. Consequently, until my production reups, I’m finding it alarmingly difficult to complete even rudimentary tasks--like housework or shopping.

I’m woefully unprepared to deal with life in an adult fashion. They say you stop growing emotionally from the time you began using. Since I started at sixteen, I find myself frequently behaving like a diagnosed-with-borderline-personality-disorder teenager. You may tell me I brought this upon myself, and believe me I know that. But, I’m not asking you to do my coping for me; I’m asking you to try to understand, perhaps show a little compassion, and some support.

What I’m asking may seem like a minor thing, but it could be hugely instrumental in helping us opioid-addicts-in-early recovery. Many addicts die because they couldn’t deal with the “real world” in early sobriety, and when they relapsed, ODed because their tolerance was too low. So, if there are ways to help us opioid-addicts-in-early recovery, let’s do it! It could be as simple as asking us how our day was, and really listening without judgement. Or perhaps giving us some supportive words on how well we are doing at our job, or school, or how our demeanor has changed so much for the better since we’ve gotten sober.

And, there are also several things you could perhaps not do. Starting with: stop with the incredulous mindsets concerning why someone would become an opioid addict in the first place. It becomes patently clear when I hear stuff like, “When the doctor gave me a Vicodin script after surgery, it did nothing, I mean nothing for me, except put me to sleep and make me a little nauseous.” You many even wrap it up with a supercilious smile and add, “I Just don’t get why anyone would get addicted to them . . . like why would anyone want to nod out or slur their words over a pill?” (Ironically, this last question has been posited to me by active alcoholics.)

I know personally, the first time I took a Vicodin, I didn’t nod out; quite the contrary, I was imbued with positive energy and became quite industrious and efficient. All my resentments and anger, sometimes rage, (yikes!) at the drinkers I served at the bar evaporated. Suddenly, I loved everybody, suddenly, I had immense tolerance for the pain they must be going through to dump on me, the bartender. And you know what? That pill turned me into an instant hit. I recall my boss pulling me aside and saying, “I don’t know what has gotten into you, but just keep doing what you’re doing!” (What? Keep taking Vicodin? If that isn’t positive behavioral re-enforcement, I don’t know what is.) My tips went through the roof, everyone began to like me, where as before, the customers complained constantly about my “snippy” attitude. Now, dear people-who-are-not-opioid addicts, if you had my brain and you had a solution in pill form to alter it resulting in a much better attitude, wouldn’t you take it? I’ll bet you would. Yet, there are some of you, dear people, that may suffer from similarly snippy attitudes, but have taken Vicodin and guess what? Nothing but getting tired and nauseous happened and your attitude remain unchanged. Will you, dear people, take that pill again? Of course not! So please stop with futile comments like, “I just can’t understand how anyone could become an opioid addict in the first place.” Believe me, if opioids didn’t initially affect us in such a profoundly positive way, we wouldn’t have become addicts either.

And the second suggestion is: We know, that you know, we’ve blown up our lives and have very little to show for it in early recovery. So, status-conscious, ego-driven, achievement-oriented conversation is going to leave us cold. Now is the time to maybe discuss your feelings, insights and such, not the time to engage us in a competitive one upmanship tete a tete. And when asked about what we’re up to, we don’t really have much to talk about that you dear-people-who-are not-opioid addicts can relate to. I say stuff like, “Um, well, I go to meetings, try and do service work, do my steps . . . No job yet, uh, kinda blew up my last job opportunity and I’m just coming up from the ashes, ha, ha . . . and well I do hobbies, and I’m kind of getting happier . . . well sorta of.” Yawn! Watch you dear people-who-are-not-opioid addicts look past my head at the cocktail party I’m sipping a diet coke at, and with a prompt terse kiss or awkward hug, say something like, “Oh that is so nice, keep up the good work. Will you excuse me for a second?” Now I know this seems innocuous and you’re probably thinking, jeez woman, get a grip, don’t be a hater! And I know I need to have a thicker skin, but I don’t . . not in early recovery anyway. I need to toughen up more and get with this program called life. And I am, slowly, but in the meantime, could you show just a tad bit of sensitivity?

And last but not least: If you really want to help the opioid epidemic on a dynamic, grass roots level, stop bailing on us in early recovery. Stop telling us you love us, and you miss us but are routinely not physically present in our lives because, well, you decided to bail instead. As my brain attempts to heal, I find myself watching an awful lot of television, and there is always something on about the opioid crisis. Friends and families are frequently interviewed on how they feel now that their loved one is gone. They say stuff like, “He couldn’t deal with life on life’s terms and relapsed after six months, and because his tolerance was so low, he overdosed and died.” So many of these interviewees have regrets that they “didn’t pay more attention to the signs.” They feel bad because “looking back now, he seemed agitated or stressed or depressed but to tell you the truth, I just didn’t have the time for him. Now I wished I’d had,” is a commonly heard lament.

Okay? I’m sure we early-in-recovery-opioid addicts are not the cheeriest bunch to be around. Ever been to a Heroin Anonymous meeting? A cadre of sepulchral, dour people in mourning because one of theirs is dead, or they bemoaning their messed up lives, or even grieving for their ex-lover, heroin, is what you will witness. I know we are not a rosy bunch. That is why we need you support. We need some cheering up! C’mon, dear people-who-are-not-opioid addicts, find sometime in your schedule to see us.

We can gripe about how we need more effective treatment, or how we need to prevent it in the first place by cracking down on over-prescribing, and maybe even effectuate real change by getting involved politically, but we need your help, on a personal level as well. Many of us have a family member or a friend currently battling their opioid addiction and if you could be just a little more supportive, understanding and less judgmental, believe me, it would be appreciated by we early-in-recovery-opioid addicts. Thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

An Opioid Addict

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