You know me. You trust me. I’m a normal-looking stay at home mom who seems to do the best things for her kids. I nursed my babies. I fed them organic baby food. I dressed them in adorable outfits. But, if I’ve been in your home (and why wouldn’t I be?), I’ve tried to steal or have actually stolen from you. I’ve looked in your medicine cabinets, your nightstand drawers, your linen closets – anywhere and everywhere I could think of that could contain drugs. I am white. I seem totally in control. I could be your sister, your friend, your neighbor, or the mother of your kid’s friend. And I am a drug addict.
Are you judging me? I understand; If I wasn’t me, I’d judge me too.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did my addiction start? Like nearly everyone who becomes addicted to pain pills, I started taking them when my doctor prescribed them for a legitimate reason. In my case, it was after the birth of my first child (after I was done nursing). I never planned on becoming an addict – does anyone? – but I thought addiction wouldn’t be an issue for me because I’ve never been addicted to anything else; not even coffee or cigarettes.
In fact, I distinctly remember telling a friend that I didn’t understand why people got addicted to Vicodin or Percocet because they never made me feel “high,” just better. And that remained true throughout the time I abused pain pills. I never got high. I was never out of it. I never got sleepy or slurred my words. I just felt better, physically and mentally. I was more relaxed, less anxious. I know you may not believe this, but I was never not able to take care of my child because I never felt loopy or weird or not like myself– just better.
It became obvious to me later that I was self-medicating to help with my post-partum depression and anxiety issues, but by then, the physical addiction had overtaken me.
Do you know what starts happening to your body when you take enough pain pills? You become constipated due to the codeine. So, your stomach starts to hurt because you’re constipated. Because of that, you take another pill to feel better, which makes you more constipated. After a few days, your body starts to adjust and you’re able to start going to the bathroom again. However, it works on the new, codeine-infused schedule, so if you try to slow down or completely stop taking the drugs, you get cramps and diarrhea. Depending on how long you’ve been addicted, that can last for days.
So, even when I finally got the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs that were helpful and appropriate, the physical symptoms (plus the good feelings) made it very hard to quit.
How did I keep my narcotic addition alive? Three ways.
The first was that I doctor shopped. At time of my addiction, my state didn’t have a central database listing all the controlled substances a person was prescribed. Because of this, I was able to go to four different doctors, each of whom would prescribe for me based on the real, but occasional, pain issues I had. I kept waiting for my doctors to say no or my pharmacist to question me, but no one ever said a word. Remember, I’m a mom. I’m white. I’m put together. I don’t look like a drug addict, so the doctors and pharmacists assumed I wasn’t.
When the prescriptions weren’t enough, I started asked friends for their drugs. Many of them had narcotics they never finished either from surgeries or the birth of their children. Citing my pain issues, I asked if they had any pills I could have. Most of them happily handed them over without a question or second thought.
And, of course, the last way is wrong, shameful and totally out of character for me, but in line with what addicts do: I started stealing drugs. It started at family members’ houses. I’d look in the medicine cabinet. And low and behold, sometimes there were drugs! I’d take a few. After all, they weren’t using them and I would, right? As soon as I discovered this new world of possibilities, I moved on to looking around friends’ houses too (ones who I hadn’t asked initially). Then, I began to purposefully find a reason to be at someone’s house. If I scheduled a playdate, we got together over at the other parent’s house. I’m sure you caught that – I used my kid as an excuse to get into someone’s house for the sole purpose of stealing their drugs. That is messed up. Severely. I knew it and yet I still did it. During the course of a few months, I quickly learned things I didn’t want to know (like who was taking Viagra), but I kept searching – looking in medicine cabinets, nightstand drawers and linen closets – anywhere I thought that may have what I wanted. What I needed.
I would never, never, never steal money or jewelry or anything from family, friends or strangers. And yet. And yet, I did steal. I didn’t want their money or their jewelry. I wanted their drugs.
So why did I stop? I got tired of being an addict. After a while, I needed more and more pills just to feel normal, forget about feeling better. And I was sick of constantly thinking about when I needed to make my next doctor appointment or how I could finagle an invitation to someone’s house. Plus, I had a small child to whom I was devoted – I knew I shouldn’t be taking drugs while Mommying and I didn’t want to do any (more) long-term damage to my body.
About two years after I started using, I broke down crying one day and confessed to my husband and mother. Their emotions, of course, ranged from sad to disappointed to angry to confused to concern and more. But, they told me they loved me and helped me get help.
My husband took care of things during the weekend I detoxed (complete with all the fun things like the shakes, cramps and diarrhea). My mom helped me find a psychiatrist and therapist who specialized in drug addiction. And, while I did lapse and use occasionally after The Big Detox Weekend, by the time I got pregnant again, I’m relieved and proud to say I was clean.
Has it been easy staying clean? Absolutely, positively not. But I know that it’s the right thing to do for my family and for me.
Like I said, I know the vast majority of people reading this will judge me, but I’m not writing for them; I’m writing for the person who sees this and recognizes themselves. I want to tell you that you’re not alone. That, whether through NA or working with a therapist, you can get and stay clean. It’s a long, hard process, but I believe in you. You can do it.