3 February 2014

On July 3rd, 2012, sometime around 11 a.m., I was lying in bed on my right side with my knees drawn up and my arms crossed at my belly as if to hold life itself in; I had a notion run through my head like a cranky toddler trying to avoid getting a vaccination: Oh, God, this is why some people want to die.

I didn’t want to die; I was in serious pain and nauseated as hell, but in one fleeting moment I thought I understood why some people choose to end their lives rather than endure any more pain. I knew that sooner or later there would be at least a modicum of relief. Sooner or later the Spouse Thingy was going to come into the darkened bedroom armed with Percoset and Phenergan and that the edge of the knife of pain would have its blade dulled, and I would be able to get a little sleep. I was sicker than I had ever been, but eventually I would recover.

The longer it took for him to show up with the pain meds, the more I understood the need to crawl away from pain.

I’ve been in pain of varying degrees since 1997, but this was new; this was the sort of pain that chews you up and spits you out in large, semi-chewed bites, and keeps coming at you as if you’re a never ending buffet of sadistic culinary delights. This was pain that, had I not known that there would likely be an end point, might have sent me over the edge.

It’s stuck with me. This is why some people want to die.

Over time it’s also why I’ve come to understand, just a little bit, why addiction seems so prevalent. Why anyone would choose the risk that comes with taking that drug the first time.

No one ever thinks they’ll become addicted.

Yet I’m sure that for most, it’s the gateway to taking that knife blade and dulling the edge before it reaches the point where death is the better idea.

I was curled up in bed waiting for relief, waiting for the one thing that stood between agony and rest. The one thing I knew would make a difference.

That one thing was a narcotic.

No, I didn’t become addicted to it. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t have. I was in considerable pain and it went on long enough that I can easily see how that could have happened. Another week, another month, who knows? It worked just well enough to keep me sane, and combined with the anti-nausea medication kept me asleep enough to avoid most of the emotional drainage that comes with being in that much pain.

As I felt better I was able to ease off the Percoset; I consider myself lucky for that.

Pain is pain; whether it’s physical, mental, emotional…it’s pain. It’s draining. It robs you of your ability to see past what hurts. It becomes an entity to which attention must be paid, and while you’re trying to wrestle with it, there’s not much left. You’re pretty much lost to yourself. There’s the shell of your existence, and the pain.

The agony that left me thinking I understood why some people want to die didn’t have to be physical; I don’t imagine it’s any different for someone in deep emotional pain or crushing mental disease. And the thing I knew was coming to me to help dull that agony is the same thing thousands of people in pain reach for.


I knew that drug was going to help, and all I wanted, from the moment the drugs I’d been given in the ER wore off until the Spouse Thingy came into the room, was that drug.

Yesterday as the news of the death of one hell of a talented actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, was shared in stunned Facebook status updates and urgent-sounding Tweets and news bulletins, woven into the total shock came—as it always does—the grumbling from those who felt that he’d done this to himself, so there really should be no sympathy. He made a choice; he chose to take drugs in the first place, and he chose to fall off the proverbial wagon and go back to drug use.

Maybe he did.

I doubt it, though.

No one, save for those few who were privy to the personal demons of Hoffman, will ever know what made him reach for those first drugs.

The same could be said for any addict: no one takes that first drug thinking they’ll be addicted. But there’s almost always a reason they do reach for it, and I’m betting that at the bottom of the pile of detritus of their lives is a throbbing, relentless, oh-holy-hell knife of pain, the blade of which they only wanted to dull.

I don’t know the statistics; I don’t know how many people become addicted because they were young and stupid and just wanted to try sometime fun and it kicked back on them harder than they ever could have expected. I don’t know how many people slip from the occasional recreational drink to frequent social drinking to full bore alcoholism. I don’t know anything beyond my own experience and the small window it has allowed me to peek through.

There is pain so severe that you can just want to die. And there is the hope of relief so attainable that you willingly reach for it, and you simply don’t know what the end result will be.

You may recover and be able to leave the pharmaceutical help behind, or you may not. And when you’re in that kind of pain, I don’t think it’s your fault.

You do what you have to in order to survive, and there’s the chance that you might not. You dull the edge of the blade and hope that’s good enough, and risk the odds that the knife is sharp on both sides.

Sometimes you lose.

Sometimes, you die.

And when you do…it would be nice if it didn’t come with a lot of judgment, a lot of supposition about how and why, or with character assassinations.

Miss them, mourn them…but don’t judge them. Because one day it might be you curled up in a tight ball of oh-holy-hell, and you cannot, you absolutely cannot, predict how it will end.


angelgypsy said...

Thank you so much for this. It gives me hope to see people have understanding of each other's humanity. Some people don't have that.

Anonymous said...

I have been in 4 car accidents, the first I was tboned when a woman ran a stop sign, my car was totaled and I can only thank God I was alone in the car. the others were rear ends. needless to say my back and neck are messed up. Most days I can take the pain, I live it every day, there are days when I can manage with heat packs, tens unit and mass quantities of advil, aleve does nothing for me. But then there are days followed by nights of such agony, I can not sit, stand or lie down for any amount of time, nothing helps me. My doctor will not give me anything for the pain, I get so frustrated, I know it is because he is afraid of my becoming addicted, that will never happen, I am stronger than he thinks, and can understand the wanting to be free of pain, but what I wouldn't give for one good nights sleep.....

Julier said...

How many people become addicted to heroin because their doctor won't give them pain pills? Just go to any methadone clinic or rehab center and you will see a very high percentage.

I suffer with peripheral neuropathy and my former doctor gave me 5mg oxycodones and when I had an episode (which can be a few times a week and can last from 1/2 a day to 3 days) I would take a couple of oxy's and within 20-30 minutes the pain would be gone for about 4-5 hours or not come back at all

My current doctor will not give me narcotics so I tried getting them on the street. It's very expensive and I couldn't afford what I need. Then, my dealers would start selling and recommending heroin as it was cheaper. I did not go that route, but many do.

Instead I take 3-4 ibuprofens and if the agony does not stop in an hour I take 2 more. Some days I take up to 18 ibu's in a day! I know this is very bad for me and I am killing my liver. But I have tried everything else such as heat, ice, pressure, etc. And nothing else works. My doctor would like to give me oxy's but his hands are tied because of policy. Oh, and I had no problem or withdrawal from the oxy and I took 30 5mg pills a week for 6 years. They won't even give me 30 a month which would help!

Mighty Kitty said...

What's really nasty is being medication sensitive where the medication has other side effects that make life more unbearable in other ways. There are very few medications for pain that I can take. In fact, morphine has no effect. I found that out after a major major surgery! Does not even touch the pain for me!