2. Holier Than Thou

2. Holier Than Thou

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Holier Than Thou

In order to change we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

~Author Unknown

As a teenager, I had a self-righteous, almost sanctimonious attitude regarding substance abuse. I probably seemed judgmental and intolerant of anyone who indulged in drugs, and almost certainly annoyed people with my smug self-control.

But then in my early twenties I had a bad fall that resulted in severe back pain. When it didn’t diminish, I was forced to seek medical help. My family doctor ordered X-rays, diagnosed a bulging disc and prescribed pain medication. Having never taken anything stronger than the occasional aspirin, I wasn’t prepared for the warm sensation of well-being that seeped through my body. I instantly recognized it for that “buzz” people raved about when they got high. I felt like I was floating, as if all my problems were suddenly insignificant.

Before even a week passed, however, the happy haze lifted and the pain returned. I called my doctor and he told me to double the dosage, instructing me to stop by his office for a renewal. I did, and after a quick examination, he told me it could take up to six months to heal. Then he cautioned me to take my medication sparingly and only when the pain was intolerable. Armed with a generous new prescription that included refills, and a follow-up appointment in three months, I left.

I continued to take two tablets every six hours for the next two weeks. Soon, I needed something after four hours. Afraid to take them closer together, I began to take three at a time, five hours apart, snarling at my husband when he worriedly suggested I slow down.

“You have no idea what I’m going through, so leave me alone!” I yelled defensively, not wanting to admit he was right. After that, I dosed myself when he wasn’t looking.

Before I knew it, my second bottle was empty. When I tried to renew it, the pharmacist gently reminded me that I was taking a strong addictive narcotic. He filled my order, but warned me that I had to wait at least a month before he could give me more.

The next day, I made an appointment with another doctor at a nearby clinic after work. I agreed to more X-rays knowing they’d show the disc was still inflamed. I got another script, which I filled at a different drugstore. Computer databases weren’t established then, so no questions were asked.

It wasn’t long before my life became a terrifying spiral of frustration, deceit and desperation. I seemed to pop pills constantly. Every waking moment was spent in either a cloud of stoned bliss, or anxious hours coaxing doctor after doctor to give me more tablets. I endured numerous tests, subjected my body to countless X-rays and lied about the degree of my pain. When my husband tried to talk to me about my intake, I tuned him out. Even he didn’t know the extent of my abuse. I denied that I had a problem — to him, myself, and anyone else that questioned my need to overmedicate.

I was convinced that I wasn’t an addict. Addicts used needles and lived in filthy squalor. They didn’t work, and most were ruthless thieves that stole from their own families to get high. I had a job, a husband, and paid my rent on time. Anything I took was legally prescribed. I wasn’t one of them, I assured myself pompously!

I learned to keep careful notes of every drugstore and doctor I frequented, carefully rotating my visits so as not to arouse suspicion. No matter how clever I thought I was, though, I couldn’t fool everyone. Many physicians refused to give me anything or disdainfully handed me a prescription for three or four pills just to get rid of me, warning me not to come back. Undeterred, I would match the ink color and add a zero to the amount, forging renewals on the bottom.

My tolerance level continued to rise. My back healed, making my quest for a fresh supply of narcotics more difficult. I became completely desensitized to any physical discomfort. I’d find bruises on my body and be mystified as to how they got there. I burned myself on the stove and was unaware until a blister appeared. The tension at home escalated, but I didn’t care. I only cared about my next high. My husband pleaded with me to get help, always reaffirmed that he loved me, and remained ever loyal, yet I still continued to feed my growing habit.

One weekend, while he was out bowling with his friends, I was relaxing at home. I had just filled a fresh prescription, so I was calm and happy. I decided to spoil myself with a long, luxurious bath.

I set a candle on the edge of the tub. When I went to light it, the match sparked. To my horror, I watched my entire arm go up in flames. The flash of light disappeared a second later without leaving a mark.

I stared at the unblemished limb in shock. I could only assume that the chemicals from all the pills had begun seeping through my pores, and that caused the reaction I’d just seen.

I slumped to the floor, shaking. A tear slid down my cheek and onto my lip. I licked it and realized it had no taste.

“It should be salty,” I whispered out loud. “Tears are supposed to be salty.”

I stood up and stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. My hair was dirty and lifeless. I hadn’t styled it in months. My pupils were dilated, my skin puffy, bloated and gray. I saw a dying woman looking back at me. It was my moment of reckoning.

“You’re an addict!” I told my reflection, and with that admission, relief overwhelmed me.

I walked through my home with a robotic, yet determined purpose. I pulled pills from every one of my multiple hiding places. Grabbing the bottle I had just bought, I strode to the bathroom. I poured everything into the toilet without hesitation and flushed. I didn’t dare wait to dispose of everything in a more environmentally safe manner because I knew I would weaken.

Several months later, I was out shopping. After a painful, self-imposed “cold turkey” withdrawal, I was once again healthy and sober. My marriage was back on track, and I was treating my husband, who’d stood by me through it all, with the love, gratitude and respect he deserved.

I stepped up to the pharmacist’s counter to pay for the skin cream I’d bought. I reached into my old winter coat that I’d dragged out of my closet that morning, and my hand closed around a cylindrical plastic tube. I pulled it out to find a vial of pills I’d forgotten I had. I stared at them, hypnotized. I could almost taste them.

“Ma’am?” the druggist prompted me out of my daze, and I smiled at him.

“Could you please dispose of these?” I asked him, handing him the bottle. “They’ve expired.”

I paid for my purchase and left. As I walked out, tears flowed freely, but I smiled, welcoming their warm, salty taste.

~Marya Morin

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