Withdrawl Checklist

I’ve tried to write about withdrawal so many times since I started this whole process. My neurosurgeon wants me off all my pain control before he puts the titanium plate in my skull. He is worried that because I’m small, anesthesia is risky with how much pain control I was on; plus pain management post-op is difficult when you are already opiate-tolerant. Have I mentioned that I’m getting a titanium plate in my skull? Exciting right? Collin wants to know if he will be able to put magnets against my head. Is titanium magnetic? If so, how thick is your skin over your skull?

But, every time I start to write about this topic, I have to delete the whole thing. Here’s the gist of what I delete:

  1. I’m not a drug addict. I’m a patient.
  2. Dependence and addiction are DIFFERENT THINGS!
  3. Dependence, and subsequent withdrawal, isn’t a punishment that I deserve. It also hasn’t taught me a lesson.
  4. Dependence, and subsequent withdrawal, isn’t a punishment that drug addicts deserve. It also doesn’t, or shouldn’t be used to teach them a lesson.
  5.  If you think 3 and 4 are true, at any level, you are an asshole, and you understand zilch about neither dependence, nor addiction. Read a damn book, or talk to a real person, instead of listening to CNN, or popular media.

So, I gave up. I decided to just ignore most of my ranting and raving. Here’s what I want to talk about instead: what I have learned you need, when it’s time to go through the process. My doctor and I planned a long withdrawal. I was on a lot of pain meds, and instead of doing the process all at once, I did a slow, long taper. It took months, but when it was time to do the Fentanyl patches, there’s no slow. Each patch came off whole, and each one sucked. There was no way to make it easy.

Everyone knows the basics. You need pajamas, towels, the easy, obvious stuff. But, what else do you need? Well, here’s what you need!

A Supportive Husband/Family

The “glamorous” symptoms of withdrawal get all the attention: vomiting, shitting, sweating, shaking, invisible bugs. No one mentions the irrational crying and mood swings that come with it. Ask my husband; this symptom is just as irritating as the others. Without a supportive person to hug you when you start crying about dropping the remote, and then to immediately retreat when you say, “stop touching me, it’s so hot…wait, I need a blanket,” withdrawal is, essentially, impossible.

A Good Doctor

Your GP is not good enough. You need a doctor who actually knows how to properly taper you off of pain meds, and how to provide you with palliative medications to help ease the process. I got non-addictive meds to help with the shakes, anti-nausea meds to help with the vomiting, anti-histamines to help with the sneezing and snotting, and meds to help with the, yes, pooping. People know you vomit; people don’t always know that you sneeze and snot, a lot (a rhyme!). Withdrawal sucks; go to someone who gets it. Most people don’t ask, or understand any of this; they think that withdrawal is, essentially, a punishment you deserve for taking “drugs,” in the first place. Fuck those people, and go to someone who is both sympathetic, and understands that dependence and addiction are different things.

Courage

People are assholes. Lots of them. Even your closest family and friends. They are bolstered by the news media and public perception of blurred lines between drug addicts and patients. So, they say stupid shit about your needing to take your medication. Have the courage to tell them to shut the fuck up, or that what they are saying is inappropriate. Or, just don’t talk to them. By the way, even drug addicts deserve compassion and sympathy, in my book. No one chooses addiction; they chose their first hit, but they likely took it to numb something, some kind of horrible pain in their lives. It’s no different than the reason I take my medication; I take it to numb horrible pain, too. Now, they are stuck in a dependence situation, too. I feel badly for them. I don’t envy the pain they’d have to be in to get out of it. Compassion goes a long way, in this world.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Etc.

You will be awake a lot. Another withdrawal symptom people don’t realize is troublesome is the intense insomnia. I had to withdraw from my Fentanyl patches in three stages. The first patch, I was awake for only two days; the second, I was awake for three. The last patch, I was awake for four full days. And, on that last patch, I still slept shitty for the two days after that initial four days. Try that sometime. Just stay awake, fully awake. But also be freezing cold, while simultaneously dripping with sweat. Meanwhile, imagine that you are covered with invisible bugs that are not on you, but inside of you, crawling up and down you, attempting to escape through your muscles. It’s good times. But hey, you can watch television to pass the time. Someone once said to me, “it must be nice to be able to rest and watch T.V.” Yeah, it’s fucking vacation.  

Rice, Plain Pasta, Ginger Ale. Gatorade and Salt

You’ll eat almost nothing except dissolvable anti-nausea pills, but your mouth will be too dry to dissolve them. Then, you’ll realize that you haven’t peed since yesterday, so you should drink a Gatorade. Buy the food you’d buy if you had the stomach flu. It’s a great way to lose weight, but I don’t recommend it. Thanks to withdrawal, I’ve lost eight pounds; but, it’s because I think I shit out a hot dog that I ate in third grade.

Moments of Joy

In the throes of withdrawal there will be almost no joy. This past Sunday, Mother’s Day, I said, to Bryon, “if this kills me, please don’t save me. Don’t call 911. Let me go.” I said it because the removal of my last Fentanyl patch triggered a Chiari headache. Chiari headaches can feel like a stroke, or an aneurysm. It’s often how Chiari gets diagnosed; patients end up in the ER because they pass out, seize, or the pain is so blinding that they get put in an MRI. It’s what happened to me. After four days of hard-core withdrawal, I was in agony. I sincerely thought my body wouldn’t make it. But, only a few hours earlier, there was a pair of peacocks in our front yard. They had wandered down from the hill and were squawking to one another. My son and I sat on the porch and watched them for a few minutes before they meandered away. Those five minutes were the happiest five minutes of my whole weekend, even though I had to lean on him. It’s all I had to hang onto for several days. It’s still all that I have, as I wait for my surgery date, aching, with no pain control in my body. Find those moments, because if you don’t, you’ll give up.

A Present or Reward

After I got through each Fentanyl patch removal, I bought myself a reward. I deserved it. It’s like finishing a marathon, being run through hell, in August. I set a goal when I started, which was not to vomit. My doctor laughed, saying it was basically impossible. He also told me that the long withdrawal, versus the short one, is almost impossible. The best way to get me to do something is to tell me that it’s hard and that I might not be able to do it. So far, I’m 100% vomit-free, and I’m almost done with the long withdrawal. A few days of this process, it was by sheer will, but it still counts. That’s a reward in itself, but so is the UPS driver delivering a package from Anthro. The doctor? He’s impressed with me being through it, and even more impressed with the vomit-free. At the last appointment, he said that almost no one makes it through this; he has to admit almost everyone, at some point, because they give up. He said he had no idea how tough I’d be. Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something; but, I need a present for doing it. I may be tough, but I like shiny things.

There’s nothing I (or anyone) can say that will make withdrawal easier or better. It sucks. But, it ends. There’s a peak, and then it eases up. One person will say that theirs lasted X days, and then the next will say Y, and so on. So, there’s no rhyme or reason, and you can’t predict it. Just ride it out. One morning, you’ll “wake” up from being awake, and you’ll start to feel better. It will end, even though it feels like it won’t. I think that’s the worst part of it, the feeling that it won’t ever end. Just keep repeating: this will pass.