What I Need

Alright, so this is going to be another post that has some brutal honesty in it. I’m not going to like it, chances are if you know me, you might not like it much either. But really, if I let the image I want to create supersede truth, then I will lose all credibility with myself, and eventually, with you.

So here it goes:

As many of you know I’d been given a prescription for some benzodiazepines (clonazepam – brand name Klonopin) for the anxiety and muscle spasms caused by my withdrawal from the Subtuex.

I would like to divert here by talking about how often doctors prescribe a different drug to manage symptoms caused by another….but that’s not the focus of this post, so I’ll get to that another time.

What I want to talk about today is my “need” for pills. I’ve been curious for a long time what it actually is inside of me that makes me think I actually need some sort of pill to change the way my brain is working chemically. After all, I made it till 18 years old without ever drinking a drop of alcohol or smoking marijuana or doing any sort of drugs at all except my legitimate CF treatments. At one point (at 15) I did go on Ritalin for ADHD but I found that all it did was make me lethargic, and make it impossible for me to focus on more than one thing at a time. In short, I took it for about a month then stopped.

The point is, I know that although I may not have been totally healthy and I ignored quite a lot of mental health symptoms (e.g. depression, anxiety, etc) I was able to manage my life okay without the influence of a pill to take away pain or calm me down.

A lot of people may hate me for saying this, but I think I opened the door for myself with alcohol and marijuana.

I don’t see those substances as being “bad” in and of themselves. However, they, just like anything else, can be used and abused illicitly and end up turning into something they were never meant for. For example, marijuana was originally used by workers in the fields to calm their weary muscles and help them relax after a long day of hard physical labor. (Or at least, as far back as we really know – plants of the cannabis family have been cultivated for thousands of years, and their medicinal use has probably been understood and utilized at least as long)

Alcohol, too, arose from the general human need to deal with pain and to relax after labor.

However, that human desire can all to quickly turn a substance with a legitimate medical use into a drug of addiction and dependence.

Look at the opium poppy. From this innocent and very beautiful flower, some person lost in the mists of ancient history discovered that he could dull the pain of soldiers on the battlefield. Some of the earliest recorded usage of the gum harvested from poppies come from the annals of Alexander the Great. You see, he realized that the morale of his men was much improved when their injured comrades were not screaming all night long. And since someone had figured out that the poppy could induce sleep and pain relief, he began to have his battle surgeons administer it to the injured.

Even before that, the poppy was cultivated in ancient Egypt, used in ancient Ayurvedic practice in India, and grown in China. But it was used by medical professionals in isolated situations, and because the technology did not yet exist, it remained useful rather than harmful.

Then came the industrial age, modern chemistry, and morphine. Named for Morpheus, the god of dreams, morphine was much stronger than any previous tincture or distillation of opium. Although there were many opium addicts prior to the advent of morphine, morphine was different. It could be injected directly into the veins, in a way opium could not. It also “edited out” many of the chemical compounds in opium that caused numerous side effects. It was, by many medical professionals, considered to be a panacea.

But then C. R. Alder Wright had synthesized another compound in 1874 – diacetylmorphine – more commonly known as Heroin. And the world had a new cure-all. It went into everything from cough syrup to headache remedies to food and drink products.

In fact, they even thought at one point that heroin could be used to cure morphine addiction! What a thought. Instead they ended up with a bunch of people even MORE addicted to heroin than they had been to morphine.

And there ends my diversion into the history of man’s problematic relationship with poppy derivatives. Obviously there are many more types of what are now known as synthetic “opiods” meaning anything synthesized to mimic the way the natural opiate compounds (morphine, codeine and thebaine being the primary three natural substances found in the opiate poppy) work in the brain.

All of this research, chemical study, and clinical use has had one primary purpose: to help relieve pain.

And I don’t think a single one of us would argue that there is something wrong with that goal. The issue has consistently been that while these types of substances work incredibly well to deal with pain, they also cause a host of other effects that are not intended, including a level of dependence that is at least alarming, if not downright terrifying.

If you have ever had to take prescription pain medication for an extended period of time and then had to try to stop, addicted or not, your body does not like it. Your body, for lack of a better expression, gets angry. It tells you, “what the hell man! You’ve been putting this substance into me and so I’ve adjusted, and now you STOP?! Either you keep using that substance or I am going to flip your world upside down!”

But there is something deeper than mere physical dependence for those of us who truly become addicted.

I finished my prescription for the clonazepam yesterday. It would have run out much sooner, except that I kept myself to half of what the prescription actually said I could take.

But I probably would not have been able to do that without the help of my aunt and uncle who held onto the medication for me and just gave me the 3 pills a day that I had decided I “needed” to get through the last part of my withdrawal from subutex.

And yet here it is, I’ve stopped. The withdrawal process (at least the acute portion) is totally over. But something inside me still says, “you need to take a pill today. Right now, actually. You aren’t right without something to change what’s going on in your brain.”

It says: “You are too anxious, too active, you can’t focus, you are in pain…pill, pill, pill, pill, pill!!!”

But at the moment, as I sit here writing, I can analyze my body dispassionately (as much as that is possible for any human being). And I can see that the pain I feel is manageable. The anxiety I feel is manageable. The hyperactivity I feel is just causing me to write this faster. I am easily able to focus, and I don’t feel one bit depressed.

So what the hell do I want to take a pill for? This is why I know the motivation for altering my mental state is coming from somewhere other than just my body. Yeah, people talk a lot about “psychological dependence” but they don’t really make much effort to define or understand it, in my opinion.

While there are many therapy approaches to help deal with this issue, my approach, at the moment is to just continue on my journey and keep myself accountable to my friends and to all of you.

I’m done with pills to make me “feel better”. And yes, I recognize that in certain situations I may have no choice (if I was in a severe car accident or something crazy like that). But except for in some sort of dire emergency, I am choosing to use other methods to change how I feel, whether it be exercise, meditation, or even just getting on the web to interact with some of you about how I feel.

So yes. As I write this, I wish I had one of my “anxiety pills” to take to “calm me down”. But I don’t. And even if I did, the reality is that I don’t need one.

Remember one of my first posts: When Have I Done Enough? In it I examined that idea of “enough-ness”, and here it is again. What I know now is that what I have, who I am, and what I am doing, right now – in this moment – is enough.

And that, my friends and fellow wellness questers, will be my mantra for the next decade, probably:

“What I have is sufficient – I need nothing more than what I have”



4 responses to “What I Need

  1. I so appreciate your honesty and transparency, dear nephew. In my opinion, these qualities are a very important key to optimal wellness. You are doing such amazing work. Love you.

  2. I’m so glad I started reading your blog. I always understood, on an intuitive level, that the fight to regain normalcy after addiction is a hard one; I just didn’t know it was SO hard. Frankly, anyone who can go through it and come out clean on the other side is superhuman. I really admire you.

    I experienced the minor withdrawal symptoms you mentioned in your post, when the painkillers from my most recent surgery ran out. And yes, I was completely caught off-guard by the desire for more. I didn’t pursue that desire, but had I been prescribed more pills by an over-zealous doctor, who knows? I feel like I finally caught a glimpse of just how easy it really is for people in our society, who operate within our medical system, to go down that road.

    • Hey Meg,

      Thanks so much for the encouragement. It means a lot. Especially coming from someone who has been there, at least a bit, and knows what that desire feels like. Sorry it took me a while to get back to you.

      And I do agree with you – the problem in my mind is both the system (prescription happy doctors who are afraid if they don’t treat pain they will get sued) and more importantly, our society where people seem to think that taking a pill can be the answer to everything.

      I’m certainly not saying that there isn’t a place for medication. God knows if we didn’t have modern western medicine I’d probably have died years ago. But I think that there is a time and a place to take a pill, and a time and a place to grab an ice pack or take a hot shower/bath.

      Pain is subjective – it is interpreted by our brains. I know that when I focus on my pain, it expands, exponentially. But when I truly begin to place my focus elsewhere, the pain recedes, or at least becomes more manageable.

      I’m glad you’re reading my blog and I’ll look forward to more conversation in the future.

      Peace to you and yours,


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