I hate narcotics.
Hate them, and yet, I take them every day. Every. Single Day.
I’m dependent on them. I need them. Like you need food, I need my pain meds. Like you need sleep, I need pain meds. Sucks huh?
I tend to think so too. They are the evil little things staring me in the face saying “ha ha, you need me to function.” I hate them. They are a constant reminder of how weak I am, how my body refuses to just suck it up and be normal. I have hated every single one of them that I have taken, and I loath the walk to my medicine cabinet for the next dose. I am so ashamed of them that I take them in private, in my room with the door closed because I don’t want my kids to see them. With my back turned in the kitchen during a conversation with my husband because I don’t want him to watch me take them. It feels icky.
Ever since I started taking them in 2010 I was focused on the temporariness of them. They were the “just for now” band aid I needed to get through to the surgery that would fix me. Then they became the necessary pain control for post-operative pain that was only supposed to last a few months tops. 5 years later they’ve gone from being a here and there rescue medication to a daily ritual as normal as eating. Except eating doesn’t usually make a person cranky and feel like a failure. (At least, it’s not supposed to)
The goal has always been that the pain medication was the band aid that we were using only until we fixed the problem. When the problem decided to never leave, they became the thing we used while we searched for other, non-narcotic ways to control my pain. We tried everything you could think of; birth control pills, antidepressants, anti-consultants, muscle relaxers, anti-spasmodics, antibiotics, supplements, food restrictions, OTC pain relievers, sleep aids, you name it I’ve done it. Including 9 medical procedures that ranged from explorative to the removal of the organs that, by definition, made me a woman. The goal was 4 tabs a day and no more. If we could reach that goal we would have been successful in treating my pain.
I have not been able to take less than 6 tabs a day for 2 years, and as each medication trial came and went with no real relief or intolerable side effects I felt more and more like the biggest failure ever. What was so wrong with me that I couldn’t handle the pain enough to just reach that 4 tab goal? I had accepted that pain was going to be a part of my life, I just needed to figure out how to be in pain the right way. I had to find a way to reach that 4 tab goal but I was running out of ways to get there. I was running out of non-narcotic meds to take, physical therapy exercises to do and meditations to take my mind off the pain. My pain was constantly spiking and I spent most of my time counting meds and obsessing over how long I could function at a 7-8 before I had to cave and take that next tab.
In December I accidentally came across an ad for a pain clinic near my house. It was a small clinic, a satellite clinic branched off of the main clinic in Edina and I was oddly drawn to their page. I read every word on their website, every review, every treatment option they offered and called to make a consult appointment.
In 30 short days my pain regimen has gone from “management” to “control” and I am finally understanding the difference. The doctor I met with went over my entire patient history, every surgery, every medication I’ve tried (all 32 of them), every supplement I had tried and the ones I still take and he said the words I thought I would never hear. He said “Well, I think you’ve tried every option there is out there. I think we need to focus on controlling your pain.”
Over the last month we met several times and instituted a low dose daily medication that keeps me at a very even, and manageable 5 out of 10 on the pain scale. Sometimes I even enjoy a 3 or 4 for several hours at a time.
I have honestly cried tears of relief and joy more than once in the last month just so grateful for someone to finally find a way to help me. Without shaming me for needing the help of a narcotic based medication. To have a doctor say I have gone above and beyond what most patients would do before hitting this place, to say that he is impressed with my self advocacy and drive to understand everything happening to me. Finally, I am not failing at being in pain anymore.
I still hate narcotics. I still count them. I still set daily tab goals for myself and feel defeated when I don’t meet those personal goals. Which, I am aware, is ridiculously unhealthy. I sit out on things I want to do because I worry how it will affect my count for the day. And while the limits set in place by my Pain Specialist are quit generous and I rarely meet them, I still feel driven to be the “Good student” and use as little as possible.
I realize that from the outside using as little pain medication as possible seems like the best plan, and you’re right-less is best. However, I shouldn’t be living my life governed by my pain, or my meds. My goals should be more me based, less count based.
So after working with My Nancy (counselor since 2012 when the Hysterectomy didn’t work) we’ve come up with a plan that is healthy and me based. Just like ice packs, heating pads, meditation and physical therapy; pain meds are a tool. Not the enemy. They are a tool that helps me reach my personal daily goals. What are those goals? For me, getting a workout in, cooking dinner for my family, having social time with a friend, taking my kids out for a bit, those are my goals. Keeping my pain steady between 4 and 6 is a goal. I’m learning to focus more on what makes my life full, what makes me feel like me and less on how many tabs I take in a day. Some days I use hardly any, and some days I’m still stuck on the couch but the focus is slowly shifting.
It’s definitely a struggle, and I still hate letting anyone see me need to use my tools, but I’m so desperate to feel like myself again, so determined to be in control of my life that I will keep working on it until I’ve mastered it. I’m stubborn like that.