When I came home from my deployment in Iraq, I started having severe migraines and chronic widespread pain and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My doctor at the VA hospital prescribed oxycodone 5mg three times a day. At first it did help, but within a few weeks, it became less effective. Therefore, the dosage was increased to 10mg.
During that time, I worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs and there were a lot of veterans that worked there also dealing with chronic pain. Multiple coworkers told me about this amazing pain management doctor that was the best in our area and she really wanted to help chronic pain patients. On the first visit, she increased the dosage of oxycodone from 10mg to 30mg three times a day. That should have been a red flag, but I did not think a doctor would prescribe pain medication that I did not need. I trusted this doctor and she really gave me the impression that she genuinely cared and wanted to improve my quality of life.
Within a year I was prescribed 120mg of fentanyl every 48hrs, 120 mg of oxycodone and 90 mg of valium daily. By that point, I was a functioning addict. I held a job full time and went to school full time and since I was able to maintain employment, it was easier to hide my addiction. Over time my moods became unstable, erratic, and I was in pain constantly and severely depressed. My thought process was impaired due to the vicious cycle of pain medication and withdraw symptoms. I was hospitalized twice in psychiatric facilities for suicidal ideation and attempted suicide.
When I was 27, I met my biological father for the first time. He struggled with opiate addiction most of his life and he was taking a lot of the same medication I was currently on. Meeting him was a turning point in my life. I did not know that much about him. I knew he was married and had two daughters and he played the drums, but that was it. I remember seeing family photos of him and my sisters on vacations that I had only dreamed about and milestones that I was not a part of. From the outside, it looked like my Dad had the perfect family and I was so jealous. Shortly after I met him however, I recognized it was nothing like that. He had been an addict his whole life, and while my sisters had him in their lives daily, he was never really “there”. I learned that the most important thing in his life was his opiate addiction and at that time it was mine as well. That is when I realized it was time to take control of my life again. It was a decision I made for myself.
I went back to the pain management specialist and told her I no longer wanted to be on opiates and the response I got was unsupportive. She did not approve of my decision and would not even decrease the number of opiates she was prescribing. So, I left the private pain management specialist and went back to the VA. I told the doctors that I wanted to come off opiates and I needed a professional to monitor my process. I did not want to take suboxone or methadone, so I agreed to stay in a current counseling program while I was coming off the medication. It took 2 years before I was completely off fentanyl alone. It was a long process and something I did very slowly. Surprisingly, it was not as bad as I though it would be. Was it tough? Absolutely, but I was also still taking oxycodone and Valium.
After I accomplished coming off fentanyl, I slowly started decreasing the amount of valium I was on. I started at 90mg but would go down 10mg every few weeks. After nine months, I was down to my last 10mg of Valium. That was one of the hardest withdraws I ever experienced. It was horrible and I do not wish that misery on anyone. The body aches, cravings, headaches, nausea, stomach issues, and severe pain lasted several weeks. Once I weaned myself from valium, I took a 3-month hiatus just to give my mind and body time to adjust and heal. The last medication I took myself off was 120mg of oxycodone. I followed the same process but only decreased 5mg every few weeks. I was down to 2.5mg of oxycodone and I took that for almost a year. Out of all the medication, that last 2.5 mg was the toughest to stop.
It took five years to be entirely opiate and benzodiazepine free. Without question, it was the most challenging experience I had ever gone through. It tested me mentally, physically, my marriage, and my relationships. I remember sitting with my husband David and telling him how sorry I was for being absent in our marriage for so many years because of my addiction. I felt guilty for letting my addiction come first before everything. I felt shame for the mistakes I had made, and I was embarrassed to share my experience with anyone, even close friends and family.
My husband had been my number one supporter and he encouraged me throughout the whole process. I am just so grateful he stuck by my side and did not leave me when most would have. I also found out recently that my previous pain management specialist had her license revoked for over-prescribing patients and she is no longer practicing.
During the fifth year of tapering off opiates, we bought the farm. The farm really pushed me to stick with my recovery. It was the change that I needed to get away from family and friends that were addicts and to remove myself from that environment and triggers for relapse. At the farm, I was back outdoors, working on projects, taking care of animals, doing chores and connecting back with nature. The farm has really been such a lifeline I am so fortunate that my addiction did not escalate past prescription medication because I doubt, I would be here today.
The farm was instrumental in my recovery, it is more than just a hobby to me. It gives my life purpose, structure and meaning again. It has helped in strengthening my marriage as well. Spending time with the animals also greatly reduces my anxiety, depression and they have helped to re-build my confidence. I wanted to share my journey of addiction to recovery so I could turn a dark period of my life into something positive. I hope it can be a source of encouragement to someone that may be struggling with addiction and proof that you are not alone. XOXO