DISABILITY AND ADDICTION MY STORY

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story of my experience with pain, pseudo-addiction, real full-blown life destroying addiction. My long road back to reality and how I returned from the lowest depths of human depravity to finding and understanding the maxim 'Know Thyself'.

Submitted: November 28, 2015

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Submitted: November 28, 2015

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DISABILITY AND ADDICTION MY STORY

by Michael Dale Sipes, Jr.

 

I was recently belittled, for taking methadone for pain and pseudo-addiction due to an unscrupulous doctor, who controlled my pain in a way that increased the frequency of my visits and therefor his income. The person mocking me was a family member who failed out of High School, stayed on unemployment most of his life, did not work and had moved from wife to wife hoping to strike it rich. So I could argue, consider the source, however there is more to the story than that. In order to understand my reason for taking methadone you must first understand my disability.

Six months before graduating High School, I joined the Army’s early entry program. A very short 10 days after graduation I was on a 747 bound for St. Louis International Airport in Missouri, where I boarded a greyhound bus for a three hour ride to Fort Leonard Wood for Basic Combat Training. Upon completion of basic training, I went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas for advanced individual training in which I went to 91B or field medic school and 91K, medical laboratory technician school. While studying for 91B Combat Medic School which is now 68W (68 Whiskey), I was attached to Foxtrot Company, 232 Medical Battalion which was a high stress company. We would spend hours every evening in formation standing at attention awaiting, what I have no idea and still do not know to this day. If we were not at attention for hours we were on our faces doing pushups, it was as if basic training had gotten a lot longer. Once I graduated from 91B School, I moved “up the hill” as we called it, because it was literally up the hill to Charley Company, 187th Medical Battalion where I lived once again in a large open bay with 60 other guys. However, there were major difference between down the hill and up the hill; I guess the old saying shit rolls downhill would apply here. I finally had a taste of personal freedom for the first time in many months once the drill sergeants realized they could trust us. We still had physical training, however for those who maxed out their PT scores they could continue to do PT on their own, and I was one of the lucky ones. This meant that I could sleep in while everyone else had to get up at 04:15 to be in formation at 04:30. 91K school was an entire year, with six months of schooling followed by six months of on the job training. I finished my six months of schoolwork at the AMEDD Center and School and graduated in December of 1996. I graduated in the top 10% in both MOS’s or fields of occupation and continued to my first duty station at Kirk US Army Health Clinic in January of 1997. Up until this point in my military career, I had served flawlessly, without so much as a personal scolding from any drill sergeant or superior. The Army was my life, my dream and I was living it to the best of my abilities.

At Kirk US Army Health Clinic, I began working in the laboratory on January 1, 1997 its then I met two of the people who would ultimately destroy my military career. Sergeant White was the NCO directly in charge of me with a Specialist named Burford; both were substandard to both military professionalism and soldierly appearance. Sergeant White tried to make up for his own deficiencies by nit picking at those who were highly squared away. I always had a fresh haircut, crisp uniform, and boots so shiny you could see your reflection in them. I kept to myself and did not associate with the sergeant or the lieutenant in charge of the laboratory since I preferred to spend my time jogging or at the gym. This led to me being under a microscope all the time and a rumor had spread that the Lieutenant did not like me and wanted me gone. I started to develop depression, severe OCD, anxiety with panic attacks, which led to a trip to the psych ward for over a week. A psychiatrist whom I hated and told her I hated her decided to diagnose me with with a personality disorder instead of PTSD, which lead to my involuntary separation from the Army.

 I will never forget that day as I stood in front of the company commander, with all the military discipline I could muster pleaded my case to let me stay in since I was responding to treatment and felt completely normal. He told me his decision was final, at which time a tear fell down my cheek; I saluted him, performed a right face, and left both his office and my military career behind. That moment was the single worst, most hurtful moments of my entire life. I hesitate to admit it but truth is truth, it hurt more than the death of some of my relatives, as crazy as it might sound. Most people would have been overjoyed to get out of a situation they really had no clue was all about in the first place, but I wanted to stay in and retire after 30 years at a very young age of 48. Now with my hopes, my dreams all destroyed the only good thing that came of the separation was my honorable discharge and all the benefits that come with it.

Upon leaving the Army, I had no place to live so I went to live with my best friend and his Mother. One night my best friend and I had an altercation, which ended up with me falling, hitting my lower back on a metal bed rail. I never imagined that fall would have such a profound impact upon the rest of my life. Consequently spinal stenosis in its later stages causes other problems such as neurogenic claudication and numbness in the legs, both of which I have. The spinal stenosis has also invaded my upper spine and now my arms are weak and go numb quite often. I cannot distinguish the numbness of spinal stenosis from the numbness of carpal tunnel, but it is there nonetheless. I have other debilitating issues such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and horrid debilitating panic attacks eight or more times a day. Every day I wake up in horrid pain, sometimes in the middle of the night, however thanks to the wondrous nature of opiates, I am able to get through my day. If I did not have a home to attend, myself to feed, animals to take care of and a farm with six acres of grass to attend to, I could just sit all day in a chair, but even that is painful. Even though opiates are wondrous, they are like a double-edged sword, they help, but they have consequences, and for every good in life there is an equal bad. I suppose life is much like the body itself, finding your homeostasis in life is similar to how your body’s cells and brain continually strives to find its homeostasis.

Once I began to experience significant pain issues that began to affect my work daily in the latter part of 1998, I began taking a COX 2 inhibitor called Vioxx, which is now off the market. I then began taking Celebrex, but since I am allergic to sulfa drugs, I had to stop taking that as well. In June of 2000, I decided to move to West Virginia to spend time with my great-grandfather and grandfather, who were both dying. It was no time before I had to seek out a doctor to help with my pain that was once again hindering my work, and my workouts at the gym. The doctor immediately put me on an opiate pain medication, but told me to take two at once. I remember the first time I took two instead of my usual one, it put me in a kind of a warm blanket, all happy and content and most importantly at that time pain-free. That lasted for a year or so before once again; my stenosis was causing so much pain that my usual dosage was no longer controlling it. I phoned my physician who said to start taking them every four hours instead of six, which I immediately thought was strange because that would exceed the maximum dosage allowed. Nevertheless, doctors know best, right, and I followed his orders, which was mistake number one. The following night I took two tablets instead of my usual one and once again I was on cloud nine, wrapped in that familiar blanket of warmth comfort and all of life's worries seemed to go away and I forgot about my pain.It did not take long before I was going home and taking two of these pills in the morning just to feel good while I sat at my computer pecking away, talking and doing things that I would have little to no memory of the following day. 

One day while at a friend's house there were several people all gathered in a room and apparently they were snorting some kind of crushed up pill. I had never heard of such a thing and I wanted no part in it. I completely ignored them and their cheerfulness and had my own good time sitting watching TV. This happened a couple of times until one particular night the peer pressure of these so-called friends and my pain overcame my sensibility. I snorted the pill and soon thereafter felt the old blanket again and my worries melted away along with my senses. It was not long before I was buying these pills but swallowing them because in my drugged and distorted mind it was not drug abuse if I was taking a prescription pill by mouth as prescribed, right. The pill happened to be hillbilly heroin or OxyContin.

My friends who had tempted me into trying them and cheerfully dispensed them now wanted payment for them. The first time they told me the price I actually laughed because I thought it was a joke. This tiny yellow pill was $40.00 that is insane, I will take eight. I said to this so-called friend, now dealer that I could fill my car with gas and buy some groceries with $40 dollars. Once the pills were gone and a few days went buy, I was in pain but this was slightly different, I had other symptoms, perhaps I was coming down with a cold. I went to my friend/dealers house and he said you look terrible. I told him that I had the flu and he said no your dope sick and brought out the magical little pills. Without consciously thinking about it, I pulled out my wallet and bought four of them. I continued this cycle for months, slowly increasing my dosage until I had jumped directly from the frying pan into the fire.

On one particular night, there was a girl at my friend’s house playing the waiting game to get our “medicine”. She looked as if she weighed about 100 pounds or less, had bruises all over her arms and just looked completely unkempt. She had a needle, a spoon, and a bit of cotton with her. I asked what she was doing and she said she was getting ready to bang it. I watched in amazement as she methodically smashed the pill, after removing the coating and placed it in a spoon. She then added a bit of water from a dirty cup and heated the mixture from underneath with her lighter. It started to heat and little bits of pill and water started to shoot up from the base of the mixture. She then dropped a piece of what I thought was cotton onto the mixture, but it was actually a piece of a used cigarette filter. After drawling up the mixture into her syringe, she wrapped a belt around her arm and plunged the needle into her vein. As soon as she saw a flash of blood, she pressed the plunger all the way down sending the mixture straight to her brain. It only took about five seconds before her eyes rolled up in her head and she lay back on the couch, the needle still in her arm dangling about. I said my God she is dead, in which she replied, no far from it, I feel wonderful. The sight of this first encounter with shooting up not only repulsed me, but also frightened me because I actually wanted to feel that feeling, not put a needle in my arm. Well, it was not long before I got my chance.

Several weeks later, I hit a dry spell where I could not find any of my little pills that made life bearable and were necessary in order for me to feel normal by this time. It took me four days to find what I was looking for; I took two, but took the other four home with me for an experiment. I had access to diabetic needles and was a trained Phlebotomist so injecting was something I could do practically blind. I gathered all the necessary supplies and went into my bathroom so that no one would know what I was doing. I followed the same procedure that the girl did with some exceptions, I used sterile water and cleaned my arm with an alcohol swab in addition to using a new clean needle. I placed the needle into my vein and pushed the plunger home. Almost instantly, I felt the drug in my body from about the level of my chest and felt it rise to my brain where it felt like an explosion of ecstasy better than any orgasm or feeling that is humanly describable. I had been standing while doing this in front of the mirror and the wave of euphoria was so strong my knees buckled and I almost collapsed. After that first time, I knew how I would take these pills from now on; banging or shooting them was definitely the best way. I also knew that I had taken a step beyond the norm and was now officially an addict.

In addition to being addicted to the pain medication because of the unscrupulous doctor under prescribing me medication to begin with, and not following up with me, I was taking family medical leave for my excruciating back pain. My coworkers absolutely hated me at this point because I never knew when my back would hurt so bad I would have to call off work. The laboratory supervisor Kim Ewers absolutely hated me, and I hated her. She would send me snappy and smart aleck emails and I would take them to her supervisor who would in turn tell her to tune it down some. It was a situation where a bunch of old woman who had worked together for over 20 years had a new rooster in the hen house and they were determined to get rid of me one way or another.

It did not take long at all before I had made so many mistakes at work and so many trips outside to my dealer's car that my coworkers started to take notice. I was suspended from work for three days for leaving my work area too long without telling anyone. I was actually having a severe panic attack and needed to leave the laboratory immediately. I told one of the phlebotomists at the front of the lab that I would be back shortly instead of telling the other lab tech who worked nights with me, so technically they were right I had failed to notify the right person. When I arrived at work the following day I was suspended for leaving the work are without telling anyone. I tried to explain my panic attack and the fact that I had kept my medication in my car since my fellow coworkers would often ask if I had any nerve pills, which I didn't since they were not on my person. In addition, I was not about to start being some kind of dealer.

Following my three-day suspension, I returned to work and within the next few weeks, I had made several critical errors when reporting patient’s results. My job as a lab technician was to analyze blood or other body fluids and report those results to the doctor so he could make a correct diagnosis. Therefore, my job was a very serious one, but under the influence of a heavy narcotic, I was not able or interested in the patient and the quality of my work suffered greatly. Before, if I would make an error it was usually a simple clerical error, such as typing 24.5 instead of 245. Those errors I caught immediately, changed immediately in the computer, and alerted the doctor that the corrected result was the right result. This sort of error is a class B error, meaning it is serious, but I had corrected it before it had any chance to hurt the patient. The errors I made while under the influence of Oxy were class A and meant that I had reported a result that potentially could have resulted in someone's death. For instance, I reported a potassium level of 2.3 on a patient but failed to rerun the specimen as protocol required and the correct result was actually 4.1, which was normal. That patient ended up receiving potassium, not enough that it stopped their heart, thank God, but it did not matter my negligence almost killed someone. I was called into the lab director’s office and after a very brief discussion told to go home. They would then call me once they determined if I had a job. I knew this was just for show or for technicality, I already knew my fate was sealed. Kim had won this one, but I do not forget anything, my photographic memory just will not allow it, nor will my underlying mental issues

Once again, as soon as I started to feel guilty and sad and all of the reality of what I had done came crashing in on me, I shot up more Oxy and all the troubles faded away. I was fired and although I tried to get another job, I was unable to work because of the vicissitudes in both mind and body that opiate addiction brings. After several months, I had finally secured a new job at a different hospital. I had only been there for a week when both my money and pills ran out. I went to work three days sick, hurting, nauseated, and put on a façade of normality the best I could, but ultimately I had to tell the lab manager that I had to resign due to medical reasons. I went on to live on unemployment for the next eight months, which were the worst eight months of my life. During that period I had gotten so hooked, so down that I would get a pill and I did not care where I was I would immediately get out my spoon and needle, now old and dull and use water from any source, whether it be an old soda bottle or a dirty puddle on the ground. I shot up in bathrooms in fast food joints and gas stations and even in front of the courthouse before going in front of the judge for a warrant that had been issued for unpaid tickets. I had lost my job, my license, my new car; all of my possessions were at the pawn show. I had nothing except my home and my Deed to a camp that I owned a third. I called my uncle in desperation to sell my share of the camp, but luckily he did not have the $1500.00 I was asking for and a moment of clarity came over me and I dropped the idea. I am fortunate that I still own my share of that camp, for I have great memories of fishing with my great-grandfather and grandfather there.

Finally, after much soul seeking and having hit rock bottom and scraping the bottom with bloody nails I went to a methadone clinic. One particular day my back pain was so bad that I had difficulty walking from the bed to the bathroom and was lying on the floor with my knees pulled up to my chest trying to ease my back pain. I had been up for two days and had taken five hot baths the night before trying to ease my pain. My Mother, who had always supported me and who was one of my biggest enablers suggested the methadone clinic and I still feel it was my best option. I began treatment at the clinic and stayed until my Mother's home burned down and she was no longer able to pay for my treatment. I then entered my first rehab, stayed 28 days, and went home clean for the first time in years.

Addiction-wise, I was renewed, as if reborn, but mentally I was still a wreck, for the past four years of life was catching up to me mentally, not to mention the now worse back pain and the 18 years of physical and mental abuse as a child, oh and the molestation. It was then that I applied for disability because my spinal stenosis and panic attacks had both become debilitating conditions. It took over a year and the help of a lawyer but I finally won my disability claim in 2007. With my disability came other changes and on October 10th 2007 one day after my 31st birthday I went to treatment center where I could be given methadone for both my pain and the addiction that resulted from the pseudo addiction that started in 2000. The first couple of years I attended group classes on addiction and recovery and 12 step groups several times a week. After a few years in treatment, I had a midlife crisis. I reexamined who I was, my place in society, and I think most importantly I learned the meaning of Faith and finally believed in God. It took a while, but I finally figured out whom I was who my God was and accepted myself both presently and in the past. Now I never think of that false warm blanket that covers your eyes and ears from the damage you are doing to yourself. I have gotten pain medicine after medical procedures and thrown them away because I did not need them. I now have control over my health, my life, my decisions and I am no longer a detriment to society. I can now listen to others talk about their addiction and even listen to their stories of shooting up without the slightest desire to do it again. The mere thought of abusing a drug or taking a substance to get high repulses me and I tell anyone who talks about drugs as if they were a great thing about my experience and how bad they truly are. I have changed and change is good but extremely difficult at first, especially for me, someone who hates change.

I take 80mg of methadone for pain relief now and it works very well for my neurogenic/neuropathic pain. A single dose of methadone keeps my pain at a bearable limit for about 12 hours out of the day, which is most of the time I am awake, so it is a God send to me. Unfortunately, it does not fix my stenosis, nor does it enable me to walk more than a few hundred feet without my legs hurting from the neurogenic claudication, nor does it take away the permanent numbness in my right leg. However, it does what it is supposed to do and I could not reasonably expect more from it. One of the biggest hang-ups that people have is that pain medication should completely remove their pain, and that is not true. Pain medication should make your pain tolerable. Pain is a sign, a signal that either you are injured or you are doing something that is injuring yourself. Therefore, to have some aches and pains is normal and for those I take 800mg of Motrin. A little pain is good, it is our body’s way of telling us to slow down and take it easy.

Methadone is one of the safest medications used for those who have become addicted to pain medication due to chronic pain was under treated resulting in pseudo addiction. There is over 40 years of research and data concerning both its use as a pain medication and its efficacy for keeping withdraw symptoms away as well as its lack of side effects on major body organs such as the liver, kidneys brain and so on. However, like all opiates it does have side effects, constipation, sweating, being the most prevalent. Methadone restores the brain's natural chemical balance and enables a person to perceive emotions and be normal cognitively. Methadone when used as directed is safe, even common over the counter drugs such as Tylenol, Advil, or aspirin are more dangerous to the body than methadone even when taken as prescribed. Tylenol can destroy the liver over time; aspirin and Advil can cause bleeding ulcers in the stomach and intestine and can cause death in children. Advil, like Vioxx and Celebrex or other Cox 2 inhibitors can cause sudden cardiac death in people, especially the elderly.

Methadone, when used properly, can radically change a person's life, restoring them to normal and if they are not physically disabled, get them back to work without sacrificing their health. In addition to getting people back to work, which means they are off food stamps, welfare, and other forms of government assistance, they are less likely to commit crimes or be involved with others who are committing crimes. Methadone is an excellent drug for the treatment of both addiction and chronic pain, and is especially well suited for those who have both. For those on methadone for substance abuse they may only be on methadone for a month or two, some a year, while others indefinitely, but the outcome should be the same, returning the individual to as close to normal as possible while removing the damaging effects drug use has on the individual and society.

Unfortunately, those on methadone are stigmatized partially due to its name closely resembling meth or methamphetamines, which is a completely different drug, and because it is associated with Nazi Germany due to its origin of discovery. However, if a person researches the drug, and reads the success stories of thousands of people they would change their views and have a better understand that the benefits of methadone for either pain management or for addicts far outweigh the risks. So much of medicine and pharmacology are a balancing act of risk verses doing nothing, so if you are not willing to take a risk then you are not willing to get better. After nearly eight years of treatment, I am as good as I will ever be until I take the plunge and have a laminectomy, which is a radical and major surgery to correct the compressed nerves in my spine. The surgery is by no means an instant success, such as removing a bad tooth or replacing a diseased heart. The nerves that branch off the spinal cord are very minute and vast in number. Surgery could actually cause more damage than good. But then again, if I am not willing to take a risk, then I may not get better. In some cases, people have to have more than one laminectomy and after several, they are classified as having failed back syndrome. I have put off getting a laminectomy partially because I know the anatomy of the spinal cord through actual cadaver dissection and I have researched the procedure to the fullest of my potential. My decision to have this procedure by no means guarantees success and since it is the very last method or the option of relieving my back pain, leg pain, and numbness, I have waited until surgery was no longer elective but a medical necessity. Pain from nerve damage is permanent, so even if the doctors were to saw my spine into pieces relieving pressure, the damage done would not be reversed, but my pain might be less severe as well as further damage might be prevented. It is a very difficult decision, but one I know I must make someday and soon since my pain and numbness is getting worse every year.

Hopefully for those who believe I am just lazy and don’t want to work, or do not understand my various medical problems such as spinal stenosis, neurogenic claudication, panic attacks, depression, OCD, PTSD, carpal tunnel, gallbladder disease, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, and their various treatments will better understand my unique situation. Everyone has issues, whether it be mental, physical or both, but everyone’s issues are unique and not everyone with a physical or mental problem is disabled either. Never pass judgment on someone who is disabled or who may be taking certain medications, you do not know the long string of events that lead to a person’s predicament or suffering and it's far too easy to quickly stigmatize someone just because you do not understand.

 

Revised 2/20/16

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