Wow… where do I begin? The crazy part was, up until the first time I ever took a pain pill in 2003 (while in the Air Force after getting all four wisdom teeth out) the hardest drug I had ever tried was Tylenol or a can of Jolt Cola. I was stationed out in Fort Meade, Maryland 24 years young. Long story short, the oral surgeon wrote me antibiotics, Motrin 800mg aka the military special and a 60ct of a medication I had never heard of before called Oxycodone. In fact, I couldn’t even pronounce it. I had my girlfriend, from back in Wisconsin, flown out to help me recover in my dorm room. Now, unbeknownst to me, the nurse did give me a small IV injection of morphine as I was coming out of anesthesia. So, upon waking up, and through even midday the following day, I was only taking the Motrin.
As night fell and the stitches around the surgical sites tightened as they healed, I laid in pain (11 out of 10 pain level of agony). My girlfriend, who loved her sleep by the way, was not the happiest of people. Out in the dark, I asked her to give me another two Motrin, she replied with, “I can’t hun, cause you reached your limit.” Being naive about what Oxycodone was used for, I turned on my nightstand light and carefully read the bottle label and there it was in plain English “Take 1-2 Tablets by Mouth for Pain.” I opened the bottle and poured that first round white tablet into my hand. All the while, I am still moaning and rubbing the more tender right side of my face, conjuring thoughts of Brett Favre at one time being hooked on these and coming clean on live TV. After a few more sharp jabs of pain that reverberated through my tender gum line, up my jawline, and into my sinuses, I said, “fuck it” and downed that very first pain med. That very first one that would one day become over $450,000 worth within 6.5 years. B
I bet that before the pill even hit my stomach, I was laying back down, lights out, with a pillow pressed against the side of my face. The first few days the Motrin worked well to make my pain level lower to around a manageable 3-4 level, so in my head I thought the same relief would be had by this medication. However, at around the 15 minute mark I felt a feeling I had before, but it only came on during great times of joy, or during sex. It was a euphoric warmth coursing through my entire being, causing me to remove the pillow and sit straight up in bed. I nudged my girlfriend next to me, saying “pssst sweetie… pssst… Hey let’s watch tv and talk.” Mind you it was 3:30 in the morning, so her response to my overall discovery of pain meds was not reciprocated in kind. She still was happy that I was no longer in a moaning heap for the first time in over 50 plus hours.
To make a long story short, she flew back home after a week of me recovering. But, in the meantime, I was taking the Oxycodone a few times a day and never more than two tablets at a time. Sadly, though it was no longer for the pain relief effects anymore, I was just loving how they made me feel so social, even more talkative, than I already was and hell, they made hobbies like playing PS2 and watching Monday Night Raw ten times more enjoyable. It was nearing five weeks after the surgery and I had run out of the pills. Before I tossed out the bottle, sadly, I read the entire label. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t. In small letters it said “(1) refill remaining.” Of course, it was 5pm and the pharmacy and the clinic were closed, but before I even went to report to duty the next morning at 7:30am I walked into the pharmacy as they opened their window to put that refill in.
They called me back up within minutes. It’s strange, I’ve never felt that kind of want or compulsion in my life. Also, for it being an unseasonably cool 45 degree August morning, I was sweatier than usual, and I recall the night before tossing and turning in my sleep. Eh, no need to think about that. I got in my car and popped two pills, followed with a slug of hot chocolate. By the time I reported for duty those sweats, that feeling of dread and unease had disappeared, and the warm euphoric energy and social outwardness returned within 20-30 minutes. I had no idea I was showing signs of withdrawal at all. I didn’t even really believe a doctor would prescribe something to put you in that predicament. Boy, was I was wrong.
Over the next week I would go as long as I could without taking anything, then, rather than taking the regular dose, I would take maybe half a tablet. I also did something I shouldn’t have once I stopped around mid-September with minimal withdrawal (sweats, malaise and worse of all, diarrhea) over one weekend I was fine. Yet, I convinced myself to hold onto the remaining pills in my lock box. I get an email from the 9:30 Club (my all-time favorite venue when I was in the Air Force) letting me know my favorite band, ATM Thursday, was coming with Thrice. I was like, “Holy shit!” Then at the bottom of the announcement was a band called Coheed and Cambria. Now I had seen Coheed by complete happenstance, walking past the Ottobar in Baltimore a year earlier and dug the set I caught. Not to mention, I started noticing rumblings online about them.
So, the concert gets here I thought, “Man… 9:30 Club, Thursday and Thrice! I’m going to tear it up tonight.” So, I opened up my lock box and popped two oxys before I got on the metro from Maryland to DC. This was one of the best nights of my life and one of the most eye opening. Not only was I feeling completely amazing already, and I brought two more pills in my pocket in case these first ones wore off, but I also decided to drink beer that night. Before the bad part, me and my best friend Rich grab a beer and get halfway to the stage, as the houselights go down and we are greeted with a loud house phone ringing over the PA after about 3-4 rings it’s picked up by a female voice and I had my first real introduction to “THE RING IN RETURN.” Even without the oxy, I would have been floored within minutes the band walks out and launches into the first track and from there until the end of their 35-40 minute set, I was an immediate super fan. I had a quick selfie with Mic by the entrance before Thrice went on, and I bought the original dragonfly logo black t-shirt from Kwame at the merch desk, along with a dragon fly button to go on my trail pack.
This was my true introduction to Coheed and since then I’ve seen them 24 times in 5 different states. As the next two bands played, I went through about six good sized plastic cups of beer, and before the last one I wasn’t thinking one bit. Remember those two other oxy pills I brought with me? Well, I popped them followed by one more beer. Feeling on Cloud 9 with the mixture yet to turn its ugly head, we stopped at a gas station, and I bought two of those 36oz freezing bottles of water and off to the metro we went. The problem was my vision started getting streaky and haloing around lights. Thank God there was an escalator that led us to the metro, because there was no way I could manage going up or down steps. All the while, I have not a clue of what I’m mumbling to Rich. We get on the train and I’m now downing gulp after gulp of cold water and pouring some on my head. I am hot, dizzy, nauseous and I can’t keep my eyes open. The train ride was about 50 mins due to all the stops. Thank God it was late at night because while nodding out and having very low breathing, I puked all over the train floor. We got up and went to the next cart (to the metro my sincerest apologies 20 years later).
Almost back, my friend Rich is concerned and is not buying my “I drank too much” bullshit. He’s reminding me that my breathing is shallow and I keep mumbling and leaning. We finally get to our stop in Maryland, and I puke again into the trash can. I start having a somewhat clearer picture of how I’ve been acting and feeling. We arrive back at the dorms where he makes sure I get back to my room, and don’t do anything stupid, like fall asleep on my back. I wake up the next morning with the worst hangover ever, and to my surprise Rich crashed in my rocking chair in my room all night to ensure I got through the night okay. Up until this point, he didn’t know I was taking those pills at all, so he assumed someone may have put something in my beer. He greeted my blurry vision holding an orange bottle a few feet away from me, asking me to be honest and if I took any of these last night when we were out. I couldn’t lie to my best friend and told him just how long I had been taking them and that I went through the first bottle of 60 and this was the second refill of 60. To that he said, “That’s the last of it man! Flush them.” He had seen something similar with his mom and benzos his whole life. After probably a 15 min back and forth I totally saw his point and realized I was going down a slippery slope. We both walked into the bathroom, and down the toilet they went. Over the next 4-5 days I went through what I felt was the worst withdrawal. Looking back, now all these years later, I realized that that was a walk in the park, compared to what was to come.
From that day in the Fall of 2003, I would take no more opioids for almost 4 years, before my main addiction period of my life hit me (2006-2012). That period started with the active ingredient in K2. For me, it was worse than any meth or opiates I tried. It makes you so messed up that you’re okay with the fact that you’re listening to your heart speed up then stop over and over. I literally drove a friend to the hospital while on the same amount as him. To this day I still don’t feel hunger properly because the drug destroys your reaction to it. It taught me to love food and learn to cook. Now one of the biggest connections I have with my partner is our love of cooking. We even have some spices and food plants growing.
The second part was hallucinogens. To the point, this reality was just a show. Every day, sometimes for weeks. I lost my connection to other people. I had a variety of experiences that ended up scaring me into stopping. They taught me the lesson I needed instead of the show I wanted. The biggest part was that I needed to focus on my reality and connections to others. I had been fighting loneliness the whole time. I didn’t need the trips. They were a distraction from my problems.
At this point I might drink one night in a month. I’ve stopped cigarettes, and no pills or powders. Nothing. The biggest lesson in it all was that life is important and I needed to cherish it. I needed to experience it fully and without a fog of some substance. I spent year running from my reality and messing it up instead of building and fixing it. It is hard, but I can do it. I even have time, energy, and money for proper constructive hobbies now. No matter what it is that you’re on, there is a way to stop.
Through all of this, I kept a daily journal. I have over 1,600 pages worth of spiral notebooks filled up, barely ever skipping a day. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of those tales and stories, but I’m grateful I kept them, and still do to this very day. I just actually finished today’s entry before I wrote this.
I hope this finds many of you in long term recovery. To those who maybe reading this still mired in addiction, please turn it around because it can only end a few ways, and all but one is not fun or enjoyable. It’s been a little over 11 years of relapse free recovery for me, and I wouldn’t trade my worst day in recovery for my best day high EVER!!
Thank you again if you read this, and I’m One Among the Fence for life!!