Diary of an Opiate Detox
Now, I am not advocating that my home ‘method’ of opiate detox is necessarily safe. It's certainly not medically advised. However, for me, as a person in recovery from alcoholism, I was already walking a very narrow path. Time was not on my side. Neither did I have the money for rehab.
Im not your ‘typical’ opiate addict. Nevertheless, an addict I am and I suspect my addiction is far more common than many care to admit.
Its not like I went out looking for a drug addiction. In fact, it was many years before I realised that was exactly what it was.
For me, it was easy to admit I had no control over alcohol. Bad things happened when I drank. I had no choice or power as to when and how much I drank. But, when it comes to prescription drug addiction, well, that's a lot harder to admit, and is so much easier to hide.
How it all started
Having put the alcohol down with the help of a 12 step fellowship and programme, I found myself thriving in life. This was something that was very new for me. I decided a career change was in order and pursued and trained to be a personal trainer. I loved exercise and the human body fascinated me, it seemed a perfect fit.
A year into my studies something happened that was to change the course of my life, as I had mapped it out. A disc in my lower back ruptured whilst I was working out. This left me bedridden for weeks, in pain and unable to move. An MRI confirmed this. I took prescription opioids for the first time, they enabled me to cope with the pain.
Over the course of the next year a further two discs ruptured. I felt complete despair as my body seemed to be crumbling beneath me. I couldn't exercise, and, standing, sitting and walking were all extremely painful. More pain relief was prescribed and I didn't question it, I just wanted rid of the unbearable, constant, pain.
Every now and then I would find the prescription had become inadequate and wasn't doing its job. The back, and now leg pain, would return - severely limiting my capabilities. I know now this was my tolerance building, however, the doctor never once spoke to me about this. They just increased the dosage.
“After 7 years of taking prescription opiates daily, I was finally ready to detox”
7 years on after my initial back injury, the pain was as bad as ever. I couldn't walk more than 100 meters without having to sit down, I regularly used a walking stick and excruciating back spasms would wake me frequently through the night.
I felt extremely low, lethargic and depressed - deeply depressed. Alcohol became an appealing thought once again, just to help me sleep through the night of course and thats what it did. I drank heavily at night for some relief and took codeine throughout the day - as prescribed.
I took zero notice of the warnings of mixing opiates and alcohol. All I wanted was some relief from my mental, physical and spiritual state. This combination worked for a while, then it all started to take its toll.
I became even more depressed, more anxious and experienced more pain as I couldn't see a way out. Having stopped going to meetings, I found myself isolated. I felt so ashamed and thought of myself as a hopeless case.
“Finally, it dawned on me, no one was coming to save me. I had to swallow my so-called pride and ask for help”
Asking for help and returning to meetings wasn't easy, but neither was the way I was living. I had no quality of life and was merely existing. When my sponsor suggested I stopped the prescription drugs and underwent an opiate detox at home I was horrified, I didn’t know what to expect, or if it was even possible.
By this time I was swallowing 240mg of codeine a day, with little effect, other than to stave off the withdrawals.
My sponsor's suggestion wasn't new to me. Others had tentatively broached the subject but seeing as my doctor had never mentioned it, I thought they were somewhat over reacting. After all, what had my prescription got to do with my sobriety?
Stopping the alcohol, I expected to start thriving again, yet I didn't. I returned to the state I felt exactly before I relapsed on the booze. I knew it was only a matter of time before I drank again. Maybe, just maybe, the opiates were affecting me more than I realised? They certainly weren't working for me anymore.
Call it a moment of madness or clarity, but I made up my mind to go cold turkey off the codeine. I had previously attempted to cut down but found it too hard and too long. I always gave in. This way, in my mind, it would be over in one go. I didn't see the point in prolonging the withdrawals. Besides, I could always seek medical help if it got too bad.
“I didn’t see the point of prolonged withdrawals, I wanted the opiate detox over with quickly”
Having made a decision to quit the opiates, I didn't hang around. I googled as much information as I could and prepared for the worst.
Initially, I didn't throw the codeine away, just in case it got too much. But having found the first two days relatively easy, I flushed packets of pills down the toilet.
The first two days of the opiate detox I slept, a lot! I could barely keep my eyes open and if I'm honest I quite enjoyed the feeling of sleepiness. It was a far cry from the high levels of anxiety I was anticipating.
My sponsor and a few other members of fellowship checked in on me frequently throughout the day. I had told them of my plan. Some agreed others did not. As I said at the beginning, my way is not medically recommended but reducing hadn't worked for me previously. I was sick of being sick and wanted to be free.
Having little energy to do anything, I spent the first two days doing online Zoom meetings and making sure I ate little and often whilst drinking lots of fluids. I understood how important it was to keep my blood sugar and hydration levels stable, even if I didn't feel like it. I also took multivitamins and paracetamol for the constant headache that quickly developed.
“Nothing could have prepared me for what came next”
Days 3 to 7 of my opiate detox were a bit of a blur of I'm honest. I got through them knowing it would eventually end. Some would argue that prescription opioids are worse than heroin. I have no clue, heroin is not a drug I have ever tried. What I do know is that the detox is similar for all opiates, illicit or prescribed.
Days 3 to 7 were not easy. The constant heavy sweating, the chills, the legs that wouldn't stay still and the frequent dashes to the bathroom seemed like they would never end. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't even rest. Yet at times, I would find my body just shutting down, allowing me to sleep for a couple of hours. It was almost like my body and brain were giving me some respite when I needed it the most.
Even whilst going through the peak of my opiate detox, it never crossed my mind to go back. I had come this far, I was another day clean off all opiates and another day nearer to feeling free. I had a sense of calm that it was all going to be okay as long as I kept going and I trusted in my higher power.
Reasoning that if I had a very bad dose of flu, I wouldn't feel much better or worse, helped me a lot. With a bad case of flu, you have no choice, this was my choice and my way of getting better.
Days 7 to 10 of my opiate detox
Although I was still withdrawing heavily during days 7 to 10, the withdrawals became more intermittent and I started to get a little more sleep. The fog in my brain also started to lift and I became incredibly grateful I had made it this far.
I was now able to concentrate for short periods of time and found myself enjoying 3 seasons of Narcos on Netflix. You can tell I'm an addict, as even whilst going through the motions of an opiate detox, drugs still fascinated me!
Daily zoom meetings had become a part of my routine. They helped me feel connected whilst I was too unwell to go out. I wanted to hear as much hope and recovery as possible. My sponsor had committed to taking me through the recovery programme once I was clear minded. This also helped to keep me going.
Starting the recovery process
I’d like to say that my opiate withdrawals disappeared after ten to fourteen days. However this was not the case, it was a slow process of gradually feeling a tiny bit better each day.
On day ten, my sponsor decided I was ready to start the process of the 12 step recovery programme. I was clearer headed, the anxiety that hit me on day 6 had subsided and only the physical withdrawals remained. I felt excited to start. Although I had been through the steps before, this felt new. I felt truly clean this time.
For the following few days myself and my sponsor worked intensively around the clock. We only stopped for some necessary sleep and food breaks. All of my steps were completed over the phone. This was necessary due to some Covid restrictions still being in place. It didn't make it any less effective.
I feel blessed that at no time during my opiate detox did I feel unsupported, despite being in lockdown. I had bonded with a few fellowship members who checked in on me daily via the phone. My sponsor was always available and always seemed to call me just at the right time, when I needed it the most.
The light after the darkness of an opiate detox
I must admit, there were times whilst detoxing from the codeine that I thought I would never feel better. Thankfully, I was wrong. Going through the process of the 12 steps a huge shift happened internally. I felt connected, I felt loved, I felt forgiveness and compassion and for the first time in many, many years, I felt truly content.
The way I felt inside overrode any lingering codeine withdrawals. Yes, they did linger but they got easier to cope with. Armed with a programme of recovery they became less relevant to my mental, spiritual and emotional state.
Having completed my steps and made my amends (again, I didn't hang around) I was thrusted into the light. It became very apparent how the opiates had darkened my spirit and how the recovery programme had helped to free it. It was like coming home, I felt comfortable, satisfied, and didn't want for anything. The thought of a drink or drug hasn't crossed my mind since.
Recovery has opened up my world
Yes, Im still in the early months of recovery and there is a long period of reconstruction ahead but I have already made huge progress. By some miracle, my back pain has almost but disappeared, which makes me question the effects of long-term opiate use.
I have joined a gym, yes a gym! I regularly attend yoga. Which for someone who rarely left the house and could hardly move, is again something I never thought possible.
Being conscious not to take on too much in the first year of my new recovery, I work part time in a job I am passionate about. I am a better mother to my children and a better daughter. I can be of use to others today and help wherever I can.
My experience is that as soon as I made up my mind to go through the recovery process of an opiate detox and took the necessary action, a huge weight was lifted from me. To some, I may have done it the hard way, even the dangerous way. However, to me, it was the only way. Addiction would have killed me slowly, whereas recovery brought me alive very quickly.
Author - Belle