As told to Missy Reid
A pill head is someone who is incoherent, has slurred speech and doesn’t function. She pretty much behaves like a drunk. She can’t get up for work and spends her days in bed or on the couch and hides herself away from family and friends.
That was my definition based on what I saw in my mother.
These words could never have been used to describe me, even when I was taking 20 or so painkillers a day. Back then, just like now, I was a family man who went to work every morning and came home every night. No way I had a problem, right? As it turns out, I wasn’t just an addict; I was the worst kind of addict—a functioning one who fooled almost everyone, including myself.
Maybe I didn’t fit the stereotypical mold of a drug abuser as an adult, but I was a completely normal kid growing up. I experimented with pot a couple of times but never really liked it, and I drank too much sometimes. If I ever needed pain medicine, which was rare, I took it as prescribed. It never crossed my mind not to. After watching my mom’s ordeal, I thought I’d be the last person to be like her. But like I said, I wasn’t like her. My behavior was different, so it was easy for me to deny the problem, and it was easy for me to hide it.
At least for a while.
The gig was finally up when I stopped trying to fool myself.
I accepted my problem just before Super Bowl Sunday in 2003, when I watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Oakland Raiders with my new friends at Charter Ridge. They weren’t a bunch of down and out bums, rock-n-roll singers or star athletes. And their lives didn’t play out like a bad after-school special with teenagers who become losers after giving in to peer pressure. They were everyday people—the same folks you sit next to at church or pass in the hallways at work or meet in the checkout aisle. They were people like me, and they were people not-so-much like me. They were all of us.
You can’t stereotype an entire society. There’s not a specific profile for an addict, just like there’s not a single checklist for an addict’s behavior. But here’s the thing we can be sure of: Drugs will land you in the graveyard, the jail or an institution. You’re either gonna come out of it or not, I don’t care who you are. I thank God every day that I came out of it. If not for Him, I never would’ve found the strength.
When I first started using, I was a stable, working adult in my early 30s with a wife and two kids. This guy at work offered me a Lortab, and I just took it. I don’t really know why I did. It was as casual as if he’d given me an aspirin. I didn’t try to hide it, and it never crossed my mind that I should. I just didn’t think it was a big deal. But it turned out to be a really big deal. It gave me energy. I was working 80-100 hours a week at the time, and I thought to myself, “Hey, this is all right. I can deal with this.” The next weekend was mine to work, so I asked the guy for a couple more. The guy said, “Man, them cost $8 a piece.” So I pulled out my wallet and said, “How many can you spare?”
Things went on like this for a while. At first, my energy level was up, and I felt like I was being more productive at work. I mean, I put in a ton of hours and things were going great. But as time went on, that all changed. My mind was never on work because I was always stressed about my supply running out. The thought of breaking a bone or getting hurt was actually exciting to me.
That’s a sick thing, but it’s the truth.
I was spending over $100 a day on pills, but I didn’t consider it a problem. I guess I justified what I was doing because I wasn’t missing work or running the roads at night, and I could afford it.
Soon, I began taking the pills not so much to get high, but to get even—to get the monkey off my back. I felt so bad in the mornings, I had to take pills just to feel normal. My routine was pretty much this: I’d take three or four in the morning and put off lunch until my buzz started to wear off. Then I’d take two or three after lunch just to keep from hurting and a few more to make it through the night. I woke up sick every day because every time you come down, you come down a little bit lower. My high became normal people’s low.
Then I discovered methadone. It’s like the jelly-of-the-month club; it just keeps on rolling. I bought it from a guy who had been prescribed it. I told myself I was taking it to get off pain pills, but that was a lie. I took it because the high was constant; there wasn’t a hangover with it. But later, I started getting a little worried about myself, thinking maybe I liked it too much. So I threw them away—quit cold-turkey—and it almost killed me. The withdrawal put me in the ER where I almost had a stroke. That scared me to death, and I quit everything. For nine months.
Then I came back to pain pills. I had the same justification going on in my head as before. Everything was OK because I wasn’t stealing or dealing, I went to work every day, and I came home every night. But the thing is, I wasn’t at home. I wasn’t at work either. If your mind’s not with you, you’re not really there.
I was trapped again, constantly trying to bring myself up to even and stressing over my next day’s supply. I don’t know how long I would’ve kept that up if I hadn’t failed a drug test at work—the one that brought me to Charter Ridge. I was ready to break out of the trap, though, so getting caught was a relief. That was easy. Staying clean was the hard part. But like I said, it never would’ve happened without conviction from God.
After 10 years sober, I’ve had two torn ligaments and a broken leg without anything stronger than a Motrin. And yes, it scares me to death that one day I might find myself in a situation where I can’t avoid medication, but I’ll deal with that when and if the day comes. God will provide the strength I need when I need it. I’ll make it, and others can too. I hope my story helps others realize they can get out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves if they admit they’re in one.
This story originally appeared in Facing Addiction in Knox County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky.