The Effects Begin … Opiate Withdrawal

What began as a “what the hell?” moment quickly turned into my own personal hell. The story could be told in a day by day diary of the effects but I feel that’s too personal so I will combine what happened into a paragraph or two. As long as everyone understands, this withdrawal process took months.

The first thing realized? I had to replace my “habit” with another one. Not that I took Oxycontin all day long — I took it in the morning and again at night. But something had to replace my mental state. Strange as it sounds, I came up with smoking cigarettes again.  I smoked, on and off, for decades. Quit for ten years, five years, and the last time, 13 years. So I was confident that it would be a short-lived habit. Rob went to the corner store for some Camel Blues and there it was. When the day-time jitters began, a cigarette stilled my mind.

Getting off of Oxycontin is about rewiring your brain. It’s about neural pathways. While wiring for nicotine might sound stupid, it’s not as dumb as it sounds. A pleasure neural pathway … in a bit, there will be scientific explanations of this neural rewrite but let me tell you how it really feels.

Picture PAIN as the LA Freeway. Not the straight line highway you saw when OJ was chased. I mean the convoluted string-theory that is the LA Freeway. On ramps in the sky, twisting and turning and shooting out into who knows where? Envision a bird’s eye view of one of those Freeway On – Off ramps through hell.

That’s your brain on PAIN. All the neural pathways at the base of the brain, the nerves shooting out of the foramen into their proper brain trails. Okay, they’re all lit up like a Christmas tree. Each nerve ending demands attention, quick! Look! Here! This one, that one, all DEMANDING  attention, like a toddler in a room full of adults who are paying no mind to the cuteness, the dancing and twirling of that awesome little doll child you created wearing a ballerina costume and twirling until she becomes dizzy and crashes into MeMaw’s glass topped coffee table.

PAIN DEMANDS ATTENTION. Oxycontin (opiates) go in and say, “Hey, take my hand, I’m going to tell you how cute you are and soothe that wounded spirit.” Opiates rewrite your neural pathways, opiates send that pain onto an off-ramp and re-direct it away from the center, away from attention. When you cease taking opiates, those highways become confused off-ramps to hell again.

The days of agony, of Restless Less Syndrome (my Dancing Nancies) began quickly, before I had a chance to realize what was happening. Like the pre-flu day you get. The physical warning that something bad will happen and you can’t stop it. My body jerked around all day. Keeping busy kept my mind off the dance, physically busy. No relaxing with a book, sometimes, just sometimes, I could sit bouncing on the couch and watch TV. This is what I did when the grandsons were here (and they are on a daily basis). They knew “Nana was stopping her pain medications” and that I didn’t’ feel well. That won’t stop an 11 year old from spending the night, he got to stay up really late and watch Amazon Prime with me. The joke became: “What murrrrrrder shall we watch tonight?” as I frequently pulled up anything from Masterpiece Theater (Midsomer Murders, etc) and binge watched until the Nancies mixed with the Lorazepam and Lyrica and slowed to a waltz rather than a cha cha cha.

I should call it all The CanCan Dance of Withdrawal. My muscles began to ache from the constant twitching. I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time.

I finally found my peace. At last. Not binge watching TV. It came in the form of Audiobooks. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Read by Nigel Planer or Stephen Biggs on Audible. I think it’s Stephen Biggs, will check on that name. Nigel Planer put me into a relaxed state and yes, there is a turtle, flying through space, with four elephants on its back holding up a disc shaped world. Immersing myself in Discworld took my mind off the opiate withdrawal. I still use Discworld to put me to sleep, listening to a chapter a night as I work my way through Pratchett’s over 70 titles.

That’s enough for now, more later. I’ve got to get this printed out for my therapist. She wants me to share my experience with others… so I’ll turn all this into a PDF for her. It’s over 20 pages so far, I’m using Scrivener software to compile it. Cannot recommend a better software program for writers. I use it for the Civil War book about my great-grandfather as it compiles information, added bits, and it will even post to twitter or elsewhere, should I desire it. Buy Scrivener if you’re a writer and take the time to learn it.

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