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Just a little about me. I have recreationally dabbled in drugs every since high school, which I guess makes that a twenty or so year flirtation with all the world’s intoxicants. There have been periods where I drank too much or did a little too much coke but it was pretty manageable. Mainly, weekend benders that led to a week of self-recrimination when even a beer seemed like a bad idea. In short, I was always a fairly moderated user. My bills were paid, I wasn’t a flake, I spent time with my loved ones and friends and built a business. I just partied a bit more than some but a great deal less than others. I am in a field where I see a lot of self-destructive behavior and have done my level best to avoid that cycle. I am not suggesting I am better than anyone else; I certainly have let people down and been too hungover to fulfill my responsibilities, etc. But, I have always been something of a health nut, eating a high fiber diet, doing much of my own cooking, weight lifting for core strength, yoga, biking, etc. I am no triathlete but at 36 I am 6 feet and 160 pounds, so you get the picture.

My introduction to morphine and its sister chemicals came pretty early. I had major surgery following a lung collapse early in college (congenital defect, from what the doctors told me). I spent a month in the hospital and left with a foot long scar and enough chest-tube holes to make it look like I’d been shot up in a drive-by. Even through the pain of having my whole back laid open and the top of my lung cut out I could tell that this family of drugs was a fine family indeed. Skip ahead 15 or so years during which I had occasionally gotten Lortabs for legitimate reasons (staph infection, etc.) and occasionally gotten them from friends and family to deal with a particularly righteous headache or just because I wanted a buzz. Yes, I was using opiates but on the level of maybe 2 or 3 10’s per month, probably less.

Then this year came and things jumped the rails. I broke two ribs (first bones I had ever broken) which was a painful rehab process during which I really had to stop exercising. I was prescribed a good number of Lortabs and happily popped every one and then turned to a few of my less savory connections (I know all types of people) for a street supply. As with a lot of people on this board, it started as a “me+” sort of an activity. I enjoyed the energy, the bonhomie, the enthusiasm and anxiety free feeling they gave me. At this point I was doing 4-6 10’s per day. Sometimes less, but rarely more. So it went for four or five months. During this time I was extremely high functioning. I visited my family and elderly relatives often (and no, I was not ransacking their pill cabinets), I took my mom to lunch every week, ran my business well and had a very productive side line in writing and photography. Of course, I wish I had the couple thousand dollars I spent on the drugs back, who wouldn’t? But, I had a lot of fun and really did get a lot done as well as met a great girl.

Then, I went out of the country for about a month during which I got mugged and beaten up and had some expensive camera equipment stolen. That money spent on drugs was dearly missed as I scrambled to replace gear needed to continue with my work and passion for photography. During the mugging (which was not drug related, I was just in the proverbial wrong place at proverbial wrong time) I broke my foot and got pretty banged up otherwise. I still limp a little, two months later. Anyway, when I got back to the US I again got prescriptions for Lortabs and bought them off of the street. During this time my primary business was suffering along with the rest of the economy and I really could not afford the couple hundred of dollars a week I was blowing on pills. And, as seems to inevitably happen, it stopped being fun. I was taking 8-10 10’s and not really getting much of a buzz. I was just getting to normal. The previous sense of tranquility and happiness was gone, replaced with anxiety and irritability. Clearly, something had to give. I should also add that my dad has had a five or more year addiction to Lortabs. Of course, I became aware of this because I would grab a few from time to time and noticed the rate at which he was going through them as well as how frequently his doctor was giving him refills. Woe to him when his doctor retires which he certainly will soon. But, that is another story.

So, Monday I had a bottle of 60 Tramadol and 3 7.5 Lortabs. I took 6 or 8 Tramadol during the course of the day and the three Lortabs and a Benadryl and called it a night, not knowing what the next few days would bring. Having read a lot of message boards about various people’s withdrawal horror stories I was pretty nervous about what the future held. I woke up Tuesday with the usual craving for a Lortab or two to have with coffee. This habit had really started about two months before and that is when I knew that I was facing down a pretty ugly problem. Opiates for breakfast ain’t no way to start your day. Well, actually it is a hell of a way to start the day but we all know, somewhere inside of us that it won’t, cant and shouldn’t last.

I took two Tramadol and had coffee and tried to get started with my day. I took a shower, got dressed and ran a few errands. My whole body was sort of ringing with this disembodied hum, like every part of me way vibrating in unpleasant harmony with a distant bell. This bearable but unusual sensation did not last. Grabbing a few more Benadryl and giving my mom (who was oblivious to the whole thing) a hug I headed home to sweat it out. The rest of the day was damn unpleasant. During the course of the day I took 7 more Tramadol and probably 6 Benadryl as well as ate a vegetable plate from a Lebanese place near my house, never has Mediterranean food tasted so alien. That said, with enough Benadryl I did sleep through the night. As of yet I had had no diarrhea or vomiting though I did got occasional waves of nausea and racing thoughts, rapid heart beat, sweating, the whole shooting match. I also had the occasional mild visual hallucination, just flickers at the periphery of my vision, no dancing hippos or anything.

Through the whole of the whole of the first and second day I did a fair amount of talking to myself, mainly reassuring things about how I would be my fine, that I had gotten myself here and could get myself out. It was a great comfort, albeit a distant one, to recall how much I have always enjoyed my life when sober. The world is just such an amazing place and opiates are a barrier to your ability to appreciate that. Call it positive thinking or whatever you like, but I was able to talk myself through the really unpleasant bouts of anxiety (with the help of the Librax). The second day, I took probably 6 or 8 Tramadol through the course of the day and switched over to Tylenol PM. My only food were a few slices of veggie pizza that had a truly horrible taste but that is just how it goes, you have a lot of good times (and bad) to answer for and your body is going to play some nasty tricks on you. Again, I had no diarrhea though I did have stomach cramps and irregular bowel movements. I was also cold for the first time in a long while. Opiates mess with the way your body regulates its temperature and getting that back into line just takes some time. I found having a pile of comfortable clothes and soft towels around made things more pleasant. Digital cable was also a great comfort, silly comedies and video games on my phone, reading endless message boards about opiate withdrawal, use anything you can to keep your mind occupied because any spare moment will be spend thinking about how generally rotten you feel and how much another pill would make everything go away. I had agreed to let a group of friends who are in a band stay at my house on the first night and getting them out of the house was a real exercise in keeping it together. They were all so bright and cheerful and I just wanted them out of there before I collapsed in a heap. But, all and all, day two only got really bad at around 3PM when the disconnection between my body and my mind seemed the most pronounced. Looking down at my arms, feeling my head swim, I really felt like some connection between the two had been permanently broken. I felt disembodied, but not in some good, ecstatic way; I just felt really unsettled through a combination of anxiety and withdrawal from my body. This is when the “why did you do this to yourself?” business really started to kick in.

Because, lets face it, we all knew, to varying degrees, that we were headed towards a dark place with these things and we let it happen and only the person who made that choice is going to be able to make the choice to get out of it. It hurts, but so do lots of things. You just have to deal with it, say that 50 times an hour to yourself if you have to, because it is the only way. Through some miracle of will and anxiety I was actually able to write an article for a magazine that I submitted to my editor who loved it, go figure. This process channels all sorts of weird things from deep in your psyche. Anyway, on the evening of Wednesday (the second day without Lortabs) I got a prescription for Librax (Librium and a stomach anti-spasmodic, which is great for diarrhea) filled that I had been sitting on for a while. I popped two after pecking at some truly unsavory fast food (which I never eat, but I couldn’t bring myself to cook) and took a few Tylenol PM, plus a few more Tramadol and, thanks to whatever merciful force is inside me our out there somewhere, was able to sleep through the night.

Thursday I got up and felt okay for the first hour or so but the anxiety and craving quickly started to creep in. It’s like the dawn, you can see the light before you feel the sun, and then it is all over you. Panic attack. But, another hot shower, three Librax and a Tylenol PM, some pull-ups (physical activity makes a huge difference), coffee and a trip into work before any of my employees showed up just so I could check on things and I was okay. I also took a walk downtown from work to the smoothie store and almost threw up a few times. That would have been pretty embarrassing as I am pretty well known in my town and vomiting on the street on a Thursday is rather frowned upon. When I returned to my house I did thirty minutes of medium intensity yoga and some pushup. The strain of holding those positions for a long while does wonders for taking your mind of the other pain you are going through.

I was not great or even good but I had my act together to some extent. However, dry mouth was really starting to annoy me at this point. Thankfully, I have always drunk a lot of water and this little wrestling match with opiate withdrawal was no exception. I was really dreading a photo shoot and interview I had to do at a location about two hours from my home. I went though all of the conceivable ways I could put it off, detox from Lortabs is bad enough, but doing it on the interstate for a four hour, round trip commute sounded truly horrific. But, I popped some more Librax and another Tylenol PM and got my act together. I should say at this point that the above combination is fine for puttering around the house and feeling sorry for yourself but it is not a great recipe for a long drive. I had to drive with the windows down to keep myself alert. But, I got to the interview and didn’t break down and beg the subject, an executive at a major move studio, to shoot me or anything. I am sure I was not at my best, but I got the job done. Early on in this process I had resolved to not flake out on anyone if it was at all possible. I would do what I HAD to do and no more but I was not going to leave any imperative task undone. I think this helped a great deal with my sense of self worth through the whole ordeal.

Please don’t misunderstand, the whole thing sucked, it was miserable. The recriminations, the missed opportunities, the tiny lies, the wasted money, they all eat you alive and added to the emotional turmoil you just feel like your body is about to spin apart. The later sounding more and more pleasant all of the time. But, I knew that if I really let myself get in a hole then the gig would be up. I was able to delay many of my responsibilities for a few days but I still answered the phone and returned email; others may think differently but I thought this little connection to responsibilities in the outside would helped keep my spirits up. My wonderful girlfriend (who was busy all week and has her own place) was clueless about what I was going through but more than once I thought about her and her beautiful daughter who I have grown very close to and it made me want to be a better man for them and for myself. I did it all on my own, in a sense. But, I thought a great deal about the people I love and all the things I still had undone in my life and this was a great help. I also read many posts on the subject of opiate withdrawal and realized two main things. First, my six or so month addiction was nothing compared to what others go through (and for them I feel the deepest and most pained sympathy) and if they could make it then I certainly could. Second, I realized that many other people were wrestling with this and I took comfort in knowing that some where in that dark night of withdrawal I had compatriots and others who were dealing with the same thing. Knowing you are not alone buoys your spirit amazingly.

So, I returned home, happy to be out of my car and for having fulfilled a responsibility. I got dinner (more nasty fast food but I was able to eat more of it) took several more Librax and Tylenol PM and regular Tylenol. By now I had a monster headache. I also flushed the remaining Tramadol down the toilet as they never seemed to do much for me and everything I read online laid out a pretty grim horror show of addiction with them as well. Better safe than sorry. Slipping into more comfortable clothes I turned on the TV and started to make plans for my girlfriends birthday this weekend. I had dreaded this as I was supposed to cook for her and 6 of her friends and I truly didn’t know if I would be able to be up for being both social and working a full day in the kitchen. I had thought about picking up another round of 40 or so pills to get through the time but knew this was just my mind trying to trick me into continuing the addiction. There is never a good time to give this sort of thing up so now is as good a time as any. I smoked a little weed (never a drug a cared much for but it helps with the restless leg sensation a great deal) and went to bed.

Friday, I woke up feeling pretty good. I made coffee, took two Librax before the sunrise and went outside to watch the sun come up, put on some good, upbeat music and knew that I was through the worst of it. I sent a text message to my girlfriend wishing her a happy birthday and letting her know how important she was to me and how much I wanted to make this a great birthday weekend for her. And then I sat down to write this. I am not sure how much help it will be to others, it is similar to many stories out there but I felt I it owed to all the brave and suffering people who have come before me and blazed a path through addiction and into recovery. I do know that my abuse never reached the depths that it does for many people but, for some reason, I was able to put the brakes on it before it got too bad. I truly hope that I will be able to keep a lid on all those nagging craving and sneaky rationalizations that creep into the mind of a person who as had a love affair with pills.

I want to also credit the Thomas Recipe for some general guidance in this whole process. I was very fortunate to never experience the intense diarrhea, just cramps and weird bowel movements (but I credit this to my already high fiber diet and the Librax). Vomiting was never an issue either but nausea certainly was. Over-the-counter sleep aids and some form of anti-anxiety medicine as well as lots of fluids, a comfortable environment, exercise of some form and positive thinking are the keys to getting through this. And as the Thomas Recipe points out, take the hell out of the anti-anxiety medicine. I mean really, knock yourself out if you have to. A decent nights sleep does wonders for your state of mind, the over-the-counter sleep aids also help even if the dry mouth that come with them is kind of unpleasant.

In closing, I just want to encourage anyone who is considering embarking on this process. It is damn unpleasant but you will feel great after it is all over with. The amount of time it takes will obviously differ depending on length and severity of addiction as well as underlying emotional problems. I have heard a lot of people talk about horrible depression following the physical aspects of withdrawal. I may have this in store but as I type I am feeling pretty good, then again I have never been much of a depressive person. I can’t speak to the issue of long-term depression personally, but I have seen a lot of friends and family wrestle with it so I suggest counseling and maybe, just maybe, medication. I am increasingly of the opinion that any psychotropic lifestyle drugs are a barrier to being truly happy (whatever that means). But, if it works for you to be on Wellbutrin or Prozac or whatever then by all means do it. They have never done much for controlling the anxiety I sometimes deal with; they make me feel different, not better. And the craving, though mild, is still certainly there with me every moment I am not otherwise occupied. Sadly, it is the hard work of exercise, taking care of yourself and others, maintaining healthy relationship and trying to be a person worthy of the love of others that leads to a satisfying life. Too bad there is no pill for that.

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I want to thank you for writing this. I know that it has been a few years and I hope you have continued sobriety. I have never replied to a post in my life, but this has really helped me. In the middle of withdrawl now, it made me cry (go figure!) and laugh (something that has been hard to do!). I have never been addicted to anything until a few years ago. Tramadol addiction has me wishing I was dead. Thank god you didn't stay on those to help you through!!
Thanks again :)
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5/26/13 Response to louisdq on steady health.com for opiate withdrawal
Thank you for such a well-written, thoughtful and informative posting. You certainly seem like a hell of a person. I think that the fact that you had created a good life before you were "hooked" had a lot to do with your getting through this ordeal relatively unscathed. Apparently, you did not have many of the underlying emotional problems that many addicts suffer even before they begin the harrowing affair with drugs. The people who are primarily self-medicating and the drugs are originally being used to ease their every day pain of just trying to survive.
I am so happy for you, that girlfriend and her daughter, who especially needs a caring man in her life; hope life continues to bless you; maybe, as a businessperson, you could start/join some sort of mentoring/jobs program to help others who are trying to re-claim their lives.
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Thank you........you give me hope
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Hope you are well as I am where you were. "Middle of withdraw"
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Just recently I accepted the fact that I am addicted to tramadol. I started taking them because at the time it was not considered a narcotic and I had a total knee replacement. I am now
needing to take 75mg every morning to combat stomach pains and if I don't take it I start getting flu symptoms (chills, sweating, extreme tired etc.). I really need to know what others are doing and what works! I have tried a lot of different angles but no go.
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