Withdrawal, One Day At A Time.
Went to a meeting yesterday. Topic: “One Day At A Time as a spiritual practice.”
Today is the third anniversary of the day I jumped off my medical detox. My detox doctor prescribed Suboxone to help me land my plane off a 30,000-foot level of Fentanyl. I spent two months on Suboxone—almost triple the time this doctor usually allows his patients to spend on that drug. He was very kind to me and one of my first acts of “recovery” was to repay his kindness by taking the drug responsibly—by showing him that I actually wanted to detox.
If you find it difficult to manage withdrawal by yourself, it might be good to find a doctor you can trust to help. The only way I managed detox was to turn the process over to someone else.
A lot of people come to Suboxone-detox doctors with heroin or Vicodin or OxyContin problems. Their supplies of pharma drugs have been erratic, and the quality of heroin is uncertain. They run out of money or their dealers run out of dope. So some people haven’t been on a steady level. Detox is somewhat easier if you haven’t been on a steady level: in the down-times, the body has a chance to regain some equilibrium, and there’s not so much physical damage to repair.
But I was on a fairly steady level, and the level was towering, the equivalent of 400-600mg of morphine per day. Crazy-high level.
I never thought I’d ever, ever—ever—be able to jump and land on the ground with both my legs intact. I’d tried. I’d gone into withdrawal (voluntarily, involuntarily) over the years, and gotten partway, only to be driven back to the drugstore to get the thing that would relieve the suffering of severe withdrawal.
In withdrawal from any drug on which the body becomes dependent (including psych-meds), the body and mind experience problems operating optimally. For opioids the physical problems include sweating, cramping, vomiting, goose-flesh, headaches, soaring blood pressure, insomnia, extreme deathly fatigue. It’s often the last two, which can hang on for ages and which affect psychological wellbeing, that drive people back to drugs.
Alcoholics go through sweating, racing heart, weakness, palpitations, tremors, seizures. The seizures can be life-threatening, which is why it’s sometimes better to do a medical detox from alcohol-addiction.
And then there are the psychological disturbances. Confusion. “Anxiety” (otherwise known as fear). “Restlessness, irritability, discontentment,” blah blah blah.
In opioid withdrawal there can even be a kind of euphoria as the body begins to return to normal functioning. The senses come alive; food tastes good again; we walk into the kitchen and our mouths water; appetites return. There have been documented cases of spontaneous orgasm in opioid withdrawal. The body, no longer drugged and dulled, begins to produce the hormones that support normal sexuality—and the physical and emotional responses go a bit overboard for a while.
People in yesterday’s meeting were talking about One Day At A Time. I heard a saying that I’d heard long ago in a meeting: “You can start your day over at any time—even an hour before bedtime, you can start your day over.” I was reminded of how my friend and mentor Sluggo used to ask me, after I jumped and was feeling lousy and was facing a Thanksgiving holiday with family in the house—exhausted from detox, unable to look at cleaning the entire garret guest-space; upset, as always, at the grunge on the kitchen floor—Sluggo used to ask me,
How are you now?
I didn’t get this at the time. “I’m FUCKED UP NOW!!” I’d scream at her in my head.
I could have screamed it at Sluggo in real life (“IRL”) and she would have sat there, like, OK, so you’re fucked up now. She never tried to force solutions. She rocks at detachment.
Sluggo is wise, and streetwise; she’s quite literally been around the world, and she’s seen and done a lot of shit. She’s lived in Tokyo and Paris and other places where supermodels live while they’re showing haute couture. She’s been held up at knifepoint in Chicago, trying to cop, shivering from withdrawal and exposure in an evening gown that she was supposed to be modeling. … After a lot of tries, she got “clean.” She got married, had a kid and now uses the 12 steps to stay sober and sane.
(I love her.)
Step 11 is Very Important to Sluggo. She knows how to meditate. Because she meditates.
Her question (“How are you now? And now?”) is about meditation. Meditation is about practice. The practice of meditation changes the body and nervous system. It counters paranoia, compulsiveness, anxiety, “restlessness, irritability, discontentment.” For people like us, it’s medicine.
After Sluggo asked me this question a few times, I began to realize that Right Now I was safe and well. “FUCKED UP!!” is a mean judgment that hides great expectations. “Safe” and “well” are facts.
At the meeting yesterday I was sitting next to a woman who said she had 40 days. From the sheepish look of her, she felt kind of bad admitting she had “only” 40 days. Murmurs around the room: “Awesome!” “Forty days rocks.” “Forty days is HUGE.” There was a guy there who had five days. Then people started talking about how we only have This Day, and how This Day can start over again at any time, so really we only have This Moment.
How are you now?