I felt like my organs were being crushed. I was so nauseous I could hardly breathe. I tried to relax, to rest, but I couldn’t stop shaking. My jaw chattered uncontrollably, my hands quivered, my muscles and bones hurt in ways I never knew they could, and I was too weak to even hold my phone. I crawled into an insta-care and informed them that I thought I was dying. I explained my symptoms, the medications I had taken, the recent changes to them, and so forth. I told them how my doctor took me off the opiates to try something else, and instructed me to get back on the pills in a week if I still had pain. “These are morphine withdrawals. You will feel like you are going to die, but you won’t.” I hobbled back out of the clinic, grateful that I was supposedly going to be OK, but completely flabbergasted. I am a mom. An activist. A PhD student, a college professor! I took medication as prescribed by my doctors. Medication for pain from an attack while on a humanitarian internship. I mean, I was no junkie! NO ONE TOLD ME. NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THIS.
It went on for days. I stared at the clock, willing time to pass and for the torture to end. I saw my husband’s funeral and I recited his entire eulogy, sobbing, before realizing it wasn’t really happening. I banged my hand against my head and cried for hours straight, shaking and trembling and jerking my legs like they were on fire. I was hollow, my skin crawled; I was hot, freezing, hot, freezing, incapable of eating or sleeping, and deflated into a crumpled mess of agony. I had no idea I was addicted, I had no idea how poisoned I was. I hadn’t even been on the pills for a year, and I still had a lifetime to go. The more I detoxed, the angrier I became. I called my pharmacy and instructed them to get rid of my prescription.
I stared at the ceiling, sleepless night after night, in a bed of sweat, and I began to learn.
The more I experienced the withdrawals, the more disgusted I became with the way our society shuns, judges, and scorns those who suffer from drug addiction.
I rocked back and forth, humming, eyes squeezed tightly closed, wrapped in a blanket with a heater on my face and a fan at my feet, with my favorite music playing and with a clean toilet and fresh water nearby, and I asked myself, what could be worse than this? And I knew. Suffering through this in a jail cell. Suffering through this in a freeway underpass. Suffering through this alone because of humiliation and judgment. Suffering through this because cannabis is illegal. Those things would be worse.
I realized that addicts were not chasing a high, they were running from this. And I realized the only difference between me and the stereotype that I thought this happened to was ignorance. Withdrawals do not care if you were trying to serve others in Africa when you were injured. Withdrawals do not care if you bought from a neighbor because you were depressed. Withdrawals do not care if you are homeless, or a business executive, or an abuse survivor, or a mother. They will get you, they will harm you, they will take you to hell so hard and fast that you will believe you are dying, and even wish you were dead. They will make you so afraid of the pain that you would do anything to avoid it, until the drugs consume you.
We need to talk about this. We need to understand this. Until society stops vilifying victims and putting those who suffer into cramped, labeled boxes, people will suffer. To the young woman who does not know what these are doing to your body, you need to know. To the older gentleman who is forgotten and treated like a ghost as he holds his sign, I see you. To my friend who suffered through withdrawals in a jail cell, you were wronged. To the chronic pain patient who is forced to take pills and suffer the side effects because cannabis is illegal, you deserve to have a choice. And to everyone from the outside looking in, learn what drug addiction really means, understand that the suffering is incomprehensible, and feel compassion for those who endure this. Only through awareness and empathy can we change the conversation, and the conversation must be changed.