Need to Get Clean but You Are Afraid of Withdrawal? There is Hope for Any Addict

Your first waking thought was about using. It does not matter if it was how are you going to get it, where it is, how you going to pay, whatever. Sitting up and becoming fully awake, your second real thought is that this just can’t go on any longer. This house of cards has to fall sometime. Telling lies on top of lies to cover more lies is no way to live. Just the thought of it makes your stomach churn. Can withdrawal be any worse than this? Deep thoughts and questions for someone just getting up. Your only real taste of withdrawal was those two days you could not get a hold of your doctor or your connection or waiting on that check. You were so happy when you got what you needed, or so it seemed. After you got off sick, you realized you were not even high, but not sick was good enough. Looking in the mirror, you ask yourself “How did I get here? How is this going to end?”
Well, I can tell you from experience that it can only end in one of four ways:

Getting and staying clean, no matter what it takes
Commitment to an institution by family or the court
Jail and/or prison

Now I am assuming that since you have read this far, you are debating if it is time and if you can really be drug-free. I also know how addiction works and your disease (It is a disease, make no mistake but more on that later) is telling you tomorrow or even never. Look, whether you are a housewife the doctor for oxys, the former pill head who went the cheaper (at the time) heroin route, or someone who has legitimate injuries, it makes no difference. We are in a cycle that, if not broken, only leads to shame, heartache, prison, and death. I cannot pretend that what I am sharing with you is better than the 1,000s of books and millions of dollars spent on treating addiction. What I can tell you is that I am clean, how you can get clean, and how to stay clean if you really want to. I owe it to the hundreds of people who have helped me on my journey to spread the word and I sincerely hope you end up clean. The first hurdle? You guessed right, withdrawal better known as ‘dope sick’.

I would say fear of withdrawal keeps more people using than any other reason, with the exception of underlying mental problems. Like the disease model, I hope to discuss hidden mental illness and its role in using drugs in some future article. Just for now, withdrawal is the werewolf’s capering shadow just beyond the light of the campfire. After that long, long night of waiting the sunrise reveals it to be just some leaves and branches. I am not saying it won’t be tough but the fear of it is worse than the actual sickness. I should point out, if you have not figured it by now, I am talking about opiates. Booze and benzo withdrawal can actually kill you, so if that’s your bag you have to see a doctor one way or another. Opiate withdrawal has never killed anyone, though you may think you want to die once or twice. OK, are we still ready? Great. It is a decision no one has ever regretted. Once you pass through this, you will always remember that it is soooo much easier staying clean than getting clean.

Some folks swear by over-the-counter flu remedies will ease the burden. I suppose this comes from the early symptoms being flu-like. To be brutally honest (and you have to be when dealing with addiction) I have been through withdrawal 4 times and the flu/cold stuff was an expensive waste. 4 times? Well, some folks are just thick-headed 🙂 The first was in the county lock-up and the less said, the better. Ever see the movie ‘Ed Wood’? Think of poor Bela and you get the idea. Second time was in a hospital, God bless them but it was just as yucky as the lockup. Well, the chow was superior as well as the beds but you are locked up just the same. Mentally, doing it at home and on your own is the most challenging and rewarding, to me anyhow. A combination of numbers 3 and 4 is what we will go over. You may want to keep it secret, that is on you. That is, for now. As the series continues I hope to make a pitch for joining a fellowship but for now I just want to help you get yourself clean. All in all it is no worse than a really bad flu when you were a child. It certainly is not as bad as it is portrayed in some movies or TV shows. Now it is bad, I am not going to sugar-coat it. But there are ways to make it less unpleasant. Here is a list of comfort stuff had with me. Out of the following items, what you need may vary:

Smokes (lots of them, if you smoke that is)
Ginger Ale
Pepsi or iced tea (any fluid you can drink a lot of)
Pepto Bismol
Phone (maybe)

First, I am not endorsing any brand names just telling you like it is (or was). The editor can add the registered and copyright symbols. As addicts, we can come up with the money. I am not telling you to do any sort of hustle to get the stuff listed above. In fact a very loving person provided me with the above list. If you do not have the luxury of living alone, Thursday complain of flu symptoms since you are going to quit at midnight. By Monday, the worst will be far behind you. Some folks feel crappy for a week, some three days but everyone I know who has kicked it, 60 hours is the high-water mark for misery. Believe me, I know a lot of people who have kicked it. OK, the list. If you are a non-smoker, scratch it but if you are you may want to buy a roller and a sack or can of the cheap stuff. Really. Anti-smokers, keep the sermon to yourselves. The health benefits of kicking opiates far outweigh a couple days of overdoing the smokes. Coffee sure helped me in many ways. It gave me something in my stomach so the dry heaves were not so dry and it hid the taste of bile very well. The Kaopectate should be self-explanatory. Now some folks get crippled with the runs off and on, others it is a mild inconvenience. I knew what to expect from lockup, so I did the stuff as a pre-emotive strike. That’s where the ginger ale REALLY comes in, as a chase for the kao. Goodness, that big K is some of the nastiest tasting stuff to me. Also, like many of you, I associate ginger ale with my mum (God rest her soul) taking care of me when sick as a wee one. The Pepsi and iced tea is for fluids, the more, the better.
Are you with me so far? Great. You know you can do this, you want it bad, you miss the old you as bad as your loved ones do. The fact that you are trying to kick it on your own says a great deal about you. I had to lose everything, including my freedom, before I saw the light. Locking yourself in and kicking it because you want to? Man, I am proud of you. I truly mean that and not in some corny, fake-ass way. You are going to need that strength and determination. The symptoms according to the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (or COWS. Google it if you want but it may just add to your misery) include runny nose, joint aches, irritability, restlessness, gastrointestinal distress, and gooseflesh (?). I guess the gooseflesh means when my skin crawled. That was the first to come and the last to go, followed by the runny nose. Time, for the moment, is the enemy. Pacing, irritable, constantly thinking ‘aww, the hecks with it, I’ll kick tomorrow’ is very hard to ignore. That is where the paperbacks and PlayStation (if you haven’t sold it) comes in. Veritable time machines allowing you to go sometimes 15 minutes without thinking about dope and how bad you feel. Now, obviously, it does not have to be those two things. Sudoku, solitaire, crosswords, whatever you do to occupy your mind is a big blessing. It is not going to be a constant torture but the sickness is going to come on very strong and go away over and over for the next three days. That sounds and seems so long to me, which is why I counted the hours backwards.

Now, you may feel like you have been awake for weeks but little naps will happen, sometimes without you noticing. So it has been 36 hours and the waves do not seem to be lightening up. Try to have a couple pretzels and a soda. Even if they come back up quickly, you will feel a little better. Now the joint aches seem to be personal. I was a paratrooper and my knees ached like a bad tooth. A good friend in recovery who had back surgery had terrible back aches during her withdrawal. Old injuries may announce themselves to you or maybe not. A brief respite from the symptoms settles on you from time to time. They get longer and longer, eventually surpassing how long you feel the actual symptoms. As you notice when you do not feel so bad, take a second to thank the God of your understanding. Along with fellowships and mental health, we will talk about this in the future. Right now, all that matters is you have two days clean. It is early afternoon and you are restless. Go ahead and take a walk. Do not go too far, over do it, or go anywhere near people or places that make you want to use. Besides, a short jaunt around the block and you will want to retreat to your safe place. Head back home and make a pot of coffee or tea and break out a book. I had never read it before but during my withdrawal I picked up Shogun by James Clavell. I had dimly remembered we had to watch the mini-series in middle school. This is an uncompensated endorsement. I read it for hours without feeling the symptoms. It took me out of myself for hours at a time during very acute withdrawal. Truly having your mind on other things sure does help.

Wow, is it really Saturday afternoon? Thursday was the last time you used. Holy cow, this is the longest you have went since you really picked up a habit. It would be a lie to say you felt good but you sure feel better than you thought you would at this time. Just one more day and it will be all downhill. During the waves of heavy symptoms and you were tempted to put this off to another day now seem a little silly. Those thoughts will pop up but now you have been through too much to start all over. Because that is exactly what wil happen. There is no tapering off or a sick bag. If you break down, all this work was for nothing. You are not home free yet but you are in the home stretch. Sips of Pepto Bismol have replaced chugs of kaopectate. A couple pretzels and a glass of soda actually stays down now. You probably can risk a couple aspirins now. If you think that will take the edge off, go ahead. Time is moving along a little quicker now and the crippling waves of heavy symptoms are getting farther apart. Skin’s still itchy, eyes are still hot but it is getting bearable.

Its Sunday afternoon and you have just gone through some hellish introspection. As the symptoms lessen you become acutely aware of a good deal. This is were a phone may come in handy. Your old, lifelong friends have been put on the back-burner for months, even years. Whether it was you didn’t want them to know what was going on, or you bummed money early on in your addiction, or your dope buddies (who are only around when you are copping) took up all your time, it does not matter. Time for a little fence building and the testing of the waters. Remember, although the worst is behind you, you are still in withdrawal. Irritable and prone to tears, you just want to make a call or three. Make arrangements for a normal activity that used to be fun. Coffee and pie or a movie sounds pretty good, at least for the moment. If you do make a call or three, try to keep a couple things in mind. You have spent months or even years living for a buzz and ignoring everything else. You may think its a secret because you have never been confronted. Your true friends and loved ones know something was up. Depending how far we have sunk, rebuilding relationships is going to take time. I hope we can discuss much more on that subject at some future date.

Did you just yawn? Not from this article :-), I mean during your cleansing period. That, my friend in recovery, is a great sign. Try to eat something, get a hot cup of tea and lay down with the Sunday crossword puzzle. Make sure your alarm is set because you just may fall asleep. Even if it feels like you tossed, turned, and were awake all night, you weren’t. A couple minutes disappeared here and there. It has been 3 and 1/2 days. Think of how you felt at 36 hours, or even yesterday morning. Today you may be achy, groggy, and stiff but you feel almost human. Face it, many folks go to work with hangovers. Those hangovers are far worse than the tinge of dope-sick you have left in you. The alarm surprises you so maybe you were asleep after all.

This is it! That flu hatched in hell two nights ago is just a bad cold now. For the first time in three days you actually want to take a shower. If it won’t mess with anyone else day, go ahead and stay in until the hot water gives out. A glass or juice and some toast is all you can risk but it stays down. Cloth against your skin does not feel like a hair shirt anymore. Have we kicked it? Not by a long shot but do not be discouraged. The most acute and painful part is over. You want to tell the world of your victory but for now, just let God know you appreciate His or Her help. There is a long but fulfilling road ahead. I hope you can share it with me. For now, please know in your heart that having never met you, I am very, very proud of you.


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