She never mentions the word addiction, in certain company…
— The Black Crowes
Modern medicine for all it’s technology, PhDs, clinical studies, research and development is still very old fashioned with one particular concept; the standard “take two of these and call me in the morning.”
No matter the disease, your doctor can consult the Physician’s Desk Reference and select a pill corresponding to your particular condition. If you have tonsillitis, he will give you Keflex or Duracef. If have high blood pressure you will be issued Norvasc or Prinivil or Zestril. A thyroid problem may land you Synthroid or Levoxyl. Exotic names for sophisticated lab creations, using all letters of the alphabet like a Scrabble virtuoso.
If you have pain he will give you Vicodin or Lortab. Hydrocodone. Oxycontin. Percocet or Fentanyl.
It started innocently enough in 1997 with a trip to the doctor or the dentist. A toothache here, a migraine there. Menstrual cramps. It didn’t take long and the toothaches and migraines and cramps were every day, meaning, pills were every day. She knew right away she had a problem. We all did. At first, you hope it is a phase, something she will tire of. You hope she will start a hobby, find other interests… move on. Soon you realize the pills were her hobby. Her interest. Like Dorothy waking up in Oz, you find yourself in a new world and must take a new, difficult path. But Dorothy had it easy, she could get back to Kansas.
With addiction, you will never get home again. At least, not the same home you came from.
In the first couple years we tried to get her into rehab, treatment centers, counseling, church programs, nothing worked. Until 1999 we lived in California. It was then we decided to take her out of her environment and away from her dealers.
Doctors. Drug dealers in white coats. DPMs and DDSs, MDs and DOs and FACPs, pushers with stethoscopes and eight years of college.
We moved to Utah. It worked for a few months, but someone who really wants to find something will usually find it. She found it in the form of multitude of new doctors more than willing to dispense narcotics with reckless abandon. She also found some new “ailments”, subtle diseases with vague non-descript symptoms, conjoined with “pain” that could only be relieved by Vicodin. Endometriosis, TMJ, fibromyalgia, sciatica, migraines, wisdom teeth, a story was developed for all of these and more. These tales were perfected through a great iterative process of trial and error, added to and tweaked, tailored to fit any situation depending on which type of lab coat wearing drug dealer was in front of her. Doctor shopping they call it.
But it’s not addiction if a doctor gives it to you. A prescription is a license to abuse. A golden embossed certificate suitable for framing. It means you’re supposed to have it. And since you need it, it’s okay.
Justification is a form of self-hypnotism. Some people make a career out of it.
Visits to doctors, hospitals and clinics result in bills – lots of them. Our mailbox which began as a small landing strip for medical bills soon became LaGuardia, LAX, and O’Hare International with bills landing by the dozens and then the hundreds. At first they were intercepted so I wouldn’t see them. It didn’t take long until they started to call me. The funny thing about doctors is they like to get paid.
The definition of tenacious – a family medical clinic with receivables.
Stay at home mom they call it. I call it stay at home addict. A suburban junkie with a nice car and a church calling. Little Miss Perfect. If you think she exists, you should get to know her better. The more you do this the more you will realize there’s no such thing as Miss Perfect.
The more I get to know unicorns the more I realize they are just cows.
On the first overdose, I found her in the bathroom. When I realized I hadn’t seen her for two hours I went looking. She was sitting on the floor next to the sink, unresponsive. I already knew what happened and I frantically rushed her to the ER. She stayed overnight and they sent her home the next day with instructions to check into a rehab program and a $3,000 hospital bill.
The second overdose she was on the floor in the living room. I took her to the ER again and received a similar $3,000 hospital bill.
More visits to rehab centers and more visits to therapists, psychologists, counselors, and church leaders. Nothing worked. She constantly made promises to stop but couldn’t. The third overdose I didn’t take her anywhere. If you want to do it just do it. Get it over with. The medical insurance company decided to stop insuring her, obviously.
The problem with thousands of dollars in bills is eventually you can’t pay them all. At the time, I figured this was my ace in the hole. I turned off the bank accounts and the credit cards. This would stop it. By now you probably realize it didn’t. You would be amazed at how many doctors will shovel pills at you without even a $20 copay as long as you “promise” to pay it next week.
Wishful thinking ruins lives.
I cashed my paycheck and kept the money at work so I could go get money orders from 7-Eleven to pay the rent and utilities. In her desperation she began to pawn everything of value and go to those check cashing, payroll advance places to get cash against my future paychecks (unknown to me until the collectors would call).
Payday advance shops – the fuel to keep a junkie fire burning.
I tried to keep up with the bills until it overwhelmed me. I stopped paying any hospital, clinic or pharmacy. Collection agencies called 25 times a day. I started getting served with judgments. In one particular month I received 13 judgments from various physician offices and clinics. I began to know the guys from the constable office by first name. She barely got out of bed or dressed anymore. She would generally stock up a pill supply to last 2-3 weeks. When it was almost gone she would gather herself enough to go on an odyssey from Provo to Salt Lake to Ogden and back to re-stock, only to drug herself silly for a few more weeks. When I went to work the kids were left on their own and generally coped by eating a bag of chips for lunch. The car was repossessed. I went to work every day and despite making a decent wage we had nothing. It was a struggle to keep the hot water on.
She overdosed a couple more times. I figured my exit strategy was to wait it out. Sooner or later she would take herself out of the game. It was inevitable.
The day finally arrived. I hadn’t heard any movement upstairs for quite a while. This was not entirely unusual as she spent her life in bed, but this time was different. I heard nothing moving all day. I went upstairs to find her body slumped over the bed, face down. Matted hair dangling on the dirty floor. I decided to check. She was not breathing and I felt no pulse. Was it over?
These are moments in your life when you are faced with the big decision. Do you, or don’t you? You have an internal argument with yourself. The bad part of you against the good part. The problem is, you no longer know which is the good or the bad anymore.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
It was decided. I closed the door and prayed that it was over. Strangely, I was relieved. It was an emotion I did not expect. Like Sisyphus being released from his torment I was free. To be sure, I decided to wait until the next morning. I watched and I waited.
And the next day a walking corpse trudged out of her room, got ice cream from the freezer, and slogged zombie-like back up to her room. Impossible! How had this happened? A human cannot survive this many overdoses. Come on, this was not fair! It was really over this time! At least I thought it was. The walking corpse proved me wrong. Dead, but not really.
Sisyphus resumed his toil.
I moved into an unfinished part of the basement and threw a mattress on the concrete floor. I had my clothes, a computer and my mattress in that room that I lived in for the last two years of our ‘marriage’. I didn’t want to see her or speak to her during that time. The dark years. I just wanted her to either fix herself or die. She wouldn’t die, and she wouldn’t fix herself. I prayed for the miracle that never came. I had no more emotion left. What I did during the dark years I did for my children and them alone. I kept them fed and clothed barely, in school and as normal as they could be considering their mother had become a zombie in the upstairs bedroom.
You wonder if you’re not you anymore. That you’ll never be you again. But then you wake up the next morning and you’re still you. And you realize, that was you all along and you just didn’t know it.
A couple years later (during the divorce proceedings) we pulled the state report for issuance of narcotic prescriptions. It was over 200 pages long and displayed a period of over five years. For two of those years (2001-02) she averaged 24 Vicodin a day and there were days she took in excess of 50. This is enough to kill most people, and yet is proof one can develop a tolerance to it if it is taken over a long period of time. The police officer who gave me the report said their department had never seen a more prolific user than my ex-wife. I acted surprised but I wasn’t. Over a period of five years she saw 105 physicians and dentists from Provo to Ogden and at any given time had 4-5 active prescriptions. Her court appointed counselor said he had never seen a more heavily addicted individual even among users of heroin or cocaine. Financially, it ruined us. We lost everything – house, cars, retirement plans and everything of value. Complete financial recovery will never happen in my lifetime.
People always ask me “Why didn’t you leave?” For years I’ve second-guessed myself on this question. I had nowhere to go, no money and no car. I had three kids to take care of. But this problem didn’t happen overnight, it evolved slowly. When you compared each day to day, the downward spiral wasn’t that noticeable. It was only when you looked back six months or a year that there was an obvious problem. It was the story of “How to boil a frog”. If you put the frog in boiling water right away he jumps out of the pot. But if you put him in cool water and slowly turn up the heat, he becomes accustomed to it along the way, and eventually he gets cooked.
One day I woke up and realized I was already cooked.
I always thought that eventually a miracle would come along and fix it all. That miracle finally came in the form of a Sandy police detective who knocked on the door and asked for my wife. In Utah it is a felony to gain multiple narcotic prescriptions for the same drug on the same day. Needless to say, she had done this dozens of times. She was arrested. On that day, she went cold turkey (See my next entry, Transformation Part 2: One Fateful Day for that story).
I always thought quitting drugs would be the first step in fixing our family. Strangely enough it wasn’t. Many years of addiction changes a person. Things got worse from this point and during the next six months things happened that were too horrible to be described here, things which she can never take back or make right. Six months after her first arrest she finally left and I filed for divorce. Ultimately she spent a year in prison.
Why am I writing all this here? It’s therapy for me. I found during all this it helped me to talk about it – and it still does. As bad as I think things suck, I reflect back to the dark years and I realize everything is pretty good. In fact, I’d even say things are pretty amazing.
I need to remind myself of the damage she did to herself, to me, and to my kids. Much of the damage is permanent, and some of it isn’t. But as I take all this into account, it helps with my perspective. In our divorce, she was at fault, not me. I need this affirmation. I did my part. I gave everything I should have given and then I gave more. Now, there is no more to give.
And yet she gave me something in return – something I’ll always keep with me. She gave me Bitterness. That was her gift.
(Note: This was originally written almost 10 years ago in 2008. Some aspects of the story are over and done with, and other things will live on, maybe forever).