I remember that night when I woke up screaming, with terrible pain in my abdomen. I felt like someone had knocked the air out me. I remember walking around the seminary campus doubled over with pain. I remember not wanting to go to the hospital for fear of being admitted. I remember being rushed to the Baylor Emergency Room. I remember that first dose of IV morphine burning through my veins. And then a temporary blissful escape from that dreadful pain.
That's how I began my relationship with prescription morphine. I was admitted for biliary colic. I had stones in my liver. A golf ball sized stone to begin with. It was a recurrent problem. They were able to remove the first stone surgically but when I developed couple of more stones within a year they had to come up with a different line of treatment. In the meantime I was prescribed morphine pills to keep my pain under control. The pain used to be so paralysing that I could not do the basic minimum as a mom and wife. And so I reached for the morphine pills to keep my pain at bay. I justified every pill I took saying this is what the doctor has prescribed.
When I was hospitalised the first time I had no idea about the side effects of morphine. I was naive. I would hallucinate from the effects of the drug and wake up screaming, pulling at my IV line. I was constantly nauseated and had to sleep sitting upright most of the time. I was constipated. My pupils were always dilated. I was drowsy but could not sleep. I felt miserable. And yet I had no idea that it was because of the morphine. I just assumed that it was a combination of drugs (which could have been the case too) and staying at the hospital for almost a month.
I got back home after the surgery, and within a year I developed more stones. I was stumped.
Until my team of doctors could come up with a plan for treatment and schedule me for a procedure to remove the stones, I was back on prescription morphine again. Between the first and second procedure to remove my stones it was almost a year and a half. For most of that time, whenever I had pain, I would happily pop a morphine pill. The morphine made me forget my pain. It helped me smile again. In fact, it made me feel mildly euphoric.
Close to the time of my second procedure, I was chatting with a friend from the medical field and telling her how I could now take the pain medication and still stay up the whole day without feeling drowsy and walk a straight line even with my full dose of pain medication for the day. She looked me in the eye and said, "Deepa, I think you're addicted."
Ouch. That hurt! I was on a seminary campus and my husband was studying to be a pastor, how could I be an addict? And yet that's exactly what I was. Initially I felt that the pain that I was in justified my behaviour. Then I realised, it was just my easiest option. Soon after that conversation I got a call from my cousin, who is a doctor. He had been following my treatment and he told me that it was about time I stopped the morphine. It was a short conversation, but I got the point.
Soon after that I was back in the hospital to remove liver stones. I remember being in constant pain. I remember being on IV morphine again. I remember a mishap during a CT scan caused my hand to swell up like a balloon. More pain, more pain medication, more hallucinations. I knew this had to stop.
The day I was finally discharged I told the doctors not to fill my prescription for pain medication. I would manage with what I had at home. That night I told my family that I was going to quit taking morphine from then on. I was going to quit cold turkey. It was a tough choice, because I was still in some pain.
In our small apartment that night I thrashed and jerked and refused to be touched. My parents spent the entire night by my bedside praying for me and giving me water if I needed it. I was hallucinating and nauseated and the pain of the withdrawal was almost unbearable. But I refused to take that wretched morphine! Somewhere around 3 AM I dozed off sitting propped up on my bed. My parents fell asleep on their knees beside the bed, from mere exhaustion of fighting along with me that night.
But I kicked it. I kicked the habit that night. It was a battle won through sweat and through prayer.
I don't remember the next few days very clearly. I don't remember whether I had any more abdominal pain or not but I do remember flushing the pills down the toilet. I do remember that my sister-in-law was still caring for my baby. I do remember that my husband was cleaning the blisters on my swollen hand. But strangely, through all that discomfort and pain, I don't remember reaching out for my morphine pills.
After coming back to India my stone issues and related pain have not recurred again with that magnitude or frequency, praise God! There have been times when I have had severe pain and have had to visit the hospital here, and there have been times I've been prescribed morphine again for the pain, but by God's grace I've never been addicted to it ever again.
Addiction seems to ease our deepest pain, physical or emotional. It offers us a temporary escape, a feeling of comfort or control. But addiction is a False Comforter. It usurps our reliance on God and so becomes an idol, plunging us into shame. It's impossible to fix the pain and emptiness through continuing in that destructive pattern.
The lie that I kept believing was that the drug would fix my pain and make me happy again. I was blind to the fact that God loved me enough to allow me to walk through this path, and that he himself was close beside me. The truth is I was mad at God for all that was happening to me and my easy fix was to take a few pills at the slightest onset of pain. I wanted to be happy so I found temporary fixes for happiness instead of looking to Jesus as my wellspring of joy.
The road to recovery from the pain without the help of pain medication has been a long one. I've had to make plenty of diet modifications and lifestyle changes. But all these changes have been so worth it to live both pain free and drug free. And the journey has brought me closer to the Lord and taught me to look to Jesus as my One True Saviour.
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