I had never been addicted to prescription medication or recreational drugs, until 2012. I use to take cocaine and ecstasy over the weekends during high school (2007-2008) to escape the bullying and abuse. My last day of school was the very last day that I took any recreational substance. I did not need it anymore because I did not have any contact with those people. I was free. I had nothing to escape anymore. Most people that ask me how I managed and I usually say: “I just did.” You can imagine the facial expressions. In all honesty, how many people do you know that can throw away a packet of cocaine and never go looking for it again after ten years. In rehabilitation, people were shocked. This is why I constantly say, everyone has a story. We do not wake up in the morning and choose to be an addict or develop a mental illness. This occurs purely by circumstance, life experiences, tragedies, and a lot of time and feelings of hopelessness. The only person who knew was my psychologist. She made it very clear that if I started shooting anything (I.e. heroine), it would no longer be a secret and my parents would get involved. That probably saved my life. My psychologist has known me for eleven years and knows what I can and cannot handle. So no, my psychologist was not an enabler, I was completely open and honest about when, what, how often and why I was using.
Once I left school I became a shooter girl. I loved partying, I had a lot of friends and the money was good- before the recession at least. I use to work almost six days or nights a week while studying full time. One of the reasons I loved it so much was because I hardly worked in the same place twice in one week. But being a shooter girl does come with its problems, for example, a lot of drinking and becoming extremely promiscuous because, well, sex sells. The more attention you give to customers, the more likely they are to buy from you, drink with you, and become your regular customers in the clubs. I began to binge drink. Sometimes customers would buy an entire tray of twenty shooters just to support me, but it came with a catch. I had to drink all twenty, which I did. I began to develop such a fierce tolerance for alcohol that eventually it did not bother me. First, it was one tray, then two, and before I knew it I had sixty shots sitting in front me. This lasted for two years until one woman (a manager at a bar) gave me such a sincere piece of advice. The manager at News Café told me I am so much better than this. I am a lady with class, intelligence; a few weeks after that I quit. It is extremely challenging to be around so many inebriated people and situations get out of hand very quickly. Not only that, my parents knew that after every shift, I would arrive home so inebriated; I could not make it to my bedroom. I walked into the living room and passed out on the floor. I could not even change. I was forbidden from obtaining my learner's and my driver's until I could get my act together. It began to affect my work and studying. I would often receive “compliments “ on how lovely I smelled at university or at work. The drinking escalated to such an extent that I would pass out in the club, or outside the club. I also ended up failing a subject at university. I also behaved very irresponsibly. Not my finest moments.
I did a complete 180degree in 2012 when I became gravely ill. I did not drink for 9 months. Today, I am lucky if I have one shot a month. Alcohol does not play a role in my life anymore, despite us having a wine rack filled with alcohol, I walk past it every day and have absolutely no cravings whatsoever. I pour my Papa s whiskey every night and the smell is just putrid.
Becoming sick was a blessing and a curse. I stopped drinking and partying- that would be the blessing. The curse, however, has followed me through until this very moment. A dark shadow, or cloud if you will, that will not leave. I became extremely weak, drastic weight loss, and still tried to keep up with my studies and working at events every week. I became weaker by the day. I consulted every doctor; nephrologist, three neurologists, GP's, chiropractor, biokineticist, physiotherapist, gastroenterologist, sports therapist; you name it I did and consulted with some of the best doctors in the country. Thousands of rands went to consultations and tests, yet everything came back inconclusive. I was so frustrated because the pain in my body was beyond bearable, doctors were concerned that I would not make it until the end of the year, and I was trying to juggle work and studying at the same time.
Eventually, a neurologist prescribed me with a packet full of medication for my migraines. After two months I threw it away because of the side effects and went into withdrawals without medical assistance. I have always said, the worst thing than insomnia, are withdrawals. Her medication made me extremely aggressive and I started to become this person I did not recognize.
I found a medical center close to home and consulted with a GP, explaining my symptoms: severe pain on the entire left side of my body, no sex drive whatsoever, mood swings, lack of motivation to study, sleep deprivation, to which she prescribed antidepressants and muscle relaxants.
Then a very strange thing started to happen; I began vomiting and excessive diarrhea for forty-five days. I was hospitalized for a week and found out I have a condition called bile acid diarrhea, which only one percent of the population is diagnosed with because it is so incredibly difficult to catch. I had more polyps removed to prevent colon cancer. As my specialist rightfully said, I am a highly strung person who will internalize everything – a Type A person. Imagine suffering from that for six months, not knowing if you will be able to go out, constantly disappearing to the bathroom during work hours. It was a nightmare. And not very sexy at all. My specialist did not believe me at first. I was interrogated about my eating disorders, laxatives, and other medications, until she performed a gastroscopy and colonoscopy, only to find that my intestines and stomach were yellow like a canary. Bile acid diarrhea is caused by the liver producing too much bile which the stomach cannot handle. As my psychologist said so aptly, I was using my illness as a protection, or barrier if you will, from a destructive friendship and an aggressive relationship.
The years 2014 – 2017 were absolute hell. Some doctors believe that patients experience pain specifically on the left side of their body because of the main artery, specifically caused by opioids. I could not sleep, I could not sit still, I had tremors, memory loss, chronic fatigue and still, all tests were inconclusive. My medication changed on a monthly basis for three years, particularly opioids and benzodiazepines. I have prescribed post-op painkillers, antidepressants, anxiety medication, sleeping tablets, bought OTC painkillers, as well as collecting my “stash" of benzodiazepines from a contact in the events industry. I was a functioning prescription drug addict. Yet nothing took away the pain. In fact, I stopped taking opioids because it did not give me the desired effects. However, when opioids leave the body, it is like being in a never-ending whirlwind of pain. It takes a few weeks before the pain wears off. Then you left with a choice… take opioids to relieve the pain from physical addiction, or benzodiazepines to get high and forget about the pain.
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Doctors slotted me into various categories: chronic pain syndrome, conversion disorder, fibromyalgia, and Myofascial Pain Syndrome (Chronic Myofascial Pain). “Chronic myofascial pain (CMP), also called myofascial pain syndrome, is a painful condition that affects the muscles and the sheath of the tissue — called the fascia — that surround the muscles. It's most notable symptom is trigger points. Trigger points are highly sensitive areas within the muscle that is painful to touch and cause pain that can be felt in another area of the body, called referred pain. When properly diagnosed and treated, the pain associated with CMP often can be controlled.”
These trigger points were targeted with local anesthetic injections in my back and neck to try and relieve the pain. This was done on a weekly basis, including a pain drip every other week. By the end of 2016, I had ingested so much medication, maybe 80 tablets a day, that I became a walking zombie. It does not matter what category I was slotted into, the pain was real. We eventually began to realize that the pain was coming from severe depression and comorbid anxiety disorder. That is why the medication was not working.
By February 2017, I had two choices: die, or be admitted into a psychiatric hospital. Once I had told my psychologist how much I had ingested over a short period of time, I was admitted within an hour and placed on twenty-four-hour watch for twenty-one days due to the fact that I was anorexic and the possibility of a stroke or seizure occurring during the detox process in the hospital. I did not recognize myself anymore and always asked the same question: “How did I get here?”
To simplify the answer, I would have to say experiences between friends and boyfriends that put me under immense pressure, causing severe anxiety attacks and deep dark black holes of depression. I was trying to cover up the pain by killing myself slowly. I could not please everyone; friend, boyfriend work and studying. I most certainly did NOT go out looking for this problem. No one wants to watch every pill they put in their mouth, the side effects, the possibility of a relapse and landing up back in a psychiatric hospital. And I definitely did not want to cause my family any pain, sorrow or fear because of my actions. We forget that what we do also affects the ones we love the most. They feel helpless because they cannot help us, which makes them inadvertently depressed and anxious as well.
But this is not about who I was, this is about who I will be one day.
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