By Angelika Byczkowski
Below is a letter I wrote to a very good friend who had accused me of being an addict:
As I was lying awake in bed with excruciating head pain again at 3 AM, waiting for my pain medication to take effect, I couldn’t stop thinking about what you said to me yesterday: “I think you’re an addict.” Calling me an addict just because I treat my pain with opioids is simply cruel.
How desperately I wish I were “just an addict”.
Then I could simply stop taking these pills and go on to live a normal life. You have no idea how much I hate being dependent on doctors and drugs, how eagerly I’d put this medicinal nightmare behind me. But I can’t.
When you say I’m an addict, it tells me you have no understanding or compassion for the disaster that my life has become. You make light of the monster that has stolen my life from me, that has taken my tough self and turned it to mush, that makes want to crawl into bed and stay there, that makes me seriously question the value of living.
I don’t know how I can explain myself when you doubt this essential element of my existence.
Yes, I take my pain medication “to feel better”, but I feel better because the pain is lessened, not because I get some euphoric “high”. Anyone would feel bliss when long-standing pain is reduced, when the barrier to the enjoyment of life is lifted even temporarily.
I recently spent time with a relative who has the same kind of pain I do, but is not taking medication. Nothing else can relieve her pain, not even lying down, so her suffering was obvious and her misery affected everyone else around her.
With her ceaseless pain, she can barely drive, can’t clean house, can’t walk the dog, can’t garden, can’t tolerate standing or sitting still to socialize. She lies awake with pain like I do, but without pain medication she gets hardly any sleep at all, and that only adds to the misery.
I can’t believe you’d want me to live like that.
I realize I can never prove my pain and will have to spend the rest of my life dealing with people like you, who think I’m an addict. I even have a medical diagnosis for what’s causing my pain, but since it’s invisible, you still refuse to believe it’s serious enough to require medication.
It’s terribly demeaning that you imagine I’ve “chosen” to live like this.
It’s like trying to live with one foot nailed to the floor, not just for me, but for many others too. Just because you’re lucky enough to have a healthy, strong, and resilient body, you choose to believe everyone else has the same resources and luck. You can’t even imagine what kind of physical misery is possible, but I live it every day.
I could send you dozens of scientific articles I’ve collected to prove my point about the severity of pain arising from my condition and the danger of leaving it uncontrolled in the long term, but I know you don’t want to hear about it–your mind is made up and seems to be firmly shut on this topic.
How convenient to write off a friend’s suffering as a self-induced “addiction”.
It’s emotionally painful for me to around people who insist that I’m making up or exaggerating the pain I have to live with. Already beaten down by my circumstances, I’m exceptionally vulnerable to emotional pain as well.
I start questioning the value of living like this, and that starts me on a downward spiral of depression. With pain grinding away at my emotional resilience, I lack the strength to defend myself against your accusations and end up feeling that our friendship is doomed.
So, does telling you how I feel about being called an addict make any difference at all? I guess I’ll find out if you do it again – please don’t.
The result of this letter? Addiction was never mentioned again.
Angelika is a contributor to the National Pain Report who blogs about chronic pain and illness at EDSinfo.wordpress.com.
Follow on Twitter: