06 Jun My Experience with Medication in Recovery
This is a topic that is a bit scary to write about, just because my experience has been that everyone seems to have an opinion on the matter. Let me start by saying that I am not a doctor nor any type of professional who can diagnose you, tell you what to do with your own medications, or anything of the sort. Rather, I am here to share my personal experience as an individual in recovery from addiction who has taken both psychiatric medications and painkillers.
In my opinion, shame is a four-letter word (yes, I know it’s actually five). It has not really ever served me well and only has caused harm. Before getting sober, I was on mood stabilizers and antidepressants. I didn’t talk about it with anyone other than my significant other, my therapist, and my psychiatrist. Although the stigma surrounding mental health disorders has certainly lessened in recent decades, I still felt ashamed of the state of my mind. Even in twelve-step rooms there were times I felt embarrassed about the medications I was taking.
When I got sober, I went to a treatment center that really addressed my mental health needs. Many treatment centers have doctors and professionals either on staff or on call to help address these issues appropriately. My medications changed and I met other people also on psychiatric medications. I truly think that one of the best things recovery offered me was a community of people I could engage with without feeling ashamed. As I met others who took medications and had mental health disorders, I began to feel more comfortable. I realized that I wasn’t alone, and there are many people with similar conditions who live happy and healthy lives.
On the other hand, I have a condition that causes chronic kidney stones. If you haven’t had a kidney stone, let’s just say they cause a pretty significant amount of pain. There have been times that I have had to take pain medication. When I was newly sober, my sponsor (with whom I lived) held the medication for me as he had over thirty years of sobriety and was comfortable doing so. As I progressed in my recovery, I continued to find ways like this to be accountable. I always told the doctor that I was in recovery, always asked for the minimum amount they could prescribe (because they often tried to send me home with 30 pills) as the pain only lasted a few days at most, and utilized my support network by checking in before I ever take a pill.
However, I was met in some meetings with some judgement. I was once told in a twelve-step meetings that I needed to start my recovery date over for taking opioid painkillers. I had taken them as prescribed (actually less), had spoken with my sponsor throughout the whole process, and was feeling good about the way I approached it. I found myself responding with some shame and embarrassment and didn’t really share about it anymore. What I’ve learned from this experience is that I don’t need to share publicly in meetings about some things, and I cannot depend on others for a sense of esteem and value. When I know my truth and am working with trusted peers, sponsors, and doctors, I can be confident in my recovery.
This is an important one. With the psychiatric medications, I had to find a psychiatrist I trusted. Like many other addicts, I like to control things! Working with somebody who I felt understood me and saw my situation clearly allowed me to trust his recommendations and prescriptions. In early recovery, I was on a mood stabilizer, antidepressant, and sleep aid. When I told him that I had never had any problem sleeping in my life, he helped me wean off the medication. I trusted his decision without needing for things to be exactly my way.
I was fortunate to find a general physician in recovery as well. I actually was in the emergency room one time and when I mentioned I was in recovery he told me he had a few decades sober. He was in network with my insurance company and I was able to choose him as a primary care physician. It was definitely a stroke of luck, but this trust with a doctor was helpful. When I had something going on, I was able to tell him that I did not need pain medication and have him understand. Finding professionals to trust really helped me in my journey with medications, and continues to benefit me.
The final thing that jumps out to me when I think about my experience with medication over the years as an individual in recovery is that my mindfulness and meditation practice has served me well. When starting a new medication or coming off of a medication, it’s good to recognize what’s happening in my experience. As I came off the mood stabilizers with the help of both a psychiatrist and a therapist, I checked in regularly with myself and was able to convey my experience (at least somewhat) with my clinical team.
Bringing awareness to how medications impact me has helped me understand what I need. Often, it’s really just a matter of sharing it with the appropriate professionals. If we aren’t aware of what’s going on, we aren’t going to be able to share deeply about our experience. This piece of the puzzle has come to me through formal meditation practice and mindfulness, and I can see it greatly effecting my relationship with medications and the awareness of the mental response to them.
Who Wrote This?
Elevation Behavioral Health is a treatment center in Agoura Hills, California that works with addiction, mental health, and co-occurring disorders. They’re one of the few addiction treatment centers licensed as a primary mental health facility, and offer premier care with their small census and incredible staff. Visit them at www.ElevationBehavioralHealth.com.
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