This has been an interesting few days. On Wednesday I felt some pain in the back of my mouth. I figured it was TMJ joint pain due to tension, since I’d been a bit uptight for a few days while my daughter was in the hospital for a Cesarean delivery. By Thursday it was clear that it was a tooth, and by that evening, the pain was getting fairly severe. I began taking prescription strength ibuprofen (Motrin), and called the dentist. To make a long story short, by the time the penicillin took effect on Saturday morning some time, I’d spent about 24 hours in fairly severe pain, kept partially in check by the pills and swooshing cold water on the tooth. Missed a night of sleep, but I made up for it later.
I’m okay now, and waiting to make an appointment to see the dentist, who will likely remove the tooth. Been there before. No fun, but not a big deal. I got to thinking, though, about what a dangerous thing it would be to be in a situation like that in early recovery.
I don’t know about you, but back when I was active in my addictions I saw every potential malady as a source of drugs or an excuse to hole up and drink. A cold — no problem! I knew how to handle that. Fortunately I never had a problem that required heavy duty painkillers, or I would likely have been able to add that to my list of addictions. Martial arts bruises, sprains, aches and pains were all chances to get messed up, and excuses to stay that way for a couple of days or more, but nothing ever happened that required opioids, thank goodness!
This toothache episode could have been another example of that trend. If it had occurred in the first few months of my recovery, I could very well have been off to the races, because back then I really believed that I needed powerful drugs to kill pain. It had never occurred to me that painkillers, for some kinds of pain, are like hunting rabbits with an elephant gun. Since dental problems go part and parcel with addiction, it’s an issue that all addicts need to consider carefully.
Alcoholics and addicts are, almost by definition, folks who don’t know that it’s okay to not feel okay. We start out thinking that every little twinge means terminal pain, and that each needs that elephantine response. The fact is, most pain can be adequately handled with non-addictive drugs that pose no threat to our sobriety.
We need to find doctors who understand addicts, and what meds are off our list of remedies. We need to consult with our pharmacists about possible side effects, and need to research the drugs themselves online and elsewhere. We need to discuss the matter with our sponsors and significant others. We need to avoid secrets. Even if our pain is such that more powerful drugs are necessary — and sometimes they truly are — we need to get others involved who can monitor our use and help us stay on the straight and narrow to the extent possible. Most importantly, we need to be upfront with all of them about our addiction(s) and our inability to use mood-altering drugs.
There is no reason that anyone who is serious about his or her program of recovery has to relapse because of pain. We need to be proactive, getting dental and other problems dealt with before they become emergencies. When emergencies do arise, however, there are tools to handle them without giving up all we’ve gained.