I had to have surgery last week, and I was determined to get through the aftermath without the assistance of narcotic pain medication.
My surgeon had confidence in my ability to take pain pills like a normal person, but he doesn’t know me. He prescribed them to me, even after I told him I was an addict and needed to get through the recovery process without opiates. In a way, I appreciated this very much. My feelings on this topic are complex. I don’t want to be denied pain pills if and when I legitimately need them.
But I know myself. I know myself too well. I can have them prescribed to me. I can even fill the prescription. But I can’t actually put them inside my body.
I wish the reality was different, but I can honestly say that at no time did I feel the urge to take those pills responsibly. From the get-go, I was mentally calculating how many it would take to get high. They were only fives, the lowest dose of oxycodone you can possibly get. I viewed them with snobbish contempt and told myself they were hardly worth the relapse.
But still. There they were. A tank that I decided to stand in front of.
Why not just rip up the prescription?
I don’t know. Because I’m me, I guess.
I hate asking for help. While I know a lot of people, I am generally a very solitary human. I like to take care of myself and hate to seem vulnerable. But in this situation, I had no choice. I had to have a caretaker for at least 24 hours, and I knew I needed something to get me over the hump in terms of the pain. As terrified as I was to take a pain pill, I was even more terrified of throwing them away before the surgery, as I had no idea what I was up against.
Asking for help was complicated by another issue.
I felt awkward fielding questions about why I needed to have surgery in the first place. It’s not like I had to have a cancerous tumor removed. The need for this surgery was related to a decision I made in 2002, when I opted for breast augmentation.
Breast implants don’t live forever. At some point, they need to be replaced. I’ve known that mine needed to be swapped out for years; one of them had starting leaking and you could visibly see that they were lopsided. It drove me crazy. I hated the way they looked. I’m sure that nobody has died from a leaking saline implant, but still, it was a problem that I needed to address. And I felt guilty for the indulgent behavior.
I’ve been postponing the surgery for years, because of the necessary downtime.
I booked it on kind of a whim. I did it quickly and tried to not think about it.
And then there it was, staring me in the face.
I thought about my hard-fought sobriety. I have six years of clean time and if I can make it through to March of 2019 without ingesting any mind-altering substances, I will be in uncharted territory. Six years was where I slipped up last time, and it was because I was in an extraordinary amount of pain.
I thought about the things that motivate my sobriety and there was one thing that stood out in a way that was profound. The men and women of the Monroe Police Department.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office too, for sure, but the MPD has a special place in my heart.
It’s an interesting thing, and one of the greatest gifts of my job as a reporter. As an addict, I was a walking felony. I was always terrified of cops because, typically, when I ran into one, I was doing something illegal and would inevitably end up in handcuffs. The first few times I had to interact with law enforcement as a reporter, I was petrified. I assumed they could smell my criminal history. I remember standing in Sultan in 2013, shaking then-Lt. Rob Beidler’s hand, at a complete loss for words.
I assumed they’d dislike me because of my background. I was awkward around them. My face would turn red. I felt guilty even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wanted to offer my purse and say, “LOOK! See? There isn’t any dope in here.”
But over time, that changed dramatically. I started divulging my history more and more. And every time I did, no officer looked at me with disgust, or treated me any different than they had before. Every time I did it, it was transformational, so I kept on doing it.
By the time I did my ride-along with MPD in 2016, I think I lasted about 30 seconds before outing myself as a felon and a recovering addict. My ride-along officer was entirely unphased by the news.
I watched my former self get arrested that night, in the pouring rain, as I sat in the front seat of that patrol car. It was an amazing experience.
I loved covering stories for the Monroe Police Department. Especially in recent years, when nationally, cops have been under fire. I sought to reverse the trajectory of negative press. I thought, and still think, that if I could create a compelling narrative that changed the mind of even just one person, it would be worth it.
These are officers who show up at little kids’ birthday parties with gifts, often purchased with their own money. Kids they’ve never even met before.
These are officers who are so impacted by their own children, they organize things like “Shop with a Cop” to help support the kids who need them the most. These are officers who don’t hesitate before dipping in to their own pockets when confronted with a community member in need. These are officers who break windows and jump in front of trains to save a person’s life. These are officers who jump at the chance to text an ex-junkie who is facing surgery scared and alone.
They are champions for their communities and champions for the human race.
They are champions for others in law enforcement.
They create nonprofits. They travel and build monuments. They feed the hungry. They volunteer their time. They honor and respect.
These stories are not told often enough and within the Monroe Police Department they are countless.
It became my mission. I never had adequate time to devote to it, but I did my best. Somehow, the consistent interaction with law enforcement gave my sobriety an entirely new dimension. It was sharp, and meaningful, and had such power.
It’s a power that lives and breathes today. It has never diminished.
I started covering Monroe Police and Fire Appreciation Week in 2014. It’s an annual occurrence, and was one of my very favorite things to cover as a reporter. It always ends with a big celebratory lunch, and in 2016 I was asked to speak at that lunch. I honestly had no idea what to say, but figured I’d better not waste the opportunity.
It was an especially meaningful year because the Monroe Fire Department had merged with Snohomish County Fire District 7. They had merged with my fire district. The ones who had saved my life on more than one occasion after overdoses, accidents and other calamitous, drug-related mishaps.
I decided to speak my truth. I stood in front of a roomful of cops and firefighters and told them who I was. I thanked them all for saving my life – literally and figuratively.
All of these scenes played out in my brain as I contemplated my sobriety, and I decided to ask the MPD for a little bit of help in terms of my surgery. I sent a few texts and Facebook messages to officers that I know, and reached out to a few of the officers’ wives that I met and became friends with over the years.
I was nervous and self-conscious, but I did it anyway.
It’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.
They came through like an army. I received text messages, emails and Facebook messages. And not only on the day of the surgery! They started coming in the day before, and continued to come through afterwards… Every single word serving to remind me of who I am today. That army was essential. It was the powerful, proportionate response that I badly needed.
“Pain is temporary, pride is forever.”
One of the officers told me that, and it became my mantra.
I got my surgery on Wednesday, November 28. I got rid of the narcotic pain meds that night. They were no longer an option.
I was blessed with exceptional support. My caretaker took heartbreakingly good care of me. Nobody can break my heart like he does – it’s not his fault and I won’t name him here. He shattered my insides the whole time I was there. He did almost everything for me. I ended up staying at his house until Friday night. I wish I could have stayed forever and at the same time I’m sorry I went at all. I do everything wrong with him and seem to cause irreparable harm whenever I’m in his presence.
When I got home, there were flowers waiting for me on my porch. They were from the Monroe Police Officers Association.
Never has a bouquet of flowers meant so much to me.
On Saturday, a fierce anxiety settled in. My chest burned, my heart pounded, and my skin crawled. Combined with my low energy and overarching pain, it felt exactly like opiate withdrawal. Which made me angry. I denied myself the opportunity to take opiates… So why did I have to feel like this? Every cell in my body screamed. I was rifling through my mental filing cabinet in search of any person who might be able to hook me up with some benzos. I was ready to humbly request, cajole, beg.
My addict-brain kicked into high gear. Lorazepam would be fine, I told myself. That stuff pretty much sucks anyway. My doctor might even give it to me willingly… Probably not, but it’s worth an ask. It’s not taking opiates if it’s taking an anti-anxiety med. I can still say I did it without pain killers…
But I knew that was a lie. I can no longer outsmart myself in that way.
I went back to my mantra. I adjusted the wording.
“Anxiety is temporary, pride is forever.”
Crippling anxiety was my companion for three full days. And then, as of today, Tuesday, December 4, nearly one full week post-op, it started to subside.
There are grand changes afoot in my life, and I am better prepared for all of them with my sobriety firmly intact. When an addict needs help there is no such thing as a disproportionate response, and I humbly thank everyone who has been there for me in the past week. I owe you all my life. That may seem overly dramatic, but I assure you that it’s not. In any given moment of any given day, I am a heartbeat away from a hot spoon and that tangy, pungent smell that I can instantly recollect.
I need my armies.
Pain is temporary, pride is forever.
Thank you, MPOA
The 2016 Monroe Police Department Citizens Academy graduating class