I remember one day of my drug treatment vividly. Besides the excruciating pain I was experiencing without opiates pumping through my veins, what was memorable was the inspirational picture that was on the wall of my therapist’s office. You know the type — a large photo of some scenic landscape with a single word caption and then a quote/definition underneath the single word. The word: imagination. The quote: a mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension. “How appropriate,” I mused to myself. Maybe it was because I was still physically experiencing the detox portion of my drug treatment with the intense cravings and negative emotions. Maybe it was because it was the first time in 7 years that my mind wasn’t clouded by pain killers. But as she was explaining her plan for our session that day, her words fell into the background of my thoughts and I fell into the foreground of that photograph. Those words suddenly meant something to me. They were more than just a pattern of black and white. It was me – in a single sentence. I had stretched my mind, literally, with opiates, all on my own.
No imagination necessary. As part of my drug treatment program, I’d taken a few alcohol and drug education classes at that point and learned the physical consequences of what years of using did to my mind and body. They showed us pictures of our brains and explained the irreparable damage they had undergone. They described to us how opiates activated the pleasure receptors in the brain, invoking a euphoria which resulted in our addiction. Not surprisingly, going through the detox and depriving my brain of that euphoria is what was leading to those intense cravings and negative emotions. I understood, as my drug treatment progressed, that there was a reason why I was never happy unless I had the painkillers. My habitual using had physically manifested in my brain and disabled my brain from forming its own dopamine without those painkillers. I’ve learned a lot about the science of my addiction, and I am reminded that I’m not alone in my addiction.
Today, painkillers kill more Americans than cocaine or heroin. And, they’re also more popular! Prescriptions for opiate drugs have increased tenfold in the U.S. since 1990. Nearly two million Americans abuse prescription drugs…twice as many people as the amount addicted to cocaine. That day, 9 years ago, I had a breakthrough. It’s been a long road of sobriety thus far, and thankfully, gets longer every day I stay clean. It is because of the renowned drug treatment and inspirational, informative team of therapists that coached me through it all.