I’m really excited about this weeks interview. There is still so much to understand about addiction, particularly about addiction to prescribed drugs. There is still the misconception that your not an addict if the doctor has been prescribing your drugs. But prescription addiction is just like any other addiction…
Cathryn Kemp never needed a drug dealer because all her drugs came from her doctor. After a life-threatening illness in 2004 left Cathryn severe pain and on a morphine drip. Cathryn was discharged with a repeat prescription for fentanyl lozenges – a powerful opiate painkiller 100 times stronger than heroin.
Two years’ later Cathryn was taking almost 10 times the maximum dosage daily – all on prescription from her doctor. By the time she entered rehab she was told she had less than three months left to live.
A former journalist Cathryn is the author of Painkiller Addict: From Wreckage To Redemption which is published by Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, which is launched in the US in July 2013.
Cathryn wrote her extraordinarily candid memoir in the hope of helping others who may be suffering long-term acute and chronic illness, those in the grip of active addiction or those whose loved-ones are.
Three years into recovery, Cathryn lives a grateful life by the sea in the UK. She enjoys reading, spending time with friends and writing.
I’m posting this interview early, because Cathryn is about to give birth to her first child and I wanted to give her chance to see it before the wonderful journey of motherhood begins for her.
1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
The moment I truly realised to the pit of my soul that I had nowhere left to go in my addiction, nowhere to hide, was one night at the end of 2009 when I sat writing a note to my boyfriend and parents telling them how much I loved them and that I was sorry.
The reason I wrote this note was because I knew I was overdosing so heavily by taking almost 60 prescribed fentanyl lozenges a day that I knew I may die in my sleep.
I carefully placed the letter under my pillow in case I was found by my mother in the morning. I went to sleep that night not knowing if I would wake up or not. It wasn’t the thought of my own death which frightened me, but the awful truth of a loved-one finding my body, alone in my bed, the next morning. A lonely addict’s death.
A family wrenched apart by anguish.
It was as I finished writing, the tears were pouring down my face and I was sucking yet another lozenge, that I realised I hated the drug with all my heart. Yet I knew I couldn’t stop taking it.
That was the moment when I knew it was over – and more than that, I wanted it to be over. It was the point at which I gave up my fight to come off them and gave up my fight with my GP to stay on them. Shortly afterwards my GP cut me off and I booked into a rehab. Without that defining rock bottom I may still have been out there today, if I’d been lucky enough to survive this far.
2) What was your ‘moment of truth’ or ‘clarity’ that prompted you to get sober/clean?’
I had several moment of clarity, the most powerful being the evening I saw myself writing my ‘suicide’ note to leave under my pillow in case I died overnight of a huge fentanyl overdose.
There had been other moments such as the day that my stepson wondered into my bedroom and saw me sucking one of my lozenges. I always tried to take them in a room away from other people. The guilt and shame of taking them was always hovering close-by even though I still couldn’t admit to myself I was truly addicted. This young, innocent boy came into the room and asked what I was doing.
I told him I was just taking my medicine and he looked at me with his head on one side then just as quickly lost interest and wandered off into another part of the house.
In that moment I saw myself through his eyes. I was an ill, frail, haggard-looking woman lying on her sick bed sucking through a pile of six lozenges, one after the other. I realised I was as far from his sweet, healthy innocence as a person could be. I saw myself as I was – and it was an ugly sight.
Shortly afterwards my GP called me into his surgery and told me he was cutting me off. I could’ve turned to heroin or street drugs. I could’ve sold my house and bought my drugs rather than rely on wheedling and demanding prescriptions from my doctor but I knew the game was up. I simply could not go on another day in the hell of getting my drugs, using my drugs then having to get more of them to be able to function.
I was done.
It wasn’t a spiritual or emotional moment. It was the feeling that my world had ended, had crashed down taking all of me with it, and I finally let it.
I gave up and gave in. I booked rehab and went into recovery.
3) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
Let’s be honest. Getting sober or clean is hard.
It’s unbelievably tough and there is no-thing and no-body to take away the challenges of every single minute of the journey.
But let me be absolutely clear on this – every craving, sweating, shaking, confusing, emotional, frightening or volatile moment of early recovery is better than a single second of using.
That is a promise.
Breaking out of the prison of addiction is tough going on every level; physically you may be beset by cravings or withdrawals, emotionally you may find all the fear and anger you have buried for years suddenly rises to the surface in powerful and overwhelming ways, mentally you may feel confused and disorientated and spiritually you may grasp the extend of the emptiness inside your soul which was the gap you poured the alcohol, drugs, sex, food or gambling into in a vain attempt to fill it.
But as with any rebirth, and with the right help from support services and/or family, the birthing pains ease as time passes, as your confidence slowly starts to increase, as the waves of withdrawals subside and as the ‘real’ you starts to slowly unfold.
There is no other way of getting well and finding out who you are. There is literally no other path to take. The startling and obvious truth of the matter is that unless you take the hard road, unless you give yourself up to recovery then you will die of your addiction. It is as simple and as brutal as that.
For me, the first 30 days were a rollercoaster ride of turbulent emotions and horrendous withdrawal symptoms like sweating, shaking and hallucinations.
I took all the support offered and somehow got through.
There was no blinding flash of light or super-charged miracle. It was literally a case of slogging through the madness and illness with the blind faith that somehow it would get better. Slowly, slowly the physical symptoms abated while the mental confusion took over. I suddenly realised I didn’t really know who I was. I didn’t know what I truly liked, what I didn’t like and how I should be. I still feel, more than three years into recovery, that I am learning about myself – and even more importantly, accepting parts of myself I tried so hard to run from during my years of using.
I learnt that I didn’t know how to live, I didn’t know how to feel and I didn’t know how to manage my feelings. Again, I’m still learning. Some things were as obvious as how often should I change my sheets? I really didn’t know what was ‘normal’. These days I strive for normal – whatever that may be. After years of chronic rebellion and escaping into my addiction to prescription painkillers, the grace of not sticking out, of doing things right, of being ok has been the most miraculous part of my journey.
4) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
Getting clean is the biggest miracle of my journey. My rehab thought I’d never do it as I was on such high levels of fentanyl, my GP and my family thought I’d have to compromise and stabilize on a minimum daily allowance of lozenges because of my horrendous pain levels. But I knew I had to break free and rehab was my one and only chance.
Three years later and I have written a book about my experiences called Painkiller Addict: From Wreckage To Redemption which is published by Piatkus Books and launches in the US in July 2013. I am immensely proud and grateful to be able to share my story in the hope it helps others going through the same hell I was. I have received messages saying that my book and my story have prompted readers or loved-ones to find recovery and that is a gift worth more than gold.
As I write this, I am also 81/2 months pregnant with my first baby. An experience I could never have predicted as I was too ill, addicted and frail to carry a child and was told categorically by my surgeons in hospital that I would never be able to have one, if I survived at all. My recovery has given me my child, the love of my family and friends and a chance to start anew, to rediscover who I really am and what I really want. It’s given me everything.
5) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
I would never want to go back in time, even in theory. When I was using I wouldn’t have listened to myself – or anyone else. I was utterly focused on getting and using my prescriptions, nothing else mattered; not myself, not my family, nothing.
6) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
Learning about myself is an ongoing, sometimes painful, sometimes frustrating and inspiring path.
The main thing I have learnt is to accept who I actually am ie I’m pretty bossy, a total organization freak and I am terrible at self-caring, rather than trying to make myself be who I want to be.
In my using I hid from myself and the world. I’d always wanted to be someone else, didn’t matter who it was, I’d pick the nearest person and emulate them, trying to mould myself into someone more relaxed, fun or attention-seeking.
Learning to like myself for my quirks and foibles is a challenge but it’s about coming home in so many ways. Now I know I love my solitude, I love reading and thinking, I’m naturally an introvert but I know I have a path to tread in public talking about addiction and so I am learning to do that with integrity and with respect for my own values.
It’s something that needs working on everyday as new situations and experiences arise. “Know thyself” is my goal and my mantra now so I can live with dignity and integrity.
7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
Life on life’s terms – reminding me daily that I have to work at my life, I have to be accountable for my reactions to events around me and that life is out of my control and thank god it is!
8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Because it’s about living, for the first time.
Truly, properly, living.
There is no alternative to recovery. As addicts or alcoholics there is no other happy future; only pain, misery and possibly death without it.
Recovery then brings you to yourself – for some of us it’s the first time we’ve ever had the chance to get to know ourselves. It is the only way to live with self-respect and with truth. It isn’t always easy, life carries on and throws things at us in recovery as well as in our using days. People die, friendships end, relationships falter and money runs out – these things happen regardless of how well we are and so recovery is about learning to live in the real world and not in a fantasy of our own invention.
Recovery is about learning not to hide, to become our own person and that can mean hard choices being made. It is the only way though. The only true and real path and we are all brave enough to undertake it.
Recovery Rocks in so many ways and beyond most of our wildest dreams. I have seen so many people blossom into the person they are meant to be, and I hope I’m doing that as well.