Cheryl and I were talking about this tonight and it’s something I’ve thought about for a long time. As you may know, I am a drug addict and an alcoholic, and I’ve been clean and sober for over 27 years at the time of writing this. But, the fact that I’ve abused drugs and alcohol doesn’t mean that I find much good in them anymore. Let me explain. Cheryl’s working with elderly folks in a “Retirement Community” and invariably, we talk about pain quite a lot. In my dealings with people, I come in contact with folks every day just about who are either taking prescription medications for pain or in some cases they are taking drugs not prescribed by their doctor.
But, I tell folks, and I believe this firmly, that pain is a good thing. It’s a sign from your body that something is wrong. What happens when we take too much medication for pain is that we “Short circuit” the body’s own mechanisms for warning us about problems, and then we cause other problems on top of the ones that caused the pain in the first place. There is no question in my mind also that doctors to some degree are responsible for the attitude in our society of “There’s a pill for that.”
The place where Cheryl used to work is an even worse example of how our society works (or doesn’t work!) when it comes to pain. For three years Cheryl worked at Kaiser as a receptionist. The particular clinic where she worked saw all kinds of patients. While they didn’t have emergency facilities there, they pretty much treated everything else. She told me one time about a patient who came in supposedly in severe chronic back pain. His prescription for Oxycontin was near a max dosage, about 8 pills a day. Do the math on that, it’s about 250 pills per month. He came in and said he had a “special waiver” to be able to get 3 months worth of pills at a time, as he was going to be traveling or some such story. So, this guy badgers and cajoles the doctors – and pharmacists – until they let him go out the building with 800 pills of Oxycontin! Can you imagine that?
As I said, I’m a drug addict too, and I know all the stories, all the angles addicts will play to get their “medication.” A drug addict will lie to convince themselves the pain is so bad that they _need_ the drugs. They actually sometimes do suffer physical withdrawal symptoms that can vary from flu-like symptoms to excruciating back pain. I know, I went through physical withdrawal from opiates one time. So, just how does that play out in our society? Well, I will tell you flat out the fellow who walked out of the Kaiser clinic with 800 Oxycontin walked down the street and started selling them to his friends for $5 each. He made out quite well off that deal. He still had plenty left for himself too. No, I don’t know it for a fact, but as a drug addict I can be 99% sure that’s what happened.
So, what is so terrible about pain that everyone wants to self-medicate anyway? Cheryl just tonight told me a story about a person in her building (no names of course) who came up to the counter demanding pain medication. Cheryl’s response to this person was that they had just had their pain medication (remember, these are elderly folks, many with Alzheimer’s and so on). But, this person got belligerent and demanding. Hey, you know what? As an addict, I recognize when the drugs are talking! Why do doctors prescribe pain pills for folks who don’t really need it? Because it’s easy, and it seems to make those folks happy. In the short run it does anyhow. In the long run, it makes the drug companies happy and it turns all those lovely folks into drug addicts.
So, my answer to whether pain is a bad thing is: “Definitely NOT!” While I do not deny for a minute that there are times when pain medication is necessary, what we should do is learn to accept pain, tolerate it and listen to it. We should never try to cover it up or make it go away. We’ve got to get tougher as a society and listen to what the pain is trying to tell us. What it’s saying to us right this very minute is that we’re trying to pretend there is nothing wrong, that we can just make it all disappear and everything’s just fine. Wake up people! Learn to love your pain – it makes you grow stronger!