When the Fog Cleared: The Moment I Knew I Was a Pain Pill Addict By Patrick Biegler

It was a Wednesday during the summer and I was on my way to my weekly staff meeting. I had no physical pain whatsoever. I can’t even claim that I was nervous about the staff meeting; I had been doing these weekly meetings for a few years and was well-prepared and was expecting no conflict. And yet, I wasn’t able to walk across the parking lot to my office without having to take a handful of narcotic pain pills. For the first time since being prescribed medication (due to ruptured discs in my neck) I found myself asking the question, “Why?” If I’m not in pain, then why do I need to take these pills? Up until two years ago I had known pain, suffering, trauma, anxiety, even life-and-death situations, but had never needed pills to cope. Why was this day, a day with little stress and no pain, any different? All through that Wednesday afternoon, trying to shake off the narcotic-induced fog, I spent time asking myself this simple but profound question. As I reflected on this startling reality, I started to recall several other events in my life that clearly showcased my dependence on narcotic pain medications. These are some of the standout events—perhaps you can relate to them as well. 1. Brain Fart at the Grocery Store You might as well know, I’m a Catholic priest (we’ll discuss that issue in the future). I was working in a parish on the East Coast when “all hell broke loose” in terms of my addiction. One day, I met with one of my parishioners while shopping in a grocery store. She told me how wonderful my talk was the other night and how touched she was by my message. Embarrassing as it is, I walked away wondering, “What talk? What did I say?” Terrified to reveal my addiction, I simply acknowledged her praise and continued on. Yet the question of “Why?” reared its ugly head yet again. “Why could I not recall this event?” 2. Behind the Wheel The second event relates to my car. It’s nothing special, just a vehicle to get me from point A to B. I do, however, have a great stereo system. I drove to the store, picked out a great stereo system, paid for it, brought the car back a couple of days later, had it installed, and have enjoyed it ever since. Weirdly enough, I can show you receipts that show all of this happened, but I have absolutely no memory of it whatsoever. These are called “blackouts,” which are often associated with alcohol but can happen with many drugs of abuse as well. What else have I done while in an opiate-induced blackout? How could I have driven my car while blacked out – placing so many people at risk? The reality of it crashed down upon me. 3. Medical Do-Si-Do Not only was I taking way too many pain pills, but I was mixing them with other prescribed drugs like Xanax or Valium. I was “doctor-shopping” (several doctors were prescribing these medications, none of them knowing anything about the other doctors doing the same. My days had become filled with figuring out which doctor would prescribe which dose of which medication and which pharmacy would fill the prescription. Fortunately for me, I never had to buy my drugs “off the street.” Sometimes my doctor(s) were prescribing for a legitimate medical condition, but many of them were prescribing medications for conditions that I made up. I’m a priest, right? If you can’t trust me then who can you trust? Admittedly I can be trusted in most areas of my life, but not in my addiction. How and why had my life been reduced to this? At this point, I was forced to admit to myself that I had a real problem. I bought books about addiction and recovery. I tried acupuncture, herbal remedies, diet and exercise and counseling for past traumas but nothing seemed to work. I knew nothing about Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous and my therapist admitted to knowing nothing about treating addictions. Where was I to go? Finally, having tried all that I could, I admitted defeat and reached out to a friend who recommended an inpatient treatment center. Filled with hope, I reached out to them and set about a plan of recovery. Fearful? Anxious? Doubtful? Afraid? Yes. But I knew in my heart of hearts that this was the only option that had a chance of success. There is a possible end to active addition. None of us are condemned to a life of addiction and recovery is possible. We can all recover if we have the will and courage to follow the path to recovery – the path that leads us from active addiction to a life of recovery.