Dealing with Chronic Pain in Recovery
My name is Amelia and I have been a sober alcoholic for 20 years. I never thought 20 years ago that one day I would actually seriously consider the use of medical marijuana. This is my story.
I rarely used other drugs unless at a party and a joint was being passed around. I tried cocaine and speed once. My drug of choice was always alcohol. Well to be more precise alcohol chose me. After spiraling into chronic alcoholism and watching members of my own family die from the disease I finally got sober. It was a long journey and I would say I have now been emotionally as well as physically sober for 15 of the last 20 years. About 10 years ago at the age of 46 I started to have chronic health issues. I have arthritis and I started to suffer from debilitating pain on a daily basis. I could not sleep from pain and two years later my autoimmune system and adrenals failed. I could hardly function. Thanks to the fact that I was self-employed as I was able to work a schedule around my health issues and continue to earn a living. I continued to be a very active member of AA.
Traditional Medical approach to pain
I started a process of trying to find relief from chronic pain and needless to say my joints were degenerating due to my arthritis. I saw 4 rheumatologists and was offered biologics as the first option of treatment. Over the next few years I tried every biologic on the market. The results were the same each time some relief from the arthritis but after a few months I got liver problems from the drugs which meant I had to come off them. If you have ever used a biologic you will know it is not an easy process you have to first be tested for TB, then approved by the insurance. The medicine is delivered to your home and you have to keep it refrigerated. If you travel you must travel with the medicine in a cool box, declare it to the TSA, and go through a rigorous process to get through security. Despite telling all the doctors that I was a recovering alcoholic, the effects of biologics on the liver were ignored.
Humira, one of these drugs, provided relief the longest, about 6 months. At 6 months I broke out in a rash and had elevated liver enzymes the same as each time before. Five Biologics later my then Rheumatologist suggested another one. I pointed out that I did not want to go through that again and we discussed other options. These options were limited, but I could continue on methotrexate and take Prednisone for the pain and inflammation. This led to the biggest nightmare of all as the Prednisone destroyed my adrenal function and I now had chronic pain and complete exhaustion to deal with. I became completely frustrated and quit all medication except for ibuprofen. I ate healthy and exercised the little bit I was capable of. I had to see an endocrinologist to address the hormonal deficiencies and I was told I had an under-active thyroid. I became despondent that I would ever feel well again and became severely depressed. It is important to note that at this point I was told by my AA sponsor that if I took an anti-depressant I was no longer sober. In fact, the same sponsor told me that she had to check all my nutritional supplements and approve them. My sponsor was a sales rep for a chemical company, not a doctor. It was then that I realized that when Bill Wilson said in the Big Book to rely on outside help as needed, that I had to walk away from sponsors who were erroneously trying to influence my health. With the exception of opioid painkillers, I put all options on the table. Chronic pain is exhausting by itself, add to that the exhaustion of adrenal fatigue, lack of sleep and an under-active thyroid and quality of life falls through the floor.
Medical Marijuana – Seeking controversial relief outside of AA
In an effort to find some answers, I saw a naturopath. I felt there were no answers for me in traditional medicine. I managed to balance some of the hormone issues with supplements and diet, but the pain continued. I spoke to the doctor about medical marijuana and he encouraged me to look into it. I did a lot of research and a whole lot of soul searching. Finally, due to the fact that medical marijuana is legal in my state, I started the process. I was still very nervous, not because I was afraid I would become addicted, but about what my AA friends would say if I went through with it. I deliberately chose CBD oil and started the process of testing other options to change my sleep pattern, another big problem causing the drop in quality of life. My research showed that cannabinoids, not THC, was the best option for arthritis. Therefore, I sought a solution without THC and thanks to a CNN documentary and the advice of the consultant at the MMJ dispensary I chose a hemp oil called Charlotte’s Web.
I tried that first as it does not contain any THC, the ingredient in Marijuana which makes you high. Within 1 month the pain had subsided, the swelling had eased and I felt better overall. I then decided to try other MMJ products to address the sleep problems. After a number of attempts at smoking different strains I gave up. I literally cannot stand the taste and it hurt my chest. I have been told by others and the consultant at the dispensary that smoking is very effective but I just could not stand it. I have now settled for using MMJ edibles and I take a piece of candy two hours before bed. These are 10Mg of Marijuana each and I sleep 8-9 hours a night. In addition to the MMJ products, I take Syntroid for my thyroid and methotrexate for my immune system. I also take 10mg of Lexapro daily to help ease the depression. I am still not in full health, but I am miles away from where I was when using biologics and steroids that cost me thousands of dollars every month. My MMJ costs $100 per month. For me this was the best decision I could have made for my health.
In summary, I believe there is a role for MMJ in recovery. Especially for those of us who suffer from chronic illness and pain that MMJ has been proven to help with. From an addiction standpoint it is much safer than opioids for pain. I have told my new sponsor and she fully supports my decision to address my health as I see fit with my doctor. To be clear I do not use marijuana to get high, I treat it as any other medicine and use it as advised. My sobriety is precious to me and I hope by the grace of God to stay sober until the day I die. To the critics in AA I want to remind you of the basic AA principal, “All that is required for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” I have had a desire to stop drinking for 20 years and with the help of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous I have stayed sober all that time. The idea that there is a solution for me which I have to stay away from because of stigma in AA simply puts me in victim mode and that is more dangerous to my sobriety than Medical Marijuana. I also know recovering alcoholics who have relapsed due to Marijuana use, but quite frankly based on what I observed about their commitment to sobriety they would have relapsed anyways. Understand this is my personal experience and I would never attempt to influence another’s decision on their health. I learned that the hard way in AA with the way my sponsors treated me. I had more issues with the guilt that I was dosed with by well meaning but frighteningly under-qualified individuals than with the actual decision to try and use MMJ. I hope that by sharing my personal story that AA members seeking help from chronic pain will benefit from a different viewpoint.