Pain just spilled out of Saturday’s Stream of Consciousness post and got me thinking about my frustration with prescription pain meds. I know some people legitimately need Rx pain medication at times, but after 27 + years as a substance abuse counselor, I’ve watched addiction to pain pills torment more people than addiction to any other drug, except maybe alcohol.
Add to that my experience of every time I’ve had minor surgery or an injury, I’ve been given way more Rx pain medication than I needed. The last time, I didn’t even bother to get the prescription filled and did fine with ibuprofen.
Now, before you start thinking I have a high pain tolerance, think again. I wanted to birth my babies naturally, with no pain medications, but after twelve hours of labor with my firstborn, I was asking for a second shot of stadol. They said, no, it was too close to delivery. I moaned in acceptance, but would have gladly taken a second shot, even though I hate needles. With my second delivery, I made a feeble attempt to forgo pain meds, and caved again.
My second born, now an adult, also has no special tolerance for pain, but only used one third of the pain meds prescribed after her oral surgery. I waited for months to take the leftover 20 pills to the bi-annual Rx drop off.
So why are all these extra pain meds being prescribed, and why are the extras so hard to get rid of? Why are we so quick to want to take a pill, rather than try alternatives? Part of the problem is that alternative therapies, like acupuncture and massage, are rarely covered by insurance.
If you’re prescribed pain medication, take it as prescribed, for you, and ask your doctor if you have questions. For example:
- Can I take less than what it says on the bottle?”
- What else might help besides the pills?
- Can I try a heating pad, or ice pack?”
- What alternative therapy can we try, like physical therapy or massage?
- Do you know people who’ve handled this with over the counter medicine?
- I have a family history of addiction, is there something else we can try?
If a person takes opiate (sometimes called narcotic) pain medications long enough, tolerance develops and the medication doesn’t work as well. Withdrawal happens when the body stops making natural endorphins because the pain meds tell the body it doesn’t need to make the endorphins. The receptors are full. And that’s just the physical explanation.
Addiction is sneaky.
I’ve seen it in action.
Most people have no idea how much work it takes to fight it.
Here are some things that have helped me and others cope with pain, both physical and emotional:
1. What’s the message? What is your pain trying to tell you? Go to the doctor? Get some rest? Stop eating junk? Pain exists to let us know something needs our attention. About thirteen years ago, the post-divorce relationship I was in was stressful (to put it mildly). This showed up with increased heartburn, abdominal pain, and mysterious female ailments. My body was trying to tell me to ditch the person who was making me sick.
2. Prayer: Ask God to show you the reason for your pain and to help ease it. For me, the answer doesn’t always come right away, but it comes in one way or another.
3. Positive Distraction: It’s probably not going to make the pain go away completely, but it will decrease your focus on it. Be aware of things that don’t hurt. Watch funny movies, do puzzles, listen to music, or color in a coloring book. Focus on something other than the pain. My dad seems to feel better when he’s telling a story about his youth.
4. Meditation and/or Guided Imagery. This is not a substitute for medical care, and generally takes practice. I’ve had clients come to my group with a headache and tell me it was gone after practicing relaxation skills with guided imagery. It tends to work better for stress induced symptoms if we catch them early. I usually start with mindful breathing, focusing my awareness on the breath, without judgement.
For example, see: Jon Kabat-Zinn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5Fa50oj45s
Then, I move into muscle relaxation by imagining a soft wave of healing light starting at my head and moving slowly down my body, releasing tension with each breath. I imagine the breath softening the tension (or pain) to help it dissolve, allowing it to become easier to release. I repeat this wave as many times as feels right. Sometimes I imagine breathing in healing energy or God’s love and letting it flow throughout my body with the exhale.
Belleruth Naparstek is one of my favorites when it comes to guided imagery. Here’s one of her exercises for stress management : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhTSaNwnip8
Thanks for reading this longer than usual post. I hope it helps somebody. Do you have other ways of coping with pain?