I recently had my wisdom teeth removed. During my drinking days I had no time or concern for dentists or physicians. I only saw the eye doctor because driving a motor vehicle blind is frowned upon and losing a digit while cutting the carrots for dinner would be a huge bummer.
I got sober and my teeth just started aching. I oil pulled, water picked and clove oiled my way through the days until the pain became unbearable. It’s entirely possible and probable that the pain was always present but the self-medicating to treat my broken soul and numb my baseline of fear was also numbing the pain in my gums, the same way it numbed my capacity for joy.
At the appointment Dr. Fang (fake name) asked “did you have your upper teeth removed.” To which I replied “no they never came in.” Fang replied “well, you must be wiser than most of us.” I laughed and said “keep it coming doc, my ego loves this shit.” I share this story because A.) It’s funny and B.) A part of my ego does like to repeat the external glorification and validation of my obvious brilliance.
I came out of the surgery in a fog and watched my husband and the nurse go over my post op instructions, speaking in an alien language that in my mind was comparable to the adults in Charlie Brown. We walked out to the car, me leaning on my big bear of a guy, weaving and wobbling reminiscent of my party days, sans heels and little black dress.
We went to a pharmacy to get a prescription of Vicodin filled for me. This is where it gets interesting folks. I was shocked I got a prescription for painkillers. I told my surgeon that I was in recovery. True, alcohol is my kryptonite, but I parleyed with cocaine quite a bit in my younger years. As I got older and when I became a mother I said Hell No to Ya-Oh and instead opted for painkillers and Adderall, the obviously more respectable and responsible choice for a grown woman and mother. (Rationality, you cunning Bitch you.)
When I was drinking I never knew when the blackout would hit, I just knew it would. I used uppers as a means to drink more, for a longer amount of time. My addict mind rationalized my behavior as sound because I was choosing the “legal” options (only legal if they are your prescription, it never was.)
And here I was with a prescription for Vicodin, my name on the bottle, not in a cigarette cellophane, from a pharmacy, not from a Circle K parking lot.
My first thought, I could get really fucked up on these. It was terrifying. My second thought, I could have a drink (A drink? Lies!!) and take a few of these and get even more fucked up. Even more terrifying.
I opted to take them as prescribed. Mouth pain is legit. The bottle said take 1-2 pills every 4-6 hours. I read that as permission to take two pills every four hours. So I did. And I got incredibly fucked up.
Two things happened. First I liked it, I liked getting fucked up. It’s been awhile since my mind has been altered and it was seductive and enticing. Like my disease in the back of my mind saying You remember this, isn’t it nice. For me, an addict, this got turned into a real mind fuck. I needed the painkillers and I was concerned for my sobriety. A side effect of the relief from pain was shame, guilt, and fear.
I’ve never been in a state of mind where I had to consider the logic of real, prescribed medicine, intended for a specific purpose and the logic of my addiction which in the past begged for more, more, more and was catered to. It’s an interesting place to be in, needing an actual MEDICINE and treating it as such.
The second thing that happened was I got really depressed. I mean cold, wet blankets, doom and gloom, and revisiting old thought patterns that never want me to be happy and succeed in life.
Around day four I stopped taking the pills during the day and only took them at night to sleep. In the midst of the Great Sadness was an awareness. The chemicals in the pills were altering my brain chemistry. The depression, apathy, self-destructive thinking were all due to chemical reactions happening in my brain as a result of this medicine.
I went to a meeting and shared my experience. I was once again reminded of the fellowship that is AA and my community. I thought for sure I would hear someone say “sobriety is substance free, period.” and even imagined that I would have to change my sobriety date. Instead I found understanding and empathy with several women offering “call me this week, I’ve been there.”
As the days passed the pain lessened and my mental clarity was re-established.
The absence of my teeth created space in my mouth and in my life for self-inquiry and to once again learn from my growing pains.
My experience re-confirmed for me that I am an addict. There's always a little voice in the back of my mind saying “a drink would be nice.” I’ve got a strong enough program NOW to know that I’ve never had one drink in my life and to play that tape to the end with the worst possible outcome, death. Most often when the voice pops up I say “that’s not my reality” but sometimes I fantasize about drinking and entertain, if only for a minute that this time it would be different. Having the pills, enjoying the altered state of my mind, and the self-control it required every time I opened the damn bottle (more, more, more) made it very clear to me just how dangerous and powerful addiction is.
I was reminded that by altering my mind with chemicals to avoid or numb any pain (mental, emotional, or physical) I also alter my ability to be who I am authentically. The physiology of the substance prescribed affects the whole being not just the part prescribed for.
In the midst of the awareness, witnessing the depression and the critical self talk, I was able to recognize and remember that this was who I was before I got sober. All day, every day. I didn’t know anything else or think I deserved anything else. I caught a glimpse of what it was like and re-established a foundation of awe and gratitude for my sobriety and the life I live today.
A reprieve from pain, a reminder of what it was like, and a reality check that all reminded me that getting and staying sober is the single most important choice I have ever made and continue to make.
I’ve been told that transformation is often recognized in the absence of behavior, noticing a change in your reactions, your attitudes, the scope with which you cling to story and expectation. In the absence of their presence my wisdom teeth dropped some major knowledge on my ass. Sobriety’s given me the gift to be aware of the knowledge, to keep moving forward, and to seek the sacred in every challenge.