Going off morphine is hell

Editor’s note: Like most of my posts, a version of this story originally ran in Pain News Network. This version contains profanity because going through opioid withdrawal is seriously fucking hell.

This weekend, as I tried to get off morphine once and for all, one thought kept going through my mind — if the devil is any good at his job, hell will just be eternal opioid withdrawal.

It’s like, have you ever had the flu, and also food poisoning, and also been hit by a train, and also had the fight or flight anxiety that comes from being chased by a bear for a week straight — all at the same time? Well it’s worse than that.

It’s fucking hell.

And it’s all made even worse by the fact that I had the cure the whole time. Every single minute that went by, I knew that I all had to do to make it all go away was pop one of those little blue pills in my purse.

I made it to the 72 hour mark last night at midnight. That’s 72 hours without a morphine or a hydrocodone. I haven’t gone a full 72 hours without an opioid in almost two and a half years.

I swear to God I was tapering. I spent all of November tapering down my dose. Going so effing slow. Like three pills, then two pills, then three pills, then two pills, then after a week, I’d do one pill then two pills, then one pill.

But I was down to one pill every other day, of the lowest dose, and I knew the next step was going through withdrawal. I thought maybe it wouldn’t be that bad since I had been going so slow with the tapering. I was wrong.

Honestly, the first 24 hours weren’t so bad. My body was just chilling, all expecting another dose in a day or so. But then, at midnight, exactly 24 hours in, the involuntary leg movements started. Yes. This is a thing. I was lying in bed, in the middle of the night, and my right leg would just move. Also, my anxiety started skyrocketing so high you’d have thought I was in a war zone.

By the morning, about 31 hours in, the muscle aches had set in, and everything I had ever eaten over the last two years had started to come out. Diarrhea doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world, until you literally spend so much time on the toilet that your legs go numb. And then when you do get up, you are so dehydrated that you can’t even walk without holding on to the wall.

There’s other stuff too, the kind of stuff that maybe sounds minor until it happens to you. Like, my nose was randomly running, and I was sneezing like there was a secret cat hidden in the bathtub. And I could not sleep. At all. And if somehow I did get a couple minutes of shut eye, I would wake up drenched in sweat. Also everything made me cry. Seeing the sun? Tears. Facebook posts about makeup? I’d start weeping. Basically the fact that I was alive was enough of a reason.

Again, all these things don’t sound so horrible, but when they are all happening at once, it is literally hell on earth.

I spent most of the 72 hours watching Breaking Bad — which is either the worst show to watch during withdrawal because it’s all about drugs, or the best because it’s all about the horrible things drugs lead to.

I also spent most of the 72 hours trying to process how I got to this point. Morphine has been so good to me over the last two years. And I stand by the fact that it literally saved my life. If it wasn’t for the pain relief I got from the drug, I don’t know if I would have been able to endure. And I am thankful to morphine for that.

But I wouldn’t wish the morphine withdrawal on Hitler.

And I thought about everyone who has ever had to endure this for whatever reason. And my heart filled with compassion and love for them. Some people like to say that drug addicts are just weak, or lack self control. Those people are assholes.

I also thought a lot about how much I wanted to just pop a morphine and make everything better. I thought about it so hard. Vividly picturing the little blue pill in my head and fantasizing about how good it would feel to take just one.

And I thought about how going through this withdrawal was a good thing because I wouldn’t even be going off morphine if I wasn’t feeling better.

I felt like this was a final step. A last stand by my pain to suck me in. I had to get off this drug to move on with my life. But it was so incredibly hard.

And I kept thinking about how, I am a good person. I am a strong person. I should be able to get through this. Why am I struggling so much?

My best friend was extremely supportive during the whole thing, constantly checking on me, praying for me, and sending me encouragement. And at one point she sent me a text that said, “I think the last two years were the toughest times of each of our lives (in different ways). Glad I get to see you on the other end.”

The other end. Wow. I honestly never thought I would ever get to see the other end. For a long time, I didn’t even think there was an other end to get to.

The idea that I could get to this proverbial other end though, it was enough to keep me going.

Honestly, I still feel like I was jumped, and then tossed in front of a train. But I’m doing a lot better than I was doing on day two. From what I can tell the withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a week to months, but it’s those first 72 hours that are the most horrible. And I have made it through those.

I also discovered that there’s a cocktail of over-the-counter drugs that help. Specifically, I have been popping handfuls of Advil, Imodium and Benadryl.

I saw my brother this morning. And as I walked toward him, I felt like I was just regaining my footing after being in a plane crash. Still shaken up, disoriented and feeling like hell, I said, “Well, I’m finally feeling a little better. I made it to 72 hours.”

“Great. Now you have to make it a week,” he said.

Fuck, I thought. He’s right.

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  1. I am so glad I was never to this point with any pain medication. I always hear how they are so addictive and having a strong tolerance for pain has benefited me by allowing me to eliminate taking pain medication as quickly as possible after prescribed. I was in a lot of pain due to a recent injury from a bad fall. When I saw my PCP I asked him for a refill. I was about a week out of the hospital and using a walker to get around. He reduced the dose and sprained that this was because he did not want me to become addicted to it. I told him to look back in my medical records and see if he can find any indication that I would become addicted to a medication that my body barely responds to. Cut the strong edge and I will deal with the remaining pain.
    Any time I have had pain medication in the past I take it less often than prescribed and I discontinue it as quickly as I can. I just hate taking pills. Even aspirin.
    I got it refilled on November 21st and can take 4 pills within a 24 hour period. I started with 60 pills and still have 48 left. So I have taken 10 in 11 days. I don’t think I am going to have a problem.
    Keep up the good work on breaking away. You can do this.
    I don’t know what it is like to have to fight the demon you are fighting, and I hope I never ever do!

  2. Hi Crystal,
    I came across your article on the Pain News Network site and found it extremely touching that I felt I had to comment.. I won’t retype my whole post from that site as I’m sure you can read it at another time.. My heart goes out to you with regards to your pain & struggles.. I too suffer with on going back pain & nerve damage from a work accident 15 yrs ago & know first hand the struggle with finding a way to manage the constant pain.. I had a spinal fusion back then but I never fully recovered as my doctor at the time waited too long before consenting to the fusion..

    I find that dealing with the constant pain from the nerve damage is by far the worst. There were times over the yrs that I just wanted to die rather than continue with dealing with that pain.. Luckily for me I had wonderful pain doctors that were on my side with finding other options rather than just putting a bandaid on it with tons of drugs. This past June I had a spinal cord stimulator put in to help me with both my back pain & nerve pain.. While I will never be 100% pain free it has given me a new outlook on life as well as a better quality of life.. I still take my opioids for some pain but the stimulator has allowed me to drastically decrease the amount I continue to take. I no longer take Neurontin for my nerve pain & have dropped my Nucynta from 100mg 5x daily to 50mg 3x daily. I also only take a 1/2 a pill of hydrocodone at night compared to 4x a day.. I was wondering if any of your doctors have lmentioned that as a possible option with helping manage your pain? From what I’ve learned about the stimulator it has had great results for people who suffer with nerve pain. I for one am one of those success stories.. They are also finding that it helps with people suffering from Parkinson’s. I wish you nothing but good health & happiness & will keep you in my prayers that you find something to help alleviate your pain..

    Namaste~ Lisa

  3. Congratulations on getting through it all – I am impressed! (Not to mention a little jealous, right now…)

    You may also have dodged a bullet on that one: there are drugs which work better for neuralgia and neuropathy than morphine does, but with even nastier side-effects and withdrawal. (My brother’s on one, I’m on another.)

    I’m impressed – you’ve been through a terrible ordeal, survived it, and written about it to help other people on similar paths. Thank you very much for that.

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