Prescribed Medication in Recovery: What Would Bill W. Say?

Prescribed Medication in Recovery: What Would Bill W. Say?

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This post was originally published on October 15, 2015.

Recently, I was at a meeting and an old-timer who just took a cake for 40 years shared about an old back injury that had resurfaced and how he told his doctor to “buzz off” when the doctor suggested painkillers. The old-timer had a cane, which he waved around in the air for emphasis, and the cane almost hit a fellow AA in the head. That’s how angry he was at his doctor.

“He wants me to take Vicodan? I won’t even take aspirin! By the grace of God, I have 40 years! If I have to live in pain, well so be it! My God is bigger than those doctors.” he raged. After the meeting, when I told the old-timer that I took prescribed medication for depression he shook his head. “You are okay,” he said. “You don’t need anything.”

Really? Did this guy graduate from Harvard Medical School and just isn’t telling anyone?

But it wasn’t just him. I used to get the weirdest advice when I first got sober and stupidly shared about my “experience, strength and LACK of hope” during meetings. They said, “Have you done a gratitude list lately?” or “When was the last time you went to a meeting?” and the best one, “Get on your knees and pray.” Get on my knees and pray? No thank you, I did enough of that back at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in New York City. As a kid, I must have gotten on my knees one hundred times during one Divine Liturgy, and all it gave me was back strain, horrible posture and misery. It did nothing for my depression.

And then another AA said this to me, when I foolishly mentioned my meds. “THERE IS NO CHEMICAL SOLUTION TO A SPIRITUAL PROBLEM.” What about the fact that Bill W. dropped acid on a regular basis starting in 1956? According to Ernest Kurtz in an essay called Drugs and the Spiritual: Bill W. Takes LSD, which was published in The Collected Ernie Kurtz, Wilson, along with author Aldous Huxley, was part of an experiment conducted by psychiatrists Humphrey Osmond and Abram Hoffer who were working with alcoholics and schizophrenics.

Wilson reportedly said that his experience with LSD recreated the spiritual awakening that he personally had when he first got sober. Maybe he thought acid would help other alcoholics connect with their own Higher Power, because some of them were having a hard time with the spiritual aspects of AA. (Plus Wilson had a problem with depression and after he took acid, supposedly he felt better.) Sometimes I wonder what Bill Wilson would say to AA’s like the old timer?

When someone is in horrible pain, be it mental or physical, isn’t it a bit difficult to be spiritual? I don’t know about you, but I am most spiritual when I am feeling at peace, as opposed to being in pain or turmoil. But I have mixed feelings about certain medications, as well. About a year ago, a shrink prescribed me Restoril for my insomnia.

I got nervous about taking this stuff and told her that I was in AA and I refused to take a benzo and she said, “Do you want to sleep?” I asked my sponsor and was told that as long as I took the medication as prescribed, I was fine. My first dose was for 15 mg, which I took in the evening, when needed and as prescribed. That worked okay. No bad dreams, I slept like a normal person, got up early and didn’t have the usual sense of dread. A few months later, the Restoril stopped working. The shrink raised my dosage from 15 mg to 30 mg. “Isn’t that a lot?” I said. “Do you want to sleep?” she said. Again, I took it as prescribed, and oh my God when I took it, that stuff knocked me out. In the morning, I felt hung over.

I went to see her again and asked her if I could go back to the 15 mg, but instead she wrote a prescription for 22.5 mg, which the pharmacy didn’t have in stock. I was informed that the delivery of the 22.5 mg Restoril could take up to two weeks. Where the hell was it coming from? The North Pole? “Can’t you just give me 15 mg pills?” I asked. “We will need another prescription,” said the pharmacist. “We will fax a request to the doctor.” Really? Instead of the doctor, their stupid fax machine kept calling my cell phone number. When I called the pharmacy back, they said that it was after hours and would call the doctor the next day. The next day I called the shrink, as well, because I did not trust the pharmacy.

I found out from the receptionist that she had been in an accident and was in the hospital and would be gone indefinitely. That night I had a thought. Maybe I could cut the capsules in half. Do you know how hard it is to cut a damn capsule in half? All the little white stuff spilled out of the plastic gelatin capsule and onto the floor. One of my dogs tried to lick the medication and I freaked out. Okay, so I just won’t take it. That night, I could not sleep. I thought about my shrink and how unpredictable life was.

A meteor could fall out of the sky and just torpedo through my home and squash me like a fly! For hours, I stared at the ceiling thinking about meteors wedged between my dogs who were soundly snoring away. I finally took a Restoril. I slept well. During the next week or so, there were a few nights when I had really bad insomnia, so I took the medication. Then the nightmares began.

In one dream, I was part donkey/part human. I tried to run around Lake Hollywood, pushing an empty jogging stroller. Pushing the stroller was very difficult because I had the body of a donkey—I was a creature from Greek mythology! There I am in the dream, struggling around Lake Hollywood with all these Lake Hollywood people pointing and laughing at me. I tried to get rid of the damn stroller but I was chained to it! In the dream, someone called animal control and I was lassoed into a small white truck and taken to the pound.

I woke up shaking.

After another crazy dream in which my deceased father yelled at me to do my taxes and to conserve electricity (my dad was an accountant) I got off the Restoril. After reading about Bill W. taking acid back in the late 1950s, I realized that Wilson was an imperfect human being who was also ahead of his time. Learning about Bill W. and his acid trip made me feel a little better about my own imperfections, as well as the flawed characteristics that I see in fellow members of AA.

Because in the end, we are all human. If the old timer doesn’t want to take painkillers, who the hell am I to judge?

Photo Courtesy of Department of Justice (Restoril 15 mg capsules Restoril 30 mg capsules) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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2 Comments

  1. Mike Pinkerton on

    The “prescription drug bug-a-boo” is a good example of misguided AA philosophizing about issues outside of our proper area of concern. How many AA’s have heard (or stated) that there should be no dating for the first year (or some other piece of AA folk lore)…while standing in a group of “sober” chain smokers? We do ourselves and others a huge disservice with this sort of nonsense.

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Sevasti Iyama is a recovering alcoholic, writer and photographer from the Bronx and LA. She has written a novel, From Bel Air to Welfare, and is currently penning her second one, The Holy Face Medal and Other Stories.