Shaky Start
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Shaky Start


drug withdrawlIt has been three days, four hours and five minutes since I left rehab. I feel like a duckling breaking my way out of the eggshell and launching into the crisp glare of daylight. Everything hurts, my back, my shoulders, my arms, my teeth from grinding them in my scant sleep, my eyes, my head, my legs, calves, ankles, feet. Everything. My muscles are all screaming out for fentanyl. Opiates are stored in muscle tissue, which is why they object so loudly when it’s taken away.

Withdrawals. It’s all withdrawals. And now I’m going to be reducing my dose of Xanax every week as well. Xanax is the tranquilizer I was prescribed during detox for some relief from the severe muscle cramps, agitation and anxiety. The only problem is that it’s highly addictive and it scares me. Really scares me.

I’m already down by nearly half my daily dose, which, of course, I am doing too quickly. And so I’m getting the flashing lights and hallucinations I know so well. I must get off them though. I have to get off them. I never, ever want to end up in rehab again.

I want to describe the last three days—how the climax of the weeks of reducing fentanyl played out—but I cannot. They passed in a mania of torment, physically, emotionally and mentally. In some ways, the climax, for me, was that last lozenge in rehab—because that was the end of the road. I just had to live through that last bit. I now have to detox off the small patch they gave me at A&E, but it is such a tiny amount that already I can see it will be as a mere drop in this, my life’s ocean.

So I’m reducing the Xanax and the patch in unison now. I have drawn up a chart, just like the one for my lozenge reduction. And I’m doing it religiously. Experience has taught me I cannot be trusted with my medication, not by myself, not by anyone.

Mum drops me off at my doctor, Dr M. I sit in front of him in that same yellow room, the same place I discovered I was a heroin addict a mere three months ago. It feels like three decades. I can’t find words to express where I’ve been during that time. I look a state. I’m dressed in baggy black jogging bottoms to soak up the DTs, a purple cotton top and a black fleece. My hair is scraped back into a bun and I’m shaking. We look at each other in watchful silence. He nods, but says nothing. I’m the first to speak.

“My name is Cathryn and I am an addict,” I say, as boldly as the nausea, cramps and paranoia of the Xanax and fentanyl withdrawals will allow.

There’s silence for a short moment which stretches out like a desert in my confusing, confused mind. Looking down into my lap, I can see my hands shaking. Shaking. Then he claps. He stands up and he claps. And the sound is like a peal of ancient church bells. It’s a sound of rejoicing, of triumph, of release and renewal.

He is clapping, for me, for him, for our grand achievement. I stand up and I clap with him. And together we stand and face each other, clapping and clapping until my hands hurt.

“You’re free,” he says, eventually.

Simple, but so exquisitely true. The sound of these words is like fresh mango juice and sparkling seawater and the Flower Duet—it’s every good thing there is in this world. I’m free.

“Thank you,” I reply as an encore. “I bet you didn’t think I could do it. I expect I’ve taken you to the brink of suspension for malpractice,” I grin as we sit down again. Doctor and patient now. Dealer and junkie no more.

“Yep,” he says. “But you had to get there yourself.”

“Bloody risky business,” I say sharply. “I nearly lost my life.”

“But you didn’t,” he says.

And he’s right, I didn’t. In fact, I gained a life. A tiny, shiny new shaft of sunlight which is my very own life. The miracle of it seems utterly extraordinary. Incredible and magnificent.

I show him my chart. I show him the packet of Xanax I was given on leaving rehab with the letter written by Helen telling him how many tablets there should be inside. Just to make sure. Just in case this junkie falls at the first hurdle.

Well, I haven’t fallen. They’re all in there. All the tiny white Xanax pills I am growing to hate. We make an appointment for a week’s time. He measures out the number of tablets I will need, according to my chart, between now and then and he gives them to me, solemnly, as if the expectations of many lie heavy on my thin shoulders.

I get up and open the door with some difficulty. He doesn’t get up to help. He stays there. Sitting. Watching. Making me do it myself. And so I do it. The next door is worse; I can barely push it open. Christ, I’m so frail. Will I ever be fit and strong again?

Getting the short few meters from the car to my temporary home proves trickier still. I have to keep stopping as my legs shake, my sweats start and waves of nausea plow over me; the combined effects of illness and withdrawal. It’s ok though, and I get home.

I fall on the sofa and I lie there for a long time. And I think about everyone whose stories I shared, whose grief I witnessed and whose pain I felt in rehab. I think about them all, and from a deep place inside me, I miss them. I miss my brethren: the ones who know.

This is an excerpt from Painkiller Addict, which is published by Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing/iPg. 

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About Author

Cathryn Kemp is the author of the memoir Painkiller Addict. She has also written for The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Sun, The Mirror and The Sunday Mirror.