Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fibromyalgia and the Recovering Addict.

Yes, you read the title correctly. I am also a recovering addict. I have been clean since 1996. This has made the process of finding relief for the pain of fibromyalgia that much more difficult. As a recovering addict, I need to be extremely careful regarding which medications I take, and be aware that the use of narcotics for pain relief could trigger a relapse. In order to give you an idea of the process that I have been through, I need to go backwards and give you some history.

First and foremost, as a recovering addict it is my responsibility to make sure all of my doctors are aware of my past history. Unfortunately, once I tell a doctor that I am an addict in recovery, the first thing they think is I may be a drug-seeker. I can understand why this is. Many addicts will create a scenario of chronic or acute pain in order to obtain narcotics legally. Therefore, doctors must assume from the start that this could be the case when I come to them complaining of wide-spread deep muscle pain. With this in mind, I made sure I stressed to my doctors that I must try all non-narcotic options first.

Prior to being diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2008, I was experiencing episodes of wide-spread pain and fatigue that could not be explained. Time and time again I was diagnosed with "Viral Syndrome", in other words they weren't sure what was causing my pain. I was also experiencing severe migraines and fatigue. This was nothing new to me since I have been having migraines since I was 16 years old. Over time, my pain and a feeling of being "sick" continued to get worse and worse. It reached a point where I started experiencing chest pains and was admitted to the hospital for observation and testing. Once again, all of my tests came back negative. I was becoming more and more frustrated and depressed. My family was getting to the point that they were tired of hearing me complain about how I felt. They had brushed me off as a hypochondriac. It wasn't until after my mother saw a commercial about fibromyalgia that she suggested that I mention it to my doctors.

The primary care physician that I had at the time did not believe that fibromyalgia was real. I wasn't going to give up. I needed an answer to what was wrong with me. I was fortunate enough to be working in health care during all of this and the doctors I worked for recommended I see a rheumatologist. I had to find a new primary care physician in order to get a referral to one. I made sure that I was going to have a doctor who would be open-minded to the possibility that I may have fibromyalgia. I started calling different practices and interviewed several doctors over the phone. I finally found a doctor who I felt very comfortable talking to and she had knowledge of fibromyalgia. She gave me a referral to a rheumatologist who did an extensive exam and confirmed a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

I just need to back track for a minute to explain the process I went through to find medications that would work for me. Over the years of not knowing what was wrong with me, I saw a few different neurologists for treatment of my migraines. In an attempt to find a non-narcotic option to help with the pain of my migraines and also to treat my depression, we tried many forms of drugs, from non-narcotic pain meds, anti-depressants, and anti-seizure medications. Unfortunately, I am very sensitive to medications and I had adverse affects from most of the medications I tried. Finally, I was put on Cymbalta to help with the pain and depression. I was able to tolerate Cymbalta without problems. However, it did not help with the pain.

After I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I was referred to a pain management doctor. Since I had already tried many of the medications that he would have used to treat me, we decided that I was going to have to try a narcotic to alleviate the pain. We tried a few medications that didn't offer much relief before we finally settled on Methadone for pain on a regular basis and Roxicodone for break through pain. In order to make sure I don't begin to abuse my medication,  I am monitored very closely. I am given frequent, random urine tests to determine the amount of medication in my system. I also have to be sure I am absolutely honest with myself about the level of pain I am experiencing. I am fortunate enough to have my husband, who is also a recovering addict, to help keep me in check. The biggest problem I am having with taking Methadone, is after a while of taking it, my body builds up a resistance to it and my dosage has to be increased from time to time. I will not be able to stay on Methadone on a very long term basis due to this problem. At some point I will reach a dosage that is the highest amount allowed and we will have to start our search again. I try not to think about this for now, and just focus on today. I am also taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. I also use vitamins and suppliments that have been recommended for the treatment of fibromyalgia as well as depression and anxiety.

As well as having fibromyalgia, I also have herniated and bulging discs in my cervical and lumbar spine. I have degenerative joint and spinal disease. Among other illnesses, I have Epstein-Barr and Hepatitis-C. I have been treated in the past for Lyme's disease and have had physical and mental trauma over the years. All of these things can lead to and aggravate fibromyalgia, adding to my dilemma.

Unfortunately, many of my friends in the recovery community don't understand the pain that comes with fibromyalgia as well as the other medical problems that I have and they have stopped talking to me. It truly hurts when your friends turn their backs on you for lack of knowledge of this illness. Many people are mis-informed and mis-lead about the nature of fibromyalgia and the pain and fatigue that comes along with it. Many people who have fibromyalgia, including myself, have found themselves feeling abandond and all alone.

I have learned to depend on the handful of friends that I still have, including two close friends who also have fibromyalgia. Most of all, I have come to depend on God for comfort and support. I pray and meditate on a daily basis and go to church when my illness allows. I also have found much of my support and information on the internet. By joining on-line support groups and blogging, I am learning alot about my illness and ways to cope with it. I am extremely greatful for the opportunity to blog for awareness during Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness week.
If you know someone who has fibromyalgia, whether they are a recovering addict, or not. pleasee don't turn a blind eye to their pain. Try to understand, or at least lend an ear for them to talk to and a shoulder for them to cry on. We need as much support as we can find in order to deal with the day to day difficulties that are a part of a fibro-mites life.

If you are a recovering addict who has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, there are many non-narcotic options that can work for you. Be sure to inform your doctors of your status as an addict and work closely with them to determine the correct treatment for you. If it does come to the point where you need to take a narcotic for the pain, make sure you are closely monitored by your doctor, take your medications only as prescribed, and most of all, be sure you are being honest with yourself regarding the level of pain you are in. You will often find in recovery that many people will want to tell you what you can and cannot do as far as health care and medications are concerned. Remember, none of these people are doctors. Leave your healthcare in the hands of professionals and do what is right for you. Don't let the opinions of other addicts, who are mis-informed about your illness, try to force you into suffering when there are options out there.

For more information, you can go to http://www.invisibleillnessweek.com/ for other blogs about fibromyalgia.
Please be kind to yourself.
Soft Hugs to All
Laurie D.


  1. Such a brave post. Thanks for opening up and telling everyone about your former addiction. I can imagine that makes it so much harder to treat the fibro. I know I cannot function without my regular meds and my pain meds. I am so glad you found a trusting doctor and the right combo of meds.

  2. I felt I had to put it out there. I know a few people in recovery who suffer from fibromyalgia, or other illnesses, that have a hard time getting proper treatment. They also are given a hard time by other recovering addicts and alcoholics about taking meds. Usually by the "purists" who won't even take an aspirin or go to a doctor at all.
    Like my friend said, I came into recovery to stop suffering, I'm not going to let something like this take me back to active addiction.
    Thank you for thinking I'm brave, many people run away and pass judgment as soon as you mention addiction.
    Soft Hugs to you

  3. It does make it so much harder to deal with pain when all of the non-narcotic methods fail and you are left with having to use narcotics in recovery. However, I am told that Methadone is the best drug for pain and after getting through the "testing" phase with my doctor we now have a very open relationship. Not looking forward to getting off of the pain meds, but that's a post for another day. Thanks for helping bring awareness of pain in recovery.

  4. Hi Everyone,
    This is my first post here. I just wanted to say that the overall stigma against chronic pain issues has become much more significant in the years since we have seen an increase in chronic pain conditions, like back pain and fibromyalgia.
    For me, it's the stigma itself that left me feeling empty and stung by the time I had finished my Diversion program in California.

    I am writing a blog abouat the perpetuation of shame that is an integral control method used (at least in my state.
    Being a doctoral student now, I am calling on all diversion nurses from all states to tell their stories on my new blog, RNonymous.com. It is under development but ability to post and comment exist.
    Anyone who needs identities especially protected can be assigned an RNonymous domain email I have about 100 of them.
    Help to form a community of nurses who have enough empathy for one another to help change the abuses that exists in many of the state systems. California is about to get a whole lot stricter,. Other states may suite...who knows?

    Hope to see some of you there (posters and commenters alike) KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT!!

  5. Wow, thank you so much for posting your story. I'm in recovery as well and my doctor has just started treating me for fibromyalgia. Thank you for sharing. This helps me greatly with what I've been struggling with.