Thursday, April 28, 2011

Addiction Vs. Dependency

All too often I'll have someone ask me, "hey Carolyn, what's the difference between being clean and being sober?". A lot, actually. In my dictionary, clean is just abstaining, while sober is a way of life. Let's see, I've been sober in the broad sense since Thursday the 31st of January, 2008, but it's only been in the last two years or so that I have really been sober. All throughout my years of using drugs, I've had my bouts of being clean but I was never sober until I found a new way to live. That way for me is immersing myself in the 12-step program. I live it, breathe it, eat it...WORK it. You know what they say, "It ONLY works if YOU work it". Being sober, for me is always being aware; keeping my side of the street clean and getting ahold of myself when I start to notice that those old personality traits are rearing their heads: lying, manipulating, scheming, not living in the here and now, ad infinitum. It sucks to always be reminded that you are an addict and will be one for the rest of your life. No, there is no cure for this disease. All I have is today. Clean is just going through the motions. Sure, I've been clean lots of times but I never took care of what the real problem was. What it was that I was numbing in the first place. I thought I just liked the feeling of getting high when in fact, it was just a symptom of what was really going on. I was in pain. Emotionally. But, I digress.....

Earlier today while doing some writing I had the television on, and "Dr. Phil" was talking about a young woman named Alexandra who was battling a severe prescription pill problem. Alexandra was me not that long ago: in denial, defensive, "in pain'. She is on a fast track to destructionville as far as my experience can gauge. Alexandra lives in Florida where the notorious "pill mills" are killing people in record numbers. I've watched many a documentary on this very thing: anyone can go in, pay cash and leave with whatever they want. Hell, I've done it many times myself. In Mexico, that is.

Dr. Phil had two professionals look at Alexandra's back injury and both came to the conclusion that the injury she had did not warrant the startling amount of meds she was abusing. She was taking OxyContin, OxyCodone, Soma, and Valium. Anyone remember Heath Ledger? She said she needed them because she was in pain. When she didn't have them, she couldn't function. She said she was dependent, NOT addicted. What's the difference? A lot, actually.

The body can not tell the difference between addiction and dependency. It just wants what it wants. It doesn't care if you get them from the pharmacy or from a guy named "Chico" who lives in a seedy part of town. However, addiction lives in the head while dependence lives in the body. In my experience, addiction led me down avenues I NEVER imagined I'd go down. Took me to places many of you reading this only saw in movies. It was a driving force in my life for many many years. It told me to lie, steal, cheat, manipulate, scam, scheme, etc. just so I could get what I needed to not feel the pain of withdrawal. See, anytime you abuse any type of medication it will turn on you. Even over the counter meds. I know many people who have rebound headaches from taking Ibuprofen on a daily basis. You need to allow your body a chance to let its natural painkilling endorphins to kick in. When we abuse painkillers, opiate or OTC the Central Nervous System becomes suppressed. Hence, Pain KILLER. Take that away and you get the reverse: withdrawal and or pain. Why? Because your CNS is sparking back to life and while the body is waking up, you start to feel the pain in places you didn't know were hurting.

But Alexandra wasn't getting this. Even though she lived in a pay by the week apartment (like I did for awhile), lost all three of her kids, was panhandling for money...she didn't have a problem. Her life wasn't "crappy" because of the pills, she said. Oh, Alexandra..De Nile is not just a river in Egypt, honey. She really touched my heart and I had to say something abut this because I know so many people who are dealing with this very thing.

Here, I can explain in better "in Person"

Thank YOU, ABC!!

As many of you know, I made my second appearance on The ABC Nightly News with Diane Sawyer last Wednesday evening. The topic was about how the president and the newly appointed "drug czar" are now cracking down (pardon the pun) on prescription medication abuse. How did I get caught up in all this? Well, if you'll remember, last September I was contacted by the wonderfully talented Kristina Fiore of MedPage (a blog of sorts that is connected to the ABC family) by way of my involvement with the website: Opiate Detox and Recovery. Kristina wanted to know if anyone would be interested sharing their experience with the press on their success, or lack of with the medication Suboxone. Free press!? I jumped on it!! Well, no one else was actually. See, we addicts (recovering or active) are a secretive lot; trusting of not too many people when it comes to those on the "outside".

Kristina was very professional and sympathetic to all that I went through in order to get to where I am today. The piece, especially the printed article was wonderful. Not a hint of sensationalism and hit the nail on the head. So down to Earth was she, that we remained in contact via Facebook throughout the months.

A week ago Monday, Kristina sent me an email wondering if I would be interested in being interviewed again for ABC in light of all that was going on. OF COURSE!! Unfortunately, nothing came of it that day even after they interrupted Oprah for the president's speech on what he was going to do to stop this problem. Turns out, Vicodin is the number one prescribed medication in the country AND the number one abused medication to boot. Alas, no one was interested until Wednesday morning.

It was around 11:30am when my phone started glowing up with all of these (212) area code numbers (the area code for Manhattan). Kristina called telling me they were interested, but she wouldn't be doing the interview, but someone from Diane Sawyer's people would. WOW!! After explaining that I couldn't call them, they would have to call me (that's how we addicts in the program roll) that shouldn't be a problem. Soon after, Susan Schwartz who turns out to be Diane Sawyer's producer called and asked would it be possible for me to make it into the city for an on air, in studio interview? No, I couldn't. See, months prior I made a commitment for a speaking engagement and THAT comes first. She pulled out the big guns and said she would be willing to, get this, send a car to Huntington to "pick up you and your dog, Elvis" (like I'm sitting at home drunk with power saying I won't go anywhere without HIM!!!)! Knowing full well that I would NOT make it back in time from Lincoln Center I had to tell her no, but she could come here. She said ok and again, soon after I received a call from a gal named Sarah Netter who came to the house with her crew and was nice enough, but seemed more concerned with getting a story. It took the crew 45 minutes to set up the cameras and such all the while, Elvis was locked in the upstairs bathroom pooping on the floor. Well, you know what they say about kids and animals in regards to showbiz...

So, Sarah grilled me for a good 25 minutes asking me some pretty good questions: How did this all come about? What would you say to the 17 year old girl who is experimenting with pills and thinks what happened to you couldn't happen to her? What would you say to your 26 year old self now knowing all that you do? What does the future hold for me? Things of that nature..It all ended up on the cutting room floor. Hey, believe me I understand that's the nature of news media, but after seeing the piece, I was disappointed. Sure, 16 seconds of face time on a MAJOR network news show is awesome, but left a bad taste in my mouth so I decided to take matters into my own hands, and last Saturday evening produced my own piece. I got to say what you didn't get to hear and see.

You can find the original ABC interview online at, I believe or just enter my name: Carolyn Alfieri along with either: Suboxone, drug addiction, pills or ABC. I would post it here, but what's the point. As for the rebuttal video, you can view it on my Facebook page. Remember, the camera does add five pounds!