A couple weeks ago, I had to get two fillings repaired after they broke and started to cause increasing amounts of pain. I've had quite a bit of dental work done lately, a consequence of getting older, but normally novocaine numbs the immediate pain of drilling and poking and prodding, the visit takes maybe an hour, and it only hurts a little after the numbness wears off. This time was different, I spent 3 hours in the dentist office and after the numbness wore off I found myself panicking over a crescendo of severe pain. I didn't expect this and made no plans for pain management, and by the time it hit me it was evening and it was too late to do much about it.
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Wow. I ate 4 aspirin, with no effect. I ate 4 over-the-counter expired motrin, with no effect. I ate 4 more of each, then 4 more of each. Then more. I debated going to the Emergency Room, but dreaded the inevitable long wait for at best a handful of pills that might or might not help much. My wife keeps Norcos around in case of migraines, but she was out of town so I hunted around upstairs, hoping to find a bottle of pills in the cabinet - just like I used to hunt around for forgotten alcohol late at night after I ran out and needed more. I even thought about driving to the store to buy alcohol, though not seriously - yes, after 5 years sober, drinking popped up in my brain as an option. It was immensely painful and triggering.
Eventually the pain faded a bit, enough that I could sleep, and the next morning I was much better. But it got me thinking about pain, triggers and relapses.
I remember people in my medical treatment group who were addicted to prescription pain pills, and others who had relapsed on alcohol after becoming addicted to pain pills, and I can see now how it can happen. Intense long-lasting pain is unbearable and incapacitating, and the best medications are opiate based - otherwise they would not be prescribed so much for pain management. But they are addictive, and you can get hooked on them even if you have no intention of abusing them and using them to get high. Even if you don't particularly like the "high" (I do not, and I never have been attracted to opiates). And once you're addicted to opiates, if your real drug of choice is alcohol, it's not much of a step to think "F'it, might as well just drink instead".
What would I have done if the pain hadn't lessened, and had instead kept getting worse? Would I have gone to the ER after all? Would I have convinced myself that the best option was to buy a bottle of booze and get drunk? I don't know, and I hope I'm never in a position like that again. Anticipating situations in advance, and making plans and contingency plans, was very important to me in early recovery, and I see now that this sort of advance planning is important when it comes to painful medical and dental procedures too. Even after years of sobriety, drinking can pop into my head as an option, a poor option with enormous negative consequences, but still an option when the alternative is unbearable pain, so in the future I will do my best to make sure I'm not in that situation and I have other superior options available to me.