A new life started with a two-day fast and a period of inactivity. There are times in people's lives when they feel compelled to make changes and the best way to do that is to take a major leap out of their usual comfort zone. For others, circumstances can push them out of that zone. In either case, the change becomes an opportunity for moving in a new direction.
The focal point of my change was 25 years of constant back pain. As I got older the pain got worse and, eventually, I had surgery in 2001 to relieve an acute pain problem caused by arthritis and spinal stenosis.
I tried to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the pain and they worked well, but they caused such bad side effects that I had to stop. The only way to relieve the pain was to take opioids. I did try to live with the pain without drugs, but when your daily functioning becomes so clouded that you can't do what you want then you look for options.
Anyone who has suffered from chronic pain knows how much of a total experience it is. There is fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability, depression and a host of baggage that chronic pain carries.
I took opioids for 15 years and pretty much kept the dosage the same all of that time. I was lucky not to have an addictive personality or to be lured in by the euphoric high of opioids. They never got rid of the pain, but they did make it comfortable enough for me to be able to function better than I had. My goal was always to only take the edge off the pain and that is why I did not end up in rehab.
During my fast and inactivity of 2016 I stopped taking my pain meds and my back pain disappeared. Inactivity can do that, but it also made me realize that there might be a way to get off the opioids. So I started to take less, and within a few weeks I was off of them completely.
At the same time I was losing weight and the fast had made me realize how bad my eating habits had become. I pretty much eliminated carbs from my diet and let myself be hungry most of the time. I knew I was eating enough to maintain health and I told myself that hunger was a symptom of bad past habits.
For the next two months I was able to stop taking all opioids. In addition to weight loss, I started working with a therapeutic yoga instructor. I do personalized yoga every morning and I see her every two weeks. I also try to rollerblade about 20 miles a week and do a fair amount of walking playing golf.
I have read a number of books recently about how yoga can help to ease and eliminate back pain. I never paid them much attention years ago but now I am sold on the benefit of yoga in dealing with back pain.
Getting off of opioids has also changed my life in other ways. Opioids disturb REM sleep, the most restorative part of sleep, and since being off opioids I am sleeping better than I have in years while waking early and feeling rested.
Recent medical research indicates that there is evidence that opiates may actually make chronic pain worse. It is about re-programming the nervous system and changing the signals that pain gives. I am convinced that the research is valid, based on my situation.
All of these changes have made me feel that I have a new life that has been given to me as a gift. I do take Ibuprofen once during the middle of the day and that is all I need to make me comfortable and I am able to tolerate it without feeling bad side effects.
I hope my story can help others and I hope I can muster the strength of will to keep this new life on track.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at email@example.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.