50 years ago I was born with cancer, which luckily was successfully treated but the tumour and elements of the treatment did leave me disabled. Throughout my life I have seen how society's understanding and perceptions around disability have changed. In recent years there has been a combination of positivity, as seen by the growth in public support of disability sports and arts, and negativity, such as the dramatic growth in hate crime towards disabled people and the wide spread belief that many disabled people are scrounging off the benefits system. Something that still hasn't really broken through in the public's mind is that they could learn a lot from the experiences of disabled people. With that in mind I thought I'd share a few lessons I have learned in my 50 years as a disabled person, starting with methods for dealing with the thorny subject of addiction.
Why start with addiction? Well thanks to being born with cancer, it is very likely that the very first thing I felt in the womb was pain. Then at the age of 15, just as I was given the all clear, my spine collapsed due to deformity in the bone that developed as the side effect of the cancer treatment. I had several major surgeries and was left alive, which was touch as go for while, as a wheelchair user with many of the nerves trapped in scar tissue. These trapped nerves meant I have spent the following 35 years living with very high levels of pain and thus have had to take all manner of pain medication. Most of this medication is also very addictive and so I have had to learn to cope with addiction as part of living with pain. Along the way I have learned there are many ways of coping with addiction and of understanding it's cruel grip.
The first trick is to be able to recognise the signs of addiction as early on as possible. Of course I am talking about addiction that has a chemical impact on your body's physiology, such drug and alcohol issues. You know, those addictions that mean your body stops functioning without you continuing to place the very things in to your body that are actually hurting you. In my case I take strong pain killers when I am in pain, but I don't care why someone might begin using an addictive substance. If you can notice those early tell tale signs that addiction is beginning to take hold, you can fight back equally early.
I have found that it takes much less to fall into addiction than most people would at first believe. Whatever reason for feeling you need the substance that is your poison, the want turns to need in a blink of an eye. I have found that I need medication when I have a break through of severe pain, but this usually lasts no more than a week. As the medication helps with my pain, I find I can sense the addiction taking hold. Mine manifests itself as new pain, pain in areas I know are not injured, areas that are totally healthy. That pain feels as real and as difficult to cope with as the pain I know to be non-addiction related. It is really the process of knowing that the addiction is changing how your body works. You may not manage this at once, but once you spot the signs, you need to face up to addiction and learn to take control.
Many people who are in the grips of addiction claim they cannot do this, become the boss of what feels like an unbeatable master. In truth you are so much stronger than any addiction, but it is easy to loose yourself in feeling out of control. Most addictions cause physical issues, and in my case it is more pain on top of the pain I am medicating myself to stop. So it would seem obvious to take more medication and this is what my addiction wants. It is causing pain to make me want to put more chemicals into my body. What I have learned to do instead is use the tell tale pain as a signpost to change my mindset. I start taking the medication to take control over real pain, but then have to lessen it to be in control of the pain my addiction is using to push me to continue taking these pain killers. I have also learned how amazing it feels to have the strength to take that control. For many people battling addiction the discomfort and pain of withdrawal is too much to bear and so they fall in the downward spiral. With the knowledge that this hurt that comes with taking control is fleeting and if you can put up with it, no matter how awful it may feel, you will soon experience the massive rush of taking charge. It's almost like replacing the addiction with an addiction for beating addiction.
For me this is an ongoing battle, as I have to go through this cycle a few times a year, but for most addicts once you beat it you can then be the master from then on. Sure you may relapse, but instead of seeing this as a failure it is really part of being human. We can't be strong all the time, but what we can do is admit that and then know that you can be strong again, become the boss again. I actually feel that slipping and regaining control is part of truly learning that you have beaten addiction.
OK, this isn't an in-depth account of how to beat all addiction, but it a brief exploration of how I have made sure I am not a slave to it's effects. I cannot avoid addiction entirely as my pain will remain with me for all my life, but I hope my experiences as a disabled person can help others.