North Olympic Peninsula Area Narcotics Anonymous

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Medication in Recovery

The following is an excerpt from pages 10-19 of the NA publication In Times of Illness

Medication in Recovery

 “For all the diversity of individual opinion among our members, Narcotics Anonymous itself is united in having no opinion on any issues apart from its own program. As a fellowship, we agree to take positions only on those ideas that have drawn us together, our principles of recovery, not on the many personal opinions that might divide us.”

 Narcotics Anonymous as a whole has no opinion on outside issues, and this includes health issues. We are concerned with recovery from the disease of addiction. Our collective experience shows that rigorous application of the program is our best defense against relapse. However, we may face a situation in our recovery where we have to make choices about medication. The use of medication can be controversial in our fellowship. When treatment of an illness requires medication, the concept of abstinence can be confusing. It’s helpful to remember the importance of making a conscious decision not to medicate ourselves or treat our own illnesses.

“I was one person who believed that, if you used anything for any reason, it was considered a relapse. Until I was faced with this situation in my own recovery, it didn’t dawn on me that I might have to take medication. I can remember going to meetings and having people ask me if I’d relapsed, and telling me to pick up a white chip. This really hurt and scared me. I felt rejected and very alone because no one seemed to understand that I needed strength and hope.”

 The Basic Text recommends consulting professionals concerning our medical problems. We also work closely with our sponsor and other experienced NA members we trust. Many members today have experience with illness and medication in recovery. We can look to their example and listen to their experience to help us face our fears about medication. We remember that we are especially vulnerable to our old ways of thinking when we are in pain. Prayer, meditation, and sharing can help us keep our minds off our discomfort. Addicts are often surprised to discover how much pain we can tolerate without medication. Reaching out and sharing honestly with those we trust can help us keep our priorities in order. Our goal is to maintain our recovery.

It’s helpful to remember the importance of making a conscious decision not to medicate ourselves or treat our own illnesses.

 Cleantime is an issue for each of us to resolve individually with our sponsor and our Higher Power. The ultimate responsibility for making medical decisions rests with each member. However, the guidance and support of members who have faced similar situations is often available if we reach out. In addition to consulting medical professionals, we may use other members’ experience and information to help us make knowledgeable decisions. We can practice the Twelve Steps, maintain frequent contact with our sponsor, write about our feelings and motives, and share with our NA friends. With the support of others in Narcotics Anonymous, we find the strength we need to make healthy choices for our own recovery.

 “When I came to NA, all I wanted to do was stop using drugs; NA showed me how. My recovery in NA helped prepare me to face an illness. I discussed my illness with informed medical professionals and obtained second and third opinions. Every medical treatment involved mind- and mood-altering medication. Prior to taking pain medication, I discussed all options with my sponsor. During that period of time I kept my NA friends close and my sponsor informed.”

 We have found that it is important for addicts to have at least one person with whom they can be completely honest. This person can be a sponsor, recovering family member, or trusted NA friend. The important thing is that someone who has specific knowledge of the disease of addiction can help us to avoid isolation and secrecy. Members facing illness and injury may face intense feelings of loneliness, despair, and self-pity. We learn that pain shared is pain lessened in NA, and encourage others to reach out to us. By listening to the experience, strength, and hope in meetings we are able to experience collective empathy. We fulfill our primary purpose by offering our support to other addicts with an attitude of care, love, and concern.

 “Anyone who reaches out for help is entitled to our compassion, our attention, and our unconditional acceptance. Any addict, regardless of clean time, should be able to pour out his or her pain in an atmosphere free of judgment.”                                                                                                                                                                                                    IT WORKS: HOW AND WHY

 Regardless of how vigilant we are with our mental and spiritual program of recovery, we may react to medication like we did when using drugs. The power of the disease of addiction cannot be underestimated. The Basic Text warns us that our disease is cunning, and tells us that honesty is the solution. When we are in pain, we are highly susceptible to self-deception, fear, denial, and anger. It doesn’t matter what the medication is, or whether it was our drug of choice. Our thinking and actions may be affected by any mind- and mood-altering medications. During these times, we benefit greatly from maintaining a support network. These NA friends will help us truthfully inventory ourselves and monitor our use of any medication. We need to remain open-minded when our sponsor and other trusted NA friends offer suggestions based on their experience.

Communicating honestly with our sponsor, medical care providers, and loved ones is vital to our recovery.

We strive for the willingness to avoid our self-will and follow the suggestions of others who have our best interests at heart.

 An unfortunate reality in our fellowship is that some members abuse their prescribed medication and relapse. Any mind-and mood-altering medication can be dangerous for addicts. Members who relapse on prescribed medication may be reluctant to return to meetings for fear of being judged. Knowing that their lives are at stake, we treat these addicts with compassion. Encouraging these members to share honestly and admit when they have abused their medication can remind other addicts to be vigilant in protecting their own recovery. Our experience shows that many NA members have been successful in taking medication as prescribed and maintaining their recovery. When facing a situation where we may be prescribed medication, we should seek out the experience of these members. Some common elements that these members share are regular meeting attendance, close contact with their sponsor and NA support network, and willingness to follow suggestions from those who have faced similar situations successfully.

 When we are confronted with a medical condition where we may have to take medication, our initial fear may be of taking too much, but we also may go to the other extreme. The urge to allow ourselves to suffer unnecessarily rather than take medication may be great. We resist this urge to stubbornly insist that we know better than the doctor, refuse all medications, or neglect problems that require medical attention. When a professional tells us that pain is not conducive to healing, we should listen. Likewise, ignoring health problems because of fear or pride may, in fact, make matters worse for us. Once again, we remind ourselves of the importance of making a conscious decision not to medicate ourselves or treat our own illnesses.

 “When I was about a year and a half clean, I suffered my first bout of a recurrent illness. My sponsor told me not to be a martyr and to go to my doctor, who knows that I am a recovering addict. I didn’t listen, and as a result I was hospitalized for five days, in traction and on strong medication. If I had followed my sponsor’s suggestion, I would have been on a milder medication for a much shorter period of time.”

 Our experience has shown that no drugs are risk-free for us. Any medication may unleash the craving and the compulsion that haunted us while we were using. Nonprescription drugs can be as dangerous as those prescribed by a physician. Even if we have not seen the doctor, we can practice vigilance and responsibility for our recovery by checking our motives and seeking the suggestions of our sponsor before we take anything. It is important that we consider their use as carefully as the use of any other medication. Any drug, prescription or nonprescription, has the potential to be abused.

 Sometimes, our members have found, alternative methods of treatment can be used. This is another way in which we can exercise responsibility for our recovery, even during illness. Many of these methods require little or no medication or the use of medication that doesn’t alter our moods or our thinking. Some NA members even share that they have felt spiritually strengthened by exploring and utilizing these alternatives. We seek solutions in our recovery when we are faced with an illness or injury by asking questions and doing research. Asking members what worked for them can be a powerful way to utilize the support of the fellowship. Reaching out for experience and new ideas strengthens our recovery and gives us a renewed appreciation for the NA program.

 “Today, I live with chronic pain. It is not always debilitating, but pain is almost always present. I do my best to respect my physical limitations. I refrain from activities that result in pain, and have found new activities that are relatively pain-free. I practice surrendering to my physical limitations so I do not aggravate my condition and create more pain. Fortunately, I have found alternatives that usually provide me the relief that I need to get through my day. All of these have had some positive effect. Alternative methods reduce my pain so that I don’t need to try to manage with mood-altering medication.”

 By living the Narcotics Anonymous program, we find a measure of stability in our lives. We apply the principles of the program to help us find spiritual well-being when we are ill. Sharing openly with our doctor and our sponsor, relying on a Higher Power, and practicing the Twelve Steps are important tools. These can help each member find a sense of balance that is comfortable and appropriate. Life in recovery can be complicated by illness and the possibility that we may need to take prescribed medication. We strive to stay vigilant in applying the principles we have learned in NA. When we do this, our personal goals and recovery remain intact.

  ·  Regardless of how we work our mental and spiritual program of recovery, we may react to medication like we did when using drugs.

  ·  It’s helpful to remember the importance of making a conscious decision not to medicate ourselves or treat our own illnesses.

  ·  A recovery support network is vital. Our sponsor, medical care providers, and NA friends can help us inventory ourselves and monitor our use of any medication.

  ·  Cleantime is an issue for each of us to resolve individually with our sponsor and our Higher Power.

 “Everything that occurs in the course of NA service must be motivated by the desire to more successfully carry the message of recovery to the addict who still suffers.”

 The primary purpose of our groups is to carry the message of recovery. While being of service to our fellowship, there may be times when we begin to feel that taking mind-changing and mood-altering medication has affected our ability to serve effectively. In some cases, members may share with us that they think our behavior and attitude have been impaired by our illness and treatment. They may tell us we are not the same person. Even though our temptation may be to rebel against the opinions of our fellow trusted servants, we remember that they are our eyes and ears. We strive to maintain an attitude of humility and open-mindedness. We bring their concerns to our sponsor and supportive NA friends, and seek a solution.

 Effective leadership is highly valued in NA, and being of service is a principled action. We may want to inventory our decisions and motives with service. We talk to our sponsor and NA friends; they can help us avoid self-deception. Being honest with ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses is an important part of any inventory. Some members have found that they were fully capable of fulfilling their service commitments while taking medication to treat an illness or injury, while others have made the choice to step down. This is a deeply personal decision. We will want to consider what is best for both the fellowship and ourselves.

 If we decide to resign from a trusted servant position due to the effects of medication, this can be considered an action based in integrity, courage, and humility. Informing fellow members that we need to step down for a period of time for health reasons illustrates recovery principles in action. This can be viewed as the fulfillment of a personal commitment to our health, rather than a failure. We can remind ourselves that we live this way of life just for today, and the decisions we make are not forever.

 We come to accept today’s health issues, and we can seek other ways to be of service. We may consider a group-level commitment, or we may be a committee member rather than committee chair. We remain open-minded, willing, and honest, seeking out the experience of other members to learn how they were able to serve while living with health issues and medication. Being of service to a fellowship that saved our lives is an act of love, and is not conditional on a specific position or title.

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