by Sue G.
Dan's Note: Every time I read the word "metamorphosis" I think of another—"Kafkaesque."
Of course, this metamorphosis (Sue's Big Change) is less grisly than turning into a big bug against a backdrop of the societal change during the early Twentieth Century. (For an enjoyable read about Franz Kafka and 'Kafkaesque' check out this great article.)
This metamorphosis I can relate to, but I have not yet experienced. It's the change a person of long-term recovery undergoes when they are falsely accused not only of using, but of STEALING prescription painkillers.
I know you'll be moved by Sue's words and by the metamorphosis she experiences.
Glad to be back from NYC! Be well, readers.
I lost my job this year and it was the best paid job I ever had. The abrupt loss gave me a stark choice between devastation and transformation, or as I like to think of it: a metamorphosis.
I am a nurse. I worked at that job for 6-1/2 years. It was also the hardest job I've ever had—bedside nursing in a busy hospital is not for the faint of heart, mind or body. Being in my fifties made the physical part so strenuous that I was in pain a lot.
I prided myself in never requesting workers' comp benefits, but I did call in sick regularly just to recharge. Working with a demanding patient population wasn't easy, but I loved that part of my job. I cared about my patients and worked hard to be their ally and advocate. Eventually, I got burned out which is a professional hazard, especially for those of us who try to remain empathetic and compassionate. I grew a shell but tried to keep it porous enough so my humanity could still be detected. It's a common experience with nurses, growing this shell. Not all of us succeed, but I like to think I did.
As of the fall of 2014, I was 24 years sober. I only knew of one other person in recovery at my job. I never went out with my coworkers after shifts, because they always wanted to drink, even in the mornings coming off night shifts. Watching co-workers get sloshed and create false intimacies bore no appeal. Sometimes I was honest about why I didn't join them. Other times I said I had to get home to my family, which was also true. My sobriety was no secret but it seemed like people forgot more often than they remembered.
In the fall of 2014, I was plugging along, doing my best to maintain my sanity and competence despite a very challenging work environment. Then came the moment a nurse is most threatened and horrified by: missing narcotics for which I stood accused. In my manager's office, in a moment of shock and defensiveness, I tried to use my recovery as a testimony to my innocence which of course backfired . . . big time! My badly-timed honesty may be why nothing I said in my own defense was taken as reliable from that day forward.
As proof of my innocence I offered up my pristine pee. That was part of part of an investigation that I am fairly certain did not extend very far beyond me. I was never proven guilty, but I was negatively transformed into a pariah overnight. I believe I was set up by someone but I don't know by whom or why.
Isn't that what all the guilty people say? "I was framed, I tell ya . . . FRAMED."
Back in the day when I was still actively using, benzos and opiates (pills) were never my thing.
They were too complicated to get. Alcohol was my friend and I knew it well. I liked knowing when the alcohol would wear off. A hangover was a familiar punishment. I didn't think of myself as drunk when I went to work hungover and reeking of booze, even though I was still under the influence. Oddly enough, I was never confronted back when I drank—the odor had to be lingering. However, consistent with being an active drunk, I didn't get along well with my co-workers and I got into trouble a lot, sometimes even for blowing off the needs of my patients. When I quit drinking in 1990, work got easier. I was less forgetful, more compassionate, less of a target, less often called to the head nurse's office.
That seemed true for a very long time, until it wasn't.
As I look back at my using career, I have wondered if what happened was karma. In the eighties, at the height of my addiction, I wanted to impress a guy I loved, a fellow addict. He asked me to steal a handful of controlled meds and I did so willingly, replacing the powder inside a few capsules with Tylenol powder, not caring that someone was going to get a dose of Tylenol when they needed their prescribed medication. I did it only once—it's still difficult to confess. Once was one time too many. We both almost died the night we randomly popped those pills as some kind of stupid experiment in drug abuse. I wasn't even sure what we were taking or how much! The only explanation I have for our survival is our higher power's protection. I learned recently that his protection sadly ended at the age of 50 when he died of alcoholism, having never chosen another way of life—there but for the Grace of God could I have gone. So anyway, maybe karma explains why I stood unfairly accused thirty-odd years after that unconscionable theft.
Back to the present: After being suspected of drug diversion in late 2014, I spent several weeks on administrative duty; pushing faxes and answering phone calls in at a reception desk visible to the staff.
I felt like I had been pilloried. (Although at least no one threw rotten tomatoes!) I told my co-workers my story over and over, trying to defend myself in the court of my peers. I explained that the incidents that made me look guilty were forgetfulness when overwhelmed by the demands of floor nursing. I warned them against similar errors, since we are all vulnerable in times of high stress. My coworkers always said they believed me but who knows what they said to one another?
After a tense interview with a police officer, I was cleared by him and he told me there would be no charges. He was kind and understanding, a brief ray of sunshine. At least I wasn't going to be arrested! However, I would soon learn that I would never set free from suspicion by management. As I became increasingly aware that I was still not trusted, I tried to get a transfer to another position. I interviewed numerous times and just knew I made a positive impression but then after reference checks, someone else always got the job. I never asked why. I figured they would lie anyway and besides, I really didn't want to know the truth.
Eventually, with support from my union, I was sent back to duty on the floor and the next few weeks were horrible. I was iced out: my social network fragmented. My attempts to advocate for myself were treated as if I was just whining. I couldn't get help or support with difficult tasks. I had to be extremely careful not to make mistakes, constantly on the defense. I was frequently on the verge of tears.
And then my knees made the decision for me.
After some sick calls due to the knee pain, which I attributed to strain, I went to the doctor. I had no idea how bad it was but the MRIs showed severe tears in both joints. I don't believe the timing on my vulnerability to injury was coincidental. The chemicals associated with stress were surely coursing through my system. I never did apply for worker's comp because I failed to report the injuries as work-related. Looking back, I think I was buying into the message that I wasn't entitled to any mercy.
As a result of likely permanent injuries in my knees, I was given what amounts to an honorable discharge due to disability. I still wonder if some people at my workplace think I faked the disability in order to make a clean exit but I have given up caring what they think. I do not wish what happened to me on anyone, so I hope that at the very least, my errors served as an object lesson to others.
So I stubbornly got through the whole nightmare without drinking and without asking my doctor for the very meds I had been accused of stealing. Believe me, at times I considered requesting something to help me cope with the horrendous anxiety which manifested in almost daily migraine headaches for weeks after the allegation and then severe stomach pains whenever I had to go to a meeting. My mantra, which got me through this and many other painful times in sobriety is something I heard at an AA meeting early in sobriety, "Nothing is so bad that it cannot be made worse by using."
It has now been about 10 months since it all began. It is nearly over as I apply for disability retirement. You know how they say, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings?" I am the fat lady singing! I feel so liberated! It was a very difficult job to keep showing up for but I often referred to myself as a high-wage prisoner. For those six years I was the primary breadwinner with my husband working part time and keeping us from having to pay childcare. I thought that was the only way we could live but I had wrapped myself in a tight chrysalis of my own construction.
There is a common adage that too many of us are one paycheck away from homelessness but that's not turned out to be the case for us. As we rebuild from the financial devastation, my disability makes it possible to get some public assistance. My husband is working more than full time. My mom is helping while we get our feet back on the ground, holding homelessness and defaulted bills at bay. I am working part-time as a homecare nurse and making a small percentage of what I made before, but in much kinder gentler environments. I am grateful for all the support I have received from those who know me well and believe in me.
The kids are all right. They are old enough to be on their own. My daughter is now able to earn some of her own spending money. They are both probably better off now because their mom is a lot more emotionally available. And the bottom line: my sobriety makes it possible to take good care of myself which enables me to be there for my family.
Now I can do stuff like hatch butterflies from my garden and contemplate metamorphosis. Also as therapy, I am purging all the crap out of my house because I have the time, energy and anger to do so.
In early sobriety, I used to say that if I could ever know for sure that it was my last day on earth I would toast the final day with a pitcher of beer and a pack of cigarettes. Today, that sounds absolutely repugnant to me.
Now if I knew it was my last day on earth, I would find a butterfly and watch it flutter on by.
About the Author
Sue today is still a nurse, a writer, and a major groupie of all things Monarch, which she considers the rockstar of butterflies. She lives in recovery with the support of her family and friends. She is happily married and is a busy mother with two teenaged children.