I made a goal long ago to be able to answer with an enthusiastic “yes!” to the question, “Have I done any good in the world today?” My church callings, the needs of my family and friends, my physical health, and my spiritual habits have long been high priorities for me. I would have considered myself immune to the dangers of addiction but I learned the hard way that addictions can happen to anyone, and I would need more than my self-motivated nature to overcome it.
In February of 2019, I entered a house that smelled strongly of gas and naively began to investigate the problem. Seconds later, the entire home blew up and collapsed on top of me. I was trapped in the basement under debris, furniture, and log beams. I would not have survived without the aid of some exceptionally brave neighbors who entered the scene and rescued me. Though grateful to be alive, I was left with some serious injuries, including burns, breaks, the loss of many teeth and a portion of my jaw, and permanent physical handicaps to my left hand and right foot.
During the course of several months after the accident, I managed countless doctor appointments and dozens of back-to-back surgeries. I was prescribed a small but steady dose of pain medication to manage all the healing my body was doing at once.
On one memorable occasion, I was back at the hospital for surgical repairs on my troubled ankle. I awoke post-surgery feeling fine, staying only one night in the hospital, but four days later I was in a great deal of pain. The need to elevate my casted foot went from being helpful for swelling and pain, to being crucial. For the next two weeks, I elevated my foot above my hips at all times, by necessity. If my foot dropped lower than that, the pain was intolerable, and I would shout in agony.
Both my surgeon and a specialized wound care doctor were amazed by the pain I was in, and perhaps even wondered if I was putting on a show for more pain meds. My dosage instructions for the pain medicine it was believed I needed continually increased in both the amount I should take and the number of times I should take them. More pain meds didn’t help.
It was soon decided by my orthopedic surgeon that something wasn’t right, and he needed to get me back into surgery to fix what must be an infection.
I did, in fact, have a serious infection in my foot, and another surgery would be necessary to clean it. For the first few hours after surgery, I felt fairly normal. However, with every passing hour, I felt less and less like myself. I hated the way the hospital smelled. I couldn’t tolerate any kind of food in my mouth. I felt sad and hopeless. I was angry to be left alone but didn’t want to be around anyone. I was grouchy and short with the nurses. I turned on a fiction investigation-themed TV show I typically enjoy and found myself in tears that the world was a terrible place and there were so many bad people in it. I was sweating through my hospital gowns at an alarming rate. I was bothered by the taste of my own mouth, by the color of the walls in the hospital room, by the brightness of the sun shining through my window. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sit still. I would slowly kick or shift my legs incessantly. When I spoke up to the medical professionals about all these symptoms, they acted confused and determined that I must be having a strange reaction to the antibiotics. I was left to my own discomfort.
I was so eager to be discharged from the hospital that within five minutes of news that I could go home, I had all my belongings on my lap in my wheelchair.
But when I got home, my symptoms only worsened. I still couldn’t eat. I had slept a total of five non-consecutive hours in three days. I was still sweating like crazy, but I also felt freezing cold. I remember problem-solving this by wheeling myself outside onto the back porch at one o’clock in the morning where it was actively snowing, then piling hot water bottles and blankets around me to stay warm. I felt out of control. I couldn’t stop moving. I was exhausted. I had no energy and felt weak. My husband had to carry me if I needed to go upstairs. I felt like dying would be easier than continuing. Never in my life had such a concept ever felt true.
My husband insisted I go to an appointment with a pain management specialist. We had to stop 30 minutes into the drive to buy me new clothes to wear. I had saturated the ones I was wearing with sweat and was shivering from the discomfort.
The pain management specialist gasped when she saw me. “I know exactly what is wrong with you,” she said urgently as she moved towards me. We learned I was actively detoxing.1 Following a miscommunication with various doctors, I had gone from regular high doses of prescription pain medication to nothing at all overnight. None of the pills I had been taking post-surgery were any stronger than over-the-counter medicines, and my body didn’t know how to handle the drop in chemicals I had inadvertently become dependent on. The pain management specialist instructed me to take a dose of pain medicine immediately and created a schedule for me to slowly wean off the medications over the course of about four weeks. I complied with the schedule for a short time but was so shaken by the experience that I just wanted to stop “cold turkey.” I never wanted to touch the stuff again.
Those several weeks of teaching my body how to be in homeostasis without drugs were absolutely horrible. I experienced extreme physical discomfort and felt mentally unbalanced. I was sad, mad, afraid, and exhausted. There was no peace. I didn’t recognize myself. I remember trying to pray late one night when I was overcome with every negative feeling and thought. I closed my eyes and tried to form a thought, but I simply couldn’t. I tried to pray out loud, hoping it would help me focus. I got out the words, “Heavenly Father … you know.” And then I just started crying. I knew that Heavenly Father knew what I was experiencing and what I needed before I could speak the words myself. (See Matthew 6:8.) I didn’t know how to describe the pain I was in, and I didn’t know how the situation could ever get better. In this moment I was deeply aware of my total dependence on God for relief. My faith became my lifeline—my only hope.
From that time moving forward, I could see improvements every few days. It took about two weeks for me to feel like I recognized myself, and about two more weeks to feel happy, grateful, energized, and ready to participate in life again.
Here is my advice to those going through a similar experience:
TO THOSE OVERWHELMED BY A PERSONAL STRUGGLE:
When nobody seems to understand, He does. Elder David A. Bednar once spoke about the “tender mercies” the Lord will extend our way when we allow Him to be a part of our lives in the good, the bad, and the ugly. He said, “We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies. … When words cannot provide the solace we need or express the joy we feel, when it is simply futile to attempt to explain that which is unexplainable, when logic and reason cannot yield adequate understanding about the injustices and inequities of life, when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”
When I prayed with just those words, “you know,” I trusted that He did. He hears my prayers. He understands my innermost feelings and my every discomfort. I can rely on Him to give me the strength to overcome anything.
FOR THOSE WHO LOVE SOMEONE STRUGGLING WITH ADDICTION OR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES:
The heaviness of pain, confusion, fear, and misery that comes with poor mental health is suffocating. Having experienced this for just a few short weeks has made me more empathetic to those who are mentally struggling or chemically dependent, and has also helped me see that addictions and mental crashes are not a sign of personal weakness. They can happen to anyone. Understanding this will help me move forward with less judgment and more patience for others in their own situations.
A critical part of my recovery from this chemical dependency was the intervention of my loving husband. If you observe that something is not right with your loved one, a gentle but firm insistence on professional help can make an enormous difference. If help is rejected, continue to love them and pray for them. Elder M. Russell Ballard, knowing that offering help can be complicated, offered these wise words: “In all of our service, we need to be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. The still, small voice will let us know who needs our help and what we can do to help them”
Please, take care of your whole self. When one aspect of you is unhealthy, it can weaken every part of you. If you are unwell in any way (physical, mental, social, emotional, or spiritual), you can feel unwell in all of them. Conversely, improving one of those aspects of well-being can improve all of them.
Our physical well-being is not a separate issue from our spiritual well-being. Some physical bodies will suffer sickness, disease, pain, injury, and even permanent handicaps. “But whatever their condition, our bodies…help us progress toward perfection…Our spirits cannot reach their full potential without the support and strength of the body.”2 (See also Doctrine and Covenants 93:33–34.)
I now have a full awareness of how important it is to take care of myself: eat well, exercise, enjoy quality sleep, create emotional support systems, maintain my relationship with the Lord, and be hypervigilant around harmful or addictive substances. The emotional and physical discomfort of that time while “detoxing” was a time when my reservoir of hope and peace was empty.
Today, I am filling that reservoir again by making every aspect of my health a priority and by being mindfully grateful when I feel good, have energy, and feel confident and happy.
Blake Gillette's recently-released mash-up of two well-known hymns artistically expresses the anguish of searching for relief from suffering and the joy of finding it in the Lord. A surprise hint of the pop song "Say Something" adds the encouragement to speak up in prayer. This combination makes "He Won't Give Up On You" a powerful reminder of my recovery experience. He is there. He hears me. He understands me. When my weakened soul needed to be stilled, when my typical sources of peace were falling short, when I pleaded in prayer with only the words, "YOU know..." I found the Lord - patiently waiting for me to turn to Him.
1. Detox: the process of having drugs leave the body, causing severe withdrawal symptoms
2. Lesson 24: Keeping Physically Healthy (churchofjesuschrist.org)