Saturday, April 08, 2017

ABC Post 8: Book Review--Accidental Addict: A True Story of Pain and Healing

The series: Books by Siblings of Friends.

The friend: Bob Welch, Register-Guard columnist and author of many books including My Oregon, and American Nightingale.

The sibling: Bob’s sister, Linda Crew.

The book: Accidental Addict: A True Story of Pain and Healing…also Marriage, Real Estate, and Cowboy Dancing

As you have also, I’ve heard a lot about the new wave of opioid addiction.  Our pastor friend, Gary Quequish, told us of the devastation it caused among his First Nations people in the northern communities. I’ve read about so many young and middle-aged people in middle America dying, often of a heroin use that followed a painkiller addiction.

Last September, I had gallbladder surgery. Some people are all chatty coming out from anesthesia, I’m told, but I just wanted to sleep and sleep.

I had a prescription for a painkiller, which Paul went and filled for me.  I believe he had to have a written prescription and show his ID.

Having surgery hurts like crazy.  I mean, every move and cough and change of position is awful. So for the first day, I took the Oxycodone as prescribed.  Or rather, I took them whenever Emily handed them to me, and then I fell asleep again.

One day of this constant out-of-reality sleep was enough.  I quit taking the meds and took ibuprofen and Tylenol instead, and it hurt but I survived.

Good for me.

Last Christmas I signed up for the library fundraiser sale. When I hauled my books into the big, busy Atrium at the fairgrounds, Bill Sullivan directed me to a table and said, “Have you met Linda Crew?”

I had met her once before, I think, with a high level of awe, because she is a successful author of children’s books and won the Oregon Book Award for A Heart for Any Fate.

We started talking.  Her latest book, she said, is Accidental Addict: A True Story About Pain and Healing, about her experience of getting addicted to prescription medicine after knee surgery.

I said, flippantly, that I guess I was lucky because I couldn’t stand how the Oxycodone made me sleep, so I quit right away.

Her response was gracious, but after I read her book I realized that the luck was in having a manageable level of pain and no strange interactions with other medicines.

We were both at the book sale for hours, so we had lots of time to talk.  Linda is, out of necessity, unusually self-educated on the subjects of chronic pain, addiction, depression, and trauma. The medical community is quick to prescribe medication for symptoms, she said, but so utterly ignorant about the complicated interplay of pain, mental health, different medicines, recovery, and so on.

She also mentioned that if young people have a traumatic event, they will often follow a pattern of trauma-chronic illness-depression, and it’s terribly hard to recognize and diagnose for what it is.

I had a sudden thought.  Emily’s chronic illness and depression at age 17 were preceded by her cousin’s suicide.  Did Linda think there was a connection?

“Oh of course.”

That possibility had never occurred to any of us.

I went home and read Linda’s book over a number of weeks.  It’s a long story, and it is powerful for many reasons but especially this: she is not the sort of person whom we expect to get addicted. She was a middle-class wife and mom in a college town, a successful author, a hard worker, and, as she says, a rule-follower.

I’ve met my share of authors who try hard to project an artsy-writer aura, but Linda is not one of them, despite her success.  Her writing seems to be one thing among many that she does, such as taking care of her grandson, decorating her house, and whacking back blackberry vines on their property.  But the writing skills show through in this book. Although it’s different in subject and tone from her historical fiction, the sentences are artfully crafted and flow smoothly.

Her story shows that medical conditions and solutions are not in isolated boxes but intertwined with all of life, with husbands and hobbies and the weather and raising families and the rain and friendships and so much more.

Accidental Addict is difficult to summarize in a few paragraphs, but here are some things I learned:

--Addiction can happen to anyone.  None of us is immune to the combination of medical emergencies, severe pain, lack of knowledge, and doctors missing important information.

--Good medicines, prescribed for valid reasons, can interplay in really bizarre ways. Linda had also been on Xanax--I believe for migraines, initially. Now she says, in a recent email, “Ultimately I think those were my bottom line worst problem.  Everybody's got their surgery story like yours, and most people do get off without being hooked. The opioids are getting a lot of media attention. The  problem with benzodiazepines is much more insidious.  A lot of people are taking benzos and not even realizing they might ultimately have a problem.  I've had people say to me, without reading my book, ‘Oh, but see, I just take Xanax for anxiety.’  Or, ‘I just take it to help me sleep.’  They think because this doesn't seem like addict behavior, they don't have to worry.  My hope is that people might quietly see something they recognize in my book and take it to heart.”

--You have to educate yourself.  Medical people often know shockingly little about long-term use of medications, how medicines interact, and what can go wrong when you quit using them.

--Your body makes all kinds of chemicals that regulate your mental and physical health and welfare. If you take the same chemical in a medicine, your body no longer has any incentive to produce it. So when you taper off the medicine, your body might have a hard time getting that kettle of chemicals cooking again.  You can be really miserable in the meanwhile, and that’s when you’ll have serious temptation to pop a pill for a quick fix, just to relieve the misery.

--Recovery is not a matter of slowly tapering off and going back to normal life.  Linda had to deal with the most bizarre and debilitating mental, emotional, and physical effects, and they went on and on and ON.  Over and over, just when she thought she was finally making progress, she would again turn into this desperate, needy, fragile person who was in physical pain and falling apart on the inside and couldn’t find a way to communicate to her loved ones what she really needed from them. So there was this cycle of hurting others, being hurt, distance between people, more hurting, and no one including herself really understanding what was going on.

--Her story has a good ending, I am happy to say, but it came out of a shockingly long, tough, hard journey. It's interesting that she writes stories about the Oregon Trail, because in many ways her journey was equally hazardous and daunting.  But she reached the Willamette Valley, so to speak, and I have great respect for her and anyone else who has fought their way out of addiction.

And—today is her birthday! I didn’t know that when I planned to post this today. Happy birthday, Linda! May your day be full of joy and may you be blessed in advance for the comfort and hope that your story will bring to others.

Here's the book on Amazon.

Here's Linda's website.

And here's her blog.


  1. It is appalling how little medical personnel including psychiatrists know about the medications they prescribe. I am in over my head withdrawing from a psychiatric medication I was prescribed 13 years ago. That medication caused other chronic illnesses.

    1. So sorry to hear about this, and I wish you wisdom and fortitude.