Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I have some surgery coming up. I really have to have it, and the recovery is supposed to be very painful. I'm in my second year of sobriety and I'm really worried about taking pain medication. Should I tell my doctor I'm an alcoholic? Won't that then be on my record somehow? If I take the pain medication will I relapse?
In Pain and In Fear
I completely understand your concerns -- surgery can be scary, knowing you're going to be in great physical pain is scary, and the idea you might spin out of control and relapse after putting in all the hard work you have to get clean and sober... man, that is REALLY scary.
First, remember this: No points are awarded for needless suffering.
People take medicine before and after serious medical procedures. It's often an important part of their recovery in fact. Being in extreme pain can actually work against your healing properly.
If it were me, I would take the pain medication...
I would tell my doctor that I am an alcoholic. (Whenever the subject of medication comes up -- or whenever they're doing anything which measures my liver function, I tell my doctor I'm an alcoholic). Will it get on my "record?" Maybe. It is the age of Information after all. But I'm more concerned with staying sober than my file being flagged as an addict (not to mention, if you relapse it's just as likely you'll get a record of some other kind).
Not all doctors have the same understanding about addiction, but I would still speak up. And I would ask about the different pain medications available, and request a non-narcotic one if at all possible.
Also, when it comes to taking medicine, what I do with sponsees who have been in similar situations is I suggest they make a log and record exactly when they take each pill. This is so that people don't confuse themselves: "Wait, did I take one at 1:30? Oh my God, I took one three hours ago not four! Did I relapse? I relapsed! Oh my God! Wait... did I?" What a wicked, horrible head trip to put yourself on -- especially when you're in physical pain and already not too clear. A log keeps you honest and prevents you from psyching yourself out.
Another idea is to have someone else whom you trust hold the medicine for you and give you your pills/dose/whatever on a schedule, so you don't even have to think about it. While not everyone's life allows for that I've known a number of people in recovery handle this issue that way, too, and it worked very well for them.
Addicts take drugs whenever and however we feel like it; but patients take medicine as prescribed, on a schedule, following all directions from the doctor, the pharmacist and on the bottle of medication. In this instance you're a patient. (And in recovery, when we don't need the medicine any more, if there is any left over, we flush it.)
This is an opportunity in your sobriety to do that horrible, awful, excrutiatingly painful thing -- that thing which is quite probably even more painful than your medical issue or your post-surgery recovery: Admit you need help. You don't have to manage this issue alone -- and you probably shouldn't. In my life, God works best through other people, so when I'm in trouble, the more peeps I have working on Team SponsorPants the better. Give your Higher Power some resources to work with by asking for help and accepting it.
As I said before, I really, truly understand your concerns, but I want to assure you, you absolutely can, one day at a time -- one hour at a time, if need be -- stay sober through this. Talk about it with your support group, get help, set yourself up to be clear with what you're taking, and make sure the medical professionals involved understand your situation. Try not to spend a lot of time alone while you're convalescing -- even when I'm at my best, a lot of time alone with my head is probably not the greatest plan for me.
Good luck, and get well soon.