Recently, Nigerian and international media have been pouring with stories of the opioid crisis in Northern Nigeria. This BBC documentary (which I have contention with) inspired our usually unconcerned government to take swift action to ban the importation and production of codeine in the country.
But that’s just band-aid on the problem like Joachim MacEbong wrote in this piece. When I heard the news and watched the documentary, my heart went out to codeine addicts in the country.
Why? Because they are people too.
First of all, the documentary hyperbolized the effects of codeine dependency (here’s a list of effects from long-term codeine use), made a number of ill-informed statements; and oh my goodness, did you see the rehabilitation center? That should have been the crux of the story – the debilitating state of healthcare in a country with teeming youth population in poor living conditions, with low international prospects and easy access to something harmless, codeine, which stops their minds from whirling once in a while.
Codeine does not make one high, violent or retrogressive like the documentary showed. It makes its users calm, relaxed, focused and, yes, short-tempered; mostly because they just want time to be by themselves and enjoy the feeling.
Codeine addicts are not violent; they want to be left alone.
Most codeine addicts in Nigeria and elsewhere, are in fact, highly functioning people who can sustain their habit and get stuff done without any fuss or strain in their lives or relationships.
Since the documentary which has received over 1.4 million views on Youtube, there have been a number of attempts to curb the epidemic in Nigeria – walks against drugs and celebrities tweeting words like, “Cough syrup is bad for you. If you have a problem with codeine addiction, please call this hotline.”
This post is something real. It is for all the codeine addicts out there (especially in Nigeria) who are going through a tough time trying to kick the habit, whether voluntarily or by compulsion.
I kicked the habit 16 days ago (don’t you dare laugh), and truthfully, I feel happy and free. I am always aware though that all it takes is one taste of that sweet, sweet codeine and the demons of hedonism could come kicking the door in.
As humans, we are continuously evolving. We’re always going to be works-in-progress, and that’s fine.
Acceptance is the first step, and then we can move on to making incremental changes.
There are lots of reasons why people get sucked into addiction and more reasons why they stay.
I picked up the habit recreationally in 2012, and it soon became a thick-coated cable that ran through almost every aspect of my life by 2014.
Professionally, it made me a shark – bold, focused and able to get things done. Personally, it made me self-sufficient but filled with self-loathing. Socially, it made me uninterested in other people/events, usually thinking “I’m good, love. Enjoy!” when invited out.
When trying to kick the habit, I thought about it from different angles.
The financial angle:
Me to me: “Girl, why do you spend all this money on this? You could be buying anything else in the world right now.”
But as strong as the pull of money is, this logic barely made a dent in my habit. I could never get myself to care about inessentials when I knew what I wanted right there and then, and I could get it too.
The religious angle:
Me to me: “If you really love the Lord, why won’t you quit for His sake?”
The health angle:
Me to me: “Girl, you know this thing has to be doing something crazy to your body internally. Why are you so loyal?”
But even this didn’t affect my behavior, especially as I hardly ever fell ill. In fact, the only time I was sick was when I had no codeine – so it became a ridiculous cycle – codeine was both the problem and the solution.
The family and loved one’s angle:
Me to me: “If you don’t do this for yourself, please do it for them.”
This was the weakest reason of all because I was struggling with codeine enough for myself; I didn’t need the added guilt of how other people felt about MY problem. This may sound selfish, but it’s the truth.
While I’m on this point, let me use this opportunity to tell everyone and anyone who loves to give unsolicited advice to addicts [when they aren’t natives themselves] that there is nothing they can say that the addict hasn’t thought about themselves.
If you must give advice to an addict, at least make sure it’s research-backed, actionable and comes from a place of empathy and humility.
What finally worked for me?
The compound interest shock factor:
At least, that’s what I call it. The fear of adverse compound interest.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of articles that touch on the power of compound interest and how margins increase exponentially as time passes. These articles were focused on health (exercise and nutrition), money (savings and investments), self-care (acceptance and positive thinking). But reading through them, I realized the major thing that had been compounding in my life in the last 6 years was codeine intake.
And about 5 weeks ago, I woke up in a panic attack. What in the world had the last 6 years done to me?
If you are a codeine addict in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world, there is no need to knock yourself for the ways you’ve chosen and survived in the past – you have the present and the future to get things right.
Below are some tips/reminders and steps to how I kicked the habit and how you can too.
- You are not your addiction. You are not a failure. You are not stupid. You can recover from this. Positive affirmations and deliberate mental rewiring (changing how you think about a lot of things) are essential tactics that helped me.Addicts sometimes think they are not worth anything or do not deserve good things because they’ve messed up, but they do. Everyone does.
- It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been addicted or how much money you spent on it – you enjoyed yourself; it was money well-spent, and it’s in the past now. The rest of your life doesn’t have to be the same.I think as humans, we sometimes forget that each day can be brand new, not always a continuation of the one before.
- Imagine being free. Imagine a life that is different from the one you live in now; not having to spend that cash or pass by that pharmacy.
- There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone is addicted to something: social media, kissing ass, alcohol, work, soda. Some vices just have a worse reputation than others.
- Please, please, don’t self-punish or give up. Take care of your health regardless. Eat fruits, exercise, drink water and do other helpful things.Just because you are messing up in one area of life doesn’t mean you should give up on everything else.
- Don’t hinge your dreams and goals on quitting. This just piles on the guilt and regrets. Live fully the way you are now.
- Pick a date, e.g. next week Monday, and stick to it. I say pick a date because, from experience, I know that the day we choose is rarely ever “today. It’s hard to get ready that quick.
- Taper off for a while, I suggest one month, and then go cold turkey. By tapering off first, your body gets ready to let it go. Tapering off is difficult though because it requires discipline and as an addict, you obviously have none.So bring in a trusted friend (an accountability partner/sponsor) to help you with dosages; it will be too easy to slip back if you do it on your own.
- When it’s cold turkey time, you will most likely feel withdrawal symptoms. It ranges from a slightly uncomfortable feeling to a terrible sickness that makes you lethargic, nauseous and unable to get much done. You will most likely also have trouble sleeping.Depending on what symptoms you exhibit, you can tackle that one issue and push through the tough days. E.g., if you have diarrhea, take prescribed anti-diarrhea meds to stop it. If you can’t sleep, take prescribed non-addictive sleeping meds before bedtime. For headaches, take panadol, etc.It is important that you separate the pain or discomfort that you feel. It makes it easier to control – you can’t manage what you can’t measure, right?Also, keep your accountability partner informed of your daily feelings and progress. This is important so that if you have to go to the hospital and are too weak, he/she can explain your situation clearly and quickly to the doctor.
- Take time off work if you can. I strongly advise this. Days after codeine are scarcely productive so you really won’t be doing anyone much good by showing up, especially if you work in a creative, administrative or managerial role.If your job is more of the repetitive type, however, it may be a better choice to work [if you can handle it]. It will keep you mindlessly busy, and you need that.If you’ve taken time off work, keep your sponsor close. You’ll need someone to talk to, cry on, and distract you. Spending time alone will leave with your thoughts and all you’ll think about is how much your life sucks and if/when this phase will ever end.
- Create barriers to codeine in your life – delete the phone number of your pharmacist assuming you had one, let your friends know you’re done, and eliminate all triggers and temptations proactively – if there’s a free-giving pharmacy on a certain street you always pass by, try another route till you get stronger.
- Start the hunt for a new passion, something to fill your life. You may not find one immediately, and nothing will feel as good at first but when you do find one and start to find meaning in life again, it will boost your self-esteem, give you more creative ideas, and you’ll slowly begin to feel like a lighter person.
- Take up running or any other physical activity. It really does help by giving you more energy.
- And most important of all: If you slip, get back on track immediately. You may get a bottle once and again but don’t let it derail all the progress you’ve made.
I wrote this post to help codeine addicts who are struggling right now, especially in Nigeria.
These tips and steps help. The government may not care about you – but I do. Want to talk to someone who’s been through what you’re experiencing? Send me a Twitter DM.
If you’re still on codeine and have not decided to quit yet; as long as you’re functioning member of society, I wish you the best! The time may come when you will be ready; when it does, I hope this post comes in handy.
Photo Credit: © Aaron Amat | Dreamstime.com