I am often asked, “Why did you not sleep for 44 days and how did you deal with that?” This requires a two-part answer and a great deal of elaboration. The “why” of it is not so much a mystery as it was a complete f’ing nightmare. I will illustrate the contributing factors, for one, I was addicted to opioid painkillers for about 17 years, many years addicted to the synthetic opioids Oxycontin and Fentanyl. Prior to checking into rehab on 2/16/07 I also snorted a truckload of cocaine, for a little over a hundred days straight all while taking the painkillers.
People who are opioid addicted and get sober have a hell of a time sleeping, it’s the other way around for the meth addicts. The opioid folks have been in a sedated haze, falling asleep at the drop of a hat where the meth addict is awake, often for days on end. I once had an intervention client who was addicted to meth for almost ten years, I asked her, “what’s the longest you stayed up on the drug?” And she told me 21 or 22 days…completely mind blowing and there’s nothing to gain by lying about it, no awards given for longest days awake on meth, just like there’s no trophies for fools like me who didn’t sleep for the first 44 days of his sobriety.
Back to my personal nightmare, it wasn’t like I was walking around the house and gardening at night or going to 24-hour fitness when I was going through my detox and staying in rehab. I would lay in bed, close my eyes, but could not get into any sleep patterns. My head was so loud, almost like my brain was plugged into the Las Vegas strip with lights flashing, “YOU ARE SO FUCKED!!!”. I can laugh about it now, but I didn’t find it funny nor did the doctor who treated me. He actually gave me 800 mg of Seroquel which is an anti-psychotic and often given to people in treatment to help sleep. The normal dose is 80 mg, so I would slobber all over myself thinking that stuff just might do the trick…it didn’t work.
I would write in my little rehab journal (which I still have by the way) which desperately describes my state of mind and the utter craving for a sleep, any sleep, even an hour or two would be a great start. After about 11 days of not sleeping and twitching on the floor, I just resorted to writing the “F” word down over and over, for days on end. It was sort of comical while in processing groups with the other patients where we would be asked about our “feelings.” This was absurd! “Good morning, Todd, are you Happy, Sad, Mad, or Glad right now?”
Everyone knew I wasn’t sleeping and felt sorry for me, but I was just full of rage and disdain for the mess I had created. “Well Chuck, let me see, I am not happy, sad, mad, or glad, in fact I am not even close to any of those. What I am is homicidal and really want to punch you in the throat right about now.” Something like that was said and I need to stress it wasn’t verbalized in a complete sentence because I couldn’t string any sentences together!
My inability to sleep was a direct consequence of the years of drug addiction, now commonly referred to as substance use disorder. I like to roll with the old school reference, I am an alcoholic and a drug addict, end of story. I am not concerned about any stigma attached to the disease I have, and I certainly could care less if others want to judge me because of it. I have been through way too much misery and suffering to get caught up in opinions, at the end of the day all I care about is carrying a message of hope to others who still suffer.
Let’s get back to the sleep dilemma. So, after 44 days of no true sleep I actually slept for 3-4 hours on April 1 st . It’s not exactly a badge of coolness to share that I didn’t sleep for the entire month of March in 2007. Good sleep patterns began to manifest from that day forward and at about 10 months of sobriety I was consistently sleeping for 7-8 hours a night, it was a beautiful thing.
It’s also important for me to share that while I wasn’t sleeping, I would go to three 12 step recovery meetings a day. I had left rehab after 23 days; it was a 30-day program and because the last week was “family week” I bailed because there wasn’t a lot of family around. In hindsight, working as a professional in the treatment field I should have been in a long-term care facility for 6-9 months. But I was determined to not die from the drugs, and I was welcomed with open arms at the recovery meetings, that was a big deal for me because I was so scared and sick.
When I do my follow up work with intervention clients, I often will get a call saying they aren’t sleeping well, or they haven’t slept for 5 or 6 days. This is a topic I never get tired of discussing with the newly recovering person as I have my own experience to share with them and more often than not, I can talk them off the ledge and convince them to not leave treatment. Whoever thought my lack of sleep would one day be an asset to help others? I sure as hell never thought so.
Recovery is a miracle for all of us, we are all here to encourage and love one another as we have the common goal of not returning to drugs and alcohol. If you have a family member or friend suffering from the disease, feel free to message me if you need a referral to a good facility for help and if you’re in need of an intervention we can address that. I am often traveling for interventions so if I can’t help, I will certainly refer you to another interventionist who can walk you through the process.