Turns Out I was a Drug Addict…. What I did about it and the unexpected results

Clawing my way out!

My first step on my journey to “getting my groove back” was supposed to be conquering insomnia and getting a good night’s sleep.  But…  I stumbled upon a somewhat bigger concern right out of the gate.

You’re doing WHAT?  Are you KIDDING ME??

Too exhausted to even walk on the treadmill, the subsequent conversation with my trainer started the way it always did… “Why aren’t you sleeping?” “How’s your caffeine intake?”  “What about stress?” “Are you managing technology?” …  And then the big one…   “What are you taking?”

Karen's nightly drug routine
Karen’s nightly drug routine

I thought he was going to have a stroke as I recounted my nightly medication regimen. Yes, of course I knew that Advil Cold and Sinus tablets and Afrin are stimulants.  But, given a choice from staying awake from the stimulants or staying awake because I couldn’t breathe, I chose the stimulants.  Yes, yes, sure my doctor knew.. In fact, throw in a doctor-recommended double dose of Zyrtec and an occasional Benadryl for good measure as well – this in spite of the fact that the allergist declared my sinus issues non-allergy related.  And then came the question that knocked me over, “How long have you been doing this?”

No one had ever asked me that before ….

As long as I can remember; that’s the answer. As long as I can remember, and I’d not ever let myself think about it until that moment.  I’d been taking Advil Cold and Sinus, often multiple times a day, for over 35 years.

And, that behavior brought with it some pretty serious consequences.

“Insomnia and other sleep issues, headaches, constipation, dehydration, hormone imbalances, mood disorders, stiffness… possible major organ damage…”  Those are just some of the side-effects of taking the medications I was on for a prolonged period of time, and they pretty much summarize the major issues I’d been battling for years.  I think that somehow the fact that a medication is sold “over the counter” gives us a false sense of security that it is safe and a license to misuse it.

It was time to make a change

I quit cold turkey.  The first week off the medication was hell; thank goodness I was on vacation at the time.  My sinuses swelled shut, my head was pounding, I was only able to sleep about 3 – 4 very restless hours a night.  I developed a mantra that I would repeat to myself over and over as I lay in bed awake and miserable, “My body knows how to fix this; my body will fix this.”

By the second week of being drug free my headache was completely gone, and I was able to sleep longer, but still restless.  I went through 2 days of intense itching and period of time each afternoon when my head felt foggy and my throat would hurt a little.  This was my cue in the past to take a pill; it would clear me right up.  But, I wouldn’t let myself do that, and I just paced until the foggy feeling went away.

Unexpected Outcomes

I’ve been off the medications for over a month now and some of the results I’ve experienced have been quite surprising to me and very positive.  Almost immediately my chronic constipation cleared up and my sinuses have improved. One of the biggest gains is that my depression lifted; most of the time now I feel optimistic and well, … happy!

Hiking in Moab
Hiking in Moab

The biggest surprise though has been a quite notable improvement in my athletic performance.  My endurance and strength have both improved significantly; I’m running up the hills I always used to walk, and I’m enjoying getting out there again!

Unfortunately, I’m still struggling with some sleep issues. It could be that I just need to give it some more time.  The next steps I’ll share include participation in a sleep study, experimentation with meditation and a look at some holistic remedies.

Karen Adler is…

An educator by trade, runner, hiker and adventure-seeking fitness enthusiast by passion. She explores what it means to be fit after fifty along with the multiple joys and trials that come with age. She is truly an Athlete On Fire!