In the weeks following the death of Prince, the reports of his pain reliever use began to filter in.
A segment of the population chalked his death up to "addict," dismissed him as not worth mourning, and moved on.
Another segment of the population said it is impossible--he was not a drug user.
Yet another segment of the population felt it was possible this is what may have happened, but that the cause of his death was unimportant to the real tragedy of it. His use of pain killers did not diminish him or his legacy in any way.
I fell into the third camp.
I read the story of how they were seeking help for him but it was too late--how the man who came to help him kick painkillers was in fact the one who ended up calling 911 after finding his body--and I found it to be one of the more profoundly sad stories I had ever read...but far from unique. People are dying. Not just celebrities.
I have a Neuro/Spinal condition that causes pain. Literally the only complete relief I have *ever* had from the physical pain caused by my condition is...Vicodin. No over the counter thing can touch it. The best I can expect from an OTC med on a pain day is to have just enough of an edge taken off to be able to sleep.
I *love* Vicodin. I don't care who hears me say that I love it. If you have a thing, one thing, that makes the droning bullshit of constant bodily pain disappear, even just for a little while, that thing is coveted. No sense trying to deny it. Having my ears stop ringing for just an hour makes me want to drop to my knees and thank a god I don't actually believe in, so you know that love is real. Any part of "hey, my head doesn't hurt!" is cause for celebration.
I do not take Vicodin. I haven't had any in years.
I'm "lucky" with my pain in that I can function. I'm not bed ridden. I can work.
Also? I'm a woman, and I'm here to tell you that old joke is true--most of us women will be cleaning our houses when the ambulance arrives to take us after the heart attack or stroke we just had, because even if we're fucking dying we don't want people to think badly of us.
Yes, not wanting to be any trouble is a sickness unto itself.
Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to fully-legal non-prescription marijuana--it doesn't do the same thing as Vicodin but sometimes you just need to tell the pain to go fuck itself and that means mildly clocking out for a couple hours. If you can do it in a way that causes no harm, that's the ticket. Alcohol is lovely, and all, but with my particular condition, dehydration is a real hazard, so best to stick with the plant.
Obviously, I have *feelings* about pain and pain relief. These feelings are complicated, just like pain is complicated. What is a 9 for one person on a pain scale is a 4 for someone else.
I am what some people would call "strong," which means I tolerate a fair bit of physical pain in an effort to not jump down the rabbit hole of relief that could potentially change my life for the worse (I feel GREAT but I can't keep a job! Yay!), or end it. I'm at about a 4 for pain most days, and on "pain days" it creeps up to a 7-8. Some people wouldn't tolerate the 4, but I do.
And...I am resentful of the fact that I have to be so fucking "strong". I am resentful of the fact that as a woman there is less chance for my pain to be taken seriously as I describe it to a physician. I am resentful of the fact that I have the pain in the first place.
With all of this resentment, I still don't act out, really. I'm still dutiful about my food and my exercise and my posture and all the other things. Most pain sufferers take it on. We take responsibility. And then we do shit like chug Nyquil straight from the bottle because OH MY GOD SLEEP WOULD BE SUCH A MERCY RIGHT NOW after pain randomly reappears, even though we did everything "right".
Let us not forget the myriad of "experts" (read: your friends and family, or random internet advice givers...) telling you your pain is because you're working on the computer too much or just because you ate gluten or just because you're not doing the right kind of exercise, or are you sure you don't just need new glasses?
Even worse, in my opinion, anyway, are the ones giving you maybe a bit too much sympathy, as if you shouldn't have any responsibility at all. You get the feeling those people are the ones who, well, become addicted to painkillers, or at least help someone else become addicted.
So...getting back to Prince...
If you have the means, things are available to you with little effort on your part, including both the poison and the cure.
Pain? We have a thing for that. That's easy.
Addiction? There's a thing for that, too. No waiting, sir, just say the word.
For everyone else...
Pain? You get judgment.
Addiction? You get judgment. And a long queue for treatment.
Somewhere in between all that is the celebrity with a drug problem. They have the means, so to speak, and they also have lot of hangers-on who are sympathetic to their issue.
These are the same overly sympathetic folks that made me shudder a few paragraphs ago. If I have 2, Prince had at least 20, on a slow day.
Lots of people offering their "help."
Pain? That's easy.
But addiction...? Celebrities go straight to Judgment, with no long wait for treatment, and if they get it together, they're heroes at some point, because of all they went through.
If Prince were a random millionaire he could have anonymously checked in someplace a long time ago. Due to the misfortune of fame, he had to think about it and formulate a plan, and a PR strategy, etc., and, ultimately he thought about it for too long.
This is a simplification, of course.
Because it's complicated.
I will never know how he felt about pain or pain relief, even if he kept a detailed diary of it, because if my 4 was his 9, it would be impossible for me to understand how this happened.
This is true for all people. I know someone who died. I have someone in my life right now who is addicted to pain killers, and they have people who are sympathetic enough to give them drugs. I don't understand it, even though I suffer from chronic pain.
And...I don't understand it BECAUSE I suffer from chronic pain. I'm "strong" enough to function outside of the bliss of opioids, even though they're the only thing that works. What's your problem? Come join the resentful people who suffer! We're the opposite of fun, and are ultimately just jealous that you seem to be getting all the good drugs, but join us anyway!
One can only hope that some things change now that we have lost a much beloved person, who, it turns out, had an addiction. Things like, "Legalize marijuana already, jeezuz..." and, "Can we FINALLY make it easy for people who are not anonymous millionaires who need treatment or want treatment to GET treatment?" (at least that part is getting started...)
Perhaps it will take the death of a US Senator's son or daughter to drag through any legislation with teeth--usually that's the way it goes. We didn't legalize same-sex marriage until everyone all of a sudden noticed they had a gay friend.
Just know that, even if you don't think you have a friend with a problem, you likely do. If you don't have a friend with a problem, your friends do, and it might be you.
How strong are you?