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On the path to the “Dead Zone”

A teenager living with chronic pain overcomes a longtime addiction to prescription painkillers and finds her way back to life

My name is Suzanne.

I was born and raised in Toronto.  At birth I weighed 3 pounds 4 ounces. I was also born with several medical conditions.  My mother wanted to call me Michelle – but the nurses kept singing “Wake Up Little Suzie” to me – so my name is Suzanne Michelle.  By the time I was about 15, doctors were starting to prescribe Tylenol #3 for my pain. This soon progressed to Tylenol #4 and Percocet.

As I got older, things got worse. I was in two car accidents and discovered I had several chronic pain issues – including lower herniated discs, Osteoarthritis, Rheumatism, mild Scoliosis, Fibromyalgia, and Reynaud’s Syndrome. (My ex husband used to say if I was a horse – he would shoot me!)

After many years of chronic pain and multiple diagnoses, I was eventually put on Fentynol patches along with Oxycontin. The Fentynol patch is about as close to an intravenous drug as you can get – without the needle.

Looking back now – I can see just how good I felt in the beginning.  Pain free!

The medicine even gave me a warm, peaceful kind of “hug” – I felt happy. I did more.

It became not only pain medication, but a personality pill as well.

Little did I know I was already on the path to “The Dead Zone”. 

The medications worked for a while, and before I knew it, I needed those medications just to feel like I did before I ever took anything to begin with.

If I cut back – or tried to stop – I got sick. Physically sick.  It was like having the worst flu you could imagine. And the pain was worse than when I started.

Yet being physically sick was actually the least of my problems.  All though I felt good at the beginning, the medication started to play tricks on me. It told me I needed it. I couldn’t do without. It made me feel excruciating pain when I tried to stop; and it was stealing from me the whole time.

Once in recovery – I became aware of what the medication took from me.   It stole my smiles. It stole my laughter, confiscated my self esteem, my courage to live; It robbed me of living life, of experiencing good and bad.

Medication stole my ability to feel empathy and compassion, even for myself. It robbed me of my dignity, my spontaneity.   Worst of all, it silently came to me like a thief in the night and stole my spirit.

 Well, 35 years of all of this was taking its toll. I could feel myself dying, my body, my mind and my soul.

My family had tried for years to get me off the opiates.  Every time I tried – I hurt too much.  My father wrote a threatening letter to my doctor.  My mum wouldn’t talk to me – she couldn’t – it hurt her, I was that sick. They loved me so much they couldn’t take it.  They started to cut ties with me.

Only then did I really take a good look at my life. I didn’t know if I could live without the medication – But I most certainly wouldn’t live long with it.  Could I handle the pain?

I called the Distress Line near me and told them I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. Two people came within 30 minutes to meet with me.  I chose to connect immediately with Narcotics Anonymous, which I still attend regularly.

When I decided to go and get treatment at the CAMH,  I was asked if I would like to see the “Wellness Worker”.  I was willing to take any help I could get – and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

My worker was from Catholic Family Services.  The counsellors helped save my life.  They helped me – in no uncertain terms – GET a life.  They  seemed to have faith in me and my chances for recovery.  They helped me regain my self -esteem by pointing out all my accomplishments.  They told me about other programs offered through CFS – such as Women’s Wellness and Trauma Groups and the “Connections” Program for men and women – all offered – through CFSPD.  These programs were pivotal in my recovery.

Thank you.

Suzanne has been drug and painkiller-free for several years. She now volunteers for the Catholic Family Services of Peel Dufferin and Sharelife Programs.

For more information, please contact us at and we will forward any requests to Suzanne.

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