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My Journey With Mom & Self Care

Chef Susan Teton Campbell

Self Care

My heart is busting with grief today as I read about another shooting, and another person crazed out on pharmaceutical drugs. A Father is crying out about guns while most people don’t realize there might be a gun in a pill. Now, I am not saying the prescribed pills made him go crazy, but it is worth noting that every person who has committed a massive act of violence in the past 15 years was on, or had been on psychoactive drugs.  Most of them were young. But, psychoactive drugs are just a drop in the flood of physical, mental and emotional alterations from other meds such as addictive painkillers and opiates.

I am especially drawn to the effects of these opiates and painkillers after my last visit to Mom’s. Again I spent 4 weeks in her tiny house, absorbing the crazy world of their long term effects, not only the health of her body, but their effect on her inspiration, motivation and the human drive to express and create.

My Mom has become my teacher. She has shown me how I do not want to live, and even more importantly how I want to live out my remaining years. I write this for you, because I can see from my experience with her where we are headed. I see that we must become aware and impeccable with our choices today because it is what we do today that builds our body and life of tomorrow.

Mom has been taking 4 Vicodin a day for 15 years. She has been taking sleeping pills as well, plus many more other medications as prescribed for various reasons. The cycle began with Vicodin s for the pain in her colon from Crohn’s disease. Instead of addressing and healing the underlying condition of the intestinal wall, it was covered up with opiats. Perhaps the Vicodan would have been good short term to get her through a period of time of discomfort and to facilitate her healing, but it was the only remedy ever considered. 

What this practice did over time was diminish her inspiration and motivation for her to take any other action toward healing her fragile intestinal system. She was never even presented with an option for healing. Her diet of Vicodin consequently resulted in her loss of appetite, which then led to malnourishment. The loss of motivation further led her to a diet of Insure – a can that was easy to open. The Insure, along with the Vicodin enhanced her addiction and led to severe constipation. Severe constipation led to laxatives, diapers, pain and discomfort. With inspiration and motivation gone all that was attractive was a life glued to her bed and TV.

This is a brief picture of how each symptom builds upon another until the quality of life is so altered that all that is left is existence without an appetite for other more fulfilling options that life can offer.

The addiction to the drugs/meds, led to the addiction of a lifestyle that consisted of very little travel, no meaningful work, loneliness, premature dependency, disorganization, fear, shame, embarrassment, Dementia, and the saddest part are the faded dreams unrealized.

In hindsight I did not totally comprehend what her lifestyle of addiction really meant until I visited her again this past April.  When I first arrived my Mother slept for 3 days. I sensed she was drugged and investigated eight of the meds she was taking.

One of them was for her dementia. The side effects were drowsiness. I decided to wean her off of it, lessening the dosage each day. She began to wake up and participate with more life in the following days. I made an appointment with the doctor to go over all the medications. We had to wait a week.

Then the chaos started. Two 911 calls were made due to the severe pain in her rectum. On the first visit they gave her an enema but nothing came out, if you know what I mean. During the next two days the confusion was insane. She would take laxatives again without telling anyone, and then forget that she took them. She would go to the toilet all night long, just releasing dribbles. Then she would sleep during the day. This meant no sleep for me since I was up with her during the night. The diarrhea resulted in a loss of electrolytes making her severely weak. In an effort to help her I tried everything I could think of to provide her relief. I failed. Upon further investigation we thought she might have a growth of some kind. Another 911 call. This time I wait and talk with doctors in the ER.  I tell them all the meds she is on and ask that they do an ultra sound to check for a potential block or growth. The doctor was amazing. He told me they would give her three enemas and then if nothing, he would manually excavate the colon. I looked at him in amazement. Are you serious? I am sure you can imagine the visual I conjured up in my mind.

She was cranky and I don’t blame her. The nurses were amazing, kind and compassionate. I decided to leave and let them handle her, as they were much better at it than I. It was 9:30 PM and I was hungry and tired. I left her to their care and proceeded home. The doctor called me at 1:30 AM saying she was released and I could come and get her. Oh darn, I was hoping they would keep her for the night – or longer. I was so tired and needed a space.

When I arrived at the hospital to pick her up the doctor told me he manually removed a few large (fist full size) balls of hard black fecal matter from her colon. I just stood there and stared at him again, getting a visual of what he went to medical school for. He told me he sees this all the time. Ouch.

As they wheeled Mom out she complained the entire way to the car saying, “I am never going back to this hospital again, they did not do a thing. They would not give me a blanket or anything, and I was freezing.” OMG, she had already forgotten the entire experience. Well, at least there are some advantages to Dementia.

The next few days she was able to absorb the benefits of fresh orange juice, steamed veggies, and a fried egg and toast. She blossomed. It was incredible to watch her bloom like a dry flower being watered.

This lasted a couple days until her addiction to Insure kicked in and she went to the store and bought several cases. Then the cans began to open and she refused the food I made because she was just “not hungry”.  The vicious cycle began to start again.

A couple days later the real sign of addiction reared its ugly head again when she misplaced her brand new prescription of Vicodin. We could not find them anywhere and she could not remember where she put them. I would explain to her over and over again that she misplaced them, but she did not remember. She thought I hid them from her. I tried to get more but the pharmacy and doctor would not give out another prescription because it is now a controlled substance. I thought that was an interesting word, “controlled”, because that is exactly what these drugs did to her. She was totally and completely controlled by them.

 She began to go through withdrawals and the confusion and chaos that ensued was more than I could ever explain here or more than you would ever want to know. Let’s just say that the bottom line of where this vicious cycle leaves you is complete dependency on the pharmacy and others for care.   

What I came away with was a deeper understanding of what this addiction to opiates caused her life. I had been witnessing her decline for over 15 years. When my Mom would say she was too lazy to make her own food, I remember that I judged her for her laziness. When she would cry and say she wanted to get the children’s songs, that she wrote when we were youngsters, published, I would give her instructions of how she could proceed, but she never did. When she longed to have friends over or go places and sing, she would end up giving into her bed. When I tried to teach her how to use her remote control to access the TV guide, she could not even entertain the concept of learning something new. I never understood it totally and I judged her for being so lazy, and not having any will to at least try.

After this last trip I realized that her will had been robbed from her through medications that dimmed her light, and stole her inspiration and motivation. I saw how the cycle had caused a system of living that now depended on the medications and then more medications to deal with the long-term side effects. 

I wondered, “Could she have chosen differently with the beliefs and mindset that she grew up with?”  I am not so sure. She believed that the doctor knew best, and that medicine cured. She felt that any other type of healing modality; an herb, diet or anything that resembled a healthy alternative approach meant that is was not “real”. She needed, wanted something stronger. I am not criticizing her choices, although I sure used to. I am not even saying she should have done things differently. What I am saying to myself, and to you, is that our elders are our teachers now. They are showing us the quality of life inspired by the path they chose. Now, as we become the elders, we might be able to choose from knowledge and wisdom rather than ignorance.

What do you want? Are you on medications now that may have long term effects? Is there something else you can do to heal or alleviate your symptoms? My Mothers doctor was not nearly as shocked as I was at his new duties of cleaning out colons. He confessed to me that he sees this all the time. It is becoming the new norm with the elderly. 

Although I am sure we are all doing what we can for self-care, perhaps we must become more wise and prudent of our practices today.  Bad habits are a form of addiction that form a lifestyle that can become a rut. Before we know it, years will have passed by, and all of a sudden it might be too late.

As I reflect on my own life and self-care I realize that I have created some very good, and some very un-healthy habits. I am seeing areas of my daily practices; mentally, physically and emotionally that could use a boost.  I am pondering my deepest needs and learning not to act out of habitual patterns but instead form new self care practices so that the light of my motivation and inspiration can still burn bright.

In many of my late night phone calls with my Mom, I sometimes hear that a flicker of inspiration still lives in her to actualize her dreams, but her lack of motivation pushes them into oblivion where they lay dead. Yes, she is 90, and I get that faded dreams are inevitable, but I find it sad that someone might feel, at the end of 90, that they have failed rather than lived. 

This is a difficult story to tell because there are so many underlying viewpoints and energies floating in the existence of life. My motivation in sharing this story is to bring up the act of “self care” and look closely to what it means without the veil of illusion. I hope to dive deep with you and others as to what “self care” really means and how we can rally to the challenge to care for ourselves with love, respect and wise choices so that we can live out our dreams, be a model for those that follow, and feel complete at the end of our journey.