Bottles & Bodies


I’m getting overly defensive about the coverage I am seeing surrounding the death of Whitney Houston.

“Various prescription bottles were found in her room…”

“The singer was found, along with many prescription drugs…”

“Houston was seen sipping champagne and it has been rumored the singer was taking Xanax, a powerful prescription drug…”

This could be me. While we do not know how Whitney Houston died, it hasn’t stopped the news stations and talk show hosts from speculating she was taking a combination of drugs given to her by a doctor, and possibly alcohol.

Now, I haven’t had more than a few sips of alcohol since my doctors put me on these extremely strong medication, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking about what could have been…or what could be. I realize I am not a cocaine addict, or that I have a drinking problem. And I know Ms. Houston has battled her addiction demons for a very long time.

Perhaps this is all hitting to close to home because I KNOW I can not just quit many of the drugs doctors want me to take. There would be withdrawal symptoms. There would be issues. Quitting cold turkey is not an option. I need these drugs to function. To be able to lift my arm and shampoo my hair, and more importantly I needed these drugs to LIVE.

Let me rephrase that…some of the drugs I need to live, some of the drugs I need to live without pain. But I have no intention of living in pain for the rest of my life. None.

I made a conscious decision long ago that if I had to live with this disease, at the very least I was going to be comfortable doing it. I was not going to suffer and be in pain while my body battled. That means I must take narcotics. Heavy narcotics.

I started off with the usual vicodin, norco, etc. and when those didn’t work well I graduated to the percocets and what not. Then came the xanax to help me fend off the sweats and anger and steroid anxiety and grrrrrr issues that came with high doses of prednisone. And then my doctor suggested I speak with my pain management doctor about methadone.

Yes, I take methadone, and diladid, and percoset and xanax – along with methotrexate and fiorcet and imitrex and plaqunil and plavix and benazepril and lyrica well…the list goes on and on. Granted usually it’s just methadone and xanax and lyrica…But with inflammation up and a colonoscopy this week my doctor added the diliadid to help me through. It’s true, I need so much medication to make me comfortable I get breakthrough pain that needs the big guns they give you in the hospital. Elephant tranquilizers. I’m not kidding.

This means I either can not drive or I have to plan when I take my pills so I can drive and then pop them when I get home (or in the car five minutes from home).

There is no doubt my body is dependent on these drugs in order to not feel pain. But there is also no doubt that when I have gone without them, or when this all started and I had lesser drugs, I was in so much pain I could barely move. Some mornings it is still hard to get out of bed, because I have gone too long without pills. I actually slept all night, and my pain level is so high just rolling over hurts so much I have to rev myself up just to move and get downstairs to take my meds. There was a time I kept them, along with a glass of water, by my bedside. This means when I woke up at 330am with pain, I could just sit up to take the pills and then have an easier time getting up at 7am.

But mind you, even if i get up in time to take my meds it doesn’t end there. I have to sit and wait for my meds to kick in. Usually this means about an hour of reading email with some green tea and looking at the clock, waiting…waiting. There is no rush of relief. There is no sudden ‘aaaaaaaaaaaah’… no. It doesn’t work that way. It’s just every few minutes I can move a bit more. Every few minutes I can breathe a bit deeper, until finally I can get myself off the couch and make lunches and snacks and pack backpacks and make breakfast.

So when I hear that Whitney Houston had a doctor give her what I take, and it might have played a role in her death…yes…yes… my ears perk up and I worry.

She left a child. She left people who love her. She allegedly was found in the bathtub (a place I am told to often go because being weightless in water takes away so much of my pain).

As a disclosure for those who are concerned -when you get to a pain level such as mine, you get yourself a handy dandy ‘Pain Management’ doctor. Mine drug tests me every two weeks to make sure I’m not taking too much, or anything else he has not written the prescription for…he also is the only one who will handle my pain management drugs. He and my Lupus doctor not only talk on the phone but the offices send my lab results back and forth. In other words, my Lupus doctor tells my pain doctor ‘yes, her labs are showing increased inflammation this week’ and when I walk in and say ‘boy I feel like I need more I’m really hurting this week’ the pain doctor knows I am not lying, he has the labs to prove it, and my meds are adjusted accordingly.

But what happens that day where it hurts so bad I take extra, and then happen to take a bath? Will there be talk about how addicted my body was to these pain killers? That the cops found medication all around the house…because they sure would with me. Then again, I don’t have a history of drug abuse so maybe not. All I know is I keep hearing it on the news and it keeps feeling like a kick in my stomach.

The abuse of prescription drugs is skyrocketing in our country. People think because their doctor gave it to them…it must be ok, right? Wrong. There is so much more to it. So, so much more. Just because you needed it for knee-surgery for 5 months ago, and it made you feel good, does not mean you still need it now and I encourage you to seek help.

When the time comes, and my Lupus is finally under control, I will have my doctor help me wean down from all the drugs I am on. Although both doctors shake their heads and are helping me get used to the idea this just might be my life for a long time, I can at least hope I will one day be drug free.

So yes, I worry. I worry that people will see the amount of pills I carry around in my purse and wonder if I’m some sort of doctor-shopping addict, or if I have a legitimate disease that requires all those heavy drugs. I worry that when we start hearing stories of celebrities on ‘prescription drugs’ if it’s some reputable doctor is taking away their pain or over-reaching and doing what they are told because this is a celebrity asking, after all.

I worry my kids will think nothing of taking prescription drugs. They see me do it every single day, multiple times per day. They watch my take my chemo shots when they are feeling up to it, and they watch me count out and take a palm-full of drugs at the dinner table every night.

Of course we have talked to them about the dangerous of drugs- even the ones the doctor gives Mommy. They can see what these drugs have done to me physically and hopefully learn this is no way to live.

Yes, I’ve tried physical therapy and accupncture. We make sure the meds are not in reach of the kids and they all have child-proof tops.And yet here I am, a responsible and in need patient, trapped in an endless cycle of needing the drugs and hurting so very much without the drugs.

Finally, I have to ask you show some compassion for Whitney Houston.  It’s possible she was battling her drug addiction and it’s possible she took too many of the strong drugs you shouldn’t take too many of- a fear I have daily.

…and the next time you hear ‘…found with bottles of prescription drugs by her side…’ you think of those of us who have those bottles on our dressers and hope that when the time comes, we aren’t remembered for what was in those medications, but what was in our heart.



  1. I’ve spent most of my life with lupus and all of it battling a chronic immune disorder (not to mention thyroid cancer at 20). I’m 25 now and these drugs still horrify and scare me, because i have lived with someone facing alcohol addiction and I am scared to go down that road.

    Recently I was in the hospital and I basked in the cool relief of morphine. Why do I let myself writhe in pain every night and ache every day? So I can prove I’m stronger than the disease?

    I’m letting down those walls. I’m taking baby steps to ensure I live a full life, even if it means with help.

    Thanks for posting this. Not everyone ‘gets’ it. x

  2. I took my pill bottles out of my purse when I visited my son’s school today. All I need is for a teacher to see my purse full of pain and anxiety meds and draw the wrong conclusion. I’m so sorry that you have to live on so many medications. I know that you’re doing the best you can to keep going, for yourself and your family. And it requires medications to get you through each day. Lupus sucks.

  3. I wish you didn’t have the pain that calls for so many meds, but I’m glad you have them available to help you get through each day. Sounds like you have a great team of doctors who really do their work to make sure you’re getting what you need from all angles.

    As for Whitney…it’s sad. But hearing all of the prescription meds she was on, I couldn’t help but think of Heath Ledger. (Who I still miss.) His death was completely accidental – he had been seeing different doctors when he was between his NYC home and filming, and was being treated for insomnia and anxiety with several (legal) medications. Different doctors, different meds, no communication…I doubt he realized he was taking a lethal combination – he just wanted to sleep.

    Despite her drug abuse history, it’s entirely possible that her death was a complete accident – the wrong mix at the wrong time, and perhaps a lack of knowledge about the power of the drugs she was taking. I’m not willing to automatically believe it was an intentional abuse just because of her history.

    I only take one medication, but it’s one that has a high abuse potential and occasionally gets me lectured (even by strangers) when I mention that I take it. But it’s the only thing that helps me get through my day and get anything accomplished, so in my mind I treat it with respect and am grateful it’s available to me.

    I’m grateful you have the medications you need to help ease your pain, too.

  4. I spent a period of time in my teens on very powerful medication, so I understand the feelings that go along with that. It is scary.

    “..hope that when the time comes, we aren’t remembered for what was in those medications, but what was in our heart.” THIS! Yes. This is what I would hope for all of us.

  5. There are always two sides to a story. One of them is you, who desperately needs a large quantity of prescription drugs to live. The other side is people like a family member of mine who managed to get a large quantity of prescription drugs without medical cause. I remember growing up watching this family member line up their drugs on the table before every single meal popping one after the other.
    It took me until I was 30 and facing a chronic illness that I had to take medication for before I could find the courage to swallow a tablet. I did not want to turn out like my family member and I still don’t despite having my own cocktail of drugs that I have to take daily to remain healthy. I hate swallowing every single one of those tablets because it takes me back to my childhood.
    Who knows which side of the story Houston was on. I hope for her and her family’s sake she was on your side and not my family member’s.

  6. I didn’t pay attention to the news until you started talking about it. While it’s a tragedy that she died, I didn’t think it was my business what happened. But now that I see the implications, I’m starting to worry too.
    I don’t have prescription painkillers. If left to my own devices, I’d go through acetaminophen and ibuprofen like it’s candy. But doing that just might have been what took someone I love. So I stand here and try to fight on normal doses of OTC that aren’t enough. And I worry if/when I find a doctor who tries to make me ‘more comfortable’ that I’ll be judged by people who don’t know the story and/or have a bad reaction. (We think a lot of my pain is from a one in a million bad reaction to one of my meds.)

    I look at that photo of your pills and I tear up. That isn’t what I think of when I think of you and I’d hate to hear that’s all people see. Yes, they keep you fighting but that’s because YOU are the fighter. I’m glad to know you teach your kids pill safety but I’m not surprised. They may be the only ones who grow up knowing that medicine isn’t a quick fix but it can save you if you use it right.

    I don’t really know where I’m going with this anymore. But thank you for making me think.

  7. Arwen8Aragorn says:

    I honestly believe it will be shown that she had a heart attack probably brought on by her years of drug abuse. She was on the phone with two different members of her family within a half hour of her death, if she’d been extra drugged sounding, they’d have noticed. (At least, I notice when my grandmother has dipped too far into alcohol and her pain meds and I’m on the phone with her.)

    I agree that they shouldn’t be demonizing her actions. Even if it does turn out to be drugs, she should be looked at compassionately. She made mistakes, everyone does. The higher you climb, the easier it is to fall.

    As for you, Erin, you don’t go to drug brokers. You don’t have multiple names and false identities on your prescription bottles. Anna Nicole had something like 10 different names she was getting narcotics under. Many of the celebrities who have died of drug abuse were in similar circumstances and very few have admitted having such a debilitating disease like Lupus. One I can think of started taking Vicodin because of a dentist visit. You have one doctor that works with your other doctors and manages your pain. Would a tabloid blatter eat the number of bottles around your house up? Sure, but in the long run, it’s the doctors that matter and they know what they’re doing. You aren’t paying them to beat the system and get you drugs you don’t need. You even talk of the hope of weaning down. Most of the drug abusers couldn’t even admit they took any drugs at all. I have confidence in you.

  8. You are using prescription medication to battle a life-altering, life-threatening chronic illness. The people who know you and love you understand this and the only worries they may have are the same concerns you, your family, and your doctors experience. You are not an addict in the strongest, most negative sense of the word. Your body may be addicted to opiates for pain but you named that right off – you would experience withdrawal and would need to be weaned off these powerful medications.

    My father was hospitalized several times as a direct result of his addictions. I found 11 prescription bottles in a metal box under the bed in his apartment, plus several more in the bathroom. His wife, my stepmother, could explain away all of them, but she was out of town and I needed to give the emergency room doctors something to work with.

    With complete lab results staring me in the face and a doctor explaining to me what all the gibberish on the page meant, my father huffed and puffed from his hospital bed, “I swear to GOD Kim I did not take too much of my medication!”

    In his mind, he probably didn’t. To him, there wasn’t such a thing as too much of anything – food, alcohol, pain pills, sex, fast driving, partying… the list could go on and on.

    The addict has severe issues that include physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. A strong woman fighting lupus expends energy on staying alive and having a quality of life that will allow her to continue being a driving force in her family. There is, as you know, a difference.

    Whitney Houston’s state of mind cannot be known to us. We just won’t ever know. The media shows her being tipsy during an interview she interrupted hours before her death. She took medications, for whatever reasons. She admitted publicly, more than once, that she was an addict.

    Was she “well” in the sense that medicine is designed to help you cope? To be well? Compared to you? Compared to others who manage medication properly?

    There is a difference. I believe many members of the media lack that discernment and will trade in truth for sensationalism. Or.. report the truth as sensational.

  9. I think you should ease your mind on this issue. You’ve made no secret of what this horrible disease has done to you, and what you have to do to survive and have a life. A friend of mine uses Fetinil (?sp) and morphine “suckers” for her pain, and it’s no secret that she is in pain (her car was hit by a man who ran a stop sign and she has 37 pins in her hips and legs and all new teeth). In fact, it’s very obvious when you watch her walk. And, to be a bit of a downer, when Farrah Fawcett died, no one asked about her meds, or I don’t recall any comment about them.

    Unfortunately, Whitney is different. She had a self-admitted history of drug abuse. Abuse, not prescribed, controlled, illness-related use. It is only human that people will shake their heads and comment about her past. We’ll all know the truth in a few weeks, and some people will be wrong and others right, whatever the results.

    But you have nothing to worry about, at least in my book.

  10. Thank you for being brave, open, and honest. Thank you for sharing your perspective and your experience on this, and adding to the conversation in a cogent and compassionate way. You are handling this with grace and courage, and I know (from your writing) that it is rocking you to the core every single day. You have a huge heart. And you are phenomenally strong.

  11. When it comes to celebrity – there’s an inability to understand the williness of those who “made it” to sacrifice it to drugs. I’m seeing a lot of shock and sadness, but also too much of “she had it coming,” if not in those exact words. As a society, I think we look at addiction the way that we look at mental illness – as something less than legit.

    Because of that, I don’t think society handles addiction (or mental illness) properly most of the time.

    I’m glad that you described the way that your doctors were working together to monitor your prescriptions. I hope that more start to do this.

    There have been a couple of times when I have been left with far larger quantities of pain meds than I ever needed. I think this is for my convenience, but I always wind up with lots left over. I have to throw them out, and the waste kills me too. Many do not work on me, but I still don’t like having them around – espeically now that I have kids (and how frustrating is it that serious pain meds are easier to get than small doses of ADD meds?).

    Anyway, I think if we could talk more broadly about the risks and benefits of pain management, cut down on the number of people who doctor shop and the number of ways they are able to do so, it would lessen some of the stigma for people taking the meds for real medical reasons.

  12. I’m not even IN pain, but for various reasons my medicine cabinet resemblance a pharmacy.

    I feel such sadness that the people who surrounded Whitney Houston (excluding her daughter) didn’t stand up to her. Addiction and addicts are very convincing manipulators. Without the drugs it’s highly likely she herself would be stunned by her own behavior surrounding the acquisition of dr

  13. Dangit. Drugs.

    I grew up in a doctor’s home. We would get calls at all hours of the day and night from seekers. The right thing to do, as a health care provider, is stand by your oath, regardless of who your patient happens to be: First do no harm.

  14. Erin, I was prescribed percocet when I got out of the hospital from my last surgery. I took 1 of the 1-2, and it made it so I could move without pain. Yes, the diladid in the hospital was a BLESSED relief from the immediate post-surgical pain, but even the percocet (generic) I stopped taking after a few days. Mainly, I’m afraid of being reliant on them – or anything other than my depression meds – because depression DOES make you feel pain MORE – and so I take only what I need when I need it. I’ve never been the type – and I suspect you haven’t either – of person that wanted to “check out” for a little while and pop some pill or something to just check out of reality for a little while – those recreational drug users, the ones that DO that – are the ones who wind up in the news like Whitney, I believe. I felt bad with all the media coverage about Whitney’s death and people essentially saying she deserved it because she was a crackhead. No one has any idea what she was in her final days. They suck. Her death was a tragic reminder that it DOES happen (as if we needed another reminder after Michael Jackson) – and I LOVE the fact that you have a doctor who manages your pain – along with another doc. It makes me think EVEN HIGHER of you for being SO honest about your battles. I honestly don’t know how I’d ever deal with chronic pain like that. I’m so sorry that you have to. I love reading you. *HUGS*

  15. Thank you very much for writing about chronic illness. My mother has lupus and I have chronic, degenerative disc disease, which has debilitated me to varying degrees since I was 10 years old, culminating in an inability to stand or walk or sit for most of last year, prior to an extensive surgery, which I still am recovering from, months later. I constantly worry about the fine line between being “addicted” and being “dependent” on these medications and most people do NOT know how it feels to truly need them to be comfortable. I agree fully with the Whitney Houston reference, yes mixing downers can kill you but, as you said, we are not just the medication we take, we are whole people who just want to feel better and take care of our families. I sincerely hope that with new medical technology as well as more, regular access to newer technology and health care, that your lupus and many other degenerative, chronic diseases can be treated with more empathy and compassion, both by the caregivers we see and the general public at large. Thank you again for writing this.


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