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Vigilance: A Mouthful

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Suddenly, I'm enamored with going to the dentist. I even welcome his prying at my teeth and poking into my gums, which need repair. Bring it on, I say. Except when he's got his tools in my mouth propped wide-open. Then I utter nothing.

My new affinity with my dentist of 20 years is all about the medication he's prescribed after my past few visits. Hydrocodone, the conqueror of pain, the supreme being that co-opts my higher power, if only for an hour or two after I'm out of the dental chair. Most of us know it as Vicodin. I prefer the pronoun "she" out of fondness for the gentle, dedicated, consummate lover who never fails to stroke my pleasure receptors. I love Ms. Vicodin.

Of course, I love all drugs. I always have had a propensity to take anything that takes me out of myself or blots out the pain of a sore tooth or a sore soul. That's why I am an addict. Other addicts and I don't like the way we feel. Or we want to feel different. Whatever the cause, it is the effect we chase. Vicodin, a joint, a few lines, a couple of shots of whiskey, a six-pack of cheap beer or a bottle of the most expensive chardonnay — they work.

Fortunately, I haven't felt the need to live under the influence since 1994. Recovery from addiction is all about experiencing life on terms, darn it. We may not like these terms. Sometimes they're even brutal, such as when we face divorce or death in a family or an IRS audit. But people like me don't really have a choice. So we lean on our faith and regularly hang out with our fellow travelers, all the while tending to the garden of a healthier lifestyle and pulling the weeds of our character defects that keep sprouting.

That doesn't mean, however, that we have to bite the bullet when it comes to a broken leg, childbirth or mental illness.

Off camera, even John Wayne hurt. The pharmaceutical companies reap billions of bucks with medications, including addictive narcotics, to deal with acute pain or longer-term ailments such as depression and anxiety. There is nothing wrong with people in recovery taking these medications, either, but only with checks and balances firmly in place.

It starts with being straight up about our pasts. From the day I met him, my dentist, like my physician, has known I am in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. I tell every medical expert who treats my ailments. To not be upfront is to fudge the truth. For people like us, that means manipulating the facts to get what we want, and that's always risky. Even sober, a scheming addict is usually up to no good. So we can't blame doctors if they are unaware their patients like us love to consume mood- and mind-altering substances to excess. My medical "team" limits my painkilling prescriptions, monitors my consumption and often opts to send me home with an aftercare plan to take three aspirin and call in the morning. Darn it.

They know the risks. I do, too. The pain meds untether my brain, allowing it to drift. Not back to the "good ol' days" — because there's nothing good about those drug-laced times — but to a place of momentary respite from the cutting edge of life's ever-rushing pace. Sure, I get the same effect from regular prayer with a hot cup of coffee at dawn, reading a good book at bedtime and a walk on the beach in Florida. It's just that with a pill, it's effortless. And that's the allure of the "easier, softer way" that we addicts once longed for and must still guard against all these years later.

William Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs, and "A New Day, A New Life." Please send your questions to William Moyers at wmoyers@hazelden.org. To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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