Painkiller Addict: Cathryn Kemp’s Cravings and Lies

Cathryn Kemp was a world adventurer and best selling travel writer struck down in the prime of life with acute pancreatitis, which is the most painful disease known to man.   At the same time she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Immediately it left her bedridden, and she developed chronic pancreatitis (a different but related disease), and had to move back home with her parents in the country side.  She was an invalid for several years, and for the first 2 years she took increasing quantities of morphine to manage the pain.  Then she switched to fentanyl, which is 100 times more potent than morphine.  The addiction began after a painful breakup with a boyfriend.  Eventually she got up to 60 lozenges per day, when the allowed limit by the NHS is just 8!  Then they did a life-threatening test and discovered that she had massive pressure in her pancreas.  So they did a procedure to release the pressure.  This helped but by that time the addiction was raging, and continued for several years.  She was always lying about it (no one except her doctor and pharmacist knew how much she was really taking), and she even denied it to herself.  “When I was chasing the peace, nothing and no one else mattered.  Addicts trail a slime of lies, of cheating, of deception, manipulation and more lies.”  One day her mother was late in bringing home the goods from the chemist (pharmacist).  This felt like a terrible betrayal, and she left a vicious message on mom’s answering machine.  When her mom arrived with the meds, she was deeply ashamed, and begged her not to listen to the message.  At this point she realized that the drugs were going to get the best of her, and she was going to die if this continued, and she needed to detox.  It took her over a month, and she had to sell her house and spend her life savings to pay for it, and even her parents went into debt for her.  The detox was incredibly painful, even worse than you see in the movies, but she did it, and now she is completely drug free.  “I am an addict” she finally admits with new-found honesty.  Of course, even the sight of fentanyl can throw her into a tizzy, and she can’t use any addictive substances like alcohol or xanax for fear of awakening the sleeping demons in her soul.  But she is married now and happy.  She can walk on her own again and has learned to appreciate the simple things in life.  “Today I am clean and sober, and right now, that is enough for me.”

Of course, as you know from this web site, addiction is completely fake.  This woman is a hysteric and a liar.  Her account cannot be trusted.  She faked an addiction, perhaps for attention, or perhaps as fodder for a book.  Only she knows the answer, but we hope she will eventually come clean.  (See the interview: A conversation with Cathryn Kemp – Author/Adventurer/Addict.)

A Trail of Lies

In her book she took morphine for 2 years before switching to fentanyl.  However, morphine is contraindicated for treatment of pancreatitis because it can actually aggravate the disease.  Why would she take it?  Certainly, it would explain the chronic pancreatitis that continued after the acute attacks (she was diagnosed with ‘acute-on-chronic’ pancreatitis).  Then she comes clean in an interview with the Independent:

I was put on painkillers from the start, initially a stronger version of ibuprofen. A few weeks later, it was discovered I had been given the wrong kind of opiate, which only exacerbated my situation. It was then I was put onto fentanyl, an opium-derived pain reliever almost 100 times stronger than morphine.

Why would she lie about taking morphine for 2 years when it was only a  few weeks?  Possibly because it would explain the chronic pancreatitis; but when the book came out, she realized that the claim couldn’t withstand public scrutiny.  So she had to backtrack.  However, she still maintains the claim that she was in constant pain and constant fear of attack of the most painful disease known to man.  But is this true?  Typically acute pancreatitis is caused by excessive drinking and after a painful night in the hospital, will go away with proper diet.  And in fact she admits drinking “a little too much” the night before the attack.  Furthermore, her serum lipase was off-the-charts, which is a symptom of an attack.  But then she had another attack a few days later, and was back in the hospital for another few days of pain treatment.  She had 40 attacks in 3 1/2 years (about one attack a month).  She spent most of that time in the hospital.  But was it really pancreatitis?  Other than the first attack, she did not claim to have elevated lipase or other abnormal labs.  So this could have been a lie.  Also, she claims not to be drinking any more, but she also admits that she lies about her drug use, and “cannot be trusted” around drugs or alcohol.  So perhaps she was still drinking?  Just because you admit you were a liar does not mean you are now telling the truth.

On the second hospital admission after another attack a few days later, the doctor comes to her and says, “I’ve been speaking to the orthopods, and they think you’ve probably got fibromyalgia as well.” (p. 26)  (Also known as ME – Myalgic Encephalopathy.)  Well first of all, many doctors think ME is a psychiatric condition.  Secondly, ME would be diagnosed only after the exclusion of all other possible factors.  If you had just been diagnosed with “the single most painful condition in existence” (p. 12), your doctor would not claim you also had ME — unless he didn’t believe you, and thought your pain was either fake or psychosomatic, and wanted you to go away (and find someone else to take care of you).  So even the hospital thought she was faking, and in fact she notes that they often treated her suspiciously, which made her indignant.

She is bedridden for years, and even the smallest task like combing her hair leaves her exhausted for hours.  But she still manages to meet and date men in her rural area, who come to visit her in bed.  One relationship turns bad, however, and she takes an extra lozenge to ease the pain.  Slowly it goes up to 60 lozenges per day.  Despite her pain and illnesses, somehow she still makes it to her doctor and the chemist (pharmacist) twice a week for the fentanyl prescriptions (generously paid for by NHS — thanks!).  She can’t stand the thought of being without her precious drugs.  One day her boyfriend’s 8 year old son sees her sucking a fentanyl, and asks her what she’s doing.  She lies to him and tells him that it’s a lolly to make her feel better.  Which is technically true but still feels like a lie.  She is terribly ashamed of her dark secret.

She goes back to the hospital in search of an expert in pancreatitis.  He tells her that they have to remove her gall bladder.  So they do, but it’s perfectly healthy.  Not the problem.  But then they do another test and discover massive pressure in her pancreas – Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction.  They do a procedure to reduce the pressure.  “The acute attacks seem to have stopped.  All those digestive enzymes that were trapped by the muscle spasms in the neck of my pancreas burned me from within, causing an agony it is still hard to describe.” (p. 88)  But in fact, this is a common side-effect of gall bladder removal, and probably did not cause the original pancreatitis.  She never mentions this well-established medical fact.

Opiates are the most painful addiction to detox from, and can be a month of torture (sweats and terrible stomach pain and cramping).  But if she had access to the internet she would have learned that it’s actually pretty easy and comfortable if done under medical supervision, and in fact can be done in an hour under anesthesia.  What did she have to fear?   Did she not have internet access?  She never admits it, but doesn’t deny it either. Of course she did! But there would be no drama if she admitted this, so conveniently spares us this simple fact.

Then of course she’ll want us to believe that she was in denial about her addiction.  However, at the end of the book she says that she knew it was a problem all along, but that she just thought that she could figure out a way out on her own — that she didn’t need help from others to find a way out of this shameful secret.  But again this doesn’t make sense if you know anything about an opiate addiction.  And the woman was not an idiot.  She knew that eventually she’d have to detox.  The problem was that it would then leave her with only her agonizing pain (from the most painful disease on the planet), along with the pain of ME.  And then what?  If the disease is real then the fear is understandable.   If addiction only occurs in people with painful diseases, then so what?  Who’d begrudge them their drugs? But addiction occurs in people with nothing else wrong with them — this is the tragedy of addiction.   It’s hard to see how her situation could be applicable to other addicts —  who detox (most saying it was a surprisingly comfortable experience) and then return to the drugs months or years later, as a result of “cravings”.  This is the real problem of the ‘cunning and baffling disease’ of addiction, for which she offers no insight.

The addiction begins at the breakup with a boyfriend (p. 109):

‘Cathryn, I don’t think I ever loved you.  I’m sorry.’  […] I lurch from angry tears to impassioned begging; desperate for him to stay with me despite what he’s done. […]  One more won’t hurt, will it?  I ask myself and smile.  […] I feel giddy, naughty and girlish as I stash it in my pocket and head back to bed. […] I feel so much better, like my old self again. […] I don’t know if I am in physical pain or whether it is the emotional ravages that compel me.  […] I know that fentanyl is not the answer. […] It does not occur to me that this could be the start of something I cannot control.  My doctor prescribed these drugs for me, so I assume I am ‘safe’ using them, even if I am pushing the limits by taking the extra few.

First of all, she is already manipulating her doctor into giving her the drugs, so she can’t claim that he is giving them willfully.  In fact her doctor mocks her: “If you hurt me, I’ll kill myself with my painkillers.  I’ll kill myself to get back at you.” (p. 127)  And she’s never heard of addiction?  She is being disingenuous and knows exactly what she’s doing – culturing an addiction.  “I stare him boldly in the eye as if I have nothing to hide. ‘I was in horrendous pain this weekend and they stopped me from having to go into the hospital.  I am not a drug addict.  And I will not be manipulated into stopping the pain relief I so obviously need.'” (p. 125-127)

Everyone knows that heroin detox takes 6 months (according to the book, despite the easily available information, and despite the fact that thousands of highly addicted Vietnam vets detoxed on the 12 hour flight home), and it is a cruel joke that she has to do it in just over a month, and will deplete her life savings.  A full month into her detox (she is decreasing 3 lozenges/day on average), and she finally admits to her parents that she had been taking 60/day, much more than the admitted 20.  “I see Dad is hurt over finding out his daughter is a proper drug addict.  It’s hardly what every parent hopes for.  I love them so much and bring them so much pain.  When will it stop?”  (p. 245)  Finally they know her shameful secret (though in most accounts everyone else knows before the addict).  Her father insists on telling her boyfriend himself, but she prevails on him to keep quiet.  She succeeds, and tells him herself.  He says that she is the most courageous woman he ever met.  Not everyone despises the drug addict!

A few weeks after leaving detox she is feeling better and is unpacking her boxes after the move from the home she had to sell for the detox treatment.  She is shocked to discover a box of fentanyl (30 lozenges) that she had squirreled away for future use at the height of her addiction.  “The ferocious grip of the addiction to this most powerful of enemies, this satanic demon inside me.  I ring Mom and Dad.  I can’t be trusted.  I cannot be trusted with this box of heaven.” (p. 284)  Her parents arrive and take the drugs back to the chemist.  “Something odd happened today, which we are all uncomfortable with. Will there every be a day I can be free of this demon inside me?” (p. 287)  What happened exactly? She doesn’t know, but I will tell you: her parents know that her panic is irrational.  She was taught at the rehab that even the sight of the drugs would cause intense cravings to relapse, which could not be controlled unless you follow the 12 Steps.  Explaining her alcohol-free wedding: “There is no champaigne because I have learned that I must stay away from all drugs, and that includes alcohol, if I am to live wisely and recover well.”  (p. 292)  But even if she had taken the drugs, so what?  She could not have gotten more, and there was no way she could get physically addicted off half a day’s worth.  Her panic is completely fake, and the result of either brainwashing, or an outright lie.  And her parents know it.

Before the era of AA, the problem with addiction was due to the pain of withdrawals.  They didn’t have the medical tools to alleviate the detox.   But they didn’t have the concept of cravings, that even after detox could lead someone back to active addiction.  Once free of addiction you learned your lesson and didn’t relapse.  The innovation of AA/12 Steps is that you are powerless to your addiction, which is a life long disease, and it can strike again at any time.  (The Big Book tells the cautionary tale of man who is clean for years and believes he has been cured of alcoholism, and then has one sip of whiskey and within a month he is back in the hospital with the shakes.)  These cravings can strike any time, and unless you complete the 12 Steps (choose a god and pray to it to remove the cravings) then you will be another victim of the 12 Step prophecy of doom: “jails, institutions, or death.”  So even though she survived the detox and is now clean, she can no longer be around any addictive substances for fear of instant relapse.

However, the scientific evidence shows little correlation between cravings and relapse.  People with intense cravings often don’t drink, and people relapse without any cravings whatsoever.  Excessive drug use is a clearly a choice for most people, even though they may later claim it was an addiction.  If there is a small subset of people who really have a disease that causes irresistible cravings, or really are possessed by the devil, then maybe addiction is real.  You can believe that if you want, but I do not believe in the supernatural, and I prefer the simpler explanation they too have chosen to drink or drug to excess, despite their claim to the contrary (keep in mind that most of these people are admitted liars to begin with).

The Real Story

She had a wonderfully exciting youth traveling the world and meeting people  — “a reckless orgy of travel, passion, and adventure” (p. 54).  But as she got older: “I see a woman whose personal life was littered with failed relationships, who reached out for love in cold, dark places, and who was abandoned, rejected, and sometimes abused.”  (p. 56).  “I have found no one special.  I carried on living my high life, with the secret loneliness that only a single girl in her thirties understands”.  (p. 53) “I have decided to go freelance and move to the seaside.  In the back of my mind, I am hoping I will finally meet someone.  I am still looking for Mr Right, while experiencing a few Mr Wrongs along the way.  I am no nearer to meeting anyone who might remotely be the father of my future children.  I drink a little too much.”  But the move wasn’t working out as hoped.  She felt her life was over.  Her excessive drinking caused an attack of pancreatitis.  She claims that this disease was genetic, struck her down in her prime, and kept her from dolling up and walking down the London metro to work like all the other women, but in fact she had done this to herself when she moved away – self-imposed exile.  However, it was less shameful to believe it was caused by an affliction.  This then provided the perfect cover under which to culture an addiction: “I’ve always been a drama queen.”

So she stoked an addiction and kept careful notes for the book that was to document her plight.  The disease, and then the addiction, would explain her downfall.  It was not simply her ever increasing age that destroyed her (something the rest of us accept grudgingly without resorting to the claim of a disease).   She was very jealous of her sister’s marriage and child, so it provided some consolation to realize that she was denied this not by her own hand, but by the cruel afflictions of pancreatitis, ME, and addiction.  This is not unusual among women, and often results in excessive opiate use.

And in fact addiction is noble:

We, the women (and magnificent men) in recovery face the detritus of modern life without that soothing glass of wine, without that smoke at the weekends, that line of cocaine or tranquilliser.  We have chosen to face everything head-on. And that is a raw, frightening, incredible place to be. (http://painkiller-addict.com/?p=241)

Women often drug to excess in revenge for insufficient attention and improper care from a parent:

I remember my mum giving me a quarter of one of her tranquillisers many years ago before my school exams. It was her way of loving me, calming me down and steadying my nerves. (http://painkiller-addict.com/?p=211)

Positive Mental Attitude, Dad says each time he sits with me, as I puke up the morphine into a vomit bowl.  I don’t blame him for not understanding.  I can barely comprehend the severity of this illness myself…. He gets up and says we have to start moving my stuff from the other bedroom…. ‘Dad I can’t help you.  I can’t walk and I keep being sick…. You fucking insensitive bastard.  I can’t believe you’re doing this!  How the fuck can I help you?’…  ‘Don’t you dare talk to me like that…. You’re so bloody ungrateful.  Why should I have to do everything,’ he shouts at me, oblivious to the effect he is having…. I spit small chunks of potato into the bowl….  I can sense my body will crumple into another attack…. I puke violently into my sick bowl…. [Her parents take her to the hospital.]   ‘It’ll be ok,’ he says.  And in that one small sentence, I hear the love and hope and care.  He squeezes my hand gently – and all of this is almost worth it.  And I am soothed like a small girl again, being tucked up in bed by my daddy to chase the monsters away. (p. 43)

Her addiction and bulemia is self-destructive and spiteful revenge for real or imagined slights, and a ploy for sympathy, not uncommon among female addicts (see the Meetings Blog).

It’s a long book, and takes place over several years of the life of an invalid.  But actually it’s pretty entertaining!  Addiction fiction is endlessly fascinating — real life demon possession.  We can’t get enough.  But it should be kept in the fiction section.  Otherwise, people use it to learn how to play the role of an addict, and they and their loved ones will suffer needlessly under a fake addiction.

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