Hoagy Carmichael: "Kicked old Buddha's Gong"
There is a memorable Hoagy Carmichael song in the Humphrey Bogart movie, "To Have and Have Not," (1944) about "a poor, unfortunate colored man" who is languishing in Hong Kong because he "kicked old Buddha's gong." He is pleading for someone to lend him $50 so he can go back home. [Corrected: not Cab Calloway, who did "Kicking the Gong Around."]
The "Hong Kong Blues" clip has been added to the bottom of the piece. It's pretty entertaining.
Now, "kicking old Buddha's gong" was not some transgression at the local temple, as the Bear had always thought.
"Kicking the gong" was slang at the time for visiting an opium den.
There are nowhere near as many opium dens around these days. And yet, opium has never been more popular. People get it - or, technically, "opioids" - from their doctors. Opioids have legitimate use for controlling pain. And yet, the molecular-level opioid receptors in your body don't distinguish recreational opium from medicinal opioids.
Tranquilizer Darts and Hydrocodone
One of the hazards of being a Bear is the nuisance of being the frequent target of tranquilizer darts.
People can be so intolerant.
It finally got to the point where, entirely without his own fault, the Bear became habituated to the delicious darts. Which gives him some sympathy for those habituated to doctor-prescribed opioids such as hydrocodone, which is in the news lately.
Some people have pain that is chronic and just can't be cured. The only relief they can find is in prescription drugs that are fun and effective at first, but later, no more fun, much less effective, but desperately needed.
The respectable term "habituation" is used for the powerful physiological need for the drugs obtained from a doctor.
Scummy drug users without prescriptions are said to be "addicted."
Whatever the Hell difference that means inside a human - or ursine - body, the Bear could not explain.
Anyway, a federal operation like the friendly VA hospital just a few years ago was handing them out like candy, right through the mail. One could still easily find a doctor for pain management who would prescribe them, too. You do not have to go "doctor shopping" and get multiple prescriptions or abuse the medicine to become habituated. It is an inevitable result of regular long-term use even in legitimate pain management.
Habituation is said to be an epidemic these days. Call Bear cynical, but he wishes people had to buy his disreputable novel at $100 every month, or suffer unspeakable torments. He'd make a fortune.
There's money in them thar opioid receptors.
Today, it is the rarer doctor who will put up with the hassle of monthly opioid prescriptions and risk an over-zealous federal prosecutor substituting his medical judgment for a doctor's. Even more restrictions are being contemplated. It is a very unattractive proposition for doctors.
If you're on these drugs, the gravy train is probably coming to an end, for better or worse.
This might be a good time to consider hopping off before you're kicked off.
Quitting Opioids: "You're Going to Feel a Pinch"
The Bear does not have an opinion on federal policy or prescribed use for chronic pain. Pain is pain and relief is relief and everybody must choose what pharmaceuticals they permit into their bodies. However, everyone should be aware that prescription users will become habituated over time, bound to a ferocious demon that will turn their bodies against their souls in return for relief from pain.
We all know how deals with the devil turn out in the end.
The Bear decided he did not want to live wearing invisible chains. Pain is not necessarily the worst thing in life. Even a prescription drug can have a peculiar effect, and for the Bear, the dependence involved a loss of self-respect. It was time to say goodbye to his old frenemy, Mr. Watson.
Being many days into regulated tranquilizer dart detox, the Bear has some observations for others who may be habituated to darts or prescription opioids. (In case you're imagining Bear in rehab somewhere like Robert Downey, Jr., no, he's just at Bear Manor, here in Zoar, where he always is. He's just feeling a bit under the weather.)
As the nurse says, "You're going to feel a pinch."
First of all, never be in the position to quit cold turkey, or you will discover how to live conscious of every second of your life with opioid receptors throughout your body turning the screws to the point of a constant cellular scream. You may develop a new appreciation for St. Maximillian Kolbe, the patron saint of drug addicts. You will experience Hell on earth for several days.
Second, if you make the personal decision to trade slavery for pain, know going in that even regulated detox - slowly reducing the amount of the drug over time under medical supervision - sucks a whole lot. You will be tested, unknown friend. Be prepared to suffer, and pray to learn humility and many other things from your suffering. There is just no sugar-coating this.
The first few days are the worst. You'll want to give up. Bear hopes you have loving support. Be kind to yourself. If you want to, say, gorge on chicken wings, gorge away if it helps. (Chicken wings have been proven to be slightly less addictive.) But you will probably be puking too much to gorge.
Distract yourself. Fred and Ginger movies are the best, it goes without saying, or maybe binge watch TV series. Cover yourself with a blanket and pound your head on the floor - a personal favorite. Obsessively blog, creating long, rambling manifestos. Tell yourself every minute if you have to, "I'm one minute closer to being free." Breath.
Stick to your schedule scrupulously. Don't take a dose a minute before you're supposed to, no matter what. It's an important symbolic expression of your resolve. Give control of your pills to a trusted person and let them dole your doses out. And here's a good trick. Let's say you're taking three doses of two pills each for a total of six pills per day. The first week, your doctor might have you take one pill away from one dose so you take five pills instead of six for seven days. Then, drop another pill from a different dose the second week, and so on.
The trick is, have your helper add a Tylenol to the reduced, one-pill dose so you're still taking "two pills." It's what you're used to. Give yourself every psychological edge.
Don't backslide and lose all you've suffered for. But if you do, "Pick Yourself Up," as the Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields number from "Swing Time" (1938) says. (Does Bear have to say more about the greatest movie of all time?)
Pat yourself on the back until your arm falls off.
Clear your calendar.
Tell those around you this is a going to be a Big Freaking Deal. They cannot relate. It isn't like anything else. When you want to be left alone, make sure they understand they must leave you the Hell alone. And, no, you're not interested in discussing what you're going through, and a simple "how do you feel, hon?" may trigger homicidal urges, especially if you are a Bear.
Determine in advance with your doctor your personal cocktail to help with symptoms. Benadryl, ibuprofen and, if you can get a prescription, gabapentin (Neurontin) is an amazing all-purpose wonder drug. A dash of benzo is another prescription possibility. Anyway, this helps some for Bear.
Is it wise to include a benzo, which is another addictive substance? Up to you and your doctor, but used sensibly in the short term, you're unlikely to become habituated. NOTE: Benzos such as diazepam (Valium) or its shorter-half-life brother, lorazepam (Ativan) and opioids (Vicodin, Norco, etc.) can combine unhappily - by which the Bear means the unhappy people left behind when you die - so this is not a do-it-yourself job. Your doctor should know how to help you through safely.
Obviously, Bear has the wrong degree and license to practice medicine, so work with your doctor, who will undoubtedly be more than happy to get rid of you. But advocate for yourself, especially with your relief cocktail. Your doctor might not know (or care) more than to provide a tapering off schedule. Feel free to tell him an 800-year-old talking Bear says he needs to prescribe something to ease the discomfort. Your doctor will be very impressed.
The bastard owes you for helping you into this mess to begin with.
Most importantly, know that, while you're in for a rough time and may feel like pulling your own head off and beating annoying loved ones with it, it passes. It does end. And you will come through the ordeal stronger and wiser. But you will be saved as by fire, my dear unknown friend.
The Mystery of Suffering
No, wait. While all that is good to know, it is not the most important thing, which the Bear will now reveal.
There is a mystery in suffering. The book of Job is one of the most fascinating in the Bible. In the end, Job is never told why he suffered. But he winds up in even better shape than he was before.
If you listen to sweet suffering, it is eager to teach you things you never, ever understood before. It can be like... Bear doesn't know. Some sort of massive download of... of whatever you let it mean to you.
It is suffering that does not kill or harm, even though you may have moments you wouldn't mind being dead. So, see, it is not really that demon that is torturing you. He pretends to be your friend. Suffering is the opposite of what he offers.
It is an angel of God you can absolutely trust to give you rest and relief at the end of your education without harming a hair on your habituated head.
Is quitting doable for everyone? Bear does not presume to say, although he hopes so. He has had clients in jail tell him withdrawal from pills is harder than withdrawal from heroin. And they ought to know. Bear suspects there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Regulated detox reminds Bear of the little boy whose pup's tail was to be bobbed. He begged the vet to cut it off a bit at a time so it didn't hurt too much. Yet, the alternative takes more fortitude than the Bear believes he has anymore.
Of course, remember, personally, he's talking about tranquilizer darts.
Bear leaves with a prayer for everyone going through detox, everyone who is making that hard decision, everyone who has failed and yet may try again, and everyone who has made that deal with the devil and doesn't yet realize the cost.