When Surviving Cancer Ends and Opioid Dependence Begins

Overprescribed and alone, I found myself wondering if beating cancer was worth it

Jenny Bates
Human Parts
Published in
21 min readSep 5, 2019

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Photo: Hage Sonia/EyeEm/Getty Images

JJournal entry, February 11: I can’t move forward until I tell my secret. I know I can’t tell it for myself alone, but for all those who walk the dark path of things unspoken. I must tell my truth for the sake of the silenced and ignored.

The face of

“I feel like I’m Sisyphus getting punched in the junk.”

My therapist smiled at this grand analogy. It was the only way I could articulate the experience of necessity as never-ending-ness, of misery as repetition, of life as punishment. Not just Sisyphus, not simply pushing the boulder up the hill to no avail, but also the great arm of Lyssa swinging down from the mountain top, punching me squarely between the legs with each step. Symbols are handy that way, and stories. They gift us a means to express our experiences in Technicolor, vivid with similes and metaphors. A way to make sense of the senseless, to give it shape and a handle we can grasp.

Like when we say “the face of.”

“The face of” serves as a means of understanding the big picture through a single figure, often a way to organize chaos. If we can find one face to signify the whole, then we can wrap our ashen-knuckled fingers around something, anything, to demystify the countless life ruptures we see, hear about, and experience for ourselves. We can grasp “the face of,” the signifier, when the whole overwhelms us. There’s a comfort in it, a survival tool.

My name is Jenny, and I am the face of the opioid crisis.

I cannot tell you my story from beginning to end because, while April 10, 2017, marked the beginning, I still push the boulder up the hill, month after month, while getting punched in the junk, the very image of a woman come undone.

I cannot tell you my story from beginning to end because that isn’t how it is to suffer opioid withdrawal. No straight line, no linear narrative. Only parcels of reality that overwhelm and toss me, rattle me silly, like a bottle of pills or cocktail shaker.

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Jenny Bates
Human Parts

The creative life as survival. Writer, editor, writing coach and teacher. Follow my mini-musings and reach out on Instagram @thebraverypen.