In 2018, I participated in a Baltimore storytelling event called Stoop Stories, hosted by Jessica Henkin and Laura Wexler. At that event, all of us told a story about drugs: addiction, accidents, recreation, and recovery. Here’s a link to my story (at 11:54) where I talk about how a car accident saved my life.
I told the following story as part of Baltimore’s Stoop Stories at the Senator Theater. The theme of the show was On Drugs: Dependence, Destruction, and Salvation. Thank you to Jessica Myles Henkin and Laura Wexler for inviting me to share my story with the audience. This story is part of my memoir-in-search-of-a-publisher Noncompliant. More stories about the role of drugs and alcohol in my life can be found in my first poetry collection, The Altar of Innocence.
In the fall of 1993, I went out to lunch with my husband and a friend but came home with a massive migraine headache. I’d had a similar headache once before, and it had cleared up with the help of acupuncture. I prayed that this one would do the same. But the headache hung on for a couple of months despite several acupuncture treatments, meditation, and lots of prayer. Tylenol wasn’t budging the pain, and after a while, I began to feel emotionally depressed. I figured that was pretty normal, given the horrific, daily pain I was enduring. It was getting tougher and tougher to keep the condition from my husband, but every time I got sick, he’d yell at me and get very angry. I pretended that everything was normal and prayed for relief.
I had no family history of migraines and typically only got a headache once or twice a year, so I knew that this headache was more than a physical problem. I’d had a history of what I called physical depressions–intense physical pain that had no discernible cause. Yet eventually, once I’d seen several doctors about the back pain, or the pelvic pain, or the stomach aches, I’d realize that there was an emotional root to my distress. I was 41 years old at the time, so I knew myself pretty well. But when I finally consulted a doctor about the headache pain, he just smiled as I told my story and related my theory. Then he gave me an antidepressant.
Fast forward to 1996. By that time, I’d consulted a parade of psychiatrists who’d prescribed grab-bags full of medication. Nothing had worked, for either the headache or the depression. My newest psychiatrist insisted that I consult a headache specialist. At my first appointment, I told her (a nurse practitioner) about my theory of physical depression, and followed up my explanation with my dilemma. “I don’t know what I’m stressed about. We have a lovely home, we’re well-off financially, our kids are great…..Yes, my marriage is difficult, and at times even painful, but it’s been this way for ages. And I’m coping.”
She immediately prescribed me MS-Contin (powdered morphine), Prednisone, and Migranol nasal spray. After a month or so, that regimen had failed to make a dent in the pain, she added DHE which I injected into my thighs. I stayed on these pain meds for several months, adding them to the numerous psychiatric meds I was taking. Several months passed, and when the MS-Contin failed to relieve my pain, my nurse practitioner prescribed a new drug-OxyContin. She assured me that it was safe, and I used it in increasing doses over the next couple of years.
In 1997, after four long years that included hospitalizations, numerous combinations of drugs, and several rounds of ElectroConvulsive Therapy, my depression finally abated. My psychiatrist insisted on keeping me on maintenance meds, which I took in addition to all of the painkillers. Things had deteriorated so badly in my marriage that I no longer wanted to stay with my husband. But as long as I had the migraine pain, I knew I couldn’t work. The migraine kept me locked in my marriage, and I was determined to find a way to get better.
At that time, I thought I was handling the drugs pretty well, and no one else thought there was a problem. Both my psychiatrist and my headache doctor said it was fine to take the combination of serious drugs they prescribed. The pharmacists never batted an eye when I picked up my prescriptions. The only person who could see how much the meds affected me was my daughter who was 14 or 15 at the time. She’d observe me cautiously at every stop light and notice how my jaw would unhinge right before I fell asleep. Then she’d yell at me to wake up.
In the fall of 1999, I had my first car accident. I swerved five times across three lanes of traffic on Rte. 70 before finally crashing into a guardrail. I wasn’t hurt—like the proverbial drunk who maims someone and walks away unscathed. My car was banged up a bit, but fixable. More importantly, I hadn’t hurt anyone. But by January of 2000, I had a second, much more serious car accident. I was driving on Rte. 40 out of the city to visit my parents on a warm January afternoon. There was a black van in front of me that slowed down. The next thing I knew, I had an air bag pinning me to my seat and smoke filling my nostrils. A man in a black leather jacket pounded on my window. I rolled down the window, still dazed, and said, Oh, God, I’m so drugged.” That man, who turned out to be the van-driver, answered: “Lady, don’t ever say that again.”
He got me and my car off the road and onto a parking lot where he checked me over and made sure I was all right. He waited while I called my father to come and help me, and when I turned to thank the van-driver, he was gone. To this day, I think he was an angel sent to save me.
By the time of the accident, I was taking about seven or eight daily medications. For the migraine–Methadone, Migranol nasal spray, DHE injections, and I had a stash of injectable Demerol for the really bad days. My psychiatrist had me on maintenance meds to keep me out of depression: Wellbutrin, Elavil, Topamax (a mood regulator) and Valium. But I wasn’t high. I was numb.
Western Medicine had failed me. The deep shame that I felt for taking Methadone combined with the shock of the second auto accident forced me to confront my life with fresh eyes. It was time for radical action, so I called an energy healer who’d been recommended by a friend. I told her my story and finished by saying I just want my life back. Can you help me? Her answer: “I can almost guarantee I’ll get rid of the pain, but I cannot guarantee what else might happen. Are you ready?”
We began working together twice a week right after the phone call. Leah did distance energy healing, and she lived in White Marsh, a suburb east of Baltimore. I lived in Western Howard County, about 50 miles away. I’d call her up and discuss my medications, my relationship, and any other happenings in my life. Then we’d hang up, and I’d lie in my bed for about an hour while she cleared my chakras and balanced all of my bodily systems. All of this work required a suspension of disbelief on my part, but I was finally getting better, and I did whatever Leah recommended.
Leah was one of the few people to affirm my suspicions of the headache being a form of physical depression, and she worked on me as a whole person. She taught me tools for shielding myself in dangerous or difficult situations and explained to me how to keep my energetic vibration at a higher level. I grew stronger in every area, and my pain gradually decreased. We were able to taper my medications, and Leah began to supplement my healings with flower essences, again designed to strengthen my vibrations and assist me on an energetic level. As I got stronger, I tolerated less and less control from my husband and fewer disparaging remarks. I set firm boundaries and stood my ground with him.
By May of 2000, only about four months into our work together, I was completely headache- free and off of all my pain medications. There was one final incident between my husband and myself, and I decided to end the marriage after 25 years. With my new-found strength and confidence, I knew that I could take care of myself and earn a living.
Since May of 2000, I’ve been off of all pain medications and am migraine-free. Since 2002, I’ve been off of the antidepressant and mood regulator, but it took me a few more years to break free of anti-anxiety meds and an older antidepressant that was prescribed for my initial headache. Contrary to what my doctor’s warning, I have remained depression-free. I trust that any mysterious pain–including an occasional migraine–signals that I’m in some kind of stressful situation. The signs that my body gives me direct me to observe my body-mind-spirit balance. If I cannot resolve issues with mysterious pain by using meditation and homeopathic remedies, I schedule time to work with my energy healer. And I keep the flower essences close by!
I’m thrilled to be one of the storytellers for the upcoming Stoop Stories in Baltimore at the Senator Theater on April 19th at 8pm. I have a story to tell that will probably surprise many of you, and I want to tell it because I believe very much in the power of the mind-body connection. Come to the event on April 19th and hear some great stories of courage and triumph.
Thanks to Jessica Myles Henkin and Laura Wexler for their excellent coaching and support in our presentations.
Here’s a teaser for my story:
All Ann Bracken wanted was a life without pain. A continuous migraine banged away in her head for seven years. The numerous hospitalizations failed.
Her doctor offered her one last drug: methadone. But when Ann crashed her car twice after falling asleep, she rejected the methadone, the doctors, and the hospitals. She decided to heal herself. This story is an excerpt from Noncompliant,her memoir in search of a publisher.
More stories about the role of drugs and alcohol in my life can be found in my first poetry collection, The Altar of Innocence.
Tickets and information: click here