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How my husband and I are dealing with his night terrors

Aimee Jackson is “Not the Perfect Cook.” Retiring at age 31 as a bilingual political consultant, Aimee is now a cookbook author, blogger, recipe developer and inspirational food lover, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband a...

Pain pills are giving my husband violent night terrors – but together we will work through them

It was two nights in the hospital after his shoulder replacement. The first night, the nerve block wore off, and it was excruciating trying to get my husband comfortable. The nurses were phenomenal. His blood pressure spiked, due to pain, and they worked tirelessly to help get him comfortable. Unfortunately, it required massive doses of pain medications.

More: I fear my husband's surgery will trigger his pain-pill addiction

“This is very common,” they told us. When that nerve block wears off, all hell breaks loose in your body.

“Please, Lord,” I prayed, “Don’t let all hell break loose with the drugs again.”

Once they got the meds adjusted, we had a very frank conversation with the nurse and nurse practitioner who were caring for my husband. We told them about his battle with opioid addiction and how we just did not want to go down that road again — ever.

Our nurse was so compassionate. She listened to my husband and said, “No one has ever admitted to me that they struggled with addiction.”

When I tell you I am extremely proud of my husband, believe me — I am so proud. Still, I couldn’t help but be afraid that this surge of drugs in his system would ignite a craving like the old days. Our nurse and doctor both said, “This pain is very real, though, and it must be treated.”

So we came home with a prescription for the strongest painkillers I ever remember seeing my husband use. He was to take two 15mg pills, every four hours, and as with previous prescriptions, I would keep them locked away and give them to him as needed. My husband swallows them in front of me, and we have no issues of broken trust or reliving the nightmares from years ago.

More: How I accepted that my love couldn't save my husband from addiction

The nightmares are present, however. These opioids cause my husband to have horrific night terrors, and the fear that he will become addicted again has caused me to have night terrors for years.

We aren’t sleeping. The pills seem to go into his system within minutes after swallowing, and he breaks out into a full body sweat. He makes these grunting noises that remind me of the days he used to try and hide the pills from me, yet all the while I knew. You don’t just sweat profusely, grunt and talk incoherently in your sleep, not to mention start to vomit, for no reason. I have to remind myself that these issues are not self-inflicted this time, and he isn’t hiding anything from me. This time, we are actively treating pain and doing so with tremendous love.

“You were blessed with an incredible ability to discern the truth,” our former marriage counselor, Bob, once told me. “Trust your instincts, and be firm.”

When he said that, Bob wasn’t advocating for me to get a divorce. He was advocating for me to put my foot down and practice tough love.

Now after this surgery, my husband wakes up every 45 minutes to an hour, drenched in sweat, gasping for air and needing me to remind him the dreams are not real. I’m practicing gentle love with him, given that we have to take the pills. I say “we” because it is a team effort. I give them, and he takes them. Talking to my husband in the most loving, soothing voice I can seems to calm the night terrors. It is 2:30 in the morning as I type this, and I am having to imagine the way I used to tuck my daughter back in bed when she was little and had a nightmare.

I gave my husband a glass of cold water and tried to calm him. I wet a washcloth and ran it over his face, his head and his neck.

“Everything’s OK,” I whispered. “I’m here.”

“These nightmares are killing me,” he said. “I don’t want to go through this all over again.”

“You aren’t going through this alone this time,” I reassured him. “I’m here, and nothing is going to happen — not to you and not to us. We’ve got this, and this time we have countless people praying.”

Why anyone would willingly put themselves through opioids, I do not know. As soon as we can back off of these pills, we will.

Although we haven’t been in counseling for quite some time now, we communicated frequently with Bob. We were extremely fortunate to maintain a friendship and relationship with him over the years. Visits, texts and phone calls — Bob was always there if I ever thought we needed him. He was an invisible safety net that I knew I could turn to should the problems resurface.

We are now one week out from surgery, and I just received word that Bob lost his battle to cancer this morning. He died peacefully in his sleep.

Tears streamed down both of our faces as we prayed to put into action the advice Bob had given us years before. Jesus used Bob to save our marriage. The heartache and the fatigue make it difficult for me to catch a breath today. Bob had told me just a few weeks ago that he would be at my book signing.

Now, open, honest communication will see us through the use of opioids again. But mostly, prayer is what will get us through.

More: Faith is helping us through my husband's addiction

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