By Linda Napier
“I was sitting on the steps of the rehab waiting for my daughter,” Jen began, “and felt this sense of defeat: this place of desperation. I saw my little girl getting out of the car, holding her foster mother’s hand and calling her Mommy. It wasn’t a control thing but my kids were mine, they were the one thing in my life that I had done right! They were innocent and God-given and they were taken from me. Then my daughter ran up to me, hugged me and called me Mom and I thought ‘OK, she’s still calling me Mom, I have a chance: I need to do something different.’ I had to do it for myself, not because others wanted me to. I had to start to get honest about my part in things. For years I said I used drugs because my mom was like this or this or that happened to me … I guess I didn’t understand that I had the disease of addiction; chemically my brain is made up differently.”
Until then, though Jen didn’t want to see it, when she was in therapy, something was going on. “I was defiant. I would pretend that I wasn’t hearing what my counselor was saying … that I wasn’t feeling when she brought up all that stuff.”
“What I felt was horrible,” Jen said, “but I used that horrible feeling to justify being defiant, justify bad behavior, to justify hanging out with the same old people doing the same old stuff. You get down to defeat and surrender on your own but can’t have an enabler. Being prescribed medication like Suboxone without the therapy enables you. You’ve gotta talk about the hard stuff, have it presented to you over and over. Even though I was defiant, I knew they wanted to help me. I was hearing it on some level.”
Though offered medication-assisted treatment when in the residential program, Jen chose abstinence because of her past abuse of prescribed medication.
During her three years as an IV drug user, Jen had paid $500 monthly for a prescription, sold half of the pills so she could continue to buy and inject illegal opiates and amphetamines along with prescribed Subutex*. Because she was getting “treatment” from a doctor, she considered herself in recovery. “But of course, I wasn’t in treatment,” she admitted. “Urine drug screens keep you honest and there were none. There was no structure; I wasn’t going to meetings, so that didn’t work…” Since then, she had been in and out of multiple treatment programs for a year.
Within a week of her moment of defeat and surrender, she noticed a difference. “Usually I would go into the counselor’s office and say ‘You don’t know anything!’ and slam the door. Deep down I’d know I should be different. In therapy groups I would disengage and when I spoke, I said what I knew they wanted to hear.”
“When I became honest and my counselor would ask me the same questions, I’d just cry. That was all I could do at first. I was so used to saying what they wanted to hear, I didn’t know what to say. My counselor would hug me and say, ‘It’s OK, we’re glad you’re here’ and allow me to cry. About three weeks later, we started really talking, like peer to peer, like a friend. It became a partnership. I’d always known she cared because she was consistent: I’d never had that in my life. Even though I would swear and slam the door, she wanted me to come back. I honestly thought she’d tell me ‘we can’t help you’… she’d abandon me. I think it was a testing thing. She let me cry and scream, express myself without judgment.”
“I think everyone has trouble with self-acceptance,” she concluded. “It’s really hard to look at yourself but it’s a necessary part of recovery from addiction.”
Today, Jen is almost eight years sober, living with her three children and working toward her mental health and human services degree. She also is a recovery coach reaching out to others who are struggling with addiction.
*Subutex, unlike Suboxone (that comes in a film), does not contain a second medication that blocks the effects of opioids. Subutex is a tablet that can be easily injected or inhaled and can be used with other opioids. It also has a higher street value.
Linda Napier is a family nurse practitioner treating addiction in Ellsworth and Southwest Harbor