Last night, that would be Monday, October 19, 2015, as my wife, Mary Esther and I, sat in the small chapel at the Weston Priory, I remembered how it was a bit over 10 years ago when the Benedictine Monks invited us up for a 5 day stay. How different it was for us then.
I was recovering from knee surgery and because my illness of addiction never forgets, even if I do forget, I relapsed with my pain pills. I was given a 30-day supply back then and my wife asked me if she could hold the pills and dispense them to me as prescribed.
Well, I was a bit cocky, and I said, “Remember, not only have I been abstinent for a lengthy period of time, but I’m a Substance Use Disorder Counselor. I think I can handle a few pain pills.”
It turned out that Mary Esther knew better and, within four days, my thirty day supply was empty and I was searching the streets for heroin, my drug of no choice, that I had been strung out on from 1964 through 1994. It was a continuous ride , the stumblebum push an opium pellet with my nose around the world ride, and because of the lengthy period of my active addiction my pleasure centers, from one synapse to another in my brain, were totally atrophied.
Many people ask why opiate addicts relapse after the drug is out of their system, knowing what they know about where the drug will take them? It’s quite simple really. The dis-ease continues onward, even though the person has kicked the physical aspect of the illness.
People who take the opiates for chronic pain are excused from this phenomenon because they get no pleasure from the drug; the opiates in their system travel to the pain centers to ease the suffering and not the pleasure centers of the brain.
I know people who take opiates for extreme chronic pain and it always amazes me that they never get high. That is because they are not “using”; they are taking medicine for a purpose. When our “esteemed” Governor Baker of Massachusetts came up with a plan to only give people a 72-hour supply of medication for the first time, it was quite clear to me that he did not understand the difference between people with chronic pain and people with the dis-ease of addiction.
With someone like me, a 72-hour supply of opiates would merely kick my addiction into overdrive and I would be on the street looking for heroin in no time. However, if I were not someone with the illness of addiction, it would be an inconvenience to bother my physician for the medicine I needed.
I also hear politicians, not health experts, talk about mandating people who overdose to 3 days of lock down with the possibility of commitment. This crazy idea could keep people from calling for help when someone overdoses. It’s a good thing that Needle Exchanges give trainings in Narcane administration to addicts so they can save their friends without the indignity of being locked up for overdosing—treating someone with the illness of addiction the same way one would treat a sex offender.
Let me retrace my steps back to our stay, ten years ago, at the Weston Priory. For 5 days my wife prayed and meditated and did research on what to do so I wouldn’t keep relapsing. We stumbled across a drug called Suboxone, a combination of Buprenorphine and Narcane, which re-activated the pleasure centers of the brain but did not get the addict high.
When we returned we searched on the Internet for a reliable pharmacologist who specialized in treating people like myself, who suffered from long-term addiction, with this psychiatric medication that mimicked the opiates in the brain but did not get the person intoxicated.
Suboxone worked. There are other aspects to Suboxone treatment, which must be followed to make it a success. This treatment must be combined with therapy and support groups to keep the person from relapsing. Also, the person with the illness of addiction must be motivated to stay abstinent.
If someone wants to get high, no matter what you do, they will. Remember, addiction is not a crime, although most countries treat it that way, with the exception of an enlightened few. When someone with the sickness is punished for it, the desire to get high increases. However, when a person with the illness is medically treated, with medication, therapy and support, they can recover.
The illness of addiction is a stubborn animal and one does not always get immediate desired results. But when persistent attempts are made to gently place the illness in remission, it takes place, no matter how hard core the person seems.
Do all people with the disease of addiction recover? Unfortunately, they don’t. Most of them, with the right treatment, not punishment, will recover. We have to realize that, like any fatal illness not placed in re-mission, death is one of the outcomes of the illness. The goal of Harm Reduction is to keep the person alive and treat them long enough so that they make a full recovery.
A full recovery is not a cure. Once an addict, always an addict. But addiction is one of the potentially fatal sicknesses that can be successfully treated.
With the disease of addiction, force almost never works. Force is punishment and most people who are prone to this illness have been punished enough, which is what makes them use opiates: to stop the self-punishment in their own psyche.
So my wonderful, patient, loving wife and I are back visiting the Weston Priory, refreshing our spiritual roots that keep me from falling back into a hell of my own creation. I take my medicine as prescribed, I go to therapy because it is good for me and I go to my support group so I can heal daily.
Spare Change News is one way of my giving back to the community, which is part of my healing. So, if you are reading this column, I want to thank you for taking part in my recovery. Also, if you or anyone you know is struggling with the illness of addiction, the good news is that there is hope. Love, treatment and never give up. Together we can do this.