Fighting my addiction versus fighting myself.
The doors opened at 5:00 a.m. Most of us addicts were ready and waiting an hour earlier, forming a haphazard line outside while sharing stories of their drug addictions. Each person had a worse story than the last with stints in jail or the hospital or getting busted with drugs. I had no stories to tell yet. I’d never gotten arrested before or overdosed or traded sex for drugs. It didn’t make me better than them, just early in my addiction.
As I stood there, my bones ached, and I heard ringing in my ears. I’d missed my methadone dose for the last few days because I didn’t have the $12.00 to pay for it. The day before, I went to the clinic and begged my case manager to let me have it free if I paid them back when my paycheck dropped, but he didn’t waver an inch. As much as I understood it was a business, I was angry that people like me had to suffer and go into withdrawal over 12 measly bucks. I’d heard it said that methadone withdrawal is the worst kind with brutal side effects. Standing there in the dark parking lot shaking from head to toe, I had to agree.
The clinic doors opened and everybody walked in single file to get up to the front counter. Everyone else who was waiting scolded people taking too long to drink their methadone. Two nurses worked diligently to get everybody their dose as fast as possible. Tensions rose in the lobby as everyone fought to be next to quench their thirsts. I didn’t push or shove or complain to anybody about the wait. The other people scared me with their desperation, even though I was hurting and anxious. By the time I made it up to the counter, almost half an hour had passed. I smiled at the nurses and drank my methadone as fast as I could, shuffling out of the way for the person waiting behind me, who was my husband, Micah.
Micah had the idea we should try methadone after his pain doctor died. We never found out what happened to him, but both of us freaked out about our supply being abruptly cut off. The doctor prescribed Micah oxycodone 30 milligrams with 90 pills per month. We thought we’d hit the jackpot since our drug dealer charged $20.00 for just one pill. An emergency room doctor diagnosed Micah with avascular necrosis in his hips, which is a degenerative disease, and the pain doctor was the first person he thought of contacting. It wasn’t like we weren’t using drugs already, but the doctor made it a lot easier.
Micah and I went to the pain doctor’s funeral even though it seemed inappropriate. Micah didn’t really know him, and I’d never met him. Micah convinced me to go because he wanted to get information about the doctor’s office and what they would do with all the patients now. He was protecting his fix. I teared up seeing the doctor’s wife and young daughters left without a father while Micah searched for people to get information from. It seemed morbid, but we were definitely in a bind. It was a time in my life where I believed I couldn’t function without drugs, not even to get out of bed, and the thought of withdrawal scared the hell out of me. After the service was over, we realized we’d found out absolutely nothing. That’s when Micah panicked and mentioned the methadone.
My case manager at the clinic was Anthony. He was a tall, skinny African-American man with glasses who had a messy office and a giant heart. Anthony told me about his struggles with addiction and how he got clean and sober, but it was hard for me to relate. Even though I was taking methadone to treat my addiction, it only seemed like a substitute for the pills I loved so much. When I took methadone, my anxiety faded and my focus was sharper. Most of the time it calmed me down to the point where I could function. It wasn’t what Anthony wanted to hear, instead telling me I’d eventually taper off methadone and truly be clean. The thought was terrifying.
One early morning after our getting our doses, Micah asked me to stop at CVS Pharmacy. When he came out of the store, he was holding a two-liter bottle of grapefruit juice.
“It’s supposed to boost your methadone,” Micah explained as he handed me the bottle. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I took several sips of juice thinking a boost could only be a good thing.
By the time we arrived home, my brain was complete mush. My words were coming out slurred, and I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I couldn’t remember ever feeling higher in my life. I thought it bizarre that such an innocuous drink like grapefruit juice would mix with the methadone and cause this reaction. Micah and I spent the rest of the day at the community pool laying in lounge chairs and floating in space from the high. I wished I could feel that way all the time and forget the pain of being a junkie in an abusive marriage. It was normally more than I could stand sober.
Every week at the clinic they held a group for addicts. Anthony said it was mandatory that his clients attend, so I sat on one chair in the circle and talked about how I stayed clean every week. I never talked about the grapefruit juice. Micah sat next to me and professed his love for the program, telling stories of how he avoided drugs and stayed out of trouble. It was all complete bullshit. We drank grapefruit juice with every dose now, rendering us incapacitated for the rest of the day. There was nothing clean and sober about that.
We met a young girl in the group named April. She was the one Anthony called out the most during our sessions. I couldn’t figure out why, because April only stood about five feet tall and shook like a leaf already without being yelled at. Micah struck up a conversation with her after the meeting was over and told me later that she was a prostitute who also sold drugs. I felt terrible for the poor girl, but Micah was already making plans to score pills. At first, I balked at the whole idea. What if the clinic drug tested us? If they found anything but methadone in our systems, they would kick us out of the program. It seemed like an awful risk to take, but when the pill was in Micah’s outstretched hand, my resolve fell away.
Everything changed after Micah and I took those pills. I felt too ashamed and embarrassed to see Anthony again, knowing how proud he was of me. The thought of coming up dirty in a drug test in front of him was unimaginable. Even if I had to go through withdrawal, at least now I had pills to mask the terrible symptoms until April’s stash ran out. I’d figure something out. I always did for drugs.
Even though my experience with methadone failed, I don’t disagree that it has helped some people. From my perspective as an addict, it seems like trading one drug for another. The addiction aspect is the same, and I’ve learned that with physical addiction comes a mental addiction that must be addressed. It seems wrong to give people something like methadone to make them addicted, then yank it away if the person doesn’t have the $12.00 to buy it. It causes unnecessary pain and suffering and seems like the antithesis of what they’re trying to accomplish. It also doesn’t help when the person doesn’t want to stop taking drugs like I didn’t.
Sometimes I still think about Anthony. I wish I could tell him I’m off the pills and doing better in a new relationship, but I’m not sure if he cares anymore. Letting him down was the worst thing about leaving the program, but until I found the strength within myself to start recovery, the methadone would never save me. I think about the other people, the ones I stood in line with at the clinic, and I wonder if they’re still taking methadone and thinking they are clean. My heart goes out to them, and I hope they will find their paths to recovery as I did without switching from one addiction to another.
The best kind of healing comes from what’s within us.