By Jordan Detweiler, CAC-I
After a week of lying in bed at my mom’s house, dope sick and vomiting in a bucket because of heroin withdrawal, I agreed to go to a detox facility. Anything so that the pain would stop. And it did. When they gave me suboxone (also called buprenorphine, naloxone, or subutex)–an opioid used to treat heroin withdrawals–I stopped being sick.
When discussing my discharge from the detox facility with the doctor, he offered me two options.
1. Continue on a suboxone maintenance plan indefinitely.
2. Go to MARR to learn how to live my life without any form of narcotics, whether heroin or suboxone.
With a long history of chemical dependency, it was an easy choice. Continuing with the suboxone seemed like the less painful option. Fortunately for me, my family had other plans and took the suboxone option off the table. They set firm boundaries. They told me that if I wanted their help, I needed to do MARR’s abstinence-based program. I reluctantly agreed to go to MARR. Today, I firmly believe that it was a boundary that helped to save my life.
My history with heroin
To provide a little context, I was using drugs and drinking regularly in high school. A daily drug user and drinker from the ages of 18 to 29, I started getting into trouble pretty quickly and was arrested 7 times, all for reasons related to drinking and using drugs.
I had half-heartedly tried to get sober before. For instance, when I was 20, my mom had flown me out to live with my dad in Colorado. Within two weeks I was out looking for painkillers, and I succeeded. Eventually I came back home and started adding even more drugs into the mix. Alcohol was a constant presence in my life.
The final straw for me was heroin addiction. Putting a needle in my arm created a new level of dependency that I had never experienced before. Toward the end of my heroin use, I was working as a cook and assistant manager in a restaurant. One day I was training a new employee. My cravings were so strong that I left the new employee at the restaurant by himself so I could go purchase and shoot up more heroin. This of course led to me being fired. It was then that I found myself unemployed, withdrawing, and living at my mom’s house. The only plan I had for my future was wanting the pain to go away.
This brings the story back to where we began. When the doctor offered me the option to stay on suboxone indefinitely or to learn to live without it, it was a no brainer. Because I had a chemical dependency on heroin my body was demanding that I remain on an opiate.
My family could see that simply satisfying that craving wasn’t going to be an adequate solution for me. They saw that I needed to learn how to live life as an adult without the numbing layer of narcotics. They had done their research and learned that MARR was a place to teach me how to live while abstaining from opioid use altogether.
Abstinence permitted me to emotionally show up for treatment at MARR and have a new experience of what my life could look like.
And that’s exactly what I found. I could immediately see that the counselors knew what they were doing. In addition to showing me how to be abstinent from drugs and alcohol, they were going to show me how to live a meaningful and connected life. Not only did they teach me skills that I needed to live a sober life, they cared about me and actually walked with me through the things that I was afraid of. I was a person who had always been suspicious of ideas about “God” or “spirituality,” but the staff facilitated the opportunity for me to make a connection with a Higher Power. They didn’t preach at me or tell me what my Higher Power needed to look like. They also taught me how to be honest and how to be a friend.
I do not mean to imply that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) such as suboxone tapering doesn’t help people and save lives. It certainly can and has. However, now that I work in the field, I have seen how that approach can lead to a continued dependency on the drug, and even a full on heroin relapse. Once I tapered off of heroin with the suboxone, what was helpful for me in terms of long-term treatment was total abstinence.
Working as a counselor
Working as a counselor at MARR I have also seen many patients benefit from the use of naltrexone, a drug sold under the brand name Vivitrol. The medication often significantly helps patients, since it is not an opioid and does not continue the physical dependence on opiates. In many cases naltrexone disrupts the cravings for long enough for the client to be emotionally present for treatment.
The experiences of community and connection that I had at MARR replaced what the alcohol, heroin, and suboxone were doing for me. I no longer need chemicals to maintain stability. In fact, I find myself much better than just stable. Thanks to the foundation I built at MARR, I was able to return to school, become a Certified Addiction Counselor. I now work as an assessment counselor at MARR and help families and their addicted loved ones who find themselves in the situation my family was in 6 years ago.
To hear more of Jordan’s story, you can listen to his podcast interview: https://www.marrinc.org/ep-24-just-one-call/