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Monday, November 30, 2015

Life With Addiction

This is a topic that may be sensitive for some readers.

As I have alluded in past posts, my husband is a recovering opiate addict. While he experimented with drugs during his youth and early adulthood, he emerged relatively unscathed but with an appreciation for the effects chemical substances have on the body. It wasn't until his late 30s-early 40s that he became addicted to opiates. Contrary to the narrative pushed by the powers that be about addiction, my husband did not become addicted from recreational use. It was a result of health issues which left him in constant pain and unable to function without the relief of opiates. It didn't help that his family had a history of depressant abuse. When he lost his job for political reasons, his health insurance ended and he could not afford prescription opiates. He then turned to heroin to ease his pain. After a few years of using heroin, my husband finally enrolled in a methadone treatment program because it was covered by Medicaid and he was eligible for it.

It was not an easy transition for him. At the time, my husband was homeless, suffering health issues unrelated to his addiction, and using a combination of cocaine and cheap vodka to function because he had difficulty adjusting to the methadone lethargy ("haze", as he calls it). Since we're close to Mexico, drugs are cheap and of decent quality. Unlike many junkies, my husband did not turn to crime to get the money he needed to buy drugs. If he got a computer job, a monetary donation from someone or even selling something, he would use that. He occasionally continued to use heroin when he could not get to the clinic, and it wasn't until 2007 that my husband finally got used to the methadone enough that he could stop doing the drugs and commit himself full-time to the treatment program. The medically-supervised withdrawal period he had to undergo to enter into the clinic's treatment program was also rough on him, but he survived. He has not used an illicit substance since 2007.

This is my husband in 2004. He'd just become a full-blown opiate addict at this point
Before I met him, I looked down on anyone who used drugs as my middle-class upbringing dictated that I should. I'd been taught that drug addicts were the shit of the earth and that they deserved whatever misfortunes were handed to them because of their condition.

Meeting my husband changed all of that.

When I first met him in the church courtyard that fateful Sunday morning in October of 2011, with his scraggly appearance and grimy white netbook, my husband made it clear what his condition was. By the time of our meeting, his days of using drugs were behind him and he was clean for four years at that point. He was quite open with me about his opiate addiction, and showed no shame whatsoever about it. He made it a point to not be ashamed because, as he saw it, addiction was not a moral failing or some other sanctimonious belief. He saw it as a sickness, similar to diabetes, differing only in the legality of the substance being injected. That analogy forever changed my perception of the nature of addiction. If we go by the definition of an addiction being a physical dependence upon a chemical substance for the purpose of functioning normally, then the diabetic suddenly has alot more in common with the socially unacceptable junkie than they might be comfortable admitting.

His 50th birthday, 2012. He never thought he'd live that long

To this day, my husband still remains in his methadone program. He has been with this particular clinic for ten years now, and is quite satisfied with the treatment provided. Given that he's now in his fifties, my husband speculates that he might never get off methadone simply due to his age. We've been slowly working his dose down, but it's not easy. Methadone, contrary to what the US Government tells people, is slow acting and is actually more dangerous to wean off of. The only reason the government authorized its use is because methadone is regulated. Unlike heroin where you're taking a gamble every time you shoot up (even if you know the dealer), you know the exact strength and purity of your methadone dose.

Even though he is in recovery, my husband is still technically classified as an addict. He depends on the methadone to keep the chronic pain at bay. If he was to quit cold-turkey now, the withdrawal would kill him. This is why we have to incrementally lower his dose, weaning him off in baby steps. We have had some success too. My husband's dose has been lowered by 30mg in the four years we've known each other and been together. I would like for him to eventually not need the stuff, mostly for the sake of our children. My husband too would like to one day be totally clean. Given our proximity to Mexico, while most people here in my part of Arizona wouldn't care about drug use, getting completely off methadone would certainly lessen the stigma of having a drug addict for a father that our children would carry if we were to leave here and move elsewhere.

Will our child suffer because of her dad? Only time will tell

As it is, methadone comes with its own pitfalls. It's slow acting and will cause a "crash" (energy drop) a few hours after ingesting, only to pass about 20 minutes later. There is also a chronic lethargy that comes with being on methadone, which can make daily tasks harder to accomplish. Provided you stay with the program, one could argue that having to go to the clinic to meet with the counselor/case worker and re-up on the supply or go for the daily dosing is a pitfall in and of itself since one has to make accommodations for time and travel. Being a controlled substance, methadone has to be administered under medical supervision. As such, it also serves as a liquid ball and chain, making moves to other states or cities significantly more complicated since a new clinic must be found and patient relationship established. While methadone is a federally approved means of treatment and thus discrimination against someone who uses methadone for treatment purposes is illegal, it still can happen and methadone users can be at a disadvantage for finding gainful employment. One person might be afflicted, but the addiction touches everyone around them.

But, even with opiate addiction, life goes on as normally as it can. When he is able to get employment, my husband will go to work. He also does the honey-dos around the house as any man can when he gets around to it. We go places and do things as a normal family does, just with the noted exception that my husband has to take a chemical-smelling, dark pink liquid twice a day. Now that we have a child, my husband keeps the methadone locked up in a safe place so she can't get to it. Parents who own firearms or household chemicals do a similar thing.

Addiction is not just for Others. It can affect anyone and impact their families regardless of race, class, or background. I am sharing my experience with addiction to put a human face on a sickness that is horribly misunderstood and misconstrued by those with an agenda to push. Obviously, there are others out there whose experiences with addiction have been worse or better than mine. Addiction is multifaceted and the sooner it is recognized as such, the better work can be done to raise awareness and develop more effective treatments to combat it. Like everyone else who has an addict in the family, I did not seek it, but became an advocate for the addicted because I see how much suffering comes with this illness. Like AIDS patients in the 80s, addicts should not be treated as second-class citizens because of the circumstances that got them to where they are now.

If you or someone you know suffers from addiction, please don't hesitate to reach out for help. Here are some links you may find helpful.

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