"There is so much stigma around addiction and so many people who are ashamed. I hear it from patients; they feel like people look down on them. I used to be one of those patients."
This is the recovery journey of Diego*, a Center Manager at one of CleanSlate's outpatient addiction medicine centers. Many of our staff came to work in the field of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) because of their personal experience with addiction, whether through their own substance use disorder or that of a loved one. We asked several of these employees to share their journeys of coping and recovery for a Pocket Guide directed towards families and friends of people suffering from addiction.
Here is Diego's story, in his own words:
Diego: Center Manager, CleanSlate
I’m from a rough town with a lot of crime and drugs. My father was a police officer, and my parents didn’t even drink. They had the mentality that addiction is a “choice.” But I eventually learned that I have an addictive personality.
I started out experimenting with marijuana in high school. I didn’t get into opiates until I was around 26. And then I just wanted more and more. I tried a lot of programs to kick my addiction. That includes CleanSlate, which I tried and left a few times at first, as well as rehabs and detoxes.
After seven years of struggling with opiates, I eventually hit bottom. I had no friends, my family wanted nothing to do with me, I landed in jail and then I was homeless. Eventually I realized that I had nothing left to lose. Enough was enough. I didn’t want to be perceived as a criminal or a “junkie” anymore. I wanted to prove to myself and to my 11-year-old daughter that I could achieve recovery. If I didn’t change, I was going to lose my daughter and maybe even my life. I made a commitment to focus on my own recovery.
I found my way back to CleanSlate and got on Vivitrol for more than a year. I got involved in AA, NA, and read the big book. I surrounded myself only with people who are positive influences.
On April 4th, I celebrated my second year of sobriety. My last drink was on my birthday two years ago. Here’s how much my life has turned around: now I speak at a lot of meetings and schools about addiction. My daughter is with me all the time. I’m super busy building a brand new life. I went back to school and got licensed for addiction counseling. I’m able to really connect with my patients because I have been exactly where they are.
Education is key
Here’s what I learned from my own experience: If a person isn’t ready to change, they won’t. You have to be ready to commit your whole life to recovery. You have to be honest with yourself, and really humble yourself to the process.
Before, I wasn’t ready for recovery to stick. Now I know that if it wasn’t for my recovery, I wouldn’t have gone back to school. I wouldn’t have a job. I wouldn’t have friends. I wouldn’t have my daughter in my life.
My advice to patients is: don’t give up. My advice to friends and family is: you may have to let go if your loved one isn’t ready. It’s very difficult, and every family is different. But educating yourself really helps.
My parents didn’t understand what addiction was. They kept asking me, “Why are you doing this to yourself?” “Just be a man and quit.” I would try to explain what was happening to me but they just didn’t get it. Now my mother understands that I have a disease. Groups like Al-Anon help parents and families get educated. And it provides a place where they can process their feelings.
For me, rock bottom was going to jail. I was a walking zombie. You would have been scared of me if you had seen me. Now my mother is proud of me. I have a life now. I have responsibilities and have to pay bills. I was lucky that I climbed out of rock bottom.
Unfortunately, not everyone comes back from rock bottom. There are way too many people dying. They’re not trying to literally kill themselves. But if they get a bad bag of heroin, there is no coming back.
Where I am, there are five or six detoxes in the whole state. Parents trying to get help for their kids think they have to get them into a detox, and they can’t get help fast enough. Information around addiction is not getting out to the general public fast enough. And that includes this piece of information: detox is not the only form of treatment. Methadone is one option, but it’s a daily commitment. I have found that Suboxone is so much easier.
In my work, I love to give patients hope. They’re inspired by my recovery and know that if I can do it, they can, too.
As Warriors for Hope, we at CleanSlate show patients that with recovery, they can have a whole other life.
LESSONS I WANT TO SHARE
- Addiction is a disease, not a choice.
- If your loved one isn’t ready for recovery, you may need to let go until they are.
- Medication treatment is an effective, accessible and convenient treatment.
*While most CleanSlate employees are open about sharing their personal stories with patients and others, we have changed all names for this piece.
Read more stories like Diego's by downloading our free Pocket Guide.