Many employees at CleanSlate have traveled their own personal journeys with addiction, either with a loved one or through their own substance use disorder. For some, it's both. We asked several 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 one employee's experience, in his own words:
Mark*: Care Coordinator, CleanSlate
Years ago, back in the 90’s, I had a brother-in-law who suffered from addiction. We used to be best friends. As a matter of fact, I used to get high with him back in the day. But then he graduated to heroin. Soon he was homeless.
He tried rehab for six to seven months and was clean for a year. But then he went to a bar with his brother one night. He had one drink...and that’s all it took. That one drink triggered thoughts of using heroin. The mental torment was more than he could take. He couldn’t bear to go through the cycle of addiction again. So he grabbed a gun and ended his life.
While all drug and alcohol addictions are difficult to treat, opiate addiction is a different beast altogether. This addiction is the most difficult to beat, in my opinion.
People with addiction are great at hiding the truth. Early on in their addiction, they can generally still function. And then that ability to hide their addiction evaporates.
I was one of those people.
I was using opiates, alcohol, Xanax and marijuana. When I finally had enough, I went to rehab. Ultimately, I was in five rehabs.
The first one used up all the money I had saved up for college. I entered the second rehab to save a job. The third rehab was to save a relationship. The fourth rehab was mandated for probation. By the time of the last rehab, I was suicidal. I told myself I couldn’t live like this anymore. Everything I did to try to stop using didn’t work.
I actually developed a plan to commit suicide: I was going to drive off of a mountain. But when the time came, my car’s tires sank in soft coal.
I looked up and said, “I can’t even do this right.”
I finally was committed to make my last recovery attempt work. I had to change. And now I was doing it for me; nobody or nothing else.
It’s so difficult when you have a loved one who has an addiction but isn’t ready to commit to their recovery. They have to hit bottom. Something very impactful has to happen for them to realize that they have a problem and they can’t go on.
The different states of change
When families approach me, they don’t know where to turn when a loved one has an addiction. It’s so confusing. Here is what I tell families to expect with the different states of change, as they try to encourage their loved one into treatment:
- Pre-contemplation stage
- Contemplation stage
- Preparation stage
- Action stage
— At this point, the person is actively making a call or seeking out some kind of help, whether it’s going to rehab, going to meetings, starting a medication-assisted treatment program, etc.
— Sustained change continues to happen.
— When this happens, patients fall back into old patterns of behavior.
Usually, it takes people several tries for recovery to stick. We all need to be open-minded and encourage people suffering from addiction to stay persistent and go to the next step. Prepare them for the obstacles they will face in getting treatment and don’t let that stop them from trying to get help.
And in my experience that help should include medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
So many times, people who overdose are given Narcan, then taken to the hospital where they are not treated very well. Even people who work in hospitals have a stigma about addiction. There’s just not an empathy towards people with Opiod Use Disorder (OUD). Patients are stabilized, and then they walk out the door.
"We need to end the stigma not only around addiction, but also medication for addiction"
It’s very difficult to get the hospitals on board with treating addiction properly, as a chronic disease. They look at patients as a burden. “They did this to themselves,” they think. “My time is better served helping people who had an accident.”
Sometimes, people don’t even make it to the hospital after they’ve overdosed. They’re administered with Narcan by first responders, and that’s it. Obviously reviving patients is not the same as treating their addiction. They’ll likely overdose again if they’re not given treatment for their underlying disease.
We need to end the stigma not only around addiction but also around medication for addiction. This mindset that you’re not truly in recovery if you’re taking medication must stop. There must be a shift in understanding that addiction is a disease, not a moral failure, and medication can help treat the disease. Counseling is a very beneficial tool in addiction treatment, but it is most useful when it accompanies medication-assisted therapy.
I’m so impressed with the results of MAT. Every day, this saves lives. And the positive transformations in people can be incredibly rapid.
When I started working at CleanSlate, I saw just what a difference outpatient MAT made. Without medication, these people would relapse and sometimes go to jail. But after starting at CleanSlate, their lives would completely turned around within a matter of weeks. I have seen people getting jobs within a month of starting their treatment; it’s amazing to see what’s possible. That’s why I’m so happy to work at CleanSlate.
One patient we saw had overdosed four times. But he has never again used heroin since the day he started on Suboxone. Now he’s got a job, a car and has moved out of his mom’s house. Another patient had been constantly in and out of jail. His probation officer was against MAT, but this patient convinced his PO to let him start on MAT. Ever since, he’s never had a single other parole violation.
I always engage patients and meet them where they are. I talk to them about where I used to be. I try to make them aware of the dysfunction in their lives and consider how drugs are not resolving the negative issues they struggle with.
I help patients understand that they can go from being, like me, in jail and completely dysfunctional, to happy, satisfied with their lives, and even helping others.
I tell patients, “This is something that you can have, too.” But patients have to decide that this is what they want for themselves. So often they don’t feel worthy of anything positive. Some of them don’t feel like they deserve to be alive. All of this is a process of getting people to feel that they do deserve to be happy. They feel like they deserve the chaos and dysfunction. What they think is: “I’m a piece of garbage. I don’t deserve that life.”
It’s up to us - those who love these people or are helping them in some way - to make them know that, yes - you do deserve to be happy.
When I tell this to people, they will often start crying. And then there’s sometimes a breakthrough moment where they start to believe what I’m telling them.
LESSONS I WANT TO SHARE
Medication treatment saves lives and can help patients quickly feel “normal” again.
Medication treatment is not “substituting one drug for another.”
Friends and family should encourage loved ones throughout recovery and show them that they care.
* While most CleanSlate employees are open about sharing their personal stories with patients and others, we have changed all names for this piece.
Read Mark's full story, and other stories like his, by downloading our Pocket Guide.