The phone has been ringing off the hook.
We recently posted a blog about the nascent movement to develop support groups for patients in medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Our piece focused on our own experience with a MAT Group that I help manage in CleanSlate’s outpatient center in Worcester, Mass. Ever since this was published, the Worcester office has been flooded with patient inquiries and requests to join our MAT Group.
Clearly, this blog touched a nerve. And a patient story from today explains why.
For most patients suffering from Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), medication is an essential component of their recovery. But the challenge for so many people is this: once you remove yourself from your old life - the friends, situations, and hobbies that helped perpetuate your addiction - what do you have left? Medication may remove the cravings and symptoms of withdrawal, but it can’t give you friends.
It is HARD WORK to build a support network. How do you go out and find a positive, accepting community, especially when you're at your most vulnerable? Where do you find new friends?
Related blog: AA And NA Won’t Accept Them, So People In Medication-Assisted Treatment Are Starting Their Own Addiction Support Groups
As noted in our piece, MAT patients often turn to AA or NA, hoping to find supportive communities to replace the destructive ones they’re trying to leave.
Unfortunately, MAT patients discover that they’re not completely accepted in these support groups because of their medication treatment path. AA and NA don’t allow these patients full membership, because MAT is a recovery path that doesn’t meet the qualifications of total abstinence, in the judgment of these organizations.
Many MAT patients steer clear of these groups, wishing to avoid a situation where they have to either lie or stay silent about their treatment in order to be accepted.
MAT support groups change that equation.
Just today, an experience with a patient illustrated the beautiful flowering of community that these groups are creating.
Jake (name changed to protect privacy) has been a CleanSlate patient for some time, but he’s still struggling. He’s on the right dose of Suboxone, but he keeps relapsing with heroin.
Jake has too much time on his hands. He has no friends anymore. He lives with his mom, suffers from anxiety, and is simply debilitated by shame and guilt. Jake walks around in a bubble of isolation, hating himself.
So he keeps slipping back into heroin use.
One of the providers in our center put Jake in touch with me so that we can find other supports to put into place for him. We need to help Jake create positive things in his life to keep him in recovery.
When Jake came into my office, I gave him a printed copy of the blog about the MAT Group. It turned out that we happened to be talking while the MAT Group was meeting in the next room.
After reading the article, Jake looked dejected. “I wish I could do this, but I can’t,” he said. “I’m not sober.”
Jake agreed to let me walk him into the group for a minute.
Then something magical happened:
Jake was met with a room of instant supporters.
One of our patients, Peter, took the lead in encouraging Jake to join their group.
“I’m supposed to be dead," he said. "And here I am. I was walking with a cane. Now I’m not. My whole life has changed. You CAN do this.”
(Pictured: The Worcester MAT Group, growing every week.)
Peter told Jake that he had changed his whole schedule and every other obligation in his life to ensure that he could always attend the group meetings.
He jumped up and gave Jake his phone number.
“I want you to call me anytime you need a friend,” Peter said. “We are here for you and we can get through this together.”
Then Peter hugged him. I thought Jake was going to cry.
Related blog: He Had A Heroin Addiction, West Nile Virus, And Endocarditis. The Healthcare System Failed Him; A Certified Recovery Specialist Empowered Him.
Yolanda, another patient, ran up and gave Jake her phone number. “I’m here for you, too,” she said. “We all help each other.”
Let’s be clear: not too long ago, Peter and Yolanda had been down and out, at rock bottom. They had both been struggling to survive not only their addictions but also endocarditis. These were people who were written off; there was no way they were going to make it.
But they did make it. And now they were cheering on someone else.
Jake was overwhelmed with gratitude. “So it’s ok for me to call you guys if I feel like I’m going to start using again?” he asked.
“Yes!” the room erupted.
Suddenly, Jake had a community.
Jake went out to the front desk and scheduled his next appointment, changing the timeframe so that he could attend the group meetings.
The reason that so many people have reached out to us since our article was posted is this:
We all need someplace to belong.
When we can empower patients to believe in themselves, they can then turn around and believe in others just as much.
The Worcester MAT Group is one of several MAT support groups offered in CleanSlate centers. More are coming soon, through both CleanSlate and other community leaders around the country.
I hope that this movement continues to catch fire and spread throughout the country. The more networks of support that MAT patients have in place, the better their chances of staying - and thriving - in recovery.
P.S. - I just received a notification. The Worcester MAT Group patients gave themselves a name - Friday Morning Meeting - and created their own Facebook group. They invited me to join.
This community is getting stronger by the day.
Their enthusiasm is thrilling.
Recovery from addiction includes recovering trust.
Download our free Pocket Guide to learn more about the emotional challenges that many patients face on their road to recovery.