Ask an Ex-Junkie!

Because of my past and my willingness to talk about it, I sometimes receive comments here at the blog or through e-mail or facebook asking me some form of question relating to addiction and/or opiate usage and abuse.  While many of my visitors will have absolutely no interest in this, I do and will take the time to answer these questions to the best of my ability.  Like I add as a disclaimer to my “Tales of a Junkie” posts, if you don’t want to read them, no one is making you.  Feel free to skip to the next bit of snark or call to action.  In fact to make it even easier, I’ll insert a more tag right about now….

Still here?  Great.  Let’s flesh out some ground rules.  No question is off limits, and that includes harm reduction questions as well.  Don’t ask me where to get any drugs, because I honestly have no fucking idea anymore, other than the generic “on the corner in a big city” answer.  So I guess that is one question that is off limits.  Other than that, anything is fair game.  I am not a doctor, or a drug abuse treatment provider.  While I have completed some study in psychology, that is not the expertise I bring to the subject.   My qualifications are over a decade of active opiate addiction, and close to 20 years of time spent using and abusing various substances.  I have experienced both county jail and state prison, spent time in various in patient and out patient rehab settings, lived in a drug treatment halfway house, attended just about every possible type of treatment meeting and support group.  I have dealt with mental health issues co-existing with drug abuse, and on their own. 

I believe that every treatment method is right for someone, but none are right for everyone.  There is no “one size fits all” approach.  As a personal example, let’s take methadone.  I am a big supporter of maintenance treatment when used properly; it is what keeps me clean.  The only people who know I am taking a maintenance medication are the ones I want to know; I am not high or fucked up all day, you can not tell unless I tell you.  I don’t feel a buzz from my dose, or actually feel anything.  I just feel normal.  I have no desire to abuse opiates; no cravings any more, no urges or bad decision moments.   In addition, taking methadone has ended all of my other drug use; alcohol is dangerous mixed with methadone in any quantity, and since it hits me quicker now I just avoid it., I quit smoking marijuana in order to earn my take home privileges at the clinic, and using any of the other drugs I used to use as recreation only just isn’t worth risking failing a drug test and losing my take home privileges over.  Dr. Drew may not agree with me, my counselor, or my doctor,  but the three of us feel that methadone treatment saved my life and has been keeping me clean for years.

That being said, methadone is not right for every opiate addict.  I know many people who keep increasing their dosage so they never stop getting high from it, people who mix xanax or valium with it to stay constantly fucked up, people who fall asleep while talking to you because they are so messed up on methadone and whatever else they are taking, people who go to the clinic for a “base coat” so they won’t get sick, and then keep on shooting all the heroin they can get their hands on.  Some of these people aren’t ready to quit, and some of them just need a different method.  One size never fits all with addiction.  That is why, as much as I hate the 12 steps and every program based on them, and I have slammed them here and will continue to in the future, I will always also admit that they work for some people.

So do you have a drug problem and a question?  Do you use a drug and have a question?  (The two are not the same thing.  I do not believe that all drug use is abuse.)  Is a friend or a family member shooting up and you need to ask me something?  Or have you never known someone with a drug problem and are just curious about the hows or whys?  Feel free to drop off a comment here, or shoot an email to askanexjunkie@gmail.com

On to today’s question!  I got this question last September in a comment on one of my Tales of a Junkie posts.  I actually feel like shit about it, because it was a busy time at the blog, where I was getting multiple comments  over a few posts on feminism and male privilege, and I somehow missed this comment.  I guess a late response is still a response?

I can’t understand ‘addiction’ so your blogs are giving me some insight and I appreciate it. I was married to a hydrocodone addict for 5 years and felt I had my heart ripped out and stomped on. I was so angry I had to take Lithium for a while just to calm down and not rip everyone’s head off. Why don’t addicts want their family? Why don’t they want to do anything that requires responsibility? How can they decide in the middle of a marriage they just quit??? It’s such a horrible cycle running out, withdrawals, borrowing pills, buying more, being broke. Why can’t I beg enough to make him see what he has done? I don’t know if I’m wrong for divorcing or right. Should I be there for someone that wants pills over me? I want to be there for him but I never know who I am gonna see that day. The happy guy on hydros or the asshole in withdrawals. How can seeing his 5 yr old daughter for a half hour out of 2 or 3 weeks even be significant to him? She cries for him and he just says he’ll be back next week, or the next. My psych. says he’s just a junkie but isn’t there a man in there? the man I once knew…somewhere?

One of the most difficult things I had to deal with when attempting to stop using heroin and later other opiates was the damage I did to my relationships and the pain and anguish I caused the people I claimed to love.  To be honest, the shame and disgust I felt over my actions caused multiple relapses;  I didn’t know how to deal with the emotions and the wreckage, so I dealt the only way I knew how to: with a needle.  I’m going to work a little out of order with this one:

I don’t know if I’m wrong for divorcing or right.

I think you are absolutely right for divorcing. DTMF.  Dump the mother fucker. 

If it was just the two of you, with no children involved, I’d try to find out how many years of the five you were married and how ever long you were together before the wedding he was clean during.  How much of a bond you had with him before his addiction overwhelmed him.  If he started using during the marriage, or if he was always popping the pills, just good at hiding the problem behavior from you until you were already in too deep.  Then it would be a question of how much shit you were willing to deal with to try to salvage the marriage, and the relationship.  And the answer would still probably, more than likely, practically absofuckinglutely be DTMF.

The child just makes it a no-brainer to me.  While some people can use opiates without negative affects, your husband is not one of them.  The cycle is so familiar, no matter the opiate.  He is the best guy in the world as long as he has his pills, probably a great dad and a great husband, willing to help around the house, and with the kid.  But as soon as the pills are gone, you and his child become obstacles, problems to be worked around in his quest to get off sick and obtain a supply for the week, for the night, for the moment.  Your daughter is innocent.  She does not deserve to have him spend the grocery money on pills.  She does not deserve to be left somewhere he forgot to pick her up from, because he was busy copping drugs.  She does not deserve to be driven into dangerous parts of town while her father commits a felony.  Or for him to get arrested and have her have to process that while she is in elementary school.  This is a case where it would be better for her to not have her father in the picture.

How can seeing his 5 yr old daughter for a half hour out of 2 or 3 weeks even be significant to him? She cries for him and he just says he’ll be back next week, or the next

It’s not, and he will more than likely hate himself for this eventually, when he gets his problem under control.  And it is a shame that she has to suffer, but be thankful.  You want him in her life as little as possible with the state he is in right now. 

My psych. says he’s just a junkie but isn’t there a man in there? the man I once knew…somewhere?

Yes.  The man you once knew, the man you fell in love with, is still there.  But men, or women, are not fix it upper projects, even when sober.  Until he is ready to stop using, until he is sick enough of fucking his life up, or losing people he loves, of hitting bottom after bottom after bottom, until then there is no way for you to find that man again.  No one can make an addict stop using but the addict.  Maybe losing you is the bottom he needs to hit.  Maybe that reality will make him get help.  And maybe after a year or two, he is clean and trying to make things right.  But from your comment, it certainly doesn’t seem like he is close to that spot yet.

Why don’t addicts want their family? Why don’t they want to do anything that requires responsibility? How can they decide in the middle of a marriage they just quit??? …. Why can’t I beg enough to make him see what he has done?

This, in my experience, is the single, most difficult thing for non opiate addicts to understand.  Nobody wakes up one day and decides to be a junkie.  No one wants to spend every paycheck on pills, or ditch responsibilities to cop a fix, or show up late for work because their connection is running late, or call off because they are sick.  None of us want to hurt our family.  I didn’t decide “Fuck you mom, I’ll show you, I’ll shoot smack!”, just as he never intended to hurt you or your daughter with any of his actions.  Intentions, however, are meaningless when the end result is the amount of pain that we caused.

Opiate addiction is all consuming in War on Drug America.  (Yep, I have to get at least one legalization comment in.)  If hydrocodone was legal, or at least decriminalized, if all he had to do was stop at the doctors office and pick up his weekly script, chances are none of the issues you wrote about would ever have become problems.  But that isn’t the reality we live in.  In reality, his drug costs an idiotic amount per pill, the supply of his drug is limited, and the demand normally outpaces the supply.  Opiates feel good.  All drugs feel good, that’s why people do them, but opiates, for those of us with opiate addictions, opiates feel magical.  For me it wasn’t just a lack of pain, but it was energy, an end to my anxiety, talkativeness, euphoria, yet with a clear head and the ability to walk a straight line.  i.e., none of the loss of motor functions alcohol brings.  Like many, I started using opiates at work as a pick-me up to get through long shifts.  Maybe that is what happened with your husband as well.  Maybe he got hooked while prescribed pain pills?  However he started, he started, and probably like me and many others, he never even realized he was getting addicted until he didn’t have them one day and got sick.

There is no way to explain opiate sickness to someone who hasn’t experienced it.  This is the best way I know how:  Have you ever had the flu?  The real flu, not the sniffles that people call the flu.  I mean the flu, the knock you on your ass for days flu.  Sucked, didn’t it?  Body aches, chills, fevers, nose running, irritability, and so on.  Now add stomach discomfort.  Maybe nausea, maybe diarrhea, maybe just horrid indigestion, maybe all three.  Add that in.  If you had this sickness, what would you do?  What would the doctor suggest?  You’d probably sleep it off, right?  The doc would tell you to drink fluids and get plenty of rest, and you’d spend a few days in bed, suffering while awake, complaining to everyone, wishing you were dead, but mostly sleeping it off miserably.

Except, you can not sleep.  That option is completely off the table.  Take sleeping pills, doesn’t matter.  You will not sleep.  It is a command.  Restless legs, crawling arms, racing thoughts, all three, whatever, you will not be able to sleep, no matter how tired you are, no matter how much you want to.

This is going to last at least 72 hours.  You may be able to snag an hour of sleep every 36 hours or so when your body just shuts down, but you will wake up quickly and be just as miserable.

Sounds fun right?  But that is not the worst part.  The worst part is that you know, for a fact, 100 fucking percent, that you can make it all stop, immediately, instantly, not only stop but you can feel great, not just better, the second you make the decision to stop it.

All you have to do is use.

From personal experience, the second night is the worst. 

No one chooses to be an addict.  Once we are, we want our family.  We want to be responsible.  We don’t want to nuke every relationship we have, to burn every bridge we see standing.  Once we are hooked though, we stop seeing things through that lens.  We are not choosing drugs over you.  Or drugs over a job.  Or however you want to phrase it.  We are choosing drugs over the sickness, drugs over our fear of what comes after, when we have to face all the damage we caused.  I am not writing him, or myself, a blank check here.  I am not one of those “oh, it was my disease that did all those things, not me” people.  I do not believe for a second that I am powerless over my addiction.  If I believed that, I would still have a needle hanging out of my arm.  He is making a lot of choices, just as I made a lot of choices.  We both own the responsibility for our actions and decisions.

But the choice wasn’t drugs or my family, or drugs or my job.

The choice is drugs or pain, and after the pain, the reality of how badly we have fucked our lives up, which normally translates in to “more pain.”

Eventually, that pain is worth it.  We find a maintenance program, or we go through detox, and we start to deal with the mess we made out of our lives.

Or we die.

I wish the best for you and your daughter.

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3 thoughts on “Ask an Ex-Junkie!

  1. Gday m8…i myself am still living the life you left behind…Hats off to you for your achievement.
    After 30yrs of abusing drugs and myself i am at a fork in the road and if i dont do something now then i will probably end up another statistic.
    I just want to say…your web site has helped me mentally by knowing that there is such a thing as ..an ex user…i will continue reading your site and hope oneday i will be on track to being more like you…Thank you my brother for you positive input..From Dave down under in Australia….cheers

    • Good morning Ex-J and Dave – First off, E.J. – I sought this out today for knowledge. I am in love with an opiate addict. That is a tough egg to swallow, but not as tough as being the addict himself. He has been in a ‘Sally’ (Salvation Army) program for 2 mos following one week in prison for violating his probation after he was called in for a test and no-showed. This is all new to me. I have never knowingly known an addict (does that even make sense?). He was 3 years clean when he started again, and although I am standing by him through this process, I must admit that it’s only easy to do (most days) because there is someone else watching him right now. I know he is tested nearly daily (and he knows as well, which will keep him clean). He is upset that I am seeking out information so that I am not this naive woman by his side romanticizing his addiction. I do not want to be ‘that enabler’. I want the tools to see through the bullshit, and want to protect myself should the lies start again. So thank you, and keep writing. Your words help. After the road you’ve traveled, if you can help one – than you have made a difference.

      and Aussie Dave – my heart goes out to you. When my love was in prison for that week I sent him inspirational cards and letters daily, and created a mantra – ‘LET THE WANT DEFEAT THE NEED’. i know, totally dorky, but defining.

      I hope that your holiday is one step closer to your future.

      Best, Christine

  2. Not enough people care for one and other in this life,our only one.I love that you treat those of us whom walked the wrong road as human,for I truly believe addictions a sickness,a filler if I may say without sounding stupid and every addict I speak to,has had some terrible event in life I know I used my addiction to run from my mother’s death,she was a ROCK she could just say what I needed to hear,and after a few years of anger over the question why do we get to love someone to lose them to death,I learned tho death may be final,memories are forever you never lose those :).So tho I Don’t know you I feel a loving person,there’s to many dirty looks,judgement and just pure non existent empathy.I never leave a reply,never but it was the acceptance of all flaws that kept me reading,and the word you have helped me 🙂 Bless Your Kind Heart ♡

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