Sunday, September 18, 2011

Changing old habits – part 2

I had no problem at all understanding and relating with the dynamics of the issues that Jane and her family were going through, as I sat there listening to Jane telling me about all of the problems that her niece was having because of her drug addiction, and her telling me about how much of a negative impact that her niece’s problems, where having on the rest of her family. The main differences in our two stories, were how we had become drug addicted, and the impacts that our addictions had on both us and our families.

In the case of her niece - there was a drug fad that had started back in the mid 1980s and early 90s, and after the introduction of crack cocaine. Some of the marijuana smoking teens and young adults, had started sprinkling crack cocaine on top of their marijuana, and then smoking the two substances together (this was called smoking primo). And some of them, even started melting both crack cocaine and black tar heroin together, and then smoking that mixture together with the marijuana – this would then sometimes lead to cocaine or heroin addiction, and sometimes like in the case of Jane’s niece, she became addicted to both heroin and crack cocaine. In my case, what led me to the path of drug addiction was the excessive use of pain medications after I had suffered a lower back injury, and had received bad advice – real bad advice from the doctors that were treating me. After about five years of suffering with chronic back pain, and injuring and reinjuring my lower back, it was then suggested (recommended) that I have back surgery, and have 3 of the disks in my lower back fused together. This sounded real great at first, until after I had done some research – not only was there no guaranty that this would end my pain – fusing the 3 disks in my back, would have also severely limited the range of motion in my back – I decided: fuck having this surgery done big-time!

The only other option left was to continue treating the pain. So I simply continued treating the pain with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and narcotic pain meds; and hoping that just like every other time before, that the pain would eventually go away. Months turned into years, but I was still taking the drugs and still suffering from the pain.

Then I had an event that sent me to the ER, the NSAIDs had caused my stomach to start bleeding. The combination of the NSAIDs, and the weak narcotics had been working extremely well in controlling my levels of pain – but now, because this event had been somewhat life threatening, my doctor stopped prescribing the NSAIDs, and he then increased the dose and the strength of the narcotics that I was taking – towards the end of my treatment, and before my doctor had retired, I was having difficulty filling all of the prescriptions that he was writing for me (he was giving me prescriptions for 30 days worth of 4 different narcotics every week). I ended up going to 4 different pharmacies each week; I was visiting at least 10 different pharmacies a month, just to get all of my drugs. By the time that my doctor had retired, my life was a real mess, and I had already started obtaining most of the drugs that I was taking, from a friend of a friend’s sister, who was also a methamphetamine dealer (drugs like oxycodone, oxycontin and other powerful narcotic pills, trade just like cash in the illicit drug world).

About one year after my doctor had retired; I was now spending between 600-800 hundred dollars a week on narcotic pain pills; and I was now totally depended on these drugs; and I was totally unable to function without these drugs.

The funny thing about all of this was, that everyone who was around me, and who knew what I was doing, could all see that I was getting myself into big trouble….that is, everyone except for me – just like being under the influence of any other intoxicating and mind altering substance, one’s perception of reality becomes seriously distorted (I thought that everything was going great, that was until my supply of available pills had been delayed for 5 days).

24 hours without popping pills was not really a big deal – the longest that I had gone without pills in the past was about 48 hours, and no problem at all. However, this time, on day 3 when I awoke, I found myself in full drug withdrawal, and I had never felt as bad as I was feeling, ever before in my life (this has to be the closest that one can get to being in the imaginary place that the Xtians call “hell”).

Later that day, I called my dealer and told her what I was going through; the first thing that she said to me was: “I told you that you were becoming a junky, I warned you.” She then offered to make some calls to see if she could find something that would help me until the pills arrived. She then called me back about ten minutes later, and told me to come over to her house. When I arrived at her house I was sick as “hell,” she introduced me to a Mexican guy that I had already known for many years, and I had also known many other members of his family – however, I never knew that they were a family of heroin dealers – she then handed me a syringe half filled with a brown liquid, and said “sorry baby, but you’re sick, and this is the best that I can do for you right now.”

As I sat there holding this syringe in my hand while talking to our Mexican friend, I learned that his family had been involved in the heroin trade for over 20 years, and that they were involved in every facet from growing the poppies to manufacturing the heroin; and that they only wholesaled large quantities of the drug. He then assured me that I was holding the best heroin that money can buy, and that I didn’t have to worry about that “flesh eating shit.” I had no clue what he was talking about, but I was so sick that I was almost willing to try anything just to feel better.

Still sick as “hell,” and sweating and shaking, I found a blood vessel in my hand, and inserted the needle, and then started injecting this shit into my body. The rush was almost instantaneous, I stopped sweating and shaking; and within 5 minutes, I was feeling better than I had felt in many years. I then looked at the syringe (still sticking out of my hand) and said out loud: “what the fuck, so this is heroin – where have you been all of my life.” I felt as if I had fallen in love again, and for the first time in a longtime; and this shit was a hell of a lot cheaper than the pills that I had been buying; I could buy enough of this shit to last me for a year or more, if I wanted; I had just found the answers, for all of my problems…or so I had thought.

The next 2 years or so just seemed to fly by; I had managed to hide my addiction from my family, and all but my closest friends (who all thought that I had lost my mind….and I had lost my mind!). It was in about the 30th month of my heroin use that my life started falling apart. Before I had managed things by prioritizing the most important things, and then shifting everything else that I had to do, to a more convenient time – the only problem was that my addiction, had started taking priority ahead of most of the other stuff in my life, including all of my main enterprises.

In short, what I was trying to get Jane to understand is that it doesn’t matter how one becomes a drug addict – in the end its all still the same….and what does matter the most is the choices that one makes after they recognize the fact that they have a problem.

The road to recovery from any type of drug addiction can be a long and tough one. And if one doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a rational treatment program, then that road to recovery can extremely long, and most often than not, one will simply find they’re going in circles and ending up right back at the place that they started from – and I’m not all that convinced that many of the expensive treatment programs, are all that better than the irrational ones are. But in the end, what it all really all comes down to is the willingness of the person to change their behavior, and being provided with the right tools to make the change.

The biggest challenge to my recovery was accepting the fact that I had a problem. The next problem that I had facing me was the fact that I didn’t even have a clue about how to began to address my addiction; moreover, I still wasn’t willing to admit to my family that I had a drug problem, and least of which, tell them that I had a heroin addiction. Then the first mistake that I made, was asking the advice of another addict while we were waiting to score some heroin from a dealer – I simply asked him, how in the hell does a person get off of heroin. He looked at me as if he was dumbfounded by my question, and then he replied: “just go into treatment – I’ve been in treatment more than a dozen times, and it has always worked for me – and it will work for you too” he then gave me the phone number to the local detoxification center; he then said: “just give them a call, and they’ll even do all of the paperwork for you.”

It took me a few more months before I made that phone call – I believe that I just couldn’t get past the part about him going into treatment more than a dozen times, and yet, he was still using heroin??? However, nothing in this world of drug addiction seemed very rational to me at the time.

The Detoxification Center:

The staff at the detoxification center was extremely polite and very professional. And despite the fact that they all claimed to be Christians, for the most part, most kept their proselytizing to a minimum. The place was divided into two parts – one part was for “medical detoxification,” and the other part provided a safe place for the addicts to await placement in a treatment program – the staff did an excellent job of finding placement in programs for most of the addicts, considering the limited resources from which they had to work with. And just like the guy who had suggested going to this place as a starting point for my recovery, I was also in and out of this place many times before I was finally assigned to a “treatment program.”

The Treatment Program:

The day that I walked into this program, I had the highest expectations; that I was going learn about all of the new science in our current understanding of chemical dependency; that I would have all of my 40 plus questions about the effects that opium derived drugs have on the body and the brain answered; and moreover, I believed that I would leave this place, armed with at least some kind of new found knowledge, which would help lead me to the path of recovery from my addiction. However, in the 89 days that I stayed at this place, the only thing in which I encountered that could even be considered, as even remotely intuitive in dealing with the issues of addiction, was an old video of a priest talking about alcoholism, and based on information that was from the 1940s and 50s. After the video had ended, a staff member asked if anyone had any questions about what the priest had talked about in the video, no one raised their hands. The only question that popped into my mind was: “I wonder just how many little boys had this guy fucked in the ass in his career as a priest?” but I also remained silent as well.

However, what I was told about drug addiction, was that drug addiction is a “disease,” and that drug use is a moral issue, and that the one suffering from the drug addiction, can never be cured of the “disease” of addiction – and that only some higher-power (Jesus Christ) can treat this disease, and that one can only pray this disease into remission through belief in a higher-power, again: Jesus – they were using superstition, ignorance and stupidity, as the only means of “treating” a very real and serious medical condition. And I was told, that the only way that I can ever be free from my drug use, was by accepting Jesus Christ as my higher-power, and as my Lord and my Savior (I thought that up to that point in my life, that I had seen and heard almost everything; however, at that moment, I realized that my State Government and my tax dollars, had sent me to see a pack of delusional fucking Witchdoctors, for the treatment of my chemical dependency).

Needles to say, I didn’t learn anything useful in this drug treatment program at all – and I soon fell right back into my drug use again. And within a few months, I was right back at the same detoxification center again, and then again – and then one more final time before I realized that I was simply repeating the same old bullshit over and over, and that I was somehow expecting that something would change (magic, higher-powers, and Jesus are not real). I realized that it was me that needed to change – I knew that there just had to be a rational way for treating chemical dependency; and although, I have many friends who are doctors, scientists and other highly educated professionals, but to my surprise, none of them, knew jack-shit about chemical dependency and drug addiction.

Then one of the doctors that I knew, just happened to mention the problems that I was dealing with to another doctor: and according to my friend, the doctor instantly replied: “I know just the person who can help your friend.” So it took about 6 weeks before he could setup a meeting. The day of the meeting, my friend who is doctor with his own office and practice, hired a doctor from a temp agency to cover for him, so that he could personally take me to meet this person. The person that we were meeting that day was a retired doctor from the State of New York, and who was also an addiction medicine specialist.

As I was explaining my problem to him, he cut me off and asked me if I was currently using anything other than heroin – I then told him that the only drug that I was using was heroin, and that I had been using it for about 3-4 years. He then said that was all he needed to know. He then explained why I had failed in all of my other attempts at rehabilitation. He then asked my friend about my background and my level of education, my friend replied: he’s a scientist. He then went on to explain how he had got into addiction medicine – he said that he had been contracted by the U.S. Military go to Asia and help treat military personal who had become addicted to heroin while serving in the Vietnam War – he said that the military was having such a big problem in finding effective ways of treating addiction, and that they didn’t want to deal with the embarrassment of all of these heroin addicts returning back to the States, so the government started a policy of not allowing the addicts to return home from Asia until they were cleaned up.

He then said that all of the other methods that they were trying to use in getting these men clean, had all been just a big failure – like AA, and all of that other hocus-pocus, superstitions and delusional religious fucking bullshit had failed – and the failure rate was well over 90 percent until we got over there with real science and real medicine – he then said:”we turned a 90 percent failure rate, into a 95 percent success rate in just a little over 6 months – and how do you think that they thanked us for all of our effort, they made us sign an agreement not to talk about any of this, once we returned State side” (at that moment, I started crying uncontrollably, I’m not really sure what had caused this emotional outburst, other than the fact that I had finally found someone who I believed could help me).

He then explained how the program works, and how with the help of my friend that I could do the whole thing as a type of self-help thing.

In less than 8 hours that day, I had learned more about heroin addiction than I had learned in the whole of this fucking nightmare. And now, I fully understood why I had failed every time that I had tried to get myself clean, and why Jane’s niece, and why almost every other type of drug user will fail using the first methods that I described. Although it took me almost 2 weeks to read and reread the material that he had gave me, before I fully understood the process, it’s really quite simple – using drugs like heroin, cause changes in the chemistry of the body. There are compounds that can be easily made, that will rapidly cause the reversal of these changes.

I then told Jane that no amount hoping, wishing or praying was going to help her niece turn her life around. And most important – the niece has to want to take the first step towards her own recovery. The main issue in dealing with heroin addiction is the fact that most addicts don’t live long enough to recover from their addictions – and the niece has now been using drugs for about twice as long as I did.

I also explained to Jane the sobering statistics that had really opened up my own eyes – less than 10 percent of the addicts who partake in these superstition based treatment programs, manage to keep their sobriety for the first year – and the ones who manage to keep their sobriety for the first five years, is less than 1 percent – and more than half of those who have managed to keep their sobriety for 5 years or longer, have done so by making their sobriety the paramount facet of their lives (this is not a rational way of recovering from an addiction – but if works for them….then good for them).

I believe that the hardest part of rationally recovering from a drug addiction for Jane to understand, was when she asked me what I was doing to remain drug free – I simply told her that I was doing absolutely nothing; that I had come to realize that only I had the power to end my addiction – and that I had simply made the choice never to abuse drugs again. And that everything that she had been told about drug addiction by those ignorant superstitious morons was simply just a big crock of fucking bullshit.

She then asked me to have a talk with her niece – I reluctantly agreed, and I did in fact talk with her niece (coming in part 3 of this story).

Today, I have been completely drug free for almost 6 years, and I have also learned simple back stretching and strengthening exercises that have been keeping my back pain free for nearly 10 years.

Knowledge combined with rationality, critical thinking and reasoning, will always prevail over religion, superstition, stupidity and ignorance – simply because they are all just different forms of the same thing.