Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Robert Whitaker

Suboxone: Addiction, Recovery, And Self-Confidence.

Hi folks, good to be with you again.

I miss writing on this blog. I used to file two or three blogs per week. That was before I got a job—several jobs, actually. I need to earn my daily bread, and I need to take care of my kid, who the other day flipped over head-first, fell on his head and shoulders, and was back-boarded off the soccer field (he’s OK but yes—shocking to watch the trainer test him for paralysis and hear her say, “We have to call an ambulance”). So sometimes the blogging goes by the boards. I’ve been filing a lot on my Facebook page, but you have to be my friend to see it. So, won’t you be my neighbor?

Been teaching writing to university students. An interesting experience: the last time I taught was four months before I got sober. The other day I was sitting in a meeting next to an acquaintance in recovery, a woman sober about two years who just got tenure at one of the universities in town, and I told her I was teaching again. “Teaching sober is AWESOME!” she said. This is someone who does not usually include the word “awesome” in her lexicon.

“I know!!!” I said. I am someone who usually does not speak with multiple exclamation points.

Teaching sober is, in fact, awesome. The best thing about it is that, having practiced Step 10 on a regular basis for four years, I now have a much better sense of what’s my responsibility and what’s not. Which enables me to relate to the kids (they’re kids: they’re just three or four years older than my kid) on a much clearer basis than when my head was wrapped up in films of fentanyl.

In other words, I have more confidence.

The root of the word “confidence” is the Latin fidere: fidelity, trust.

Sober, I can trust myself. At any rate, much more than I could when I was taking drugs.

It is 3 a.m. and I’m writing this because I got up to pee, checked my phone, and this email came in overnight. She is taking drugs to feel self-confident. She wants help.

The drug she is taking is Suboxone. She was using heroin for five months—“five long, brutal months,” she writes, “and even though that’s a short period of time compared to most people, I was really addicted”—and her doctor put her on Suboxone. Her doctor told her taking it for three months would lead to a lower “success rate” than taking it for at least eight. (I’d like to see the data behind the claim, and I’d like to know who financed the studies.) So she took it for a year—along with two antidepressants and a long-acting benzodiazepine.

No idea what kind of doctor she went to, but in fact family doctors and internists, who are generally ignorant about addiction and recovery, can prescribe Suboxone, a long-acting fat-soluble opioid that’s more powerful, milligram for milligram, than heroin. Just as family doctors and internists, who are generally ignorant about mental illness, can prescribe antidepressants—drugs that also change the brain, usually not for the better, according to Robert Whitaker, who wrote a comprehensive and almost universally acclaimed book on the subject of psych meds and mental illness. Any time-frame over six weeks is considered “long-term” treatment by most physicians and researchers, and lots of folks wind up on these drugs indefinitely.

My reader writes,

I have been living with the knowledge for about 18 months that Suboxone is this wonder drug. It turns out I didn’t know too much about it. I kept a couple of the film strips in case I felt like I was going to relapse. One day I took the Suboxone after about three months of being off of it and I felt so high that it scared me… so I tried it again after.

Of course she tried it again. She’s an addict, and she has drugs in her stash.

This person has a job, too. She’s a college student, like my students. She’s studying to be a doctor, “so I could go help people with the problems I had,” she writes. And since starting school in August, she’s been on “a Suboxone binge,” she says.

Not to get high, but because it gives me my confidence back.

She needs confidence. She has to make friends, she writes. “I became socially awkward after my addiction”—as though her addiction is “over”—“and I felt like I needed it to talk to people.” So now she’s back to taking it every day.

Just little, tiny pieces, probably like 1/9th of a pill a day, but I don’t want to take it anymore, and I want my confidence and ability to talk to people back… can you please help me?

I have news for whoever is reading this who thinks that one-ninth of a Suboxone pill isn’t a lot. If it’s one-ninth of an 8mg pill, then that’s almost 1mg of buprenorphine, and that’s roughly equivalent to 30mg morphine. Which ain’t nothin to sneeze at.

This 18-year-old girl (she is 18: she told me) is taking drugs simply because she wants to trust herself. She has a drug that gives her that fleeting feeling of self-trust. She knows it won’t last.

These emails I get from readers feel like silk threads that bind me to folks around the world who are desperate for help with their drug problems. It’s like each of these people is Spider-Man, firing out webs that reach around the world and go straight inside me and attach themselves there. And they pull.

To my reader: your addiction is not “over.” If indeed you were “addicted” to heroin, then you are an addict. Being an addict doesn’t mean you’re a low-life. It means you have an illness, and like anyone who is ill you need to learn to take care of yourself. To do this you must ask for help In Real Life. However scary it might seem.

On the other side of that reality of needing to ask for help is this problem my reader will most likely run into: she may go to her doctor and tell him that she stashed her films and she’s been using again. You know what may happen? He’ll decide she’s a “chronic relapser” and put her back on Suboxone, perhaps at a higher dose, perhaps for a longer time. She is 18. Her brain and central nervous system aren’t really even out of childhood.

She writes, in a voice that is perhaps not self-confident but certainly reaching toward self-awareness,

I don’t want to take it anymore.

“I don’t want to take it anymore.”

The famous scene with Peter Finch from the film, “Network.”

I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.

Reader, there are two ways I might be able to help you. One is to suggest you call Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous and get help from real people who have been through this (and worse). Don’t Take It Anymore.

The second is something I think I need to do for all the folks who write in, to me and to forums for drug addicts, saying they can’t quit Suboxone. And that is to write about Suboxone.

If you have a story you want to tell about how Suboxone either helped you or kicked your ass, please email me at guinevere (at) guineveregetssober (dot) com.

Questions: Can We Stop Being Addicts? Can We Become Addicted to Religion?

An old friend emailed me the other day asking some questions about his alcohol use when we were in our 20s. (That means 25 years ago—seems like another life)

I still don’t know what I think about addiction . . . All I know is that at one time I was compelled to overdrink, and now I am not. I have been on lithium for 7 years, and that has erased all my compulsions. My abusive drinking, I know, was driven by a desperation to end suffering. Now, I am not suffering, and so I do not abuse alcohol. Does this mean I WAS an addict, but now am not? Or does this mean that my mental illness mimicked symptoms of addiction? And what of my mother, who prays and goes to church compulsively? Are some addictions benign, or even helpful?

My friend used to be a binge-drinker. He drank anything, but wine was his thing: he’d buy a bottle of wine and drink the whole thing in an hour or so. We were drinking buddies, and for a while we were roommates, and we always kept a case of beer in the kitchen (Rolling Rock was everywhere at that time—remember Rolling Rock? we’d buy “ponies,” pre-chilled, thinking it would help us drink less, and then we’d drink at least twice as many 7-ounce ponies as we’d normally drink of the 12-ounce longnecks).

I just spent the past five or ten minutes trying to draft sentences to describe how we would “go out” (i.e., drink)—20-something kids both raised in strict old-country Catholic families, finally finding something that looked to us like freedom but which just turned into more hassle and pain. Blah blah blah. … Long story short: what happened was, I quit drinking after I was prescribed painkillers; and my friend quit drinking after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was prescribed medication.

Any parallels here? I don’t know.

I’ve read Robert Whitaker’s wonderful book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, about how mental illness is over-diagnosed in this country, and also overmedicated with drugs that don’t have proven long-term track records. Case in point: I know a person who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD, anxiety, and depression, and the psychiatrist has prescribed 13 different psych meds. God only knows what kinds of unknown and unstudied inter-reactions they’re producing. This person has put on probably 50 pounds, cannot leave the house, and spends most of the day in tears. And since this “case” has been slotted into these medically-coded categories, the (underpaid, community-based) caseworkers won’t listen to the patient’s appeals to be tapered off some of these drugs.

As for my friend, it seems to me that his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the treatment he’s received for it has brought him some peace and the ability to live a productive life.

So, was he once an alcoholic?

Does that classification judgment matter as much as the way he’s living today? I wonder. Met today with the medical director of a big rehab. He acknowledged that bipolar is over-diagnosed these days but said that, among people with true bipolar disorder, 60-80 percent have co-occurring problems with substances or compulsive behaviors.

Adam and God's hands in the Sistine Chapel

Adam stretches his finger toward “God,” on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling.

And as for religious addiction. I could write several chapters about my experiences with this one. I expect I will have to write those chapters, if I’m ever going to be free of the “God” that grows like bindweed around my life, choking it as I’m trying my best to grow it and learn to care for it.

There’s not exactly a plethora of information out there about religious addiction, but some time ago I came across an interesting paper about it in a journal called Pastoral Psychology. The author calls religious addiction “destructive soul work,” says it can “free the believer” from other behaviors/chemicals via substitution (just as workaholism can—because both are more socially acceptable than drugs, alcohol or sex addictions), and postulates that religious addicts try “to avoid pain and overcome shame by becoming involved in a belief system which offers security through its rigidity and absolute values.” She writes:

The God that religious addicts experience is reflected in their behaviors and attitudes. Religious addicts often feel that God sees them as dirty and sinful—so they sometimes make others feel dirty and sinful. Religious addicts feel like victims of God’s whims—so they victimize and abuse others. Religious addiction cannot exist in a vacuum; nearly every religious addict abuses someone.

Yeah, well. <sigh> There are so many stories I could tell behind this idea. The story about finding my cat dead on the road one Sunday morning at 16 and being forced to go to Mass instead of stay home and take care of myself. (Then feeling ashamed because, despite my mother’s nudges and glares, I couldn’t stop crying at Mass) The story of my mother asking what I’d told the priest in the confessional—and then telling me what SHE’D told the priest. Lots of other stories; and to write them would mean I’d have to talk about the ways my family dealt with sex and money, both of which they considered filthy commodities, the one to be traded, the other to be withheld for manipulative purposes—and I’ll leave you to wonder, in my family, which one was which.

My parents held paramount the notion that rules were more important than relationships, and even when I came into “the rooms” during my detox I had a strong compulsion to Do Everything Right so I could Get Saved. (And Catholicism—the religion of my family of origin—doesn’t even talk a whole lot about “salvation.” But in my experience it talks a whole lot about doing things right and not thinking for oneself.) A big part of my focus these days is accepting the fact that I can think for myself—not just that I’m able to, but that I ought to, that I have some sort of permission to do so from a power greater than myself, which quite often is my community in “the rooms,” including all these virtual rooms—and that I own my own life, and that this is actually the way my world is supposed to work.

And I’m trying to treat myself with more care and gentleness… Difficult, because this was not the example ingrained into me. I can do this with other people, it’s just so much harder with myself. Someone asked me the other day: “What if you could treat yourself the way your son’s mother would treat him?” Huh.

This song is for my old friend. Thanks for your questions, darlin.


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