Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Subutex

Is It Easy to Quit Suboxone?

Some of you may know I’ve gone back to graduate school to get licensure to be a therapist. Here is an actual statement made in my textbook in the chapter about substance-use disorders:

[Buprenorphine] does not produce the physical dependence that is characteristic of heroin and can be discontinued without severe withdrawal symptoms.

Statements like this one make me turn into the Tasmanian Devil inside.

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Look, Suboxone saved my life, okay? There is no other way I could have detoxed off fentanyl—what other person do you know who has been on fentanyl for 4 years and lived to tell the tale?

But I had the good sense and sheer luck to take Suboxone for less than 3 months, and at doses much lower than the high-dose therapy that’s common in the U.S. Thank god I had ordinary recovering people rather than doctor, researchers, or expert talking-heads looking out for my welfare—I was tempted to stay on it long-term, because I’d been on major opioids for so long that I didn’t think I could do without them. And whatever the textbooks and “experts” might say,

buprenorphine is a major opioid.

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Among Addicts, It’s A Small World After All.

The other day I get an email from an English guy who says he has a story about Subutex, if I’m still collecting stories about buprenorphine (I am still collecting them and will be talking to folks starting in May—if Suboxone saved your life and/or kicked your ass, please email me).

This guy spent 10 years on buprenorphine after a devastating heroin habit. He took methadone to get off heroin, and he thought that in Subutex he’d found a painless stepping-stone off methadone. But bupe has given him all kinds of problems with his intellect, emotions, creativity, ambition, passion. He writes,

I cannot feel joy.

He jumped off Subutex two weeks ago and writes that he has already had a couple slips because he’s so impaired that he can’t stand it.

I have a loving wife, two beautiful sons, supportive friends, an ok job and yet I have been wanting to die for a few years now—not actively suicidal (you can’t be actively anything on long-term sub maintenance) but quietly hoping that fate would off me.

I know what he’s talking about. So does my jump-buddy, Bonita, who kicked Suboxone days ahead of me in 2008. So do thousands of other people who have had trouble either being on or kicking buprenorphine, or both.

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So, but here’s where it turns “most uncanny,” as Nigel said: In writing back, I mention I’ve spent tons of time in the UK, mostly in London and Yorkshire.

Nigel replies: he was raised near Kensington High Street (London), and he was educated at the Catholic boarding school, Ampleforth (York).

I know where Ampleforth is, I say, because I’ve been practically everywhere in the North from the Lakes to Robin Hood’s Bay, and all the dales and moors in between.

And I’ve lived in London. I tell him about a very unhappy, lonely winter I spent in London 15 years ago. “To combat a serious case of depression,” I tell him, “I used to push my son up Marloes Road toward Ken High Street and into Holland Park every day I could. I retain a great affection for Holland Park, and for a little tiny key-garden called Edwardes Square.”

Edwardes Square, West London. Photo courtesy of Londonholic.

Edwardes Square, West London. Photo by Londonholic.

Most Americans visit St. James’s Park, Regent’s Park, Hyde Park. Holland Park is an underrated treasure, appreciated mostly by Londoners, who, on warm summer nights, enjoy outdoor concerts and pick-up footie matches on the lawn. And friggin nobody knows Edwardes Square. I get blank stares when I mention it to anyone. It’s just a little tiny square in West London. When people get that far they make the cab fare worth their while by visiting Kensington Palace, the V&A Museum, the boutiques on the Kings Road. You can’t even get into Edwardes Square unless you live in one of the houses facing it. I myself couldn’t get in. But it was my little psychic refuge that long-ago early spring.

Nigel, however, says: his parents live off Pembroke Gardens Close, adjacent to Edwardes Square:

I know the area intimately.

Then:

He says he himself used to live on Marloes Road across from the Devonshire Arms.

Devonshire Arms pub.

Devonshire Arms pub.

(Nigel has lived in some fancy places. Not Belgravia, but still.)

I picture the Devonshire Arms: big corner pub; patio paved for pleasant outdoor boozing. (I never drank at the Devonshire Arms; I had my baby with me, always, and my codeine back at the flat.)

Nigel tells me,

My bedroom window overlooked Marloes Road, and I spent some of the darkest days of my heroin addiction in that ivory tower. I would have been there in 1998.

So. While I was struggling with killer postpartum depression the winter of 1998, walking several miles per day with my boy in a stroller, up Marloes Road and then Campden Hill Road to Notting Hill Gate, then west to the northern entrance to Holland Park—I was passing Nigel in his house every day.

G was rationing out her American codeine.

Nigel was banging his British smack.

And now here we are, on opposite sides of the sea, talking about how to live sober.

Most uncanny, 

Nigel writes.

Definitely a very small and funny old world.

Thank you, Nigel.

Every Detox Fail You? Try the Thai Buddhist Detox

Thamkrabok Thai Buddhist monastery, where addicts and alcoholics get sober according to Buddhist teachings.

For those in search of them, there are detox and recovery choices other than the 12 steps and drug-maintenance. For example, the Beeb is reporting results from a UK nonprofit that show that 95 percent addicts who go to a Thai Buddhist monastery stay clean after treatment.

East-West Detox, a Berkshire nonprofit organization (or “charity” in British-speak), helps British people who want addiction treatment to go to Thamkrabok, a monastery about two hours’ drive north of Bangkok. After the charity’s National Health Service (NHS) funding was cut in 2007, they commissioned Queen’s University in Belfast and London’s Brunel University to study its effectiveness over the following three years.

The report, released recently, states that 95 percent of those who receive the four-week Thamkrabok treatment stay drug-free, compared with 38 percent of NHS patients in UK detox centers, and recommends the NHS reinstate funding, though the Berkshire NHS trust says it currently has no plans to do so.

Thamkrabok’s treatment involves drinking a secret herbal formula and then sticking a finger down the throat and forcing yourself to vomit. Addicts in treatment receive other herbal remedies—to help, for example, with sleep—and they’re taught to meditate, chant, and contribute to the work of the monastery. Those receiving treatment are asked to make a solemn vow, called a “sajja,” stating that they “really want to stop using drugs/alcohol” and that they’re attending of their own volition.

The Thamkrabok website itself says it “does not offer miracle cures” and cautions readers to take any success-rate claims with a grain of salt. However, it makes this claim for itself:

What can be said, without any doubt, is that ALL ex-addicts who keep their SAJJA—with honesty and integrity—remain 100 percent drug free.

One of the BBC pieces tells the story of Sarah, a former heroin addict and mother of a young child, who had been prescribed methadone and Subutex (buprenorphine) to help wean her off heroin, but she “just found herself stuck on them.” Since coming back from Thamkrabok in 2004, she has remained free of her addiction.

I also follow a blog by Paul Garrigan, an Irishman who got sober from alcoholism in 2006 at Thamkrabok. Check out his blog for more information about this Buddhist-oriented way of staying sober.

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