Addiction

I’m Still Here: Treatment for Long Term Sobriety

I often talk about changes on this blog. Changes that are happening, and changes that need to happen. There is an endless list of things wrong in the sphere of addiction. From the problems with the way the police and justice system deal with addicts, to the stigma we deal with in the general population, and even on the front lines in the treatment world.

There are many different kinds of treatment out there. There is a lot of treatment available to someone who is in the very beginning stages of sobriety. We have the highest levels of care in detoxes, which then typically lead to an inpatient or Partial Hospitalization Program (referred to as PHPs). The level of care after that is generally Intensive Outpatient Programs (referred to as IOPs). There are no rules to the order in which someone engages in treatment, except that most programs do require someone who is actively using to have completed a supervised medical detox before enrolling them in treatment. Some people jump right into an IOP without having gone through an inpatient program.

The problem with any kind of outpatient treatment is that is allows the client to still engage in addict behavior while enrolled in treatment. Whether it is actively using, or other shady behaviors, it can be challenging to break those habits and that lifestyle while only engaged in treatment a few hours a week.

This is a problem that not only outpatient treatment programs deal with, but that is common in the rooms of twelve step programs as well. Everyone who has ever been in treatment or in the rooms has been told to “stick with the winners”, meaning that you shouldn’t hang around with people who are struggling to live a clean and sober life.

This philosophy can be difficult to adhere to, however, when those with good clean time are mixed into a group session at the treatment center with those who are still struggling to stay clean.

This issue basically stems from the major problem with treatment in general, which is that there is little treatment available for those in long term sobriety.

Once you have over a year of good clean time, your life generally changes in very significant ways. For most of us, our legal problems have been resolved. We are no longer on probation, and if we are on a long term probation that has extended multiple years, we are no longer worried about violating our probation in our daily lives. We don’t worry about giving dirty urines. We don’t have open cases with DCF and we don’t worry about losing custody of our children. If we have lost custody in the past, we have regained it or are in the process of regaining it. We don’t associate with people who are actively using, even if it’s only occasional slipping. We no longer frequent places like pawn shops, or spend time hanging out in the streets. We have realized major changes in the three areas I talk about that indicate true recovery: Behavior, Mindset, and Intent.

For these reasons, I generally avoid attending groups or twelve step meetings. I don’t want to spend time talking about those early recovery issues, because for me personally, it puts me in a negative mindset.

It is extremely triggering for me, personally, to be put back into a room full of people who have a totally different set of behaviors, a completely different mindset, and a dangerous intent.

Keep in mind, AS ALWAYS, we are all unique in our experience. For some people, they call it “keeping it green”, which means being reminded of those bad times so that they remember not to fall back into those old routines. For those people who find that kind of group experience to be beneficial, they should continue to utilize it as part of their program of recovery. However, for myself and many others, we prefer to stay moving forwards.

Yesterday I made the mistake of attending a group at my treatment center. I typically only attend one group, which is an aftercare group for those of us who have completed IOP and are succeeding in recovery. There is only one of these groups available, and all the rest are open to everyone, regardless of their level of recovery. Don’t get me wrong, these people need groups, and they should be welcome to attend them. The problem for someone like me, with multiple years, is that we need a different level of group care.

This group was completely out of control from the minute it started, which was ten minutes late. The topics of discussion were all things that are typical problems for people who are still using. Custody issues, probation violations, arrests from pawning stolen items, you name it. The individuals who were talking dominated the entire group, and became agitated every time the counselor tried to reign them in. The topic of the group was supposed to be “Coping Skills”, which is something we all need to work on. No one on this earth has perfect coping skills. However, there is a big difference between coping with the early days of sobriety and coping with the problems that arise for us later on.

The treatment industry needs to take steps to address the needs of those who are living in recovery long term. I am proud that my treatment center does offer the one aftercare group that I truly benefit from, but we need more. We need to make it a common practice in treatment centers to offer groups to those who have a history of clean urines and whose counselors can approve them to attend based on their time in recovery and what they have accomplished during that time.

The problems that generally arise stem from trying to ascertain what qualifies someone to attend what we might call an “advanced” group. For me it always comes down to the three qualifiers of Behavior, Mindset, and Intent. Is this person engaging in any negative behavior? Is their mindset focused on living life in recovery? What are their intentions in their daily life? These are observations that a counselor should be able to make regarding each of their clients, and determine who has come to a point in their recovery where their daily challenges have changed from those faced by someone who has less progress.

My daily challenges have drastically changed from the ones I dealt with three years ago, or even one year ago. This is why I struggle to sit through a group with people who are still navigating those early struggles.

We need to break down the recovery process further than simply clean vs. dirty.

Progressive treatment centers need to find ways to cater to clients in every stage of recovery. Someone who has been in recovery for ten years probably has much different challenges from someone who has been clean for three years. Someone who has been clean for six months is in a totally different place for someone who is still counting their first thirty days.

Everyone who desires a life in recovery deserves to have their unique needs addressed by their treatment center. When we talk about opiate withdrawal, the Post Acute Withdrawal process can last up to two years, but the average treatment center provides no more than eight weeks of care to clients enrolled in an IOP. What happens after that? Where is the follow up care? We need to do a better job with the follow through process when it comes to continued care.

A diabetic doesn’t get prescribed insulin, spend a few weeks getting monitored, and then get sent on their way. They continue to report to their doctor and talk about what is working and what is not working for as long as necessary to keep their condition under control. A cancer patient doesn’t go into remission and then never see their doctor again. They go back for testing for years to ensure that the cancer doesn’t return, and if it does, it is caught early BECAUSE of the continued regular monitoring.

Addiction is an all consuming disease that totally alters every single facet of our lives, and it typically goes on for months or years. When we talk about weight loss, we always hear that it took so long to put the weight on, so it’s going to take just as long to lose it. We need to treat addiction and recovery the same way. Changing your behavior, mindset, and intent amounts to changing your entire perspective on life. These changes cannot be made overnight. We spent years building these negative habits, and it can take years to fully break them and replace them with our new way of life.

This is just one of many changes we need to see moving forward in the treatment of addiction. The list of steps towards progress is endless, and it’s going to take time to implement new strategies of care as we change the way we look at and treat this deadly disease. The good news is that there ARE progressive treatment centers who are looking beyond the twelve step model to see what else is out there and what other ways people can get into and stay in recovery. What changes would you like to see in the treatment of addiction? Let me know in the comments!

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

No Stigma, Know More

Those of us who have lived through an addiction, or are currently dealing with one, know what our biggest enemy is, and that is stigma. We talk about it all the time. We complain about the way people judge us, the way those on the outside don’t understand addiction, and the lack of support from everyone from our families and friends to the government. We are angered by the perceptions people have about us and our family members who are in active addiction or recovery. They don’t know who we really are, that we are good people from good families and that this can happen to anyone. But then we feed it.

We feed it by whispering among ourselves. We feed it by hiding our status or our loved one’s status as an addict once we get established in recovery. We don’t tell people about our history, like it never happened. Parents don’t talk to other parents, unless their kids are also affected. We stay isolated among ourselves and we feed this stigma that we then complain about.

We cannot wait for others to one day wake up and change their minds about how they perceive addicts. The only way people’s perceptions change is when they come into contact with someone who alters their reality surrounding addiction. We have to be those people.

It’s our job to advocate for a change in the way the world views us. When someone loses their battle, and succumbs to a fatal overdose, it is their family’s job to honor their battle by being honest about how they died. When we say a 23 year old with a known drug problem “died suddenly” with no explanation, the world knows what happened and they know you are hiding. That tells people that you are ashamed of your child and how they died, whether that is true or not. That is the message you are sending. That is the perception you give people when you fail to tell the truth. If they died of any other disease, you would acknowledge it. Obituaries are a way for us to acknowledge the fight, and how powerful addiction is when we lose that fight. They are also a way for us to draw attention and donations to organizations that may have served us during our struggle.

Once you or your child gets established in long term recovery, this is an ideal time to wave your addict flag. Because this is the time where you are showcasing an addict at their best. You are showing what can happen when recovery is realized. You are showing people that there is hope, and that this disease can be treated and can be overcome. When you decide the bury the struggle you and your family have just conquered, how are you helping the next family? How are you reducing the stigma that you are so upset about?

When your child is out there in their addiction, and people ask you about them, tell the truth. When you are embarrassed of your child and their truth, what does that say to your child? That you are ashamed. That you are hiding them and their addiction. If they had cancer, how different would the situation be? You would be seeking the best treatment you could find, you would be asking everyone you knew for their thoughts and prayers, and the people in your life would rally around you with concern and support.

People don’t know how to act in these situations because when we are hiding, we are sending the message to the people in our life that we are ashamed and we don’t want to acknowledge what is going on. It can be scary to come out with the truth, because people don’t know how to act or respond. It’s our job to teach them. Then they can teach others. Eventually, we begin to change how people regard addiction and we begin to reduce the stigma. If the people in your life are too caught up in their own ideas about addiction, and they can’t bring themselves to support you, then you should seriously consider their role in your family’s life. It may take some time, and some education, to help bring them around, and that is okay. Don’t complain that they don’t understand, because it is our job to teach them and educate them so that they can come to at least appreciate what you’re going through, even if they never truly “understand”.

We need to be vocal about our struggles and proud of our accomplishments.

We need to teach the world around us about this disease, and how to support us while we’re going through it. When we ask an addict not to talk about their disease, especially when they are in early recovery, we are invalidating them as a person because their disease becomes their entire life at that stage. If they have just come from treatment, if they are fresh in recovery, their recovery is their WHOLE LIFE right now. For some of us, even years later, it remains a significant part of our lives. When we are asked not to acknowledge it, we are being asked to hide. No one would ever ask a cancer patient not to talk about their disease, their treatment, and their recovery. The disease of addiction is just as pervasive, just as all consuming, and just as fatal as cancer.

When a classmate of mine was battling cancer a few years ago, he told me something I will never forget. He said that he wouldn’t trade places with me, because he couldn’t imagine being blamed for the disease that was trying to kill him.

When it comes to the stigma surrounding addiction, those of us who are affected are on the front lines. We need to be proud of who we are, and what we deal with. If we want there to be a change in the public perception, then we need to get loud and get proud about our circumstances. You are your best advocate. If you want to see a change, BE that change. If you want there to be no stigma, then we need to teach people to know more about us and the war we are fighting each and every day.

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Great Expectations: The Risk of Pregnancy In Early Recovery

There are a lot of hot button issues that get talked about in the recovery community. We talk about medical maintenance, we talk about Twelve Step programs. We discuss the pros and cons of psychiatric medications. We debate the differences between enabling and helping an addict. We talk about the dangers of romantic relationships in early recovery. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a huge elephant in the room that we are not talking about that we desperately need to be, and that is pregnancy in early recovery.

I have met countless women in treatment who are absolutely convinced that they cannot get pregnant because there is something wrong with their bodies. They will tell you up and down how they have been having unprotected sex with their significant other for years now and they just don’t get pregnant. Then in the first few months of recovery, they find themselves with child.

These women are right, there is something wrong with their bodies, and in many cases the bodies of their partner. What’s wrong is that they are literally dying from their drug addiction.

The human body is a marvel of biology and is an amazingly intelligent machine. The human body wants to procreate by nature. However, when someone is sick and dying, they are much less likely to conceive a child. How often does someone dying of cancer get pregnant? Yes, it happens, but not very often. People with chronic diseases often struggle to conceive. Women who are overweight, even slightly, are typically told to lose weight in order to increase their chances of getting pregnant. That goes for women who smoke cigarettes as well. When the body is being damaged, it is not a hospitable place to grow another human being.

When a woman is using, her cycle can become irregular, infrequent, and she often loses her period all together. If a woman is not ovulating, she cannot become pregnant. Furthermore, women who do get pregnant often miscarry very early on. They sometimes don’t even realize it’s happening because they attribute the symptoms of the miscarriage to being just another odd period issue. Babies need a healthy body to grow, and that is why women who are addicted to drugs often believe they have fertility issues.

On the male side of the equation, it’s all about sperm count and strength. A dying man is not producing the best quality sperm. Do sick men impregnate women? Of course. It happens. But once again, it is a challenge that many couples deal with when they are trying to conceive on purpose. When a man gets clean, his body also wants to get back to its intended purpose of procreating.

When people get clean, some systems in the body get well faster than others. One of the first things that happens to many women is their period comes back or becomes more regular again. The human body’s main purpose in life is to reproduce more humans. It wants to get back to work on that as soon as possible.

Even though methadone is an opiate, the body gets much healthier once someone becomes established on methadone maintenance. Women in methadone clinics get pregnant very early on in their treatment because their body is becoming healthier and is ready to get back to its purpose of reproduction. The reason this is bad is not because methadone is bad for the baby. While it is certainly not ideal, many women on methadone give birth to perfectly healthy babies. Depending on the dose the mother is on, some babies go through little to no withdrawal symptoms at all. Those who do are treated medically and often remain very comfortable until the issue is resolved. Pregnancy on methadone is a topic for another blog. The reason I’m addressing it here is in the interest of a woman getting pregnant in early sobriety and the issues that brings.

When I talk about early sobriety I’m typically talking about the first year or so. When you are working to overcome an opiate addiction, the first year is no joke. You go through many huge changes and challenges while getting sober. The body goes through tremendous changes. The brain is turned upside down and inside out while it tries to recover. Those with mental health issues are typically getting back on psychiatric medications and dealing with the ups and downs of that, which can take up to a year to get right. Those who choose to utilize methadone spend the first six months or so getting stabilized on the right dose.

Lots of undiagnosed health problems can rise to the surface in the first year. People realize they have liver or kidney issues. Some people find out that they are diabetic. All kinds of health problems that were ignored during the person’s using career can come to light once the body starts getting back to its normal state of being. These issues need to be dealt with and can make an unplanned pregnancy that much more difficult or even dangerous.

There are also the social issues we encounter in the first year. Many people are homeless, living in sober houses, or shelters. People struggle to find a job, and often the first job they get is some kind of “starter job”, just to get them back in the swing of working again. Many people don’t have a car, and if they do, it isn’t very reliable. There’s also the issue of health insurance, which many addicts do not have.

Many of us have a great deal of debt to deal with in early recovery. If we’re not in debt, most of us are dead broke. Raising a child costs a lot of money, and most of us can’t even pay our own bills in the first year.

The first year is not the right time for 99% of addicts in recovery to be starting a family. It is a tumultuous, unpredictable, and erratic time in our lives. We don’t know who we are in sobriety, and we are trying to figure that out. Our lives are unstable, and we often don’t know what our plans are for our futures right away. Our support systems are busy trying to help us stay sober, if we are fortunate enough to even have a support system. It’s not fair to them to have to help us support and raise a baby because we aren’t in a position to support one ourselves.

Many addicts are not even stable enough in their life to even get a job right away, or live on their own, or simply exist as an independent human being. The first year is all about figuring out who you are in sobriety, and who you want to be. You should be able to support yourself, both emotionally and financially, before you take the step to start a family.

The idea that having a baby will help you to stay sober is just as much of a myth as the idea that having a baby will save a relationship or marriage.

Babies don’t fix problems, they exacerbate them. If babies kept people sober, then thousands of grandparents wouldn’t be raising their grandchildren and millions of kids would not be caught up in the foster system. A baby is not going to fix you, and it will not fix your partner.

It truly blows my mind that no one ever talks about this extremely important topic in the addiction and recovery field. Many addicts have never ever heard of this issue of increased chance of conception in early recovery, even those who it has happened to don’t realize the reason behind it. People are extremely fertile in early recovery and it is the worst possible time for that to be happening! I encourage all of my clients to pay close attention to this issue and not only to use birth control, but to double up on your methods.

This goes for the partners of addicts as well. I recently spoke with a woman who herself is not an addict, and whose husband got sober, they got pregnant, and within a month he was out using again. Now she is raising her beautiful daughter on her own. Would she give up her daughter for anything is this world? Of course not. But is the situation ideal? Far from it.

Two women I know have similar stories where they got pregnant in the first month of recovery, not once, but TWICE. No one ever explained to them that they are so fertile in early recovery, and even after it happened the first time they didn’t make the connection. They thought it was a fluke. It’s not a fluke!

There are so many children out there who are growing up without their parents because they can’t stay sober. There are children who are watching their parents die in front of them, and those who have had to bury their parents before they are even old enough to understand what death is. This is not the life you want for your child. There are more stories than I care to remember of terrible situations related to women getting pregnant in early recovery and not being able to stay sober in the long term. Everyone thinks that it won’t happen to them, that they are different, that they can do it, that they can change. I’m telling you that it can happen to you, you are not different, and it will not help you stay sober. Just trust me on this one. In rare circumstances, it probably has helped some people. In rare circumstances, it may have changed some people’s lives for the better. These are not the norm, they are the literal unicorns of the addiction world. No one wants to admit that they wish their child hadn’t been born. It’s a terrible thing to think. But I assure you, I have met MANY women who feel that way. I have met MANY women who are out on the streets, with their child growing up without them, because they got pregnant during a short stretch of sobriety by accident.

Please take this warning and share it with those you know in early recovery. Please understand how real the risk of pregnancy in early recovery is, whether it is the man or women or both partners who are getting sober. It just doesn’t matter. Your past history doesn’t matter. This happens every single day and it’s a source of stress you just don’t need in early recovery. Focus on you and your recovery. Focus on your mental and physical health. Build yourself a life you love and become the person you are proud of. Get your finances in order and pay your debts.

If you need help getting on birth control, please contact your local Planned Parenthood. If you want to help women in recovery prevent unplanned pregnancies, consider donating to our fundraiser. It is part of our mission to educate and advocate on this issue and to scholarship birth control for women in early recovery who cannot afford it on their own.

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

She Will Be Loved: My Heroin Anthem

Music plays a big role in many of our lives, because it is so versatile and can be interpreted to fit any situation that we may be going through. Many love songs have been written over the years that are actually about drugs and addiction. For me, my addiction has always felt like an abusive relationship, so whenever I hear a song on the radio that speaks to romance, my first thought is always the torrid and dangerous relationship I’ve had with heroin.

My heroin anthem, which is probably very surprising to a lot of people, is a song that I’m pretty sure is not about drugs or addiction at all. That song is Maroon 5, “She Will Be Loved”. As we go through the lyrics, you’ll see what I mean.

Beauty queen of only eighteen
She had some trouble with herself

I was eighteen when my addiction started, so we open the song where my disease began. I have struggled with mental illness all of my life, since childhood, so you could say I’ve always had some trouble with myself.

I drove for miles and miles and wound up at your door
I’ve had you so many times but somehow I want more

My stomping grounds were all the way out in Waterbury, which is quite a few miles from where I live. I have found myself driving there so many times. And no matter how many times I rendezvous with my lover, my addiction, my drug of choice, and no matter how many times it hurts me and the people I love, I still want more.

I don’t mind spending every day
Out on your corner in the pouring rain
Look for the girl with the broken smile
Ask her if she wants to stay awhile
And she will be loved
And she will be loved

Every single day of my addiction, I spent waiting for my drug dealer. I’m the girl with the broken smile, literally, because my addiction has caused so much damage to my teeth. Metaphorically, because my life is a disaster but I always try to be pleasant to drug dealers. When you’re nice, they treat you better.

Tap on my window, knock on my door
I want to make you feel beautiful

They often walk, whether they’ve parked somewhere else and are walking or they’re hanging out somewhere and they’ve sent you to wait nearby. They come and literally tap on my window, or knock on my car door, so I will let them in. Once I’m high, everything is beautiful. I feel beautiful, even though when I am using I am every shade of ugly.

It’s not always rainbows and butterflies
It’s compromise that moves us along, yeah
My heart is full and my door’s always open
You come anytime you want, yeah.

Just like any abusive lover, they try to convince you that all relationships have ups and downs. They try to make you feel like the bad isn’t so bad, and the good is SO good. The compromise is that I give my life in exchange for a short time of feeling okay. Of feeling beautiful, full, and empty at the same time.

I know where you hide alone in your car
Know all of the things that make you who you are
I know that goodbye means nothing at all
Comes back and begs me to catch her every time she falls

And I sit, alone, in my car, tying off my veins with a auxiliarycable. If it’s night time I might have to pull out my flashlight. Heroin becomes everything you are. It makes you who you are, at that time, because everything that is the real you is depleted by the drug. I say goodbye, every single time, and I always come back. When things are bad, when things are good. When I am celebrating, when I am mourning. I fall, and I am caught by the warm wings of the angels who wrap me up in desperation and despair.

Tap on my window knock on my door
I want to make you feel beautiful

Another day, another tap on the window. Some dealers became so close to me that they actually let me into their homes, in which case, I would be knocking on their door.

Please don’t try so hard to say goodbye

Every time I try to say goodbye to my addiction, it pulls me back. Its grip is so tight, so warm, and yet so cold, it holds on for dear life. For my life. The fight is on going.

Every day when I wake up, I have to make the choice to say goodbye. Because if I go back to that corner, back to the pouring rain, I lose my ability to make that choice. When the addiction takes over, there are no choices left to make.

This song speaks to me so deeply, I feel like it was written specifically for me. Every love song I hear makes me think of heroin, because I’ve never loved anyone the way I loved my drug of choice. I would never stay in a relationship with someone who harmed me, physically, emotionally, and every other way imaginable. But when heroin does it, I find a way to look past it. I accept the unacceptable.

I heard this song on the radio today, and it just struck me that no one else knows this hidden meaning that it has for me. That even when I am not thinking about my addiction, I’m still thinking about it. It lives in my subconscious, and I have to actively fight it throughout the day to keep myself from getting on that highway.

Please don’t try so hard to say goodbye

I am trying, every day, to say goodbye.

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Partners In Crime: Mental Health & Addiction

Addiction is a cunning monster, but it doesn’t always work alone. Often times, it has a ready and willing accomplice that allows it to thrive. There are a lot of components to addiction, and a lot of different behaviors and mentalities contribute to its ability to destroy lives. However, the number one partner to addiction has always been and will always be mental health.

Over half of all people with a substance abuse problem are diagnosed with an additional mental illness. This number is staggering, especially when you consider how many people out there have a mental illness and have not been diagnosed. There is also the issue of misdiagnosis among addicts, because their use effects the way their disorder presents to a professional. Many people are diagnosed with mental illnesses while they are in active use, or in early recovery, and then find that the medications they are prescribed are not working, so they ditch them.

It is important to remember that mental illness has no cure, just like addiction. It is a living problem, that continues to grow and shift and change as time goes on. Our daily lives can affect our mental health. Our progress in recovery can affect our mental health.

So many factors contribute, and it is vital to our recovery that we continue to work on our mental health just as hard as we work on our recovery.

Reluctance to treat these mental illnesses sometimes stems from involvement with the Twelve Steps. While the original program promotes the treatment of medical issues, including behavioral ones, many groups have twisted the intentions of the founders and built this renegade program that frowns upon medications of any kind. Some people believe that the use of any drugs, including those that treat mental illness, means you are not truly “clean”. Other people believe that their problem is strictly a spiritual malady, and that their symptoms will be cured by working the program of AA or NA. This is one of the many problems caused by this program. The fact that each group is autonomous allows for some of them to plant the seeds for warped perceptions of their literature and this is very dangerous when it comes to people who need treatment for their underlying mental illness.

Then of course we have the shame factor. People can admit that they made a mistake with their addiction. They can admit that they did something wrong, maybe they were weak then, but they get into recovery and say “that was then and this is now”. They want to say that today they are better. Admitting that there is still something wrong with them, and that they have an issue that they have no control over, makes many addicts uncomfortable.

Mental illness, just like addiction, is a chemical problem that masquerades as a behavioral problem.

It walks around in disguise, making people look and act crazy. Depression, for example, is a problem caused when serotonin is not properly absorbed by the receptors in the brain. This is a chemical problem, not something you can think yourself out of. When pathways are damaged and neurotransmitters aren’t firing correctly and their reuptake is interrupted, medication corrects what is broken. It allows the brain to work as intended. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, are the most common medications prescribed for depression and anxiety. They literally act like a lid, holding the serotonin down in the receptor so it can be absorbed as intended. It is not some kind of happy pill that helps you forget your problems.

Some drugs, like lithium, have less information available about how they work in the brain. We just know that for some people, like myself, they are lifesavers. When my kidneys revolted against lithium earlier this year, I was and still am devastated. After fifteen years, I had to go back to the drawing board and find a new base to my medication cocktail.

Finding the right drug or combination of drugs for your unique mental illness is complicated and takes time. You have to allow the drugs time to work, which can take a few weeks. Then, if you are not seeing desired results, you have to make the decision to try and change the dose, or toss it out and start over with a different drug. It is all about trial and error, and no matter how good your doctor is, no one can predict which drug is going to work for which person with 100% accuracy. Be patient, and don’t give up on a drug right away. I had to go back and try drugs that didn’t work for me ten years ago and give them another chance. I’m glad I did, because after almost a year I’ve finally found a combination that seems to be working okay.

There is also the issue of psychiatric drugs with the potential for addiction. Benzodiazepines are the number one culprit for opiate addicts to get addicted to. Some people find that they really help, and they are willing to take that risk. Buyer beware, these drugs can reignite the monster for some people. If you have any reservations about this, tell your doctor that you don’t want to take any benzos and would prefer to try drugs that are not a risk for becoming habit forming. Common benzos are Valium, Clonopin, Ativan, Librium and Xanax. These drugs are also a risk for those on Methadone or Suboxone, as they can cause respiratory depression when combined.

Medications are not the only ways to treat mental illness. It is a fact that proper exercise and nutrition work wonders to increase the production of serotonin and improve one’s mood and state of mind. Exposure to sunlight also helps, just remember to wear your sunscreen! Many people are able to get insurance to cover a sun lamp, which can be great especially for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Another old school method is ECT, Electroconvulsive Therapy. This procedure gets a bad rap because it used to be very invasive and scary. However, today it can be done outpatient in your doctor’s office in as little as a half hour to an hour. The brain is an electrical system, and sometimes it just needs a little shock to the system to get it working right. Don’t rule these options out, especially if you are adverse to medications or have health issues that make taking medications impossible.

Some people suffer relapse after relapse while refusing to address their mental health. Taking care of your complete self is key to long term sobriety. Do not be afraid to seek professional help if you believe you are suffering from some kind of mental health issue.

Of course, finding a doctor is tough, especially for those on state insurance. A great place to look is in your town or city to see if they offer counseling services as part of their community programs. Many treatment centers provide medication management and therapy services to their clients, and sometimes it can be worth it to enroll in an outpatient substance abuse program, even if you don’t feel like you need it, just so you can gain access to their psychiatric services. They will then help you get a more permanent support system in place when you discharge from their program. Some programs do not want to work with clients on Methadone, which is based mostly out of prejudice, and is truly a shame. This is why finding a comprehensive program is critical if you are a Methadone client. Make sure you enroll in a Methadone clinic that offers support for your mental health as well as your addiction.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to mental illness, especially as it relates to addiction. For this reason, our next workshop will focus on this topic. Please join us Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at the Mildred A. Wakeley Recreation Center at 7 Linsley Street in North Haven from 6:30 to 8:30pm. We will discuss mental illness as it relates to addiction and have resources available for those who need them.

Please keep in mind that this workshop is a SAFE SPACE for those interested in attending. Don’t worry about feeling ashamed or embarrassed that you or your loved one is dealing with addiction and mental health issues. Everyone else who is there is dealing with the same problems you are, so no one is there to judge you! We always provide index cards so that you can ask any questions anonymously if it makes you more comfortable. We are here to support you!

If you have any issues related to mental health and addiction that you would like us to address during the workshop, please let us know! As always, if you have a topic you would like us to feature in a future workshop, let us know that as well! In Angel’s Arms is here to serve the community and meet your needs in whatever ways we can!

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Unpopular Opinions: Recreational vs. Hard Drugs

When we talk about prevention, we’re always focused on the parents. We have forums for parents to learn about drugs. We send home notices and we publish articles. We try to reach parents so that they can try to reach their kids. But the problem is that the message that reaches our kids is not sufficient. It isn’t working. “Just say no” and “drugs are bad” is not, nor has it ever been, effective at stopping kids from experimenting with drugs.

By the time they graduate high school, almost HALF of American teens will have tried marijuana at least once. Kids are inclined to try recreational drugs, which includes alcohol, because alcohol IS a drug. There are so many reasons that drive kids to experiment with drugs. Celebrity culture glamorizes drug use. Kids want to do anything that makes them feel older, like an adult. More than anything else, drugs can be fun. Just like the average person goes to the bar, has a few drinks and has a good time, recreational drugs can provide that same social energy and party atmosphere. People do it because it’s fun.

But heroin addicts are not having a good time. Drug addiction is NOT fun. There is no social, party time atmosphere for most junkies. There is a difference between recreational drugs and hard drugs. This is an unpopular opinion. Parents and school administrators want to cast all drugs as bad, and leave no wiggle room for experimentation. This is totally unrealistic, and just as ridiculous as abstinence only sex education.

We know that in areas that promote comprehensive sex education and access to contraception, the benefits are enormous. Teens are 50% less likely to get pregnant than those who receive abstinence based education according to a study by the National Survey of Family Growth. Advocates for Youth reviewed comprehensive sex education programs and found a significant delay in first sexual encounters; declines in pregnancy, HIV and other STIs; increased use of condoms; increased use of other contraception; reduction in the number of sexual partners and increased monogamy; and reduced incidences of unprotected sex. Despite all this success, comprehensive sex education is still fought by conservatives.

Science illustrates to us that education actually decreases the dangerous behavior that parents are afraid of. The same is true of drug education. Providing fact based, scientific drug education is likely to have the same results as providing fact based sex ed.

Kids are autonomous. They make their own choices. Yes, they are influenced by their parents, and parents should always outline expectations for risky behaviors including sex, drinking, and drug use. Parents should make it clear what they will not tolerate, what the consequences are, and what the real dangers associated with the behavior can be.

But maybe we need to let kids make their own choices, since they go ahead and do that anyway. Focusing on the difference between recreational and hard drugs allows kids to see that not all drug use is the same. If they smoke pot or drink a few beers and don’t suffer any of the scare tactic consequences they heard about from adults, they start to believe that all drugs are the same and none of them have real consequences. They start to believe that only weak people become addicts, and that they can totally control this, and it’s just all in fun. This is a direct consequence of painting marijuana and heroin with the same brush, and the same scheduling by the government. Both drugs are Schedule I, meaning they have no medical purpose, even though many states have begun recognizing medical marijuana. This allows the justice system to prosecute all drug offenders the same way.

In every direction in our society, we are lumping all drugs together, calling them all bad, and then calling it a day.

Make no mistake, I am not advocating for the use of any drugs. I suggest we attempt to influence our youth not to pick up any drugs, no matter how harmless they may seem. However, we need to be realistic. Kids should understand that all drugs are dangerous, but some drugs are even more dangerous for different reasons.

Only 9% of marijuana users develop what professionals call an addiction to the drug. This is an unlikely consequence for those who try smoking pot. However, those who try prescription painkillers thinking they are also a recreational drug are in for a rude awakening. Those who try prescription painkillers are almost TWENTY TIMES more likely to try heroin. Four out of five heroin users today started with prescription painkillers. Those are pretty significant statistics. Kids, and adults included, look at medications like recreational drugs because they come from a doctor and are legal when prescribed, which implies that they are considered safe to use.

Opioids, along with methamphetamine and crack cocaine, are the most dangerous and habit forming drugs out there. These drugs are NOT recreational, party time drugs. There is a big difference between going to a party and dropping some ecstasy on a Friday night and picking up one of these dangerous drugs, thinking it’s going to be a one time thing. Kids know meth is dangerous, they’ve seen the pictures of the addicts with missing teeth and open sores on their faces. They know crack is dangerous, they’ve joked about crackheads picking lint out of the carpet thinking they’ve found a tiny rock to smoke. And of course, they know heroin is dangerous. They’ve heard the stories of famous musicians living under bridges and shooting dope. It’s the prescription painkillers that they don’t understand the danger of.

Kids should be taught that prescription painkillers and street heroin are the same thing, because that is the truth. They should know that when they pick up one of those little blue pills, they are doing pharmaceutical grade heroin, and their brain and body interpret it as heroin. If they swapped that blue pill for a bag of dope, and ingested it in the same manner, they would experience the same high. These drugs are the SAME.

I did a lot of partying in high school, and spent many Friday nights drinking, smoking weed, rolling on E, and blowing lines of coke off of my math book. I partied pretty hard and so did a lot of my friends. Not a single one of us became addicted to any of these drugs. Not a single person became a felon because of these drugs. Everybody still graduated from high school and went to college. The behavior was dangerous, illegal, and extremely risky. I don’t condone it, and I don’t recommend it, but that is the reality of life for many high school students in America. They party. They have a good time. They still succeed in school and play sports, and they still go to college and become productive adults. The vast majority of people I did recreational drugs with in high school are all doing just fine today as adults.

The people who are not fine, are the ones who picked up the painkillers. While a handful of people did experiment with the pills and were able to move on, most of the people I know who got caught up in prescription narcotics in my graduation year of 2006, are still dealing with the ramifications of that choice today, in one way or another.

I didn’t understand that these drugs were different from all the other drugs I tried. I didn’t understand that this wasn’t a party drug. I didn’t know there was a physical dependence, meaning that I would get physically ill from withdrawal, and that it would happen whether I was mentally addicted or not.

We need to focus on the difference. We need to highlight what separates opioids from recreational drugs. I know this is an unpopular opinion. I know that no parent out there wants to think of their kid playing beer pong in their garage after school while parents are at work, or smoking weed in the woods behind the house. This is reality. You know this, because when you were a kid, you probably experimented with drinking and some recreational drugs yourself. You know in your heart there is a good chance your kid will experiment. You need to make sure they know the difference between smoking a joint and taking a opioid medications (which probably seems less harmful to them than the joint).

Ideally, kids would stay away from drugs and not drink until they turn 21. This is not reality for most young people. This is why we need to focus on highlighting the dangers of hard drugs vs. recreational drugs. We need comprehensive, fact and science based drug education that illustrates these differences. We need to work on harm reduction, and we will be much more likely to see positive results.

Think about this when you talk to your kids about drugs. Remember that when you misrepresent the dangers of some drugs, you undermine the danger of other drugs. Don’t undermine the danger of opioids by putting them in the same basket as marijuana and beer. Opioids love it when you underestimate them, and they have become the star of their very own epidemic based solely on the public underestimating their danger. Tell the truth about drugs, and the unique differences between them. This allows kids to make informed choices, and leave the propaganda behind.

The Gateway To Nowhere

The common belief that marijuana is a gateway drug is the myth that will not die. It literally makes no sense when you actually think about it. Is it true that many drug addicts smoked weed early on in their lives? Yes, absolutely. But most of them also drank before that, because alcohol is available in most American homes and weed is not. If there is such a thing as a gateway drug, it’s alcohol, not marijuana. Let’s not forget that alcohol is actually drug.

What about harmless medications like ibuprofen and antibiotics and cough syrup? Do these drugs not make us accustomed to using a substance to solve a problem from a very early age? Think about it. When you’re a kid and you’re sick, you parents take you to the doctor and they give you some medicine to make you feel better. This sends the earliest message that drugs are a solution to the problem of feeling sick.

So what happens when you become a teenager and you feel sick, mentally? You don’t fit in, or you’ve got too much on your plate, or you’re bored? Maybe you’ve got a good case of mental illness going on, some early depression or bipolar disorder, like I had. You are feeling unwell, sick, and just plain wrong. Again, your parents might take you to the doctor, who prescribes more medication to make you feel better.

At this point you understand that substances can change the way we feel. So when you start to stumble across different substances, you inherently want to try to use them to change whatever feelings you have that are making you uncomfortable.

The reason alcohol and marijuana are the first illicit drugs kids often try is simply because they are the most readily available and easiest to access. People don’t move on from marijuana because marijuana made them an addict and now they want more. Studies show that only about 9% of marijuana users because addicted to the drug.

The vast majority of marijuana users never move past weed. Qualification is not causation. Saying marijuana is a gateway to heroin is like saying bicycles are a gateway to motorcycle gangs. It’s very likely that every member of a motorcycle gang started by riding a bicycle first, but not every kid who learns to ride a bike becomes a gangster. The same is true with marijuana use. The vast majority of smokers never move on to hard drugs, despite the fact that most hard drug users did use marijuana early on in their addictions.

What causes people to move on from marijuana to harder drugs is the fact that something is still broken and they are trying to fix it. Just like when your doctor gives you a medication, but you’re still feeling sick, they give you something else to try. If I’m still mentally ill, still lost, confused, alone, depressed, and uncomfortable in myself, I might go looking for a stronger medication to fix my problems.

The scary thing now is the prescription pills themselves, particularly painkillers and benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium, are becoming the true “gateway drug”, meaning the first drug someone picks up. They’re in medicine cabinets or mom’s purse. Easier to get than alcohol or marijuana. Much more discreet and simple to hide. Kids are skipping right over marijuana and doing the whole process in reverse. I’ve met heroin addicts who didn’t try marijuana until after they were already addicted to painkillers.

For many years, heroin addicts have used marijuana as a way to treat their addiction. They are often uninsured and cannot afford to be on a Methadone or Suboxone program, or they simply don’t want to use opioids to treat and opioid addiction. So they turn to weed as a drug that works to reduce cravings, relax the mind and body, and fill that gaping hole left by heroin. This has been going on since the beginning of heroin addictions and became popular in the sixties and seventies as an alternative to Methadone treatment. To this day, many Methadone clients still use marijuana to help regulate themselves. I believe as Medical Marijuana gains more of a foothold, it will eventually be used to treat opioid addiction legally. It will exist in medical maintenance programs the same way we treat Methadone and Suboxone today, I guarantee it. When it happens, remember that you heard it here first.

For many people in recovery from heroin addiction, marijuana was not some evil gateway drug, but actually helps to keep them off the hard stuff as they come full circle. Some studies suggest that half of all adults in America have tried weed at least once, and we all know that half of Americans are not drug addicts. If it truly were a gateway drug in the sense that it directly leads to harder drug use, then way more people in this country would be using hard drugs. The vast majority of people who use marijuana whether recreationally or medically are NOT drug addicts, just like the vast majority of people who drink socially are NOT alcoholics.

The question becomes, what do you do if your kid is smoking weed? My suggestion is to treat it the same way you treat drinking. If you don’t think drinking is a big deal, then you shouldn’t think marijuana is a big deal either. If you don’t want your kid drinking underage, then you should discourage them from smoking weed until they’re an adult. While I don’t believe weed will turn your kid into a drug addict, there is some science that illustrates that drinking and smoking weed while the brain is still developing can be harmful. What the true repercussions for that are, we really don’t know. I bet half of you reading this blog right now have smoked weed before and you’re not a drug addict, and it didn’t ruin your life.

We need to keep our concern on opioids, because you don’t need to use weed to become an opioid addict. It’s not like if we stop kids from smoking weed that by default we will stop more serious addictions. It just doesn’t work that way. Marijuana is just a distraction from what is really important, and that is preventing the misuse and over prescribing of prescription painkillers.

If your kid gets a prescription for a narcotic, that’s what you should be worried about. I’ve met countless addicts who got injured playing sports and wound up on pain pills, later becoming addicted.

You may think about locking up your liquor cabinet when your kids are teenagers. That’s all well and good. But if you’re trying to reduce access to harmful drugs in your own home, don’t forget to lock your medicine cabinet, too. The real dangers are in plain sight right next to the Tylenol and you don’t notice because you’re too busy worrying about whether your kid is drinking or smoking weed, two drugs that are the least likely to cause an addiction and that most people use with little to no consequence.

Now for some people, marijuana is a problem, just like alcohol is for alcoholics. That small number of people who are negatively affected by marijuana need help, just like those of us who are addicted to other more dangerous drugs. I’m not trying to say that it’s 100% harmless to everybody and that we all should be lighting up every day.

What I’m saying is, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Kicking In Custody

If you’ve ever seen an opioid detox, or lived through one, you know how frightening of an experience it is for addicts. We will do anything in our power to avoid going through that withdrawal, including lie, beg, borrow, and steal. The very thought of going through withdrawal sets an addict in motion first thing in the morning, just like someone who gets up and heads to work, they get up and start scheming. Where will the money come from? Do I have some method of getting money that doesn’t hurt anyone but me? Can I sell a treasured heirloom of mine? How about one that belongs to someone else? They’ll understand, right?

The time I feared withdrawal the most was when I got arrested in Waterbury a few years ago. I had taken the bus from my sober house in New Haven and sat the hour long ride into the dirty water. I had to get off and catch another bus to get to my dealer’s spot. You know in rap songs when they talk about the trap house? People love to quote those rhymes. Trust me, a trap house is not a glamorous place and you don’t want to be a trap queen either. The trap queens I’ve met live a dangerous and terrifying life. They take all the risks. The live in squalor. In this particular trap, there’s a broken crib in the kitchen where a baby plays with a cardboard box. It always smells like dirty diapers, because they save them to stash drug trash in so they can throw it out and not worry about it leading back to them.

So I got what I needed and I then walked a few miles to a Home Depot nearby. They have public restrooms that nobody really uses or pays attention to, or so I thought. I had a stress fracture in my foot at the time, and was walking through the snow and ice on it, just making the whole situation worse.

It was during a particular cold spell, and I had on two scarves, two pairs of pants, and two pairs of gloves. This is how badly a person will fight against impending withdrawal.

An another note, my mother had already picked me up and taken me to the Yale Hospital branch in Guilford to have a look at my foot. During registration they asked about allergies, and as was our policy at the time I stated that I was allergic to opiates. As Robert Downey Jr. once said, “They make me break out in handcuffs.” When I eventually see the APRN who is assigned to me, she is short and rude with us from the moment she walks in the room. I immediately know and understand that I’m being profiled, treated as drug seeking, and my very real injury is being ignored.

This is a common occurrence for addicts, whether they are in recovery or not. If someone is using, it doesn’t make their injury or sickness any less real. It still demands the same attention and treatment that a normal person would receive. I wasn’t even looking for pain medication, I never even asked for it. I wanted her to fix my broken foot. Simple as that. She told me it was a sprain, gave me an ace bandage and some crutches and sent us on our way. No x-rays, no imaging of any kind. I was living on the third floor of an old mansion in New Haven that was my sober house. It had been a plantation long ago, and was old and the stairs were steep and narrow. So crutches were not going to help me at all.

So back to Waterbury and the Home Depot. I have my dope, I’m in a bathroom stall, and I am trying to not only get high but medicate the injury that I am aggressively aggravating traipsing around the state on foot in the snow and ice. I guess I overdid it. I passed out. I wake up and about seven Waterbury police officers, all men of course, are standing outside my stall in the Women’s bathroom yelling and pounding on my door. They think they’re so smart and make a big show of searching all my possessions, but since they were so busy shaming me and calling me a junkie they didn’t even find all my drugs or paraphernalia that I had on me. Should have focused on actually doing their jobs, I guess.

They insist on putting me in handcuffs, behind my back, and parade me out through the store like a trophy. Every single person in the store turns to stare at me, mouths gaping, eyes wide. I am a spectacle, just like they want me to be. There are five cruisers out front, and a transport van to bring me to the station. No ambulance, I notice. I guess they didn’t care if I might have needed Narcan or medical attention. No one even asked me if I was okay or needed any help. Their concern was primarily with punishing me as an addict, embarrassing me as much as possible, and belittling me to their little hearts’ content.

I have already been arrested a few times in my life and I know I am running out of get out of jail free cards. I am worried they’re going to hold me for bail. This means I will start to detox in custody, with no medical attention. I have never been more terrified. I am in a cell that is the definition of cold and dark. I have nothing but a metal ledge to sit on and a toilet. I have to ask for toilet paper so I can go to the bathroom while they watch me through the bars. Luckily, after all the years of supervised drug tests, I’m pretty good at peeing in front of strange women. Now I learn how to pee in front of strange men.

Law enforcement may just be doing their jobs in arresting addicts. The cops on the street have little say in what they do and who they choose to arrest. I imagine that any sympathetic cops are likely paired with a hard ass partner, so they are forced to arrest people who they may have been inclined to let go. They don’t make the laws they enforce. I will never be mad at a nice, sympathetic, understanding officer who is just doing their job. I’ve been in trouble before, and that didn’t mean the officers I was dealing with had to treat me like the scum of the earth. They were kind, curious, wanting to know what went wrong for me and encouraged me to get help.

On the other hand, I’ve encountered officers who thrived on my pain and discomfort. The first time I got arrested, the cop’s father worked for my father. He drove the cruiser to my house, with me in the backseat, and made me watch from the driveway as he personally went to the door to notify my father. Not exactly protocol, but he definitely got his rocks off on it. “So your dad is a big boss up in Cheshire, huh?” he says to me as he cuffs me. I didn’t even know at the time that my father was anyone’s boss, let alone this cop’s fathers. For the first time in our then troubled relationship, I actually feel heartbroken for my father and how he will feel walking in to work the next morning. This cop went out of his way to personally embarrass me, and then my completely innocent father. This is what makes it difficult for an addict to have any kind of relationship with the police, even in recovery. I still remember every word this cop said to me, over a decade ago.

The people who determine that we get locked up and incarcerated without medical detox, ultimately, are the lawmakers in our states and in congress. I personally feel that before anyone is allowed to introduce or vote on any drug legislation, that they should have to experience a full blown opiate withdrawal in a jail cell. I guarantee you, if they knew what kind of inhumane practice they were encouraging, every single addict would be administered medication before they even got into holding.

If an addict commits a burglary, or some other violent crime, then yes there should be a criminal punishment for that. It is unfortunate that because of the lack of access to treatment, that addicts are forced to commit these terrible crimes in order to avoid withdrawal.

But why, if an addict is only in possession of drugs for their own private use inside of their own private hell, do we need to put them through our broken criminal justice system?

And for the love of God, why do we need to put their names in the paper and their faces on TV? In case the addict themselves is not sufficiently shamed or embarrassed, let’s make sure to drag their innocent families into the mix. Let’s make sure everyone knows the terrible struggle this person is dealing with. For what purpose? Who does it benefit? Who is helped by knowing that John Doe in Town X was caught in possession of narcotics? How does that make anyone’s day better? It doesn’t. This antiquated practice should be done away with immediately, and I will fight for this until the day I die. So now a person has been forced to withdraw cold turkey in a jail cell and on top of all that, be publicly dragged through the mud all because they have a disease.

On that night in Waterbury, they continue to screw me. I start to wish they would keep me overnight so I’d already be in town to pick up first thing in the morning, if they let me out at all. I’m still terrified they’re going to demand a bond and I’m pretty sure my mother wouldn’t pay it at this point. They decide to wait until all the buses stop running for the night and set me free.

I have to call a friend in Florida and ask for her to give me her credit card number so I can charge a taxi all the way back to New Haven. It costs about a hundred dollars. I promise to pay her back. Of course, I never do. I arrive back at the sober house in my cab and act like nothing happened. Just like after my overdose. I just bury it all and deal with it on my own.

I wind up taking a bus to court for my first appearance, before my mother inevitably finds out what happened and drives me going forward. The prosecutor tries to offer me a suspended sentence, leaving me with a felony on my record, for the nonviolent, victim-less crime of possessing drugs. Luckily, I’ve done my research and I know there is a program available to me because of my mental health history. I ask him about it and he says no. So now I have to get a public defender.

The preferential treatment I receive from the judge becomes customary to me. White girl, in a suit, people mistake me for a lawyer rather than a broke addict with a public defender. I am back in sobriety at this point, enrolled in treatment, and I know for sure I’ll be walking out of there with community service. I watch the black and Hispanic drug offenders get clacked into handcuffs before me. I watch the poor people of every race get harsher punishments, more community service, bigger fines, less chances. This has become routine for me as it is now my fourth arrest, and by default I’ve been in the courtroom more than my fair share of times.

I know if I was not who I am, not privileged, that I would’ve needed to be bailed out in Waterbury. Sure, they embarrassed me, belittled me, made me cry, and called me names. Sure they let me out into the streets of Waterbury in the middle of the night with no way home. But in the world of addiction, with opioid withdrawal as a consequence, they still did me a favor. They made sure that I wouldn’t be going through detox in a cell. Forget about medication, you don’t even have the comfort of a bed for your incredibly sore muscles. You don’t have a shower to sit in, where you can flash the water from cold to hot to try and soothe the erratic temperature shifts. You don’t have a basin to throw up in, so you’re crawling to the metal toilet on the cold concrete. You don’t have anyone to take your blood pressure, in case you’re someone with a pre-existing condition who is susceptible to actually dying from withdrawal. I cannot imagine a more painful and unpleasant experience.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, except lawmakers and police. I think that collectively, if the people who determine when non-violent drug offenders are going to detox in jail knew what they were signing someone up for, things would change very fast.

We would see laws that protect addicts, rather than demonize them. We would see tax dollars dedicated to building treatment facilities, not prisons. But things are changing, believe it or not. If you’re new to the world of addiction, things probably seem pretty bleak to you. Just thank your lucky stars you weren’t dealing with this ten years ago. There are resources out there now, and people like myself, who make themselves available to shorten your learning curve and minimize your pain. You are spoiled with resources and you don’t even know it. So please, ask for help. You deserve it.

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

DISCLAIMER: This is not intended to be an attack on police officers. There are many honest, caring officers out there who risk their lives every day doing their job. I commend any man or woman who goes to work each day to serve and protect their community. This blog reflects my personal experience with the criminal justice system as a whole, including the officers I’ve encountered in that process. If the shoe fits, then wear it. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t apply to you or your loved one in law enforcement.

The Dressing Room & The Damage Done

It was late summer and I had a flight booked from Bradley Airport to Ft. Lauderdale. I was headed to treatment in Florida for the second time in as many years. A little more than a year prior, I had flown into the same airport and was picked up by a friendly Aussie from Sunrise Detox located in West Palm Beach. It is by far the best detox I have ever been to, and I could not possibly recommend it enough. When it was time to detox again, I knew I’d be back.

In a way, I was almost looking forward to it. A soft clean bed with freshly laundered white sheets, changed several times daily to keep up with the sweating and shedding of toxins the body goes through. Flat screen TV, vending machines full of candy and soda, and a chef on staff cooking three delicious meals a day. Unlimited peanut butter and jelly. What more could you ask for when you’re going through hell? They keep you more comfortable than anywhere else, and if you don’t know where your headed next they will find a place for you.

So I knew what to expect from detox, and I had spoken at length with Loren Seaman from the Orchid Recovery Center for Women and I had a decent idea of what treatment would be like. My main priorities for the coming week were to get as high as possible and not forget to pack my bathing suit.

My mother and I had been fighting over Naltrexone and I had been doing everything I could to dodge it and hide it and spit it out. Once I booked my flight and promised to go to treatment, she relented and I was free to finish using without having to use three times as much dope to overcome the pain in the ass opiate blocker she had been shoving down my throat.

I was trying to be smart, accounting for the effects of the Naltrexone wearing off, and taper down my use so that I wouldn’t overdose. I think if the dope hadn’t changed over to a new batch in the process of this taper, everything would’ve been fine. Except it wasn’t.

I’m in the last dressing room on the right hand side in the bathing suit section of the Macy’s in the Waterbury mall. I’ve got my spoon that I stole off the display in the housewares section, a belt that I borrowed from accessories, my bag of works and a six bags of dope that I counted off my bundle. In a miraculous departure from my normal habits, I left the remaining four bags in the car.

The previous day I had used eight bags, so I thought accounting for it being the third day off the Naltrexone that shaving two bags off the count would be perfect. I hadn’t gone on this trip to the city to pick up this batch, so I didn’t get to sample it in Harlem like I normally would have. I didn’t know how strong it was.

I stack my bags on top of each other and rip the tops off. I shake each one out into the spoon and draw up half a syringe of water from the water bottle I had purchased from the pretzel stand outside in the mall. I squirt it into the spoon and mix the dope up with the plunger from the syringe. Once I was satisfied, I draw it up into the barrel and begin the struggle of finding a vein. Since I had been using for awhile at this point, my already small and damaged veins were pretty much tapped out. I get lucky and I hit one. I remember flushing out the needle and capping it. I stood up. Everything after that is black.

I can faintly hear someone calling my name. Over and over again, I hear my name. I realize they are actually yelling. I am moving and there are bright lights over my head, I can see them through my closed eyelids that no matter how hard I try I cannot open. I cannot speak. I try to raise my hand to acknowledge that I am hearing them, because they are annoying me and I want them to stop yelling. I am paralyzed and I cannot move a single muscle, including those stubborn eyelids.

Finally I am able to make sounds from my mouth, but not words. I’m trying to say “I’m here” but whatever comes out is unintelligible. I continue to say it until the words eventually come together. I start to be able to open my eyes and I realize that I am in the hallway of a hospital and I am on a stretcher, and I am being pushed very, very fast.

Shit.

Once all the fun and games are over, I realize that I have been stripped of my clothing and possessions, and I am alone in the ER in a room behind a curtain. The doctor who eventually shows up to talk to me is very unpleasant. She immediately starts in with telling me that I cannot leave until she deems me sober enough and I gather that she intends to spend that entire time period trying to convince me to go to treatment.

I tell her that I am going to treatment in a few days, and that I even have a flight booked. She of course, does not believe me. I know all about treatment in Connecticut and there is no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to give up my Sundays on the beach and beautifully decorated apartment in Florida for a stripped down residential hell hole somewhere in the tri-state area. I tell her as much. She doesn’t give a shit, and she tells me as much.

We fight back and forth about this until I wear her out and she leaves me there to think it over. I beg her for my clothes. I eventually come to accept this woman is not going to let me leave until her shift ends and I pray that time is coming sooner rather than later.

During my time in the Emergency Room I am informed that I was dosed three times with Narcan before I came back to life. The rest of the story I put together myself during the time I spend trapped in the shitty hospital room. I must have fallen backwards into the locked dressing room door because I have a huge bump on the back of my head and it’s really painful. I wonder if I broke the door, or if I just made a lot of noise. Either way, some strange woman must have heard me fall and called 911. I don’t know who she was, she didn’t stick around to give her name or follow me to the hospital. I will never be able to thank her for what she did. I will never be able to thank her for not minding her business. My only hope is someday my story will be public enough that she will read it and recognize it and contact me.

It isn’t until I get to detox the following week and I am able to feel my body again that I realize I have a fractured rib from the CPR that was administered by the paramedics.

Eventually the evil doctor’s shift is over and she lets me go around midnight. Luckily, I am just a few blocks from the mall and I walk back to my car in the dark night through the dangerous streets of downtown Waterbury. My car is right where I left it, and my four bags of dope are still safely stashed inside. At that moment I’m glad for that because tomorrow I’ll be able to get high in the morning. At this moment I’m glad for that because if I had any drugs on me when I overdosed I might have gotten arrested for possession. Luckily all I had was paraphernalia and they must have decided to let that slide given the circumstances. Not everyone is so lucky. Imagine dying, and you come back to life only to find out that you’ve got a court date in the morning. Thanks for nothing.

I get home and I don’t tell my mother what has happened. I know that she will force me to fly out the very next day, and I still have a few days of using left to do. I still have a car left to total two days later when I fall asleep driving on the highway and drive straight into the guardrail on I691 at 80 miles per hour. I walk away from this too, alive and un-arrested.

Overdosing was one big ‘yet’ for me that I always thought I was too smart to ever have to deal with. I thought people that overdose were morons, unable to gauge their use properly or interpret the strength of their dope. I thought I had it all figured out. I was wrong. Very, dangerously, deadly wrong.

Because paramedics carry a drug called Narcan, generically known as naloxone, I am alive to tell this story. We keep a Narcan kit in our home just incase it’s ever needed. I carry one on me, just incase I ever happen to be the stranger in the dressing room who witnesses someone on their worst day. I only hope that I never get the chance to return the favor, and that I never need to use my Narcan kit. But if I do, I’m ready. If you overdose in my presence, you can rest assured that I will be there to try and save your life.

It is unfortunate that many fatal overdoses happen in the home. Because of the financial consequences of addiction, many addicts live at home with their parents. This can be a blessing in an overdose because it means someone is there to call for help. But often times, help doesn’t get there fast enough. When you are blue, not breathing, dead, there can be a matter of moments between you waking up again and getting buried under six feet of earth.

This is why it is not just important, but VITAL that we supply the families of addicts with Narcan for use in the home. It is VITAL that they are trained in CPR. It is VITAL that they know that Narcan is temporary, and that they must still call 911 to prevent the overdose from reoccurring when the medication wears off. We not only need to supply this medication, but we need to provide the training for it as well.

An addict’s doctor can write a prescription for Narcan and it can be picked up at your pharmacy. Your insurance may or may not cover it. Your doctor may or may not be willing to prescribe it in the first place. But that does not teach you how to use it or what to do during an overdose.

Because I owe my life to this medication, and I feel so strongly about it, my first priority with In Angel’s Arms is to hold an Overdose Workshop to teach anyone who is interested everything they need to know about Narcan. Our workshop will cover:

  • What Narcan is
  • How to access it
  • How to administer it
  • What will happen when it is administered
  • Calling 911
  • Preforming CPR

Admission to this event is only $20, so that we can cover our costs. If you cannot afford the $20, please come anyway. I will cover you. If you are living with or spend a lot of time with an addict, you should be there. If you are an addict, please feel free to attend as well. I encourage you to bring anyone who is close to you with you. Everyone is welcome.

Because of this medication, I am here to tell you this story. It is my job to make sure other addicts have the same opportunity to tell their own stories. If you would like to help us provide low cost Narcan kits to families who need them, please donate to our fundraiser. Because of the increased demand, these kits have become very expensive. With your donation, we can help families to afford kits at a reduced cost.

Please join us at the Knights of Columbus located at 22 Church Street in North Haven, CT from 6:30-8:30pm on Wednesday, February 1, 2017.

If you have any questions about the event please contact me at lauren@inangelsarms.com

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Dead Celebrities

This year has been a rough one for many people. I’d wager that it’s been even rougher for the people who are dead, specifically, all of the celebrities who have died this year. There are memes all over the place blaming 2016 for being the year that stole our childhood icons and most loved famous people. But nobody is talking about the common thread amongst so many of these deaths, and that of course, is addiction.

The world mourned collectively when iconic musician Prince died from an accidental overdose back in April. People could not stop talking about Prince and his incredible music, and tributes came pouring out of the woodwork. But of course, no one seized the moment to talk about WHY this amazing human is no longer with us. Not just addiction, but OPIATE addiction. Fentanyl, specifically. Fentanyl is available as a hardcore painkiller, over 61 times the potency of morphine.

It is on the market in several preparations, including lollipops and patches which are often aimed at geriatric patients. The patches are designed for use over the course of 72 hours, but just like its cousin OxyContin, that time release can be easily defeated. By eating it. I ate half a fentanyl patch once during peak using and it knocked me on my ass so hard I couldn’t even comprehend it.

It was one of the highest experiences of my life, and it was actually frightening.

I witnessed a friend who was so high on fentanyl once that he was convinced he dropped a lit cigarette in my car while I was driving him home. I had watched him toss it out the window five minutes prior, but he wouldn’t relent. He made me pull over, and stop the car, so he could get out and search for the missing cigarette butt. He fell down on the side of the road, so fucked up, he couldn’t even pick his body back up to get back in the car. I was so afraid a cop was going to drive by, I got out of the car and actually hit him repeatedly to get him alert enough to put him back in the seat so we could get out of there. It was terrible.

This drug is the most common illicit additive in heroin these days, and it creates a very potent drug that heroin users tend to enjoy. A small amount allows those who cut drugs to elevate the quality of their product for little expense. This has been big in the news recently, but like every other aspect of the opioid epidemic, it has been going on for years.

I tested positive for fentanyl in detox in 2009, seven years ago, without having intentionally taken it. For many of us, it’s just another episode of old news on the front page of the We Know Already Gazette.

Prince is the man they invented the word “superstar” to describe. He was a musical genius, and he had the world in his hands. He lived in beautiful homes, he had every material possession he could desire, he was living his passion and creating his art, and there was no reason for him to be down and out dealing with addiction. Yet here he was. Living the dream, and dying by the disease. Addiction knows no prejudice. It will take you as you are, no matter who you are.

Beloved Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher died suddenly on Tuesday, December 27, of apparent cardiac arrest. It was reported that she had suffered a relapse recently under the weight of her tour. Carrie had talked more openly than anyone about her addiction and mental illness, and that is what made her so valuable to me as someone to look up to and admire. She was open that she may never have truly overcome her demons, and that she continued to fight them until her untimely death.

Carrie was outspoken and she just didn’t care what anyone thought of her and the things she said. She recently gave an interview about her affair with Harrison Ford a million years ago during the filming of Star Wars. It was a secret she could have and almost did take to her grave, but she decided to share it like the shared so much of herself. She didn’t believe in shame, it seemed, and she wanted to live openly and honestly instead of hiding behind the façade of success and greatness. She could’ve died as a pristine icon, Princess Leia, emulated in fandom for eternity. She could’ve died crystal clean if she had never chosen to bare her real self to the world. But instead she died as one of us, a real person, who was an addict. Overdoses aren’t the only way we die. Drugs, especially cocaine, cause significant damage to the heart. Regardless of her more recent use, its likely it only added to the strain of the years of addiction that preceded it.

George Michael also died due to heart related issues, likely caused by his years of drug use. Recent reports allege that he had been secretly battling a heroin addiction. Rick Parfitt suffered multiple heart attacks before his heart finally gave out. David Gest had reportedly been abusing sleeping pills and a variety of other prescription drugs, likely opiates as well, which we know are the world’s favorite prescription.

The year 2016 didn’t kill these people. DRUGS killed these people. Famous people, living the lives that many average people dream about, still victims of this deadly disease. Still unhappy, still struggling to live each day with the person who looks back at them through the mirror. Still lost to a disease with no cure and not enough treatment, that you can put into remission and still die from thirty years later.

It is always there, waiting for us. Lurking in the background, hoping that one little slip will lead to a relapse and that we’ll be back again, doing its bidding and living under its thumb. Even when we keep it at bay, fighting everyday against it, you just never know.

When addiction is done with you, you’re done with life. Can’t live with it, can’t die without it.

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s A