methadone

Sicily Owings -I Work at a Methadone Clinic

Photo by Lindsay Hahn, courtesy Sicily Owings

At the methadone clinic where she works, Sicily Owings hears from clients about the relationship between trauma and addiction in their lives. She also knows about it firsthand.

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In a child’s brain, they don’t know how to make sense, we don’t know how to make sense of certain things so it is imprinted in our brains as trauma.

Addiction is so based in trauma. Addiction is so -- like the goal of drug use, when you originally go into it, is literally it just makes you feel better. It makes you forget it. It makes you numb. And a lot of people who come from trauma backgrounds who have experienced horrendous things, really just have a lot of pain that they don't know what to do with.

And so we use drugs. We use drugs to cope. We use drugs to numb. We use drugs to escape.

If you’re coming from a trauma background, and you reach adolescence when the chemicals in your brain and your brain chemistry are kind of all over the place, your hormones all over the place, you're experiencing new things, and you just don't know how to deal with them -- it's kind of like a, a recipe for disaster.

When I was around three or four, my biological father went to prison. He was charged with the possession and sales of illegal firearms, and also the possession and sales of large quantities of cocaine. I think when he got caught he got caught with two kilos on him which is over 4 lbs. And pretty much spent my entire adolescence in prison in Canyon City, in here in Colorado.

So I think it was around '88,1988. I was born in 1985. I'm 33 now.

I remember knowing who we was, knowing what he did, not having a relationship with him because he went to prison when I was so young, and always saying to myself like, I'm never going to do that. Like his entire life was ruined. I'm never going to do hard drugs. Even when I started smoking marijuana and stuff, I’m like,Oh I'll never go there.

But eventually that happened. And I eventually started using cocaine, and eventually started using methamphetamines. And it was just kind of downhill from there.

I was using drugs, and I was using drugs pretty heavily in high school, and I remember coming home, and all of my stuff was in the driveway,and my mom just told me, she's like, “If this is the way that you're going to live, you can't live here.”

What was interesting about that is they kicked me out and so I left. And I ended up living with a friend in Littleton. That's when I ended up dropping out of high school. That’s when things really got worse because I didn't, I didn't really have any structure, I didn't really have any family. I was finally free. I can do whatever I want.

But I ended up getting pulled over. In essence, I was with a friend and we were parked, and a cop pulled up and I was in the car and they ran my name. And had basically told me that I had to go with them because my parents had called me in as a runaway.

And I was so confused. I'm like, They kicked me out! Why are they calling me in as a runaway?

But when they tried to get a hold of my parents, they had actually left town to go camping. And it's illegal if you call your child in as a runaway to leave the state. And so my parents temporarily lost custody of me, and I had to go to this like youth home for like 2 weeks. And I remember that as being super traumatic -- to go from like living at home and having this family to getting kicked out and then like being stuck in this home. It was -- it was really crazy.

Things took a while to change. I mean it did. I started using when I was 14 and I quit when I was around 21. I was almost married at the time that I quit. And I was with my ex-husband at the time, and him and I used together. And that's when I started using methamphetamines really heavily, was like 2002 2003, and used for about 3 years. And he ended up doing some jail time.

His dad was a pastor, and I, for whatever reason, just like really wanted to connect with his dad and his step mom. And so I remember calling them. And I went over to their house for dinner and I remember having soup. And feeling really safe there. And feeling that it was really different. And they had invited me to church and then when Josh got out of jail, I told him I was like, “I would really like to go to your dad's church. I want to check it out.”

And ended up going to church and felt like my entire life had changed. I just remember crying a lot and I just remember … I always want to cry at this part … I just remember feeling like very hopeful because I had spent so many years feeling so shameful, and feeling alone. And feeling like I could never get out of that.

You know like, I don't know how to get out of this. This is so much bigger than me. And I've burned all of my bridges. And I have no one.
But in that moment, like I finally felt like there was this glimmer of hope --that potentially I could do it.

I remember telling my ex-husband, "I want to quit. And I’m serious about it." And so we moved north pretty far north, to the suburbs, changed our phone number, and started, you know, pouring my life into going to church and decided I wanted to be a drug and alcohol counselor.

I knew how alone I felt. I knew how isolated I felt. I knew how shameful and ugly -- and all of these things that I felt and I was like I don't, I don't want people to feel that. I want them to know that like somebody sees them, and somebody cares about them, and somebody believes in them. That's all I wanted -- to like be with people in that struggle. Watch them get out of that.

I started working at a methadone clinic about a year-and-a-half ago. I love it. I love working in medication assisted treatment. I believe in it because I see it work.

Typically, recovery has focused on abstinence. And harm reduction kind of came on the scene when they realized that abstinence doesn't work for everybody.

The biggest thing with addiction is struggling with ambivalence that I know I want to feel better. I know I want something different but I don't know what I want. And the great thing about methadone is it really keeps you alive while you're struggling with ambivalence.

People are dying. People are dying waiting to get abstinent so they had to figure out another way.

I would rather have a child on methadone on medication helping them get clean then have a dead child.

And I know that there is stigma around medication-assisted treatment. I know that when you hear the word "methadone," it doesn't sound great, or it sounds scary, or it sounds like they're just replacing it with another drug -- or like, what whatever comes up for you when you hear the word "methadone" -- but I'm telling you that this medication saves lives every single day. Every single day.

And I just hope that we as a community, as a nation are willing to really put that stigma aside for the sake of saving lives.

My name is Sicily Owings and this is my story.

Jenny Beetz -Human Contact or Heroin? You Can't Have Both

Jenny Beetz loved how heroin made her feel but she appreciates the stability of her life without it.

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It’s very hard for me to pinpoint when exactly my addiction started, or even what started it. I would imagine I started doing drugs at around the age of 12, really. It just just always seemed to be part of my life. It wasn’t something I even thought about. Which has been an ongoing problem by the way. I’ve always missed that middle part where you maybe reflect and think, Well, should I do some drugs? As soon as that thought hits me, I’m already driving to go buy drugs.

By the age of 16, I had discovered opiates. The heroin. It was, This is my drug. I felt like I found finally my peace. And that is something that it has always given me is a sense of peace. And also a sense of wellbeing. A lot of people, it seems, when they do opiates, before you know it, they’re licking the floor, or their head is about a foot from the concrete. Contrary to that, I feel energy. It puts the skip in my step and I go around the house singing or humming.

Honestly, I have often felt it’s a financial problem more than a drug problem because when I have had plenty of money, gainfully employed and all that, it didn’t interfere in my life in any way. I wasn’t being arrested. I wasn’t crawling around half sick, trying to get my drug. But when it gets to that point, which it seems to for virtually everybody, that is the hell.

It feels like you’re missing a couple of layers of skin. And you’re jumping into rubbing alcohol. It’s hell.

But I took a long break and I thought that it was simply a passing phase. I had gone to college. I got a degree in philosophy. I thought philosophy was all Sartre and Camus, and all of that really great stuff. No! It’s this really boring analytical crap—Hegel, Heidegger -- oh my God, you know, that’s torture! They should use that at Guantanamo.

But I’m not sure what started me again, at all. A lot of my drug use has been because it’s just been right there in my face, most of my life. Every time I’d gone to New York City when I was younger, part of my visit there included good New York dope. So when I moved there, it was like Wow, I live in the land of good New York dope!

And it started out very slowly. I had a boyfriend who was not a drug addict and we started using together. I became a raging junkie and he stopped the first he got a habit. He was no, this is awful, this sucks. And I just kept going with it.

I spent pretty much all of my time in New York City being a heroin addict. In my 30’s, I went to a methadone program. I was very, very, very stubborn. I did heroin every day of my life for a least a year, knowing I’m not even going to get high because methadone has a blocker in it.

Again I was very stubborn. And I still am. I am on a methadone program now. I have a lot of resentment about it, in a way. In general, in life, I have a lot of resentment about my use or not use of heroin.

Why can’t I do my drug?

My friend for example, he – he gets drunk virtually every day, and it’s fine. You know, it’s socially acceptable, really. Well, to a degree. And, I’m not allowed to do my drug. It that pisses me off. It really does.

If I were to win the lottery, all bets are off. I’m, I’m buying land in Afghanistan. I’m going to marry Hamid Karzai, and I’m just going to have acres and acres of poppies. Drug lord, whatever, you know. I’m really looking forward to it, in fact. I mean, this is the sort of thing that comforts me.

But being a drug addict, weird things tend to comfort me, like Oh, I can always just kill myself! That’s a comforting thought to me. There’s always that option if I’m sick of this, I can always just, you know, do my last shot and be comfortable and …

What motivated me to go on a methadone program at all or even to consider quitting is I did lose that well-paying job, which by the way, was answering phones in a whorehouse. But I became homeless. Theoretically the methadone program, it’s there to help a person get off of opiates. Great! Wonderful! You can’t get addicted to methadone in two weeks. They would taper you off and then hopefully you have follow-up care.

Methadone maintenance? To me, it is solidly absurd. I have traded basically an illegal drug and illegal activities for a legal thing called methadone maintenance program.

I can’t get take-homes because I take Seroquel and that’s a whole other horrible – and that’s a -- by the way, a lot of mental illness mixed in with all of this. I am disabled, officially, with major depression. I’ve been hospitalized. And also with post-traumatic stress disorder. Like serious -- like my childhood was outrageous including kidnapping, gang rape. Just horrible things.

The benefits again are I’m not getting arrested two and three times a year. So now I’m on as low dose as I possibly be, and my life has been – it’s stable. I realized wow, I actually feel, both physically and mentally, I feel engaged in the world around me. And it’s pleasant.

And then I realize, and this is a strange way to realize it, somebody just rubbed my back in an affectionate gesture, and I realized I had had zero affection or anything like that, by choice. By choice. And it was again revelatory. It was like this is what I’m missing in my life. -- human contact.

And the less methadone I was on, the more engaged I became. And I got to a point where I was down to 10 mg of methadone, and that was great. My tits came back. I started fucking again which I enjoy a lot. But -- and you can’t have both. It’s human contact, and caring about people, and sex, and boobs and all that -- or it’s heroin addiction. You can’t have both. Heroin ends up being a kind of a boyfriend.

When I rejoined the living, I noticed all these benefits that I had not foreseen. And it’s good in a way. I really miss heroin. I do. And I feel jealousy when I see somebody licking the sidewalk out front – I feel jealous, actually. You know, it’s like, I want what she had!, you know.

I think this is definitely part of my nonuse rather than using, that my writing has exploded with regard to how much. But the quality as well is really good. And then, I started making collages. And I just started with one and now I think I have about one hundred and twenty. And I do them all by hand. And that’s been really great – the art work, you know.

I believe that from the day, the year, whatever age you are when you begin taking drugs, that’s pretty much when you stop maturing -- emotionally at least. And so, in a lot of ways, I’m this, you know, annoying, intellectual artist type. But also I am a, a 12-year old, you know. And if you start doing drugs at a very young age like I did, I mean you’re kind of fucked in a lot of ways, you know, being this 12 year old and negotiating the world supposedly as a 53 year old, you know.

I’m trying… I might cry. Yeah. I don’t know why that makes me cry but --

Because I’m the 12-year old for a second here, you know.

I’m Jenny Beetz and this is my story. Thank you for listening to my story.