My Journey to Sobriety on Methadone

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My Journey to Sobriety on Methadone

By Cathy M. 07/30/15

 Although I would not recommend methadone, it played a major role in my journey to sobriety.

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Cathy M.
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"Be a leader not a follower." My mom would say that to me constantly. I was a follower. I started using heroin at 17. By 18, I was in my first of many rehabs. I would stay clean for a day or two and start to use again. Sometimes, I would start with painkillers for a few weeks but eventually I would be back on heroin. Like a lot of people, I started with smoking weed, drinking, coke, ecstasy, and eventually moved on to heroin. The first time I used heroin I remember thinking that it fixed me. I felt complete. I had confidence that I wanted my entire life. My anxiety was no longer an issue and life was really good. 

It didn't take long for my life to turn upside down. I was strung out and using heroin was no longer fun. It was a full-time job. I knew I didn't want to live like that but couldn't get sober. I was in-and-out of detoxes and rehabs every few months and nothing worked. Eventually, I went to a methadone clinic. After trying a few one-to-three month programs and still being unable to stay off heroin, the staff suggested a methadone-maintenance program. Methadone maintenance meant that I had to pay $60 per week and could get as high a dosage as I wanted. Which, at the time, sounded great! I quickly decided that this would be my route. Besides, I had used up all my insurance and favors getting into rehabs, so I was pretty much out of options anyway.

I decided to go up to 120 mg. Which is pretty crazy when you are 120 pounds, but I figured the higher the better. I could barely function on that high of a dose and all I did was sleep. But I was able to stay off heroin for the first time in a few years. Eventually, I somewhat came to my senses and decided I needed to lower my dose. So I settled somewhere around 70 mg. I stayed on this dose for years. Eventually, I went back to school and found a good job and was able to live a mostly normal life. But something was still missing. I felt empty inside. Methadone made me completely numb to life. It was like I was just going through the motions.

On top of that, my teeth were starting to decay. I was constantly getting cavities and always at the dentist needing root canals. I never had any problems with my teeth before and when I mentioned it to the staff they acted shocked and insisted that if I brushed my teeth regularly there would not be any issue. I also took a look around the clinic and realized the majority of people there were missing most of their teeth. It made me start to think of the damage methadone was doing to my entire body and mind. Around this time, my aunt (who I was extremely close to) suddenly died. I wasn't even able to mourn her in the right way because I could barely feel anything. I was empty.

I realized I needed to at least try and detox off methadone. I didn't want to live my life being chained to the clinic anymore. I was getting married and I wanted to eventually have kids. I didn't want to be pregnant and standing in line at the methadone clinic. Even though the clinic insisted methadone was safe during pregnancy and most babies came out not addicted, I wasn't buying it. It didn't feel right to me and I knew I had to at least give detoxing a shot. So I slowly started tapering my dose.  

Some months I would go down 2 mgs; some months I didn't decrease my dose at all. I went super slow and knew that the slower I went, the easier it would be. Some of the clinic's staff made me feel horrible about my decision. They told me that I was making a mistake and was detoxing because I wanted to use heroin again. They made it as difficult as possible. You can't even blame the staff because they were trained to believe that this was the only way to stay clean. But I stayed focused on my goal and I knew that I had to keep pushing through. 

Finally, after being on the clinic for almost seven years, I was down to 2 mgs. For some reason, the last 2 mgs were the absolute hardest for me and I was so scared to stop going to the clinic. I held on to that 2 mgs for a couple of months until eventually I decided to go to a detox. I was so scared that after being on methadone for so long it would be too hard for me to stop. I know it probably sounds silly to a lot of people to go to detox when you have already detoxed down to 2 mgs but it was one of the best decisions of my life. I stayed for 10 days and was able to finally get off methadone for good.

What I didn't realize was how hard it would be when I got home. The best way to describe how I felt was homesick, but I was home. I felt lost. I could barely function. My bones hurt, my mind hurt, I couldn't sleep or eat. I was a zombie. Being on methadone for that long of a period definitely took its toll. Some days, I couldn't get out of bed. It took all of my effort to get into the bath and I would stay in the tub for hours. I wanted to get high every single day for months. All I could do was cry. But I knew if I used—even a painkiller or Xanax to ease my pain—all my hard work over the previous years would be a waste. I would be back to square one. So I pushed through. I came to terms with the fact that I was going to feel bad for awhile. I had put poison into my body for a long time and I needed to give myself a chance to feel better.

And slowly, I started to feel better. After a few months, I started sleeping again. And slowly my body and mind started to heal. It was a long process but every day got a tiny bit better. I started to exercise and for the first time in my life ate healthy. I started eating fruits and vegetables and really paid attention to what I was putting into my body. Around this time, I also discovered meditation and yoga which helped me calm my mind down. The homesick feeling that I had when I got off methadone began to drift away and I stopped getting cavities, too. 

Today, I am sober four years. I am married and have two beautiful boys. It's a great feeling to get up in the morning without needing to take a drug to function. Although I would not recommend methadone, it got me to where I am today and was a big part of my journey in getting sober. If you are on methadone know that it is possible to come off and stay sober—if you want it bad enough. So many people told me that I was on methadone for way too long to ever come off. When I started my detox, I researched a lot and could never find much hope out there or tips to detoxing off methadone and that is why I wrote this. 

If you need support or have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at naturallysober.com or naturallysober on Instagram.

Cathy lives in New Jersey with her husband and two little boys. Learn more about her journey at www.naturallysober.com.

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