What Would YOU Do?: MAT Edition
For those of you who don’t know, my name is Robyn and I am a person in long-term recovery from opioid dependence. What that means for me is that I have woken up every single day for the past 1,253 days and made the conscious decision not to use substances to numb my physical and emotional pain. I have a disease called “addiction”, not unlike other diseases like diabetes or asthma, and I require treatment for that disease. If I don’t treat my disease, I will undoubtedly die.
On November 29th, 2017, I walked in to an outpatient MAT clinic and began a regimen of medication designed to stabilize my physical symptoms so I could do the intense emotional work necessary to heal from my addiction. I started on a moderately high dose of a buprenorphine/naloxone film (24mg) and over the last 3.75 years, I have gotten all the way down to a measly 1.5 milligrams, with the goal of eventually being off medicine completely. No small feat, especially when you start to tally up all the countless hours spent in groups and meetings and counseling and late-night phone calls to shake this monster and give me a second chance.
This medication is also called Suboxone, and I could tell you alllll about the pharmacology of how and why this medicine works for me and many others. But that’s a whole other post for another day. The important piece to know is that this medicine keeps my brain chemistry even so that my mind is freed up to do the hard work on me in recovery. The medication doesn’t work without the recovery support. So I regret none of that time and effort, because taking away the chemical addiction means I get my life, freedom, family, marriage, child, and career back. Now, I’m not asking for judgement, criticism, debate, or feedback, just giving context in order to share what happened today.
Total transparency: Recovery ain’t always easy. In fact, lately for me, it’s been downright difficult. I have finally reconciled that working IN recovery is not equivalent to working ON my recovery. The energy I put into my peers and their recovery must be matched with that same energy for me and mine. I must pursue my recovery with greater fervor than I ever pursued the chemicals that I once depended on. And these are the exact things I said to my MAT-prescribing doctor today as we agreed that I should not try to further taper my dosage any lower right now. To do that would set me up to fail. And I hate failing. But this disease… let me tell you, it’s a sneaky thing. Just going through the motions isn’t enough. Getting comfortable is not an option because addiction just sits and waits to tap us on the shoulder and pull us back in. And that almost happened to me today.
I left the clinic and drove across town to the pharmacy to pick up my medication. Access to buprenorphine has been a whole adventure in and of itself, but once again, that’s a post for another day. (Side note: I should really start blogging.) Today, my script was actually ready to go, so I paid for it and left. More transparency: I still have a habit of counting any medication I get. This is probably part OCD and part addictive behavior in that I used to have to figure out how to stretch my scripts as far as I could without getting brutally sick once they were gone. I still to this day count the strips as soon as I get to the car, always low-key worried there won’t be enough.
This time, I had the correct quantity (21) but they felt… different. Thicker, maybe? Bulkier. I flipped the stack over to count again and saw it… these were EIGHT MILLIGRAMS EACH. Eight. Yet my script was written for two milligrams each. The label even said “Buprenorphine/naloxone 2 mg films, Qty 21”. Let me do the math for you: I was holding in my tiny shaking hands FOUR TIMES the amount of medicine I am supposed to have. Holy. Effing. Crap. Knock, knock… who’s there? Addiction, that’s who.
The next 20 seconds felt like an eternity as my weirdo brain raced. My thoughts in no particular order: What do I do? Hey Siri, play “Back in the High Life” by Steve Winwood. Should I keep them? Hoard them? Sell them? Alexa, play “Money” by Cardi B. Do I take some extra? Up my dose? Just for a little while? Call my doctor? Will the pharmacist get fired? Is this stealing? Am I in trouble? Would anyone ever find out? And the big question: Why didn’t this ever happen to me with my precious Dilaudid or Xanax or Oxy?!? I grabbed my phone but wasn’t sure who to call. Then I tossed my phone down because I wasn’t sure I wanted anyone to know. Grabbing the phone again, I typed out a text to my husband, then backspaced it all out, waffling about telling him. Finally, I retyped the message and hit SEND fast before I changed my mind.
Then the words in my head became visual… I pictured my handsome husband, our beautiful little boy, my cozy office with a window, our house, my perfect little Jeep, my friends, our puppies, my garden, our upcoming family vacation, my faith, my future, my whole damn messy yet amazing life. All the beautiful things I’ve earned with recovery flipped through my head, and like polaroid pictures in reverse, I started seeing everything fade away. “Enough”, I said out loud, as I packed the strips back up and put my mask back on to run (not walk) back to the pharmacy counter to do the next right thing for all the right reasons.
As I drove home with the correct amount of medication in the correct dosage, it hit me how close my disease truly is. Waiting for a moment of weakness to pull me back in for one more slow dance. It’s often triggered by something so small, and it can happen so fast. And so can losing everything. I’m not posting this for accolades, but for accountability. We do recover, that is true. But recovery is a journey, never a destination. And doing recovery is something i will have to choose to do for the rest of my life.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably either super bored or impacted by the disease of addiction. Or you have lost someone to drugs or alcohol. You may even be in recovery yourself. If it’s the latter, I say this to you: keep it real, keep it honest, and keep f**king going. Because this disease doesn’t rest, it doesn’t quit, and it doesn’t care what you look like or where you come from. Or what you have to lose. Addiction is strong, but just for today, I AM STRONGER! Thanks for letting me share.
Hey Alexa, play Pearl Jam “Just Breathe”.