I came, looking for me… On the occassion of my 43 anniversary as a Substance Use Disorders Counselor–I am reflectiing on the trip. (I have been called a lot of names over the years and so has my profession. SUDs Counselor is what they call me now.)
43 years ago this August, in 1971, I began to volunteer at Shalom Et Benedictus in Stephenson, Virginia. About three years later, I became that Commonwealth’s first Substance Abuse Program Director for the Drug Awareness Program (DAP), centered in Culpeper, Va. In 1978 my marriage fell apart, “because of my wife’s drinking and drug use,” and less than three months after that, I sought help at a nearby Community Mental Health Center (CMHC), in Winchester.
“Colleen Dill,” my counselor, was willing to help me do an intervention—but she ‘saw me coming’ and engineered my own entry into recovery by referring me to a 12-Step recovery program for family members. I refused to go, at first. I ‘hated’ 12-Step programs and wasn’t going to have anything to do with them. (Remember, I was a program director with 3 staff, by this time.) Colleen discussed my reservations with me one session and then got me to agree to ‘try it.’ When I had not done so, by the next session, she refunded my payment and sent me home, saying, “Call for an appointment, when you are ready to accept the help I am offering.” I did what she suggested.
Colleen also recommended me for a scholarship to Rutgers Summer School for Alcohol and other Drug Studies (1979). While there, I lost my fear of 12-Step recovery after rubbing elbows with so many insightful and talented people doing treatment who were themselves recovering. I remember crying through a course on intervention featuring Johnson Institute film on the subject–I identified with the main character in the film.
Following Rutgers, I attended the Willow Oak Farm Concerned Person’s Program. At that program, in my turn on the ‘hot seat,’ I confessed that I no longer knew if my ex-wife had a problem or not—but I was pretty sure I did. When I shared that revelation with Colleen at our next session, I remember she blurted: “O thank God!” at which I laughed. She knew all along! My recovery date is May 2, 1980.
I dropped out of direct services for a year, while I worked on my own recovery and developed a better and more collegial supervisory structure in the DAP. During that time I also helped spearhead Regional/Community-based Treatment Services (RCTS), with other program directors in Virginia’s HSA1. (Mo Moore of Charlottesville was our first chair.) With this program, we were able to offer public indigent clients a private bed in some of Virginia’s finest treatment programs at a sliding fee cost way below the per diem for those programs. I began then to oppose tiered treatment based on income. Classism should find no home in recovery.
A further accomplishment of RCTS at that time was to force state level cooperation with community programs—moving the power to the community level where needs were represented and utilizing the state coordinators’ connections to best effect for the communities they represented—an excellent service/funding design for utilizing public funds in a transparent manner.
Eventually, I changed jobs to follow my children, Megan and Tara, so that our visits would not be interrupted by distance. I worked in a Job Corps Center and became the Substance Abuse Programmer, as one aspect of my job. After that, I supported myself by carpentry and doing addiction consulting for a time. After that, I worked for another CMHC, doing Drug Counseling for 10 years, focused on what was termed “dual diagnosis .” At its startup, I became the clinical director of a medication assisted treatment (MAT) program utilizing methadone, and assisted that program in becoming Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) accredited. Since August of 2004, I am working at the KY Department of Vocational Rehabilitation’s Carl D. Perkins Vocational Training Center, in Thelma, Kentucky, as the SUDs Counselor.
Looking back over my career and store of information, I had begun writing this blog in April of 2011—undopedcut.com—just to have my say. I was particularly worried about a problem that was gaining momentum after 20 years: drug-related overdose. The purpose of the blog is to try to start a community dialogue about drug issues and to see if we can’t find a policy that will work for us to save lives and slow the rate of addiction in our community. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I’d met a woman, Mickey, nearly 14 years previously. We met in the rooms and began dating after about a year. Her children—Bobby, Traci, and Kellie—came into my life, too. Mickey had real problems staying free of drugs—and that problem accelerated when her/our daughter, Traci, died of overdose in April of 2004. Mickey moved out to stay close to her grandchildren by her/our other daughter, Kellie. Mostly, Mickey wanted to die, and did not want to be living with someone dedicated to recovery from addiction. She began using drugs and drinking as hard as she could. While we never stopped communicating, we were apart for nearly four years. Somewhere in there, Mickey found a doctor who prescribed the type of drugs in the quantities she wanted; and ‘Mick’ maintained at that level for quite a while.
Eventually she and her/our surviving daughter and the grandchildren moved back in with me. She began to use less and less—and finally stopped in December of 2010. She was not stopped long when we decided it was time to formalize our ‘marriage.’ We did that on January 13, 2011. Old patterns re-emerged, possibly in response to her changed marital status, specifically because of the loss of “her own” income from a disability check, and the sense of independence that check had given her. After years of living in abject marital poverty, having to ask for every dime she would spend, her change of partner did not matter. Both she and I had specifically asked Social Security representatives if her changed marital status would affect her check. “No” became “Yes” when they factored in my income—something neither of us were told when we asked prior to getting married. That deception cost her the will to live, and cost me my wife . When she lost her check, Mickey began to get her drug supply again—not keeping me in the know. Why? Did our marriage trigger old PTSD issues? Was she trying to replace lost income from a check she no longer received? Who knows why?
On May 6, 2011 Mickey had an outpatient test that involved being anesthetized. After the testing, we went out to eat, and spent the day doing things Mickey wanted to do. By that evening, I realized that she was using. The next morning I confronted her about it and Mickey told me she no longer had any pills. We patched things up before I went out to a meeting that evening. I brought back pizza for Mickey from my/our daughter, Megan. I talked to her when I came in, showed her my most recent 31-year anniversary token. She seemed ok. Mickey was busy and told me she would “Be right along.” I went to sit in the living room and find us a movie. She promised to be right in. She never got to eat that pizza. Looking back, I can see that it was the residual impact of anesthesia with her drug use that hit her so heavily. I’d had little sleep the night before, and had fallen asleep as I was eating pizza. When I woke a few hours later, it was too late. She died of overdose, in the wee hours of May 8, 2011. The remaining pills fell out of her pocket when I attempted CPR.
I am overjoyed to be in long term continuous recovery for 34 years. I am very grateful for the recovery community folks who keep me on my toes, even in rough weather. I don’t like being an addict. I didn’t want this for me or for anyone in my family. It just happened to us. At this point, there are two deaths in my generation, and two in our children’s generation because of addiction In my/our extended family, there are many more candidates for that kind of death.
I think that The Harm Reduction Model holds more promise for eventual solutions than any other comprehensive model for addiction programming—simply because no one controls public perceptions of the problem, or the number of new addictive substances that may be invented/discovered, or the use preferences of the general public. The weakness of that model is that it implies that only replacement therapies are valid methods for treating addiction. Addiction treatment is a continuum with interrupted use and replacement therapies on one end, and continuous abstinence and recovery on the other.
Today, in addition to my daily job, I provide supervision for counselors in two local MAT programs utilizing suboxone. I expect I will keep my hand in, until I have passed my job on to enough other folk that I can say, “It’ll happen without me now…” Then, I’ll retire to my wood shop and teach my grandkids some tricks…
Peace! Til next time…
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