I Avoided Medication Assisted Recovery Until I Couldn’t
I knew people who had been on medication-assisted recovery for five to ten years or longer and their lives had not improved—so I did not see it as a way out of active addiction. In my vastly under-informed opinion, it was just a way to work the system and get your buzz for free. Somehow, injecting myself in my fingers and toes with a syringe I found in an alley in Boston’s Chinatown meant I was above a government-subsidized high. Subsidized, because I had no health insurance and got free care from the state due to my chronic homelessness. Clearly, I was under the impression I had it all together.
Somehow, injecting myself in my fingers and toes with a syringe I found in an alley in Boston’s Chinatown meant I was above a government-subsidized high.
But then I became pregnant and could not get sober. My downward spiral was faster than it had been in years and it was out of control. I made many attempts to detox with little to no success. I continued to refuse medication-assisted recovery at the prenatal appointments I did manage to attend, even though the clinic was designed to help pregnant women find recovery.
Until they laid it out—they told me if I got on Subutex or methadone, I’d have a better chance at being able to keep my son. I have no idea if this true, but I agreed to try it because I wanted to keep my son once he was born.
I attempted to get on Subutex first but because of some red tape and paperwork, I ended up with methadone instead. I was still fighting it internally, but outwardly I agreed. I was hospitalized for a few days to get set in a dose and then I began attending the outpatient clinic.
I didn’t believe it would work and I was terrified of being sick or of being on methadone forever. I handed in urine samples with bags of drugs I had “tucked” (hidden inside my vagina) because I was so afraid of the whole situation.
I did not get sober right away. I continued to use up until I was seven months pregnant—12 days before my son was born. I did not raise my dose very high, in fear of not being able to come down eventually. I shot dope every single day those first couple months, using just so I could get up and go to the clinic.
You know what? The nurses didn’t judge me. The counselor was kind to me. I attended a mom group as part of my treatment. Other women shared their experiences with me. When Sam was born and I was terrified they would take him, that counselor and those women were there for me.
I stayed sober for the 12 days before he was born.
I stayed sober for the 12 days before he was born. Once I cleared up and was only on methadone, I started paying attention. I gained weight.
I delivered at 130 lbs. I looked like I was dead—but I could participate in my own life and my son’s. I took the clinic’s suggestions and attended 12 step and went to long-term treatment even though my son was in the NICU and couldn’t come with me right away.
I moved home to my subsidized apartment for chronically homeless folk and started going to more 12 step and therapy. I knew I didn’t want to continue the long journey into town on public transportation every day. My son needed lots of medical care and it was exhausting. I found some friends in recovery and quietly told them my situation. I asked for help and support in getting off methadone.
I also started coming off my dose and that was hard. It was very difficult to get my dose decreased, and I would have to ‘put in’ and wait for approval every single time. I did learn that right after you have a baby, they can do a few quick decreases and I took advantage of those.
It was a slower process than I would have liked, for sure. Many times, I was frustrated, angry, and confused at the system. I leaned heavily on my mom group, the case managers and the new support network I found near my home. I was doing some work on myself through 12 step and I was kind of ashamed I was on medication. Some people judge others for that or say you aren’t clean or sober if you are on medication-assisted recovery. So, I stayed away from those people. I worked hard. I did all my appointments, kept custody of my kids, got my DCF case closed.
Methadone helped me build a bridge between using life and mom-in-recovery life.
Methadone helped me build a bridge between using life and mom-in-recovery life. I continued going to the clinic and appointments. I was proud the first time I passed in a urine sample that only had methadone in it. I was proud the first time I woke up and hadn’t stuck a needle in me or my unborn child in over 24 hours. Those are the freedoms I gained from attempting methadone. For me, the need to use was filled by this med until I could heal enough to not want to be on it anymore. I also learned so many stigmas aren’t true, I just needed to be clear enough to learn to be open-minded.
Some people are on methadone or Suboxone or whatever for years and are super successful and amazing moms, partners and employees. Some people use it for a short time (like me) and find other ways to stay sober. I have friends both on meds and off. It doesn’t matter what someone else’s recovery path is. What matters is what works for you. Recovery is such a personal journey.
The 11 months I spent on methadone taught me so much. It broke through so many stigmas and untrue ideas that I had about medication-assisted recovery. I got to smash my own ideas and achieve my own goals. I was not on the clinic “forever”. And so what if I was? Taking that chance allowed me to build the foundation for a beautiful life. I wouldn’t change anything about my experience, and I hope that if I ever needed the clinic again, that I would not hesitate to ask for help.
Fuck what you heard. Try everything until you find what works for you.
Nicole is an East Coast mama in long-term recovery. A survivor of all the things, she is a fierce advocate for women, loves the “f-word,” practices kindness, and loves patchwork. Nicole is a newly single mom living north of Boston with her two sons.