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The Stigma Around Methadone Maintenance Treatment is Dangerous

My name is Adam and I am not a sober mom. I have, however, been working in the addiction field for more than a decade. Throughout these years I have worked in numerous types of treatment facilities. I have worked in residential detox programs, women’s shelters, teen programs, etc.

Since 2010, I have been working in the most discriminating and stigmatizing treatment around—methadone maintenance treatment.

For ten years of working in the field, I heard negative comments about methadone treatment. I was the worker who would not make referrals for this type of methadone maintenance treatment because of it.  I thought there was little recovery that happened at methadone clinics because I never heard about any. I never heard anyone advocating for the treatment so I figured it must be bad. In 2010 I decided to put aside the ten years of negativity and see for myself what this treatment is all about.

The first thing I noticed was the number of pregnant women at the methadone clinic. My first initial reaction was, “THAT.POOR.BABY.” After doing some research,  I found out that the National Institute for Drug Addiction (NIDA) suggests, a stable dose of methadone is actually safer for a fetus than one-time heroin use during pregnancy.

I started to actually learn about methadone with an open mind. After meeting with pregnant clients in the treatment, I learned about some of the real dangers associated with the surrounding stigma.

Every single one of my clients experienced negativity and judgment at their OBGYN appointments.

At the hospital while giving birth, women reported hearing comments made like, “Why don’t you just get off the methadone?”  In the middle of a pregnancy, unless promoting miscarriage, why would a medical professional recommend this sort of action? This is supposed to be one of the most wonderful days of their lives and instead of hearing, “Congratulations!” they’re receiving judgmental comments and looks from medical professionals!

A woman I know had a c-section and during the procedure the doctor cut the side of the baby’s face. When he was explaining what happened, he stated she was lucky he hadn’t cut the baby’s throat. Can you imagine? Would he have said this if the patient were not on methadone?

Another concerning comment, “Your baby is going to go through severe withdrawal.”  This concerns me because in my experience, every baby is different. I have seen some babies go home with mom, and I have seen some stay for three months. There is no way of predicting. I understand giving the women information, but not as a matter of fact, rather than a possibility.

Most of the negativity around methadone actually begins with treatment providers, then trickles down to the client experiences. Hearing our negative connotations when we offer methadone as an option. It’s no doubt that moms who are on methadone are put through the ringer during pregnancy and after.

Do our medical professionals know that the Department of Public Health for Massachusetts recommends methadone maintenance to moms who are pregnant? Even when they are six months sober, because of the high rate of relapse?

Our medical professionals go against state recommendations because they’ve stigmatized methadone treatment to moms. The result is judgment against the moms and poor recommendations from the professionals.

Methadone is the most regulated controlled substance in the state of Massachusetts. It is dispensed by medical professionals every day. Methadone is one of the more structured outpatient substance abuse programs around. People are unaware of the successes of this treatment because clients who are doing well do not always share because of the stigma surrounding it. People who are struggling on the clinic are obvious because they appear high. Everyone notices people who are high, but try to notice sober moms who are on the clinic. You can’t always because they look like others who are people who have not had addiction struggles. Therefore, we do not know about success stories in this treatment modality because of stigma, bottom line.

Today I am confident when I say that methadone has helped many people regain their humanness, rebuild their lives, and make the safe transition off of the treatment.

A few things in review:

  1. Few clients/moms feel comfortable sharing they are enrolled in methadone treatment.
  2. Lots of medical /addiction professionals are uneducated around methadone treatment. (I was)
  3. Massachusetts recommends moms who are pregnant to be enrolled in methadone treatment, even if sober for few months.
  4. Many clients first experience in treatment is met with a negative talk about methadone treatment which leads to ongoing false perception of the treatment
  5. All women have the right to be treated with respect and have their delivery day be a special one.

There are a lot of myths that haven’t been touched on in this and will be glad to in the near future. Just know that there is a lot more to it medically and clinically.

If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and I will happy to answer them or direct you to someone who can.

My Secret Almost Killed Me

The word alcoholism is scary and comes with all kinds of labels, stereotypes, and emotions. I hated standing up in front of everyone and having to say, “My name is Amy and I am an alcoholic.” It sent the butterflies in my stomach swirling and my palms sweating.

Early in my sobriety, I found attaching myself to the word “alcoholic” impossible.  I avoided it whenever possible, except when I was in a meeting.  I couldn’t avoid it there.

My first six months of sobriety were shaky.  I thought that I could get by with doing all of the mandatory obligations, like not picking up a drink, without ever having to admit out loud what my problem was.  I was still resisting having to acknowledge my shortcomings, or maybe I was hoping no one would ask me to and all would be forgotten.  This was a whole new concept for me…being present in my life and feeling emotions.  I was not at all used to talking about my problems. The only time I would say my name and alcoholic in the same sentence was when I had to.

Early on, I never raised my hand in meetings.  I sat quietly in the background and listened to all of the other addicts speak their truth.  Not me; I sat ashamed and nervous to assert myself in fear of being judged or disliked.  I thought that there was something wrong with me for not having the courage to speak my truth as freely as everyone else.  It confused and bothered me.  I desperately wanted to be sober but I hadn’t the foggiest idea how to get there. In rehab, I was fine, but alone, on my own, I was not.  I didn’t trust myself or my thoughts.  I lacked the confidence I needed to do the impossible…stay sober.  So, I just kept showing up, I kept going back.

I quickly learned that this was how recovery worked, taking the necessary steps to rebuilding my sanity meant admitting that I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable.  I needed to get over my fear of ridicule and contempt and start taking control over my life.  Recovery is about action.

I have a drinking problem and because I was resistant, I was not getting the support I needed. Accepting my problem, and saying it out loud for everyone to hear, was a demanding first step for me.  For so long, I had been hiding the truth about myself.  I am an alcoholic.  I catered to my ego and hid behind my disease.  All of the sudden I was expected to declare my shameful secret, and to complete strangers! No, I needed time to “come clean” and understand that admitting to other people like myself was all part of the healing in recovery. Confessing that I am an alcoholic meant that I was ready to release the burdens of guilt, shame, and remorse and take comfort in the knowledge that I am not alone in this journey. Allowing another person to witness the dark side of my soul and allow them to identify with what I was feeling was a relief of epic proportion.

Over time I found that I was able to speak my own truth more freely and know that God had a hand in bringing me into recovery; if for no other reason, to give me peace and strength as I move beyond my past and forward in my life.  Eventually, what seemed so impossible became just the opposite.  I learned that in order to heal, I have to share.  I have to stand up, own my affliction, and shift my perception of impossible to mean I’m Possible!  The word alone states just that.

I’m possible!

The fear faded and I began raising my hand. The more I acknowledge that I  am an alcoholic, the easier it gets to live with!

This post was submitted by Amy B.

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Sarcasm. Friend or Foe?

An old high school friend of mine wrote a post on facebook about something that he had given up. No, it was not drugs or alcohol.  It did however, completely relate to something I had to give up…along with alcohol and drugs.

We all have our quirks and little things that get us through our moments.  There was one thing that reared its head often in me.  I thought it was harmless…playful even.  With the help of a counselor, I was able to take a serious look at something I was over-using…sarcasm.

My counselor wanted me to lose the sarcasm.

Me: “What?!?!”

After a lot of thought, I succumbed to the fact that sarcasm had, in fact, become something I like to call a “Magic Wonder Shield” for me.  I was using that particular Magic Wonder Shield (yes, I have many others, too) to obscure my feelings.  I just thought I was being hysterical all the time.  As it turns out,  although it did make me a little extra funny,  it also made it possible to never have to directly tell someone how I was feeling.

Let me explain.   If I hadn’t seen a friend in a while I would approach it with a laugh and a sarcastic, “What? I’m not good enough for you?  You losers have better things to do?”  If my significant other forgot to do something I had asked, I would throw out a nasty, “It’s cool.  Why don’t I just take care of that for you?  I was actually looking forward to picking up your slack today.”  I started to take a look at what was behind every sarcastic comment, and then I took the next step to change it.

In most cases, I had to admit that I was throwing sarcastic comments around because my feelings were hurt.  When I tried to change from being hysterical to being honest, it was coming out a little awkward.  Not even kidding.  It sounded all warped and slow like, ” Hey, ummmm, I ummmm, I kind of miss seeing you, or whatever.  Do you, I don’t know, want to have ummm coffee, or something, or lunch, or I don’t know, whatever?”  Yeah…bad.   However, just like anything else in this great game of life, the more I did it, the less awkward it became and the easier it flowed.  Now, my approach would be more along the lines of…”I really miss getting together with you.  I would love if we could figure something out and have coffee or dinner soon!”

Crazy things happen when you own your own feelings…good things.  I learned to not put things on anyone but myself and stop being a jerk to people.  It might seem silly but, it was a huge step in staying sober.  I lowered one of my Magic Wonder Shields.  All that shield was doing was protecting me from my feelings.  And like any alcoholic or addict, my feelings didn’t need any more protection.  They needed to be let out.  They needed to be…felt.

So, today, when I’m throwing around sarcastic comments like it’s nobody’s business,  I need to stop myself  and ask,  “What am I trying to cover up? Is there possibly a better, more direct way I can handle this?”  If I’m trying to hide my feelings with sarcasm, what is to say that I’m not moving in the direction of hiding them with a bottle of vodka or pills?  Addiction is a feelings disease.  I don’t want to suppress mine anymore.  It is one hell of an exhausting job.

I don’t need to be as funny as I used to be.  I just need to feel.

Sober And Anxious

Honesty is awesome. Thank you for posting this, Sober Jessie!!

Powerlessness Sucks The Big One

Powerlessness: Merriam-Webster defines it as “.. having no power: unable to do something or to stop something.” That sounds about right, although my personal definition might be more along the lines of “The suckiest thing ever.”

I am a control freak by nature. It’s one of the many defects of my character. I thank years of abuse and trauma along with a ridiculous amount of therapy and “coping skills” for that. I enjoy the illusion of control very much even though I am fully aware that it is just that; an illusion.

It has been many years since I have struggled with the question of whether God is or is not. I believe that He is, and even when I struggle with His will, I have a clear understanding that if I choose to fight it, I will not win. Do I still try? You bet your ass I do. The greatest definition of insanity I have ever heard is “doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” I am often quite insane. It comforts me to know that crazy people don’t know they’re crazy because I’m beyond aware.

The events of this month have pounded into me just how powerless I am. I had major surgery and was then admitted to the hospital a week later due to an infection from the procedure. I sat in a hospital bed for five days thinking about myself. I thought of all the things I would rather be doing, that I should be doing. I missed my children and started feeling sad.

“If you want to be miserable, think about yourself, about what you want, what you like, what respect people ought to pay you and what people think of you.”  — Charles Kingsley

Since I’ve been home I’ve been feeling sore and ill periodically and have not yet fully recovered. My youngest, obviously confused by my sudden disappearance and forced weaning because of it, does not want much to do with me. My husband is no doubt struggling with his own powerlessness and is frustrated at the situation. I am of course taking these things personally, allowing them to cloud my judgment, and using them to kick my own ass.

Sober MOmmies Powerlessness Sucks The Big One #motherhood #recovery

Why can’t I be better already? My doctor just reminded me that even if we didn’t consider the infection, I’m still only three weeks post op. As soon as she said it, my thought was, “That’s no excuse.” If it were anyone else I’d be siding with compassion, understanding, and support. Because it’s me, I’m judging. WTF?

After the work I’ve done on myself, there have been many times where I have known something to be true on an intellectual level, but struggled to connect my heart to the idea. This is one of those times. I know that I’m only human, but my expectations of myself don’t match up. Then I start feeling guilty for thinking about myself. There are so many people with more pressing issues. How dare I focus so much attention on my luxury problems? .

During my first few years of sobriety I unconsciously created some sort of sobriety chart in my mind to measure how much further in life I “should” be than I actually was based on how long I’d been sober. I got sober when I was 22 and apparently thought this would help me catch up on the years I squandered drinking. The knowledge that this chart does not exist helps a little, but I do find myself referring to it every so often as proof that I’m not where I “should” be. Finding balance between the ability to cut myself some slack and falling into a pit of depression because I suck is something I still struggle with thirteen years sober. There is no “should” in sobriety.

I know that God has a plan for me and I have committed to showing up for it. I don’t have to understand the plan, or like it. I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust. I know this. I don’t have the power I need to recover from anything without Him. I get that. I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard “It’ll happen in God’s time.” I think I hate that phrase right now. Perhaps God forgot to turn the clocks back or something.I have all these exciting plans ahead and now they’re all on hold. I suppose the most important question is whether or not I trust God to take care of everything and everyone.

I do.

That being said, I still think powerlessness sucks the big one.