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Not That Far From Home

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Midwestern Mama discovers a community of opiate users in recovery -- just miles from her suburban home – as her son begins Suboxone treatment and counseling for Heroin addiction.

Less than five miles from my suburban home is an outpatient treatment center that offers Methodone and Suboxone dosing in addition to individual counseling, group sessions and training.  Although it’s close to where I live, it’s not on a road I ordinarily take and even though I’ve driven that road many times over the 20 plus-years that I’ve lived here, it’s not a structure that I ever noticed.

The past two days, however, changed that.  I have taken notice and I have spent several hours there.  It has been eye opening and I actually look forward to seeing and experiencing more in the days ahead.  As part of my son’s journey with addiction, I have yearned for an insider’s perspective to better understand the complexities of substance use disorder – if not his, that of others. 

Sitting in the waiting room for several hours yesterday as he met with a physician, had a lab test and met with the intake coordinator, I busied myself with a proposal, client emails and some trade publications.  All the while, I engaged in people watching and caught snippets of their conversations with each other.

It was clear that most of the men and women were regulars, although there were definitely some other first-timers and perhaps a few other supportive parents.  The regulars were animated in their talk, joking and catching up with each other.  Their faces and bodies evidenced difficult times, but their conversation indicated hope and commitment to better times.  Many of them carried backpacks stuffed to the gills and I wondered if they were transient.  Quite a few had large beverage containers from the convenience store across the street – sodas, chocolate milk, juice.  Several of them had small lock-boxes.

One 50-something man, in particular, had an Irish accent, immediately introduced himself as Chillin’ McDillon, and complemented me on my smile telling me that it may him very happy to see.  Without prompt or hesitation, he began telling me his life story.  My son was signing in at the reception desk or he probably would have had a fit that I was interacting with Chillin’ McDillon

A younger woman used the clinic phone (sign posted above stating a 3-minute limit for calls). She was trying to get a school transcript to enroll in community college and it sounded like she’d been through a number of hoops already.  Yet another woman was quite angry and punctuated her account of the last night’s activities with four-letter words to describe her boyfriend’s shortcoming. 

In dress pants and a button-down shirt, another man filled out paperwork and checked his mobile device.  He kept looking up hoping his was his turn to get called back to the lab.

Meanwhile, staff with lanyard nametags and jangling sets of keys came and went calling names and taking clients back for various appointments.  In addition, someone was job shadowing and someone else was there for a site visit.  Clinic staff were giving a tour and explaining the programs they offer.

A few years ago, let alone a days ago, I would not have imagined being here.  Although we had suspected opiate use, this drug of choice was quite foreign to us.  It’s only been recently that I began learning more and more about it and the challenges of overcoming this highly addictive substance.  I had heard about Methadone and Suboxone, and more recently about Naltrexone (a medication our son took while inpatient earlier this year).  Now, we were in the midst of it and it was not far from home.

After another round of “now you see me, now you don’t,” our son arrived home last Tuesday evening unannounced and coming down from a high.  Our family was united in our expectations and the conditions under which he could stay in our home.  We were not feeling very tolerant of another breech and initiated a straightforward conversation – with loving intention but resulting in a somewhat ugly verbal exchange. 

My husband’s direct and strong voice expressed the message. We were clear, come morning he had to honor our agreement to do something positive and productive every day toward sobriety and it would begin with a call to some treatment places and start a program or he could not stay with us.  His choice. 

Midway through this ultimatum, and I hate that it was an ultimatum, he zoned out.  I don’t think we realized he was coming down from a high or perhaps we would not have started this conversation, but as cognizant as we are of his use we simply didn’t see this. 

For the next 30 minutes, he was half asleep  but not at all engaged with the rest of us.  We just watched.  Finally, we said, it’s late and time to go to bed.  My son went upstairs and climbed in bed.  We tucked in our younger son and my husband and I proceeded to toss and turn the rest of the night.

True to our word, the next morning, I woke my son and handed him a list of places to call before the day was up.  Groggy, crabby and feeling dope sick, he begrudgingly got up and spent the day with me.  By late afternoon, he’d talked to one place but didn’t think it was the right place for him (a common theme) and left a message for the other.  He didn’t want to talk about any of it and seemed resentful.  There was lots of silence.

The next morning, I woke him up and he went with me again. I encouraged him to call back the place he’d left the message because sometimes getting through means being persistent.  I’ll be darned, but he reached them and they had an opening with the physician for the next morning.  Without hesitation, I changed a meeting to be able to take him.

Again, I had to wake him up.  He ate a bagel and cream cheese.  Without showering or changing out of his baggy PJ bottoms and sweaty t-shirt, we drove to the clinic.  Throughout the morning of him meeting one-on-one with their staff, he would return to the waiting room and gradually began filling me in, being more conversational. 

That afternoon, my husband and I took him for a haircut and we ate a late lunch together.  He was energetic and pleasant.  When we got home, he showered and trimmed his beard.  He was feeling better and looking better, too. 

Then, of course, he made a last-minute departure to hang with friends instead of attending a family birthday dinner.  We know for certain he lied about which friends and we were 50-50 on whether he’d let us know his plans let alone whether he’d come home that night.  We were unsettled, but decided to let go and accept that we had done all we could to include him in the family. Shortly after 10 p.m., he texted to see if we were home yet as he was on his way back.  Didn’t really expect that.

This morning he woke up on his own and ready to get his Suboxone dose at the clinic.  He came out with a list of dates for seeing the physician and counseling appointments.  He talked about the upcoming group sessions that he’d be attending.  He even gave me the sheet of paper to read, which he’s previously stuffed these things in his pocket and resisted letting us see them.

We had a short conversation about honesty and being a support system, but didn’t belabor it.  It remains wait-and-see, but I am ever grateful for some positive motion and the possibilities that this could yield for him to get back on the recovery track.  As much as he has fled from home in the past, it’s interesting that he’s sticking so close to home these days and that this current endeavor is not that far from home.

Midwestern Mama

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