A Chance Meeting at 6600 Feet
I was the normal 19-year old college student. I drank a bit and smoked some. Then I came across Oxycodone — by far the worst substance that I’ve crossed paths with. I tried it a few times and loved it. And that was that; I knew I would get addicted if I kept on using it.
Flash-forward three years: I had to get surgery on my nose because it had been broken. They sent me home with a big bottle of pain pills and I was already heavily sedated. I loved it; the inner addict in me was already coming out. I was just released from surgery and I was in pure bliss. The pain pills I had lasted much longer than the actual pain from the surgery. Honestly, maybe a couple days worth of pills would have sufficed; I had enough for another two weeks.
Two weeks later I was dependent on opiates, and my addiction erupted. I changed over the course of a year. My personality shifted, as did how I thought. My priority each day was getting high. At the time I had a pretty good job. I was a functioning addict. But that was short lived. My job suffered due to my addiction and I was eventually let go. I moved back in with my parents, whom at the time weren’t aware of my problem. I started stealing things I thought wouldn’t be noticed missing. Over time it all petered out, and I was homeless for a few months. I had a job still, but not a very good one. But I made enough to put gas in my tank and feed myself. I relied on random places to sleep or my car, or I would scheme money for a hotel for a week. It’s a terrible way to live, but the opiates gave me no other choice.
I was using heroin and Oxycontin daily. And if I went a day without anything, I would start getting sick. I never have felt more discomfort than opiate withdrawal in my life. It’s pure hell. I didn’t ever experience bad withdrawal symptoms until I started IV-ing heroin. That’s when my dependency was the worst. I ended up moving into a house with two friends, one who used with me. The other wasn’t too aware of our usage.
How could I afford rent at a house with a deep opiate addiction? Well, I was given the opportunity to make easy money selling weed. I was making between $200 and $500 a day. With the increased income came increased usage. I wasn’t in control of my life; heroin was. I acknowledged the problem but didn’t know how to fix it or what to do. I couldn’t just stop and be sick and lose my job. I used to be able to work, and worked so I could use.
It all came tumbling down one day when our house was raided. My drug-abusing roommate and I were arrested on drug distribution charges. Luckily for me, he took responsibility for which drugs were his, a substantial amount more than what I had. Regardless, we were hauled off to jail, our vehicles were seized, and I pretty much knew I would lose my job. I was able to make bail and got a ride to work the next morning. However, since the news reported it and HR caught wind of it, I was suspended without pay until the case’s outcome in court.
Even without a job or car I managed to keep using and dug a deeper hole. I got put on unsupervised probation for a year for pleading guilty in exchange for reducing the charge. The first thing I heard was UNSUPERVISED probation. Yes! I could still use. That’s how my thought process was — pretty messed up. I continued using and going to work. Some of the week I’d be incoherently high, other times sick as a dog. I was so strung out. I knew I had to do something, so I started doing research. I was already using Suboxone to maintain myself and prevent from being sick. I was making slight progress at least. But that wasn’t enough.
I remembered hearing something called Vivitrol: a 380 mg extended release pill, a monthly injection of Naltrexone. I called and set up an appointment to see them for the first time. I have always loved hiking and backpacking. I had planned a three-day, two-night trip in the Smokies with two friends, both of whom supported me getting clean and knew what I was going through. I set the appointment for the day after getting back from the hike. I brought half a Suboxone strip with me. Nobody wants to be dope-sick in the middle of the forest, miles away from help or any medical care.
We began our hike. Our main destination was Clingmans Dome, just 25 miles of trail and up to about 6,650 feet in elevation. We took in the sights; it was beautiful. And we were also exhausted after such a long journey — and 20 miles off course due to a wrong turn on the trail! We noticed a storm brewing and started asking people for a ride back down to the trailhead where we parked, about 20 miles away. Eventually these extremely kind people from Dayton, Ohio, gave us a lift. We talked and I discovered that Lori runs a support group for families of addicts. I felt a connection and told them I myself am an addict. Normally I would keep that to myself, but I was compelled to tell her. We had a very meaningful conversation about how addictions tear families apart. She gave me a card for her support group, FOA, which stands for Families of Addicts. We said our goodbyes and thanked them for the ride and started heading home, but not before destroying a pizza at Pizza Hut in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
I got to my appointment the next morning. I was prescribed meds to comfort the withdrawals and started my detox. Normally they want you clean five to seven days before giving the shot, but I didn’t want to wait over the weekend and got it on the third day. I knew that because opioids were still in my system, the shot would send me into precipitated withdrawal. I didn’t care. I knew once I got the shot there would be no turning back. I wanted it that bad to be clean. Those two hours of hell after the shot was followed up by a sense of clarity. And each day it’s truly better and better.
It’s now a week after the shot and I’ve been clean for 10 days, and I feel amazing. Vivitrol was a Godsend to me, as well as meeting Lori. That meeting really pushed me to go to that appointment, because I was thinking about putting it off and still using.
I’m glad I didn’t, because I haven’t felt this clear in ages. I’m grateful to have my life back, and I hope other addicts can find the peace and happiness that I’ve found.
— Alex, Knoxville, Tenn.
This is an amazing story from our vacation in Gatlinburg, TN. I have been keeping in touch with Alex and have grown fond of him. He is a miracle. Congratulations!