Arlington Resident’s Road Back from Addiction

Arlington Resident’s Road Back from Addiction

"We relapse — that's what we know how to do."

It's almost been five years. June 2 will be one Arlington resident’s "locked in clear date" from when he stopped using drugs and acknowledged a problem. "I got drug along the bottom." If it hadn't been for a parole violation that threatened actual jail time and led him to court-ordered treatment, "I'd probably be dead today with the amounts I was using."

He grew up in Arlington where it all started in adolescence, being a part of what his peers were doing and smoking pot. There were 20 some years of partying "marijuana and alcohol, acid and ecstasy. " He said he had a good job, got promotions, paid his bills. "By outward appearances I seemed normal."

It wasn't until his 30's that he moved to opioids, and it became a habit. "That's when I started going into rapid decline." He said, "I never had a prescription itself." But he says in the 2000's opioids were very poorly regulated. He says they were traded on the street and "the VA is notorious for overprescribing, and veterans sell opioids when they are desperate for money." He added, "In our society we have a pill for everything."

He says the mind of an addict is one of denial. "They say I'm just going to drink and smoke pot." It took him five trips to social detox (non-medical) on Columbia Pike before he acknowledged he had a serious problem. But these were two-week sessions, "and your brain chemicals take two years to completely stabilize. Even after 90 days of treatment, craving can cause a physiological reaction — your stomach churns, blood pressure responds, sweating." Pretty soon after these sessions he would return to using.

When he was finally remanded by the court to treatment, "I wasn't a willing participant. Under duress of law I was in the Patient Recovery 90-day inpatient program, then I went to Independence House for a year. I managed to keep clean." But even starting the process it was about a year down the line until he had a wake up call. "People were dying around me. There have been a lot of funerals in the time I've been around."

“It was really here that he had an epiphany." He says Independence House was a good structured environment. “It had been years since I made my own bed. I had lost life skills." He said he had been self-employed. "No, you're not. They wanted to know where I was 40 hours a week."

He says unfortunately there isn't help for everyone who needs it. "You have to be willing to walk the walk. After almost five years off, I have memory bubbles pop up of using. But I can pretty easily shut them down."

He says it was a perfect storm that came together for him, "but I don't know if I could weather it again." He thinks over half of fatal overdoses aren't accidental. "Addicts are so depressed they don't want to face the struggle. They say 'this monster is going to win.'" He says he thinks that labeling it an accidental overdose helps the family but more of fatal ODs are suicides." He says he thought about OD suicide but he didn't know how to do it and he thought about the impact on his family.

"Addiction controls our thinking. We think that help will never work. There is a barrier between you and the help. Our heads will rationalize the worst decisions." He said, "We relapse; that's what we know how to do. The statistics are pretty depressing with the amount of relapse."

Now he is actively involved in education and peer counseling for other addicts. He says talking about it is the most people can do, and collaboration is the key. "There is no magic wand but we need to stop stigmatizing. It won't stop until we can acknowledge the problem."