Druggie, junkie, tweaker, – when you think of those struggling with addiction, do any of these words or stereotypes come to mind? Do you feel like you could pick out someone dealing with addiction from a crowd by their poor hygiene, unemployment status, and erratic behavior? If you do, it’s probably from the inflammatory news cycle, narrow movie stereotypes, or viral Facebook posts. But what if we got to know people who are dealing with addiction? What if they told us about their real experiences? At Alpine Center, we get to know people in all walks of life, and we know that addiction knows no bounds. It doesn’t stick with any one race, neighborhood, or profession.
We put together a few examples that, while fictional, could be as real as any of our patients we have gotten to know.
Hi, my name is Lena - though it feels like it’s been a while since anyone has called me that. It’s always Dr. Norris can you approve these prescriptions or Dr. Norris your patient is having complications.
Being an oncologist, I’m at a hospital for most of the week – it’s just become who and what I am. I rarely see anyone anymore. And my patients, who I do see, well – I give them the best treatment I can, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to get attached anymore. And that’s really when the alcohol took hold of me. It started with a few drinks to try and forget a stressful day. But that turned into a bender over the few days I had off after a patient passed. And then eventually I needed to forget all of the awful things in my life every night, so I could try again tomorrow.
But I know how to put myself together in the morning. How to put together a treatment plan. How to hold my patient’s hand as I give them the news that the treatment is unresponsive. But I never knew how to handle myself at the end of the day - so I drank. I knew I needed help when I drove to work with a water bottle filled with vodka. I sat in my car and cried because I needed it, but I knew my patients deserved more.
So here I am. I’m one month sober. I’m fighting the urges every day, and the thought of slipping up is terrifying me. So I’m trying not to isolate myself in my apartment anymore. I’m trying to see myself as someone other than a doctor. I need to do that to be a better doctor at the end of the day.
I’m Peter Bishop, and I’m an opioid addict. It started after I messed up my back at the gym, and my doctors just threw every pain medication they could at me – Vicodin, codeine, and others that I can’t even remember. Which is pretty weird for me – I’m a math professor and remembering things is just part of the job description. Well, I’m not a professor. I’m an associate professor. We do all the real work as a professor, with less pay and fewer hours, and of course fewer benefits. I was working on getting tenured when the accident happened. I was publishing papers, doing research, and then my hand slipped on the weight, and everything crapped out. All of the sudden everything either hurt too much to focus or I was too high to care.
After the maximum amount of leave, I could take I had to go back. And so I did what I always do – I tried to calculate how long I could go without a painkiller so I could teach the minimum amount of classes to maintain my insurance so I could afford more pills. But the pain got worse, or the pills stopped working, so I had to get more. And then it wasn’t even just physical pain anymore. Every issue I had just seemed easier to deal with my pills.
I swear I’m a good professor. People always seem to think that I’m buying from or selling to my students or something, but it’s not like that at all. I work at one of the biggest universities in the state – most of my students do well, and when they rate me on those websites, it’s okay. And it used to be all I could do to reach okay most days. But since starting to get clean, I’ve thought about getting beyond okay. Beyond associate professor. Beyond just someone who is in pain every day.
My name is Val Tyler, and I’m addicted to Xanax. When people ask what I do, I usually smile and say I’m a mother of two and a grandmother of 3 and they keep me running every day. But what I should say is nothing. I do nothing. Or at least I’ve felt like it over the last 25 years. When talking with neighbors I would hear about their jobs as veterinarians, engineers or whatever it was, and I would feel embarrassed talking about my kids. Or I would listen to my brother talk about his latest trip to Europe, and I would smile, but it hurt to hear it. I just couldn’t see my day and feel proud of what I accomplished. Straightening up a room that will get dirty tomorrow just feels empty. Or it did to me.
I actually can’t remember not feeling empty. Even back in high school everyone always seemed to excited for everything, and I got good at smiling and going along with it all. I told myself to just wait for senior year, that’ll be great! No, wait for college, that’s when I can be a real adult. And then it was I’ll be so happy when I get married, that’ll be when life starts. And a baby will surely make everything better. It was always running at the horizon hoping to catch it.
But I couldn’t keep that up. The boredom and the emptiness just got to me. So if I was going to feel numb, I was going to do it on my terms. A girlfriend told me about a doctor who gave her pills that made all of her stress fade away and didn’t check up on you. So I got on Xanax. It would help for a moment, but the emptiness was still there. So I took more or would convince the doctor to up my dosage. And if he wouldn’t, I’d find it somewhere else. My husband knew what was going on, how couldn’t he? But he was scared and embarrassed to take his wife anywhere for help. What would the neighbors say? So it kept happening.
As my kids got older, it became easier to use while they were at school or a friend’s house. I guess you could say that’s when I lost touch with them. I don’t remember my daughter’s prom or my son’s jazz concert. I’m trying to do better with the grandkids, but the emptiness is still there.
But I’m getting help. For the first time I’m seeing a therapist and a doctor – I’ve stopped caring if people will look at me differently. I want to look at me differently. And you know what? I feel lighter - happy even. I can bake cookies with my grandkids, and feel so happy, full and present. I’m even happy when cleaning up frosting from the floor. That would have never happened before. And I feel motivated to volunteer in the area, and we’re getting a lot of good things done. I’m getting a lot of good things done. I didn’t think I was capable of doing good before.
We hope that this look has expanded your view of how addiction looks. Addiction isn’t just people begging on the side of the street -it’s also your doctor, teacher, a family member, or anyone else. And when it does touch someone, no matter who they are, what they need is help and understanding. At Alpine Center, we will provide all the help and understanding we can, but it makes all the difference when it comes from a loving support system.