Addiction: The Illness That Talks

After more than three decades of heroin addiction, I was on my way to detox again. I had been to at least 40 detoxes, some of which I completed and some of which I bolted out the door before they wanted me to, or as they call it “A.M.A.” (Against Medical Advice).

Addiction is like that.  I’m sure that my monkey mind had come up with a good excuse to “take it on the run baby,” however, as one of my friends always used to say to me, “That’s probably not a good idea.” He said that to me very often.

Well, I was on my way into a detox in West Boylston, Mass.,  in March of 1994. I had two bags left, and stopped in a gas station to bang them up because I didn’t know how long it would be before they dosed me. Actually, that was just another excuse for getting higher.

When I arrived there, I was counseled and asked if I would complete a rehabilitation that they had, which meant that I would be there for two weeks after they stopped dosing me. I’d be going to relapse classes, meetings, etc.  My counselor was a wonderful woman who had been my counselor previous times there. This was my ninth or tenth time at this particular detox.

I was comfortable for the first couple of days and then they drastically reduced the methadone they were administering to me. Life is like that.  You can’t get out of an addiction to opiates painlessly, no matter how hard you try.

I was eventually reduced to nothing but my regular psych drugs for PTSD, Major Depression and Severe Panic Disorder. I don’t know what came first—the mental illness or Chasing the Dragon, as they call using  junk.

Finally I had an appointment with my counselor and she asked me, “What are you going to do different this time?”  I looked into her eyes for a bit and then tears welled up in my eyes. You see, I was thinking that I was caught on this treadmill and nothing would happen upon my release but the same old thing.

I was honest with her and told her I thought that I was just in for another tune-up. She smiled easily at me and said, “A tune-up! Tell me Marc, how long has it been since you blew the engine?  It’s been a while, eh.”

At this point I was feeling pretty hopeless.  And then my counselor started telling me my story. She asked if I remembered the motorcycle accident that took place in South Carolina while I was on a drug run at two in the morning. And then she told me the truth.

I had told her the events of that story and how I was unable to walk after the accident. They started sending me to physical therapy and I hated it because it wasn’t easy and it was painful even though I was on a methadone clinic at the time. I told my physical therapist that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

My physical therapist (P.T.) asked me a question. She said, “Marc, how badly do you want to walk again?” I really wanted to walk again.  My P.T. said, “Marc, to be able to walk again, you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do, over and over again. Or you can choose not to walk again.”

It was kind of a no-brainer. Of course I was going to do those things I didn’t want to do, over and over again because I really wanted to walk again without crutches and braces on my legs. So, over a period of one year, I did the work.

My counselor, at the detox looked at me and asked me, “Marc, how badly do you want to stay clean?  This is the same deal as learning how to walk again. You’re going to have to do, every day, things you don’t want to do, over and over again.  Like you’ll have to go to support groups or meetings every day, sometimes three times a day. You don’t have to like it at first. But I’ll tell you that, in the end, when you stay clean, you’ll begin to get gifts back in your life.  Probably more than you can imagine at this time. I know, from past experience with you, that your “monkey” talks a good game. It’s not a matter of arguing with this monkey—you’ll need to overcome it with facts that it will try to deny.”

At first I couldn’t see the connection with learning how to walk again and staying clean but then it hit me like a flash and tears ran down my cheeks. This was the beginning of my rude awakening.

I walked out of her office with a lot on my mind.  Then, later, I was making aftercare plans on their telephone and the people put me on hold.  I waited 30 seconds, then a minute, then my mind said, The hell with this and I went to hang up the phone.’

Suddenly a thought came like a bolt out of the clouds in my head. The thought asked, “If this was the dope man and he put you on hold, how long would you hang onto the phone?”  I realized that, if this was the dope man and I was trying to cop, I would hang onto the phone so long that a spider could spin a complete web between the phone and my ear!

This was a total revelation and it was the beginning of fighting back against my addiction.  I held onto the phone and was able to arrange for aftercare. Of course, this was just the beginning of that long road but I had become willing!  This was how my Recovery began.

My addiction was talking but I was talking back. And I did do things I didn’t want to do until, suddenly, I realized that my life was coming back to me. I knew that old monkey was a liar. I realized that “Addiction only remembers what it needs.”

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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