Defeated, drained, demoralized — that’s how many of Geoff Godfrey’s new patients look when they first come to Ideal Option.
After all, these folks have been struggling with opioid addiction for years, if not decades. By the time they summon the courage to seek treatment, they’ve been to some dark places.
But, Geoff says, his patients brighten quickly.
Stabilized by Suboxone, they are able to think clearly and forge ahead with a new kind of life. Though recovery is a lifetime journey, it doesn’t take long for new patients to feel “normal” again and appreciate how far they’ve come.
“To watch that haunted look vanish and see patients be able to love and trust themselves – it shines through their eyes and skin and how they hold themselves,” says Geoff, an advanced nurse practitioner. “As a provider, I think that’s a cool thing to be part of.”
As patients find their footing in recovery, they begin to see the possibilities, large and small, for a future.
“I see that wide-eyed wonder,” Geoff says. “Like, Oh my god, life has changed. There’s a new dawn.”
Here, Ideal Option patients reflect on the ways life has changed for them.
”I’m present to enjoy life – to stop and smell the roses.”
When Mary looks back at old photos — of birthdays with family, get-togethers with friends — she’s struck by her blank expression.
“I can see I wasn’t really there,” says Mary, 31, who was addicted to opioid pills and heroin for over a decade. “I was so out of it. Three days would go by and I’d have no idea what day it was.”
Three years into recovery, Mary makes a point of documenting her new life in photos.
“I shoot whatever catches my eye — the mountains, the ways trees look in the light, things I wouldn’t have noticed when I was using. Or, if I did notice, it wouldn’t have made an impact.”
Mary also shoots copious pictures of her new baby and her husband, who was her partner in addiction for years.
“It’s so important for us to remember these moments,” she says, “because we’ve never lived them before.”
Mary’s addiction began in college, after she was attacked on campus and struggled with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. For years, she was in and out of detox and rehab, living out of a car, stealing and selling drugs to support her addiction.
All the while, she and her husband knew this wasn’t the life they wanted. “We were constantly telling each other, ‘Hey, you deserve better.’ The love we have for each other helped us see the good in ourselves. We kind of just rose out of the ashes.”
Today, both Mary and her husband take Suboxone. She’s back in school, studying to become an addiction counselor; he’s working construction.
What Mary appreciates most about recovery, she says, is just being present. “Being able to take life in, to slow down and smell the roses — it’s something I could never do before. It’s amazing.”
“I treat people so much better.”
Not much is harder than maintaining a pill addiction while loading packages for UPS.
“It’s a chaotic, demanding job,” says Vanessa, 27. “I lift heavy boxes over my head, and I’ve fractured my ribs and sprained my ankle and had multiple concussions. When I was taking pills all day long, I would catch myself nodding off. It was dangerous and scary.”
Vanessa managed to hide all that from her bosses — “I knew how to be professional,” she says — but she didn’t extend any courtesies to her co-workers.
“I’d go over to a trailer that didn’t have much volume, and I’d pretend like I was loading,” she recalls. “My co-workers later told me I was mean and disrespectful. It hurts my heart to know I was such a nasty person.”
Vanessa’s addiction dates back to age 8, when she was physically abused by her grandmother and swiped the pills, alcohol, and weed that were always lying around the house.
As an adult, Vanessa was in constant pain, battling numbness in her hands and arms, and she worried she might have a serious disease that had gone undiagnosed. “I always had a massive headache,” she says. “I thought I was dying.”
Turns out, it was her addiction.
Once she stopped taking pain pills, Vanessa says, “all the excruciating pain was gone, and I wasn’t depressed anymore. I never thought it would all go away.”
In recovery for more than a year now, Vanessa feels strong on the job, does her fair share of the lifting, and has regained her co-workers’ trust.
“I’m a happy person,” she says. “I try to put a smile on a person’s face. I try to make their day better.”
“I’m a functioning member of society who pays her taxes.”
For folks with no history of addiction, paying the rent and filing your taxes are just facts of life, obligations to tolerate.
But to patients in recovery, those tasks are important milestones, signs you’re getting your life back in order. When you’ve spent years stealing from stores, pawning your family’s belongings, and ignoring overdue bills, it’s a relief to stand on your own two feet.
“I’ve never paid my own rent before, paid my car insurance, taken care of myself,” says Shante, a single mom and fulltime student in recovery after a decade of heroin addiction. “It feels good to be doing what most people do every day.”
Randy, a father of three, managed to cover his financial obligations for a while. But his $250-a-day fentanyl addiction eventually caught up with him.
In a short span, he lost it all: his job as a delivery truck driver, his Ford Fusion, and then his girlfriend and kids. Now in recovery, he has his family back and a steady job as a fireplace installer; he doesn’t have a car yet, but he’s working on it.
“I feel like a part of society,” says Randy, 35. “I go to work every day. I’m not late on my bills. I feel better than ever.”
The same goes for Rebecca, 29, who went from living on the street to working fulltime as a beauty advisor, a job she loves.
“I’m a functioning member of society who pays her taxes,” says Rebecca, who took her first Vicodin at age 14 and later graduated to heroin. “I started getting high at such a young age that I never saw my own worth. I never got to know what it’s like to be a productive member of society.”
“I’m free. The drugs don’t control me anymore.”
In her late twenties, Emily had a live-in boyfriend and a job in real estate with constant paperwork and deadlines. But every day, from the moment she woke up, she was consumed with a single concern: her pills.
Where will I get my pills? How will I pay for them? When will I be able to snort them?
Over time, she escalated to 32 pills a day, primarily fentanyl.
“I would just take enough so I wouldn’t throw up at work, and then I’d stop at a gas station bathroom and snort them until my nose would bleed,” Emily says.
Then she’d go home and lie to her boyfriend about where she’d been — “at the store,” “having coffee with a girlfriend” — and why she couldn’t pay her bills. “I’d tell him I bought something online and my account got hacked,” she says.
Eventually, she began to collapse under the weight of her lies, overdue bills, and the feeling she was wasting all her time and energy.
“I was tired of having the drug control me,” she says. “It was a terrible feeling inside. I loved my boyfriend so much, but l loved the drugs more.”
Now that she’s in recovery, with the support of her boyfriend, Emily lives a full life, with a new job as a medical assistant, new friends who don’t use, and access to a horse she loves to ride.
“It’s like a 180,” Emily says. “I don’t even think about drugs anymore. I just have no desire to do it.”
“Plain and simple: I’m alive.”
As folks in recovery navigate life in recovery, many start to realize dreams they had long ago abandoned — going back to school, landing a fulltime job, reconnecting with their kids.
But some patients, like Joe, marvel at a more basic achievement.
“Plain and simple: I’m alive,” says Joe.
During his decade of active addiction and countless relapses, opening his eyes in the morning wasn’t always a given.
Once, a neighbor found him passed out in the laundry room of their apartment building. Another time, he snorted heroin on the very day he left rehab, waking up a day and a half later on a grimy mattress in an unfamiliar trailer.
“I had no tolerance whatsoever,” Joe says. “I’m thankful there wasn’t a clean needle, because if I was shooting, I would have died.”
Joe began using in high school, to help cope with depression. “I wasn’t happy and wanted to escape reality,” he says.
But eventually, the reality of life in addiction began to look worse. Joe’s cousin and his next-door neighbor both died of heroin overdoses. Then a friend died after overdosing on heroin and fentanyl.
“It’s scary out there,” says Joe, now working as a restaurant server. “I know if I go back to using, it would kill me. I have that pretty embedded in my brain now. Life isn’t great all the time, but I want to be around a while.”