If you are addicted to opioids, you’re operating in survival mode, plain and simple.
Just getting through the day — scrounging up the money, maintaining your supply, hiding your use from your boss or family — is all consuming and monumentally exhausting.
Seeking treatment probably isn’t on your radar. It’s easier to tell yourself, as most folks addicted to opioids do, Hey, I’ve got it under control. I’m fine.
And yet, every day across the country, thousands of people with opioid use disorder (OUD) walk through the doors of Ideal Option clinics to receive their medication prescription.
How did they summon the courage that first time? What shifted their thinking from, I’m fine to I need help?
“Sometimes it’s a huge crisis, like an overdose or an arrest or getting sentenced to jail,” says Geoff Godfrey, addiction medicine specialist. “In other cases, it’s a slow burn. The reasons run the gamut.”
“Some people seek treatment before they hit rock bottom,” adds Skyler Glatt, social worker and director of community development at Ideal Option. “Sometimes the emotional weight of the situation, all the lying and exhaustion, makes people take a hard look at themselves.”
No matter what brought them to Ideal Option, patients in treatment have one thing in common: They feel an incredible sense of relief, a huge weight lifted, and feel proud of their life in recovery.
“I have so much excitement in my life now,” says Rebecca, 29, an Ideal Option patient who became addicted to opioids at age 14. “My life isn’t about, How am I going to pay for pills? Now it’s: What can I do to move up the ladder at work and better my life and my kids’ lives?”
Adds Rebecca: “I feel like I can finally show my son that you can struggle and make mistakes and redeem yourself from all of it.”
Here’s the story of how Rebecca came to seek treatment, along with stories from other Ideal Option patients who are surprised, and grateful, to find themselves in recovery.
Rebecca: “I knew if I put that needle in my arm, there was no turning back.”
By her mid-twenties, Rebecca had spent nearly half her life in the pursuit of opioid pills and heroin.
Even after she gave custody of her son to her parents, even after a frightening month on the streets with her boyfriend, Rebecca says, “I was unwilling to be helped.”
She knew she was addicted to opioids, but, she says, “I almost accepted that this was going to be my life.”
Almost. But not quite.
The turning point came when she considered shooting up.
“I was smoking heroin off of foil,” Rebecca recalls, “but it wasn’t enough anymore. I was having such an internal mental battle. I knew if I put that needle in my arm, there was no turning back.”
Several of her family members were already shooting heroin, and she had lost an ex-boyfriend to suicide because he’d been unable to stop shooting up.
She knew, deep down, that this wasn’t the life she wanted for herself and her two children.
A friend urged her to call Ideal Option and accompanied her to her first appointment.
“That day, for the first time in 10 or 15 years, I had hope,” Rebecca says. “I felt like no one was there to judge me. They treated me like a human being, not a criminal.”
That was two years ago. Today, Rebecca has custody of her kids and a fulltime job as a beauty advisor.
“I’m a functioning member of society who pays her taxes, and I love my job,” she says. “I have a way of connecting with everyone and anyone. Before, it was like: go to to work, get the paycheck, go home. I didn’t see my own worth, and I didn’t want to get too close to anyone.”
She adds: “I feel like my kids finally have the mom that they deserve, and I deserve them.”
The most important moment of Rebecca’s recovery came when her grandfather, who raised her, was dying in the hospital.
“For my grandfather to know, on his way out of this world, that he didn’t have to worry about me anymore — that he could leave feeling proud of me — that made everything worth it.”
Randy: “I was like, ‘Damn, I’m going to lose my family for real.’”
When he was using fentanyl daily, Randy had one priority: getting more pills.
His girlfriend, his kids, his job — all were secondary, if he considered them at all.
“I rarely did stuff with my son,” recalls Randy, now 39. “We’d throw a football around and go to the movies every once in a while, but really, I just wanted to spend my money on pills.”
He was spending plenty — $250 a day for up to 10 pills.
Money became even tighter when he lost his job as a delivery-truck driver, after co-workers reported him for working while high. Then he lost his car because I couldn’t make the payments.
Even so, he assured himself he couldn’t function without fentanyl. “I felt like, I need it NOW. If I don’t get it, I’m going to start throwing up.”
When his parents would say, “You’re out of control — you need to stop and reevaluate,” or “You’re going down a bad path,” he’d accuse them of overreacting.
Finally, his girlfriend, the mother of his two daughters, got fed up and left with the kids.
“I’d lie to her and sneak off, and that ruined my relationship,” Randy says. “She knew what I was doing, but when she’d ask me, I’d lie. That’s what really got her.”
Desperate for his family back, he told his girlfriend that he’d quit using, and she and the girls moved back in. But soon enough, she found his drugs and told him: It’s over for good.
That was his wake-up call.
“I was like, Damn, I’m going to lose my family for real. I had to show her I loved her and would do anything for her. I felt like I was losing everything that was important to me.”
Randy learned about Ideal Option from a friend and called for an appointment. He’s still amazed that his fentanyl cravings vanished when he started on Suboxone and that he has so much energy.
“Instead of feeling high and having energy,” he says, “I’m sober and have energy. I’m not grumpy. I don’t look like crap.”
Today, he lives with his girlfriend and two daughters, ages 7 and 11, and sees his teenage son regularly. He has a job as a fireplace installer and a healthy relationship with his family.
Instead of sleeping all day, he says, “I take my girls to the park. I take them to the movies. We go for walks.”
As for the son he’d neglected, Randy says, “We play basketball and video games, and I teach him how to cook. He’s really proud of me, and that makes me happy.”
Jenna: “The cop who arrested me took an interest.”
When she was arrested one winter for a probation violation, Jenna was living in a “seedy trailer park,” shooting heroin every day, feeling defeated and cold.
But something about her struck a sympathetic cord with her arresting officer.
“He took an interest in me,” recalls Jenna, now 34, who started using opioid pills at 14 and heroin at 18. “He told the people at booking, ‘Take care of her.’ And he said to me, ‘You seem to have a something going for you. Don’t you have family?’”
Jenna did have a family — parents and two girls, ages 8 and 9. She had signed over guardianship of the girls to her parents after descending too far into addiction to care for them.
Touched by the officer’s interest in her, Jenna took sobriety seriously while in jail, rejecting the drugs she was offered.
“I made friends with the old ladies playing pinochle,” says Jenna, a pianist and singer. “They’d have me sing for them during rec time.”
After a couple months in jail, Jenna reconnected with her mom and her children, who had learned more about OUD, including how opioids rewire the brain.
When others in jail got busted for drugs, Jenna’s urinalysis came out negative. She even saved the paperwork to show her family she was drug free.
“The corrections officers were all proud of me,” Jenna says. “So was my mom. And my kids were writing me letters.”
Jenna also received a letter from the officer who’d arrested her, asking how she was doing.
The letter motivated her continue avoiding drugs.
Released after five months in jail, Jenna spent a month in inpatient treatment. There, she explored her mental-health issues and began taking Suboxone, which she describes as “a defense against temptation, like an armor.”
She then transitioned to Ideal Option, where she remains a patient.
Today Jenna works as a cake decorator and lives with her parents and children. “I’m becoming a mom again,” she says.
She describes Suboxone as “an amazing thing” and Ideal Option as a lifesaver.
She looks forward to her clinic visits. “Having someone ask you every 28 days, ‘How are your kids? How did your hand surgery go? How’s your mom?’ — it makes you want to keep coming back.”
Patricia: “You don’t really know what’s in that little sack. You might get something that kills you.”
For more than a decade, Patricia used opioid pills daily, reasoning it was OK because they were prescribed by a doctor. She’d worked for years in demanding jobs — at a factory, a grocery store, and a nursing home — and had experienced plenty of pain.
When her prescriptions ran out, she turned to the street to buy pills. She spent her days strung out on her recliner and isolated herself from friends and family.
“They would stop by and ask me to go somewhere,” Patricia says, “and I’d make excuses.”
Eventually, she couldn’t afford the pills. “I didn’t have money for anything else – groceries, gas, a pedicure. My money was flying out the door.”
At that point, she turned to snorting heroin, but after about 10 times, she found herself too afraid.
“You don’t really know what’s in that little sack,” she said. “You might get something that kills you.”
Though she was embarrassed to seek treatment, for fear that family members would think poorly of her, she called Ideal Option, anyway.
“I thought: This is for me.”
These days, she says, “I feel like a person again. I maintain my house. I take my granddaughter to school and pick her up, and we might go and get an ice cream or go to the park. I take my mother to the grocery store. I keep busy, and I like it.”
Sarah: “I broke down and said, ‘I’m spending $1,000 a month on pills. I need help.’”
Addicted to drugs and alcohol since age 13, Sarah found 12-step programs as an adult and was determined not to fall back into addiction. “I worked the program like my life depended on it,” says Sarah, now 50.
But after she began experiencing shoulder pain, her doctor prescribed her Tramadol, a synthetic opioid that her doctor described as “safe” and “non-addictive.”
In reality, Tramadol is highly addictive, and it wasn’t long before Sarah realized she couldn’t stop taking it. “I had never experienced a drug so intensely powerful over me. Crank and booze were a cake walk compared to this.”
When she tried to stop, she became overwhelmed by withdrawal. “Within 24 hours, I was sicker than a dog — I had the shakes, and I felt like I had electricity zapping through my brain.”
Soon she was buying opioid pills off the street and pawning her belongings as well as her husband’s.
“I pawned everything,” Sarah says. “I told my husband his computer was in the shop – but it was in the pawn shop. I lied about where I was going, where the money was going. It was all a big, fat lie. I so badly didn’t want to have my husband suffer for my addiction.”
When they received an eviction notice, Sarah finally confessed to her husband.
“I broke down and said, ‘I’m spending $1,000 a month on pills. I have a problem. I need help.’”
She found that help at Ideal Option, and Suboxone has turned her life around.
“I get to do life on life’s terms,” she says. “I don’t have that idea of, Oh, things are rough, so I’ll just go take a handful of pills.”
Sarah works as an office manager and often takes care of her baby grandson.
“If I was still swallowing pills, my husband would be long gone, and I’d be living from couch to couch. Instead, I have an amazing husband and a wonderful job, and I get to be an active part of my grandson’s life.”