Feeling stress from marital conflict, overwork, and a failed business venture, Steve took a solo vacation to clear his head. He took off from New Mexico, played some poker in Vegas — “I even came out $500 ahead” — and then returned home to a shock: His house was empty.
He walked into a mess of empty boxes and saw his wife’s belongings were gone. Also missing: half the clothes and toys of his boys, ages 5 and 7.
“I thought my family had been kidnapped,” Steve recalls.
Five days later he was served with divorce papers.
Already strapped for cash, Steve sold his motorcycle to fund his attorney’s retainer. Ten weeks later, he says, “I broke down and started using heroin again.”
He told himself it would be a “one-time thing,” or maybe he’d use once a week. “But I fell right back into shooting up every day,” recalls Steve, now 54 and an Ideal Option patient.
Steve had started using heroin in his late twenties, partly to cope with a rocky marriage. He’d shoot up at a friend’s house, in his car on his lunch break, at home in the bathroom. “I wore long sleeves and rotated injection sites,” he says.
“I managed to keep it a secret. I was functional for 2 years.”
They were busy years. He worked full time at a grocery store, freelanced construction work on the side, and ran an internet business.
“I was spending $3,000 a month on heroin,” he said, “but I could afford it.”
In Steve’s mind, he was justified. “I knew it was bad, but my mindset was: I’ve been a decent human being all my life. I’ve never assaulted anyone or stolen anything. I’m not hurting anybody.”
Still, the expense gnawed at him, and he’d developed such a high tolerance that he worried about overdose. He decided he’d enter treatment sometime soon. His plan was to drive to California, score a batch at a good price, and then, when his supply ran out, enroll in a methadone clinic.
He never made it home. Arizona police pulled him over for a traffic violation, and a search of his car, spurred by narcotic detection dogs, led to a heroin trafficking conviction. Steve spent 6 months in a county jail, then 4 years in state prison.
In prison he earned his GED and worked a lot — as a cemetery caretaker, a firefighter, and a landscaper.
“Sitting around watching TV and doing puzzles does not make time go by,” he says. “I wanted to stay busy and productive.”
Upon his release, Steve felt well-positioned to start fresh. He was off drugs, still married, and financially secure; on top of his savings, he’d received an inheritance from his mom’s death.
“I wanted a clean slate,” he says. “I thought I was done using.”
He landed a job at a store, and four months later, learned his wife was pregnant. Soon, they had two young boys, an SUV, and a 4-bedroom house.
But his marriage, already shaky before his incarceration, deteriorated further. Steve found himself stressed and anxious, especially around the holidays. “We always had arguments over whose relatives to visit,” he says.
He invested a hefty sum in a food truck, but his venture slammed right into the pandemic.
“The covid shutdown came on what was supposed to be opening day,” he says.
It was all too much, and Steve felt snowed under. That’s when he announced his trip to Vegas.
After his wife left with the kids and he began using again, his addiction spiraled quickly. It wasn’t long before he overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl.
He got lucky: The woman he was dating found him in the bathroom, blue in the face, revived him with Narcan, and called 911.
Steve thought: “I can’t keep doing this. I need to stop for my kids. They’re all I’ve got.”
Through a friend, he learned about Ideal Option and started on Suboxone. Then, at the urging of his provider, he visited a primary care doctor. He came away with two diagnoses that explained a lot: anxiety disorder and abnormally low testosterone.
Steve had suffered from anxiety since his late teens and, as an adult, would become so anxious in chaotic environments that he’d avoid supermarkets until after 10 p.m. But he’d never taken anti-anxiety medication.
Meanwhile, in the months leading up to his overdose, he’d noticed his energy and enthusiasm flagging. He’d stopped restoring his car and playing videogames with friends.
With his anxiety and testosterone deficiency treated, Steve scheduled his first dental appointment in ages.
“I’m taking care of stuff I put off for years,” he says. “I feel like a brand-new person.”
In retrospect, Steve says, he had turned to drugs largely to self-medicate. Now that he’s squared-away medically, he has thrown himself back into his projects. He’s beefing up the engine on his car and building furniture for his bedroom.
“I’ve got my groove back,” says Steve, who works full time.
Though he’s dealing with a divorce, he knows how to handle stress without turning to drugs.
In counseling, he learned to do breathing exercises, inhaling through his nose and out his mouth, “until I can slow my heart rate and get the jitters off.” He puts the technique into practice when his boys get rambunctious.
“I say, ‘Hey, guys, Daddy needs to settle down,’ and then I might just walk away for a bit. Sometimes, you’ve literally got to take a breather.”
At this point, Steve says, heroin has “lost its luster.”
“I don’t have time to use drugs, and I don’t have any reason to,” he says. “I have too much on my plate to allow something like that to drag me down. I feel I’ve gone through basic combat training and weathered the storm.”