One night, after his opioid supply ran dry, George found himself in the desperate throes of withdrawal, phoning every connection he could think of.
Vomiting and miserable — “I felt like bugs were crawling all over me” — George finally reached an old friend.
“I’ve got something that can help,” the friend said. “Come on over.”
What should have been a 10-minute drive took George 45 minutes, because he had to stop so often to throw up or find a toilet. When George finally arrived, his friend announced that he no longer used drugs. Instead, he offered George a small dose of his prescription buprenorphine (Subutex).
“It was like, holy smokes — within 20 minutes, I felt normal,” recalls George, now age 55 and 4 years into recovery.
George’s friend told him: “Hey, this is my medication. I’m not supposed to share it.” He urged George to schedule an appointment with Ideal Option right away, so that he, too, could start on buprenorphine.
George followed through the next morning and drove to a nearby Ideal Option clinic for his appointment. Still, he hesitated to walk in.
“I sat there for a while in my car and thought: These people are probably going to look at me like I’m a lowlife, a scum, a junkie. I almost backed out and left. But something hit me, and I said, Well, let’s look at what they have to offer.”
What they offered, George discovered, was freedom — an escape from the fog he’d lived in for 30 years.
“My whole world is clear now: my memory, my thinking, my attitude,” says George.
George discovered, too, that his fears about being judged were entirely unfounded.
“At Ideal Option, they welcomed me with open arms, like they really cared,” he says. “It was the neatest experience I’ve ever had.”
George started drinking at age 12. Multiple times, he got suspended from school for keeping alcohol in his locker. By 14, he was into acid and mushrooms. By 17, he was snorting opioid pills.
For years, he scored prescriptions from multiple doctors, feigning back pain and other ailments. “I was doctor shopping,” he says. “I always had this excuse and that excuse.”
Soon he went from snorting 3 or 4 pills a day to 20. “Your body gets so tolerant,” he says. “Your script wouldn’t last that long.”
He’d stretch out his supply as long as he could, but usually he had to supplement his prescriptions by buying pills on the street.
If he went more than a day or two without opioids, he’d be hurled into withdrawal.
George often called in sick to the transmission shop where he worked. When he did show up, he’d slack off and snap at his co-workers. He’d snort pills in the bathroom or in his car during work breaks.
When George’s boss caught him with a bag of pills, he denied his addiction.
“I gave him a line of crap,” recalls George. “I said, ‘That’s just some medication I have to take.’ I felt like, Hey, I’m getting them legally from a doctor.”
George got fired from that job and then from another transmission shop. He switched to cooking at family restaurants and got fired from another string of jobs.
“One minute I could be the nicest guy in the world, and the next minute I could be throwing plates at one of the waitresses,” George says.
All the while, he was neglecting his three children.
When the kids were younger, before George used opioids so heavily, he’d take them camping and fishing. They’d play ball in the yard and ride go-karts. But as his addiction worsened, all the fun stopped.
“I pushed my kids away,” George says.
He didn’t show up to watch his boys wrestle or his daughter cheerlead. When the boys would ask for video games, he’d say, “Well, we had this bill come up” or “I’m not getting a big paycheck.”
George became “mean and snappy” around the house. “I’d yell at the kids for the stupidest things, like leaving the light on,” he says. “So, they isolated themselves from me.”
George retreated inward, too. He stopped fishing and barbecuing with his friends. He wouldn’t answer when a buddy called or stopped by.
“I shut myself off from the world,” he recalls. “I’d just stay in my room, depressed and suicidal.”
He was exhausted, too, from chasing drugs every day. “I was bugging people so much, and I was sick all the time. I was like, George, is this worth it? Spending all this money?”
Deep down, he knew the answer was no.
George says the transition to recovery was jarring at first.
“Being sober scared the living hell out of me,” he recalls. “Everything was so real. I could see the sky is blue and the grass is green.”
But George was grateful for his new life and felt determined to stay in recovery. He cut ties with all his acquaintances and changed his phone number.
“Nobody knows where I live,” he says. “I refuse friend requests on Facebook.”
He works with a mental health counselor and says he has never missed an Ideal Option appointment.
“Without Ideal Option, I’d be dead or in prison or strung out, lying in a gutter,” he says. “Instead, I got the help I needed, wanted and deserved.”
George marvels at the turn his life has taken.
He used to stay up all night getting high and during the day. Now he sleeps soundly through the night.
“When I wake up, I’m full of energy,” he says. “I don’t even think of laying back down.”
He fishes for trout, hunts deer, reads, and watches hockey and football on TV. He has reunited with his children and spends a lot of time with his grandchildren, taking them to the park and to swim lessons.
“I still get depressed sometimes, but I know how to cope with it,” he says. “I go into meditation or listen to relaxing ocean sounds. I do a lot of walking with my dog.”
George considers himself a much calmer and more compassionate person than he ever was while using.
“My kids understand that it wasn’t me. It was the pills,” George says. “They say, ‘Dad, you’ve come a long way. Keep it up.’ ”