Jeffrey remembers the precise moment he felt done — truly, finally, completely done — with drugs.
He was playing on the living room floor with his toddler grandson and his two Siberian Huskies while his mind wrestled with competing thoughts: I love this kid so much and I need to get more pills.
“I had this little boy who needed me, and I couldn’t do that when I was using drugs,” recalls Jeffrey, now 50 and 12 years into recovery from opioid use disorder.
He called his wife at work and told her: “I’m ready. I need you to come home right now.”
By this time, a decade into his addiction, Jeffrey had tried inpatient treatment four times, always returning to opioids. He had quit working and had retreated from family and friends, doing little besides watching TV, pacing in circles, and chasing pills.
“I had no contact with the outside world,” Jeffrey recalls. “I was not a functioning member of society.”
In earlier years, he’d contributed greatly to the world around him, as a paramedic and a go-getter. But at age 25, he was hit by a car while assisting an accident victim. The ensuing pain forced him to quit his job and led him to opioids.
Still eager to help others, Jeffrey earned a degree in early childhood education and became a preschool teacher. But by his early thirties, he was deeply addicted to pills.
The first time he attended inpatient treatment, he stayed drug-free for four years, calling himself “a poster boy for the treatment center.” Still, he never fully came to terms with his addiction.
“I thought I was cured and decided to start using again,” he says. “It’s the ultimate lie that addicts tell themselves.”
Eventually, teaching preschool became impossible for Jeffrey. “I was responsible for these kids, for being an example, for guiding them, and I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.”
Nor could he manage the constant cycle of being high and being sick — “the chaos and the desperation of having to feed my addiction.”
To pay the bills, Jeffrey’s wife worked two jobs. Meanwhile, Jeffrey stole from family members and applied for multiple credit cards to purchase drugs online. His weight crept up, topping out near 400 pounds, and he developed high blood pressure and pre-diabetes.
“It was a complete collapse of my life,” he says.
Jeffrey enrolled in treatment three more times, always with good intentions but less than total honesty.
“I was desperate and wanted to get better, but I wasn’t miserable enough,” he says. “I had a strong belief that I wasn’t really, truly an addict.”
He had lost the trust and respect of his wife and feared facing “the wreckage” of his marriage and addiction.
“It was easier to go back into my hole and start using again,” he says.
After each attempt at treatment, Jeffrey dug a deeper hole. He and his wife were merely co-existing, and his life had become “simple but horrible,” focused on one goal: getting his fix.
Then came that day on the floor with his grandson and his Huskies. Jeffrey checked into a detox facility and, for the first time, started on Suboxone.
“I was amazing,” he recalls. “I wasn’t throwing up, and I was able to sleep. My body and my mind didn’t want to be high.”
Upon leaving the facility, Jeffrey threw himself into recovery, attending aftercare, 12-step meetings, and one-on-one counseling sessions. He also found a sponsor and reconnected with his family.
It took two years before he felt like himself again, a transformation that others noticed. At his grandmother’s funeral, his mom told him, ‘The sparkle is back in your eye.”
Newly energized, Jeffrey began hiking for hours a day with his huskies. “I neglected my dogs so badly when I was using. It was my chance to make amends with them.”
He hit his stride and began dropping weight so quickly that friends thought he’d had gastric bypass surgery.
Jeffrey stuck with 12-step meetings and counseling, “hammering away at my past and the reasons I used.” He and his wife attended marriage counseling and began spending time together.
“My wife started liking me again,” he says.
For a while, Jeffrey returned to teaching, a pursuit that felt comfortable and familiar. This time around, he was able to connect with his young students, though socializing with adults felt scary and overwhelming.
“It was like being on a desert island for 10 years and then one day you start university,” he says. “It took a while before I was confident enough to talk to people.”
A few years later, Jeffrey found a job he loves: managing a dog daycare.
“You can’t lie to dogs or make excuses,” he says. “You have to be accountable. Dogs are so forgiving. They don’t give up on you. The least I can do is give back all I can.”
Jeffrey’s grandson is now a teenager, and the two of them enjoy hiking together, exploring ghost towns, and playing video games. Jeffrey and his wife frequent garage sales, watch movies together, and work jointly in the garden and on home-improvement projects.
“We had to get to know each other again,” he says.
Jeffrey plans to take Suboxone indefinitely — “just like I’ll always need an inhaler for my asthma” — and that’s fine with him. Still, he knows the medication is only one critical component of his recovery, on equal footing with his 12-step meetings, his sponsor, and his Ideal Option provider.
“You can’t treat addiction in a vacuum,” he says. “I also need the support system and accountability.”