When you’re an IV drug addict, you risk overdose, HIV, endocarditis and other infections, amputations, abscesses, and more. When I was stable on methadone and stopped using, these risks just disappeared.
Telling someone that you take methadone is a big deal. You’re not just telling them that you’re taking responsibility for your recovery and your health, you’re also telling them that in your pre-recovery life you probably stole, lied, and did some other terrible thing to support your addiction. You’re not just revealing you had an addiction, you’re saying that it got so bad that going to a clinic every morning to take medicine in front of someone is preferable to the life you were living.
I am not here to argue about whether MMT (methadone maintenance treatment) is the solution to the opioid crisis because it’s not for everyone. But for me, it was a chance to have a normal happy life. Here’s why:
1. It Gave Me Accountability
When you start off as a new patient at any methadone clinic, you have to come every day. You also have to submit to drug testing and therapy, both individual and group sessions. These are all requirements if you want that little cup with your medicine that keeps you from getting sick. As an active drug user, I would have done absolutely anything to keep from getting sick. Show up someplace between 5 and 10 a.m.? No problem! Let someone watch me pee in a cup? Sure thing!
I, like many people, started MMT as a way to keep myself from crippling heroin withdrawals. I wasn’t at all ready to get clean and stop using. But I had to make and keep appointments with the doctor at the clinic if I wanted to get more methadone, and I had to have bloodwork done if I wanted to keep being an active patient.
Slowly, after months of going to this clinic every day, the methadone built up in my body. My opioid receptors were full of methadone and the heroin that I was still putting in my body was no longer getting me high.
Once I passed my first few drug tests, I was allowed to take a bottle home with me for the next day, which motivated me to keep attending my therapy sessions and to go to work so that I could afford transportation to the clinic. When I was using, the only accountability I had was to my drug dealer. I never would have gotten checked for diseases or spoken with a mental health professional.
Without even realizing it, I was keeping commitments and getting the help that I desperately needed. Now, years after initially becoming a patient, I have other responsibilities like making sure my rent is paid and not forgetting that I need to renew my license plates next month. My priorities have shifted.
2. My Health Improved
I know that this one might sound like a contradiction to everything you think that you know about methadone. A lot of media still portrays people who go to methadone clinics as underweight, shaking, pale, and covered in track marks. This image accurately described me when I first started going, but over the years I’ve been able to change myself internally and externally. When I first started treatment, I was required to get bloodwork to check for the diseases that IV drug users expose themselves to. When I was injecting, I would occasionally get infections in my arms and sometimes end up in the hospital due to these or one of my many overdoses.
Almost instantly after getting on a therapeutic dose of methadone, I started to care about my body and what I was putting into it. I started taking vitamins and eating food other than what I could steal from a gas station. I felt stable enough to look towards the future and start doing what was required for me to have a long and happy life.
When you’re an IV drug addict, you risk overdose, HIV, endocarditis and other infections, amputations, abscesses, and more. When I was stable on methadone and stopped using, these risks just disappeared. I became lucid enough to take care of myself and to fix my body and the incredible damage that I had done to it. I’d had a terrible diet and had stopped caring about myself. Now, I take daily vitamins, get a flu shot, get an annual check up at an OBGYN, and try to eat healthy when I can. I also got extensive dental work to fix damage to my teeth from years of neglect.
3. I Became a Wife and Mother
This is a very specific and personal way that being on methadone has changed my life. In my addiction, I was in a toxic relationship that revolved around using together and endless dishonesty. We were together because it was easy. When I decided to stop getting high, he wasn’t ready to quit and the relationship ended abruptly. I met my husband shortly after and he took a chance on getting into a relationship with someone new in recovery. I wasn’t using anymore but I still had a lot of addict behaviors.
I navigated through this new relationship, trying to be honest with my new partner. I wasn’t familiar with honesty in the beginning and he was aware of this and very patient with me. I learned what kindness and love really were for the first time without drugs involved. We also learned early into our relationship that we were expecting a baby boy. I stayed clean throughout my pregnancy, took my methadone as prescribed, and discussed my fears and worries with my therapist at the clinic.
In two years, I went from living in a car, unable to feed myself, to a wife and mother. None of this would have had the chance to happen if I didn’t take the first step and start treatment.
4. I Have a Relationship with My Parents
It has taken years to earn back my parents’ trust. They’d stopped answering the phone when I called because I always asked for money. It became too painful for them to be an active part of my life. They were just waiting for that final phone call telling them they’d lost their daughter to her addiction.
When I first started going to the methadone clinic, they were skeptical; they knew very little about how the medication worked. Then, after about six months, the begging for money stopped and the tone of our conversations changed. I called just to talk about my day and for the first time I didn’t ask for anything. They noticed that my living situation had changed – I’d gone from living in a car to staying in a cheap motel, then finally I moved into an apartment. I was awake during the holidays and not spending a half hour at a time in the bathroom trying to shoot up. I was gaining weight and smiling again.
After I passed my first drug test, I wanted everything to go back to the way that it was before I started using. I had a hard time understanding why they didn’t trust me. Then I realized that it didn’t take a month for me to lose their trust, it was years of lies and heartbreak.
I am now able to look back and see the hurt that I caused and ask for their forgiveness. I am a mother now and I couldn’t imagine watching my sweet happy child deteriorate the way that I did. I am grateful for this real second chance to have them be proud of me. But I didn’t get clean for them, I had to do it for myself. The great relationship that I have with them now is just an extra benefit.
5. I Have Goals for My Future Self
During my addiction, the only goal I had was to come up with enough money to stay high that day. I felt like queen of the world if I was able to have enough heroin for two days. That was my life for years: After finding money and drugs, I would work on shelter and then maybe food.
Once I became stable on a therapeutic dose of methadone, I didn’t have to spend energy and time finding drugs because I wasn’t worried about withdrawal. I suddenly had all of this time to spend on making money and cleaning up all the messes I’d made.
My primary goal for the first few months I was clean was to make sure I got to the clinic on time. It might sound like kind of a sad existence but without my medicine, I wasn’t going to be able to function. I know the term “liquid handcuffs” is used a lot in reference to methadone treatment and I understand the frustration of having to go to the clinic every day. But if you are completing all the requirements of your clinic, you get to work up to going biweekly or even monthly. The program is designed to give you a normal life.
My next goal was to have a stable place to live and to be someone who others could count on. There were a ton of baby steps I had to take to get there and I was only able to do that initially because I started MMT. I did the rest of the work with my counselor, my church, and my husband.
It’s been three years since I started treatment and I’m in the middle of my third term in college and my husband and I are looking into buying our first home this fall. My next goal will be to get off methadone completely, but I will not rush this process.
I am so thankful that this form of treatment was available to me. Methadone should always be an option for those of us who have had a difficult time getting clean with other methods. There is still a huge stigma attached to MMT patients and clinics and I could say that another goal of mine is to help break that. It’s not a magical cure for opioid addiction, but it played a vital role in my recovery.
What are your thoughts on methadone maintenance treatment? Share with us in the comments.