Three weeks ago…
I sit in the waiting room at my Suboxone clinic with the other dregs of society. A big dude in his late 20’s sits next to me on a bench with his girlfriend. You can tell she’s been doing the right thing with her immaculate white arms and healthy, natural, skin tone. Her and her boyfriend share a set of earbuds as we all wait for our doctors who are, as per fuckin’ usual, behind schedule.
I’ve been on this shit for… God, six months now? It’s kept me clean, but it hasn’t been without its drawbacks. When I started on 16mg a day, I was a different person. Volatile, short-tempered, lethargic, possessed with a nearly psychotic rage that made me even more reclusive and angry than usual. I wasn’t thinking about getting high anymore, but I was always bitter about something. I was having arguments in my head with friends over trivial things that hadn’t even happened yet, watching them play out like fucked up movies that my imagination brought to life in vivid detail. I had to jump down.
8mg a day was much more manageable. My temper wasn’t flaring up anymore, but I felt like I’d been neutered, and I still felt the numbing effects of the drug a little too strongly. Don’t get me wrong, there are few things I love more than numbing out the world around me with drugs, but without the euphoria that comes with the numbness, it’s just feels weird. I’d wake up without a hard-on every morning. Not that I was crushing pussy when I was on or off dope, but it still fucked with my mood and made me feel like an old man. I jumped down to 4mg.
4mg seemed to be the magic number. I felt reinvigorated. I had some night sweats and a bit of trouble sleeping during the first week, but it was worth it to feel like a fucking human being again. And I still had the safety net of the Naloxone beneath me. As much as I’ve talked shit about Subs so far, they have given me the longest stretch of clean time I’ve ever had since I picked up the needle.
So now I’m sitting here in my usual routine. My visits with Dr. Faust are typically quick and easy. I’ve been up front with him about the side effects I’ve experienced and he’s been supportive in my decision to gradually decrease my dose. I’ve never dropped dirty, and we’re pretty cordial with one another. He’s the third doctor I’ve had at this same clinic. Addiction is a booming industry, and they’ve been opening new locations and bringing on more doctors to keep up with demand. He comes out of his office and into the cramped waiting room.
The girl next to me gets up off the bench and follows Dr. Faust into his office. I check my phone. It’s 1:15, my appointment was booked for one o’clock. I have nothing better to do, but still, it’s irritating.
“You been on this shit a long time?” Caroline’s boyfriend asks me as he wraps up his earbuds.
“’Bout six months now.” I reply.
“Is it workin’ for ya?”
“Yeah, I been clean the whole time. Coming here every fuckin’ week gets old, but it’s kept me on track.”
“I hear ya. I was on ‘em twice, but they didn’t keep me totally clean, y’know? I’m just here to support my girl. I’m doing AA now, it’s working pretty well for me.”
“Oh yeah? That’s good.”
“I’m Ray, by the way.”
“Harry, nice to meet you brotha.”
“Yeah, I tried drinking and doing subs, smoking weed and doing subs, but I just can’t fuckin’ handle drugs, man. It always ends with me on a run doin’ fuckin’ speedballs in some shithole by myself.”
“I hear that. I been bringing my dosage down gradually, I wanna get down to a really low dose and then maintain for a while. I just don’t want a monster Sub habit, y’know? I hear they’re a real bitch to get off of.”
“You’re doin’ it right then, man. Just stick to whatever works for you, y’know? I mean I do the 12 steps, I been to detox three times, rehab twice, Methadone, you name it. But the one thing I learned is that there’s no definitive way to do it. I only know what works for me.”
“Yeah, definitely. I feel like sometimes people make the mistake of thinking everybody’s like them, and that their way is the only way…”
Caroline emerges from the office with her script. She gives Ray a nod and he gets up from the bench and they leave the clinic. Doctor Faust comes back out into the waiting room.
“Hey, how ya doin?”
“Good, good, follow me…”
I walk into Dr. Faust’s office expecting the usual. “Sorry about the wait Harry, we brought on a new receptionist who didn’t know about our walk-in policy so we’ve been really behind schedule today.”
Dr. Faust begins.
“It’s OK, no big deal.” I lie.
“So how’ve you been? Everything going smoothly?”
“Yup, just maintaining.”
“That’s good to hear. Let me just bring up your urine here and I’ll get you on your way.”
I zone out and look out the window while Dr. Faust goes through the arduous task of bringing up my lab-grade drug test. For a solid three or four minutes he clicks and types away until he finally brings up the results. His brow furrows and his expression shifts to frustration.
“What happened this week?” He asks flatly.
“What do you mean?” I reply.
Dr. Faust sighs. “Your levels are… non-existent this week. Negative. It’s like you didn’t even have the thing in your mouth at all this week.”
The news sandbags me. My mouth dries up. I become tongue-tied. I dosed my Suboxone every day this week. I didn’t consume any narcotics either. And yet, there on the screen, my urine is completely clean of all drugs. There must’ve been some kind of mistake, but I’m completely unprepared for the news.
“I… I uh… I’m sorry, but I have no idea what happened. I took it every day, I last dosed at 9:30 yesterday morning…”
Dr. Faust sighs again and shakes his head. “If you lie to me, Harry, there’s nothing I can do to help you. Now, you’re obviously doing something differently this week, because your urine came up completely clean. I don’t know what you’ve been up to, but when I see things like this, I worry that you’ve been putting my clinic and my practice at risk. You know I prescribe one of the most prohibited substances in the country, and I don’t take things like this lightly…”
I start to get angry. Spare me the god damn riot act. I get four fucking strips a week, if I wanted to go to all this trouble to flip Subs on the street there’s plenty of cash only doctors out there that’ll give me 60 strips a month with piss tests every 180 days…
But I keep my cool. “Look, I know what this looks like, but I honestly have no idea what happened here. I’ve been doing the right thing and if it was as simple as me fessing up to using again, I’d fess up, but that just isn’t what happened. And I don’t fault you for not believing me, but I’m not admitting to something I didn’t do.”
“Ok, Harry. I’m gonna have to ask you to sign this. I’m out of town next week so you’re gonna drop your sample off and get your script, but the week after that I wanna see your levels back up again or I’ll be forced to drop you as a patient. I don’t want to have to do that, but I can’t have this.”
I sign my first write up and calmly walk out of the door, angry as I am. Flipping out and acting like an angry, guilty, junky is not gonna help my already flimsy case. I get three write-ups per calendar year, so it isn’t really the end of the world. But today’s appointment has shown me that every piss test in this fucking place is like playing Russian roulette. If I can get booted out for doing the right thing, there’s no telling when I could get kicked out and left to fend for myself with Suboxone withdrawals, which I’m told are worse than dope withdrawals. It makes me anxious to say the least.
Two weeks later…
I didn’t sleep much last night. The news from my last visit has been sitting in the pit of my stomach like a rock for the last two weeks. I haven’t told anyone but my counselor about it because of how fucking stupid the whole thing sounds. Clean or not, I’m still a junky, still a professional liar out of necessity. I don’t blame Dr. Faust for not believing me. I made my choices and earned my awful reputation. But to have it thrown in my face when I’m actually trying to do good for once is disheartening and very frustrating.
I follow Dr. Faust into his office again. “Alright Harry, so I’ve got your levels here, and…”
“Better than last time I saw you, I hope!?” I say nervously.
Dr. Faust lets out another one of his fucking sighs. I wanna kick a hole in his stupid piece of shit Ikea desk and storm out of this place. But I hold it together, because I’m physically addicted to that little notepad of his which keeps my balls in a permanent vice. There’s a lot at stake here, and if I fuck it up with my temper I’ll be shooting up again in three days, if that.
“Well, they are definitely better than last time. But they’re still not where I’d say they need to be. Now, when you come in here and give me a negative sample, I can’t do anything with that. I can’t help you. But you’ve definitely got it in your system this time, so I’m willing to work with you.”
“I don’t know what else to do, I’m sorry. I dosed before I came in these last two weeks! I’m trying, I’m really trying to do the right thing and I just…”
“Do you drink a lot of coffee?”
“A cup or two a day.”
“Alright. So I’m thinking that since coffee is a diuretic, it’s making you flush the Suboxone from your system more quickly…”
Dr. Faust launches into a scientific breakdown as to why coffee might be fucking up my samples. I yes him to death, though I don’t understand a god damn word of it. “So, I’m thinking that if you can skip the coffee before you come in and drop your sample, your levels will come up as a result.”
“Ok.” I reply. I get Fridays off, and rarely if ever drink coffee before my test. I get stage fright like a motherfucker, and have extreme difficulty with pissing on command. I usually wake up on Fridays and hold my morning piss in agony until my appointment. But I guess I’ll humor Dr. Faust here if it lets me keep my script that much longer.
“Alright. Also, next week Dr. Carrol is gonna be coming back and you’re going to be seeing her again. I’ll be bringing her up to speed with everything before she sees you, but if you have any questions or discrepancies I’ll be right across the hall to clear things up, ok?”
“Alright. Thank you.”
I walk out to my car still angry. After being nauseous over this bullshit for two weeks, I expected to finally get it resolved today. The silver lining here is that Dr. Carrol never had an issue with my levels and didn’t assume the worst in me like Dr. Faust did in the past. Still, I’m anxious. I decide that no matter where the piss roulette takes me next week, I’m gonna ask to jump down to 2mg a day. If I get whacked again I can start tapering off this shit for good. The stress that it’s given me could drive me back to the needle just as easily as anything else.
One week later…
With Dr. Carrol returning and playing catch-up with her old patients, things are running behind schedule again. I finally see her a half hour after our scheduled appointment time. It’s almost as if I never stopped seeing her.
“So, you’re taking 4mg a day now, that’s working well for you?” She says.
“Yup, I actually wanted to jump down to 2mg this week if that’s ok.” I reply.
“Oh! That’s absolutely fine! Let me just edit your prescription here… Congratulations on jumping down, it looks like you’ve been decreasing your dose gradually and doing everything right. You must be proud to have made it this far!”
“Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.”
“You really should be proud of yourself, Harry. While Suboxone is a wonderful tool to maintain and reduce cravings, it isn’t without its drawbacks. Let me just check your labs and you’ll be on your way, alright?”
“Alright, and your levels look perfectly fine for a half a day. Here’s your script, see you next week!”
This time, I’m the one that sighs. I feel like I just took a ten pound shit. Something tells me that the Faust regime has passed and once again I can live peacefully knowing that if I do the right thing I can expect good in return. I chuckle slightly in relief as I pull out of the parking lot.
I stop by my place and head over to my parents’ house to give my Dad a ride to chemo. He’s been fighting Lymphoma since ’96, a walking talking medical journal entry. He’s seen shit that puts my best stories to shame, though he’s ashamed to admit to it most of the time. Sometimes if he’s been drinking I can weasel a few tales out of him, but like he always says: “I can’t stand glorifying that shit.”
“You see your doctor today?” He asks me as he gets in the car.
“Yeah.” I reply.
“So, how’s that shit working for you?”
“Good. I jumped down to two milligrams a day today.”
“Did ya? You trying to get off the shit now?”
“Nah, nah, not necessarily. I just wanna be at a really low maintenance dose. When I was at a higher dosage, I had some fucked up side effects that were driving me crazy. I like the reduced cravings and the blocking effects, but there’s a lot of other shit that comes with it that I could really do without.”
“My temper would flare up. I’d wake up after a full night’s sleep still groggy. And it uh… Well, there were other things about it that made me wanna drop the shit completely.”
“I can imagine. I was never on ‘em for that long, just enough to detox from the Oxies and Fentanyl. And I only did that shit ‘cause I had such easy access to it, y’know? The stimulants were always my poison. I could drop the opiates no problem.”
“I know you might see that shit like it’s a fuckin’ ball and chain. Going down there, pissing, getting scrutinized every week. I know it’s a pain in the ass. You might not admit it to me, but I know how your brain tries to trick ya when you’ve got the gene. But I’m proud of ya, seriously. You’re doing the right thing. You’re really playing Russian roulette every time you pick that fucking needle up, I hope you know that. I mean, not that I can preach, but in my day, you knew what you were fuckin’ getting. I never used a needle, but from what I hear, these days, even the fucking pills are cut with that Fentanyl…”
“I know, I know. It has been helping me. I just feel apathetic, I guess. Like I’m going through the motions. I miss the excitement. The money, the rush. Shit like that.”
“Hehe, right. You’re romanticizing it. I’ve been guilty of the same shit. Especially if I’ve had a few. But you can’t tell me you miss the fuckin’ paranoia. The bullshit. Is this guy gonna come through for me, is that guy gonna squeal on me, am I being fuckin’ followed?”
“I try and remind myself of that shit. It wasn’t as good as I make it out to be, deep down I know that, but I get bored with shit so easily…”
“Yeah, I know, trust me. Word to the wise? Try getting out there again. Go find a nice broad, get laid. Preferably one that won’t get you back into your old ways, hehe.”
“Yeah, you’re right…”
“I know ya brush it off, but I’m serious! You got the looks! You been off the H for a long time now, you gotta be craving it like a mothafucka!”
“Yeah, I just don’t know. Without coke or ecstasy as a crutch I don’t know what to do! I’m so fuckin’ shy, awkward…”
“Hehe… I don’t mean to laugh at ya, it’s just that you remind me so much of myself sometimes. I was the exact same way. Nobody ever expected me to be into the shit I was into. It can work to your advantage, as I’m sure you already know. But I want you to keep your nose clean, no more of that shit. Selling or buying."
“I couldn’t do it if I wanted to. I’m living fucking paycheck to paycheck as is.”
“And you know I wish I could help you with that.”
“Please. I wouldn’t take it anyway. You got your own problems, I’m my own man. I’m just saying. Shit used to be so easy. I wish I made better choices. I’d be in a much better place right now.”
“I tell ya, kid. I feel like these days I’m serving a karma sentence or something. All the shit I did back in the day, well… Not even back in the day, ten or so years ago, I feel like I’m paying for it tenfold now. My fucking doctor now is scared to give me my Vicodin. It figures, y’know? Once I actually need the hard drugs I can’t even get ‘em anymore. I’m a cancer patient, for fuck’s sake! They bring me in for pill counts and piss tests, treated like a criminal when I finally gave all that shit up…”
“That’s fucked up…”
“Look, I know I fucked up a lot as a parent. I’m still making up for it to this day. But one thing, the only thing, I ever prided myself on is that I always told you shit straight up. I’m not gonna promise you it’ll get better, but if you fall back into that shit, it can’t get better. Not to mention it’d kill your mother and I if, God forbid…”
“I know, Dad. I know…”
“Alright, pal. Take care of yourself, thanks for the ride.”
I drop my Dad off and go to pick up my script. It seems like no matter what time of day I go to Walgreen’s there’s always a fucking line of at least three people in front of me and another couple in the drive-thru. As I get in line I see a guy that looks to be a few years older than me with spiky, slicked-back hair dyed red. He sits next to a withered middle-aged blonde woman. My junky sense tingles before they even say a word. The red haired guy looks pensive and anxious. The woman looks dead. She probably isn’t nearly as old as she looks. The junk takes off weight and puts on years. I get a knot in my stomach as I wait for my subs and eavesdrop on their conversation.
The guy at the head of the line, a very thin, frail looking man with a thin mustache gets his script and approaches the woman and the red haired guy. He looks almost like John Waters, the cult film director from the 70’s.
“Hey, Danny! How ya doin’?!” The woman croaks, her voice tinged from years of Newports, narcotics, and bottom shelf swill. Not that I’m looking down at her. I see people like her and the red head and feel like I’m looking into the fucking future sometimes.
“Good, good, I got a job at the scrap metal yard downtown.” Danny replies.
“Oh? That’s great! This is my friend Jason.” The woman says, pointing to the red head.
“Hey man, how’s it going…” Jason says, keeping his voice low. The woman doesn’t seem to give a fuck about keeping a low profile. Danny takes the third chair next to them and sits down.
“So, Danny, you still living with your father!?” The woman asks.
“Yeah, yeah, I actually got him out front waiting for me.” Danny says.
“Oh, ok, good. You think you could get me a job doing something over there? I need something more than EBT and section eight, know what I’m saying?”
“I would, Lisa, I really would. But there’s no fuckin money in that shit. I only got the gig ‘cause my uncle runs the place. Otherwise I’d be shit outta luck.”
“Oh, alright, no big deal. How the fuck you doin’ with the other thing?” Lisa asks bluntly.
The other thing. That’s what my buddy Pat used to call it when he was working with me at Wilson’s. I was so fucking naïve back then. Acid, ecstasy, weed, and booze were all I needed to get away from it all. Not that I had much to get away from to begin with. I hadn’t even started sniffing coke yet. Those were the days…
“Fine, fine! I’m doing great.” Danny says.
“That’s not what I heard, Danny. Don’t you fuckin’ lie to me now. What reason do you have to fucking lie to me, huh? Who am I gonna tell?!” Lisa demands, growing louder and louder with every word. Danny is clearly embarrassed. I feel for him.
“Well, uh, y’know… Here and there! Here and there, that’s it. It’s not a fuckin’ every day thing no more, I swear. Anyways, I gotta go. My father’s waiting for me.”
“Alright, Danny. You know I didn’t mean nothin’ by that, I just wanna see you do good, y’know? Gimme a hug…”
Danny gives Lisa a hug and leaves. The red head sits there with his head in his hand, clearly embarrassed. “How much longer?!” I hear him whisper to Lisa as I finally get my turn in line. “Hold on, lemme call him, he’s usually on point. I need a fuckin’ cigarette.” Lisa replies as she clicks away on a Trac phone.
I verify my address, identity, and phone number before the pharmacist gives me my highly coveted two Suboxone strips. It’s not like it’s a major hassle to pick the shit up, but I get bored with routines, unless of course the routine involves scrounging up money to get high with. I’ll be the first to admit I’m hard to please. I can be a real negative Ned sometimes, if you’ll excuse my language.
The plight of Lisa, Danny, and the red head leaves a bad taste in my mouth that rivals the n-bome mixed with orange Pledge taste of my Suboxone dose. I know I’ve been doing the right thing, but seeing people going through it really fucks me up. If I had been there to get needles and not pick up my subs I would’ve probably bummed a smoke for them and propositioned them for their connection. But I didn’t, so I guess that's a good sign?
The doubt comes flooding back as I drive home. I decide to take the long way. When I first got on those fucking strips I knew they were a Band-aid, but am I really ready to jump off this soon? God, what a flip-flopping piece of shit I am. This morning I was hell bent on getting off the shit and putting all of this behind me, then I see a couple of junkies commiserating at the pharmacy and all of a sudden I have cold feet?! I’m a relapse waiting to happen. What fucking chance do I have without that Naloxone safety net that’s been keeping in me in line these past few months?
I pull up to a red light slowly and take a deep breath. It’s been a year since I admitted I needed help with this shit. It hasn’t been easy to say the least. In some areas I’ve made leaps and bounds, in others I’m still right where I’ve started. But one of the few things I’ve picked up over the course of this fucked up journey is that my brain is my worst enemy. It’s one of my Dad’s mantras, and I’ve heard it in one form or another from my counselor and countless speakers at AA and NA meetings. So I throw on some Disco Biscuits and turn it up until it’s all I can hear. I drown that fucking brain of mine out until it slowly fades out. As I focus on the road I slowly let go and just live in the moment.
I feel like I just took a ten pound shit.