May 23rd, 2016

Stepping Away From Suboxone: Arlene’s Story

By: Arlene C.

Editor’s Note: Buprenorphine continues to play an important part in the recovery of many people with opioid addiction. Available in this country since 2003, over one million patients currently take this medication. An increasing number of these people now have a stable life and a strong recovery program, at which time discontinuing the medication becomes a reasonable alternative. Clinicians are learning the best ways to manage this transition, and Arlene’s story is an example of the struggles and complexities involved. I admire the perseverance and determination (“grit”) that Arlene has demonstrated in dealing with the difficulties that this has entailed and very much appreciate her willingness to share her story with others.

Addiction to opioids has become quite newsworthy as more people become aware of how serious the problem is in this country. I have a personal connection to this epidemic. Thirty years ago, after having three C-sections and multiple dental procedures, I was introduced to the wonderful world of Percocet. I had found my magic pill, or so I thought.

My addiction to Percocet grew worse. I first came to Kolmac in 2002 after waking up one morning and realizing that I absolutely could not get out of bed until I medicated myself. My first attempt at recovery was not successful because I immediately began to “compare out.” I told myself that I really wasn’t as “addicted” as the other people in my intensive outpatient rehabilitation group.  After participating in only a few group therapy sessions, I went back to using.

When I returned to Kolmac in December 2006, I connected with my intensive outpatient rehabilitation group. I decided to trust the process and listen to my counselors.  I was also prescribed Suboxone. I realize that its use in recovery has become very controversial over the past few years, but I had no second thoughts about whether I should take it.

There are people in the recovery community who feel that if you are on Suboxone or other maintenance medications that you are not “clean.” I have a really strong feeling about this subject. First, it is nobody’s business whether or not I am clean. This is between me and my “Higher Power.” In my mind, as long as my motives were pure and I got my prescription from my doctor and took it as prescribed, I am “clean.”

The only thing that I would have done differently was not to stay on it as long as I did. I took Suboxone for several years, and I did not have an exit plan to wean down from it. The reason that I remained on it for so long was not fear of relapsing on Percocet because, by this time, I had a solid program of recovery. I was petrified of going through any withdrawal discomfort and pain.

Eventually, I got to a place where I thought I was ready to wean down. I worked with my doctor and eventually got down to one milligram after many months. It was easier than I thought. Going from ½ milligram to zero was the biggest challenge.

Was getting off Suboxone easy? Absolutely not! Was it painful and scary? Absolutely! With the help of the psychiatrist at Kolmac, and support from my family and the recovery community, I successfully reached the other side.  I really understood the “freedom” I was feeling that other people had experienced going off of Suboxone.

My final thoughts and feelings: I feel in my “heart of hearts” that I would have never been able to get clean and stay clean if it wasn’t for Suboxone. I tried multiple times to quit opiates without the use of anything except my own will. History always repeats itself. I kept failing until I went to Kolmac and was given that medication.

I have become an advocate of Suboxone and Kolmac and always will be. I believe this approach to treatment and recovery saved my life. For that, I am eternally grateful. I can honestly say that at 61 years young, I am finally comfortable in my own skin.  My journey hasn’t been easy, but it is my journey. And it has given the opportunity to reflect upon my thoughts and feelings after over nine years of being clean. This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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