A doctor prescribed me suboxone to help free me of my heroin addiction. I was addicted to that cure for eight years—longer than I used heroin. Then I found a way out.
I was on prescribed opiates longer than I used heroin. For almost four years I was a regular snorter of “china white” and smoker of “black tar” while on the West Coast. When I decided to stop the heroin in 2002, I was onmethadone for two years and then moved to Suboxone for almost eight. Convinced I had an “opiate deficiency” by a doctor at Beth Israel in New York, I felt doomed to be on the drug for the rest of my life. Fortunately, I was wrong.
I wrote a piece for this very online magazine called “Addicted to Suboxone” that was published almost a year ago. When I wrote it I saw no way out. Neither my new doctor nor my old one at Beth Israel had given me much hope in the getting off the damn thing department. Well, I did what I had to and I got off. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. It was a long, ugly, painful process that I did on my own in the middle of nowhere. I don’t recommend it but it worked for me.
Before I tell you how I did it I want to be clear that as much as I recommend getting off the shit and staying sober I do not, cannot, recommend doing it my way. If you have a doctor that will work with you, do that. If you can be in a hospital, under a doctor’s supervision, do that. If you can afford a rehab, by all means, do that. Only if you have run out of options and your friend has a cabin in a remote part of Wyoming should you even consider what I had to do.
It was critical to get out of New York City. The place was going to kill me and I was allowing it to. The place I was living in in Brooklyn was about as healthy for me as living in a crack house. The heroin was long gone but the booze and finally the cocaine were going to break me like a King Cobra breaks all the bones in one’s body before it swallows you whole. I knew that death was knocking at my door and I most definitely did not want to let it in. I begged and begged until, at last, my friend gave in and allowed me to stay at his place in Wyoming. I borrowed money for a plane ticket and in July of 2013, got the hell out of Brooklyn.
I did not intend to get off the Suboxone when I got out there. I had the intention of getting off/away from the cocaine and to try that sad little game that apparently a lot of alcoholics play in which I drank only beer. Man, did I drink a lot of beer. It wasn’t until I got back and started working the program that I stopped all that entirely, but that’s another story.
My doctor in NYC loaded me up with a fresh batch of sixty strips of Suboxone to last the two months I thought I would be there. At that point I was managing on one strip a day and had no idea I would be there for six long, long months. It turns out, most of the people I care about were relieved to see me go and weren’t exactly counting the days until I got back. I had made a real mess of things in the throes of my sickness, and I was lucky that I had anybody that cared about me at all. These are the things I got to dwell on in the middle of nowhere. Good times were ahead. By good, I mean bad. Really, really bad.
The town I was in has a population of about 900 in the summer and roughly 600 in the winter. Out of respect for the six or seven people that didn’t want to shoot me, I won’t name the town. I will tell you that a lot of local folks like to call my hometown “Jew York” and it seems like all of them like to drop the n word like it’s okay to drop the n word. These are the facts. This was a very, very small town in the land that Dick Cheney popped his zits on. The town is a pit-stop to the bigger towns that are eighty miles in either direction. That’s right, eighty miles to the nearest hospital, decent restaurant or anything else that we take for granted in any city. If there were any drugs, I sure as hell wasn’t looking.
I need to reiterate that the way I got off Suboxone is not something I recommend. It was out of necessity. I had no choice, plain and simple. Turns out it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself and I am glad I lived through it because during most of it I thought I wouldn’t. It is as bad as getting off any opiate. The physical withdrawal, the psychological terror … all that. Add being in the middle of nowhere and alone to the mix—well, blowing my brains out seemed like it might just be easier. That’s another thing I need to stress, if you are alone in a cabin in the woods and you are getting off Suboxone, do not have any loaded weapons in the place. Everyone has a gun in Wyoming. Everyone. No matter how liberal or peaceful or whatever you are, it is a necessity. There are wolves and bears and all sorts of very real, very wild animals that will eat your dog before they come after you. So, get the guns out of the house if you can, because you might just use one no matter how awful you think they are. And if a wolf comes to the door … stay very still.
After a month, I got the message loud and clear that I was going to be there for a lot longer than I had hoped. I started to taper down from one strip of Suboxone to a half a strip. Upon learning that I was not going to be back by Thanksgiving I tried to take half a strip every other day. It didn’t quite work out that way and by New Year’s eve when the night sky turns a deep dark black at exactly 5:45pm, I was out. I was desperate and terrified. I tried to see a doctor out there but the closest one that prescribed the stuff was over two hundred miles away and I just could not afford either the gas, the appointment, nor (if he had prescribed it) the Suboxone itself. Plus, I did not want to get on the road while in withdrawal. Not good for me or any of the other drivers on the highway. In a panic I contacted my doctor in NYC and he very reluctantly wrote me a prescription for twenty strips. The pharmacy would ship it the eighty miles to the town post office. After five terrible days, it arrived.
I went through the hard physical part of it in those five days. Not all of it but enough to know that if I could go cold turkey, even with the promise of strips on the way, I could get off it entirely. That’s when I knew I could do it. That’s when I decided I would.
I took those twenty strips and I cut them into quarters. Then, I cut those quarters in half. Try and do all the cutting of the strips as early in the process as you can. My hands were shaking a lot of the time and I wanted to be around scissors not so much. By the time I got out of there in mid–January I had saved one last half a quarter of a strip for the plane ride back to New York. (A friend paid for the ticket.)
I just knew that I couldn’t be doing all those things one does during the physical sickness (hint—it involves all orifices) at an airport let alone in midair. Best to spread out the remainder of whatever little bit you have left and use them on days where you have to be among the public. Fortunately, in Wyoming, those days are few and far between.
I need to mention the Importance of a medication called Clonidine. It is a blood pressure pill used to help alleviate some of the symptoms of withdrawal. In particular the “Dear GOD, it feels like a Mexican drug cartel is tearing off my flesh!!!!! Make IT STOP” sensation. When my doctor could no longer call in Suboxone he took it upon himself to call in Clonidine. I am grateful he did. It does not offer a free ride by any stretch of the imagination but it will calm you down just a teeny, tiny bit. You will be happy to have it next to your very sweat stained mattress.
When I got back I immediately saw my doctor. I told him what I had done and how I had done it. Much to my surprise, he encouraged me to stay off it. “You have made it through the tough part,” he said. “Now, you are going to feel like you are jet-lagged for about a month.” Well if jet-lagged feels like trudging through the thickest molasses they make and then it’s somehow set on fire then I was jet–motherfucking–lagged alright. Lagged for at least thirty days.
Yes, it was a drag. But, I was off the stuff for the first time in almost a decade. I managed to crawl my way to meetings and start working the program. I am around people again. Sure some of them might think and act like the folks I met out there. Some of them might even want to shoot me. But there are others, with similar experiences, strength and hopes. I am not alone. I am alive. There’s bacon and eggs for breakfast lunch and dinner 24 hours a day, for crying out loud!
I was terrified of the sickness. I thought it was too overwhelming for this body to take. Yet I overwhelmed this body with drugs and alcohol for years. The things our body can take while we are abusing it are never as bad as the things it will put us through when it’s cleaning itself up. I don’t know if that’s a fact. I only know it’s true for me.
Dillon Murphy is a pseudonym for a comedian in New York. He last wrote about how he would never be able to quit his suboxone addiction in May last year. Today, St. Patrick’s Day, he has 65 days clean and sober.