It was a pretty typical day at the Coleman Institute. Patients were being seen in various stages of recovery: a patient at the beginning of a detox off Opana®, another a few days into a detox off Xanax®, a person scheduled to get Vivitrol but who had relapsed on Vicodin®, a gentleman following up with three months of sobriety off alcohol, a repeat naltrexone implant for a patient now 8 months off heroin, and one patient, Caitlin*, who was on her eighth and final day of an Accelerated Opioid Detox from 130 mg of methadone.

Caitlin was struggling. Physically, it wasn’t too bad. Like most of our patients who come to us for methadone detox, Caitlin experienced a couple of hours a day feeling some discomfort, but the meds we prescribe help quite a bit, and she stayed tolerably comfortable for the other 20-22 hours of the day.

It was turning out that the most difficult part of the detox for Caitlin was the mental, psychological, and emotional stuff that was coming up. She knew that after this detox she would be stepping into a quagmire of legal and custody issues that had been looming over her for some time. Making the decision to get off methadone was her first step in embracing a life of sobriety and emotional maturity. And she was terrified.

Meanwhile, back in the procedure room, Maria* laid on the table, awaiting her 5th naltrexone implant. She had been coming regularly since her detox off heroin and fentanyl eight months earlier.

Maria is a well-known and well-loved patient to all of us. She usually has the nurses and me laughing over one of her stories—as we are inserting her implant! Over the years we have seen her through romances, a brief marriage, the birth of her beautiful son, and multiple dramas, with a fierce addiction to opiates punctuating many chapters. In the last several months her absolute devotion to her recovery and her child have allowed her to stay sober and navigate complex and humbling court appointments and decisions.

She has never been happier, never looked healthier, never been in such a place of surrender to her disease, allowing for all the powers of healing to regenerate pieces of her she thought were long gone. I decided to ask if she would go speak to Caitlin; to be a living, breathing testament to the miracles that invariably line up and tumble over themselves as the universe conspires with a person committed to her recovery.

I try to make these little spontaneous meetings happen whenever I can. It means a great deal to the patient to hear from someone who has gone through their own detox and is beginning to enjoy the fruits of the decision. It’s easy for those of us who work at the Coleman Institute to say how great our program is, but for a patient to hear it from a patient is even more powerful.

What I also suspected, but didn’t share with either of the girls, was that giving Maria a chance to share her story with Caitlin would be a whole lot more helpful to Maria than Caitlin.

Sure enough, a few days later, I received this email from Maria. She gave me permission to share it.

Good morning, Joan,

I wanted to thank for yesterday. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the girl yesterday detoxing. I was hesitant at first because I’ve been there, and I think that it may have helped me more than it helped her. It was a humbling experience. I was so thankful that I did and honored that you asked. I felt for her mother and her child more than anything. On the way home, I was thinking that was me 8 months ago. If there’s ever anything or anyone that you think I can help please let me know. You, Dr. Coleman and the staff have really helped me get through my toughest time and my biggest struggle. A lifetime of thank you’s couldn’t express how truly grateful I am for you guys. You people save lives!

On another note, I saw this poem yesterday. I found it interesting and wanted to share it. I can’t share things like this with many due to the fact that a lot of people don’t understand how truly complex addiction is. Have a great day and I will see you in two months.

It was written by Grateful Addicts in Recovery.

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It truly is a privilege working in this field with our courageous, kind, and clever patients. Give us a call if we can help you figure out the next best step.

*Names and some details changed to preserve confidentiality

Joan R. Shepherd, FNP