By Sven Hosford
This is the final installment of a three-part series that chronicles three mothers in their journey up to and over the edge of opiate addiction. Part one looked at how they were introduced to opiates by their physician, who created, and then largely ignored, the effects of addiction and withdrawal. Part two detailed how they experienced the “dope sick,” described by those who have survived it as “hell on earth.” This final chapter explores how they discovered for themselves the effective tools for building an opioid-free life, both to conquer opiates and to manage the underlying pain that started the opiate use in the first place.
Weaning off opiates is doubly difficult if the underlying cause of the addiction is not addressed. Fortunately, holistic and integrated medicine offers a wide range of options for addiction and pain.
When asked about real solutions for opiate addiction, Dr. Bryan Doner said, “We absolutely need to explore holistic-oriented options, because what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Modern medicine maybe created the monster more than anything.”
Dr. Doner is an emergency room physician, with a daily view of the havoc created by opioids. He said the choices available from traditional medicine for ending addiction are limited. “There are inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities. There are alternatives such as suboxone and methadone, which I personally never recommend because you’re sort of robbing Peter to feed Paul.”
Not only must the addiction be addressed, Doner emphasized that one must also deal with the underlying pain that caused the opiate use in the first place. All three of the mothers we’ve been following found tools on their own to deal with the original pain as well as the addiction.
Celeste’s story: Rehab
Faced with the threat of legal action, Celeste entered a rehab clinic. It was a simple choice. Legal action would be dropped if she successfully completed the program. Her dealer had been arrested and was in prison. She feared the same fate. “I was scared straight. I was scared to death.”
Celeste has nothing but praise for the rehab program. “It kept me accountable.” But the core of her success? “My background in holistic medicine and yoga and meditation. I felt like I had a foot in the door.”
Combining holistic practices, diet, and work with energy healers, she has stayed clean while managing the ongoing pain. “I was sick for a very long time. I didn’t use again. I think about it every day. I think about how if I make that choice, I’ll lose everything.”
Celeste is also clear on the importance of the people in her life. “My husband never gave up on me. He’s a true angel. I’m so lucky to be alive. I wouldn’t be here today without my parents and husband. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Mary’s story: The Holistic Path
Mary’s doctor was not totally sympathetic to her plan of weaning off on her own. “He said to me, ‘I realize you have this big holistic plan that you think is going to work, but I think you’re going to need to stay on a low dose for the rest of your life.’” He ultimately did prescribe the dosages she asked for.
During her wean off, I introduced her to two holistic practitioners who she credits with helping her get and stay clean. Jasa Johnson is a shamanic healer who taught her how to clear spiritual and emotional pain. Mary said, “I do know my pain is mostly emotional pain. That was a life-changing experience, to actually acknowledge emotionally-rooted pain. Jasa taught me to delete toxicity out of my environment. I learned how to rest, use affirmations, and call on my ancestors. That’s what I do now.”
This healed more than pain. “I had chronic constipation and back pain for years before the addiction,” Mary said. “That was really because my third chakra was closed. Jasa opened that up. I’ve been pooping forever since she did that. It wasn’t even the opiates making me constipated!”
Mary also worked with Mandi Babkes, a holistic health practitioner who specializes in CBD products made from industrial hemp. These products have none of the active ingredients in cannabis that causes the “high.”
“Mandi taught me the importance of CBDs both for my wean off but also for pain management,” she said during our last interview. She’d been off all opiates for 33 days by then. “I’ve had some lingering pain — headaches along with back and legs — and Mandi said to increase my CBDs. I did yesterday and got my first seven-hour sleep last night and woke up with no pain, no headache.”
Mary is quite vocal in her gratitude towards both those healers. She also drew strength from her husband and son, who is on the spectrum. Mandi and the CBDs are proving effective for that as well.
Christine’s story: Feel it All
The advice from her doctor to “stay ahead of the pain” angered Christine. “It meant don’t feel anything.”
She believes it is vital to feel all of the emotions of life. “One thing about this crisis is that people aren’t feeling and experiencing things they need to. I want to challenge the idea of ‘addictive behavior.’ It’s not. It’s fear. It’s societally induced fear of feeling. Rather than feeling the feeling, you use the addiction to combat it.”
Christine is 5’2” tall, weighs 120 pounds, doesn’t drink, meditates, does yoga, and has been a vegetarian for decades. She said her firm foundation in holistic practices were key to staying opioid-free. “It was an advantage to have already started from a point of praying, meditating, doing yoga.”
The dosage of opioids prescribed to her was the same as for a large man, although her consumption capacity was much less. “I don’t understand that,” she said. That confusion only fed her fierce attitude of independence on medical issues. “Wise up. Get smart. Make your own decisions,” was her advice.
Cannabis as the Exit Drug
After years as an emergency room doctor, Dr. Bryan Doner decided to become part of the solution. He helped found and is CEO of a company dedicated to promoting the use of cannabis as medicine.
“Not only can we use medical cannabis to treat symptoms of opiate withdrawal — thus get people off opiates more quickly, more efficiently, and with less suffering — but we also potentially have another alternative for pain management. We know from research that opiates do not work for chronic pain — we know it. Now we may have something else we can turn to that can effectively control our patients’ symptoms without so many adverse side effects.”
Whether it is yoga, chiropractic, or cannabis, one thing is clear from discussing this issue with Doner and these three mothers. The key to success is making the decision to find your own solutions, trust in yourself, and never ever give up.
This article series has spawned an ongoing discussion called Strategies for Opiate-Free Living. The author will be joined by Jasa Johnson and Mandi Babkes for a panel discussion at One Whirl Studio in Lawrenceville on May 21. onewhirlstudio.com
Sven Hosford has been publishing and writing about holistic health for over two decades. He is founder and publisher of Dispense Magazine.