Thirteen years. Yeah, 13 years ago I took the big step. Got so goddamn tired of waiting for my pal Sleeper to sell me some of his take-home methadone (for which he became my best friend), and tired of hauling my ass down to Massachusetts to score from the bad boys down there. I knew I couldn’t keep that game going forever. I had even started hitting Connecticut for the real good stuff. As any of us travelers can tell you, another mile on the interstate is another mile closer to the slam. And scoring from fellow travelers? Sketchy at best.
I was also just dead tired of being sick. The junkie life is a game of waitin’. It doesn’t stop. So I was basically sick of being sick, and that’s what I told the doctor at CAP Quality Care. That, and that I had done plenty of their methadone before — this was just the first time I walked in the door.
You know, it’s funny: a goddamn blond girl dropped a dime on my pal Sleeper. But whatever. I’m doing intake at CAP. Intake consisted of a once-over physical — obviously they check your arms for syringe marks; tracks, they call ’em. They check your eyes real good, for give-aways. They check your whole body — you know, for nervous tics, things of that nature. All while talking with you, asking questions and then letting you know they are there to help.
“Are you ready for the long haul?” they asked me.
“Doc, I’m in the long fuckin’ haul,” I said. And then they decided I do need it, and so started the next 13 years of my existence, married to CAP Quality Care.
That’s the reason I’m here today, I truly believe. I had previously helped people who OD’d. Fuck, I even did myself in once. My friend Gator brought me out of that one. But the point is, I’d be in the slam or dead as a doornail had I stayed on that rocky trail.
And, oh boy, CAP and I have had a history, especially in the first days of my journey. Can you imagine sitting there watching the news and, holy fuck, it’s your clinic that’s the star of the show! I don’t care what anybody thinks — it was this police chief named Chitwood that gave CAP the dickens. Media Mike, remember? He ended up bringing some bogus charges against the owner of CAP, and he really earned his nickname this time — everyone was talking about that. This girl OD’s, and her family and Chitwood would have a public display.
This isn’t a column about Media Mike, but I will say this much: things were a bit different in those days, I think because treatment centers were the new kids on the block, so to speak. There was a circle of clinics all around Portland, ’cause Chitwood wouldn’t let them in, where they were needed the most.
The first one to open in South Portland, they didn’t even make you go on Sunday. But along the way, bad press and hundreds more OD’s clamped down on that. And a couple natural disasters also hit the clinics. The one in South Portland burned down and they were dosing people for quite awhile out of a mobile home. A good friend of mine was patient No. 4 at that clinic. (Here’s a good opportunity to say that privacy is No. 1. I’ll talk about myself but nobody else. [So, you say, why mention Sleeper? ’Cause it don’t matter, dig it?]) Anyways, my clinic lost electricity twice — once by being struck in a storm and once by being struck by a truck. We still got dosed, with the Coleman lanterns burning.
Honesty is also key. We knew any lying and we’d be caught the very next day, as soon as we showed up. It’s kind of funny, and really hard to explain, but we patients had a sense of camaraderie. See, in them days we took the bus, and us bus folks formed a friendly bond. As a matter of fact, sometimes we’d volunteer to do an extra group therapy session with each other during the ride.
There’s a couple of treatment procedures at the clinic, both optional. You could have a one-on-one with your personal counselor — everybody has a counselor to help you learn the ropes. Or you have the option of group counseling with a counselor guiding the direction the group takes.
I guess it’s alright if I tell you some of the subjects the groups may take up: “Struggles in Recovery,” “Grief and Loss” — that one is a favorite of mine; I’ve lost so many friends, both with drugs and other ways. A real great one is where they’ll use different art mediums as a form of therapy. And, of course, the clinic has changed with the times, so they’ve got an LGBTQ group for those who go in that direction. And others, like “Stigma,” or another, called the “Jeopardy” group — I’ve never had the times work out for me to hit that one, but I’d sure like to.
Now, ’fore I get goin’ too far, let me go back to this take-home thing. You do have to earn the privilege of what the clinic calls carries, with clean urine analyses once a month and good attendance. Generally you can start with a day or two of take-homes and eventually get like me and get ’em weekly.
So here we go with transportation. Folks who got a vehicle don’t fuss nothin’ ’bout it, but for folks like me with no car, take-homes are mighty important. We end up relying on Modivcare, a professional driving company. Before the pandemic, getting a ride was good for me, a real pleasant experience — I wrote about this once before [see “Epiphany,” January 2017]. They’d load up a vehicle and visit different clinics, so you’d pick up the skinny on all of ’em; stop for a java, have a good time.
With the pandemic, all of a sudden it’s one person per ride, no stopping — took all the fun right out. Oh, it’s still very helpful. But with labor shortages, the transport companies got hit too. So Motivcare has lately been resorting to using Lyft, and they do things different. They bring me to the clinic and usually just leave me there. Then I got to call Motivcare to get home, and the fun begins. I always end up lying to a computer, but when I finally get a human they are usually very nice and polite, and they give me the drop time and make of the vehicle coming to get me. The medical transport companies wait for us. We’re in and out, as they say. I don’t get why Lyft can’t wait.
You know, everyone likes to say ‘I got the best clinic,’ be it CAP, or Merrimack River, or Discovery House. But we all know CAP is No. 1. Once in a great while CAP does Client Appreciation Day, and they’ll set up a room with tasty snacks and beverages, etc. This is the Xmas season. They used to be real big on that — maybe a free phone or other gratuities, little things that make you feel good inside, like a calendar, a game and so on.
I got admitted to Discovery and CAP at the same time. It just turned out that the easiest bus led me to CAP. CAP is the best by a country mile. Everyone is sincere out there, everyone is rooting for you, no matter what you’re trying to do — to taper slowly out, to get over other trials; don’t matter, those folks are on your side. I know it sounds like I’m getting sloppy about this, but that’s because it’s true.
As I write this I’m celebrating the first day of my weekly take-homes’ return. A minor warning: when you get weekly take-homes, you are always subject to a surprise phone call in which they tell you, ‘Please come in tomorrow for your random check-up.’ That’s minor for me, at least. I’ve quit drinking booze, quit smoking everything you can smoke, even quit edibles. More of a nag, is that check-up.
If you got the drug problem, go to CAP or Merrimack or Discovery, because as far as the counseling goes, they’re all the same — some counselors might even work at multiple clinics. Of course, the clinics all got hit by the pandemic. There were some flaws, but they all seemed to have rolled with the punches. They’re still getting a little slammed by the labor shortages — I guess all nurses are getting slammed pretty good. But if people would take their vaccinations like sane people, that’ll end soon enough.
Methadone users will naturally get vaccinated quick as can be. They’re already in a self-help frame of mind. And c’mon, what do we care about a shot to save our lives? We’re used to a shot just to get high!
There are some things I miss — or, I should say, someone. You guessed it: always a girl. Now I only get to see her once a week. Boo-hoo! And I will miss some of the drivers — there’re some nice folks. But I won’t miss the ride out, even with the bestest traffic improvement the city has ever made. You know what I mean: a certain roundabout near the university that eliminated an endless light.
Merry Xmas, folks!