Happy Thanksgiving and welcome to the third article in this series. I was recently invited for a homemade Chicken Coq au Vin dinner at the home of Ed and Linda, who have been following this series. They want to share their story with us in the hopes that it will help others in similar circumstances. This is a story about gratitude, love, hard work and grace overcoming great odds — the perfect story for this holiday.
Ed grew up sharing a single bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with three younger brothers, his mother and his grandmother. He wasn’t a saint and struggled in school, but a local businessman took a liking to him and taught him the food processing business. Ed, now 72, thrived in the business and in the end was bought out by a large company. In 2007 he and Linda, excited about a new life in Mount Pleasant, bought a house in Dunes West and enrolled their son at Wando.
But an uninvited guest named addiction made the move along with them. Back in 2001, Ed had a knee replacement and had been given opioids to help him with the pain. Rather than weening him off of the opioids his doctor kept prescribing them. Then came another doctor who gave him opioids and anything else he wanted. When he would cut back his alcohol use would increase, so he figured he would just maintain until he retired. But with retirement came lots of free time, and a three-month prescription was gone in a month. He managed to get some from various doctors and when he couldn’t his drinking escalated even more. A fall from a ladder gave him an excuse for a steady supply again, but this time the drinking didn’t subside. He was in a vicious cycle that kept getting worse. Finally, in 2010, Linda had enough.
“We moved here for a new life, but all he had accomplished for three years was to get sicker and sicker” says Linda, now 62. “When I came home one evening and found him passed out on the floor, I knew I was done. I moved out the next day and stayed in a hotel until I found an apartment.”
After much pestering, Linda agreed that if Ed stayed sober a full year she would give it another try. Ed consulted with a local pastor who worked with him through the church and helped him get into a 12-step recovery program. Ed had his last drink in the fall of 2011 and true to her word, Linda returned a year later. But the opioid problem remained.
Ed says, “Trying to get off those pills was the worst thing I have ever dealt with. But after three years sober from alcohol and active in the church and the 12-step program, I began to feel like a hypocrite. When I was desperate I would go to a walk-in clinic with a story about back pain. But on one visit a doctor spotted my game. It was Dr. Richard Bowen, a previous addict himself, who knew exactly what I was doing. He took the time to explain my addiction to me and said to contact him when I was willing to get clean.”
Six months later Ed set an appointment with Dr. Bowen and has been completely clean since. “It’s been like meeting a whole new man” Linda says. “It got to where I walked on eggshells all the time – we couldn’t even go out to dinner without him doing something to embarrass us. But now I’m married to the man of my dreams. I just wish I had moved out earlier, because once he saw I was serious he became willing to do what it took to change.”
After leaving Ed and Linda’s home I called Dr. Bowen and he agreed to meet with me at the Starbucks on Houston Northcutt.
Dr. Bowen shares, “I have seen many Ed’s, but when you practice medicine in an environment where you are pressured to turn large numbers of patients you don’t have the time to work with them. You have to call the addict out on their addiction in a loving way because it isn’t just the pain of withdrawal that stops them from being honest; they also fear being judged. So a few years back I opened my own practice specializing in addiction recovery.”
Dr. Bowen continues, “Getting sober is one of the hardest things that a person can go through – the pain is incredibly intense for a long period of time. And all that while they know that all they need is just one little pill and the pain will go away. But that one little pill puts them right back in the cycle. Today there are treatments and non-addictive drugs that ease the pain of withdrawal. Some folks think that an addict needs to go through severe pain to stay clean, but I say that if pain alone served to modify behavior there wouldn’t be any women having more than one child.”
“In early sobriety, my regimen includes daily visits to the office to administer the treatments they need. This allows me to gain their trust and steer them toward long-term solutions. Mark Twain said ‘Quitting (addictions) isn’t hard, I’ve done it hundreds of times.’ It is staying quit that is the challenge, because once addicted, it will only take one drink or drug to start the whole terrible cycle over again. In my experience, those that seek out others who have stayed sober before them and are willing to help are the ones who are successful long term.”
Thanks to Ed, Linda and Dr. Bowen for sharing their experience. Next week’s story will be about a young addict from Mount Pleasant that died from an opiate overdose six weeks ago, but was found and brought back with emergency drugs given him by paramedics. I have been keeping tabs on him for a few weeks, and every day is touch and go. Have a great Thanksgiving.
The purpose of this series is to educate the community about the Opioid Crisis. This epidemic has been impacting communities nationwide and we are hopeful this column will make a difference locally. When appropriate, names will be changed. Direct questions, suggestions or comments to David Emch at: David@PhoenixSC.org. You can contact Dr. Bowen’s office at (843) 480-2273.