In a flash of clarity, lives marred by drugs find meaning


Lynne Deion had informed Kandarian the identical factor many occasions earlier than. But on this present day in 2015, it was as if gears in his mind all of the sudden interlocked and started to whirl, and her message took maintain.

“It was what I needed to hear at that moment,” Kandarian stated. “I haven’t used since.”

People who’ve recovered from opioid habit typically recall a second like that: the flash of readability, the jolt of resolve.

Whether it’s holding a new child and vowing to be a good father or mother, or just waking up one morning craving for a higher life, the time comes — seemingly all of a sudden — when a individual with habit crops ft on the zigzagging street to restoration.

Such journeys happen extra typically than you may suppose as information stories trumpet the loss of life toll — in 2017, 2,050 opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts, 47,600
nationwide. Yet the outcomes of a 2016 survey recommend that tens of thousands and thousands of Americans have overcome a important alcohol or drug downside of their lifetime.

There are some people who find themselves in a position to choose themselves up from the illness and see previous it. They have a spark inside them that realizes that life is price dwelling.

— Dr. Scott G. Weiner

Director, the Brigham Comprehensive Opioid Response and Education Program

It’s estimated that out of each 10 individuals with a substance use dysfunction, 4 to 6 attain the purpose the place they not use drugs in a dangerous method, though getting there takes time and sometimes a number of tries.

How do they do it? What permits individuals to get and keep sober?

For many months the Globe posed this query to individuals in restoration and those that assist them. The solutions had been astonishingly diverse, at the same time as they typically shared a widespread human thread. Just as habit arises from completely different sources in every individual’s life, restoration takes an idiosyncratic path.

‘I needed to stop my brain from working’

For Kandarian, turning the nook felt like a sudden transfer, nevertheless it didn’t come out of the blue. He’d been lurching towards restoration for months. Indeed, he’d tried to get off drugs dozens of occasions in his life.

Growing up in Taunton, the son of a nurse and a freelance author, Kandarian began utilizing cocaine in early adolescence. In his senior 12 months of highschool, a pal launched him to the prescription painkiller Percocet.

“All of a sudden,” Kandarian stated, “it was like all the load that’s been crushing me lifted. I felt so good, I felt like I believed I ought to really feel.”

Eventually, within the throes of withdrawal, he let a pal shoot heroin into his vein.

As a younger grownup, Kandarian lived together with his father, Paul E. Kandarian, in Taunton. Confronted on occasion with proof of his son’s habit, the elder Kandarian pleaded with him to cease utilizing — and he did go to detox time and again. But all the time, he would resume utilizing nearly instantly afterward. He discovered work on numerous building jobs, however had no objectives, no self-respect, no future that he might envision.

Then, in 2010, when he was 21, a fellow drug person joined the army, and Kandarian noticed a method out.

While his father was away, he locked himself of their condominium and detoxed alone. He remembers two weeks of ceaseless sweating, cramps so dangerous he handed out, sleeplessness, hallucinations. As quickly as he was properly sufficient to depart, he joined the Army.

His mission: to die.

“I was thinking, ‘I’m just a junkie, I’m going to die anyway,’ ” he stated. “It was a way I could die with pride doing something for someone else.”

For Paul Kandarian, part of his recovery is due to taking Methadone.
For Paul Kandarian, half of his restoration is because of taking Methadone.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Kandarian enlisted within the infantry as a result of it had the best casualty charge, and deployed to Afghanistan for 10 months.

Serving within the Army nourished him, and it wounded him. He solid connections deeper than any he’d recognized and noticed elements of the world he’d by no means dreamed of. He additionally noticed beloved pals blown to bits. Once, he recalled, he needed to retrieve a soldier’s leg from a tree.

But he didn’t die.

Instead, Kandarian got here dwelling in 2013 with post-traumatic stress dysfunction, persistent migraines, broken knees, and a shoulder that retains dislocating. In ache, troubled by nightmares, he purchased Percocets inside a month of getting dwelling.

“Then,” he stated, “I went straight to heroin because I needed to stop my brain from working and thinking.”

In 2015, Kandarian developed a extreme an infection in his arm from injecting with contaminated gear. It was so painful he cried out when he moved in his sleep. His father persuaded him to go to the Providence VA Medical Center.

The an infection required a hospital keep for intravenous antibiotics, which needed to be infused by means of his neck as a result of his different veins had collapsed from years of heroin injections.

People cease utilizing when the destructive penalties outweigh the constructive facets of their drug use. That typically happens when the hustle — the dwelling on the road, the fixed ODs and ED visits — will get too exhausting.

— Dr. Mark Eisenberg

Internist, Massachusetts General Hospital’s major care heart in Charlestown.

Deion, a nurse and licensed chemical dependency skilled, stopped by Kandarian’s room, the place he lay in ache from withdrawal and the an infection. Kandarian, who knew Deion from earlier therapy efforts, remembers first ordering her to depart — after which bursting into tears when she stayed anyway.

As he began to really feel higher throughout his week and a half within the hospital, Kandarian had a likelihood to suppose. For the primary time, he envisioned a significant future: going to varsity to get a diploma in psychology. Meanwhile, Deion related him with the VA’s methadone program, and he began on the medicine the day after discharge.

Methadone, used to deal with opioid habit for the reason that 1960s, has a lengthy observe document of effectiveness. The drug fills the mind’s opioid receptors, quieting the cravings and in addition stopping heroin from latching on.

Kandarian made a each day pilgrimage from Taunton to Providence to slurp the pink liquid from a little plastic cup. But habits are exhausting to interrupt. The ritual of capturing up remained alluring. He might get a blunted excessive from heroin regardless of taking methadone, and he nonetheless wished to numb his emotions. Time and once more, his urine exams revealed that he’d used heroin.

He met with Deion weekly, and it was on one of these visits that she pronounced the acquainted — however now all of the sudden highly effective — phrases.

Later that day, when Kandarian obtained an urge to shoot up, it was nearly straightforward to withstand, as a result of he knew: Heroin shouldn’t be an possibility.

A seek for meaning

How do individuals get better?
Given the huge numbers troubled, the science on this essential query is surprisingly skinny.

In a casual, open-ended survey earlier this 12 months, the Globe posed that query to physicians, researchers, therapy program leaders, restoration coaches, and advocates — all involved with habit care and plenty of in restoration themselves.

Some 125 individuals had been requested in an e-mail: What are the 2 or three issues that individuals who obtain sustained restoration from habit have in widespread?

The 82 replies, though a very excessive response charge, don’t yield a scientific reply. But they do supply insights.

For over 30 years, my restoration has been sustained by means of the love and help of a neighborhood of others in restoration who gave me hope, obtained me by means of exhausting occasions, confirmed me that I too might have a life stuffed with pleasure, love and happiness.

— Michael Botticelli

Executive director, Grayken Center for Addiction, Boston Medical Center

Support and reference to others had been seen as important to restoration by simply over half the respondents. Many — 33 respondents — spoke of emotional benchmarks; individuals who get better, they stated, have rediscovered pleasure, love, gratitude, and, most of all, hope. An equal quantity specified that medicines, particularly methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone), are essential to restoration from opioid habit.

Notably, there was no unanimity. There was not one issue that each respondent talked about.

One doctor cautioned towards even searching for a widespread thread.

Dr. Zev Schuman-Olivier, medical director for addictions on the Cambridge Health Alliance, stated he’d had sufferers who recovered with medicine and by no means skilled a deep internal change, and different sufferers who recovered after a deep internal change however by no means touched medicine.

Still, many survey respondents’ views comport with research displaying that medicines — particularly buprenorphine and methadone, but additionally typically a newer drug, injectable naltrexone, or Vivitrol — dramatically scale back the chance of opioid overdose and assist preserve individuals in therapy, clearing the best way for them to rebuild their lives.

But a doctor who works with the homeless could have recognized the singular key to success.

“People who achieve sustained recovery have MEANING IN LIFE,” wrote Dr. Jessie M. Gaeta, chief medical officer of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, in her e-mailed response. “There is something they have that makes them feel useful, and it also connects them to other people.”

DeSean Duncan didn’t see a lot meaning in his life as he lay on a gurney within the hallway of the Faulkner Hospital emergency room. It was July Fourth weekend in 2015, and a few days earlier the burly 24-year-old had been kicked out of an addiction-treatment program as a result of he punched somebody who’d insulted him. Then he went out and obtained so drunk and excessive he ended up within the hospital.

He was exhausted, fed up, and getting ready to move again to the road. He’d already been to therapy extra occasions than he might rely.

“All it did was make me a better drug addict. Every time I went in, I learned about better drugs and made new connections,” he stated. In reality, he’d been launched to heroin at a therapy program.

Growing up in Mattapan, the rebellious little one of a single mom and a father that he says ignored him, Duncan began ingesting alcohol and codeine cough syrup at age 13.

People made enjoyable of him for being delicate, so he discovered to cover his emotions. He discovered a sense of security and neighborhood in road gangs, however that additionally meant he was stabbed and shot at all through his adolescence. Eight shut pals died. Privately, he grieved them annually on the anniversaries of their deaths, feeling newly wrecked by every loss.

While at school on a soccer scholarship, Duncan was launched to Percocet throughout therapy for a dislocated shoulder. He discovered to crush the capsules and snort the powder, and in time he moved on to doing heroin on the streets of Boston.

“I hoped every time I did the heroin, I wouldn’t wake up,” he stated. “I felt like I had no purpose in life.”

Changing course

Now on this vacation weekend, caught in a hospital hall, Duncan was prepared to move out and get excessive once more. But he wasn’t alone: At his aspect was his mom, with whom he’d all the time had a tumultuous relationship. “If you walk out that door,” she threatened him, “you can just forget about me.”

As they talked, Duncan realized that, though he can by no means bear in mind her saying so, his mom cherished him. After all, she was all the time there when he obtained into bother.

So he stayed put, combating the urge to depart, till the hospital discovered him a detox mattress at three a.m.

From there, an insightful case supervisor modified Duncan’s course: Instead of the inpatient care that by no means labored for him, he would attend a program the place he would spend daytime hours in therapy however stay at dwelling. The program offered Suboxone, a medicine that killed his cravings, in addition to medicines and remedy for the bipolar dysfunction that had been recognized years in the past however by no means handled.

The “moment of clarity” is when a individual’s perspective shifts from the habit to one thing else that provides them pleasure, or focus, or function once more. The radical perspective shift that settles individuals into long run restoration takes a while, and like habit– it often happens earlier than we even understand it.

— Matt Robert

SMART Recovery, Open Source Recovery, facilitator

Duncan additionally obtained related with SMART Recovery, a community of mutual help teams that focuses on self-empowerment fairly than melding with a group. A former gang member and soccer participant, Duncan had a lot of apply with teams. What he didn’t know, he stated, was learn how to be a person: “I didn’t know who DeSean was.”

Who was DeSean? The seeds had been scattered all through his life, sprouts stomped down however not lifeless.

As a little one, he’d dreamed of changing into a historical past instructor. As an adolescent, regardless that he was expelled from three excessive colleges for misbehavior, he’d additionally been elected class president at one of them. After highschool, he attended a summer season program that engages inner-city youth in social justice tasks, and for the primary time felt a sense of function.

DeSean Duncan said finding out who he is and gaining a sense of purpose were key to his recovery from addiction.
DeSean Duncan stated discovering out who he’s and gaining a sense of function had been key to his restoration from habit.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Now, Duncan realized he wished to work in human providers. He volunteered on the STEPRox Recovery Support Center in Roxbury and finally was employed to supervise all its day-by-day actions.

Duncan has managed to remain sober by means of some latest challenges. Earlier this 12 months, he began having seizures — which his medical doctors blamed on blows to his head whereas enjoying soccer — and needed to depart his job at STEPRox, a heartbreak.

Recently he moved to West Warwick, R.I., and right now he works as a restoration coach at a Rhode Island restoration heart. “I love it here,” he stated.

In pictures from years in the past, Duncan seems powerful, scary, just like the gangbanger he was. Today at age 28, his options have softened, as if the sensitivity that when invited bother has risen once more to the floor, now an asset.

“I finally recovered,” he says, “because I found my own identity. I found myself.”

I’m undecided how or why some individuals can really feel the message of hope and others don’t. One dimension doesn’t match all and if you least count on it somebody will get restoration and positive aspects that sense of hope.

— Timothy J. Burke

CEO, Addiction Treatment Center of New England

A sudden, inexplicable choice

Emily Seaman can’t clarify what prompted her to hunt sobriety after 10 years of heroin use. All she is aware of is that she awakened one morning in her Framingham condominium sick and aching for her subsequent repair, as all the time. But this time, she determined she was accomplished with feeling that method.

She referred to as her mom and requested for a trip to Cape Cod, the place she enrolled within the Gosnold therapy program. Her mom, Lauren Seaman, was skeptical; she’d heard all of it earlier than, however this time there was one thing completely different in her daughter’s voice.

The distinction, Emily Seaman says, was merely that this time she was prepared.

“I know that is hard to swallow because I hurt so many people, including myself, for so many years over something as simple as I wasn’t ready,” she stated. “I had to get to this point in my life. I don’t know why I had to go through so much hell to get there.”

It was, for positive, a lot of hell.

She began injecting heroin at age 12. At the time, her dad and mom had been separating, her father was unwell, her aunt had killed herself, and Emily fell underneath the affect of an older man who launched her to the drug.

Periodically, her dad and mom despatched her to therapy applications, however, inside a quick time, she was all the time utilizing once more, typically dwelling on the streets. Seaman stated she had been sexually abused as a little one; she didn’t need to focus on particulars, however such trauma is a widespread precursor to habit.

“There were traumatic events before I started using and traumatic events after. It just kind of never stops,” Seaman stated not too long ago. To get cash for drugs, she did issues that wounded her then, and fill her with disgrace right now.

Emily Seaman covered up her daughter, Olivia, as she went down for a nap.
Emily Seaman coated up her daughter, Olivia, as she went down for a nap. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

“I kind of destroyed my family. My dad was on pain medication and I would steal all his pain meds. I broke my mother’s heart.” At that, she broke down and paused for breath. “My sister and I didn’t have a relationship. I ruined that. Family and friends were afraid of me and I hated myself, I absolutely hated myself.”

At age 18, Seaman began taking Suboxone and skilled her first stretch of prolonged sobriety. She gained weight, obtained wholesome — and unexpectedly turned pregnant.

Following medical recommendation, she took a completely different formulation of the medicine all through her being pregnant and in 2012 she delivered a full-term child lady, Olivia. The child was born depending on her mom’s medicine and spent 4 weeks within the hospital.

Living with Olivia’s father in Framingham, Seaman continued to keep up her sobriety and lift her daughter. But after a 12 months, she began utilizing once more, and this system the place she was getting her Suboxone — as a substitute of serving to her get again on observe — caught with its strict coverage and kicked her out.

“Then I had nothing and just took off running,” Seaman stated. She requested her mom to take care of Olivia and surrendered to heroin.

Until about a 12 months later, when all of the sudden she’d had sufficient.

People in sustained restoration love themselves for who they’re.

— Dr. Alexander Y. Walley

Director, Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program, Boston Medical Center

Seaman entered Gosnold with a new angle. She satisfied the doctor there, who was reluctant to prescribe Suboxone, that she couldn’t rebuild her life with out it.

“Without Suboxone, every day, my whole day is: ‘I want to use.’ . . . And Suboxone takes that away. It helps with craving so you can concentrate on the underlying issues.”

After Gosnold, she spent 4 months at Right Turn, an Arlington therapy program that makes use of inventive expression to assist heal the injury wrought by habit.

Today, at age 26, Seaman lives in Framingham along with her mom and daughter, now a glad 6-year-old. She has a job caring for aged individuals who have dementia, and nurtures herself with paintings, needlepoint, meditation — and common doses of Suboxone.

“Getting sober was a journey to love myself again,” Seaman stated. “Even after four years, I’m not completely there.”

Rebuilding lives

There’s one other piece to Seaman’s story.

That day she determined to get sober? She wasn’t alone. Seaman and a pal made the pledge collectively.

But that pal didn’t have a mom who might pay for months of therapy and supply a dwelling afterward. He relapsed and died of an overdose.

Reaching a second of readability, resolving to get sober — typically that isn’t sufficient if the remaining of the world doesn’t step up with help.

Having someplace to stay, some degree of dignity and security, and a place to retreat to away from people who find themselves utilizing, is necessary.

— Dr. Audrey Provenzano

Internist, Massachusetts General Hospital

A severe substance use downside is like a burning home, says John F. Kelly, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Recovery Research Institute. Short-term therapy can put out the hearth by stopping substance use. But to maintain the blaze from flaring up once more — to stop relapse — individuals want the supplies to rebuild their lives: jobs, housing, monetary safety, constructive social connection, and day-by-day stability.

People who had been hooked on opioids can have an particularly exhausting time buying these “building materials,” Kelly stated, as a result of they typically have prison data that bar them from employment, loans for schooling or housing, and even financial institution accounts. And the stigma is stronger; former heroin customers are likely to concern disclosing their historical past, blocking the social help that might preserve them in remission.

For these causes, Kelly stated, “It can be tougher to recover from an opioid use disorder compared to other substance use disorders.”

Paul Kandarian, the person who lastly accepted that heroin was not an possibility, restored his life with the assistance of his household, particularly his father, and the persistence of Lynne Deion and different caregivers on the Providence VA.

The single most necessary factor is having somebody who sees who you’re clearly however nonetheless believes in you.

— Dr. Barbara Herbert

Addiction drugs specialist

Kandarian discovered, Deion stated, that if heroin wasn’t for him, he wanted to find one thing else. And so he did.

He went to highschool. In May, Kandarian graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston with a diploma in psychology. Now 30 and dwelling in Framingham, he’s working as a therapy coordinator for low-income individuals with habit and psychological sickness. And he’s wanting into graduate college.

Tall and tattooed, a floppy mohawk atop his head, Kandarian comes off as affable and approachable. He relaxes by doing woodworking, together with elaborate carvings, and continues to take his each day methadone.

He stays near his father, an actor in addition to a author, who re-creates their ordeal performing in a play produced by a Rhode Island nonprofit. The youthful Kandarian often speaks about habit and restoration at colleges and public occasions. Sometimes, he spies Deion within the viewers.

Does Kandarian suppose he’ll ever use heroin once more?

He has a prepared reply: “I’m not going to use today.”


Felice J. Freyer might be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.



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