Last Day of Use
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This season started with the question: How did we get here? How did Stefano and Harris overdose and die in their early 30s? How did our country lose 400,000 lives to opioids since 1999? In the new year, we turn our attention to other last day stories, and other kinds of last day stories. Brittany and Ahren are high school sweethearts who built a life and a family together, when “the blues” came into the picture. Brittany and Ahren talk about Ahren’s addiction, his last days of using, one ugly night, their joint recovery, and what gives them hope for the future. Plus, addiction medicine doctor Dr. Charles Reznikoff shares his approach to early recovery.
[00:01] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Hey, Last Day listeners. Happy New Year, and welcome back to Last Day. We are currently taking a survey of our listeners and want to hear from you. Please go to www.lemonadamedia.com/lastdaysurvey to share your feedback with us. Enjoy the show.
[00:26] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: People with addictions will often know the specific last day they used. And they will often count time from the last day they used. Proudly, you know, that’s one of their motivating factors, is they want to add to that days of abstinence. And so it is almost daily occurrence where a patient will tell me how many days since their last use. But the patient’s saying my last day of use was this day, embedded in that thought is the fear of a relapse. When I hear them saying “my last day of use was whatever date,” what they’re not saying is, “and I am certain I will never use again.” What they are saying is every single day I am aware of the risk and I’m counting my days since the last day.
[01:27] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Welcome back to Last Day. Last year, we tried to figure out how we got here. How our brothers Stefano and Harris overdosed and died in their early 30s. How America has gotten to this point where we’ve lost 400,000 people to opioids since 1999. And how my partner Jess and I are now making a show about it. I feel like we have already climbed Mount Everest, but we are not done.
[02:12] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: The first half of the season was about reshaping the way we talk about and understand addiction. We built this working vocabulary, introduced the key players and established important themes. You’ve graduated from Addiction Studies 101. And now that we have this new framework, we’re ready to turn our attention to other people’s last day stories. And that doesn’t just mean last day of life. That means, like you heard up top from Dr. Charlie Reznikoff, the last day of use and all the stuff that accompanies that. This week, we are talking to a couple who are working through the early days of recovery, which is exciting and scary.
And in the case of Ahren and Brittany, also very adorable.
[03:08] Ahren: We met in high school through some mutual friends. I was hanging out with a couple of friends and one of my boys’ house and she rode up on a block because her friend was dating one of my friends. You know, it’s love at first sight when she pulled up in the backseat. I remember she had curly hair and I’m like, OK, she’s cute. And so anyways, I ended up getting her number. Called her — it was house phones at that time. Her dad answered the phone when I called and he actually gave her the phone. He wasn’t even trippin’. Yeah. And it kind of just went on from there.
[03:57] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So was it love at first sight for you, too, Brittany?
[4:00] Brittany: It was, it was, it was. Because I mean, you were the cutest out of the all. But no. I mean. Yeah. Like. I don’t know. I don’t know what it was, her was just so energetic and full of life and just like the life of the party I guess. I don’t know if that’s what attracted me but, you know, we spent a lot of time together as kids, and just growing up and going through different life experiences.
[04:32] Ahren: She was 15. I was 16.
[04:34] Brittany: Yeah, well, but we’re not going to tell our kids that. Yeah, that’s too young.
[04:42] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Brittany and Ahren dated for a few years, which were filled with all the excitement and passion and drama that comes with your first love. They broke up for a while after high school, but Ahren knew she was the one. So he made sure to stay close by.
[05:00] Brittany: Like even the whole time we were broken up, Ahren, like he was always around. Like him and my dad were close . Like he never really left the family. And, you know, so then we we just fell back in love after our date, or one date. And then, yeah, and then we had Eisley, our son, and then we had Emmy, our daughter three years after. And then we got married just last year in May.
[05:25] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Congrats!
[05:26] Brittany: Thank you. Yeah.
[05:29] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Wow. How is the wedding?
[05:32] Ahren: I enjoyed it. I thought everything went well. It was fun. It was fun.
[05:39] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: At first, I thought that that awkward little pause was just Ahren, tip-toeing around the stress that accompanies any wedding. Families, budgets, families, months of planning, families. What have you. But then it became pretty obvious that they were dealing with something far more complicated.
[05:59] Ahren: The day of the wedding was great, but leading up to it was, you know, sort of kind of rough, I would say. Obviously wedding stress, the whole planning. And then with the drug use. That was, you know, a lot of it, too.
[06:19] Brittany: Yeah, it was. It was a roller coaster. Well, we almost canceled it, to be honest. We almost canceled the wedding because I was like, I don’t know if this is the right thing. Am I doing the right thing? You know, should we move forward with it? But then we ended up – we ended up moving forward with it. Yeah.
[06:34] Ahren: You know, I felt bad because I was at the time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to ever be able to stop using, you know. I just I didn’t know how I was going to be able to do it. And I just, you know, I felt bad thinking about what it was going to be like for her being with someone like myself, that was kind of like living, you know, a whole ‘nother life that wasn’t suited for marriage.
[07:11] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This whole other life that he’s talking about, at first when I asked him, he said it started six years ago.
[07:20] Ahren: But the six years — I say six years because that’s how long it’s been where I guess I knew was a real problem. There’s been a real issue. You know, when I think about it, I’ve always, was always on something. I’ve always been addicted to something, but I’m 20, 21, you know, maybe even before that I messed with a little weed, drinking. It never was — never got out of control until I was 25. But I used to, you know, codeine, I would drink codeine, and like Xanax, stuff like that. But I was on my own at that time. I didn’t really have no one depending on me. So I guess it didn’t really register until it started affecting everyone around me.
[08:22] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Mainly Brittany, who wasn’t just a cute girl with curly hair anymore. She was now the mother of his two children and there were all these extra layers of responsibility in the mix. And that shift wasn’t just hard on Ahren. Brittany knew he was using and that he’d always used.
[08:45] Brittany: I think he tried to hide it as much as he could. And I just kind of tried to ignore it as much as I could. You know, even though I knew something was going on, I didn’t really want to deal with it. And I just kind of wrapped myself in being a mom and, you know, taking care of the household. And, you know, I was in school at the time. So I guess I was just not really wanting to deal with that. And then I guess it just got to a point where we couldn’t really function anymore as a family. You know, I even thought, like, OK, well, you know, maybe I could do this. Like, maybe he’ll just be on drugs and like we can make it work or something. Maybe I’ll just, you know, I’ll just live with it. Like at least until the kids are 18 or something. And, you know, just so that we can have a household together.
[09:29] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Setting yourself on an 18-year denial timeline may sound like actual torture, but it’s what Brittany was willing to do for Ahren, because in addition to him being the father of her children, he’s her person. They’d been together since they were 15. I mean, in her mind, doing life without him wasn’t really an option. But in reality, things were becoming unsustainable. They’d gotten their own place. They were raising two little kids. And they were trying to stay afloat.
[10:07] Brittany: But then, like, we couldn’t pay the bills.
[10:08] Ahren: We had to be adults, basically. Yeah, I guess six years ago is when I really had to start being an adult, you know? And then it hit me.
[10:16] Brittany: But then you struggled that whole time.
[10:18] Ahren: Right. So I guess you could say that’s how things started to shift with, you know, I had more people dependent on me, and I had to support myself in terms of like having a place to stay. Taking care of my kids. Put food on the table.
[10:38] Brittany: I have a question. Wouldn’t you say — do you think that it was when you took those other — like when you started doing, like, the blues and the fentanyl when it became out of control and like, you didn’t think about the family anymore?
[10:52] Ahren: I mean, I always thought about the family.
[10:56] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: It’s clear that their entire family dynamic shifted when the blues entered the picture. The blues or roxies are Roxycodone, a brand of oxycodone. And by this point, he wasn’t taking them with a glass of water. He was putting them on a piece of tin foil and smoking them. And Brittany would find these pieces of tinfoil all over the house where their children lived. So, yeah, I understand why Brittany considers that the moment where he stopped thinking about the family. But I also totally believe Ahren, that from his point of view, he never forgot about them. And this is what makes active addiction so shitty. They were living under the same roof, but in two completely different realities.
[11:50] Ahren: From the outside looking in and it probably seemed normal, like I would be able to function in terms of like me being with the kids, I’d still be able to play with them. You know, just like any regular parent would do, I guess. But in terms of our marriage, that was a whole ‘nother story.
[12:09] Brittany: For me, it was like the story. It was like a nightmare. I felt like just on repeat, like you wake up from a nightmare, but like every day I would wake up and it would be the same nightmare.
[12:23] Ahren: As long as I was high, I was. I felt like I was good. Like, you know.
[12:30] Brittany: Yeah, you were OK. Yeah, I mean, it was tough for me because and I think our kids felt it. You know, I don’t, I mean, I think our kid — because it obviously caused tension between us. And I mean, we were definitely not taken place and arguing. And, you know, I didn’t even really want to be in the same room as him sometimes, or even look at him, because just the thoughts running through my head were not good. Not what a wife or the mother of his kids should be thinking about. And I know my kids felt it.
[13:03] Ahren: I mean, there was times where I would be out of the house. So I guess, yeah, it did affect the kids. But whenever I was around though, you know, I was there for them.
[13:16] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Were you afraid, Brittany, to, you know, leave him alone with the kids? Were you worried about that?
[13:23] Brittany: I wasn’t. But until the end then, yes, I was. I was like, no, I don’t trust you. I don’t trust you driving them. I don’t trust you, you know, to care for them because, you know, it got bad at the end.
[13:35] Ahren: There was a lot of lying to myself, you know, saying, oh, I’m fine. You know? I’m OK with the kids. But, you know, now I look back and I wasn’t, you know.
[13:48] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: But I mean, isn’t the lying to yourself, from what I understand, what you have to do because you need to use? And so you have to say, like, it’s fine. This is all good. And if you only feel normal when you’re high, then you have to get high. Right? So, I mean.
[14:04] Ahren: Exactly. Exactly. If I wasn’t then I couldn’t be a father to my kids.
[14:10] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: On the other hand, Brittany said that when Ahren wasn’t using drugs, that just came with a whole other set of challenges. He was irritated and on edge.
[14:20] Brittany: I just took it so personal because I wasn’t in a good place either myself, you know, I just like mentally and just being stressed out and stuff, not really like taking care of myself like I should, because I was so focused on changing him. And, you know, you should try this or try this. And just walking on eggshells every day, not really being able to, you know, be good for myself and for my kids. You know, so it was just like a really vicious, like, roller coaster. It was ugly. And then you don’t want to say the wrong things because you don’t want to tick him off. And I’m thinking that what I do, whatever I do, is going to make him go use, like it’s all on me. So if I act this way, you know — I would try to everything. Let me just act like — let me be, you know, reverse psychology this week. And maybe that will help. Or, OK, no, you know what? You need to be mean and you need to just say no, and then maybe that will help this week or, you know, whatever. I’m just not even going to focus on it. I’m just going to go, you know, do whatever I gotta do and but nothing — I thought that I could change him. No. You have no control.
[15:28] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: The tighter she tried to cling, to controlling the situation, the more out of control the situation got. By this point, finances were tight and Ahren was literally spending the day care money on drugs.
[15:42] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So financially it was — you were just probably really scared.
[15:47] Definitely. Yeah.
[15:51] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And there was something with the jewelry?
[15:52] Ahren: Yeah. I pawned a couple pieces of jewelry, you know.
[15:58] Brittany: Specifically? Your —
[16:02] Ahren: What? My wedding ring?
[16:07] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: You pawned your wedding ring? No judgment. I’m like, hold on a minute. What?
[16:13] Ahren: That’s where —
[16:15] Brittany: It went a little too far.
[16:17] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Oh, my goodness. Did you get it back?
[16:20] Ahren: Yeah, I got it back.
[16:22] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Oh, my gosh, Brittany.
[16:23] Ahren: But I pawned it again.
[16:26] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: We’re laughing about it, but this was an intense moment. I mean, these events are far enough in the past now that Brittany and Ahren have some perspective. They know to be grateful for what they have and not dwell on things like pawned jewelry. But at the time, they were barreling towards a breaking point.
[16:50] Brittany: We hit our rock bottom, is what I call as it, was just a really ugly night. And —
[16:56] Ahren: I’ll tell you about that night.
[16:57] Brittany: You want to say it? OK.
[16:58] Ahren: OK. I was out of the house for a week. I think going on a week. Because she had caught me using, right? So you’re like, “that’s it, get outta the house.” So I was out.
[17:11] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: After Brittany kicked him out, Ahren was living nearby at his mom’s house. One night, he met up with family at a basketball game in a nearby park. Brittany was there and she and Ahren were really getting along.
[17:25] Brittany: I’m like, can I come back home? And she’s like, yeah, yeah, OK, you can come. I’m like, OK, I’ll be home. I’ll go grab some stuff from my mom’s.
[17:34] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: His mom lives close. So Brittany didn’t think it would take too long.
[17:38] Ahren: So anyway, before grabbing these clothes that I say I’m gonna get, I go around the corner from mom’s, you know, and I’m doing what I do.
[17:49] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Drugs. He was doing drugs. Meanwhile, Brittany waits and waits and waits.
[17:57] Brittany: I was hungry and you were taking forever and I was like, you know what? I’ve been wanting In-N-Out so bad. And I was like, screw this. I’m gonna go get my In-N-Out Burger. Like, we didn’t have the kids. My brother was watching the kids that night.
[18:08] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So she gets in the car and heads towards In-N-Out. And you know what’s on the way to In-N-Out? Ahren’s mom’s house. And she’s thinking to herself —
[18:21] Brittany: Like, if the car is there, that I know he’s there. If not, then you know what? I’m just, whatever, I’m out. Like, I’m going to call you and say you’re not coming back home. So then I make like a right turn down this random block.
[18:31] Ahren: She drives right by me.
[18:32] Brittany: I see the car and I like [brake sound] —
[18:35] Ahren: She stopped. I rolled down the window and smoke comes out my mouth. I was supposed to come back home. I’m like, oh, great, right. She’s like, bring the keys to the house and that’s it. Like, just give me the keys. Leave the car. Go to your mom’s. Right. So I do that. I gave her the keys and I realized I got my drugs in the car. She locks the door, right. At first I’m cool, I’m like, shit, take the keys. I’m out.
[19:03] Brittany: Yeah, because you had you just —
[19:04] Ahren: Then it hit me. Oh, shit, I left my stuff in the car. Now I’m banging her. Just give me the keys. I need to get some stuff out the car. I got — I left my work keys in the car. I left my work keys in the car. She’s like, no, I’m not giving you the keys. I know you just want to get whatever it is that you —
[19:25] Brittany: I knew. I knew. I knew.
[19:26] Ahren: But I’m telling her that’s my work keys, so we’re going at it.
[19:30] Brittany: It was ugly. It was a lot of yelling, a lot of crying.
[19:31] Ahren: It was sad because all I cared about at that time with everything going on was I just want to get my stuff out the car, you know?
[19:39] Brittany: And I could see it. And it’s like — that night, you know, he looked like a different person. Like, I — you just looked like a different person to me. Like, I didn’t know who that person was at that point. Like, you know, it was like I lost you, you know? Like, how am I ever going to get you back?
[19:56] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: It’s really terrifying to look at your person and see that their bodies there, but that their spirit is gone. In his own way, Ahren knew it, too.
[20:13] Ahren: I was caught red-handed. I was already out of the house for the same thing, you know. And that didn’t even register. That’s how far gone I was. Can I get the keys back so I can get my pills out the car?
[20:27] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This ugly night was a turning point where everything just snapped. But what Ahren didn’t know was that Brittany had someone to turn to.
[20:41] Brittany: Well, I had a friend that I had went to college with. And he, at the time I knew he would take phone calls and he was like a drug counselor, like on the side. So he just popped in my head one day. You know, and I reached out to him and I just said, hey, do you remember me? You know, I kind of have a favor to ask. And, you know, he was an addict and he just, you know, kind of gave me the insight of what it’s like to be an addict. And I would just call him and he would just kind of coach me like, OK, this is what you’re gonna do and it’s OK and it’s gonna be OK. And like, he would always tell me we’re going to love him through this. Like we’re going to love him through this. And you guys are going to are going to come out OK.
[21:19] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Enter Logan, who soon became as critical to Ahren as he was to Brittany.
[21:26] Brittany: So after that night, it was just like, you know, I was like this isn’t OK.
[21:30] Ahren: And then she gave me the ultimatum. She had been telling me to call Logan. I didn’t want to do it. And I knew — I was like, OK, I will. I have to call Logan now, there’s no way around it.
[21:44] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Like you just understood that she was done.
[21:47] Ahren: Yeah, she was done. I was done, too. Honestly, I — I mean, I was — I was done making putting them through that, you know. And it was — it was either I walk out of their lives, which I don’t want to do. Or I call Logan and get some help in trying to make this thing work.
[22:11] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: The language of rock-bottom is so tricky, because for most people there isn’t one specific moment of clarity that changes everything and leaves them magically prepared to stop using. But something shifted. They needed help and they had a person in their corner who was ready and willing. But the real work was just beginning. More on that when we come back.
[24:57] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: We’re back with Brittany and Ahren. So when you think about your last day of use. What is that to you?
[25:18] Ahren: My last day of using is my last day of like shame. You know, that was my last day of being shameful. That’s what it is. I’ve left all the hurt that I put on people. You know, that was it. That’s one day I don’t want to relive. Because I actually — I had — my mom took me to go get — she didn’t even know where she was taking me my last day I used, but I had my mom take me. I told her I was going to go get some Suboxone for a friend. Brittany don’t even know this. This is the first time I’m saying this. That’s why I’m done. I can’t do that no more.
[26:18] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: You didn’t know that, Brittany?
[26:20] Brittany: Nope. No clue.
[26:23] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Ahren’s memory of his last day isn’t so much about the drugs themselves, it’s about what they were making him do to the people he loved and how that made him feel. Even now, in this interview, another lie is coming to the surface. And he didn’t want to do that anymore. So he enrolled in this outpatient detox program, and after 21 days of going every single day and tapering off with methadone one dose at a time, there were no drugs in his system.
[26:57] Ahren: So a week after I did the 21-day detox, I was off for a week. I was sober for a week and then I relapsed.
[27:06] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Were you on the methadone or were you —
[27:10] Ahren: No, after the detox I didn’t get onto the maintenance program.
[27:12] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Why?
[27:13] Ahren: I just thought I’d be able to do it.
[27:16] Stephanie Wittels Wachs:Oh, gosh. They let you do that? They didn’t make you? They didn’t handcuff you?
[27:20] Brittany: I know, I know.
[27:21] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I’m like, what?
[27:24] Ahren: When you go in, they’ll tell you, hey, so, you know, after the detox, you want to get on maintenance. You know, they asked me a couple of times and I’m thinking in my head like, no, I’ll be fine, you know? Um. But I wasn’t.
[27:40] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Do you hear the sheer terror in my voice? I mean, I felt like I was watching a horror movie and like screaming at the protagonists, no, stop! Don’t go in the house! Look behind you! I mean, if you’ve listened to the other 13 episodes of this show, you know that Ahren probably doesn’t stand a chance of staying sober if he goes from oxy to methadone to nothing. But he’s a grown man. The clinic couldn’t handcuff him to the radiator, or shove medication in his mouth against his will. So Ahren walked out even more vulnerable than he was 21 days before.
[28:20] Ahren: The first day I was like, oh, my gosh, how am I supposed to do this? I thought I was going to be OK, you know. But I got through it. And the only reason why — I tell myself that lie we tell ourselves. I’ll just do it this one time. You being good. You know, you got it. You know, you got it under control now. You can you be able to. You’ll be OK. You can do it. You know, I let myself go.
[28:58] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So, Brittany, when you found out that he had relapsed, were you angry, how did you feel?
[29:03] Brittany: I was angry and upset. It was the week before our one-year anniversary. And I was like, you’re doing so good, I planned a trip. I planned a weekend getaway for us. Like we had a babysitter. We were going to go away. And then I was like, OK, well, I guess we’re not going, I guess we’re not going to celebrate. I was devastated. I was like every time, every time I would have planned something nice — that was the routine, like whether it’s a birthday or, you know, something like every time. He would use, and then I would get mad, and I’m like, nevermind, I don’t want to do it, because we’re not gonna have fun anyway.
[29:38] Ahren: We did not celebrate our one-year anniversary because of that.
[29:45] Brittany: No. And then I see you — OK, well you need to go get on that maintenance like you need. You need it.
[29:52] Ahren: We were both sure of that.
[29:53] Brittany: So we went. We went. I went with him to the clinic.
[30:00] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And this is when the real work began. In the narrative sense, sure, there was the ugly night, and the call to Logan, and the 21 day detox and the slip. But the work started after all of that and is still ongoing. Having to do what it takes to maintain sobriety. And this looks different for every person. Remember Dr. Harrison from Episode 6, and her magic formula? That it’s this totally subjective case by case thing for each individual and that it’s contingent on a wide variety of factors? Ahren does, too. And he mentioned it during our interview.
[30:44] Ahren: She mentions about patients that have a job, have income, have health insurance, have support, a loving family, support. You can seek treatment and be outpatient, you know, and I think I fit into that category where I have everything that I needed around me to just go that route.
[31:12] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And that’s exactly what he did. Ahren’s magic formula never involved an inpatient or residential program. He did the 21-day detox at the same local methadone clinic where he is now doing his maintenance program.
[31:29] Ahren: I’m on 38 milligrams of methadone right now. And that’s where I’m at. So I go to this clinic every morning before work to dose.
[31:41] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: You still do that every day?
[31:43] Ahren: Yes, every day.
[31:45] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And once a week on Fridays, Ahren meets with his drug counselor, Suzette.
[31:49] Ahren: I have two take-homes now, because they drug test you. So after three months of giving them clean tests, then you’re able to get take-homes. Basically, your medicine, you get to bring it home for the day, right. So I get Wednesdays and Saturdays. I have a take-home so I don’t have to go that day. But yeah, every day I dose.
[32:15] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And he’s been dosing every day for seven months. Seven months! Which in terms of days is a significant amount. Over half a year. But in terms of sobriety, it’s still in the thick of it. And that brings us back to the voice at the top of the episode, the voice of Dr. Charlie Reznikoff.
[32:41] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: So I’ll start by — I just want to warn you that I’m on-call right now for the addiction clinic. So probably nothing will happen, but there’s a chance that I may get a call and have to answer that. It would just take a minute or two and then I’ll be right back.
[32:57] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: You mean you have to do your job? That’s what you’re telling me. Charlie is an addiction medicine doctor in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And he is busy.
[33:08] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: I work in three locations. I work in a small town addiction clinic in rural Minnesota — Lonsdale, Minnesota — and also in the county hospital in downtown Minneapolis, Hennepin Health Care.
[33:23] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: He also teaches at the University of Minnesota, works with the State Medical Cannabis Program and does general medicine as well. You hear about people who love their jobs. Charlie really loves his job.
[33:36] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: So in my job, you go around today and tell people, “I am an addiction doctor,” and they look at you with these like sad eyes, like they’re going to beatify you or whatever. You know, I’m some kind of saint. It’s not the case at all. The secret of addiction docs is that we work with people in recovery. It is so amazing and life-affirming. The vast majority of my patients and my patient encounters are people who are in recovery, succeeding, doing well. And my work is very affirming in that sense. And people think I’m dealing with tragedy and crisis all the time. It’s that it’s not the case. I’m dealing mostly with recovery and success.
[34:22] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This is really good to know. I mean, we looped Charlie into this episode because as inspiring as Brittany and Ahren’s story is, I’m still coming at this as the cynical, glass-half-empty kind of gal that I am. And I know that they are nowhere near the end of it. They are only just beginning. How do we sort of like get through that very vulnerable period? And is it? Or am I wrong?
[34:52] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: No. Well, I don’t think you’re wrong.
[34:54] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Charlie walked us through what he typically sees with his patients who are newly sober.
[35:01] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: The first couple weeks when a person gets sober, they have something called ‘treatment euphoria.’ They feel like I can do it this time. I’m going to do it this time. I got this beat. I’m high on sobriety in a way. I’m sober and I’m ecstatic. And it’s it lasts a couple of weeks and they feel like they’re bulletproof and they’re way overconfident. And it is dangerous. But it’s also common. Then maybe a month in, they get these doldrums where reality sets in. They realize, oh, I have no money. I’ve got some legal charges pending and my family doesn’t trust me anymore. A laundry list of things that they’ve pushed aside are coming back. And so then they have a couple months where they’re really down and they’re really vulnerable and they’re digging themselves out of this seemingly bottomless hole. And then they get to maybe past six months. And maybe past six months, they start feeling a little a little more stable, a little more confident. They get into a rhythm. They can start seeing perspective of where they are. And in truth, past six months is a good hopeful time. And I love working with patients in that timeframe. But they are far from risk. They’re still very high-risk. So they’re starting to see perspective. They’re starting to do better, but they’re still at risk of relapse.
[36:30] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: We know that minimum two years — minimum two years of abstinence — and this is demonstrated abstinence with monitoring and urine drug screens like almost every week — people start to get real true stability in their abstinence. And the point at which you can say someone with an addiction is now at the baseline community risk of relapse is five years. And at five years, it’s not no risk. It’s just the baseline background, general population risk. You know, I’m not going to say call me if you need me until you’re five years sober. Until that time, I want to keep seeing you. I will ask you to schedule an appointment with me. So that’s the timeline I think about with these folks.
[37:16] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This timeline is based on his experience working with patients from all walks of life. So it’s tempting to think that everyone will follow this trajectory, but he’s aware of the nuances.
[37:28] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: So there are some ways in which everyone with opioid addiction is the same as very similar shares, the same disease. There’s some commonalities, but then each individual is unique. And the uniqueness of each individual helps me get them to move towards sobriety. And more importantly than sobriety, believe it or not, is a productive, healthy life. You can be productive and healthy and still have some relapses here and there. Not ideal, but the real goal is a productive, healthy, long life and sobriety is a way to get that goal. So when someone comes and sees me, and they’ve been using opioids for a while and they want help getting sober, they usually don’t just want help getting sober. They want help restoring some meaningful thing in their life. So I want to understand what that meaningful thing is in their life. What is it? Why do you want to get sober? What will sobriety get you and get them talking about that?
[38:31] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: For Ahren, it’s his family, his kids, Brittany. At this point, I had taken up a lot of his time, but I decided to push my luck. Can I ask one more?
[38:46] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: You’re like Columbo. You’ve always got one more question.
[38:48] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I know this is truly the last one. If you were talking to somebody who had six or seven months sober, as a doctor, what would you say to them? Like what would your advice be like before they walked out the door into the world? What would you say?
[39:02] Dr. Charlie Reznikoff: Yeah, I mean, I would for sure reinforce keep doing what you’re doing. Even if you feel like you’re in the clear, keep your routines, keep your the sort of hygiene of your addiction care. Keep that daily routine. That’s one. Two is I would sort of gently interrogate them about their social life, their mental health, their financial and legal situations. All that stuff. I would dig into that and I would — nobody’s perfect. So I would find whatever vulnerability I could find and use that as a thing to work on together. So keep to your routines and identify vulnerabilities.
[39:48] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Honestly, keep to your routines and identify your vulnerabilities is probably good advice for everyone. I feel like I just saved you years of therapy. I mean, still go to therapy, but you know what I mean. And as for Ahren, this is good news. His routines are the central part of his sobriety, working his maintenance program, going to the methadone clinic, dosing every day. When we come back, we’ll hear how he and Brittany are identifying and defending their vulnerabilities.
[40:30] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: We’re back. This is probably not news to many, if not most of our listeners, but recovery isn’t just for former users, it’s for their loved ones, too. So when Ahren goes to his weekly 12-step meeting, Brittany also goes, but she goes to a separate room with other family members who are doing their own 12-step work around enabling and codependency.
[40:54] Brittany: I thought I was going to — was going to be focusing on him, but it’s focusing on me and what I can do. And you know, how I should think, and you know how to just focus on myself and be a better person for myself. That way I can be a better person for him. Because, you know, we all need like love and support. And I really think that, like what Logan said, that always sticks with me is like, we’re going to love him through this. And I really feel like, you know, we did. Like, I knew I didn’t want to give up on him, you know? And I thought about it. And like, I just envisioned his life — he was going to be on drugs for the rest of his life. And I didn’t want to put my kids through that. And I love him, like I care about him. And I know he’s a good person and has a good heart. And there’s more for him than this. So, you know, the more that you learn about addiction — you know, one, about addiction and the way that they think and stuff like that. And then you just dig into yourself and write down, you know, I had a write down, I think the first month I was there, write down stuff about yourself and your childhood. And I was like, oh, I never wanted to do that because — oh, no! You know, I was like, I don’t want to do this! I don’t want to do this. But I did it. And it was healing. And I learned things about myself that I never really knew. Like why I acted certain ways, why I think like a certain way, like it was very healing.
[42:19] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This is the work right here. Twelve step-meetings are often reduced, especially in media portrayals, to a bunch of people sitting around and folding chairs was stale coffee in their hands. Following a set of dogmatic rules and sharing sob stories. And to be fair, there is some of that, but there is a lot of practical restorative work that happens in those rooms and having this community makes both of them so much stronger.
[42:50] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: How do you feel right now?
[42:52] Ahren: I feel better than I’ve ever have, to be honest with you. I think a lot of it is because of the people I have around me. They’re so supportive. No one ever makes me feel bad about what I did, you know? So I feel good. I feel like I got a new life. Everything that I wanted when I was getting high, I feel like I got that now.
[43:20] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: What about you, Brittany?
[43:22] Brittany: Yeah. I feel like I got my Ahren back. Like, you know, just — and even for myself, like, you know, I’m definitely far from perfect. And, you know, I I feel like I’m a different person now, too. I feel like I’m a better person. And just going through this experience and, you know, taking the codependent classes, and just not focusing on him. Not just having to worry, like, oh, it’s like a weight has been lifted, you know? And we can have conversations that we’ve never had before, like even before this whole craziness. Like we just — it’s just like a newfound, like life, like love.
[44:07] Ahren: We share a special bond.
[44:08] Brittany: Yeah. I mean, even this, right here, like, I would have never thought that we would be sitting here talking about it.
[44:17] Ahren: Because we’re working on my sobriety together, you know? But while we’re doing it, she’s learning a lot about herself, too.
[44:24] Brittany: I’m definitely not the same person that I was. And it feels really good.
[44:32] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This does feel really good. All of this feels really good. I mean, yes, we did our due diligence and made sure we talked to Charlie and we all know not to let our guard down. But I think it’s OK here to really just enjoy and appreciate this progress. It’s so fucking uplifting to hear them share this story, to feel like change is possible. Could you have ever imagined eight months ago that you would be here?
[45:06] Ahren: Nah No way. No way. If someone were to tell me I was going to be in a studio talking to you? No.
[45:19] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: That’s amazing. And Brittany, what about you? What gives you hope?
[45:24] Brittany: I think the same. Like, for sure — god, like, I feel like we’re in like a real spiritual place that we’ve never really been before. And the fact that, like, we’re in it together, it’s pretty amazing. And I think that this is kind of just the beginning of it. And just — I feel like I just — I don’t know. I just have this feeling that like, you know, there’s so much there’s more. There’s more for us.
[45:54] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Yes. There is more for them, and that is a beautiful sentiment, but they are careful not to romanticize any of this. It seems like life is just so different now than it was a year ago for you guys. I mean, it just seems like a different world.
[46:17] Ahren: It is. You know, but we’re working for it.
[46:23] Brittany: Yeah, and sometimes I get scared, like I think the last couple of months I’ve been more just trying not — but even in the beginning, I’m like, oh, he looks weird, or he he’s acting weird. Like, is he using again? Like in my mind I’m like freaking out like. But you just got to calm down.
[46:44] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: How do you silence that voice when it starts? I mean, I think that’s so common.
[46:51] Yeah. It’s scary. Even like one night he was snoring really loud. And then I was like, are you using? Because I feel like when he was using, like he would snore super loud and I was like, so angry. And he’s just like, what are you talking about? But, you know, I just feel like like when he was using and I would question and I just told myself, like, the truth is gonna come out like it always does. And I just told myself, like, no, like things don’t always have to be bad. And I guess I was just so used to that. And I’m just trying to live in a different state of not like negative worrying craziness. Like I’m just going to just be OK. Like, I just think about how far we’ve come and, you know, and if he really was using, I feel like, OK, I’m gonna find out eventually. So let me not ruin the day and ruin my day and just love him.
[47:52] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Maybe you guys should get married again. You seem like you — you seem like new people now.
[47:58] Brittany: I think about that. We should.
[47:59] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And then you could go on your honeymoon.
[48:01] Brittany: That we never had. I’m in.
[48:04] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I mean, listen, I am an officiant. I got ordained on the Internet.
[48:09] Brittany: Oh, my God. There we go. Let’s do it.
[48:13] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: You know, if you want me to officiate your wedding. Happy to do it. I’d love to come to L.A.
[48:18] Ahren: I’ll keep that in mind, for sure.
[48:21] Brittany: You can surprise me, Ahren. Surprise me.
[48:27] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Next week, we hear from another family in early recovery. This time a mom and her teenage son.
[48:34] Mother: As a parent, I see my job as three things. The first is to love you. And I will do that no matter what. Second is to keep you healthy and safe. And third is to try to give you the experiences you need to set up a happy, productive life for yourself, and you get to decide what that is, but for today, we’re here talking because this is not healthy or safe.
[49:19] Last Day is a production of Lemonada Media. This episode was produced by Jackie Danziger. Our series producer is Danielle Roth. Kegan Zuma is our technical director.
Jessica Cordova Kramer is our executive producer. And our music is by Hannis Brown. Special thanks to Westwood One, our ad sales and distribution partner. You can find us online @LemonadaMedia. If you liked what you heard today, tell your family and friends to listen and subscribe. Rate and review us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. See you next week.