BRUNSWICK, Maine — When Bonnie Shippen’s car broke down this spring, she missed the “pill count” at the Addiction Resource Center.
Not long after, when the Suboxone she took to treat her opiate addiction discontinued, she relapsed. Shippen began taking codeine at age 13 for menstrual cramps and, after a car accident, surgeries and an abusive marriage, found herself on morphine and eventually methadone.
In December, Shippen, 39, told the Bangor Daily News that she’d been clean of morphine and other opioids for seven months. But by April, she found herself drinking and, eventually, buying pills on the street.
Even when she could find another source of Suboxone, the pills were expensive — $45 a strip ($90 a day), versus $3 for a month’s supply, through MaineCare, at the ARC.
So instead she’d ration pills, take Vicodin or drink to stave off withdrawal from the narcotic medication that treats opioid dependence by reducing withdrawal symptoms.
“I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” Shippen said during a recent interview with the Bangor Daily News at the Addiction Resource Center. “Your legs shake, you hurt all over. It just aches … the sweats. Imagine the worst flu you could possibly have and multiply it by 20 — headaches, nausea, diarrhea … it’s just miserable.”
The frenzy to get drugs to ward off the withdrawal is overwhelming, she said.
“You’re all in the heat of it. All you’re thinking is, ‘Where can I get some more?’” she said. “There isn’t any rational thought behind it; you want to be comfortable [so] you’ll do what it takes to get comfortable.”
But the constant “roller coaster” search for pills strained Shippen’s relationship with her daughter’s family, with whom she lives in Harpswell after moving from Bowdoinham, and with Shippen’s six grandchildren. She grew “reclusive,” and became frantic in her search for relief from the chronic pain caused by multiple surgeries and years on morphine and methadone.
Finally, in late March or early April, she developed an ulcer, and the turmoil became unbearable.
Again, she turned to the Addiction Resource Center, hoping they’d help her put her life back together again.
“I had to come back,” she said. “I couldn’t keep on that way. I had no desire to.”
Shippen spent five days in the hospital being treated for the ulcer, and then three days in detox at Mercy Hospital.
“Then I came back and started all over again,” she said.
On Thursday, Shippen visited the center’s medication clinic, to speak with a physician about her Suboxone. She spoke again with the Bangor Daily News about her second stint at the Brunswick clinic, and the difficult journey back.
“It’s hard not to beat yourself up about it,” she said of her relapse. But she was welcomed back by staff, who she said “were really kind about it.”
Back on daily Suboxone to manage the symptoms of addiction, Shippen completed the clinic’s intensive outpatient program about 90 days ago, and now attends weekly after-care meetings. She’s learned coping skills such as meditation, which she practices “when I’m anxious.”
In group therapy sessions, she has learned about “triggers,” and developed a plan to set aside $20 from each disability check in case she needs a taxi to the clinic.
Back in control, Shippen said her relationship with her family has healed, and she can relax and enjoy her children and grandchildren once again.
The program, she said, “is like a safety net. You’re safe and taken care of, and there are people you can talk to. They understand.”
Suboxone, she said, makes her feel “normal and functional,” and helps with the pain. But she said it’s still “an awful way to live.” She knows she’ll have to cope with the chronic pain for the rest of her life — without opiates. And she suspects she’ll never come off Suboxone.
Asked about her goals, Shippen said she hasn’t thought that far ahead.
But she’s sober again, and for now that’s enough.