Professor Matern recently asked a class of her students if they would like their work published on our website, and social media channels.  Many volunteered.

We would like to thank the students for their honesty, vulnerability, and dedication. While we were given permission, last names will not be printed as a right to their privacy.

Shed the burden of judgment: By Elaine H.

When I was 19, I lived in part of an old two-story Victorian house in Portland Oregon. Next door were a really nice couple, Scott and Carol. They were happily married, had a clean, tidy apartment, and were trying to have a baby. We became friends right away.

One day Scott came to my back door and into the kitchen and explained that he had some heroin that he didn’t want to have to share with Carol. I must have had a surprised look on my face, because he quickly explained that he was not addict, he just ” liked to do heroin every day.”

Eventually Carol too began to come to the back door, hiding her use from Scott. She told me once that she didn’t mind that Scott did heroin, because she was so grateful that he had taken her away from the alcoholic home she grew up in. In my total naivete about alcoholism, I couldn’t imagine what situation made you want to “upgrade” to heroin addiction. One day I went with her to her parents’ house. In mid-day they were drunk on their asses, screaming and throwing food at each other. Then I understood.

Eventually, they started going to a clinic daily to get methadone. On Friday, the clinic gave them the 2 doses for Saturday and Sunday to administer to themselves. They went out, sold it, and bought heroin for the weekend. As crazy as this seemed to me, it did keep Scott and his friends from stealing every day to support their habits.

This was my introduction to medically-assisted treatment. Now I know that medication is only a small part of the treatment for the disease of addiction. The real work takes place in groups or in individual therapy, working through issues and feelings that have been masked by years of substance use. Or, for those who choose Alcoholics Anonymous, regularly attending meetings and working the “Twelve Steps.”

The use of methadone, suboxone, and other medications for the treatment of addiction is controversial. What constitutes true recovery versus “just substituting another drug”? There are strong opinions on both sides of this issue. The purists say you need to be off all drugs, but some people, myself included, need medications to live. I have to take a medication every day of my life. Am I an addict? No, I am someone who lost my thyroid to cancer, and now must take thyroxine every day for my body to function properly. Many people have chemical imbalances, damage or structural abnormalities in their brain for which medications enable them to function and enjoy a quality life. Those of us who don’t need any medical interventions may not understand that if we have never experienced it.

When I was pregnant in the 1980s, I went to classes where we learned how to give birth without any medical interventions or drugs. It was an early version of “holistic” medicine based mostly on the belief that doctors were misleading us and hospitals would do invasive procedures, not allowing us to have a “natural” childbirth. We were going to exercise and breathe our way painlessly through the whole process..

Then my labor began. All day the contractions got stronger and closer together until I could no longer bear it. We rushed to the hospital where they told me I was nowhere near dilated enough. The next 29 hours were the longest of my life, consisting of 90 seconds of excruciating pain (which felt like 90 minutes), separated by 90 seconds of complete exhaustion (which felt like 9 seconds). At no time did the doctor or nurses offer any medication. Why, when I was obviously suffering so much? Because I had handed them a neatly-typed “birth plan” beforehand which said I wanted no drugs or interventions of any kind. My labor lasted so long that my doctor left and delivered 2 other babies at 2 different hospitals while I was still trying to get my one out. After 53 hours of labor, I had a son, and yes, it was all worth it. But I had a new respect for drugs, doctors, and medical interventions. For the birth of my second child, I had no plan, except to work with the pain and get that kid out! That time I was only in the hospital for 6 hours.

Later, the teacher who pressured us into this natural childbirth, and looked down on those who accepted drugs during labor, finally had a baby of her own. She screamed for drugs as soon as labor began and until the baby was born.

I see the battle over the use of suboxone and methadone similarly. No two people have the exact same experiences. No one knows how much pain another is in, physically or emotionally. If we could actually feel another’s pain, we just might do the same things they do to alleviate it.

The older I get, the less I want to judge others, or think I know what is best for them. I have plenty of opportunities to make decisions and improvements in my own life. Deepak Chopra says, “Shed the burden of judgment; you will feel much lighter.” In the recovery community, it is especially crucial that we accept each other as we are and where we are in the process. When someone is on that long journey from addiction to recovery, the last thing they need is criticism and judgment. It would be healthier for all of us to assume that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have, and offer love and support. That’s what I would want.


Samantha Matern (AKA: Sam, Sami), has a Masters in Counseling Psychology, a Doctorate in Jurisprudence (law degree), and is registered and certified in Addictions Counseling. Samantha is also a Certified Addictions Educator and is currently teaching at Santa Barbara City College.