Ed McDonough has experienced the addiction crisis from both sides.
He developed a substance use disorder as a young adult, and only after a wake-up call in the form of an arrest was he able to find treatment through a program in Massachusetts. Now, he serves as the Chief Operating Officer of GateHouse Treatment, a program based in Nashua.
(The audio and transcript below have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Ed's Story, In His Own Words
The turning point for me in my own recovery, as a college athlete and someone who was respected in the community, was when I was charged with a crime I never wanted to be a part of. That sent a message to those around me and to my friends and family that this was no longer something I could hide or try to control. The gig was up, as they say.
It affected my life. It took away job opportunities, loved ones' trust, friends' trust, and I needed to take a look at the bigger picture to see what I was struggling with. And I notice a lot in the early stages of recovery of the people that I help nowadays that that’s kind of the same thing, when they can no longer live the lifestyle that they’ve become accustomed to. Or they’ve had so much pain in their personal journey that they would like to make a change.
What has worked well for me when seeking help was having the options readily available to kind of guide me into a safe place where we could focus on treating the disease of addiction. I was fortunate enough to find a treatment bed in Massachusetts and go through the Massachusetts programs before moving up to a long-term transitional sober house in Nashua.
But as I work with those in new recovery now, I find that there is not a lot of options for those that call the Granite State their home. There is a shortage of beds. There’s a shortage of long-term beds, sober-living beds, there’s a shortage of inpatient detoxes — all things that I needed to be able to find myself in successful recovery six years later. I needed to be able to detox from the medications and I needed to be able to learn about the disease and learn skills on how to cope and how to live with life. I was a former college athlete that once interned for the district attorney’s office, but without a mind or mood-altering substance in my body, I couldn’t focus on how to do simple daily tasks. How to go apply for the job. How to deal with the thoughts and feelings that were the underlying cause of my drug and alcohol abuse.
What didn’t work was medicated-assisted treatment in the form of suboxone, for me. I had been put on suboxone a couple of times, and all I really did was drink more and smoke more marijuana. It didn’t help me deal with the fears, doubts and insecurities I had about myself in other situations on why I wanted to use. Just having knowledge that addiction was a disease wasn’t good enough without the tool set to be able to live one day at a time, clean and sober.
I wish more people would understand about opiate addiction or any addiction is that it centers in the brain. It’s a disease. At no point in time, when I was 5 years old, sitting in Kindergarten class did I put my hand up and ask to be a drug addict or an alcoholic. It’s something that eventually just happened.
I liked the way they made me feel. And they made me feel that I didn’t have to feel the way I felt inside. Those feelings and emotions and fears, doubts and insecurities — all those things went away when I put a mind- or mood-altering substance in my body. That’s what I’d like people to understand, that the “drug addict” is not a bad person; he or she is just a sick person. An addiction only affects two types of people, and that’s male and female.
I would also want them to know that recovery is possible, that there is hope, that someone who was in the gutter — robbing, stealing, lying — can become a great member of the community, a pillar of the community, as long as they take the necessary steps and actions that a lot of us in long-term recovery have.
What I learned most about my addiction is that I have a disease that controls how I think and feel, and for me that’s everything. And the best help that I was able to see was to be in a sober living facility for an extended period of time, almost up to a year, where I was able to practice the principles and learn about the 12 steps and give that a shot and learn other avenues on coping skills, but I was given the time to become the person that I wanted to become. And today I try to spread that message to all those afflicted with addiction, and I try to help as many people as possible.