Brian’s childhood was no different from a million other kids – he grew up in a quiet suburban town; he played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. In his teenage years, he found he had a talent for music and became adept at the guitar, the bass and the piano.
He first tried alcohol at 13 from a friend’s parent’s minibar. After avoiding pot for a while, he did try it finally, at a party and started drinking to the point of blacking out. Brian kept his grades up and he was smart, smart enough to get a full college scholarship.
He got his first pills as tips after he delivered pizza delivery job and he fell in love with the high it gave him- it made him feel more confident, and more creative, even though he would forget half of the songs he wrote when he was high. His frequency of use increased to the point where he was snorting pills before class in school bathrooms.
But soon he found out that it cost a lot of money to get high and someone told him there was a cheaper alternative, heroin. At first he started borrowing money, then started to steal. His parents kicked him out the house and he slept in motels and on strangers’ sofas. He was shooting 20-30 bags of heroin a day, smoking crack and snorting cocaine.
That’s when his mother and girlfriend at the time suggested the Center for Network Therapy, an addiction treatment center on Cedar Avenue in Middlesex, NJ. He told them he would give it a shot, but he had no faith it was going to work. Brian was stoned for his first therapy session with Dr. Indra Cidambi and several other individuals with substance use disorder. And then Dr. Cidambi said goodnight, and everyone left. What was going on? No other treatment program let participants leave in the evening. Brian was terrified; he didn’t trust himself. Would he use the minute he walked out the door?
“That night I went to the movies with my girlfriend. I went to the bathroom and shot up. And I remember thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? This s–t is getting so old. I walked in the next day and announced to everyone, ‘I used last night. I’m ready to get clean.'”
A different kind of addiction therapy
“The thing is, we don’t view relapses as setbacks here,” said Dr. Cidambi, MD, who is board-certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine. “I try to make every relapse a learning experience: How did you relapse? What made you do this? We talk about it, and the patient often says, ‘I see how I could have stopped myself, I see that this was the trigger.’ If they learn from a relapse, they’ve achieved a step forward.” The Center, or CNT as its called, is also unique because it is not an overnight in-patient facility. At the end of each day, patients leave and are expected to return in the morning for more talk therapy. “You go back and sleep in your own bed. It gives you autonomy. That way, you make the decision every single day whether you want to come back again, whether you want to continue treatment or not,” Dr. Cidambi said. Brian called it “the ultimate test.”
“It made me realize if you’re serious about getting clean, you can go home and stay away from temptation. That’s when I finally realized I was really ready to get sober this time,” he said.
“These people really do not know how to be sober. Nobody recognizes this. I tell them they learned how to shoot drugs and they are smart enough to unlearn that behavior. They recognize, ‘I am not a bad person. I am just an addict. I can overcome this,” says Dr. Cidambi.
It worked for Brian. He’s been clean more than a year. You can hear the pride in his voice when he says the date he became sober. “CNT taught me you can’t get clean for your kids, your parents or your wife,” he said. “You have to do it for you. You have to get clean for yourself.”
Now 28, he works as a cable technician. He still takes 1 milligram of Suboxone a day, a drug that is supposed to control cravings and block opiate receptors in his brain. But he is trying to get off it completely. He attends twelve-step meetings several times a week, which he said really helps.
“I’ve built up a network of people who are staying clean,” he said. “I got back into writing music. I’m rebuilding relationships with people I hurt. I’m going on hikes. Little by little, I’m learning how to enjoy things in life that used to make me happy, and still make me happy.”
But the specter of heroin is never far away. Often, it’s right down the block.
“I would guess there are 5-6 heroin dealers in Middlesex right now. You don’t have to go to Newark or Bloomfield to get it anymore, because there are people who have it five minutes away. It’s getting more accessible and the kids are getting younger who try it,” he said. “It’s a virus.” Ambulatory Detox gives an individual an opportunity to learn to remain sober in their home environment rather than being isolated from it.
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