Twenty Years Is A Lifetime

I was driving home from the Women’s I to We 3/4 House last night and I had a thought about ASI (Addiction Specialists, Inc) and MES (Mary E. Steratore Treatment Center).   I got a huge lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  I was paralyzed.  I stopped the car in the middle of the road.  My heart sunk.  How did this happen?  I had a dream. And it came true.   My facility opened in July 1999.  I was so grateful and so happy.  Living my life doing what I love to do with the people I love to do it with.  Addicts.  Helping Addicts.  I had my own treatment center.  I have a great husband and four great children.  My children mean the world to me.  All I ever wanted was for my children to always love to be home.  I wanted to make sure that they loved being there.  I hated being home.  My father died unexpectedly when I was 10 years old of a massive heart attack and my mother might as well have died with him. She was so very sad and depressed. She spent her life waiting to die so she could see him again. So, needless to say, it was a sad place to grow up. I couldn’t wait to leave.

ASI was in operation for 11 years when we decided to open the Mary E. Steratore Treatment Center. It was a residential inpatient facility with 24 beds. I named it after my mother. It was my dream and it came true.  The Mary E. Steratore Inpatient Treatment Center.  I was able to help addicts in my own facility and I knew my mother would be (and was) very proud of me. My mother died when I had 4 years clean. My addiction took a toll on our relationship. Thank God I got four fantastic years with her. They were the best four years ever and I will always cherish them. I was so blessed to be able to own and name an addiction treatment facility after my mother.

ASI/MES was open and in operation for 20 years. On October 8, 2015 60 FBI agents raided the entire facility. Fifty more Agents also raided my home. My daughter was the only one at home when they showed up at 8:30 am. She is now in therapy two times per week because she suffers from  PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). She cannot answer our front door without breaking out in hives and having a panic attack. They violated my home and interrogated my daughter. They found NOTHING in my home. They left with a few laptops and a $900.00 TJ Maxx receipt. It was months before anyone was charged with anything. Literally months.

I believe I have been in shock. Ethics have always been a priority for me. They have always been of the utmost importance to me. I am devastated that this happened. I don’t understand why. I truly do not understand how I ended up here. I am 61 years old. I am clean 32 years. I used drugs for 16 years and never was arrested and never went to jail.Why is this happening now?   I do not want to have the “poor me’s”. I am totally in shock though, and I need to grieve. I need to work through the five stages of grief somehow. But I cannot  get through the denial stage. I’m stuck in it. This has literally put a hole in heart.I wake up every day with an empty feeling in my gutt. I get on my knees and ask God for help.I still have the hole. Then my husband sat me down and told me that he has cancer and has known for 2 months. He now has been in the hospital for three weeks due to some different complications with his heart and his good lung.

So I started this blog. It’s a way for me to express my feelings. It’s a way for me to stay connected to my old patients who I miss terribly. It’s a way for me to hear from all of you. It’s a way for me to tell myself each day that I’m going to be okay and that I can continue to do what I love to do. I had about five more years before I retired. Now, I literally have to start over. And I will. And I’ll be better for it. I won’t lose my faith. I believe in God and I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that the truth will be revealed. And we will all find out that this happened due to peoples envy and jealousy. Due to politics and the government. Due to society and their stigma of addiction and of addicts. I replay October 8, 2015 over and over and over in my head. Like a broken record.Now what? Those two words are something that I have been asking myself daily for the past 10 months. What a nightmare. That is the best description for our lives since Oct. 8, 2015.  I have not had closure with ASI/MES or with my patients.

I need to have a gathering of all past ASI patients and staff.  Well, not all staff.  hahaha.  I miss the patients and I need to see how they are doing !!!!  I have to figure out how to pull that off.  I’m not sure how anyone could just expect us to walk away from all of this like it didn’t happen.  My kids were planning on  working at ASI and taking it over.  They will need to continue in the field and open another one.  TWENTY YEARS IS A LIFETIME.




Methadone? Suboxone?

Ohhhhhhhhhh my……should we DARE speak of these two medications?  How big is the controversy over whether or not addicts are “clean” if they are on one of these two drugs or medications or whatever you want to call them.  How about when you go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and the Chairperson says “If you have used suboxone or methadone today, please refrain from speaking.” …..Narcotics Anonymous is full of opinionated addicts that know everything in the world about everything in the world.  Don’t get me wrong……..I LOVE NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS.  PERIOD.  I LOVE NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS.  That program saved my life and gave me a WONDERFUL life.  It gave me friends.  Friends that I never ever would dream of having.  It gave me a husband and four children.  It helped me go back to school and chase my dreams.  I got a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology and went on to pursue a Doctorate.  I worked steps with a sponsor.  I went into Psychotherapy and my whole world and my whole being changed.   Narcotics Anonymous was small and intimate.  I met my husband.  We were a part of helping NA grow in the Pittsburgh area.  What a GIFT !!!

When I came to Narcotics Anonymous after being a patient in Gateway for 48 days, I was broken.  I was excited to be clean for the first time in 16 years.  It was a blessing.  I was afraid of my own shadow.  My self esteem was shot.  My self confidence did not exist.  I felt “dumb”.  You know, “stupid”.  Less than.  Inferior.   I was the kid in the classroom who KNEW the answer but would NEVER raise her hand because “what if my answer was wrong…I’ll look stupid.” During the last years of my addiction, I was living in the Hill District of Pittsburgh……in a shooting gallery.  Girls were walking the street prostituting for money to support their habit.  Not me, I couldn’t do that….do you know why I couldn’t do it?   I couldn’t do it because I did not think I was “pretty” enough to be a prostitute.  What man would PAY to have sex with someone as ugly as me?    I was the HIPPIE in the 60’s & 70’s that was petitioning against the Vietnam war  and didn’t even have a clue WHY or WHAT the United States was doing. I was a follower.  The best follower around. Through a lot of therapy, a lot of meetings, a lot of step work, a lot of praying…………..I changed.  I learned all about the little kid Roz……the teenager Roz…….the drug addict Roz………and now the new and improved ROZ SUGARMANN!!! ALLLLLLLLL BRIGHT & SHINY !!!  I was 29 years old when I was introduced to recovery.  It was a perfect gift from God.  Perfect.  It changed my life.

Let me talk about my dream.  My dream was to be just like my psychotherapist.  What I loved most about him was that he seemed like he was “okay”.  Okay was something I wanted to be more than ANYTHING in the world.  So I set out to accomplish just that.  Narcotics Anonymous struggled through many growing pains back in 1983.  It was such a blessing to be part of those pains.  At one point I was sponsoring 23 women.  Some of us did not believe people were clean if they were taking anti-depressants.  I remember wearing a button that said “No Salt-No Pepper”.   Lithium is used to treat bipolar.  Lithium is a Salt.  I told all of my sponsees that they were NOT CLEAN if they were on anti-depressants.  I told them that they had to quit taking them.  Later in my recovery I had many sleepless nights worrying that I might have been a part of one of those women committing suicide.  We had Dr. Twerski come speak to us at a special meeting.  His stance was “Narcotics Anonymous” states that we must abstain from all mind altering, mood changing chemicals.    We then wrote to World Service Office to ask for their opinion.  Their answer came back in the form of a letter……….it simply stated:  “Narcotics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues.”   BOOM……..

I had a private practice in Squirrel Hill.  I had many clients.  I had groups.  I started to receive phone calls from addicts who wanted help coming off of methadone because their clinic would not take them off of methadone.  Hence I had a brainstorm to open a methadone “detox” clinic.  So off to Harrisburg my husband Sean and I went.  Only to be shot down by the Department of Health.  They told us that there was no such thing as an outpatient methadone detox and that methadone was used for “harm reduction.”   Hmmmmm those two words literally HAUNTED me for the next  TWENTY YEARS.

ADDICTION SPECIALISTS, INC. opened in July 1999 with 200 patients and a waiting list……….by April 2016 ASI had 610 patients; two full Partial Programs; over 400 patients in group therapy and Mary E. Steratore Inpatient Residential Program with 24 beds.  Sean and I developed a program to help addicts use their methadone as a tool                                                                  to get clean. We had the total support of Fayette County and were given the funding to FINALLY DO TREATMENT WITH METHADONE PATIENTS.  Addicts on methadone were finally able to be drug free.  The program we developed assisted addicts in coming off of methadone and/or suboxone in 9,12 or 18 months.  Hence the creation of ASI’s 9-12-18 program.  Addicts were getting clean and coming off of methadone.  They were required to attend NA meetings.   Interestingly enough if one would ask an ASI patient if they were going to meetings they would say ….”Yes I do, I go Harry’s meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays!”     We had to explain that ASI group therapy is NOT an NA meeting.  What I then began to realize was that ASI WAS THEIR NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS………because addicts on methadone or suboxone are JUDGED by people who are not on methadone or suboxone the majority of the time. 

Suboxone is handled TOTALLY different by the government.  It is a drug prescribed by a physician in his office.  Methadone is given at a clinic.  If an addict is on a CORRECT DOSE of methadone or suboxone NOBODY would be able to tell.  Unfortunately, addicts have low self esteem and doubt themselves terribly.

I encourage them to hold their head up and DO NOT FEEL BAD because they are on Suboxone or Methadone.   I have been JUDGED by MANY in Narcotics Anonymous for even opening my facility.   I had friends who judged me and ended our friendship  because I opened what they ASSUMED was a “methadone clinic”.  ASI was a family….  ASI helped MANY addicts.  ASI’s groups and treatment created a RECOVERY ATMOSPHERE for these addicts.  ASI closing is a very, very, sad tragedy.  23 addicts have died since it closed.  Closing ASI was a mistake.  There is a piece of me missing.

Come on (People of) Narcotics Anonymous……..Open your heart.  Stop judging others and let these people have a seat in the program.  They feel bad enough that they are  on a drug.  They need to be needed; just like all newcomers.

If you or a loved one have questions or concerns about methadone/suboxone do not hesitate to contact me.  Remember if you are on methadone or suboxone and not using any other illicit drugs you ARE clean, and it is NOBODY’S business. That is between you and your higher power.

“The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using.”

— Third Tradition (Narcotics Anonymous)