While the public's attention has been occupied by Covid 19, another epidemic has been sweeping the nation. Opioid addiction and fentanyl use have gone unchecked bringing its own epidemic of overdose fatalities to our nation. As a psychotherapist I was acutely aware of the trend. I had one former client and a current client overdose on Fentanyl laced heroin within a three-month period. I wondered: What can I do?
I’ve worked as a psychotherapist for many years and now have a virtual counseling practice based in Las Vegas, Nevada. For the past seven years I have counseled clients who traveled outside the United States to be treated with Ibogaine- a powerful psychoactive alkaloid that has been highly effective in treating Opioid Use Disorders. The clients who showed an interest in Ibogaine were often the ones who had failed repeatedly in traditional treatment.
As the shadow of Covid-19 cast an existential dread over the public consciousness, I thought about the meandering path my life had taken.I asked myself a simple question; what is it that I’ve always wanted to do? The answer came immediately - travel along Route 66. That idea eventually became the first leg of the The Ibogaine Tour.
Hitting the Road
On July 1st, 2021, I left Las Vegas in a conversion van and drove cross country to speak about the emerging field of psychedelic assisted therapy and Ibogaine. My intention was to share information about this non-traditional treatment, discuss the type of person who would benefit most from Ibogaine, preparation, how to choose a provider, and the importance of aftercare.
My ultimate destination was the eastern end of Long Island where I had lived for many years and had contacts in the community and supportive friends. I’ve given public presentations on different aspects of addiction over the years and felt confident that I could put together a compelling talk about Ibogaine.
Four days into my journey I had my first random encounter with a man who approached the van. There would be many more random encounters during my trip, but none more momentous than this initial contact.
Location: Amarillo, Texas. 2 miles north of Rout 66.
It was early sunrise in Amarillo as I watched an elderly man amble over to my Ibogaine Tour van parked in front of my motel room. He was thin and fit wearing faded blue jeans and a red plaid shirt rolled up at the sleeves. Gray hair cut short with a large handlebar mustache. He looked like an actor who had stepped out of an old Western movie. He stood in front of the driver’s side door of my van which had a sign announcing The Ibogaine Tour. Then he looked over at me sitting in a beach chair outside my motel room casually drinking a cup of coffee. “Morning” the man said, “I saw you come in last night,” Hi, I said, I’m Spero Alexio. “Howdy”, he replied, and told me his name was Brody Littlefield. Then said that he was from Cheyenne Wyoming. This guy must really be a cowboy I thought…
I told Brody that I was a psychotherapist from Las Vegas, doing a cross country speaking tour. I asked him if he wanted to sit down. He declined saying that he had a bad back, so I stood up with him.
The cowboy motioned toward the sign on the side of my van,
THE IBOGAINE TOUR,
Info on the Best Treatment for Opiate Addiction
“What’s that Ibo-genie” he asked. I explained that Ibogaine was a powerful plant hallucinogen that is highly effective in detoxing people from opiates. I remarked that Ibogaine is designated a Schedule 1 drug in the United States, and that people must travel to Mexico, Canada or the Bahamas to get treatment.
Brody listened attentively, then cocked his head to one side and said, “I was on that crap for 12 years”. He proceeded to tell me his story of addiction and his eventual recovery:
Although Brody owned a small ranch in Cheyenne, he wasn’t a cowboy. He worked as director of Cyber Systems Operations for an air force base! He held this position as a civilian and had a high security clearance.
Brody injured his back while helping move some new computer equipment into a building at the base. The injury was so severe that he had to be hospitalized for two weeks and eventually needed surgery. His doctor prescribed 20mg of Oxycontin and physical therapy. It wasn’t long before Brody realized that he was addicted to Oxycontin. I asked why he never got treatment and he explained that he would have been flagged as a security risk. He would have lost his job, medical benefits, and pension. It was ok for him to be prescribed increasing amounts of pain medication, but seeking treatment was not an option. So, Brody stayed addicted for years and somehow kept doing his job.
At some point, Brody’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. As her health declined, Brody’s Oxycontin use escalated until he was taking over 180mg every day. While Brody talked to me about his wife and how he wasn’t there for her, I saw a single tear roll down his cheek. He quickly brushed it away and continued his story.
After his wife died of cancer, he received a condolence note from Darlene, a former girlfriend . Brody had worked with Darlene many years before when he held a similar IT position with the Post Office. They had both married other people and moved on with their lives.
Darlene was now divorced, her children grown and gone from the house. She had just retired from the Post Office. Brody and Darlene began corresponding, first by email and then with long phone conversations. They decided to meet each other in Cheyenne, Wyoming because Brody was still working, though he was close to retirement. This was six years ago.
Brody had been passionately talking non-stop for about 40 minutes. I wondered if he had ever told his story to anyone.
A woman emerged from Brody’s motel room and walked over to where Brody and I were talking. It was Darlene. After Brody explained to her that he was telling me his story of how he was addicted to opiates, she joined the conversation and continued the narrative.
Darlene said that when she first visited Brody, she was shocked at how he had declined. She could barely see a glimmer of the man she once knew, and he seemed a shell of his former self. Despite his impaired condition, they both felt the same old attraction.
Together they formulated a plan to get Brody off drugs. First, Brody retired from his position at the air force base. But he still resisted going to treatment of any kind. Instead, Brody wanted to taper off Oxycontin, then go to a motel outside of town to detox completely. He expected that Darlene would stay at his house in Cheyenne while he detoxed at the motel.
Of course, Darlene had no intention of leaving him alone at the motel, so she spent every day there making sure Brody ate and had liquids. She would leave at night then return the following morning. For the first few days of the detox, Brody was communicating how he felt, but then something strange happened - he stopped talking completely. He would nod his head or groan as he continued the brutal Oxycontin detox .
After five weeks of Brody’s silence, Darlene couldn’t stand it any longer. One morning she walked into Brody’s motel room and gave him an ultimatum; if he didn’t start talking, she was going to leave and never come back. Brody grabbed her arm and said, “don’t leave, I love you”.
Eventually Darlene and Brody returned to his ranch and their romance began to blossom. They got married and were now enjoying retirement together. Like myself, they were traveling along Route 66 going nowhere in particular. We had both stopped for the night in Amarillo, Texas.
Brody Littlefield’s story illustrates a rarely studied phenomenon known as “natural recovery.” These individuals break their addictions without any outside assistance. They don’t go to a treatment center, join a self-help group, take a medication for cravings, and of course - they don’t speak with a psychotherapist like me!
Brody was propelled into recovery by a constellation of factors: his first wife’s death, impending retirement, the drudgery of his existence, and being reunited with Darlene. Love is a powerful force, yet we see many people who are loved and continue their addictive behavior. It was the decision to travel with Darlene, that gave Brody’s life a sense of purpose. And this was also a departure from the repetition of his former existence - going to work, going home, watching TV, going to sleep - a colorless life of quiet desperation.
People who find natural recovery rarely disclose their history of substance use. They simply get on with their lives and don’t look back. As a result, their experiences aren’t assigned a particular place in the recovery landscape. Yet there are important lessons in natural recovery for both treatment professionals and people who follow a more traditional recovery path.
Individuals who experience natural recovery are alike in several ways. Here are three common characteristics:
1-Finding New Meaning and Purpose
This is by far the most important aspect of natural recovery. Discovering what you’re passionate about might involve a new hobby or challenge or it could be something you enjoyed before addiction took hold. I sometimes ask my clients to remember what their interests were at 12, 13 or 14 years old to access their past interests. Whether it’s building model planes, ball room dancing or collecting tractor seats - the idea is to find something that you enjoy and that fully engages your interest.
Many of the people who experience natural recovery start taking better care of their bodies and this often includes exercise. This is important since exercise is a natural antidepressant. The brain releases endorphins that promote a feeling of well-being. Exercise also helps the body absorb the stress hormone Cortisol which is released as part of the fight-or-flight reflex.
It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise. Movement and developing a simple routine are key. Brody was taking his morning walk when he decided to approach me.
Because they don’t dwell on their addiction history or regularly recount their experiences, individuals who go through natural recovery are more likely to look forward in life.
Brody was motivated to stop using Oxycontin by the possibility of a romantic relationship with Darlene. Since they had some history, it was easy for him to imagine finding happiness with her - the attraction was already there.
For over an hour, Brody, Darlene, and I talked in front of my motel room at Days Inn. I asked if they would be open to some suggestions. They both said yes. The first thing I said to Brody was that being pain-free was not a realistic goal. Instead, he should seek a manageable level of pain that he could live with and stop suffering with his pain.
I gave Brody a bottle of full spectrum CBD oil from Country Roads Cannabis, one of the sponsors of The Ibogaine Tour and instructed him how to use it. The research on CBD products and pain management has been promising.CBD can offer an alternative for people who have chronic pain and inflammation without the addiction potential or side effects of opioid medications. I also suggested that Brody buy a copy of Dr. Stephen Grinstead’s latest book, “Thank You Adversity For Yet Another Test” which takes a holistic approach to relieving chronic pain.
Brody purchased an Ibogaine Tour t-shirt and said that I could use his story if it might help others…
I refer to meeting Brody and Darlene as a “random encounter, ” yet I suspect the Universe lined up perfectly to make it happen.
For more information about Ibogaine, contact Spero Alexio at 702-204-9472.