Longform

Fighting Fire With Fire

Page 4 of 7

"My daughter and my wife were my heart, and I wasn't about to lose them," he says. "I went to counseling." He stayed clean for five months, and his wife again became pregnant. When she gave birth, something went awry, and she began to suffer from chronic headaches.

"I now had a wife in bed, two children, she couldn't handle the infant, I got a promotion—I felt an overwhelming pressure to perform," he says. "Using became, in my mind, necessary." He would work all day, pick up the kids from daycare in the afternoon and then smoke meth at night and stay up until 4 a.m. As the months dragged on, it seemed he and his wife lived in different worlds. He felt badly for her because she was in pain, but as they went to one neurologist after another and none of them helped her headaches, his exasperation peaked.

"She had this problem I didn't understand, and I had this problem she didn't understand," Steve says.

After she discovered him smoking meth in his office yet again and he moved out, his wife researched treatments online and came across the Prometa Web site. Steve called Murray Hill. He began seeing the center's therapist, and Dr. White recommended Prometa because she had found it to be most useful for meth addiction. Steve was determined not to touch the drug again, so for 20 days until his treatment began, he struggled with withdrawal.

"I was depressed about everything. It all looked very bleak," he says. "I got tired early at night, couldn't get up in the morning, missed days at work. I had to fight tooth and nail to get through every day." His body, having been kept in a hyper-alert state for so long, was crashing. A host of receptors in his brain, suddenly unoccupied, were signaling him to alleviate the exhaustion by using.

Steve's wife, though angry about his continued drug abuse, was committed to holding their marriage and family together. On May 31, 2007, she took him to Murray Hill, near Northwest Highway and Preston Road, for his first injection of flumazenil. He received additional injections in the following days, plus oral doses of hydroxyzine, which White says helps relieve flumazenil's side effects such as agitation and anxiety.

Steve says he felt the difference immediately. "I no longer had a mental craving. It was gone," he says. "I was elated. My wife was elated."

Free of the persistent longing for meth, the obsessing and resisting that had held him hostage for so long, Steve wholeheartedly embraced his recovery. "On the second day, I believed it was an end all, be all, a cure," he says. "But you can't get caught up in that—then you end up back where you were. You have to do the work [therapy and changing behavior patterns]." Within a month he'd moved back home and given his wife permission to randomly test his urine for drugs. "I felt good about that," he says. "It was a positive reinforcement for me."

For the next nine months Steve attended one-on-one therapy sessions twice a week and a small men's group each Wednesday night. Through therapy, he discovered that his insatiable overachieving had fueled his drug use. He'd grown up in a high-powered oil family, and no matter how much he accomplished, he wanted more. "Before, I had high expectations and zero patience," he says. "For years I prayed for patience for my New Year's resolution, and each year I broke it. I was never happy with my accomplishments. It was always something more, and I could never get to where I wanted to be. Therapy teaches you what will drive that mechanism up—high stress, et cetera—and how to avoid falling into it."

Steve acknowledges that part of his success staying sober is likely related to more effective counseling this time around. The first time he underwent therapy, it was in a group of some 30 people, many of whom he couldn't relate to because they were homeless or just out of jail. He ignored his problem by convincing himself that he was fine compared with "those people." He insists, however, that the key to his Murray Hill recovery was suddenly being free from the relentless desire for meth that had plagued him for six years.

"Those other times I quit, I always knew I was eventually gonna use again," he says. "When I did Prometa, that went away. It's like having two little guys talking on your shoulder, one telling you to use. That guy shut up."

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The fMRI scanner looks like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. White and round and about the size of a small SUV, the magnetic tube brings to mind a massive donut and takes up most of a small lab room at UT Southwestern Medical Center. On a July morning, a 40-year-old man from North Dallas lies on his back inside the machine as it creates images of his brain on a computer screen in the next room.

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Megan Feldman
Contact: Megan Feldman