By: Nathan R.
Anton A., an extended-care resident at Beit T’Shuvah, was born in Ukraine, where he spent his first thirteen years. Although there was a history of heavy drinking in his family, he doesn’t remember hearing of any drug addiction. He and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 13. He remembers that, on the flight, he “felt like I was going to a different world.” His only experience with America was from movies and television. “I thought I was going to live on the 100th floor in a tall building.”
Although Anton had smoked weed and gotten drunk in Ukraine, Anton’s usage didn’t become problematic until he was in America. He smoked weed in high school and had behavioral issues, but avoided harder drugs. “I’d get into fights a lot, and in two years I went to six different high schools.”
At 16, Anton decided to get his GED, then went to ultrasound school and graduated after two years. He got hired for a job in Sacramento, but shortly after he got married, he and his wife moved back to Los Angeles. He was counting on a promised job transfer, but that didn’t pan out, and he was unemployed for several months. He returned to school to get certified in heart imaging and was soon working two hospital jobs while going to school full-time in the evening. “But everything was going good.”
Anton started experimenting with harder drugs at this point. He partied with cocaine casually, remembering that “it was an every other weekend kind of thing.” As his career took off, he and his wife bought a house, but around the birth of their second child, his wife ended up in the hospital with anxiety. Anton remembers having “a lot of stress, working full-time, and going to the hospital.”
A friend Anton hadn’t seen in ten years re-entered his life and offered to smoke some opium. He remembers thinking it “sounded like weed; something to relax with.” But it wasn’t opium—it was black tar heroin. He was fooled at first, because “heroin was the white powder seen on TV for shooting up.” If his friend offered up heroin, he would have said no. “I always knew that I could try any drug, but heroin was something I needed to stay away from.”
Anton’s life went downhill fast. He soon realized his friend was using him just to secure his own supply of drugs since Anton had a good income. By the time he realized it was heroin, not opium, it was too late. “I was already hooked.”
Anton tried to use methadone to quit, but would still use heroin in the evening after work. Over the next year, his tolerance ratcheted up, but no one at work knew. Eventually, he was caught smoking heroin by his wife. He committed to quitting and continued on methadone maintenance but returned to heroin. In preparation for a family trip to Russia, knowing that he couldn’t continue with methadone while on vacation, he obtained a prescription for Suboxone. He was advised to titrate down the methadone, but he instead quit methadone too soon and continued smoking heroin.
One morning at work Anton was feeling so sick that he asked his friend to drive him home. They ended up detouring to a different hospital’s ER, where he disclosed he was suffering from acute withdrawals. After the doctor there treated him with Ativan, he returned to work and planned to drive himself home. His attempt was cut short after he crashed his car into a garage wall, shattering the windshield. Employees from the hospital were soon on the scene, strongly suggesting that he check into the ER. He was worried that they’d draw blood for a drug panel and his cover would be blown, so he got his wife to drive over and pick him up.
Anton told his supervisor that he had experienced a panic attack to explain the day. After almost three weeks in Russia, he returned not knowing whether he still had a job. He quit using for two years on his own after that episode, taking up krav maga and staying away from friends who were still using.
But, as many addicts have experienced, the disease caught up with Anton. He was at the funeral for a friend’s mother and that friend was smoking heroin, so Anton joined in. Little by little, Anton fell back into a cycle of using for a few months, then quitting for a few months. After a while, his family sent him to a rehab in Ukraine, even though he hadn’t been to his birthplace in almost two decades. He spent two months there. “It was okay. It was a nice building, in a nice village away from the city.”
After returning to Los Angeles, Anton returned to his drug habit. A friend called him and asked if he wanted to try shooting up heroin. He remembers wanting to know what it felt like if it really was that much better than smoking. He grabbed IV equipment from the hospital where he worked. “If I’m going to be slamming, I might as well start an IV, so I don’t have to keep poking myself.” They started the lines on each other and his friend prepared the heroin.
Neither Anton nor his friend knew what an appropriate dose would be, and his friend overdosed the first time, nodding off immediately, Anton jumped into action. He removed their IVs and started CPR, but his friend kept falling out. He had to breathe for him for over half an hour until he was able to breathe on his own. Shockingly, the trauma of his friend’s near-fatal first experience didn’t dissuade Anton from reinserting his own IV and shooting himself up. “I said fuck it, I was under so much stress.”
Anton was able to quit on his own using methadone and was eventually able to enter Tarzana Treatment Center. Once there, he was put on Vivitrol, which he credits with helping him maintain abstinence from opiates.
However, after Anton returned home, a drug-using buddy moved in downstairs from him, and they started using meth together. He describes his experience with meth as being “much more of a mental addiction than it was with heroin.” At this time he was doing mobile ultrasounds, visiting nursing homes and patients’ homes. Although his work quality didn’t suffer, his productivity did. He was often late to work due to his meth habit, and he’d “tweak out” on getting ultrasounds perfect. They stopped assigning him work soon after. “It was embarrassing; it was not a proud time in my life.”
Anton soon got arrested on suspicion of stealing quarters from apartment buildings’ laundry rooms and was accused of raking in upwards of a thousand dollars a night. He wasn’t particularly worried as he was convinced the case was weak and circumstantial. However, out on bail and in court for a divorce proceeding, detectives intercepted him with a warrant for a DNA swab. Turns out, one of the laundry room security cameras had been obscured with chewing gum and they wanted to see if Anton was a match.
Anton was facing four counts of residential burglary and his lawyer wasn’t confident about his chances at trial, where a guilty verdict could have led to a nine-and-a-half year sentence. He was offered a forty-month sentence or a trip to Beit T’Shuvah. Although, with credit for time served, he would have had a shorter term if he chose incarceration, he is satisfied with choosing treatment. “I’m happy that I came here.” He realizes that if he stayed in jail, he would have missed the opportunities for growth provided here. By coming here, “I was able to look into myself more; I was able to begin to understand myself more.” After six months here, Anton was able to successfully petition the court to reduce his inpatient obligation to six months.
Looking to the future, Anton is hoping he can continue his dedication to helping people, this time in the recovery field. The plea bargain he took came with a felony record, he would have to be approved by a compliance board before he can work in the ultrasound field again. Even if he’s successful at doing that, he anticipates that his past will be a major barrier to employment. He doesn’t see that as such an obstacle in the recovery field. “People don’t judge you for who you were. People judge you for who you are now.”