On methadone, he says, "I had no feelings. I thought God had taken my soul and my heart. I couldn't drive. My memory was gone." He was so unstable that his grown children refused to leave him alone with his grandchildren. Says Russ: "I had no purpose to my life."
It was just as bad, if not worse, for his wife, Kathy, now 59. She met Russ while she was still in high school; they married the day after she graduated from junior college. Almost 40 years on, she is still devoted to him. But his illness was eating her life whole. "On methadone he constantly wanted coffee so he wouldn't become comatose," she says. "But as fast as you could snap your fingers, he would nod off and spill scalding coffee all over himself. Things like that would happen five or six times a day."
Kathy paid dearly for her husband's addiction: "I couldn't devote my attention to the grandchildren because I had to take care of Russ," she says. "It wasn't just one person who had this disease. We were all disabled by it."
By 2007 Russ had dropped from 170 to 118 pounds. Terrified by her husband's deterioration, Kathy and their kids began looking for a rehab facility. But they said nothing to Russ. "We felt seeking treatment had to be his choice," Kathy recalls.
Finally Russ felt he could no longer function. He had to quit the painkillers. But he dreaded repeating an experience from two years earlier, when he spent seven rough days at an inner-city detox center. "People drove through the parking lot at night, shouting through the windows at patients," says Kathy. "They had lockdowns; they had body searches. We didn't know every rehab's not like that."
Loath to endure another such experience, Russ resolved to quit methadone on his own. "I had violent shakes," he recalls. "I was vomiting. I could feel my organs trembling in my body." Kathy, conceding she couldn't help him by herself, reached her limit on November 12, 2007. "We've found a place that would be good for you," she told Russ. "Will you go?"
Russ agreed, and Kathy promptly called their kids. Together they drove Russ from his home in southern California to Community Bridges in Mesa, Arizona. Russ doubted he would survive the nine-hour trip. "I didn't want to die in front of my family," he says.
He spent 10 days in detox, then transferred to Journey Healing Centers in Scottsdale for 45 days of rehab. This time, the treatment worked. (Patients are far less likely to relapse if — as Russ was — they're surrounded by a supportive, sober family.)
Russ has been clean for three years. Though he doesn't talk about it, Kathy says he's in pain every day but simply tolerates it. What he does talk about is the thrill of rejoining his family. He plays often with his eight grandkids and even babysits them. "Not a night goes by," he says, "that I don't thank God for this second chance."