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Success Story: Overcoming Addiction

Like so many other physicians, I have always been an overachiever. I devoted my life to patient care and  the practice of medicine, and I have excelled throughout my career. Through unyielding perseverance, I became a surgeon specializing in the care of oncology patients. Upon completion of my training, I eveloped a successful and rewarding practice with wonderful and loyal patients and a large referral base. I practiced in a highly supportive hospital setting. My career had blossomed and everything was seemingly perfect. When I first went into practice, I was what many would describe as a social drinker. I had the occasional glass of wine on the weekends while I was out to dinner. I am cautious by nature, and back then I seemed to know when enough was enough. Alcohol had not yet become problematic. In fact, I remember being at a conference and becoming quite concerned about a colleague who had become intoxicated. I could not have imagined ever being in that place; that could never happen to me. However, in 2003, I began to encounter some difficulties in my personal life. My personal struggles translated into extreme difficulties with insomnia. I found myself almost desperate for a good night’s sleep — a problem so frequently encountered in our society. Early on, alcohol was a great source of comfort to me. Its seemingly medicinal effects  initially were enticing. At long last, I could get a few hours of sleep. Ultimately, I was also prescribed several sleeping agents, and at first, the combination of the sleeping medications and alcohol helped me fall asleep and eased my anxiety and pain. Eventually, I fell into a pattern where I craved more and more alcohol. I no longer consumed alcohol; it consumed me. I would awaken in the middle of the night, and in order to ease my pain, I would drink until I fell back to sleep. I began to call in sick to work — something my overachiever personality had never allowed me to do. As I fell more prey to the insidious power of  alcohol, I would often stay in bed much of the weekend in order to avoid reality and responsibility.  My father, who is an astute physician, and my mother, who is a nurse, began to notice the changes in me. My father in particular struggled with what he saw.  He attempted to get me to realize the trap I had fallen into and that alcohol was wreaking havoc on my life. My family was devastated. I had always been a solid citizen, and before their eyes, I had deteriorated. I risked everything I had worked so hard for — my career, my reputation, my self worth. I knew deep in my soul that I was in serious trouble, and I consumed more alcohol than ever in an attempt to ease my pain and fears. I was fortunate that one of my associates, also the chair of my department at the time, recognized a great change in me. I had always been an extremely productive and reliable member of my department who worked long hours seemingly tirelessly. When I called in sick to work on multiple occasions, he confronted me, which I knew was difficult for him, as well. After I was confronted about my situation, I recall my chair asking me if I felt embarrassed. Actually, I felt a great sense of relief. I was terrified of what the future held for me, but in some ways, I think I had been crying out for help for so long. The fear of the consequences of confronting my problem held me prisoner in my nightmare.

I was given the telephone number for Physician Health Services. Contacting PHS was not optional; I had to contact PHS or I risked losing my position at the hospital. One of the hardest steps I have ever taken in my entire life was walking through the front door of PHS and asking for help. The most important instrument for any surgeon is control, and I had to admit that I had lost control of every aspect of my life. PHS provided me with an opportunity to face what I had become. It took me several weeks before I really absorbed the message. Initially, I entered the program believing that perhaps this was a temporary phase in my life and that someday I would be able to consume alcohol like a “normal” person. I quickly learned that belief was a myth. For me, the advantage of having a contract with PHS was that it forced me to be accountable while the effects of the chemicals left my system. I began to understand my addiction. While being closely monitored, my thoughts became clearer and I had to learn new ways of coping. PHS provided me with a supportive and nurturing environment while allowing me to heal and recover. I never lost my license or was reported to the board, but I began to realize how dangerously close I had come to that becoming a reality.  One of the first lessons I learned was that alcoholism breaks down all barriers of society. Initially, I feared meetings because I could not envision myself in a room with other alcoholics. I could not bring myself to say the word alcoholic.  Ultimately, though, the meetings contributed to my personal growth. I came to realize that we all face similar pains and challenges despite our varying backgrounds.  I began to love and cherish my meetings and to crave the meetings the way I had previously craved alcohol. I loved the fact that I could sit in a meeting and bare my soul without fearing judgment.

The monitoring program is not easy, but it works. Today, I am no longer being monitored. My practice is busier and more productive than ever. I still face the same stresses on a daily basis, but I cope in a much more positive manner. Going to meetings and exercising on a regular basis have become the guardians of my sobriety. My recovery is truly a miracle. At one point, my family and friends began to wonder if I would ever be able to overcome my problem with alcohol. Despite the fact that I am no longer being monitored, I choose to live my life successfully without alcohol or other chemicals. I know in my heart that I never would have been able to overcome this challenge without the assistance of PHS. We, as physicians, must support each other in our daily challenges. We have an obligation and mission to spread the word that help is available. There is so much hope. Life can go on successfully after facing addiction. My one single regret as I reflect upon my struggle is that I didn’t know about PHS earlier in my addiction. The program truly works. It is essential that we continue to embrace the men and women who believe in the merit of the
program and keep it alive and thriving.

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