A Recovery Addiction Story

A recovery addiction story describes a full circle. Sectors of this circle include a time of normalcy followed by an unraveling, then a struggle and, hopefully, a repair. Associated with this harmony/disharmony is a swing from some social integration into isolation and then back; re-integration, with formation of entirely new relations and relationships. Key to completing the circle is engaging committed people who nurture experience, strength, and hope.

Mine is not an unusual physician-addiction story. Bright from a professional standpoint, but an emotional pup with naïve social adaptive skills, I was exposed to a high-demand, high-profile environment and eventually yielded to seeking relief from the stress through a chemical. I know now that vulnerability is steeped in bio-psycho-social makeup: mine has unique features. But physicians do exhibit stereotypy: we are trained relentlessly to believe we are self-reliant, resolute, and in control. The flaw is in confounding work and emotions. “But I always seem to know what to do at work…” Once a sense of emotional relief is obtained mechanically and the desire to repeat that feeling of relief is set into motion, there is imbalance.

My substance use details — opiates uncovered my vulnerability, and alcohol eventually dominated my life — are less important than the behavior, which is nearly predictable. Initially I went through a long phase of ignorance and denial about my growing problem until it spilled into my work domain. In treatment, I tended to memorize answers (ah, medical training) so as to move quickly out of acute phase care. I heard reports of people “getting it” (sobriety right away), but later learned those folks had suffered their addictions for years before their epiphany. And then the reality of that vulnerability — it isn’t gone when you stop using. Several relapses forced me to “consider some of the suggestions.” But still, lapses accumulated and then the losses — first not so noticeable (so I thought) — were eventually brutal and severe. I kept crawling out of holes and before long found myself in deeper ones. At the end the losses felt intolerable and fueled more relief-seeking behaviors. Finally, I lost my driver’s license, my medical license, and ended up in jail. My spirit was shattered.

My first “surrender” was where I had experienced “the worst of the worst.” I had to sweep my side of the street and was fortunate to rebuild where there was family, a progressive medical center, a robust state medical society, and lots of AA. Those were tough years. My past seemed to overshadow any glimmer of light that represented the future. I was at such a loss that I could only manage “one day at a time.” My physician’s contract, meant to provide me with structure and supportive documentation, felt like the sword of Damocles — one mistake and all was lost. Only by living by “sobriety first” was I able to piece some of my puzzle back together, eventually regaining my medical license. Then, after some serious contemplation I decided to pursue a career in another field and was eventually accepted at a Boston program.

Massachusetts represented a new beginning. I participated in a three-year contract with PHS. I met my new contacts and monitors and took a new perspective — “These people are here to help and support me.” All was good… until I learned there was a technical reason the BRM would not license me. Suddenly my world was turned upside down — the sword of Damocles had struck despite my sobriety. This became the fulcrum for my more vital surrender. I renewed my commitment to 12-Step Principles and lived them like my life depended on them. PHS and my mentors were my advocates to be relied upon. I kept calm (for the most part) and just kept doing “the next right thing.”

Eventually the clouds lifted, I was granted a Massachusetts medical license, and my training began. I did not rest on my laurels. I kept close to any and every resource offered to me and at my disposal. I took an active, integrative approach with all opportunities that were meant to help me. I completed my training, passed my boards, and I am now finishing a fellowship. I applied for a job, and to my great amazement, my path and my story were viewed not just favorably but enthusiastically at the hospital where I will begin work soon. I do the work required to remain spiritually fit on a daily basis. I have achieved this degree of sobriety and made these professional advancements with the help of dedicated people who are willing to see addiction stories as prospective success stories and stay the course with those who are struggling. I am grateful to you.

— A physician in recovery

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