Success Story: Reasons to Give -- A Personal Story

Like so many of my colleagues, I am a  hard-working and dedicated professional. I was a talented student and a popular athlete throughout high school. I received academic honors and was educated at an internationally respected college and medical school. I trained at top-flight medical centers and was rewarded for my efforts with a prestigious academic job. Few, if any, of my colleagues have any idea that I was also an addicted physician, or that, because of my addiction, I nearly lost everything I worked so hard to achieve.

From early childhood, I harbored a smoldering sense of inferiority — of being ill at ease in social situations — that I now recognize is common among many in recovery. Though the causes of these feelings may be diverse, they result for many in a search for some external source of solace and serenity in a turbulent, confusing, and stressful world.

For me, the “answer” came during late high school when I first tried marijuana. Though I had experimented with alcohol, I never really enjoyed drinking. Marijuana was a different story. When I was high, I experienced a pervasive sense of calm and clarity. I felt effusive, funny, outgoing, and at ease in a way I had never known before. For many years, I used marijuana sparingly — on vacation, with friends, or for special occasions.

But as the stresses of my life and medical training built, I began to use more often — and alone. During my residency and fellowship, marijuana became an increasingly frequent means of escape from the pressures of daily life. I began to use it nightly as a means of rewarding myself for success or appeasing my failures of the day. I increasingly isolated myself from my family and my friends. I saw marijuana as a vacation for one, something to shut out the rest of the world, even if only for a few moments.

My drug use changed from being an enjoyable distraction to a focal point of my daily routine. Friends fell away. My marriage deteriorated. Eventually, I left my wife and young children, in part so I could use marijuana “the way I wanted to.” After that, my deterioration was swift and relentless. My work suffered, as did my relationships with my children and family.

One aspect common to many stories of addition is setting self-imposed limits on using to assure ourselves and others that we don’t have a “problem.” I crossed my “no smoking in the car” boundary one summer night in 2005. I was driving down the highway after leaving work. There was a light rain falling, and I was smoking a joint. The car in front of me suddenly swerved into the barrier and spun around. While holding the burning marijuana cigarette in my hand, I was looking face-to-face at the woman behind the wheel of the spinning car. We both skidded to a stop, a few feet separating our cars. We were both visibly shaken but uninjured. As traffic buzzed past and we got back underway, I had a moment of clarity. I realized that, unless I stopped, I would lose everything I cared about in my life. My heart was pounding, and my ears were ringing. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Something seismic had shifted inside me. I realized I could not afford to sink any lower. I resolved to quit using then and there.

But it isn’t that simple. Few, if any, of us who struggle with addiction can get sober alone. During the next few months, I would “quit” every morning, sure that I would be able stay clean for the day. But every night, after some small success or disappointment, I would find a reason to call my dealer or scrape up what was left from the day before. I learned the meaning of desperation, as only the addicted know it. I could not bear to use nor could I bear to live without using. I needed to quit but was unable to do so on my own. I struggled to keep my public, successful, professional persona separate from my private, desperate, addicted self. These two sides constantly felt as if they were collapsing inward.

Thankfully, I learned about PHS from a friend, and I contacted Dr. Sanchez. I hoped after hearing my story he would say, “Marijuana is not something we worry about.” Or “Our program is for people who get in serious trouble.” The addict in me was still looking for a way out. He said, “You have a problem, and we can help.” I signed an agreement to receive treatment and be monitored. So began my journey of recovery.

PHS has been a part of my life ever since. It hasn’t always been easy. I was consumed by shame and a sense of loss in the early days. I had terrible dreams of using and of getting caught. But as time passed, I emerged from addiction into a new life. During 3 years of PHS monitoring, I became proud of passing my weekly drug tests. I attended PHS support meetings with my peers. I became involved with 12-step recovery programs in my community, where I learned to communicate with people from all walks of life with openness and honesty.

Today, I continue to participate in a program of recovery and try to be of service to others. I’m a loving and involved father, a devoted son, and a valued friend. I have a loving relationship with a wonderful woman who supports my recovery. I have a life and a career second to none. I have learned to be grateful for these many blessings. I have found some measure of serenity. My life is an unfolding miracle. PHS helped to make all of this possible. Thank you.

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