My name is [Fill in your name, here], and I am an addict. My name can definitely go in this blank.
I became addicted to the prescription sleeping medication AmbienTM in the late 1990s. I had developed a peculiar obsession with getting “enough” sleep, and believed that the slogan “better living through chemistry” (the slogan of the DuPont Corporation in the late 1960s) applied especially well to me! I thought Ambien made me perform better, because after using it, I slept more, and more soundly…especially after a night shift (I am an emergency physician). When I did not have access to Ambien, I misused alcohol as a sleep aid.
Becoming an addict was scary. Deep down, I knew I was an addict by 1997, but despite this knowledge, I was too fearful to seek treatment, and too ignorant of the resources that exist to help addicted and alcohol-impaired physicians to avail myself of their help. In fact, I used Ambien and alcohol to try to make myself sleep as much as possible. I was content to retreat to that place where Ambien and alcohol took me, in large part because my sense of shame was overwhelming and disabling. With my actions, I put not only myself, but also my family, at terrible risk.
I “went away” to Hazelden in Minnesota in August, 2001, and have maintained sobriety since my return in September, 2001. Life is certainly much, much better now, and the Missouri Physicians’ Health Program assisted greatly in my recovery.
Since you are reading this, you are almost certainly an alcoholic, an addict, or both. This means that you have a disease, not a persistent moral failing. You are probably both ashamed (unless you recently have convinced by the nice folks at an inpatient treatment center that you should stop the self-loathing), or extremely scared, or both. You probably hate the fact that you are afflicted with this disease, and you may even hate yourself. You may feel like you deserve to die, and that the world would be better off without you. I know I felt this way shortly before I went to treatment, though I would hope that your loved ones would disagree! You probably fear for your livelihood, your family, and yourself. You may not yet have fully accepted that you CAN live without your substance(s) of choice, but I am quite sure you have been told that you MUST do so.
You probably have hit what for you, is rock-bottom. You have looked over the edge of that abyss toward which you have been hurtling, and you have actively decided that you are NOT going to go down there to its bottom. You have resolved not to venture any closer to the Hell you see yourself already approaching, or maybe even the Hell that you believe you are already in.
The good news I need to share with you is that, despite the fact that you desperately need to begin the life-long journey of maintaining a 12-Step lifestyle, your addiction(s) need not derail you from all of the good things you are capable of doing. You are a physician, and you are almost certainly, deep down, not only very intelligent and highly trained, but also a basically good person, who was at some point captured by their addiction. Remember that fact, and hold onto it with all you have, because early in your recovery, this fact, and the hopes and prayers of your family and friends, indeed may be all you have….with the exception of the Missouri Physicians’ Health Program (MPHP), and your fellow 12-Steppers.
Do you remember the story of Pandora’s box? Do you remember that after all of the bad things were released from that box, there was one more thing that needed to be set free of its confinement? Do you remember what almost got left in the box? The thing that was almost trapped in the box was HOPE! Hope is your friend right now, and without it you are doomed. With it, even just a little bit of it, you have a lifeline to recovery. And believe, me, after having entered the MPHP in October, 2001, I can tell you from the perspective of November, 2008 that life is good, life is sweet, and in recovery I have achieved a better life than I could ever imagine! Hope helped get me out of the Hell I had discovered, along with 12 Step living, and the MPHP.
In order to help you remain hopeful, there are a few things you ALWAYS need to keep in mind as you pursue your recovery. These include:
-THE DISEASE MODEL of ADDICTION: Addictions, whether they be to alcohol, or to prescription drugs, or to “street” drugs, are all DISEASES. In fact, I (and many others) think they are just different manifestations of the same disease. Just as all patients with any disease don’t all have identical signs and symptoms, so all patients with an addiction do not have the same mind-altering substance of choice. And while it is true that you got to the place you currently occupy by having made some very bad choices, you unfortunately became so completely captured by your addiction that you became powerless to overcome them and to change. I will bet you have overweight diabetic friends or partners who take antihyperglycemic pills, or insulin. You know that these friends’ medication needs will vary based on their diet, their activity, and their body mass. Well, meetings can be thought of as being your “insulin”, and just as insulin-dependent diabetics need to take shots of insulin regularly, so you need to “take a meeting” regularly. Meetings are your medicine. And, just as some people who are diabetic need more insulin or pills than others, some people in recovery need more meetings than others, and their quantitative need for meetings can change over time. The main point for you to keep in mind at this point is that like the diabetic, you are beginning to learn to live with a disease that can be treated, but not cured. And, the better news is that you are learning to live with a disease that, unlike diabetes, does not have to shorten your life expectancy, although it can certainly shorten your life, if untreated!
-THE 12 STEPS: You have probably by now acknowledged your powerlessness to conquer your problem, your addiction(s), your disease, by yourself. You have hopefully come to believe that a power greater than yourself must surely exist, because you have learned that there are people like me who at one time were existing more or less exactly where you find yourself now. I can tell you that that this power greater than myself, (which by the way is NOT God, in my opinion) helped lead me to sanity. (I threw that disclaimer in for all of you atheists or agnostics who get hung up on the “God” issue in Step 2, because you may be confusing spirituality with religion. It can be hard to differentiate the two, for many alcoholics/addicts with the disease. This can be a terrible impediment to your recovery IF YOU LET IT BE. DON’T forget that the Power Greater Than Yourself can be the others in the 12 Step groups you attend, and the wisdom they will impart to you if you just shut up and LISTEN to their wisdom. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason!) Whether you are already receiving help by being an active participant in 12 Step groups, or whether you are beginning to accept that maybe, just maybe, you are an alcoholic or an addict, your sanity can be regained in The Group.
-THE MISSOURI PHYSICIANS’ HEALTH PROGRAM (MPHP). Your early time in recovery can be likened to driving a large bus very fast on a twisty, curvy mountain highway. There are, or will be, frequent opportunities to really hurt yourself, and sometimes the “guardrails” on your road to recovery may seem flimsy, or even non-existent. Plus, if you crash, you take others (your family, your loved ones, etc) off that very high, very lethal cliff with you in that “bus” which you are “driving”. If you go off that cliff, you may be condemning your family to want, or even to poverty. If that is not enough to motivate you, think about the emotional toll you have the power to inflict on your loved ones if you “crash”. FORTUNATELY, The MPHP, with its requirements for frequent drug and alcohol testing, is like a very, very sturdy guard rail which has been constructed on your “highway”. In that sense, you are lucky, because most of your fellow new 12-Steppers don’t have such a “guardrail” on their “highway” to recovery, and they are more likely to “crash” into relapse. When the time comes that you first permit yourself to even CONSIDER using your substance of choice, which inherently means you are suffering “stinking thinking”, you will have reached the point of allowing yourself to consider the possibility of relapse. If you think you are immune to this, think again! Believe me, those thoughts WILL occur, if they have not already. The fact that you KNOW you will have to “pass” frequent drug and alcohol screening early in recovery may be just enough, just that restraining influence, to deter you from permitting yourself to relapse. You may curse the expense and time requirement for drug and alcohol screening, but actually it is a really great thing that you HAVE this resource to help you; many of your brothers and sisters in 12 Step groups do not have this “guardrail”. So, don’t look at drug and alcohol testing as demeaning…look at it as a guardrail! Sure, it gets expensive, but I implore you to consider the alternative!
When I look back at August, 2001, when I entered treatment at Hazelden in Minnesota, I am thankful that this resource existed, and that I could pay for my treatment in the first part of a “chain of survival” that I believe gave me my life back. I will be forever grateful to Dr. Bob Larsen, himself a Hazelden-employed physician in recovery, who urged me to contact the MPHP and self-refer for inclusion in its program. Next, I will be forever grateful to an enlightened physician, the late anesthesiologist, Don McIntosh, who was the founding physician of the MPHP. I thank Mr. Bondurant and all who have worked under his direction. In August, 2001, I believed my medical career was probably over. It was not, and I have succeeded in ways unimaginable to me since I returned from Minnesota and re-entered the “real world”. I “graduated” from the MPHP, but not from recovery, in December, 2006. I have had the chance to meet several colleagues doing their second “tour of duty” in the MPHP, because they allowed themselves to drift away from that which insures a continued recovery. The chance to meet others who are more or less like you is another benefit of the MPHP.
So, allow yourself to take advantage of the MPHP, and embrace the opportunity that the MPHP provides. To become a physician monitored by the MPHP is not a punishment. It is a gift. This gift would not exist without the forward-thinking individuals who view alcoholism and other addictions, as you will come to view them, as diseases, and not moral failings. They have given you a mechanism to help you save yourself and save your career. The MPHP exists to serve as YOUR “guardrail” to help keep you on your path to recovery. Godspeed!
Author’s Name Omitted to Protect Identity