Doctor in Recovery.
Having a medical degree is no protection against
addiction – the annals of medical history are littered with the evidence of this simple fact. Nevertheless, for a long
time I fancied that a bit of knowledge gleaned at medical school would act as a shield. I got this wrong at two levels really.
Until I suffered from it, I actually knew next to nothing about alcoholism and the little I thought I did know tended to enable
my drinking rather than slow it down.
Geneticists reckon that about half the vulnerability
to addiction is built into us. There’s certainly some anecdotal evidence of this in our family. I found myself to be
a third generation problem drinker. My grandfather blazed the trail and my dad and I followed. We were all high functioning
alcoholics, which is a very effective way to avoid being labeled an addict. It is also an effective barrier to seeking help.
If you can hold down a job, then you can’t really be an alcoholic – right?
Doctor in Recovery: Part 1, “Early
Growing up in an alcoholic home is a challenge for every child.
The focus tends to be on the alcoholism, the behavior of the alcoholic. All sorts of things that should be noticed get neglected.
It’s like sleight of hand in a magic trick. Things like love and attention are palmed into hiding. There is a tension
around that percolates into every nook and cranny, into every pore. There’s the uncertainty of what’s going to
happen next. Inconsistencies abound.
All of this creates heightened alertness and odd, reactive ways of behaving. Even small children can pick this up. In
our case, my siblings and I had to do a lot of emotional fending for ourselves. Our mother was overwhelmed by the impact of
dad’s drinking and she struggled to meet our emotional needs.
As the eldest child, I started to take on responsibilities
beyond my capacity, which ramped up the tension another notch. It wasn’t right to talk about what was going on internally,
mum was struggling enough as it was, so I became very good at bottling things up. Anxiety became a very familiar companion
and I remember vividly my first panic attack at age 11. I didn’t know what it was then, but I thought I would die. I
had no practical way of expressing what was going on inside. I felt ashamed for having let everyone down and tried harder
to be strong.
course, tension must out, and panic attacks were only one of signs that things were not going well. Somatisation describes
the situation where psychological stress that’s not attended to creates physical symptoms. My teenage years were peppered
with such complaints. Looking back, I think much of this was due to craving affection and support. These were scarce qualities
at times in our home. I always had the sense that something was missing, that I needed something more.
I also felt out
of my depth a lot of the time. It always seemed to me that other people were familiar with the rules of life. Such rules seemed
to be missing from my reference section.Nevertheless, it didn’t seem initially that alcohol was going to meet the needs
I had. I had my first drink at fourteen, a few mouthfuls of wine, with permission, at the table. I didn’t like the feeling
it gave me – slowed up and dulled. I went for a lie down afterwards and had no desire to repeat the experience.
I had a fleeting
encounter with the world of recovery at this stage. I was a member of a youth club, which met in one of the halls of our local
church. On the same evening we met, there was an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting going on. When they paused for a break, twenty
or thirty men would burst out from the room chatting and laughing. I remember thinking, “They don’t look like
alcoholics to me”. My difficulty in “spotting” the alcoholic was to hold me back later too.
I found school a haven from the unpredictability
of home life. The order and rules meant safety and knowing where you were. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I looked forward
to going into school every day. Unsurprisingly, I flourished where there was attention and reward for doing well. I took on
responsibility wherever it was offered. I was a milk monitor, a librarian, a prefect. I had an affinity for science and studied
hard getting enough qualifications to enter medical school.
Doctor in Recovery: Part 2, “Medical
I think in many ways I was unprepared emotionally
for the demands of an intensive five years at university. The terms were long and expectations high. Competitiveness was endemic
and unlike at school where I shone, here I was a small fish in a big pond. I was torn up with self-doubt and anxiety, but
was an expert at hiding it. When things got overwhelming I would take to the gym and work out obsessively or get lost in books.
It never struck me once that it might be a good idea to look for help or support – I might need to reveal how lost I
felt a lot of the time and that would be shameful. I found life to be hard work and to be quite frightening. However, in my
early twenties, I didn’t see alcohol as any help for the fear or tension.
I think the first time I misused alcohol was in
my first house job. This is the period immediately after qualifying when doctors start in hospital on the lowest rung in the
ladder. There was an exhilarating sense of achievement at having qualified and having the ability to help people in a very
real way, but there were challenges too. Back in those days, we worked long and onerous shifts. In one job, I had to work
a split shift where I came off duty late in the afternoon and had to go back on at midnight. Most of
the time I was not at all sure of what I was doing – I don’t think many of us were – and I used to worry
about what I might have to face with new patient admissions when I came back on shift. I found that a couple of glasses of
wine would help me get some sleep. I began to use alcohol primarily for a particular effect in the same way I might prescribe
sleeping tablets or tranquillizers to a patient.
Although I didn’t formulate it in this fashion
at the time in my head, nevertheless a line was crossed. It was okay to use alcohol to change me in some way. When I worked
in A&E, I noticed that some colleagues held prejudicial attitudes to people with alcohol and drug problems. The associated
accidents, overdoses and self-harm were often seen as a waste of time for some busy healthcare professionals and their patients
would receive poor care. Distressed relatives would be further upset by the approach of some colleagues to their kin. I remember
my registrar shouting at an intoxicated patient who’d collapsed that he was too busy to deal with this kind of shit.
His family watched on in horror. Nobody (including me) challenged him on his behaviour.
I struggled with the large number of deaths I had
to deal with. I worked for a time in cancer care and had to give toxic chemotherapy regimes to people. This was essentially
doctor-facilitated poisoning in an attempt not so much to cure, but to prolong life. In due course many patients would die,
but younger people’s deaths really got to me. It seemed to my (albeit inexperienced) eye that some consultants didn’t
know when to stop treatment, essentially prolonging the process of dying. My overblown sense of responsibility and the need
to try to make everything all right made me poorly equipped to work in that environment. I felt a sense of failure, as if
it were somehow all my fault.
When my house jobs were complete, I trained in General Practice. I realized that I wasn’t cut out for shift work,
nor the hierarchical hospital structure and I enjoyed the variety of presentations that GPs get to see. The three year training
was stimulating and although I was beginning to drink more than before, I don’t think that the amount I drank was much
different from most people. In retrospect, what was different was why I would drink. I drank for confidence, for relaxation,
for reward, to drown sorrows and to celebrate. So do others, but I think alcohol did something a little bit more for me than
it did for most people, though admittedly I had to work quite hard over a period of time to develop a problem - not everyone
Doctor in Recovery: Part 3, “Drinking.”
another, almost paradoxical, thing going on too. I could drink more than most people with less intoxication. In what was to
become my decade of alcoholic drinking, I would get frustrated that others would drink too slowly, get wasted too soon or,
horror of horrors, stop after one or two drinks. One or two drinks gradually became worse than not drinking at all. The first
drink always wanted company. In recovery circles we often say, “One was too many and a thousand never enough”.
That about sums it up.
One way to deal
with the friends-drink-too-slowly problem is to seek out new friends who drink the same as you. This was not a conscious decision,
but it happened effectively anyway. More and more of my activities would be centered around alcohol. Boozy dinner parties,
nights out, nights in: alcohol had to be around. My other activities became quite restricted or were adapted to involve alcohol.
I joined a gym with a bar attached and my workouts became shorter and shorter. Eventually, I would arrange to go with friends
to the gym; they would go and do a workout and I would go straight to the bar. I didn’t see anything too unusual in
The adverse consequences
of my drinking tended on the surface to be limited to hangovers, but my life was changing in subtle ways. Hobbies and interests
were taking second place. My zing was beginning to be eroded though I couldn’t see it. The first major consequence of
my drinking took place about ten years before I stopped drinking. I was at a dinner party with friends. The booze was flowing.
My partner and I got into an argument and had a public falling out. Enraged, I stormed out. I had intended to get a taxi home,
but had taken the car to get there. I jumped into it. One or two friends tried to get me to stop, but I drove off. On the
way home, I took a corner too fast and crashed the car. The police attended, I was over the limit and lost my license. I was
humiliated and deeply shamed but there was also a practical fall-out. The ban had a big impact on my job as a GP. I had to
have a driver for a year.
This did make me
sit up and think, but my thinking was along the lines of, “I need to leave the car behind so that doesn’t happen
again”. I don’t think there was any real exploration of whether the key problem here was not the decision to take
the car, but due to the lack of judgment and loss of sense of proportion that alcohol had created. In any case, although it
hurt, I rationalized the whole thing away. It turns out I had a penchant for that.
In a busy inner-city
GP practice the demand is high, but so are the rewards. I developed strong relationships with patients and enjoyed much of
the job. I had significant difficulties though with knowing where to stop. The bloated sense of responsibility issue continued
to plague me. I found it hard to say “no” and ended up with too many roles. As I began to drink more and more,
I found that I found it hard to make the work fit into the day. I began to take work home in the evenings and at weekends.
My work/life boundaries began to blur.
I felt so tense
when I got home after a long hard day in the surgery that it made sense to reward myself with a drink. That first drink of
the evening became very important to me. I began to think of it earlier and earlier in the day and on getting home I would
find myself dashing eagerly through the front-door to the kitchen with my coat still on and medical bag in my hand. I would
pour myself a whisky into a tall wide glass. The anticipation was electric.
As my tolerance
increased, so did the volume of alcohol I needed to get the same effect. I needed to buy whisky on my way home most nights
and would develop a network of local shops to rotate around – in case anyone thought I might have a problem. What’s
odd about this is that I didn’t admit to myself that I might have had a problem. I was ashamed and a bit of me was working
hard to keep that shame under wraps.
Recovery: Part 4, “Consequences.”
began to show themselves. The weekend had a tendency to gatecrash the beginning of the week and I found myself too ill to
get to work. Observers would note that I was very unlucky with flu on a Monday. My car had a tendency to break down. Relatives
got sick. Domestic disasters were ten a penny. My skills with rationalization extended to telling lies to cover my tracks.
In fact, many of my own values began to slip. I was not naturally dishonest, but lying began to come easily.
I remember years
into recovery listening to Michael Parkinson interviewing Robin Williams, the American comedian and actor, who happens to
be in recovery. He described a relapse to cocaine addiction and the behaviors that followed by saying, “I was violating
my standards faster than I could lower them”. I strongly identify with this now, but when it happens gradually, it’s
harder to see. My descent into the chaos of addiction was like a soap bubble moving towards the bath plughole. A gradual and
gentle course speeds up once the vortex is reached, but even here it rotates relatively lazily in wide arc, gradually accelerating
in a tighter spiral until at breakneck speed it disappears down the abyss.
What was quite odd was that although things were
clearly terribly wrong in my life, and any observer would need to be blindfolded not to see that, nobody challenged me at
work. Denial works in all sorts of directions. Like most alcoholics, I wore a robust chain mail of denial about me, but at
times it thinned to make me vulnerable to insight. One of these times was related to care of a patient. To keep my denial
in check, I had to develop the skill of compartmentalizing various aspects of life. It was important that the patients with
addiction problems that I looked after were in a very different box from my own drinking. Quite how I managed to keep the
two things separate seems a bit of a mystery now, but I would comfortably give patients advice on safe drinking while my own
intake was close to 40 units per day.
Recovery: Part 5, “Moments of insight."
a woman I did not know came to see me in the surgery. She wanted to talk about her brother who was a patient with the practice.
I didn’t know him, but she told me he was an alcoholic. He’d turned into a recluse and was living in squalor.
She was worried for his life. I offered to go and see him, but despite the chaos, he was too ashamed for me to go to the house.
She would try to get him cleaned up and bring him in the following week. I made a long appointment slot and sure enough, the
following week they attended.
He was not well
and my heart went out to him. We sorted out a plan for treatment and for his getting the help he needed. I think I did a good
job and I was rather pleased with how I’d handled things. Although he and I were drinking the same amount of whisky
daily, I chose not to connect the issues in my mind. That evening, after work, I stopped off at one of my gaggle of obscure
and anonymous corner shops to buy my whisky.
As I was waiting
in the queue with the bottle sitting enticingly in the wire basket and my anticipation growing, I became aware of a figure
standing behind me in the queue. Some instinct made me want to sneak a glance. It turned out that it was the sister of the
chap I’d seen earlier. Now there was no way she could know that the bottle in the basket would be drunk that evening,
but I knew, and shame of my knowing was crippling. That shame felt as if it would core me out then suffocate the shell that
was left. This was deep, incisive, pervasive pain. My answer to that pain? Assuage it with drink and put the experience that
drew these two worlds together into the black hole situated deep in my unconscious.
Not long after,
I went off work. I had a fight with my partners – again, got things totally out of proportion – and I stormed
out of a meeting. I went to my doctor and got a medical certificate and some antidepressants. Clearly I was depressed, and
that’s what was making me drink. Work was stressing me out. I would take some time off to get myself sorted out and
it would all be okay.
What actually happened
was that I started drinking in the morning; partly because there was no reason not to now that work was out of the picture
and partly because my dependence was so high that I was withdrawing badly in the mornings. I was bewildered by this development,
but bewilderment settles quickly with whisky. The depression did not respond so well. The mornings got blacker and blacker
and life seemed utterly bleak and pointless. Emotionally it felt as if I was trapped in a permanent state of winter, with
no hope of spring.
They say that addiction
is a family illness and that indeed is my experience. My long-term relationship suffered terribly. There was co-dependency
and shared depression. My wider family became more and more estranged. Friends faded into the distance. If anyone came too
close they might see, they might discover what was really happening. That would be a catastrophe.
One night, I woke
from sleep choking. I couldn’t breathe and I really thought I would die. A few hours later I spiked a fever and began
to shake uncontrollably. The doctor was called. I had vomited in my alcohol-induced sleep and inhaled some of the vomit. An
x-ray confirmed infection in one of my lungs. It felt like if anything would stop me drinking then this was it. It wasn’t.
epiphany which did eventually provoke some help-seeking was relatively simple. I came down to the kitchen one morning feeling
wretched and defeated. I opened the cupboard and reached up. With one hand I brought down the cornflakes and with the other
the whisky bottle. I flexed my elbows to bring the two closer to me and weighing them up in my hands I thought, “There’s
something not right about this…there’s something very wrong with this picture.” The bit of me that wanted
to drink finally began to yield to the bit that didn’t. Shortly after I went so see my GP.
Recovery: Part 6, “First go.”
Long story short, I filled in diaries, did some worksheets dutifully and ended up getting
an outpatient detox at the local hospital. This involved travelling up and down every day and having my medication dispensed
to me. Those days were black days. I was riven with anxiety and dread and the desperate desire, no it felt like a need, to
drink. If alcohol had occupied my life pretty fully in the few years before then there was not much difference now. I thought
about a drink every minute, dozens of times an hour and hundreds of times a day. There was no sleep and no peace.
The consultant psychiatrist was kind; he put time
aside for me and took a careful history. His approach was pharmacological and treatment involved commencing disulfiram (which
gives an unpleasant and potentially dangerous reaction if you drink on it) and acamprosate, which is supposed to reduce craving.
Add in some anti-depressants and a ton of vitamins and I was rattling in more ways than one. Mutual aid, in the form of Alcoholics
Anonymous, was mentioned, but only really to dismiss it. I’m still not entirely sure why, but I suspect that the psychiatrist
saw me as a professional man and did not associate AA with helping professionals. The other support group (the British Doctors
and Dentist’s Group) was not mentioned at all despite there being a large meeting very close to the hospital.
The anxiety and
low mood may have settled somewhat, but the bleakness and thinness of life did not. It felt like a reverse process to the
Wizard of Oz, life had suddenly gone from Technicolor to black and white. Or at least that’s how it seemed. I felt empty
inside – as if someone had taken out the living heart of me with a kitchen utensil and then discarded it thoughtlessly.
Recovery: Part 7, “Relapse.”
I got back to work, though I decided to give up my job in my practice. I reckoned that if I did locums then I could still
enjoy general practice without the stress of management and responsibility that partners in practice have. I was still plagued
with cravings. It was at this point I made a discovery. I found that codeine or dihyrocodeine from my medical bag were great
solutions for craving. It was as if a switch were turned off. When I tested this a few times, I actually believed I’d
made a new scientific discovery. And what’s more, opiates seemed to lend me the qualities of patience and peace too.
Because I was a doctor, I wouldn’t run into problems with drug addiction. I was too wise now for that, so I just needed
to practice better living through a little bit of chemistry. It seemed to work for a while. While it seems ludicrous looking
back, I made no connection to my alcoholism. I thought, “It’s not alcohol” and did not foresee that I might
be at any increased risk from other substances.
In the same way
that alcoholism progressed, so did opiate addiction. My tolerance increased and I had to be smarter at how to get hold of
prescription drugs. I began to cross lines again, rewriting my moral code when it needed a revision. Where there was anguish
it had to be dealt with. Uncomfortable feelings could be medicated away. This phase of my addiction was the bleakest of my
life. It felt like a finger was on the “fast forward” button of my own personal disaster movie. As my addiction
grew, my morals withered and I really did not like myself much.
People in recovery
often talk about the experience of “hitting bottom”. Although there was a precipitant to my nadir, by far the
most alarming aspect of this black chasm was the effect on my mood, spirit and personality. It was as if the last flicker
of life was being strangled out of hope and spirit. I did not see how any sort of meaningful life could ever be regained.
My relationship was in tatters and neither my partner nor I could see a way out. I did not actively plan suicide, but not
being here was looking more and more attractive.
Doctor in Recovery: Part 8, “Getting the right help.”
this whole episode it never struck me that it might be a good idea to get some help. The shame that characterized my alcoholism
continued to cripple me. Nevertheless, the possibility that I might be forced to ask for help was not too distant in my mind.
I had seen an advert in the British Medical Journal for the Sick Doctors Trust, an organization offering support to addicted
doctors, and one morning when I got a telephone call from a recent employer to say that my addiction was uncovered and that
“steps were being taken,” I knew where to turn. I phoned the Sick Doctors Trust helpline and spoke with another
doctor in recovery. Although I had attended the local NHS addiction clinic (and still was attending) I never really felt connected
to it in an emotional sense.
With the Sick Doctors
Trust there was an instant emotional connection. The doctor volunteering on the helpline seemed to understand what was wrong
with me and much more than that, he knew what I needed to do about it. He knew because he had been in a similar place to me
and he knew how I could get out of it. He was in recovery. He talked about going in to treatment. I said I already was
in treatment. He laughed. He was talking about residential treatment.
Two days later I
was admitted to residential rehab unit where I stayed for four months. Although I’d had one or two patients who’d
gone to rehab before, I really didn’t know much about it. I thought it might be like the version seen in the movies,
but when I arrived nobody took my bags to my room, a room that I had to share with five other men. If there was a pool to
lounge beside, I never found it. Food reminded me of school dinners and there was almost no privacy. In fact, it turned out
not to be the rest I thought I deserved, but bloody hard work.
The treatment centre
ran a therapeutic community, a set up where there is a sense of community, a hierarchy and an atmosphere in which peers are
expected to challenge each other on behaviors not compatible with getting well from addiction. This is not an environment
where an isolated, middle-class doctor might find himself instantly comfortable. It wasn’t comfortable and I spent the
first few days writing a list of all the things wrong with the place. Therapists call this externalization: a device to avoid
looking at what’s going on internally.
There were difficulties.
I had to give up being a doctor and become a patient: something that was very challenging to me. The idea that I knew better
had to be jettisoned. Achieving a degree of humility was painful. My peers in treatment told me to get off my pedestal and
join the rest of the human race. In one particularly challenging group, I was confronted by almost every peer and encouraged
to look at my attitude. They reckoned I saw myself as different and above the rest of the human race. I was affronted to hear
this. Me stuck up? But the truth is I needed to hear that and I needed to change.
Today, I still have
my list of the faults I detected in the treatment centre all those years ago. I keep it to remind myself of my lack of insight
at that time and of my arrogance. One thing that helped me though was the fact that many of the staff in the treatment centre
were in recovery. Sure, they were qualified in various disciplines, but they had lived experience of addiction and how to
get better from it. I could see they were people who lived what they believed and they certainly knew more than me about the
process of recovery. I learned more about addiction and recovery than I thought it possible to know and more besides. The
most valuable stuff I learned from my peers and other recovering people.
aid meetings were an important component of the treatment program. I remember sitting in my first meeting of Narcotics Anonymous,
with perhaps twenty other people in recovery from addiction (recovering addicts, I’d never seen this in my life!) and
wondering, “Why is this a secret? Why did I not know about this before?” I found the group therapy and the peer-to-peer
support hugely more valuable than the medication I’d previously been taking. Understanding what I do now about recovery,
it seems naive to have thought that medication can ever be anything more than an adjunct to a more comprehensive approach.
I was beginning
to feel different, but struggled at times to identify emotions. About five or six weeks after being admitted to residential
treatment, I remember lying on my bed wondering what the hell it was I was experiencing. It felt amazing, but new. I was frightened
it would leave me. After a while I was able to put a name to this feeling. It was peace. I discovered I had trouble being
honest with myself, preferring to see things in a certain way.
Group therapy is
very helpful at giving you a new pair of spectacles through which to see the world and very quickly I gained insight into
the repetitive and self-destructive patterns of thinking and acting that had tripped me up so many times in the past. One
of the first lessons I learned that I was responsible for my own feelings. Although now that sounds very self-evident, for
much of my life I had believed that what was happening around me would determine the way I felt. The scared little kid in
me was still dictating the way I would deal with difficult life circumstances and difficult people. Discovering that how I
responded was down to me was an eye-opener and very empowering. I was able to move out of victim mode and develop a bit more
self-assurance and confidence. I was also able to start the process of letting go. Throughout my life I had been anxious when
I did not feel in control.
I realized through
treatment that it was not possible to always make things turn out according to my plans. That in fact it was okay for things
to turn out the way that they were going to turn out without any help from me. When I practiced the art of doing my best and
letting go of the responsibility for the outcome, I felt a sense of relief. As time went by, I began to recognize in others
coming into treatment the very traits that had been holding me back and I was able to start to share my experience of identifying
and changing these. I began to see that a key part of my own recovery was supporting others in the recovery process, of helping
them to move on as I had been helped myself.
This practice in
recovery communities (recognized by mutual aid groups through the phrase “you only keep what you have by giving it away”)
means that recovery is self-generating and constantly spreading. Framing recovery as a concept: a journey and a state of mind
was helpful to me. I began to realize that getting better was going to require two things - time and hard work.
One thing that proved
hugely helpful was getting connected to other recovering doctors. The British Doctors and Dentists Group (BDDG) is a mutual
aid organization for medical and dental professionals with addictions. I was taken to a local meeting from the treatment centre
and have continued to be active as a member ever since. I remember the relief of hearing my own story, or something very close,
at a meeting and realizing that I wasn’t necessarily a bad person, just a sick person and even someone like me could
recover. The power of peer support and positive role modeling is astonishing. My two experiences of treatment could not be
The first, medicalised
version was good as far as it went, but I needed much more. I needed the instillation of hope and that cannot happen through
prescriptions. It happened when I started to meet with other recovering people. Even today, addiction treatment professionals
generally don’t get this. There are a lot of odd beliefs held about mutual aid. Few view connecting their clients to
peers in recovery as important. I know that I hadn’t done previously, yet when addiction happened to me, finding mutual
aid groups was something that completely changed my life.
Doctor in Recovery: Part 9, “Living
When I came home from treatment there had been
a quantum shift in my approach to life. I had hope and although I was in a lot of trouble with no job, and a journey to go
through with the General Medical Council, I had a conviction deep inside that everything was going to be okay. I had an aftercare
plan that included elements that would keep me safe. Primary amongst these was keeping connected to other recovering people.
I did this by going to AA, NA and CA meetings locally. I also kept up BDDG meetings. I put as much effort into my recovery
as I had put into my addiction and it began to pay off. Self-esteem rose and my spirit, which I had thought extinguished,
sparked into flame again.
That first year
was incredibly challenging and so many difficult things happened, but I had hope and enthusiasm and passion once more and
crucially, I had an enormous amount of support. I got back to work eventually in General Practice through the kindness of
colleagues. The GMC saw me as a sick doctor rather than as a bad doctor. I decided quite early on that my own experience and
what I’d learned through it might be of use to others. I was also uncomfortable that my patients who had addictions
did not have the same opportunities in treatment that I had.
Certainly for opiate
addicts it was my experience that all of them, or almost all of them, got treatment based on medication and not much else.
This was good as far as it went. I’d seen many lives improved on methadone, but given the experiences I’d had,
surely there ought to be more choices. The fact that a middle-class doctor could relatively easily access high intensity treatment
of adequate duration and quality but his patients could not was something that could not be ignored. There was an anomaly
that had to be addressed and I admit to some fired-up, evangelical zeal around this.
These days I work in addictions and have a much better understanding of the impact of addiction in individuals and families.
I know what works effectively to help people into recovery both professionally and at a personal level. I’ve done a
lot of study on addictions, but the key lessons about recovery I learned from other recovering people, not from books, studies
to me to try to put something back into the system by helping others the way that I was helped. I maintain my recovery through
regular AA meetings, stay connected to others in recovery, including my AA sponsor, and I continue to attend the BDDG group
locally. These days I don’t have a struggle about whether I will drink or use or not, but like all human beings I do
sometimes struggle emotionally. My recovery program keeps me grounded and connected and helps my spirit burn more brightly.
Besides, I get much
more from being an AA member than just not drinking. I have meaning and a depth to life that I missed before. One of the great
things for me in recent years has been the discovery that you can regularly turn negative experiences into useful learning
or opportunities. I always saw difficult times as just that, difficult times. Adopting a new way of thinking is not about
going all Pollyanna, more about a different attitude. Addiction/recovery is a prime example of positives growing out of difficulty.
For those of us who get the opportunity to be introduced to recovery communities and experience the birth of hope, the rising
of a bright warm sun after a bleak black night, recovery is not just an experience that changes, it is an experience that
in individuals, in recovery communities and in neighborhoods is being seen in towns and cities the length and breadth of the
UK. Because of the infectious nature of recovery, it will continue to grow and to spread and as it does, more and more of
us will find a way out of the dark winter that is addiction into the healing sunshine of recovery.
How Do You KNOW When You’ve
came when someone called in that I was causing a disturbance. I went upstairs and pretended to be asleep but they came up
there anyway and said, “What’s going on?” “I’m
asleep.” “Well, you have to get up. At the very least we have to take you to a motel. We’re not allowed
to let you stay here.”
My kids were either asleep or they were awake and hiding in their room. The lights were on up and down
the street. The police took me to the back seat of their car. I had never been in the back seat
of a police car. It’s very tiny. Maybe it’s like what a very tall person must feel like on a plane with no leg
They took me to a motel and told the manager to not let me leave the room all night. I then shook each
of their hands and said, “Thank you.” I don’t think they were expecting that.
The next thing I knew I was awake and the sun was out and the room was spinning. I was still drunk from
the night before. I closed my eyes a few times and may have gone in and out of sleep. Finally the room was no longer spinning.
I got up and it was that feeling like the last day of 12th grade when you know you will never again have
high school homework. The world in front of you is totally a mystery but has the scent of something completely different,
terrifying, and hopeful.
I walked across the street and found a coffee.
No, wait, that’s not really in my memories as I’m trying to remember this.
Maybe I only tried to find a coffee but nothing was open. I can’t remember. It was a highway and
nothing was even around. It was a Sunday and cars were barely out.
It was autumn and the wind was a touch on my face. The exact way I would want someone
to touch me if I were feeling lonely and scared and lost.
Later, I was picked
up; my kids were in the back seat. They never asked me about it again, even now when we pass that motel, which we often do
on the way to movies, bookstores, diners, fun. Everyone looks away when we pass it.Well, again, I’m sorry. Maybe that’s
not true. I don’t know if they look away. I look away. I’m ashamed. Often in
a retelling there’s a need to embellish with poetry. But people don’t really look away from the worst accidents
of their lives. They stare at them. They romanticize them. They wonder, is this where I hit bottom? Is this where I learned
Maybe it was three months later after I was totally separated from my ex. It was Thanksgiving and I decided
to go to a diner by myself and have a turkey sandwich. Almost like playing a joke on myself.
Only I had an ulterior purpose in that I had a crush
on the waitress. But she told me it was her last day and she was going to be a nursery school teacher and I didn’t know
yet how to tell her to take me with her. That I could just move into whatever new world she was creating for herself and maybe
there I could re-create my self.
I want to find
someplace where I can say, this is where it happened. Where I said Help and everything changed. But
it didn’t happen like that. I don’t really believe there is such a thing as “hitting bottom”. Maybe
people hit a low point and decide they can’t go lower. But there’s always lower. For me there was much lower even
after those moments.
It’s hard to decide for yourself – ok, now I’m going to get better. At least for me.
I never got better because of some decision I made.
I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be a better father. I was scared to go broke, which has always
been my worst fear, even a worse fear than loneliness or sickness or death.
So I would stop drinking. Or I would read a lot. Or I would write. Or make calls to try to get involved
in opportunities. I would pretend to be a big shot. How many times did I go on TV commenting on the stock market then? I was
offered the CEO job at one company. I was on the board of another company.
And then I would do a little bit more. I’d write. I needed to have more ideas. I wrote down ideas
every day. I’d play in the sandbox of ideas. I started to sleep better. I started to feel grateful for what I had. I
stopped being with people who brought me down. I started to surrender control of the things I could no longer control.
Every day there was a little bit more of something. A shedding of another layer of skin and blood and
disease to find something underneath that was real. Every day I was scared. I don’t know if I ever hit bottom.
And then opportunities started to happen.
But I do know that every day I was blind and hungry and reaching higher, despite the misery and depression
trying to pull me down.
And sometimes I’d purely by accident thunk my hand against another rung on the ladder.
And for no reason at all that I can figure out now, I’d clasp
as tight as possible on that rung and pull myself a little bit higher.
And, if given the chance, I’ll still do that today