I’ve been in recovery from addiction since September 1 2009. Actually, my journey in recovery began several months earlier when I started medical internship. I was a “real doctor” at this point and believed that my drinking and drug use would now be relegated to the rare opportunity when I had a few days off to party. I did not believe that alcohol would affect my work. To my surprise, this turned out to be a delusion.
I believe that I was born an addict. My family is riddled with the disease and I was aware from a young age that I was at risk. This awareness did not protect me from the disease or immunize me against denial. I started using drugs and alcohol at around age 13 and I never drank non-alcoholically. I realized fairly early that my relationship with drugs and alcohol was unusually intense, but I fancied myself an adventurer, bravely seeking new experiences. I failed to notice that I was in reality having the same experience repeatedly. I was a binge drinker, not a daily drinker. I knew I lost control once I started drinking, but I thought I was in control of the first drink.
Despite the worsening hangovers, crushing shame, frequent blackouts, arrests, and chaotic relationships, I never tried to quit drinking. I literally could not conceive of a world in which I didn’t use drugs and alcohol. So it was strange that, on the morning of July 5 2009, I realized that I needed help with my drinking.
The preceding episode of drinking was not unusual, except that I surfaced from black out while still awake. I imagine this feels a bit like awakening in a parallel universe. For a few moments, I experienced reality and it felt terrible. I continued to feel awful the next day when I called in sick to work during my first week working as a “real doctor” with “real responsibility.” I was often too sick for my commitments, at times actually convincing myself that I had developed a viral illness while drinking the night before.
I would usually have suffered through that day and, hangover receding, decided that the situation wasn’t really so serious, that I simply needed to be more careful next time. However, this day I was armed with the phone number of a physician in recovery who had told his story during intern orientation. I had been deeply affected by his talk and introduced myself afterward. Strangely, I had admitted to him that I had an “unusual” relationship with alcohol. I called this man and told him that I needed help. His wife, also a physician in recovery, became my recovery sponsor.
She suggested that I talk to my program director and call the recovering professionals program. Once I did that, there was no turning back. I tried to back peddle, but it was too late. I was going to get sober or lose my license. I was absolutely terrified. I did not want to get sober. I didn’t have a desire to stop drinking, but I did have a desire to find some peace. I was tired of the constant sensation of yearning that I couldn’t shake even when I was drinking.
I drank and used again before I was to start outpatient treatment despite significant potential consequences. It felt like a choice at the time. It took me a while in recovery to realize that it hadn’t been, that I did not have control over the first drink and that what I thought of as “anticipation” was actually craving.
I embarked semi-willingly in recovery. I was not sure that living sober would be better than death. I clung to the promise that, if I could just keep putting one foot in front of the other a day at a time in recovery, I would come out the other side of all this pain with a beautiful life, a life I couldn’t imagine. That promise has come true for me.
Recovery has given me the opportunity to explore who I really am and to use my experience to help others. I am proud of being an alcoholic and grateful to be in recovery. I am not ashamed of being a drug addict. Recovery has been worth the price of admission.