These are stories from CCD members describing their experience, strength, and hope along the road to recovery. More stories will be added from time to time...
I am a dentist who has had a small mountain town general practice since the early 70's. My purpose in writing this is to share some of my story with Colorado dentists so that others might learn and benefit from some of my experiences. If you think that you, or a colleague, may have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse, please read on.
I grew up in the midwest. I was a slightly shy but personable, egghead sort of kid. I can still remember the magical effect of my first couple of beers. Suddenly I was outgoing and self-assured - no more insecurities or shyness. This alcohol stuff was the answer to my social acceptance! Throughout college and later on in dental school, I continued to bolster my self-confidence at regular and frequent intervals by having a few drinks. I didn't think what I was doing was abnormal - after all, virtually all of my friends drank too. I certainly didn't notice that my intake was often more excessive than theirs.
Since this was the 60's, drugs began to enter the picture. I discovered pot smoking, and appreciated that it didn't leave me with a hangover. By the time I finished dental school I had almost 10 years of regular moderate-to-heavy alcohol use, coupled with a fairly regular habit of pot smoking.
When I moved to Colorado and started my practice, I was on top of the world. I was newly married and living my dream of being a dentist in the Colorado mountains. I never used alcohol or drugs during office hours, but I couldn't wait for evenings and weekends so I could start partying. Also at this time I discovered the magic of pain pills. They could really knock those hangovers out. It wasn't too long before a regular habit of popping pain pills, first for pain and then just for "feeling better", became a big part of my life.
I first got into trouble when a couple of DEA agents showed up at my door in the late 70's wanting to know why I had ordered Dexedrine tablets from Darby Dental Supply. (After all, they were in the dental catalog!) I had to disclose my personal use of this particular drug - after I convinced them that I wasn't selling them for profit! The resulting report to the state board cost me my schedule II license for 5 years, and it got me a 5 year stipulation with the board.
As bad as that was, it did not cause me to look at my ever-deepening descent into drug and alcohol dependence. It did cause me to completely quit using Dexedrine, but I managed to find other drugs to take its place. I used more and more pain pills, and in fact I began to get quite clever in ways to obtain them. By the early 80's, I had learned how to obtain fraudulent prescriptions at various pharmacies by impersonating patients. I usually wrote myself prescriptions for Vicodin, codeine, and Valium, and would sometimes get brave and obtain some Percodan or Demerol. I had a few "friends" that were always willing to split prescriptions with me, and I forged lots of entries into my patients' charts regarding dispensing of pain pills and/or Valium from the office supply. In addition, the drinking continued. I lived for weekends and vacations when I could just stay "buzzed."
As you might imagine, by the mid 80's the substances were taking their toll. My marriage was on the rocks, and even my young children were aware that all was not well. The beginning of the end of the family came one night in 1985 when my wife was out of town. I had charge of my 7 year old daughter and 9 year old son. I chose to take them out of town for dinner and I got very drunk at a restaurant a few miles from home while they were with me. By this time prolonged blackouts of up to several hours were part of the deal and I really don't remember the evening. A friend drove us all home. After we had been home for awhile, I got out a pistol that I had been working on and apparently decided it needed to be tested, so I went outside the front door and fired it. I can only begin to imagine how frightened my children must have been. Amazingly enough, no one came to haul me off, and I woke up the next morning in shock and disbelief when my children told me what I had done, and how terribly frightened they were.
We had a few long family conferences. I began to suspect I might have a problem. I agreed to try to quit drinking and to go to AA meetings, for my family. This was a classic case of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. I really didn't think I was an alcoholic - I just thought I tended to drink too much sometimes and do stupid things.
This worked for awhile, but relapses came after a few months. I was able to quit drinking for as much as a year at a time, but I never quit popping pills. By 1990 the family was gone. I put in several attempts at AA, but I never really did the step work. I told the right people what I thought they wanted to hear, and consequently I was in and out of AA many times in the early 90's.
I also began to lose control of what I would do when I started drinking. I began to experience the problems associated with any progressive illness - the symptoms were just as bad, if not worse, each time I started back with alcohol - as if I had never ceased for the few months of abstinence that I could put together.
I finally started getting into trouble with the law. My first DUI in 1992 was out of town, so I kept it a secret. By that time I had become very good at keeping secrets - nobody really knew how much or how often I drank or used drugs.
A second DUI in 1994 followed. I had an accident right outside the town where I live. Fortunately no one was hurt, but my little secret was out. I made the local paper, got turned into the dental board, and made my first contact with Peer Assistance.
Even after all of these experiences, I guess I just wasn't ready to get sober. At first I resented the intrusion into my life that my contact with Peer Assistance necessitated. I treated this with my behavior from the past; I knew how to tell people what I thought they wanted to hear. I learned how to cheat on both the Antabuse requirement and the UA's. I fooled everyone. I did not, however, stay sober long.
A third DUI in 1995 brought the realization that I was at bottom. I still carry the memory of being let out of jail the morning after my last drunk and having people stand around watching two wreckers extricate my truck from my friend's front yard. I have no idea how I got it there. The term "pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization" can only begin to describe how I felt.
I resolved to dedicate myself to AA. I had no more secrets to hide. I reported the incident to Peer Assistance and set up a new contract. I worked very hard on my 12 step program. I began to gradually feel comfortable with myself and learned to love myself again. I found that by finally being honest with myself and with others I could free myself from the emotional baggage of the past and be the person I wanted to be.
I gradually regained the trust and confidence of my friends, my coworkers, and my patients. The forgiving side of human nature never ceases to amaze me.
The support and help from Peer Assistance was a blessing, no longer a burden. The hoops to jump through have gradually diminished, and I have now "graduated" from the program. The internal changes that have allowed me to see this program as one of the best things that has ever happened to me are profound and are something no one can ever take away from me.
My contacts in Concerned Colorado Dentists have prompted me to share this story. I do so out of concern for any of my colleagues who might recognize some of their own story in mine; and out of gratitude for AA, Concerned Colorado Dentists, Peer Assistance, and family and friends who have supported me.
Life is finally very good!