A MEMOIR BASED ON THE REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCES OF A CANCER DOCTOR addicted to drugs and alcohol and how he found his way back. His inspiring and gripping story takes you deep into the dark world of addicted physicians. He shares the techniques and principles they used to recover. Here you will find hope and healing. A step-by-step guide for understanding and treating substance abuse. Even if you’ve relapsed or failed other programs, here you will find the help you need.
YOU WILL FIND ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS
You will find answers to these questions.
Am I an alcoholic? Am I an addict?
How did I get this disease? Can it be cured?
Will I ever be able to drink socially again?
How can I get over this insane craving?
How can spiritual principles help me?
What is a Higher Power, and why do I need one?
TOPICS COVERED INCLUDE
The disease concept of addiction
Overcoming the uncontrollable craving
Finding the openness, honesty, and willingness to change
Dealing with past mistakes and removing character defects
Exchanging my old addictive ways of thinking for healthier ones
Finding spiritual principles I can live by
Living without fear or worry
Finding happiness within myself
WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM READING THIS BOOK?
The reader who wants to know if his drinking is out of control. The reader who knows he is in trouble, and wants to change. The old-timer who wants to learn more about his disease. And the practitioner who treats these people.
Targeted Age Group:: 16 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Why go to all the trouble of writing the book: going through the self-publishing agonies, the numerous hours at the computer building two websites, and setting up a social media presence? The simple answer is that it’s about sharing my experiences dealing with addiction to drugs and alcohol. But there is more, much more.
It’s said that no one can find sobriety by themselves. For most of us, someone has to show us the way. We are too bone-headed and stubborn to change our way of living, especially when it means giving up all our get-highs. In my case, that person was Paul.
Paul showed up in my office one day and asked me if I had a problem. In a rare moment of clarity, I simply said yes. In seconds we were on our way to detox. He was kind, understanding, and didn’t try to overwhelm me with unsolicited advice. When I was drowning in the sea of my addiction, he reached out and pulled me into the lifeboat.
Over the years, dozens and dozens of men and women have done the same, helped me as I stumbled along the path of recovery. I am sure I don’t remember all their names, but I will always remember Paul.
The debt that I owe all these Good Samaritans is immeasurable, and I can never repay it all. But I can do what they did and reach out to the newcomer. Put my hand out and try to be of help, like Paul did. This effort, to carry the message of recovery to those who still suffer, is my way of repaying the debt as best I can; that living by spiritual principles, such as honesty, kindness, and compassion, can solve all my problems with life, including my addiction.
An excerpt from A SPIRITUAL PATHWAY TO RECOVERY FROM ADDICTION, A PHYSICIAN'S JOURNAL OF DISCOVERY
CHAPTER ONE: I WAS SICK AND SCARED AND ALL ALONE
I stood alone in the Atlanta airport, arms full of baggage, looking for the someone who was supposed to meet me, when suddenly I dropped the bags, collapsed into an empty seat, and began to cry. I never felt more alone, more vulnerable, nor more frightened. It seemed that everything I had worked for my entire adult life was being swept away. There was no one or no thing I could turn to for help.
It seemed impossible that only five days before, my nurses had intervened on me. My alcohol and drug use had gotten completely out of control and it was obvious that I was impaired. I was sure the Medical Board would show up, arrest me, and take away my medical license. Instead, they sent me to detox. How- ever, they issued a stern warning: failure to complete an approved rehabilitation course at a center approved for physicians would result in the permanent loss of my medical license. Complete the course, usually some three or four months, and I would be welcomed back into the medical fold with open arms. I was at the absolute low point of my life. I had no idea what had happened to me, how a drink with dinner had become two bottles of wine every night, or how an occasional party drug had become an addiction I couldn’t control. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quit. My life was a drunken drugged-out downward spiral. I was dying and I knew it. Some days I wanted desperately to quit. Other days I just didn’t care. Almost imperceptibly, a man about my age filled the seat beside me, caught my attention, and began to speak.
“You must be Dr. Linville Meadows,” he said kindly. “What do your friends call you?”
“Lin. People only call me Linville if they’re mad at me.”
He put his hand out. “Name’s Mike. I’m your ride to rehab. C’mon. And I promise not to call you Linville, okay?” Mike was slightly balding and stocky; his handshake was strong, and his smile was genuine. He had a good bedside manner.
“Deal. What did you say your name was?” I asked, blowing my nose.
“Mike. From New Jersey. Obstetrician. Drug of choice: more.”
“More of whatever you got,” he said.
I managed a small laugh. He didn’t look like a drug addict and I couldn’t believe he was actually telling me about his addiction. There was no one back home who I could talk to about my own problems. In fact, my days were spent terrified that someone would discover my drug use, and yet, here he was, speaking openly about his.
In a few minutes, we were in his little green convertible with the top down, wheeling out of the airport. The fresh breeze felt good on my face.
“Married?” asked Mike.
“Do you like riddles?” Mike asked. “Sure, riddle me, Joker,” I said.
“What creature is one part wild ravaging beast, one part angel with a heart of gold, and one part suicidal maniac?”
“At the same time?”
“Could be. Could be different times, too.”
“Sounds like a Greek myth.”
“Nope,” he said. “Try again.”
“Let me think.”
“Don’t,” he said. “You might hurt yourself.
“I don’t understand,” I said. I was completely at a loss as to the meaning of Mike’s words. But at least I wasn’t crying.
The back story
Mike dropped me off at the front office and shortly I found myself sit-ting in front of Cameron, one of the family counselors. She would conduct my intake interview.
“Tell me what brought you here,” she said gently.
So, I related the last few days of the disorder that was called my life.
My nurses had finally discovered my addiction and they sent me home. I knew my life as a physician was surely over, that the Medical Board would be waiting at my office the next morning to take me away in handcuffs. My medical license was gone forever. I went home and smoked all the pot and drank all the wine I could, but nothing could wipe out the horror that filled my brain. With nothing left to live for, I took down my shotgun, loaded it, and went outside to do myself in. Fortunately, I didn’t have the courage.
The next morning when I arrived at my office, I was met by Paul, a man with a strange, quixotic grin on his face. Paul was not from the Medical Board but rather from the Physicians Recovery Network, a group that worked with the Medical Board to rehabilitate doctors who had become impaired. He asked me if I had a problem. In a moment of clarity, I simply said, Yes. Do you want to do something about it? he asked. With no idea what “something” might be, I swallowed and said, Yes. Within minutes, I was on my way to Richmond. Within an hour, I heard the doors of the Pleasant Green Mental Health Center slam and lock shut behind me. I was in detox.
“Am I talking too fast?” I asked Cameron.
I could feel the pressure of speech upon me.
“No,” she said, “you’re doing just fine.”
I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and began again.
My first few days in detox in Richmond were frightening. I felt terribly out of place. I was locked up with drunks dragged out from under a bush, junkies from off the streets, prostitutes in short skirts, and one little old lady, dressed in white doilies, who liked to tipple sweet wine in the dark. My craving for cocaine was always at the front of my mind. All I wanted to do was go home and get stoned.
In my first group session, we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves.
“My name’s Joe,” said the first. “I’m an alcoholic.”
“I’m Elsie,” said the second. “A junkie. Crystal meth.”
It was my turn. I swallowed my pride and admitted to the world what I had become.
“I…I’m an addict,” I said softly.
“Now I want each of you to share your plans for when you leave detox,” said the counselor.
“I’m Billy,” said a young pale man who was almost blind. “I don’t know how I’m gonna stay clean. There’ll be at least two dope dealers sitting on my front porch when I get home.”
Ethel, a large black woman, spoke next. “I’m going to a halfway house, so I don’t have to turn tricks no more.”
After the session, the counselor pulled me aside. His name was Ralph.
“You probably have no idea what’s going on here, do you?” he asked.
“Not really,” I said.
“Usually,” he said, “a client stays here three or four days to let the poisons drain out of their body, then they head out to a halfway house or something like that. In your case, you being a doctor and all, they got something special planned for you. Only a few places in the country know how to treat guys like you—doctors on the skids. The nearest is in Atlanta and I just made your reservation. You’ll be on the plane tomorrow morning. Told them I’m sending them a bat-shit crazy oncologist.”
I must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
“You’re dying and you know it,” said Ralph. “If you don’t go to Atlanta, not only will you lose your license, but you’ll be dead in no time. And you know I’m right.”
I paused for breath, but before Cameron could speak, I plunged ahead.
My last night in detox, my brain was still swimming in a sea of drugs and booze, so my thinking was not at its very best. The next morning, I was supposed to fly to Atlanta, but the craving for cocaine was still raging inside me. My mind kept telling me that if I went to rehab for three or four months, I would have no practice left to come home to. Just saying ‘to hell with it’ and going home sounded really good. My heart, on the other hand, knew that my only hope for survival was getting on that plane.
I knelt in front of my bed like when I was four years old, folded my hands and said simply, God help me. The next morning, I packed my bag, took a taxi to the airport, and got on the plane. When we were in the sky, I remembered my prayer from the night before, but in the light of day, I couldn’t believe the prayer had worked for me.
“So that’s it,” I said. The words were flying out of my mouth. “What about me? Will I ever stop craving cocaine? What’s going to happen now? How long will I have to be here? I can’t possibly stay more than a few weeks. My practice will be ruined. Why are you laughing at me?”
They had what I wanted
After I met with Cameron, I wandered around the intake area like a lost puppy dog. Across the foyer I noticed a young black woman wearing a sweatshirt with my university’s logo on it, so I walked over to say hello.
“It’s comforting to see our school colors represented here,” I said. “Although I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.”
“Umm, yes,” she said, turning around. “It’s good to see a friendly face.
“I’m Vera. The Board says I’m an alcoholic so I guess it must be so.”
“They told me they’d take away my license if I didn’t finish the program here,” I said. “That got my attention.”
“Mine, too,” said Vera. Vera was a pathologist who spent most of her day looking at slides under the microscope. She finished a year behind me in medical school, but we had never met. She stayed on at the university to do her fellowship in Pathology then joined the faculty there.
About that time, Mike showed up. Vera headed off for her intake interview with Cameron.
“You need to know that boys and girls are strictly segregated here,” said Mike. “The women’s apartments are at the other end of the complex from the men. He-ing and She-ing is simply not allowed.”
“Sounds pretty severe,” I said.
“Here,” he said, handing me a loose-leaf notebook, “this is the rule book. Read it first thing. If you break the rules, they come down on you pretty hard. You have to travel in threes, to the grocery store, to get a hair- cut, whatever. You must attend one meeting a day, you must be in before curfew, and you can’t have your car the first month you’re here.”
I nodded, not quite sure what I was agreeing to.
He gave me a quick tour of the building.
“This is the rehab center,” he said, “classrooms, offices, stuff like that.” He pointed to an adjacent building. “That’s Building Two, where they send you when you’re been a very bad boy. It’s also the center’s detox wing. And where the cafeteria is.” He pointed to a path leading into the woods behind the buildings. “That trail leads to an apartment complex where we live. We stay two to a bedroom, four to an apartment. There are usually between a hundred and a hundred and fifty of us drunks and junkies here at one time.”
He grinned. “Welcome to country club rehab.”
Mike helped me carry my stuff up to the apartment, then introduced me to my new roommates.
“Guys!” he yelled out. “Hey, guys, the new fish is here. Everybody come say hello to Lin.”
An athletic man in a jogging outfit came from one of the bedrooms carrying a tennis racket.
“This is John,” said Mike, “a man who loves his beer and has the raunchiest sense of humor you’ve ever heard.” He was a general surgeon from Detroit.
“Go Blue!” John said, tipping his Big Blue baseball cap and twirling a tennis racket in his hand.
“Robert here,” said the portly man on the couch, raising his hand in greeting. He was wearing shorts and flip-flops and eating a doughnut. Robert was a jolly, round practitioner who never seemed to take anything too seriously. “I sleep next door but I hang out here. Family Practice. Drug of choice, crack cocaine.”
The last man in the room resembled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “This is Reggie,” said Mike. “Our preacher from Memphis. Reggie has a fondness for bourbon and the ladies in the front row. But he’s a good soul, in spite of himself.”
“Stow your stuff fast,” said Reggie. “We’re leaving for a meeting in ten minutes. Unfortunately, John’s driving.”
“A meeting?” I asked. “What kind of meeting?”
They all laughed at me.
“Don’t pay any attention to him,” said Mike to my new roommates.
“He’s still toxic.” He turned to me. “You’re required to attend at least one A. A. meeting every day.”
“A.A.?” I asked.
“You know,” said Robert, “A. A., Alcoholics Anonymous.” They laughed again.
“I wouldn’t try thinking too much for a while,” said Robert, finishing his donut and licking his fingers. “Right now, you couldn’t think your way out of a wet paper bag, and you’d probably hurt yourself if you tried.”
“You best follow Mike around until you get your feet on the ground,” said John. “Otherwise, you might get lost going to the bathroom.”
These guys, like me, were not exactly at the height of their careers, but they seemed happy and full of life. I wanted that so desperately I could scream.
CHAPTER TWO: WHERE TO START?
“No step is lost upon this path, And no dangers are found.
And even a little progress is freedom from fear.”
—Bhagavad Gita 2:40
Am I an alcoholic? Am I an addict?
On the way to my first AA meeting, my new friends questioned my sincerity.
“Are you a real alcoholic?” asked Robert.
“I don’t know, am I?” I asked.
“That’s a trick question,” said Mike, lighting a cigarette. “Only you can decide if you’re an alcoholic. But there are clues.”
“Like, do you need an eye-opener to get the day started,” said John, rolling down his window and waving the smoke away.
“Can you quit for any amount of time without going nuts?” said Mike. He frowned and tossed his cigarette out the window. “Can you go into a bar and have two drinks and quit for the night? Can you go for six months without taking a single drink?”
I’d never thought about it like that. I was getting confused.
“It doesn’t matter if you only drink after work or only on weekends,” said Robert. “And it doesn’t matter how much you drink. All that matters is whether you’ve crossed the invisible line that leads to the disease of addiction.”
“Huh?” I asked. They were going a little too fast for my aching brain. “When you pass the point where you can’t control your drinking anymore,” said John.
“Are you having negative consequences because of your drinking?” asked Mike.
“Every time I got high, I didn’t get into trouble, but every time I got into trouble, I was high,” said John, looking pleased with himself.
“Are negative consequences of your drinking and drugging starting to pile up?” said Robert, “like DUIs, getting fired, having the wife and kids move out, getting hauled into court over and over again. Stuff like that.”
Mike turned and stared hard at me. “Is your life ruled by your using? Will you do anything to get your drug of choice?”
That sounded like my life, sure enough.
I know the way out
We arrived at the meeting house and went in. I don’t remember a thing about my first meeting.
Afterward, my jolly friend Robert came up from behind and slapped me on the back, almost bowling me over. I spilled the last of my coffee.
“What’s up, dude,” he bellowed. “Hey, I got a story for you. Ready?”
I wasn’t sure if it mattered, but I said, “Okay. Shoot.”
An alcoholic was stumbling down a dark city street one rainy night when he fell into a large construction pit. The sides were muddy and slicked by the rain and he couldn’t get out. He began to shout.
“Help! I’m stuck in a hole and I can’t get out.”
Shortly, a physician walked by and hearing our drunken friend looked down into the pit.
“O my good man,” said the doctor. “I can see you’ve fallen into a hole and can’t get out. I’m a Harvard physician, don’t you know, and I have something that might help.”
With that, the physician pulled a prescription pad from his coat, dashed off a prescription, and tossed it into the pit. “Take two of these,” he said, “and call me in the morning.” And he was gone.
“Merde,” said the drunk, whose mother was French. He stuffed the prescription into his pocket. Shortly a preacher happened along.
“O my good man,” said the preacher. “I see you’ve fallen in a hole and can’t get out. I’m a Seminary man, don’t you know, Princeton. Here, this may help.” He took out a small Bible, ripped out two pages from the Psalms, and threw them into the pit. “Read two of these and call me in the morning,” he said. And he was gone.
“Sheist,” said the drunk, whose father was German. He now doubted if any help was possible, but just then a strange man with a broad smile peered into the pit.
“Help!” cried our friend. “I had too much to drink and fell into this hole and can’t get out. The doctor gave me a prescription and the preacher gave me a Psalm, but I’m still in the pit.”
“Don’t worry, my friend,” said the man. “I know what to do.”
With that, the stranger leaped into the pit with the drunk.
“Oh, no!’ cried the drunk. “Now we’re both stuck in here. That was a pretty stupid thing to do.”
“Not at all,’ said our rescuer. “I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been here before and I know the way out.”
I laughed. “I hope you know the way out.”
“No,” said Robert, “but I know where the all-night cafe is. Wanna get something to eat?”
You don’t have to do it anymore
The next morning, as Mike and I walked the path through the woods to the treatment center, the sky was overcast and gray. It seemed as if a thousand-pound weight was hung around my neck. Just looking up hurt my eyes. Mike took pity on me.
“Did somebody run over your puppy dog this morning?” he asked.
I mumbled a response but didn’t feel like talking.
“I guess this is probably the low point in your miserable life,” he said.
I glared but did not speak.
“Drugs of choice: cocaine and alcohol, I’ll bet.”
I glared louder.
“There is one good thing about all this.”
` “What?” I barked.
“You don’t have to do it anymore.”
I was sitting in Cameron’s group for newcomers. More than anything, I was glad to be out of the chaotic hateful world that had been my life. No one was supposed to know where I was, and the center was not allowed to acknowledge that I was here. If I was isolated from the world of my old life, at least I wasn’t in the middle of it anymore. I had no idea what to expect but I did my best to pay attention.
“Setting out on a long journey can take a lot of preparation,” said Cameron. “I may need to find a house sitter, stop the newspaper, put the cat in a kennel, order tickets, make reservations, and so on. The spiritual trip you’re beginning will occupy the rest of your life, so a lot of getting ready will be necessary. For some of you, the difficulties involved will cause you to quit. That’s cool. You can always come back later if you want to. But for those of you who succeed, the difficulties of the path must be balanced by the depth of the commitment you make at the start. I want to read you something,” she said, opening a book.
“When the world has beaten you over the head for so long that your eyes are filled with blood, when your chest is so heavy you can’t breathe, and when your children won’t return your phone calls, it’s hard to believe that human beings are essentially good. When your best drinking buddy steals your wallet, your girl, and your stash, forgiveness won’t be your first thought.
When the IRS is knocking on your door, the power company has cut off your lights, and the checks you bounced have come home to roost, it’s hard to find joy in the morning. And when all the lies, deceit, and pain you have caused others becomes a burden you can no longer carry, it’s time for a change.”
She paused and looked up. I, of course, was sure she was talking to me.
` “The image of essential goodness, based on that tiniest piece of divinity burning inside each of us, is a powerful idea. To move from hopelessness to hope, I had to grasp the idea that I was a good person. That I was basically honest, no matter how many lies I had told. That I was kind, no matter how many people I had hurt. That I was capable of change, no matter how many times I had failed. Finding hope in the midst of my ruined, burned-out world was absolutely essential. I had to learn that I was worthy of love.”
“Hearing the stories of other alcoholics gave me reason to trust. When I heard my story come from their lips, I knew I wasn’t alone. We had shared the same experiences. They understood. Our position in society, the size of our fathers’ checkbooks, or the cars we drive are insignificant compared with our common dilemma.”
“Somehow tied up in all this was the idea that we are all children of God. I took hold of this notion without much understanding of what it meant, for it filled some hole in my heart that needed filling. If we were all children of God, then we all had value, even the worst drunks, and junkies of the world. If I was a child of God, my nature was good and only my behavior was bad. If I were a bad person, there would be no help for me, but if I were a good person with bad behavior then my behavior could be changed.”
She put the book down.
“One of our former clients wrote that.”
My roommate John was speaking at our house check-in group one afternoon. For once, he had left his tennis racket behind.
“Yeah,” he said, “I lived under a black cloud. My sole purpose on any given day was to consume enough beer to numb myself.”
“What happened?” I asked. “Short version.”
“A friend took me to an A. A. meeting. Made me pick up a white chip,” he said. “At the time I thought it was stupid, but it started me thinking. I couldn’t conceive of never drinking for the rest of my life. That just wasn’t possible. But maybe I could do it for just one day—today—then come back tomorrow. That was all they asked. Just one day.”
Robert spoke up. “My psychiatrist told me that I had used up a lifetime supply of drugs and alcohol. The cupboard was bare, she said.
Somehow, that seemed to make a lot of sense.”
Everything you think you know is wrong
Mike would become my mentor in recovery. He repeatedly pointed me in the right direction whenever I wandered off the path. One afternoon, we were sitting in the breezeway outside the apartment, drinking coffee while he smoked a cigarette.
“You’re not going to like this,” he said, “but everything you think you know is wrong.” Then he waited for me to deny it. I didn’t disappoint him.
“Hold on there!” I said. “I made Dean’s List, graduated with Honors, and…”
“And, all that fine knowledge of yours landed you here in rehab,” he said, “now didn’t it?”
I knew he was right, but I wasn’t going down without a fight. My ego wouldn’t let me.
“Yes, but…” I blustered.
“I’m not talking about how to change a tire or drive from here to Richmond,” he said. “I’m talking about how to behave in the world, how to feel good about yourself, and how to live a life where anger isn’t your primary emotion.”
I was squirming in my seat, but I sipped my coffee and listened.
“When I got here, I was sure I knew it all—who I was, what my problem was, and what I needed to do about it,” he said. “Then Cameron told me what I just told you.”
“Everything you think I know is wrong?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said. “And it was as big a shock to me then as it is to you now. And just like you, I refused to believe it.”
The late spring breeze cooled my aching head. I went inside and refilled my coffee then rejoined Mike outside.
“As my head cleared, I began to see how screwed up my thinking had become,” he said. “The deterioration was so slow that I never realized it was happening. Cameron said that I didn’t need to fix just one or two things, I needed a whole new way of looking at the world, a whole new way of thinking.”
That sounded like way too much for me to handle all at once. It must have shown on my face, for Mike said, “Baby steps, my friend, baby steps. And remember—it was your very best thinking that got you here.”
“First stop of the day, morning spiritual,” said Robert, finishing off a Danish as we walked through the woods to Building Two. “Promptly at 8:45, we assemble for a short spiritual lesson to start the day off right.”
“You got to be kidding,” I said. “I gave up on that stuff a long time ago.”
“Look, doofus,” he said with an edge on his voice. “If you knew all the answers, you goddamn wouldn’t be here. Everything you think you know is wrong. And I mean everything.”
Mike’s words from the day before echoed in my head.
“Consider, if you will,” he said, calming down, “that maybe you threw the baby out with the bathwater.”
We walked silently into a large room and were greeted by Father Mick, a tall geeky man dressed in a soutane. He handed a stack of pages to John, who distributed them around the room. On each was the 38th Psalm.
“Father Mick is our spiritual advisor,” said Mike, standing beside me. “He’s been sober four years and worked here most of that time. Really cool dude.”
I nodded, lest my words get me in trouble again.
“I suspect,” said Father Mick from the podium, once the room became quiet, “that addiction has always been with us. Every time I read this Psalm, it reminds me of how I felt at the end of my drinking career. Maybe you can hear your story in it as well. The verse does end on a positive there is hope for even the worst of us. And, of course, my enemies are the negative thoughts in my mind.”
He began to read.
“O LORD, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.
Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee. My heart panteth, my strength faileth me: as for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me.
My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore, and my kinsmen stand afar off. They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long.
But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Thus, I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs.
For in thee, O LORD, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God. For I said, Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me: when my foot slippeth, they magnify themselves against me. For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me.
For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin. But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is.
Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.”
Father Mick looked up and smiled.
I felt vaguely comforted by the words, but I couldn’t see how that had anything to do with me.
On the way to my newcomer session, I suddenly felt the uncontrollable urge to get high, rolling over me like a wave, frightening in its strength. The imaginary rush of the drug hitting my bloodstream moved over me like so many times before. Like before, the craving took control of my entire be- ing. I felt the inside of my arm where the needle had lived, and rubbed the tired weary veins. I looked around nervously to see if anyone had noticed my slide back down the rabbit hole. Afraid of swooning, I leaned back against the wall and closed my eyes. Then, I felt someone touch my arm and opened my eyes to find Mike standing by my side. He knew.
“C’mon friend,” he said kindly. “We gotta get you out a here. Let’s go find some coffee.”
His touch broke the spell and snapped me back to reality, but the memory lingered all day, and I kept looking warily over my shoulder for its return.
We were sitting around after dinner when John, leaning against the door frame, tennis racket in hand, told this story.
“I was blind drunk when I left home,” he said, “but I didn’t think anything was wrong with my driving.”
We laughed at that.
“Within minutes, I was craving another beer,” he said, “so I stopped at a mini-mart and bought a six-pack. I drank most of the beer in the parking lot, then wheeled onto the road in my best imitation of Richard Petty when I saw the flashing red and blue lights behind me. The policeman politely asked me if I was having a problem.”
“I just nodded my head, knowing I’d slur my words. The officer clearly saw the empty beer cans on the floor, but for some reason he took pity on me, knowing I would never pass a breathalyzer test.
“‘Okay,’ he said. ‘If you promise to go straight home and not stop on the way, I’ll let you go this one time.’”
“I think they call that enabling,” said Mike in a hushed voice.
John continued. “I drank the last two beers on the side of the road and then my craving returned. I drove two blocks to the next mini-mart and bought another six-pack. Within minutes, the flashing lights were again in my rear-view mirror. A different officer not only gave me a DUI, but he handcuffed me and hauled me off to jail.
“You know, the whole time, I couldn’t understand why the police were hassling me. I was a careful, safe driver, I thought. I was sure my thinking and my reflexes were completely normal.”
“That sounds completely insane,” I said.
“I’ve thought the same thing myself,” said John, tossing his tennis racket into the air and catching it.
“I think you may be an alcoholic,” said Mike.
Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth
We were at a Friday night A. A. meeting near the university. It was a speaker meeting, where one person tells the story of their addiction and how they recovered. Tonight, the speaker was Frank, an insurance salesman. He was tall, thin, and a little mousy. I kept thinking; would I buy insurance from this man?
“Early in my sobriety,” he began, “I was sure I knew everything, so there was no need for me to listen to you. In fact, I was sure you wanted me to point out all of your faults and tell you how to fix them.”
The crowd laughed and somber Frank smiled, just a little.
“This old way of thinking had become so ingrained that I resisted any new ideas, especially if they came from you. Today, I know that I am an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. But in those days, to hide my low self-esteem, I had to be smarter than you. I had to be right all the time. Especially at A. A. and N.A. meetings.”
Another round of laughter. Frank’s smile grew a little bigger.
“ Today, when I see newcomers arrive in the rooms with this same attitude, I marvel at what an arrogant asshole I was then. That’s not to say that I’m not an arrogant asshole now, because I am. But today, I can listen and learn, and I know that while my experience can help others, my advice is worth nothing.” He paused for a sip of coffee.
Mike giggled. In my ear, he whispered, “Kinda sounds like you, don’t it?”
“Someone told me,” Frank continued, “to take the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth. Meaning of course that when I’m talking, I can’t hear what you’re saying. Remember, recovery is all about turning our lives around, so it’s important to hear what others with more clean and sober time have to say.”
Frank wiped his brow and smiled out loud.
Mike punched me in the ribs and giggled again. My face was hot with embarrassment. Frank’s words rang true for me, but I was frightened because I had never questioned my own intellect so deeply.
The next morning, I was introduced to Matt’s group session. Matt was about my age but far thinner and more athletic. He had short-cropped hair and a short beard that was salt and pepper gray. The story was that Matt had been chaplain to the Special Forces at Fort Campbell before he came to work at Taylor. They also said he was an ordained Catholic priest, but then they said a lot of things.
The classroom had a nice view of the Georgia pine woods outside. I settled into a seat at the back of the room and tried to keep my head down.
“Welcome to the school for impaired physicians,” Matt said. “I hope you enjoy your stay with us here at the asylum.”
That brought more than a few puzzled looks from his audience. “Didn’t they tell you; this place is a state-licensed mental hospital? If you don’t believe me, look on the sign on the back of the front door where you come in.”
Matt came around his desk and leaned back against it, surveying the group. He shook his head sadly.
“You are, of course, all mentally compromised beyond your own understanding,” he said. “How is that, you say? Well, to discuss all the forms of alcoholic insanity would require more time than we have today. So, let's concentrate on your stinking thinking.”
“What?” I blurted out, then instantly regretted it.
“Who are you?” Matt looked me straight in the eye.
“Lin,” I whispered.
“Yeah, I’ve heard about you,” he said. “The crazy cancer doctor from Virginia. Got it,” he nodded at me. “Do you know what stinking thinking is?”
“Uh, no,” I said.
“Well, you’ve got it in spades,” he laughed. “In fact, your thinking smells so bad you’re stinking up the whole room.”
The group laughed, glad it wasn’t them getting roasted.
“Robert, can you help us out here?”
Robert sucked air for a moment, then said, “There are at least three ways Lin’s thinking is screwed up. He has a damaged thinker, a broken filter, and an overactive forgetter.”
“And why is your thinker broken, Lin?” asked Matt.
“Because I used a lot of coke and drank a lot of wine?” I squeaked.
“Good,” said Matt. “Maybe there’s hope for you after all. And what about your broken filter, Mike?”
“A normal brain filters out all the useless input it gets,” said Mike. “You know, highway noise, flashing neon signs, background conversation in a restaurant. My filter has been refitted to help me stay drunk. Anything which suggests that my using is causing a problem is filtered out. Nothing critical of my using behavior gets in.”
“Your broken filter screens out all the warnings of your friends, ignores the damage that you’re doing to your body, and everything your conscience is trying to tell you,” said Matt. “John?”
“Just in case anything gets by my filter,” John said, “I’ve developed an overactive forgetter. I can instantly forget anything which might compromise my drinking and drugging. I can ignore the warning the cop just gave me. I can forget my wife telling me that if I don’t quit drinking, she’d leave me. I can forget the bank threatening to repossess my car. I can forget anything which threatens to interfere with my using. It’s all very convenient.”
“But I don’t understand,” I peeped.
Matt turned and stared straight at me. “Lin, my friend,” he said, “you are sicker than you know.”
I gulped. I was standing at the edge of a precipice with no bottom in sight. I could no longer trust my best friend, my wonderful brain, and I was frightened.
The next day, Matt was nailing a newcomer’s butt to the wall. “Chuck,” Matt began, “Are you trustworthy?”
“Of course,” stuttered Chuck. “I’m as honest as the next guy.”
“That’s not what I asked.” Matt turned and looked at Mike. “Mike, what did I ask?”
“You asked Chuck if he was trustworthy.”
Matt looked at Robert and asked, “You’ve never met Chuck, have you??”
Robert shook his head. “Is he trustworthy?”
“Absolutely not, sir,” Robert said. “Chuck’s an untreated alcoholic. He’s neither trustworthy nor honest.”
Chuck was red-faced and squirming.
“Vera, of all the people in this room, who does Chuck trust?”
“No one,” said Vera. “He’s not capable of trust.”
“What will happen if Chuck doesn’t learn how to trust?”
“His ship will sail over the edge of the world and he’ll die!” she said sweetly.
Matt looked sadly at Chuck. “Failure to trust breeds dishonesty,” he said. “If I can’t trust you with who I am, I can’t share my true feelings to you. My secret self, afraid of being hurt, will hide every vulnerability. To become trustworthy, you must first learn to trust yourself. Then, and only then, can you begin to trust others.”
As we walked back to the apartments, Robert was thoughtful.
“I remember when I first started to trust,” he said. “For the three days I spent in detox in Miami, I was too sick to hear anything. When I got here, Terry, he was here before you, took me under his wing and led me around by the nose. Took me to my first A. A. meeting. Up to that point, I was afflicted by what they call terminal uniqueness. That is, nobody had ever been through the stuff I had, and no one could possibly understand me or my problems. Which is, of course, just denial on my part. See, if I’m unique then I don’t have to listen to you and I can keep on using, and probably dying, which is why they call it terminal uniqueness.”
I nodded, barely avoiding tripping over a tree root in the path.
“Anyway, at the meeting one night, this old guy was telling his story,” said Robert. “He looked like a street bum, all bent over, shabby clothes, nothing like me at all. I thought, what could I possibly have in common with this guy? But as he talked, it was as if he was telling my story. If I had written it down and had him read it, it couldn’t have been more like my life. We had done the same drug, fought the same battles, and been beaten down together.”
We emerged from the woods and headed across the parking lot toward our apartment. The sky was overcast and angry and threatened a pure Georgia thunderstorm. We hurried along as only two chubby doctors can. In the apartment, Robert pulled out a Little Debbie cake from the pantry and plopped down on the couch. I put on the coffee as Robert continued his tale.
“It was amazing,” he said. “This guy understood what I’d been through. I wasn’t alone anymore.” He munched and recollected. “So, I felt I could trust him. Then I looked at Terry, and I knew I could trust him, too.”
I poured us some coffee and sat down.
“These guys, they were just like me, and maybe, just maybe, what they were saying was true. I had a glimmer of hope that maybe I could get this monkey off my back.”
He polished off the last of little Debbie, licked his fingers, and asked plaintively, “Who’s cooking tonight?”
Timmy arrived at rehab with his mouth shut. A pharmacist from the Midwest, he was thin and blond, and I was sure that a strong breeze would blow him over.
“I think he expects to get out of here without saying anything,” said Robert as we headed out to the evening’s A. A. meeting.
“Good luck with that,” I said.
“I asked him to come over tonight so we could talk,” said Robert.
Timmy dutifully arrived at the apartment about 9:30, and as usual, John put on another pot of coffee. We filled our cups. Timmy, true to form, sat quietly, his face a picture of sorrow.
“So, you’re from Dubuque?” I asked.
“Des Moines,” said Timmy, trying to smile. “Dubuque is about 200 miles east of Des Moines.”
“It’s all the Great Plains to me,” I said, trying to be funny.
“I heard your thing was speed,” said John.
“Well, uh, yeah,” said Timmy. “I used to go back to the pharmacy at night to do paperwork, but instead I’d grind up Ritalin and inject myself. I eventually reached a point where I would inject myself in the morning on the way to work. No matter how upset or sad I was, Ritalin always took away my problems.”
“Speed can do that,” I agreed, “at least for a while.”
“So I found out,” said Timmy.
“What’s your sex thing?” asked Robert, who was sprawled out on the couch making love to a slice of left-over pizza. One of Robert’s pet theories was that everybody in rehab had a sex thing, so he always asked. The new fish always denied it, but within a few weeks you would hear them would brag about spending $3,000 in one night at a strip bar, or something similar.
“Me?” said Timmy, acting surprised. “I don’t have a sex thing!”
This brought a round of applause from the group. Timmy sank perceptibly deeper into his sadness.
“I hear you play the guitar,” I said, for I had seen him unload a guitar case with his suitcases. I noticed because I play as well. Everyone else had gone to bed by the time Timmy returned with his guitar. I had trouble keeping my eyes open, but I tuned my guitar and tried to forget about getting up in the morning. We played together for over an hour until Timmy stopped in mid-song and began to cry.
“Robert was right,” he said. “I was having an affair with one of the salesgirls at the pharmacy. We’d meet behind the counter after lights out and play doctor. Then Alice—that’s my wife—found out, and my world began to unravel.” He wiped a sleeve across his face. “I’m going to lose the pharmacy, my license, and my family. My life is over—I’ve screwed up beyond any possible repair.”
“Maybe it’s not all that bad,” I said, laying my guitar aside. I stood up and gave him a hug. He started crying again.
We will love you until you learn to love yourself
John was on my ass. I wasn’t feeling very good about myself. Depressed, my career in shambles, I felt hopelessly alone. John could see it on my face. He pointed his tennis racket at me and began to rant.
“In group today, didn’t you hear Matt say, ‘We’ll love you until you learn to love yourself ?’ Does that make any sense to you at all, you numb-skull?” he asked.
“Not really,” I said. “I haven’t loved myself in a very long time. I’ve made so many mistakes and hurt so many people, I don’t see how anybody could possibly love me.”
We all felt that way when we got here,” said Robert.
“And…?” I asked.
“We let them love us,” Robert said.
That sounded like bullshit from a sappy greeting card, and I said so.
“We’re all children of God,” said Reggie the preacher, who was sitting by the window, watching the rain fall outside. He turned to face me and said, “Within each of us is a small piece of goodness, a little bit of divinity.” He got up and walked across the room to sit down beside me. “It’s where your conscience is. It’s how you know right from wrong. It’s where love comes from.”
“I’m not sure I know how to love,” I said. “There’s just this big empty hole where my heart used to be.”
“Doofus,” John was waving his tennis racket again. “Didn’t I just tell you; we’ll love you till you learn how to love yourself?” His love was shouting at me.
I looked at Reggie. “What’s he talking about?” I asked.
“What John means is that every newcomer feels just like you do now. All of us did. Unloved, lonely, afraid.”
I nodded. That sounded like me.
“In time, we came to understand that we have a bad disease but we’re good people at heart. That as children of God, the real part of us is good, kind, honest, and worthy. Loveable, in spite of the wrongs we’d done,” he said. “Recovery can be thought of as controlling our disease and letting that essential goodness out.”
In a moment of silence, we all stared out the window at the rain, calming and peaceful.
“We’re all worthy of love,” said Reggie. “The more I can love others, the more I can love myself.”
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