Some would have described my life as picture perfect. Successful husband, two small healthy kids, beautiful home.
Then that Monday he came home and dropped the bombshell. A state board investigator came to his office today and he would be leaving to go for a three day evaluation for prescription drug abuse. How had that happened? How could I have been completely oblivious to drug abuse? Why had I not seen any symptoms or signs? Yes, he had been taking naps every evening. Yes, he had not been able to do small tasks around the house. But drug abuse? We had a few days to prepare for him to go; figure out what I would tell his family after he left, have a chance to cancel patients, what I would tell his staff. How in the world would I handle all of this when he just left? Disappeared.
I guess that was the bottom for me. That three day evaluation became a month stay. The staff handled the office with few problems and I quickly found, with the help of a local dentist/friend, a retired dentist to come and check hygiene and at least help meet some of the overhead. The staff didn’t ask many questions probably because they knew that something was very wrong. Money was an issue because we were a relatively young practice with significant debt that had to be managed. I was determined to meet payroll and keep our staff if I could find a way to do that. I was fortunate that a relative offered a loan and still didn’t ask many questions. The kids were too young to notice that Daddy was gone. I guess those evening naps made him seem gone to them anyway. Every time I went out in public, I was sure that everyone I saw knew that there was something wrong, so I tended to just stay home.
It still amazes me how people just accept what you tell them and ask very few questions, especially when you have a vague answer ready for the bold ones. It also amazes me how quickly a month passes. He returned from treatment and went back to work and we began to dig out of the financial hole. His time away from the office was occupied by AA/NA meetings and I guess I was glad for that so that I could adjust to him being home and begin to deal with my feelings of anger at the whole situation. Everyone has to deal with issues their own way. Having two small kids to handle, I chose to skip the Al-Anon meetings, but I learned a tremendous amount about the disease of addiction through my husband.
The CDP program was not as organized back then and we did not have the annual meetings which included spouses, but I was dedicated to supporting my husband in doing whatever was necessary for his continued health and sobriety. I don’t remember when the anger disappeared, but it did. The debt was retired. The practice went on successfully. Life returned to normal, but that normal was very different. My husband was obviously healthy and happy to be healthy. Yes, he had to jump through many hoops that I didn’t understand at the time, but now I see the positive results. The end result is absolutely worth it.
I am a dental hygienist licensed to practice in the state of North Carolina thanks to the advocacy of the North Carolina Caring Dental Professionals. I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to attend the 62nd Annual Session of the School of Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
I want to be able to share my experience with you. From the moment I arrived in Salt Lake City, I was welcomed by many warm smiles. Throughout the week, I attended many sessions that demonstrated prevention, recognition and treatment of alcoholism and drug addictions. I got connected and felt my sobriety being recharged with each session. To remain teachable is very important in my recovery, the opportunity to be able to learn more about how my disease affects me, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
I’m not sure who all was in recovery, but in those sessions there was a comfort and a fellowship. I never felt as if I didn’t belong, much the way I feel in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In the middle of the week, I was asked to “tell my story” and of course being the alcoholic/addict that I am, I felt anxious. So, I went on a run the night before which was unsuccessful since the elevation is a whole lot higher in Utah than it is in North Carolina.
Before I spoke, I gave away all that anxiety to God and asked Him to speak through me, to share His message. The relief came after, the healthy relief from doing the right thing; not like the fleeting relief I used to seek through a bottle.
What I discovered is that a lot of healing came. I’ve told my story before in Alcoholics Anonymous but that particular day I was able to share things outside the singleness of purpose. I was able to share my whole story about my intervention and the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners, the process, willingness and action that took place to be able to have my dental hygiene license reinstated as well as the structure and support of the NCCDP. I had never been able to do that before and I am grateful.
Afterwards, I was able to recognize the people in recovery from the smiles and hugs, and sharing of their experiences. They too could relate.
One part of the conference that I’ll hold dear to my heart is getting an inside look at all of the directors from the Well Being Programs from different states, working together to help the suffering dentists and hygienists. They really do want to help us in restoring our lives. Since I’m still a Participant in the NCCDP Program, this was important for me to be able to see. As a result, I want to help and be more involved in service work within my profession and with the Well Being Program, NCCDP.
This week will always be a time to remember. I was able to make many friendships, was educated on my addictions, and saw the many highlights the beautiful Salt Lake City has to offer. I had the most amazing time. It really is true that sobriety is a journey of joyful discovery and I hope more dentists and hygienists get to have the opportunity that I was given. I hope that I will be able to attend this conference for many years to come.
Grateful Recovering Hygienist
Cunning, baffling, and powerful, that is how alcohol has been described in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I did not plan on becoming alcoholic. It was a slow, relentless process. Growing up, I was not subjected to the effects of alcohol. No one in my close or extended family drank. I experimented with alcohol in high school, but had no consequences or problems.
In college, I drank with friends at times, but only after my studies had been completed. Again, there were no problems. Dental school was a bear. Studying, exams, and clinical experience were placed first. When all of these were completed, it was time for “reward and relaxation.” Fortunately, alcohol did not have any adverse effects on my dental education.
After graduation from dental school, I didn’t have to worry about continuous studying, the exams, getting clinical requirements, and passing state licensure examinations. I only needed to concentrate on my practice. Of course, this is stressful also. I began to “celebrate” each week gone by with my “reward” — a drink, or two or three on Fridays and Saturdays.
It was in my late 30’s that the good feeling I would get from alcohol — ease and comfort — was something I sought on a regular basis. I began to need alcohol. I began to conceal how much I drank from my family and friends. I would “spike” my beer or wine with vodka to get quicker and more profound effects. I began to drink alone. I had “crossed the line” over which I could never return to normal drinking. I had a good practice, I attended church regularly, my family was still with me, and I had no DUI’s or other legal problems. How could I be an alcoholic?
My years of trying to control my drinking and its consequences were to no avail. My family, office staff, and friends were concerned. My last nine years of “controlled drinking” were “out of control.” I went to three different treatment programs and irregularly attended 12 step recovery meetings.
Fourteen years ago, I finally “got it.” I began the recovery process as a participant, not as an observer. I joined the NC Caring Dental Professionals Program and continue today as a volunteer to help myself and my fellow dental professionals on our journeys in recovery. I have been given a new life and a new way to live it through the 12 Step Recovery Program. The problems I have today come from the blessings of sobriety. I realize that nothing would be improved by a drink. If I should ever choose to drink again, my life would get much worse instantly.
Sober & Free Dentist
I knew from an early age that I was different. I can remember when I was in first grade I started isolating and felt alone and different. I had difficulty in school and was diagnosed with a learning disability when I was in fourth grade. This only made me feel even more different and caused me to isolate more. I continued in public school only to struggle due to my disability. I never felt like I was normal always comparing others’ outsides to my insides.
By the time I was in seventh grade I had fallen so far behind I thought I would never catch up. My parents worked hard to give me a good education so they sent me away to a small prep school in PA to help me overcome my learning disabilities. I realized that I was not alone and soon began to thrive academically because I was around others like me and had the tools and help from teachers that knew how to help me. Little did I know that as I began to learn to overcome and deal with my learning disability, I still had a disease that would soon start to grow and develop; that was addiction.
I completed this 2 year program with honors doing well in school and playing sports. My self esteem was starting to develop, however my disease of addiction was developing faster. I then went to a coed boarding school in NH where I did well and thrived in sports and school receiving leadership awards and honors. I was introduced to alcohol and marijuana while there, and I felt even better. I never got in trouble from drugs or alcohol but I was slowly getting sicker and did not know it.
I went to a small college never being a partier, but when I would drink I would get drunk. Then came dental school. I drank and smoked pot on the weekends thinking that was OK and that I did not have a problem, but I did and could not see it. When I drank I would get drunk, so I did not drink often as I knew I could not control it but never thought anything of that. I smoked marijuana, and my shame fear and guilt started to grow. My disease of addiction was growing stronger and faster, and I had no idea what was happening. I was a good student and never got into trouble, so I thought I did not have a problem.
Once I started practice my fears grew and my marijuana use continued on and off for another 18 years. I was becoming consumed by fear, guilt, and shame. I was in denial that I had a problem. I really wanted to stop but did not know what to do. I started to live for the weekends not so I could use so much but so I could check out emotionally and feel safe that I would not do something wrong and be discovered. I soon lost my self and became motivated to seek approval from others because I did not know who I was. I started to isolate and become irritable and discontent. I wanted to change but did not know how. I soon started to have serious marital problems that resulted in me separating from my wife. My great desire to change and become the person I knew I wanted to be was at war with the person I had become and it was killing me through my drug use to escape. I soon discovered cocaine and this relieved me for a short time. As my separation continued my cocaine use escalated to a point that I am lucky to be alive today. My wife thought something was up and took the hair out of the drain in the shower and had it tested and discovered I was using drugs. She called the CDP and turned me in and I was soon at the CDP office where I was both terrified to be and also relieved to be. I realized with it like I had my learning disability I had to admit I needed help. Somehow God was doing for me what I could not do for myself. Margie Graves showed me that they cared and I felt safe again. I did not like it, but knew if I did what she told me I might have a chance at this. I was off to treatment. It was hard but after three weeks in treatment I let go of so much and started to deal with me and stopped blaming everyone and everything else for where I was. This was a freeing process. I was learning to take responsibility for my part in things and let go of trying to control other people, places, and things. I was asking God to do for me what I could not do for myself. I began to turn my will and my life over to the care of god asking every day for help with my recovery and new way of living. It took some time but my sanity returned and I began working with my AA sponsor and my obsession and desire to drink and drug was lifted one day at a time.
Today my life in recovery is better than I thought possible. It is taking hard work and commitment to work the program but I have been amazed at the results. I know a new freedom I could have never imagined. I do not fear things like I used to. The gift of knowing God will give me what I need if I maintain a fit spiritual life has basically removed my fears and settled a peace in my soul I never imagined. I have enjoyed my practice so much more and my patients see a difference in me. I have more meaningful relationships with those in my life especially my children and my ex-wife. Today I have a support system in place through AA and the Caring Dental Professionals. Today I am learning to live as a grateful recovering alcoholic and am happy with who I am and the person I am developing into. Thank You Margie Graves and the Caring Dental Professionals for getting me the help I needed and giving me a program that will help teach me how to continue to live a life in recovery.
A grateful recovering alcoholic
About three years into recovery, I began to look at my need to be a perfectionist in my dental practice. I had always thought that it was good to try to achieve perfection in my work, but I wondered why I wasn’t as happy or economically fit in my profession as others who were not quite so devoted to as high a degree of technical excellence.
When in treatment for chemical dependency, I relearned some phrases I grew up with: “anything worth doing is worth doing poorly” and “strive to be average”. Balance seemed to be the key. I volunteered to buy a coloring book and crayon outside the lines. I found it extremely hard to do. One slight lapse in my concentration and oops, there I was, coloring inside the lines again. Where did this need to be perfect come from?
I asked a recovering dentist who was a counselor at the treatment center to help me with this question and he asked me to define my perfectionism to him. I always thought my perfectionism in dentistry was a good thing, like the Olympic athlete training for years to be the best in the world at something. He shocked me with his definition. He called it “self-hatred” and told me it comes from a position of low self-esteem, an extreme need to people-please, a sign of never measuring up to others’ expectations. It’s a way of hiding who we really are from others. The perfectionistic thought is “If I do this job well enough, you will love me, and you will not find fault with me.”
Working for praise is one thing. I think that’s part of the good stuff in life. We perfectionists, however, work to avoid shame. An example can be found in my waiting room. It still has the same furniture purchased twenty years ago. The upholstery still looks good! The furniture holds up so well because I never let the patients sit in it. I fear their disapproval of waiting for me, so I have a habit of seating them in the operatory immediately upon their arrival, even if they’re early. This is shame avoidance.
Another example of perfectionism is in housekeeping. When I’m done with the dishes, I have to wash the sink. Then, of course, I have to dry the sink to avoid the water spots on the stainless steel. Then I find that last dirty cup and I am confronted with the problem of leaving the job incomplete or rewashing and redrying the sink. What energy this takes!
Procrastination becomes an issue. “If I can’t do it my way, I won’t do it at all, (until I find the time).” The sink is spotless one day a week, but the rest of the time it looks like a war zone. Half-baked projects are scattered thoughout the house and spill over to the garage…
I have come to learn that perfectionism is a sign of my codependency, which is a set of behaviors developed during childhood and adolescence as a reaction to never quite measuring up to expectations from others. Dental school honed this need to perform to a fine edge. Instructors in clinic taught us to seek approval for every little step of filling a tooth. Miniscule deviations from the standard practice were strongly disfavored. I did well with this, however, and was rewarded with a degree and a license. Early in my own unsupervised practice, I remember feeling like I needed to show my tooth preparations to my assistant to make sure it was good enough!
I want to make a distinction between precision and perfectionism. There needs to be a precision in the working length of a root canal, which is significantly different from the precision in the thickness of the palate in a full denture. Here’s one of my keys to recovery from perfectionism: when the additional effort to achieve a higher level of precision becomes insignificant to the outcome of the task, stop and move on to the next task.
I think perfectionism is the symptom, not the disease. Overcoming it means looking at my past fear-based behaviors and trying different healthy actions in similar situations. I need to look at the motivation for the old behavior instead of the behavior itself. I need to realize that I don’t need my patients to love me. I don’t even need them to like me! It’s a job, not a popularity contest. I am responsible for doing a good job at a fair price in a fairly convenient manner, but that’s all. The funny thing is that when I can show my patients that I don’t need their approval, and am only willing just to be a good dentist, they like me even more! That’s all they wanted in the first place.
A Perfectly Imperfect Recovering Dentist
Why would I say that?…is what you may be asking yourself.
As a very grateful recovering addict/alcoholic I tell you that because this newsletter saved me. Why did I say “Hide it if you must”? Because I found for me, as abuse slipped into addiction, secrecy and fear ran my life. Oh yeah, I could control use until it controlled me. Then I had to lie to myself and others to keep it going. I could quit whenever I wanted…I just didn’t want to.
I found out later that addiction is really an ego defense mechanism that persists despite negative consequences. Negative consequences – UGH – the easiest to see are the arrests, DUI’s, wrecks. But as addiction’s strong hold continues its negative spiral, we blame, minimize and rationalize these legal consequences, too.
Believe me your family is watching and counting. Not to mention how it tears families apart-our emotional unavailability as we push away the ones we love most. It’s sad, hurts and produces guilt and especially shame to a toxic level.
I received these newsletters for years at my office and usually tossed them. I read enough to know there was a program….When I finally got to the end of my rope I had my wife call CDP.
CDP facilitated that turning point in my life. What I didn’t know was that they were for me not against me. Our program is one of the finest in the nation. Many states have little or no recovery programs available and are only punitive. Ours is NOT! They are there to champion your cause – RECOVERY! They will bird-doggedly advocate for you provided you are willing to be accountable – which can be hard to accept at first – but certainly easier than having a license revoked.
If you sign up before any of the legal issues they will keep your anonymity from the State Dental Board….how cool is that!
They know what you need to overcome addiction.
Life is so much better – not being tethered to a bottle of any sort.
The most frightening phone call I have ever made was the call to the Caring Dental Professionals program to disclose my addiction and ask for help. That phone call to the CDP saved my life and turned out to be the best thing I have ever done.
Soon after entering treatment for hydrocodone addiction, I heard some truths about myself that were hard to accept. I was told to look around the room to see where I was sitting. My best thinking and seven years abusing hydrocodone had landed me in Atlanta, Georgia, in a behavioral health and drug rehabilitation hospital. I was also told that the degree to which I had spiraled downhill in my addiction was proportional to how far removed I was at this point in my life from being the person I thought I would be. That one really hit me……….who and what I thought I would be at 43 and who and what I had become were very different! I grew up in a good home, private school, played sports, college, dental school, married, kids. I had what seemed to be the perfect life. Why was I sitting in a room with other addicts in rehab?
In my thirties, I suffered a shoulder injury and it became a chronic problem. I managed it with NSAID’s for a while. It would stop hurting for a while. It would flare back up and become painful and eventually it began to limit my ability to work. The doctor prescribed hydrocodone and it relieved my pain. However, what seemed to me to be justified reasons for taking hydrocodone in the outset eventually turned into lies and excuses to continue to use. At the same time that my shoulder became a problem, so did my life! I was dealing with a failing marriage. We were in tremendous debt and missing tax payments to continue our out of control lifestyle of overspending. Spending always exceeded income. I could not say no to anyone. I wanted everyone to have everything they needed and wanted to a fault and I wanted them to know that everything was okay! In comes hydrocodone! I began self prescribing to fuel my need for the drug. For a little while, for a few hours with each pill, hydrocodone made things feel a little better. The drug fooled me though into thinking everything was okay or at least the bad feelings ( guilt, fear, shame) were out of my mind for a little while but It also allowed me to continue in this deeper and deeper downward spiral of lies and hiding and over-spending by clouding my ability to see or care about anyone but myself. As my problems became bigger, so did my need to escape and hide and it seemed hydrocodone fixed things. Initially, it seemed that hydrocodone was my best friend. It was the miracle cure for everything that was wrong in my life but it soon became the enemy. My addiction evolved to the point that I could not imagine a day without it. Hydrocodone was in control. My life became the perfect struggle of, “I can’t continue doing what I am doing but I can’t quit either”. In that last year before treatment, I had made 3 good attempts on my own over the course of 9 months to stop taking the pills but each time I failed. In the end, I did somehow manage to have enough clarity in my drug fogged mind to understand that I couldn’t continue any longer. I was killing myself and I was hurting many people around. I did not know about recovery. I did not know what I could do differently and I did not know that I would be able to stop taking the pills but I did know that something had to give even if it meant suicide. I had hit the bottom!
In the fall of that year, I was finally able to disclose to my family the whole truth……..the pills, the debts, the tax burden that I had created and with the love and support of so many people, I called the Caring Dental Professionals and I entered treatment. I have just celebrated 12 years of recovery from hydrocodone addiction. Today, life could not be better. During my drug use, I could not imagine a day without hydrocodone. Today, I cannot imagine a day with it!
Recovery requires change. The same old person doing the same things will get the same results over and over. I had to learn that I was the problem. I was a sick person that had done bad things but I felt like such a bad person! I had become someone quite different than I thought I would be. The person that I had become I also came to hate the most! One of my hardest challenges early in recovery was forgiving myself for the things I had done. I firmly believed that if you really knew me, you wouldn’t possibly like me. Recovery required stopping hydrocodone. It required facing the people that I had hurt and making amends. It required that I faced my debts and became responsible for repaying them. And most importantly, it required that I clearly understood exactly who and what I had become in my addiction and know that I never wanted to be that way or that person again.
“The Man I am Supposed to Be”
When confronted with disappointments, it’s easy for me to get discouraged and want to stop trying. The addict inside tells me to give up and go back to my old ways. Self-centered fears come in like a tidal wave of despair. It’s the old, “I’ll show you by hurting me.” When an addict is in this “triggered” state, three things hold true:
- My thoughts are irrational.
- My feelings are unmanageable.
- My behavior is self-defeating.
Notice how each item begins with “my.” I think this is just one of many examples of how selfish a disease addiction is. It only thinks of itself. It cares for no one or nothing other than itself.
I’ve heard many addicts at NA meetings say that their disease wants them either dead or in handcuffs. This isn’t much of a choice. There are only two options, and neither of them appeals to me.
Recovery on the other hand, offers endless options—all of them good. Recovery, as opposed to addiction, wants freedom for you. It wants you to experience all the good things in the wide world. It leaves no room for the chains of active addiction. It offers fulfillment.
So how do we get out of a slump when faced with disappointment? How do we quiet the selfish addict inside? Many of us have developed healthy coping skills that keep us from staying in a triggered state. But what about the person new to recovery? Six items that can help are as follows:
- Acknowledge to yourself that you’re triggered.
- Breathe! Deep slow breathing is an easy way to enter a meditative state.
- Start positive self-talk. Tell yourself that it’s your internal addict making you feel this way.
- Call someone and talk it through. Acknowledge your emotions and explore them.
- Use natural mood elevators such as watching a favorite comedy or exercising.
Disappointments are always going to come our way. This is inevitable. They don’t have to defeat us though. Even in these troubled times, there’s still a lot of joy to be had out there. Each of us deserves a piece of it.
Shock, dismay, disbelief—these were the feelings that threatened to overwhelm me when I was told that my husband, a dentist who had been in practice for over 27 years, was going into treatment for alcoholism for three months at the behest of the NCCDP. I knew that he had a problem with alcohol, but could not believe that anyone else knew. And alcoholism? That was a term that just couldn’t apply to people like us. After all, he never drank before going to work or during office hours! I was also convinced that, in spite of how much he drank during non-working time, his practice of dentistry was unaffected by his drinking.
I was not in denial about how my husband’s drinking had affected other areas of our lives. Our relationship had been deteriorating for years, and all of the joy and happiness we had shared before alcohol began to take over was gone. We were two people who shared a house but not a life. My husband’s relationship with our two college-age sons had also been going south for some time. So part of me was a little relieved to have a name, a disease, which identified what was wrong with my husband, and to hear that there was something that could be done about it. However, I was still extremely frightened. How would the practice be kept going? What if it couldn’t be? What would people say? Would our sons have to drop out of school? Where would the money come from?
The folks at CDP tried to reassure me, but I was unconvinced. Then we got on the phone with Dr. P., who kept a list of Locum Tenens dentists for such occasions. In what I can only describe as a direct intervention by my Higher Power, a classmate of my husband had just placed herself on the list. He called her on Friday, she came to our house on Sunday, my husband left on Monday and she took over the practice. She lived with me during the work week and went to her home for the weekends. It was an amazing solution on so many levels.
That was nearly five years ago. In that time our lives have been completely transformed. Through the help of many people, including the staff and mentors of NCCDP, my husband is in solid recovery from alcoholism. Our marriage is better than it has ever been, as is his relationship with our children. We share and enjoy life in a way now that I had given up hope would ever be possible for us. His practice survived his absence intact, and he is doing the best dentistry of his career. Though the beginning stages of recovery from addiction can be traumatic for doctors, hygienists and their partners, in my case the outcome was a second chance at a wonderful life.
I remember a happy, simple, joyful childhood. I was not aware that my working class family had to struggle, like most people do. Life seemed carefree. As I began my life’s journey, I became less at ease. In school, church, or with friends, I had a sense of feeling less than. I wasn’t as handsome. I wasn’t as fast or could not jump as far. I wasn’t popular, and I was overly sensitive to any perceived criticism. If life didn’t go my way, I had poor coping skills. I tried many forms of escape or avoidance of any difficulties.
In my late teens, I began to drink alcohol. Friends and I would drink to get intoxicated. I associated with kids that shared the desire to get “high.” To feel alright. To fit in. To feel better about myself. At times, I would drink enough to not feel anything or even blackout. Undergraduate school was demanding enough that I did not party as often. My father died during my junior year. I did not work through this grief for a number of years.
During my career in research, weekends might include binge drinking or a period of being dry. Upon entering dental school, I was afraid to drink at first. Soon, I returned to alcohol use on Thursday or Friday nights. Over the years, I had my alcohol-related legal and marital troubles, but I continued to drink. My alcoholism was progressing.
A divorce and difficulties in interpersonal relationships (personal and professional) led me to seek help from CDP. Residential care at an alcohol treatment facility helped me out of denial. I began to understand that I am an alcoholic. My personal history made this self-evident.
I was where I needed to be. The best place to begin my recovery. Alcohol use had halted my emotional and spiritual growth. Here, I began to reconnect with the creator of heaven and earth; God that I had known in my youth.
Almost forty years have passed in which I abused alcohol. Now, I know a different way of healthy living. With new priorities of recovery, it is my responsibility to strive towards health of mind, body, and soul. Counseling and an active Recovery Program are essential. A fellowship of alcoholics with the common goal of sobriety provides a guide for a new way of living.
My road to recovery has led me to a meaningful connection with God. I have stronger relationships with my two sons. I am more fully engaged in all my relationships, personal and professional. My road to recovery has brought me full circle, back to a more happy, simple, and joyful life.
A Dentist in Recovery