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My Road to Recovery

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

I Was Way To Young To Be An Alcoholic

I never intended to stay, or even get, sober.  But towards the end of my drinking, I had to either choose sobriety or death.  It had gotten that bad.  I no longer had a choice.  I had to drink.  I was only 25; I had my whole life ahead of me…. I was way too young to be an alcoholic.  Later I learned that this disease, alcoholism, doesn’t discriminate.

I guess you could say I started drinking “later” in life.  I took my first drink at 16 and although I drank alcoholically from the beginning, I didn’t drink very often until I went off to college and experienced a bit more “freedom.”  You see, I also suffer from a little something called “perfectionism” and “people pleasing.”  I didn’t dare break the rules while I was at home living with my parents.  They would have been disappointed in me and it would have made them (and me) look bad.  I couldn’t fathom upsetting my parents with my behavior.  Until, of course, I started drinking daily and couldn’t stop.  Until, of course, all I cared about was where the next drink was going to come from, what excuse I was going to use this time, and if I had enough liquor left for tomorrow morning when I would need a shot of vodka just to get out of bed to stumble to the bathroom.   I had turned into a person I didn’t recognize.

My alcoholism took me down physically very rapidly.  I was missing work for days at a time, claiming “panic attacks” and “stomach bugs.”  Within two years of heavy drinking, I was lying in the ICU of the hospital, suffering from DT’s, alcohol induced seizures and jaundice.  I don’t remember those four days in the hospital, and I don’t know that I really want to.  My  parents, however, remember those four days quite clearly.  Funny how the people I was deathly afraid of hurting, were the people I ended up hurting the most.  Crazy how this insanely cunning disease takes a hold of its prey and holds on for dear life.  You would think that after that little parade to the hospital I would have stopped drinking right?  Oh no, I’m an alcoholic remember?  I drank more.

After a couple more fun little alcohol induced “episodes,” I found myself in the back of my parents’ car being driven to a treatment center for alcohol and substance abuse in the mountains of North Carolina.  Although I didn’t quite see it as this at the time, it turned out to be a magnificent blessing.  I spent 3 months at that treatment center and don’t regret a single minute of it.   I learned about this disease that I have and why I was doing the things that I was doing.  They introduced me to a 12-step recovery program and told me that the 12 Steps would change my life.   The doctor there also recommended that I contact the NC Caring Dental Professionals as another form of support and accountability in my recovery.  She told me that it would be very beneficial to me to have other recovering dental professionals in my network to lean on and relate to.  Boy was she right.

When my time was up at that treatment center, I moved back home and dove right into my recovery and signed a contract with the North Carolina Caring Dental Professionals.  I was scared and anxious and full of fear, but I was taught that if I wanted to stay sober, I better get involved immediately.  I was encouraged to go to 90 meetings in 90 days and to find a sponsor right away.  I didn’t understand why I needed a sponsor, so when I got the courage up, I asked.  I was told that a sponsor would guide me through life, more specifically, the twelve steps.  Without my sponsor I wouldn’t have known what in the world to do….do I write out the steps one by one? ; do I read them and answer them to myself out loud? Do I talk to my parents or a friend about the “answers” to the twelve steps?  My sponsor answered all those questions for me.  She showed me how she was taken through the steps and showed me the actions I needed to take.   True to what I was told in treatment, the twelve steps have changed my life.   Incorporating my NCCDP requirements into my daily recovery program has been nothing but a blessing, and a necessity.  I will be perfectly honest, I wasn’t too “thrilled” when I signed the contract and saw all of the things that were being asked of me, BUT, and that’s a big “but”, the CDP has and still is (and always will be) a huge part of my recovery and I know, without a doubt, that I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.  Although I have done nothing “perfect” in my recovery (besides staying away from a drink), I continue to practice and try.  As long as we strive to “practice these principles in all our affairs,” perfection is never expected of us.  Whew, what a relief!

I have formed an incredible relationship with my Higher Power, God, in my recovery.  I understand today that my sobriety is based on the maintenance of my spiritual condition.  I can actually FEEL God working in my life today, and SEE Him working in the lives of those around me.  Isn’t that amazing!?  It’s truly amazing to me.  I find tremendous comfort in knowing that my God is with me at all times, as long as I continue to seek Him and ask for help.  Before I got sober, I just “used” God.  I didn’t strive to do His will in my life… I mean lets be real, I doubt His “will” included drinking myself into oblivion, into DT’s and hospitalizations, into hurting myself and those around me.   Today I can remain in conscious contact with my God, and keep close awareness of His will for me.  Thanks God!

I have been able to make amends to those that I harmed.  I have been able to mend broken relationships and make my wrongs right. I can look the world in the eye with nothing to hide.  I have learned that I must surrender to my disease of alcoholism and accept spiritual help every single day.  I must continue to take personal inventory, to seek God, and carry the message.  I must give away the gift I have been given in order to keep it.  See all of this stuff I would be missing out on if I weren’t sober!  What a GIFT.

Today, I am a registered dental hygienist at the same office I have worked at for going on 7 years now.  I work for an incredible doctor who is supportive of me, and my recovery and who encourages me to put my sobriety first.  My co-workers are also proud of me and so happy that I have gotten my life back. I look back and can see the person I was three years ago, and she is unrecognizable.  She is a girl with an incomplete soul.  With so much fear and sadness.  She could sit in the middle of a capacity crowd and feel completely alone.  That is not the woman I am today.  I know that I never have to be alone again.  For a girl who couldn’t even get out of bed to get to the bathroom without having a shot of vodka, I think I’ve come a long way.  This is all thanks to the NC Caring Dental Professionals and its participants for showing me tremendous discipline and respect, the 12 step program I am a part of for changing my life, great sponsorship for leading me, my God for giving me a second chance, the women in my life and the fellowship that has grown up around me.   Today I am sober. Today I am, quite literally, happy joyous and free!  Thank you all for helping me stay sober every single day, and showing me what the true meaning of life is.  I am blessed.

Grateful Recovering Hygienist

My Utah Experience

Recently I was privileged to go to the Utah School of Alcoholism and other Addictions.  Here I found over 800 people in the various healing professions all bound together for one goal–to aid those affected by the disease of addiction to recover.  Social workers, therapists, counselors, physicians, pharmacists, and yes, dental folks were all in attendance.  The speakers and coordinators were all top notch (dare I say “top shelf?”)  University researchers, authors of various texts and studies, all presented the latest research on the medical, social and emotional aspects of the disease.

The setting was the Great Salt Lake basin of Salt Lake City.  Nestled into the mountains with nearby world class ski resorts, Robert Redford’s Sundance, and the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, it seems that this may be a natural place for people to come to experience a break from their routines and daily lives: a place to free the mind and experience creativity, beauty, nature and freedom from the cares and pressures of ordinary life.  Even the military goes there to test their equipment in the harshest of salt environments, to ensure it will stand up when needed in the protection of our country and freedom.  We are engaged in our own deadly fight–to recover from our disease and to help others recover.

So this seems like a perfect place to loosen the mind from every day cares, and to open it to learn and grow and to help achieve our goals.

One thing that struck me was the passion of the leaders and organizers.  In fact, passion to help those affected by the disease was an undercurrent throughout the attendees.  I don’t often attend a dental CE course and feel the emotional involvement that could bring tears to my eyes for the suffering gingivitis patient, but this week left me that way more than once.  For these were not just more “government regulators” trying to set rules and controls for me, making me comply, they were people truly trying to save lives, trying to return joy and meaning and purpose to broken lives and families.  They are people with a true passion for helping and healing.  Many of these giants in the field of addiction and recovery, who have long labored in this field, still show a true passion to study and understand the disease and all its components, and to learn to put people like me back on the right track. There was laughter, there was love, there was bonding together as we are part of something much larger than ourselves.  There was fine food and friendship.

Should you get the chance to go one day, just pack your casual clothes, but pack lightweight at that.  The dry heat, lacking the humidity of our southern climate, is still hot (don’t you bake a turkey in dry heat?).  They even have a University Bookstore sale every year that you can buy the school’s attire, or at the various resorts around the area.  But leave your cares back home, open your mind and soak in the spirit of life and caring.  Feel the passion and spirit, and translate that into the everyday life back home to recover and aid others in recovery.

It is Amazing What You Can Do…..When You Have To

External motivation does not seem to work for me. You tell me to do something, even for my own good, and I can come up with a dozen reasons that I don’t have to do it. Defiance seems to be my middle name. I’m different. I don’t have to follow the rules. Even though I know better, I think I can get away with it until I have to change.  Only I can decide when that is.

When I got arrested for drugs, I had to quit. It was the only way to keep my license. I thought at the time, I could just wait until the coast was clear, and then, when nobody was interested in my behavior, I would start drinking to take the edge off. No, I was NEVER going to do drugs again, but a little beer every once in a while wouldn’t hurt, would it? Then I went off to treatment and learned about my disease of addiction. It has many faces. They all want to destroy me. Chemical abstinence, total abstinence was the only way.  All mood-altering drugs. I abstained and it worked.

Other faces of my disease are process addictions. You know, the justifiable needs that are not black and white, yes or no, but those which require moderation. Like shopping, eating, helping others, even healthy things like exercise and working for a living. Just like I don’t know what “normal” is, I have never had a good working definition of “moderation”. More has always been better.

Perfectionism makes me stumble in attempting moderation. I don’t know when I have crossed the line between healthy behavior and obsessive thoughts of achieving the best possible. I think I need a life coach, but then, as in the first part of this article, I would come up with those dozen reasons.

I am overweight. “Morbidly Obese”. I have fought diabetes with every medicine known to endocrinology, except for diet and exercise. I have been defiant. Back in 2001, the day I chose to quit smoking, due to chest pain and dizziness from a whole pack of green meanies I smoked one morning, I heard from my hospital bed as I prepared for my stress echo, a loud voice from down the hall. I never met the man, but what he said became my defiant battle cry of a diabetic in non-compliance. He hollered to his wife, “I am not letting some high-falooting doctor tell me what I can and can not eat!”

I passed that stress echo in 2001 and two other tests for the same intermittent chest pain. One cardiologist told me I was having a panic attack. All my treating physicians have advised me to lose weight and begin exercise. I lived to eat, and that didn’t happen. One Thursday in January, 2014, that same pain became constant and insistent. I could not ignore it. It was time to choose. Was I going to sit at home and die of a heart attack, waiting for the pain to go away? It didn’t go away.

It’s amazing what you can do when you have to.

Emergency room. Long wait. More symptoms. Enzymes elevated. Cardiac cath. Found two 100% obstructions in the posterior coronary artery. Stented. Released from hospital. Cardiac Rehab. New diet, exercise. Weight plummeted, Blood sugars controlled on ¼ of the insulin. More energy. Wow.

I can take no credit for this miracle. God must not be done with me.

I had a plan to deal with the need for medicine during this ordeal. I had two IV doses of morphine and a fair amount of versed and fentanyl during the cath. I called the NCCDP and told them what was up and that I was going to be accountable to them during this process. I did the same with my sponsor. I did have significant pain, but the meds did not make me high. I don’t know why. They just made the pain go away. I went home with no need for pain meds.

I am so grateful for a new plan, the support and care of a great surgical team, nursing team and the NCCDP to help me deal with my addiction issues. I just passed through the number one relapse scenario intact and better. Who has ever been grateful for a heart attack? There’s a first time for anything.

Grateful – JN

Comments From CDP Participants

From my standpoint, number one benefit would be accountability.  It’s a lot easier to stay sober if you are accountable to someone other than yourself.  My contract with CDP provided me structure and accountability for a period of time where healthy habits have become a part of my daily life.

I was relieved to know there were people that knew what they were doing and could get me the help I needed.

I was glad to have a program that was documenting what I was doing so the people accusing me of being so bad could be neutralized.  CDP provided advocacy which was comforting to have.  I was glad to know that I was not alone and that other professionals needed help also.

It has been a blessing to be surrounded by other dental professionals in recovery who know and understand my disease and the recovery proves.

I couldn’t do it on my own.  CDP was able to put me in contact with appropriate professionals where I learned what to do about the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Locum tenens support to keep practice moving during treatment.

Other addicts and other spouses to talk to during and after and intervention and treatment.

I remember in the beginning being so resentful of having to do so much as far as the requirements (meetings, group therapy, caduceus, etc.) But in retrospect, I realize now that I needed those things and they did not only help keep me busy in the first year, but I would have never made myself do them on my own.

It is so refreshing to know that we are not alone, and we have this network of dental professionals and the CDP staff to support and guide us.

Without the structure that CDP provided and the accountability I would not be in the peaceful content happy place I find myself today.

I feel one of the greatest features of the CDP is the ability for the impaired practitioner not to have to hide and lie anymore.  It is our secrets that keep us sick.  Being able to come out in the open and interact with others in the same position is helpful.  I know I am not alone anymore.  I have people I can talk to if I need help.

I had known for years I was drinking too much and had made several attempts to curtail my use of alcohol, even stop altogether.  With all the personal resolve and will power I could muster, my success would be transient, lasting a week or even a couple of months.  Inevitably I would begin drinking and then feeling disgusted with myself for failing yet again.

I was relieved to know that there were people that knew what they were doing and could get me the help I needed.  I came to the conclusion that if I was doing a good job with my life I would not be in the situation I was in.

In Order to Keep It…..


In the mid 80’s, after much prodding from my wife & family, I finally decided it was time to “get my drinking under control.” I never drank while working, but much of my non-working time was spent drinking, or recovering from drinking. My family was definitely being neglected.

I went for an assessment; got the help I needed, and embraced the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I soon learned that I really enjoyed sobriety, and not having to be a slave to alcohol. The spirituality I found in the recovery program was wonderful, and helped me “get my family back” and more importantly, get ME back.

A few years later, when The Caring Dentists Program was starting up, I knew I had to get involved. As I’ve often heard, “In order to keep your sobriety, you have to give it away”.

In the beginning, of course, all the CDP Volunteers were people like me, who had been fortunate enough to get into recovery without the benefit of a dental support group. As time has gone by, it has been gratifying to see our “alumni” take ownership, and run our recovery program. This is as it should be.

I wish The Caring Dental Professionals had been there when I first needed them, and perhaps I would not have wasted so many years getting into recovery. My life today is happy, joyous and free…free of the bonds of addiction.  My best friends in dentistry and in general are in recovery.  It’s the greatest fraternity in the world.

If you, or someone you know, need us, help is only a phone call away.


A Grateful Recovering Dentist

Enabling or Entitlement ?

Addiction is a disease of perception. It occurs in the mind, although there are physical signs and symptoms. An active alcoholic or addict, on some mental level, begins each day with the supposition that getting high will be a part of it. Then, over the course of the day, a twisted logic pattern brings him or her to the only logical conclusion to drink or drug again. Self talk would be, “if you had a spouse like mine, you’d drink, too” or “there’s so much stress in my life that I have to do this to stay sane.” The getaway, the escape, and instant relief called, “blue sky” beckons. I am entitled.

On a personal level, I was stealing drugs from a locked cabinet in the same building as my dental practice. I had bought a big sport fishing boat in the 80’s and on a whim, tried the key that opened the boat interior on the drug cabinet lock. That key opened the drug locker, too, with a little jiggling. I considered that as a sign from God that I was entitled to continue stealing drugs in this fashion. My DEA registration was also a ticket, which entitled me to access drugs. Migraine headaches, kidney stones, these were other notches in my belt of entitlement.

My narcotic use escalated for over a decade. I began using at work, to prevent withdrawal symptoms. I hid it well. My staff, my friends, even my wife and family had no clue that I was stealing drugs and using them all the time. My tirades of anger, moping around the house with a long face and passive aggressive manipulations probably taught those around me to back off and leave me alone when I wanted, so I could escape with drugs. I taught them to enable me, though I didn’t even know it at the time.

But enabled? Me? No way. I would tell you I could quit any time I wanted to. I just didn’t want to….until I got arrested. The NCCDP stepped in and got me the help I needed, and I found that I also wanted the help. What a gift it was to actually want to get clean and sober! Those of you in the program know what a life-saving surrender that can be.

But enabled? Me? YES! I was enabling myself by practicing entitlement. I enabled myself by remaining in denial, through the practices of rationalization, justification, minimizing, blaming and by remaining in self-pity and the victim role.

They say recovery brings on an entire psychic change, a sudden rearrangement of ideals and motives which amounts to a spiritual experience or awakening. With the eyes of recovery, I can now see the traps I used to fall into (or was it jump into?) much more clearly. Life is not perfect, but when I have stresses, I use the program instead of running away.


I think Enabling and Entitlement are two sides of the same coin. They both allow us to remain in denial about our addiction.

A Grateful Recovering Dentist