It wasn’t quite a “train wreck”, but it was bad enough...
“I found your stash.”
My life changed rather dramatically the day my wife said those four little words. You see, a line had been crossed, and I couldn’t go back. We had finally come to the proverbial fork in the road. A decision needed to be made, and some things needed to be done. What follows is an abbreviated version of how I came to be a member of Dentists Concerned for Dentists (DCD).
I began using alcohol at the age of 13, thanks to beer being smuggled into scout camp. There were several reasons I enjoyed the feeling far more than the average teenager. I was accepted by new friends who had previously seen me only as a nerd and a bookworm. I was instantly more confident and amusing, and I seemed to have a higher, more respectable tolerance to alcohol than others did. My home life was strained and painful, yet I was expected to be the perfect son. Beer, oftentimes together with marijuana, helped me relieve the pain and deal with the feelings I wouldn’t share with anyone. The hook was in quite deep. It was the start of my love affair with alcohol that would last for more than 30 years.
I have always had an intense desire to be the best at all that I attempted, mostly to make my parents proud. Being a very average athlete, I would work harder than others at school to be the top student. The pattern of “work hard, play hard” became a routine. I rationalized my alcohol use by claiming that it was something I wanted, not something I needed. The stress of being an honor student in dental school put me into high gear. I worked really hard, so I played really hard. Most any occasion became far more enjoyable with several drinks - hard liquor, not just beer anymore. My wife and members of my family began to be concerned. I made an effort at limiting my drinking to a more moderate amount, but this was often a temporary attempt to satisfy others.
After years of putting up with my behavior, my worried and frustrated wife requested that I have a chemical dependency assessment. I agreed to this because I believed that I didn’t really have a problem. The treatment plan given me was to quit drinking because I exhibited the signs of “early alcoholism”. Whoa, I didn’t see that coming! Nonetheless, I decided it might be time to quit. This I thought I could do, as it was just a matter of will power. My doctor at that time also warned me about the strong correlation between chemical dependency and our profession. So I chose to follow the path of abstinence, which I later learned is not the same as the path to “recovery”.
During this extended period of abstinence, I became very disgruntled at the loss of my reward system. I had been robbed of my “mini-vacations”! Life was not nearly as fun as it had been. It was all so very unfair! After all, I never hurt anyone else. I never had a DUI or got into trouble because of my drinking. Alcohol had never interfered with the care of my patients or with my other responsibilities. Surely anyone could now see that I had the power to quit drinking any time I wanted. So I embarked on a new approach of limited social drinking, promising myself and everyone else that all would be fine... Yes, the alcoholic mind can be rather delusional!
Initially, this “limited social drinking” plan worked pretty well, though I soon realized that two drinks, what I thought of as the prescribed amount for a social drinker, just wasn’t getting the job done. The obvious solution was to supplement the “social drinking” with additional use from my own private stock. This self-prescribed program went on for quite awhile, arousing only occasional, mild suspicions, but it finally got to the point that I felt I needed to hide my drinking entirely. The progressive nature of addiction drove me to isolation. I thought I could still enjoy some very private “parties”, but only if it stayed well under the radar. Does that sound like normal behavior? Is it possible that I was in more trouble than I realized? The insanity of it all led my wife to search for and eventually discover my hidden reserve of alcohol.
In my mind, this was wake-up time. It wasn’t quite a “train wreck”, but it was bad enough. It was high time I face the fact that I had a problem. I had failed to keep my promises, and I had come to the realization that I couldn’t deal with this on my own. I needed some help to change my life and avoid more serious damage. The role of the highly functional alcoholic was one I needed to shed.
A simple call to DCD brought me to a counselor and a group of supportive people who had stories more or less like mine. I was immediately accepted into their caring throng. We now meet together once a month to share in the journey of sobriety. In addition, the simple (but not easy) Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous has given me a new sense of freedom and peace. I am willing to live my life on life’s terms. The change in me is profound. I am able to accept challenges and stress with a grateful attitude. I fully anticipate continued membership in both DCD and AA for the remainder of my healthier, happier life.
Grateful member of DCD
Dentists Concerned for Dentists (DCD) is a group of recovering alcoholic and/or chemically dependent dentists concerned about other dentists who might have problems in their relationships with alcohol and/or other mood-altering drugs. Although we receive our funding, for the most part, from the Minnesota Dental Association (MDA), we are a completely separate organization. Our business and clinical processes are supported by The Sand Creek Group, Ltd., a local provider of employee assistance services, and the administrators of the MDA’s Dentist Wellness Program. They answer our phones and provide a consulting psychologist / chemical health specialist, who also functions as a service coordinator for the group. We adhere to a strict code of confidentiality. No information regarding the cases we become involved with is shared with the Minnesota Dental Association or the State Board of Dentistry. There are some cases that come to the attention of the Health Professionals Services Program (HPSP) before we are ever involved, and in those cases, and only with the written consent of the dentist concerned, we will provide limited “progress reports” when requested to do so by HPSP as part of their on-going monitoring program. Our primary purpose is to be available to afflicted dentists, helping them effectively address their alcohol and/or other drug problems, while protecting their anonymity and helping them continue in the practice of professional dentistry. To that end we provide supportive services and educational resources to them, their families, and their colleagues.
For confidential help to address alcohol and/or other drug concerns, please contact Dentists Concerned for Dentists (DCD) at 651-275-0313 or 800-632-7643.
Additional information can also be found on the MDA website: http://www.mndental.org/dentist_home/member_services/wellness_program/