Not Easier, But Better

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A few weeks ago, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, our first born.  This child is a true gift from God, a miracle, though the road to bringing her into this world was marked with constant struggles and challenges.  For years my wife and I had been wondering why we had not yet conceived a child.  Then, a few years ago my wife underwent an appendectomy, and a small fibroma was discovered and identified as the likely cause of infertility.  It was removed without any concerns and her surgeon was confident that pregnancy was still a possibility.  To our surprise (and the surgeon’s) my wife was pregnant less than a year later, though, painfully, that pregnancy turned out to be nonviable. It still hurts to remember my wife’s anguished reaction when she told me that no heartbeat had been detected at her first appointment. She was very resilient, and we’d learned that pregnancy was possible, though my wife’s increasing age was of concern.  Try as we might, however, time went by without an ensuing pregnancy, and we reluctantly allowed our hopes to diminish, deciding instead to pursue adoption.  We had just been assigned to a social worker and were preparing for our home study when we were thrilled to learn we were pregnant again. This time all went well, and we were blessed with a daughter of our own.  We could not be happier!

The challenges we experienced in this process were difficult, but they paled in comparison to our broader concerns. There was a much more telling reason that we didn’t pursue a comprehensive investigation into our infertility.  You see, for a long time our marriage had been struggling, mostly because I had been struggling.  My life had been deteriorating due to alcoholism and drug addiction, and everything around me had been slowly unraveling.  I had purchased a dental practice, thinking it would be the answer to all my problems, that I would be financially successful and finally have the rewarding career I had been working towards.  This was not the case, however, and as my life continued to crumble, I lost focus on the practice, poorly managed the finances, and slid deeper into debt.

My staff was becoming increasingly concerned with my tardiness, numerous “sick days”, and overall lack of enthusiasm for the work.  Eventually, one afternoon when I could not be awakened from a lunch hour “nap”, they contacted my wife and arranged for an intervention. When confronted I admitted I had a problem and made false promises to change.  I wanted happiness, financial success, and to be able to continue to drink and use drugs.  I eventually, however, concluded that this combination wasn’t possible for me.  Still, my drinking and other drug use had become a regular part of my life, and I didn’t know how to live otherwise.  It was clear to both me and others that I needed help, so I finally reported myself to the Minnesota Health Professionals Service Program (HPSP). In addition to , and HPSP strongly recommended that I contact Dentists Concerned for Dentists.

With help from DCD, counselors, and the Divine power of God, I was able to turn my life around.  I found, however, that life did not necessarily get easier with sobriety. My old way of seeking the “easy life” was to hide from my problems and responsibilities, but that way of addressing life’s challenges couldn’t go on forever.  I was still faced with a crumbling practice that needed rebuilding, a seemingly bottomless pit of debt, and escalating threats from the IRS.  I was overwhelmed with fear, mostly fear of failure, but this was no time to hide from my problems…This was no time to fall back into old habits.  It was time for me to get honest, face my troubles head-on, and reach out for the help I so desperately needed.  It was because of my recovery and with the generous support of the caring people around me that I was able to do that.

Now, even though I’m a few years into my recovery, I still don’t have the practice of my dreams and I still face considerable debt.  The good news is that things continue to improve.  Life is getting so much better, though I’ve had to learn how to be patient.  Applying the principles of recovery to all aspects of my life has allowed me to gradually chip away at the problems I feared so greatly and for such a long time.  I now have hope that my life will keep getting better. DCD has been a wonderful support system for me as I’ve gone about the process of rebuilding my life.  My colleagues in DCD are a regular reminder to me that I’m not alone – that there are others like me, others who have overcome similar struggles. With their help I am confident I can continue to enjoy my life even though it doesn’t seem to get any easier…It doesn’t get easier, but it does keep getting better with the support of my friends in DCD the evolving journey seems to constantly improve.

I’m sure there are other dentists out there who are struggling right now and who could use some good friends. That’s what DCD is all about.  Real people, dentists, who have faced their problems head–on, and who maintain their recovery by helping others facing similar problems. Chemical dependence is a disease more common than we’d like to admit, and it never heals itself.  People do not get over addiction like they get over a cold.  I, like so many others before me, found that out the hard way.  Fortunately, I found out early enough to still be able to enjoy the many rewards of being a dentist, a husband, and now…a father!

-Grateful DCD Member

It Wasn’t A Train Wreck, But It Was Bad Enough

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My life changed dramatically when my wife said four words to me: “I found your stash”. A line had been crossed; a fork in the road had finally been reached. What follows is an abbreviated version of how I became a member of a wonderful group named Dentists Concerned for Dentists (DCD).

I began using alcohol at the age of 13, thanks to the beer smuggled into scout camp. There were several reasons I enjoyed the feeling far more than the average teenager. I was accepted by new friends that saw me previously as a nerd and a bookworm. I was instantly more confident and amusing! I seemed to have a higher, more respectable tolerance to alcohol than others. My home life was strained and painful, yet I was expected to be the perfect son. Beer (and often, marijuana) helped as a pain reliever to deal with feelings that I wouldn’t share with anyone. The hook was quite deep. It was the start of a love affair with alcohol that lasted over thirty 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, not just beer anymore. My wife and members of my family began to be concerned. I tried 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 with this because I believed that I didn’t really have a problem. The treatment plan given to me was to quit drinking because I exhibited the signs of early alcoholism. Whoa, I didn’t see that coming, but I surmised that it might be time to quit. This I thought I could do; it was just a matter of willpower. 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 path to recovery.

During this extended period of abstinence, I became very chagrined at the loss of my reward system. I was being robbed of my “mini-vacations”! Life was not nearly as fun as it used to be. What an unfair situation this had turned out to be. After all, I had never hurt anyone else. I had never had a DUI or been in any trouble caused by drinking. Alcohol had never interfered with the care of my patients or with my other responsibilities. Surely anyone could now see that I could quit drinking anytime I wanted. So I promised a new approach of limited social drinking and everything would be fine. The alcoholic mind can be rather delusional.

I soon realized that two drinks just weren’t getting the job done, the obvious solution was to supplement social drinking with my own private stock. This self-prescribed program went on for a while and roused occasional, if not serious suspicions. I finally 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 if it stayed well under the radar. Does this sound like normal behavior? Is it possible that I was in more trouble than I realized? This insanity led my wife to search for and eventually discover my hidden reserve of alcohol.

In my mind, this was wakeup time. It wasn’t a train wreck, but it was bad enough. It was high time to face the fact that I had a problem. I had failed to keep my promises and realized that I could not recover from this addiction on my own. I needed some help to change my life and avert more serious damage. The role of the highly functional alcoholic was one I needed to shed. A call to DCD brought me to a counselor and a group of supportive people that have stories like mine. I was immediately accepted into a very caring atmosphere. We meet 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 can accept challenges and stress with a grateful attitude. I fully anticipate continued membership in DCD and AA for the remainder of my healthier, happier life.

-Grateful DCD Member

Letting Go of the Monster…

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I celebrated 8 years of sobriety this month. Ironically, it was around the same time my father’s health started declining rapidly. He passed away this week and I’m left with many things that were left unsaid due to his Alzheimer’s eroding away his memory. I guess I’ll never truly know if some of the things I shared ever hit home.

I don’t want to blame my father for my addiction, but like many relationships, the ones with our parents tend to be the messiest and most complex. For me, it was a tapestry of resentments, frustrations mixed in with warmth and laughter. He was an angry man with his own issues and in my desperation for connection, I too wore anger and impatience like a badge of honor. Something, anything that would connect us to each other. Perhaps if I matched his level of rage and impatience, we would finally have something in common. This was a slanted disaster and alcoholism followed closely behind for many of my adult years.

Looking back now, I found that people avoided me. My wife, my kids and some of my friends. People walked on eggshells when I was around. My children would slowly amble out of the safety of their rooms once they realized that Dad was already a bottle or two of wine deep on a Friday night and he was “in a good mood again…” What followed was shallow family connection and conversation that would soon be forgotten in my blackouts.

It was during the times that I wasn’t under the influence that they would all scurry away behind closed doors. That’s when my monster came out, when I was hung over and consumed with feelings of fear, doubt, panic, and anxiety. That’s when my monster would lash out just to try and convince myself that everything – myself included – were under control. I was most certainly not in control. The only thing consistent in my life was my drinking. That much now is clear. This cycle repeated for years and I’ve made amends to the best of my ability. Some people have forgiven, others haven’t.

With my father’s death recently, I’ve recognized that life isn’t black and white. And that we are the byproduct of a million decisions and the feelings and emotions that drive them.

The efficacy of my decision to remain sober in my grief is grounded in the idea that it is vital to choose to continue to let go of my monster. In our daily recovery we must decide that today we will live in acceptance and surrender, humility, and contentedness. It is the only thing that keeps the monster at bay. I loved my father but had to drop the torch of his anger and resentment once and for all and fight for my own healing, and the healing of all those that I love and care for.

Recovery and the friendships and support from other dentists in DCD has guided me to a much better place. We are all working hard to let go of our monsters, and it’s easier together.

-Grateful DCD Member

Expectations Are Just Premeditated Resentments…

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During my drinking “career” I found myself squabbling internally with many things. I was my own worst enemy. The things I would say to myself in my head were things I would never consider saying out loud to friends or family. Why do we do this to ourselves? It sounds elementary but take some time to think about the things that you say to yourself throughout the day. We are always with our own thoughts. What exactly are the nature of those thoughts? Are they uplifting? Optimistic? Validating and nurturing? Or are they more negative and destructive? Either way, you are your own best friend or enemy as it relates to the things you think all day long. The polarity of each directs the quality of your daily life.

For me, my addiction took root at a very young age. Family trauma, physical and mental abuse and then my parents’ divorce, which eventually led to a dysfunctional blended family that followed me into my teenage years. It was not a happy childhood. All this contributed to my desire – no, need – to self-medicate on a regular basis. Looking back now I was blind to the consequences of my behavior and the impact it would have on my mental health and spiritual life.

When we are addicted, our lives orbit around the using-behavior. Our choices, our thoughts and feelings all marinate in the next dream of being able to attain that feeling of elation that only drugs or alcohol can bring. We become impulsive. We become manipulative. We become liars and cheats. We become selfish and self-serving, with the end goal of simply reaching that “feeling” of being medicated, altered. We live on autopilot. Our lives happening before us while we exist in our own heads, thinking our own terrible thoughts. Judging others and victimizing ourselves in the process.

Now that I have what most in recovery would call, “Long term sobriety” (10 years or more), I can now see more clearly how devastating my own thought life was back when I was using, and even now I must be very intentional about the thoughts I think about myself, or others and their impact on my ability to function “fully animated”, as a wise man once told me. And, isn’t this the goal in our lives? To exist free of barriers – imposed externally or internally – that might prohibit our potential to success, connection and service to others in a way that brings us fulfillment and joy?

Resentment is internalized and unexpressed frustration. It will scorch your soul and destroy relationships if left unchecked.

Expectations are really just premeditated resentments.

These two “emotional toxins” are common, and we all experience them from time to time. However, if we don’t take an active and regular inventory of our thought life, resentment and expectations can fester and affect us in negative ways. When we feel resentment, we block potential connection with others. Resentment is an amalgam of fear, anger, doubt, and misplaced perception. Expectations are unexpressed perceptions of how we believe a situation or idea should be met. Each works against us, sometimes slowly and silently, sometimes loudly and explosively.

A vital part of our recovery is the constant vigilance to root out resentments and tailor our expectations with the notion of Acceptance. This exercise, when employed consistently, brings a freedom and peace of mind that cannot be outdone by any drug, or drink.

In my early recovery, a person at one of my AA meetings handed me a small, laminated card with the following words that I have come to cherish:


Is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, situation, or some fact of my life unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my addiction, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

When I am feeling resentful towards the world, or myself, I will sometimes pick up that ratty laminated card and read it aloud. It helps ground me back to my center, to my Higher Power. I am very blessed and grateful to be living on the other side of my addiction. And, I respect its ferocity and patience and know that it lurks in the dark by echoing whispers of resentments and expectations in my ear. It’s up to me to accept that side of myself, but it’s also my responsibility to shake those things off when I hear them so as to live a fully animated life, for my family, friends, patients and myself.

-Grateful DCD Member

For Me, The Real Test Was Relationships…

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When I thought that my alcohol consumption might be getting out of hand, I could go online and find the alcoholism tests.  I had to admit to some of the questions being true, but when I totaled my score, I never had a problem.  I could search out more tests and find the same results.  I didn’t have any of the negative consequences from drinking, like DWI’s, memory loss or blackouts.  I didn’t have problems at work or at home.  Or so I thought.

My alcohol use had been to deal with the stress of the day.  Or was it the joy of the day, or did someone say something that I took personally?  Whatever the case might be, it seemed reasonable to have a drink after work.  I always had the ability to stop.  I knew how much of a buzz I wanted and would stop at that point.  Most of my drinking was alone at home.  Since my wife never ever complained about my consumption, I had good reason to believe that I didn’t have a problem and that not drinking alone was a stupid rule.

Some days it was a drink before dinner, some days after dinner and some before and after.  I was never visibly drunk, but I knew that I was beyond the legal driving limit.  I started spending more of the evening watching the talk shows on TV.  I was isolating myself from life.

My rock bottom came when my wife identified and verbalized the personality changes that had occurred.  I had become negative and isolated. I wasn’t maintaining friendships.  I would rather argue over something simple that I didn’t agree with.  I wasn’t enjoying life.  She had had about enough.

I wasn’t really surprised.  I had seen the same in the mirror but didn’t know or believe that there was a way out.  An intervention wouldn’t have really surprised me.

I decided to stop my use of alcohol for six months or more to be able to figure out and fix the things that were wrong with me.  Being a dentist meant that I liked to fix things, and that I was above average intelligence.  I started my research so that I could prove that I wasn’t an alcoholic.  I read about Alcoholics Anonymous and found that the only requirement for attending was to have a desire to quit alcohol.  After my first two weeks of sobriety, I called another dentist who I knew attended AA meetings.  We met the next day, and I went to my first AA meeting.  He encouraged me to attend the DCD meetings, and I have since then.

What I found at these meetings was that my story and my problems were shared by many.  The members accepted me without judgment.  I am sure that my sobriety would not be going as well as it is without going to the meetings.

Now just four months into sobriety I have been able to find a happiness that eluded me.  I have much to do to improve myself, but the improvement in my life so far has made it clear that I never want to use alcohol again.  For some of us alcohol is such a seductive drug that it sucks the life out of us.  What I have learned is that the subjective tests are only one type of measurement.  For me, the real test was relationships.  What was my relationship to alcohol?  What had alcohol done to my relationship with myself, my wife, my children and others?  This was the test that I didn’t know about, but it was the one that I had failed.  I now know and admit that I am powerless over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable.  Help was so close; all I had to do was ask.

DCD has kept my name confidential.  I didn’t go through a treatment program. My recovery has been from going to the meetings. HPSP and the Board of Dentistry haven’t been involved.  At first, I wanted to avoid them, but now I don’t really care about that.  I am now discovering healthy responses to the difficulties of life.  The practice of dentistry brings unique stresses to us.  Dentists Concerned for Dentists gives support for dealing with our issues.

-Grateful DCD Member

Helping Others, Helps Myself…

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Addiction robs our ability to be aware of how our behaviors impact others. Addiction robs our ability to be present in our daily lives. If left unchecked, addiction will steal our entire life.

Many of us addicts spend a lot of our thought life thinking about the past (shame/guilt) or the future (anxiety/doubt) and rarely do we enjoy the present moment. In essence, addiction robs our foundational values and even more simply, our happy moments.

In my life, I couldn’t see the forest through the trees regarding how my actions, words and thinking impacted those around me. I was selfish and manipulative. I lied, often. Mostly to wiggle my way out of something: An angry remark, missed appointment or impulsive decision. I covered my tracks. I hid my drinking for many years, at least so I thought. However, I wasn’t fooling those closest to me. And eventually I had to face my addiction head on for fear of losing my marriage, my practice and dental license. It was the hardest truth I’ve ever had to accept; I am an alcoholic. No excuse, or manipulation would ever change this fact. And once I accepted this truth, I was able to fully embrace positive changes, some of which I could never imagine.

One of these changes was the surprising value I have found in serving others. Not just other people in recovery, but anyone that might benefit from some small or large kindness.  There are proven mental health benefits to selflessness and service. It allows us to generate a ‘gratitude mindset’ which in turn creates a level of fulfillment and purpose that I never had when I was drinking and using drugs.

Healed people help people. Maybe it’s since those of us who have gone through the darkness of addiction can see how lifechanging living a different way can be, and so we want to disciple that kind of life to others at every turn. While I don’t consider myself “healed” in the general sense (because I’ll always have the specter of addiction in me) I do see that my efforts to serve and help others is the ingredient that allows me to live a life with so much more meaning!

If I go to bed each night and reflect on my day in a way that makes me feel proud and that I accomplished some small good in the world, that was a good day.

Staying committed to my sobriety, and adhering to the famous AA line, “One day at a time” has given me the energy and desire to go out into the world and make a difference.

Addiction wants all of me. Mind, body, and soul. My addiction served only itself and after awhile it blinded me from seeing my place in the world, my value to others and my potential to grow.

Addiction is loud and screams that it is King. This is a lie. Truth whispers, and the gentle breeze of this undeserved grace saved my life. The truth is that when I help others, I help myself and for that I will always be grateful.

-Grateful DCD Member