March 31, 2011



My name is Erica and I could be an alcoholic someday.
Many of the people I've interacted with who are battling addictions have life stories that are somewhat similar to my own: some family history, drink alcohol socially in their 20s, sometimes falling short of my expectations for myself, and as a future physician, I actually have a higher risk of becoming an addict than many other people (although also a higher chance of recovery if I do)
This morning I went to an AA meeting and there were all sorts of people there. It was an open meeting, meaning it was not just for alcoholics, but also family members, significant others, and curious medical students. We decided to go to this meeting because there was a speaker, a man we'll call Henry, so perhaps it would be less obvious if we did not talk. Henry is an ex-marine, a recovering methamphetamine and cocaine addict, as well as an alcoholic. He said that at first he did not think he was an alcoholic, but a drug addict. But through treatment, he learned that every time he drank, he would get the uncontrollable urge to use other substances, as well as drink more. Henry spoke about how his lowest point was when his 18 year old son was in the ICU after getting high on coke and drunk and crashing his car. Henry said he came to see his son in the ICU from a concert; he was strung out on coke and drunk, and just yelling at everyone. He kept asking the nursing staff if his son was going to live. "because I was worried about him, but maybe even more because I knew I couldn't leave the room and go finish the 8ball [of coke] in my pocket until we knew he was okay". As soon as the nurse said his son would live, he ran into the bathroom and finished several more lines of cocaine furiously before the rest of his family arrived. When his whole family showed up at the hospital a few minutes later, he felt so high and drunk that he could not stay in the same room. He told them that he HAD to leave and drove home where he promptly drank and did more drugs, resulting in a three day black-out. When he came out of his haze, his son was in rehab for his drug addiction.
But even then Henry did not stop using. It was not until he went to visit his son at the inpatient rehabilitation facility where he was staying that it became apparent just how much his use was affecting the lives of the people around him. Henry’s family, including his son, stages an intervention at the treatment center telling him all the ways his addictions had negatively impacted their lives, including his son telling him how his own addiction had been influenced by Henry’s. After that, Henry checked himself into the rehabilitation center and for the first 60 days, he worked really hard – not for himself, he says, but for his son. He says he was worried that his son was getting the wrong idea about drugs from his behavior ("I was a 'do as I say, not as I do' - kind of dad", he said) and wanted to change that. Things seemed to be changing for the better. On his son's 90th day sober and his own 60th day sober, he found his son dead in his basement from an overdose of cocaine. For some reason at that moment of horror, he heard a voice that he calls god - the higher power he has chosen - and surrendered; something that his childhood, the marines, his rebel bike crew, and his entire life had taught him never to do.
Henry said that he has now been sober for 6 years and works at a treatment center in Florida and still goes to AA meeting every day if not multiple times a day, if not multiple times a day “because I think about drinking and using drugs every day, if not multiple times a day”. He always sits in the same seat, right in front of the placards expressing the 12 values of AA because he needs to be reminded of them every day. The first one is Honesty ("I am an alcoholic") - and he says, some days, he struggles all day to embrace just that one.
After he finished his story, other people shared pieces of their own stories. There were people who had not had a drink in years and people who were on their first weeks of sobriety, including a patient we saw in the outpatient clinic only a few days ago who came to her appointment completely drunk, telling us how much her life had fallen apart.
The theme of the meeting was definitely the importance of surrender - to whatever higher power you have chosen. I liked that they made a really big deal of that actually - the CHOOSING of your higher power – because I think what worries people about going to AA meeting is that they do not want to feel like someone is preaching to them. I had this own worry myself.
However, as I have worked with more people battling addiction, the necessity of the involvement of a higher power makes more sense to me. People view addiction as an incredibly powerful force outside of their own will that drives them to do things that they know are not good for them or the people they love. It is logical then that, for some, recovery necessitates accessing another incredibly powerful force that people can view as something outside of their own will
I've written about my struggle with connecting with a higher power - and that continues for me for sure - but I definitely feel the presence of a force greater than just me, whether it's a light in all of humanity or in all living things or the force of destiny or what. I think we can all identify with feeling strong pulls in various directions that don't always feel logical or what we think is best for us.
Since Lent began, I've been trying to meditate/pray every day, mostly just saying thank you - first and foremost for soundness of mind and body. I've also been trying to do yoga by myself for a few hours a week. I guess I'm trying to connect with that force within me in a different way than I have in the past. I like it. I think the combination has made me feel more centered, more patient with the other people and circumstances in my life.
I do feel more connected.
The meeting felt a lot like Church (we ended with the lord's prayer), but mostly the good parts of church. The message was much more encouraging, more solidarity, more "we're all just human" and "we all need each other", all messages that I think if we had more of in life, we'd all be better people (not to mention less likely to become addicts of any sort). It also definitely made poeple finding a way that worked for them the MOST important thing, not just subscribing to the doctrine. I guess it would be like if a church said, "here's the bible, but you have to find the interpretation that works for YOU. which may be totally different than what works for me, and that's not just okay, that's how it's supposed to be. It certainly does NOT mean we can't get along or discuss it.
In case you don't know them (because even though it's probably the #1 most recommended treatment for addiction by physicians, I didn't) - here are the 12 steps.
To find AA meetings near you check out this website.
"Addiction is just people looking for god in the wrong places"
(said to me by the Director of the inpatient psych hospital on my first day)

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