It’s not been a good day. I was in clinic this morning and was already feeling cross as the junior doctor I was sitting in with didn’t seem to think it was important to tackle the fact that one of the patients was drinking 16 units a day, and had what his GP called ‘unexplained stomach trouble’. You don’t need a medical degree to join the dots, sometimes. It needed sorting out. It’s tough, asking about drinking, especially as ‘problem drinkers’ don’t exactly respond well – but at the end of the day, it’s in the job description. Sort. It. Out.
At lunchtime my current hospital had a talk scheduled from. one of the mid-grade doctors who was speaking on ‘how health professionals can stay healthy’. Most of it centred on his battle with dependancy on alcohol, prescription opiates, and non-prescription drugs. Let me be clear that I’m so impressed that he’s now off everything, giving back to the abstinence programme he went through, getting his career on track, and is brave enough to stand up and say what he did in front of colleagues – it’s brilliant.
However, what is not brilliant is being taken aside at the end and told I didn’t look as though I was engaging with his talk, and was it because I have the mistaken view that addiction is not a disease, and certainly not one doctors get? Because, you know, it could happen to me too….
Excuse me, for getting angry when he said that although he has not used since the birth of his son, that his son is not why he abstains – his own self-love, is. Excuse me for not wanting to look in depth at his AA keyrings (which are given at certain time points of abstinence – a month/two months etc) when I’ve seen my dad come back with them enough times, and when he falls off the wagon, start over. Those keyrings represent a lot of achievement, but they also represent a family who are waiting on eggshells for someone to start again, at the beginning, and plunge everything back to uncertainty. They represent months of children being neglected as they are less important than sobriety, which is just one more thing they love more that you.
I’m sorry, but I believe that when you chose to bring a child into this world and raise them, they should be your first priority. Call me an idealist, call me old fashioned, but if you don’t want to do that, give that child to someone who will. Parents should be staying sober for them, over themselves. They should be protecting them. My father loved his whiskey more than he loved us. My mother loved our reputation as a clean living, achieving family, more than she loved us. Yes, you get sober – but the first reason should be for your children and spouse, who’s lives you have turned upside down. Otherwise, you’re just chosing yourself again, as always. This doctor said he stayed sober for himself, not his young son. I have an issue with that.
I know that substance use, misuse and dependancy is something I struggle with, and I have worked to tackle this head on by doing placements, projects and assignments within the field of substance misuse medicine. I do not bury my head in the sand. I tackle my issues head on. Sometimes I learn a valuable lesson. Other times, like today, I get completely incinerated. I don’t need some evangelist for recovery telling me about the difficulties he’s had; I’ve seen it. I’ve come through it. I remember it, every time I see someone drink more than they should, every time I have a sip of wine, and every time I don’t, because I know that it will be too much, too painful for me. Coming off alcohol and other drugs is so difficult. I have a lot of respect for those who manage it, including my dad, and I will correct anyone who claims otherwise, who claims that it’s just a weakness of will, and that people chose a life of dependancy. Just don’t expect me to congratulate anyone for sorting their life out and leaving their family in the lurch. My dad is sober at the moment, yet I am in recovery from depression not entirely unconnected to his prior habits and am still tethered to counselling. His drinking has left me scarred and scared. His addiction has painted me black, too. It, among with other things along the way, broke me and I still don’t know if I’ll ever achieve that elusive ‘wholeness’. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop bleeding out and hurting. The effects don’t stop when someone puts down a glass for the (yet another) final time. The damage grows and continues. It continues to infect and supporates in quiet corners, in quiet people.
So – I’m feeling pretty fragile today. Strangely enough, this time I didn’t seek it out, the pain just found me. It’s never far away. I know that recovery from depression is a tale of hills and valleys, a trail that we follow for months – but I was hoping for just a few more days in a row without crying. I was hoping for a few less reasons to feel that once again, I just can’t handle parts of this world we’re in. I’m trapped again. I hate that out of nowhere, my issues with drinking spring up and crowd me out. I was upset enough that I left the ward early. I never do that. It got the better of me. It beat me. I can’t, can never, let it beat me.
The odd thing is that the other day, I was back in counselling after a month off and we were talking about drinking, and L (counsellor) asked if I would seek a medical specialty that didn’t have a large number of patients with substance issues – and I said, and stick by it, that although I wouldn’t dedicate myself to it, I want to be part of the solution to this. I want to give something positive back. I want to help people get clean. I want to stop the cycles and the sickness that flows through families. I will not bury my head in the sand. I tackle my issues head on.
Today, though, it was a bit much and I could do with a hug but am home alone.
God, how long is this going to be too much? How long?