Learning About Me: Paul

In a previous series of blogs starting here, I have emphasised that the effects of a psychoactive drug are not just dependent on its biochemical actions in the brain. They are related to the drug, set (person) and setting (social context). The problems that arise from drug-taking, such as addiction and dependence, are not just related to the drug—it’s drug, set and setting. And the same is true of recovery.

In an earlier blog, I revealed how Brad had been told by a  colleague that his drinking problem was not just due to alcohol. It was about him. In this blog, I’ll use the words of Paul to describe how he learnt the same truth in relation to his drug problem, a drug problem that was a ‘little’ different to what most people experience.

Here is a synopsis of Paul’s Story, ‘Doctor Knows Best?’, written back in 2010-12.

‘I felt totally out of my depth being a ‘doctor’ and started injecting opiates taken from work. Over time, I became isolated in my addiction. I continued taking various opiates after entering general practice and starting a family. My tolerance increased and withdrawal effects worsened. Finally, I was caught.

I had to see a psychiatrist and the General Medical Council (GMC) drug-tested me for months. When the restrictions were lifted, I started using again, but finally confessed to work colleagues and family.

This time, I accessed a 12-step oriented treatment programme, where I learnt that my addiction wasn’t about a particular substance, but was about me. The substance was my solution to my inability to live at peace with myself. I learned to accept that I was an addict and needed to change the way I lived.

Other recovering people have played a key role in facilitating my recovery. I now engage regularly with the fellowship and various recovery initiatives. It’s been a hard process being accepted back by my profession, and I have had much work to do to restore a normal family life. I hope my Story will help others.’

Here’s is some of what Paul learnt in treatment:

‘This was probably the first time that I realised that my addiction wasn’t about a particular substance, but was about my way of thinking or perception of reality. The substance was in fact my solution to my inability to live at peace with myself. Coming to accept that I, rather than the substance, was the problem, was the foundation to my recovery. The realisation that, ‘If I worked on myself, I wouldn’t need to keep running to chemicals’, was a revelation.

Treatment also provided me with an opportunity to connect with other addicts and alcoholics, other imperfect human beings similar to myself. It was a vital part of my recovery to shed the doctor persona and start engaging at a deeper level with new friends. This helped bring me out of the isolation of active addiction and encouraged the dissolution of those invisible barricades that I had constructed over the years. This fellowship with other addicts and alcoholics has continued to grow and develop and remains a cornerstone to my recovery.

Letting go of the drugs and alcohol was difficult, but I came to understand there was a grief-like process involved. I think it took about six or seven weeks in treatment to eventually start to surrender to my situation, and begin to accept that as an addict I am unable to control my drug and alcohol use, and if I am powerless over drugs and alcohol then I need to find power from another source. I began to realise that I needed to go on a journey where I connected with such a power. I needed to continue this process of personal surrender and acceptance on a daily basis….

… Another important part of the treatment process for me was learning how to behave in a more caring and compassionate way to others. We were encouraged to do ‘service’ and help other people in treatment— which I now know is Step 12. I also learnt that trying to ‘fix’ other people—people-please, or deny another person their autonomy—was not ‘helping’ others.

I learnt that the majority of my ‘helping’ behaviour could be traced back to self-gratification. Sometimes the caring thing is to be honest with another person and allow them to work on themselves, rather than trying to protect them or control their behaviour. This sort of honesty with other people had made me feel uncomfortable, as it had felt easier to lie or say nothing when other people’s behaviour triggered negative feelings.

I found all of this very challenging, as I had spent many years keeping my head down and trying not to upset other people. I couldn’t bear the rejection if people didn’t like me. My self-worth relied on what others thought of me. In fact, trying to behave in an altruistic manner is probably impossible if an action is driven by the mind or ego. Developing an awareness of this had helped me.’

Today, life for Paul is good. You can read his original Story with update in my book Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

Photograph by Joshua Earle, shown on Unsplash, a source of free high resolution photographs.