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MyView: Taking one day at a time

January 05, 2015 April 29, 2011, was a very special day in my life. No, it's not my birthday or anniversary. It's not my daughter's birthday or my wife's birthday. April 29 is the day I was rescued from certain death. On that day (and for several months prior) I felt as if the world had turned against me. I had nowhere to go, no one to talk to, and no idea of what to do with my situation.  I was desperate for help. I knew if I didn't get help I was going to lose everything in my life that I had worked so hard to gain, and most likely I would not live to see my next birthday.

What was wrong? I had become addicted to prescription pain medication. I had done so many things to be ashamed of, lied to so many people, and hurt so many others, including friends and family. I had so many issues I really thought they were going to be my demise. I tried over and over again to quit, making a new resolution each morning that this would be the day I get clean, yet each day I ended up taking more than the previous day. It progressed for months until I was finally stealing intravenous fentanyl, morphine, Dilaudid — whatever I had in my cabinet. My addiction was so severe that I would sit at the UPS receiving station waiting for the box of fentanyl to come in, and spending thousands of dollars with three different drug companies so that they wouldn't get suspicious and contact the Drug Enforcement Administration. The problem was I didn't know how to quit. I didn't understand that I was powerless and could do absolutely nothing on my own. It would take an act of God to get me to stop — and that's exactly what happened.

One day after signing a check and getting blood all over it, my wife and office manager cornered me and laid it on the line. "You are out of control" are the words I remember hearing. Sometimes when we hear those words we think of someone who is "wild and crazy" and having a good old time. Well, for me, I heard what they really meant: I HAD NO CONTROL OVER MY ADDICTION OR MY LIFE. At that moment I realized I had lost control of my own will and given it over to drugs and alcohol.

At first, I thought this was the worst day of my life. I envisioned my wife leaving me, my daughter hating me, never being able to practice oral surgery again, living on the streets and begging for money just to get by. But that day actually turned out to be the greatest day of my life. I picked up the phone and admitted myself into the Betty Ford Clinic. Unfortunately, I had already been turned in to the Board of Dentistry, and the very next day I got a visit from a state board official and an officer from the DEA. Like all good addicts, I tried to lie my way out of trouble. I assumed I was going to be leaving the office in handcuffs. What I quickly found out was they were there to help me start rebuilding my life. I was given a second chance to get it right, an opportunity to get to the core of my problems and fix them before something drastic really did happen. Yes, I had to take my licks just like everyone else, but through the state board and our excellent recovery program (Oklahoma Health Professionals Program) I was able to start getting my life back on track.

I am now three and a half years past that fateful day and I cherish every bit of help I've received in rehab and through OHPP, both of which have taught me that I must follow certain steps if I want to get sober and stay sober. I am now an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous and I go to meetings four times a week. I have been working the 12 steps of AA, having to suffer through a lot of pain and anguish to make amends to all the people I cheated, lied to and stole from, including my family. I've spent months in counseling getting to the core issues, personality defects and stressors that pushed me to want to get drunk or use drugs to cope with life. I have learned more about myself in these last three and half years than I have in my whole life. Surrender is a word that was not in my vocabulary previously, but now I realize that if I don't surrender my will and my life to the power of God, I'll be right back where I started from. Therefore, each day when I wake up, I ask God for another sober day, I surrender my will to Him, and I live one day at a time.

This editorial, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in the November issue of the Oklahoma Dental Association Journal. This article was submitted to the ODA Journal anonymously to protect the identity of the author.

Editor's note: Right now, there are about 45 state dentist well-being programs in place nationwide. Dentists dealing with addiction who want more information on their state's dentist wellness program can contact Alison M. Siwek, manager, Dentist Health and Wellness, ADA Council on Dental Practice, by calling the ADA toll-free number, ext. 2622, or 1-312-440-2500, ext. 2622, or by emailing siweka@ada.org. All referrals are anonymous.