I certainly could have fitted into Alcoholics Anonymous when I was a student. I knew deep down that there was something terribly wrong with the way I drank. But I justified it – a painful breakup coincided with starting housejobs and I couldn’t cope, so I developed what became the fixed pattern of drinking in the evenings after work. As I became more senior I didn’t have to work such long hours so the drinking escalated, but I still thought I was all right because I was holding down a job and had a partner and hadn’t been in hospital or ever touched drugs. By day I lectured my patients about their drinking and by night I drank myself into oblivion.
The fear about what I was doing to myself got worse and worse – I had seen what alcohol did to people and wondered why they didn’t “just stop”. I knew nothing about alcoholism or the fact that it was the first drink that was setting off the compulsion. I took some time off with “depression” – yes, I certainly was depressed, but I blamed it all on my partner and my stressful job, until eventually my denial broke down.
It was one of my own patients who helped me without even knowing it: she went to AA and got sober and brought some leaflets into the surgery. I read them surreptitiously under the desk and began to realise that perhaps I was ill not bad, and needed help. I made contact with the local doctors’ helpline and told the GP who answered that I thought I might be an alcoholic, and that was the beginning of a much better life.
I’ve been sober ever since. I met other recovering doctors and discovered that alcoholism is no respecter of persons – one of the founders of AA was a doctor after all so it shouldn’t be any surprise that we get this illness too. Funnily enough the job and life in general seemed much less stressful when I wasn’t trying to hide something and was free of that awful obsession, and all my excuses for drinking showed up for what they were, excuses. I still go to AA and because there’s alcoholism in my family to Alanon as well, and have been to the British Doctors and Dentists’ Group and International Doctors in AA conferences a few times. It’s great now to see young doctors and students coming in and getting help much earlier than I did – one of the things that kept me drinking for so long was that I thought I was too young for AA and would never have any fun again if I stopped drinking, even though my drinking was anything but fun. I thought I would continue to be just as miserable but without the anaesthetic. But it wasn’t true………so if you’re struggling please reach out, one of the reasons we keep going to meetings even when a long time sober is to be there for the newcomer, we remember what it’s like and the first step is the hardest, but you don’t ever need to feel like that again………..