I Looked Good

“I know it sounds corny, but it’s the truth!”

I never had a DUI. I never went to detox. I never spent a night in jail. But I certainly could have had any of those things happen – many times. I took my first drink 46 years ago. I drank and used drugs for the first 23, and I have been recovering and connected with Dentists Concerned for Dentists (DCD) for the last 23.

I still remember the feelings of escape and relief alcohol and other drugs afforded me. Once I got started I quickly became preoccupied with finding those feelings as often as possible. I just wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I was insecure and sought comfort through withdrawal, isolation, and self-medication.

People around me thought I was a leader, and I was a good student in high school. My classmates elected me president of this and president of that. I was voted “Best All Around” in my senior class. But all the attention just made me more uncomfortable and elevated my desires to escape. My increased drinking and using brought with it the inevitable collateral damage to my life. I went from being a student-athlete with promise, and one who was viewed by most as being a pretty nice guy, to being pretty much a bum without any direction, ambition, or reliability.

After two and a half years of college (and it wasn’t Harvard either) I was asked to leave. I had a cumulative GPA of 1.86. I immediately lost my student deferment, was drafted, and quickly enlisted in the Air Force to avoid the Vietnam era infantry of the 60s and 70s.

You know, as I get older I look back and recognize certain events in my life as having been significant turning points. That was one of them. I was assigned to a dental services unit and, despite the fact that drugs and alcohol were cheaper and more plentiful in the military of the 60s and 70s, for some reason my use of chemicals stood out less there. I also found out I enjoyed dentistry. I worked hard and was promoted and trained as a dental hygienist. Another turning point came when the Colonel I worked for, who was also a “drinker” (Jack Daniels), encouraged me to pursue dental school. I was actually deluded enough to believe I could do it, so I started taking night classes. The fact that I had married in the meantime and had two young sons gave me a sense of responsibility that had previously been lacking — another turning point.

In spite of the odds against me, I finished the undergraduate program and was accepted to and graduated from dental school at the University of Minnesota. All this time I was a “functional alcoholic”. I used pot and drank, though a little more “responsibly” than I had earlier in my life. I used mood-altering substances as a reward for doing well on a test, or getting good quarter grades, or whatever, often at the Delta Sig house or the Big Ten.

After graduation, excited that the academic grind was over, I bought a solo practice and jumped in. Soon the practice was booming and I was once again the “golden boy”, with new expectations to live up to – patients, staff, family, and friends. There were those lunches with the specialists wanting referrals, the drinks from the specialists at the meetings, the weekends in Canada or on Leech Lake, all contributing to a growing “social” problem. My isolated drinking was starting to increase too, only at night, a couple unmeasured drinks after the family went to bed. Still, I felt a strong need to protect the practice, and if I drank “too much” on any given night I would get up early the next morning to run and eat a big breakfast before I went in to work. Somehow that was supposed to make it okay. Then, some bad business decisions, the resulting money issues, and some staffing problems all culminated in my walking away for three days; leaving with no announcement to my family, friends, or staff, and spending the entire time by myself … in a tent … in Northern Minnesota … drunk. And so, another turning point …

After that weekend, sensing a “possible problem”, I contacted DCD and met with a member over coffee at Perkins. After a nice talk he left me with “You know, if you think you have a problem, you probably do, but only you really know for sure.” Realizing that I indeed had a problem, and recognizing that I needed help getting a handle on it, I entered what turned out to
be 27 days of inpatient treatment. That was a big decision – another turning point. I lost a month’s worth of production, but it probably saved my life and my practice.

My ongoing recovery now includes being very active in both AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and DCD. Though the role of DCD seems to have changed some over the years, we still have as a primary purpose the provision of advocacy and support for the dentist who may have a problem with alcohol or other drugs, so he or she can get the help that is needed and continue to practice without receiving sanctions from the State Board of Dentistry. We, as DCD members, have seen the devastation the disease of alcoholism/chemical dependency can cause, but we have also seen the healing and joy that comes as a result of successful recovery. Because of who we are and what we have been through, we can tell you one thing for sure: Problems with alcohol or other drugs are like a crack in a molar – they’re only going to get worse, and they don’t get better by themselves. I know it sounds corny, but it’s the truth!

DCD member

For confidential help, or to ask any questions you may have concerning DCD, please call (651) 275-0313 in the Twin Cities area or (800) 632-7643 toll-free out-state.

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