I grew up in a middle class family near the Jersey shore; the oldest of three siblings and an overachiever. My dad told us that if we wanted to go to college, we had to have a career in mind. I always wanted to help people, so I chose nursing.
I worked for more than three decades as a medical professional, but I drank more and more as time went on and eventually used drugs and damn near killed myself. I thank Caron, AA and God for my recovery.
Life had been good for a long time. I received my Bachelor of Science (BSN) in Nursing in 1982 and I was in my 24th year of nursing at a hospital in Delaware. My husband and I had two young boys. I even went back to school in 1996 to get my Masters in Nurse Anesthesia.
Then, life threw me some curveballs. I had an unexpected pregnancy in my mid 40’s, even though I was using birth control. Having a third child, especially so many years after my other two, upset “MY” life plan. (I’ve since learned, from my time at Caron, that we make plans and God laughs!)
Several years later, two family members had major illnesses in a two-year period. In 2009, my sister, also in Delaware, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. In 2010, my oldest son, who was 21 at the time, was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer. I had already left my job at the hospital and was working for a private anesthesiology group so that I wouldn’t have to work weekends or be on call. I spent a lot of time with them in chemo, radiation, testing and surgery. It was so hard to not be in control.
The stress of my son’s and sister’s illnesses was overwhelming. As a nurse, I’m used to taking care of people, but I needed someone to take care of me at that point. I had been drinking to excess for years, but I was a functioning alcoholic – getting up and going to work every day. When those two crises hit, my drinking escalated. I was also prescribed Xanax after my son got sick. Xanax and alcohol are a wicked combination and led me to a very dark place, but never would I admit I needed help. I told myself I would be fine. But, today I can admit that alcohol had taken over my life.
In addition to the alcohol and Xanax, I did something I still find hard to believe – I started injecting some of the drugs from work, hoping to treat the drinking, alleviate the stress, and sleep at night. It was as if I was watching myself do it and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but I did it anyway. I was comfortable with needles and I thought I could control my usage. After all, I administered these drugs to patients and could control it for them. I thought I had both the knowledge and the willpower to protect myself from addiction, but that was my ego talking to a very sick person.
Within three to four weeks I was addicted. I lived in secrecy, fear and shame. One day in February 2012, my colleagues confronted me before work and called an ambulance. I was sent to the ER, tested (which uncovered my drug use) and voluntarily went to detox. The game was over. I entered a treatment center, but the Xanax wasn’t leaving my body as quickly as expected and the counselors accused me of continuing to use. I knew recovery would not go well there.
I decided to leave and called Caron through my professional organization, which has a support group for anesthetists in trouble. Fortunately for me, Caron took me right away and my urine cleared. I don’t know if they believed me about not using any more, but they said they wanted to help me no matter what. And they did. After several weeks of treatment, I agreed with the counselors that I needed to stay longer and I moved into the house for women for Caron’s Extended Care Program. I stayed about three more months. Tudie Henninger, my personal counselor, helped me understand myself. I owe her so much.
At the suggestion of my attorney, I surrendered my nursing licenses before they were taken from me. I also lost my job while in treatment. My husband and family stood by me and I am truly thankful for that. After leaving the Caron program, my licenses were reinstated in June 2013 and the felony theft charges against me were dropped after one year of documented sobriety, counseling and AA work.
I’ve been sober 1 ½ years and life is good again. I’m still on probation, but I’m able to practice and I’m looking for work. I’m optimistic–I’ve had two interviews. My son and my sister are doing fairly well, and my daughter, now 8, is one of the greatest joys of my life. She helps me daily with my sobriety because I want her to have a healthy mom. I learn everyday about acceptance, patience and prayer.
I also owe much to Dr. Greg Gabel and Sharon Matthews, the head counselor at Caron’s Extended Care program. Caron taught me that addiction is a disease and I’m not weak for asking for help. I’ve read that anesthesia providers have one of the highest rates of addiction of all medical professionals, so it’s not surprising that I got caught in the web of addiction. There are NO excuses my actions, but I do understand the reasons behind what I did and I have new ways to cope with stress. I regularly attend 12-step meetings, I have a sponsor, I work the steps and continue to take things one day at a time.
I’m looking forward to attending Rosie’s Reunion at Caron in September, which is for the graduates of the Extended Care program. I’d also like to give back and help others. I’m living proof that treatment can work.
To find out more about our Healthcare Professionals program, please visit: http://www.caron.org/healthcare-professionals-program-5356-5031.html