Woman doctor an alcoholic looks like me

Beneath the White Coat – An Alcoholic Looks Like Me

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I think helping people has always been my calling. As a young girl I knew that I wanted to go into a helping profession. I chose medicine and have been a primary care provider for most of my adult life. Eventually, I realized that I have another calling as well. It saddens me to say that calling was wine. When I became a Dr. I had preconceived notions of what an alcoholic looked like. I thought that I knew how an alcoholic behaved. And now I know that I never want someone to reach out for help and be denied because of a Dr’s preconceived notion about what an alcoholic looks or acts like. An alcoholic looks and acts like me.

My calling to wine? At first this calling was a mere whisper but over time that whisper became a loud and monotonous roar. A roar that came on every single night without fail. The only way to silence this was to pour myself a nice glass of wine. That nice glass was almost always followed by 3-4 more glasses. Those ladder glasses were not what I would call “nice”. I would wake up feeling foggy, work all day taking care of people and come home to do this again.

About 5 years ago, things with my wine drinking really changed. That change came in the form of at least one weekly blackout and was associated with significant personality changes while drinking. That’s when things started to get scary. Alcohol was now in the driver’s seat. I was hiding behind the seemingly mundane habit of the wine o’clock routine. This pattern continued for 3 very long years.

Now you may be thinking boy, this is a health care provider, she should know better. Oh, logistically I did know better, I just didn’t care. Such is the nature of alcohol abuse. It doesn’t matter if you are a Dr who sees death and addiction every day. We know better, but that doesn’t matter when we ourselves become addicted.

Day in and day out I would deal with other people’s issues surrounding alcohol. If a patient told me they were a social drinker I thought to myself yup, so am I. That was up until the point that patient let me know that they drank maybe 1 – 2 times per month, and only when they went out. Social drinker? Me? …..Yeah right.

Then there were the patients who had real problems with alcohol. The ones who came in asking for help. The ones whose loved ones came in asking for help. Surely, in my mind, I wasn’t like that. Surely I wasn’t “that bad”. In reality, oh yes, I was that bad. That’s the beauty of denial. We can twist our versions of reality however we would like to. We can twist our truths to allow us to continue on with this kind of self-inflicted abuse. Alcohol abuse and addiction is a leading cause of death and those statistics have been all over the news for years now. But that wasn’t me… couldn’t be me …. I was just drinking wine! Everyone drinks wine!

I finally realized that this had to stop. This elevator known as alcohol abuse was only going down and I desperately needed to find a way to hop off. On a stroke of luck, I found an online community. I was terrified at first to log on and ask for help. Asking for help would require admitting that I was weak. That was a very difficult thing for me to do. I am the one who helps others with their health issues. How could I ask strangers for help?

To my utter surprise, this leap of faith was a real life-changer for me. I came to rely on the friends I made in the online community. They were my lifeline in this struggle to change my drinking. By reaching out I found a community of wonderful people who were also striving for sobriety. I thank my lucky stars every day that my google search on “how to stop drinking” led me to them and eventually to who and where I am today.

In my medical practice, I have changed my approach to alcohol. If someone is complaining about fatigue I ask them about substance abuse. If someone has anxiety or depression I ask them about substance abuse. If someone merely walks into my clinic I ask them about substance abuse. They may not want to talk about it due to the stigma and the shame that they may be feeling, but I want to let them know that if they want to open up I will listen. I will listen and not judge. I will listen and try to help if they are ready for it.

My coworkers joke with me about the large number of alcoholic patients I see. If they only knew the reason for that growth in my patient population. As I said at the beginning, I never want someone to reach out for help and be denied because of a Dr’s preconceived notion about what an alcoholic looks or acts like. An alcoholic looks and acts like me……


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“When you quit drinking you stop waiting.”

― Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story