By doing this blog I’ve committed to sort of flinging myself into quasi-public view. Like a lot of things I’ve done in my life, there has been some element of impulsivity in it. Now that I’ve launched, I periodically wonder why in the world I really started out on this particular part of my journey. The best answer I have is that I feel compelled to write as part of my overall need to connect, to hear and be heard.
There are several things I’m doing these days which arise out of a raw need to express something. One of those things which I will probably write about now and then is “Art as a Healing Journey”. It’s a course offered (now online) by Expressive Arts Florida for therapists or regular folks that teaches the use of art, well, as a healing journey. One of the core elements is that one uses the creative process to give form to something in oneself, and that once created, the piece can tell you something about yourself or the issue that prompted the work. Writing is another one of those things that can work this way. Among other things I anticipate that writing itself will teach me about what it is I have to say.
I’ve been reading articles by William White and some of his colleagues about self-disclosure (http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/blog/tag/self-disclosure). At first, I shuddered a bit and thought I probably should have read about self-disclosure before I started disclosing. If self-disclosure is something you think about doing in any public way, I would recommend checking out these posts. In the end nothing I read scared me away. However, I’m better informed about what to consider so that to the best of my ability my disclosure has a constructive rather that destructive effect on my life and recovery, that of my friends and associates, and on work of recovery generally.
Self-disclosure in the context of recovery from the disease of addiction is an inherently vulnerable undertaking. First there is having enough confidence to think that my experience and thoughts are worthy of writing about or being read. I guess that calls upon some fundamental self-esteem. Like so many, I’ve had and continue to have my challenges in that department. It seems like one of the best solutions for that (and there are many skillful and complicated recipes) is just to assume it is so and forge ahead. It’s an act of faith.
For a doctor in recovery vulnerability presents a number of challenges. Imagine your quintessential doctor. In fact, here’s one for you:
I doubt that vulnerable is the first word that comes to mind to describe this fellow. If I were to put an image of someone in recovery next, and I asked you what their occupation was, I doubt doctor would be one of your first guesses. Well maybe if there were a stethoscope around their neck or scalpel in their hand.
Vulnerability isn’t a quality that’s emphasized in the selection or training of physicians. And despite the reportedly high rates of substance abuse among physicians (Am J Addict. 2015 Jan;24(1):30-8) if you think of a physician with the disease of addiction, you’re likely to recall a media headline or possibly the whispered murmur of an unfortunate individual doc who crashed and burned. It is unlikely that most people have knowingly come across a number of physicians in recovery.
Fortunately, there are a lot of programs to support physicians and other health care workers so that they can treat their illness discretely, be supported in their recovery, and continue doing the work they were trained to do. No such organization is necessary for doctors with heart disease, or obesity, or cancer. It is wonderful that such programs such as CPH in NY State or PRN in Florida exist. It is also true that the cultural biases that create the need for such programs result in many health care practitioners having further reason to avoid seeking help and therefore continuing to place their own lives and that of others at risk.
In my work as a physician, I have always felt that there was an added potency of my work when I had travelled the road that my patient was travelling. In some peer support organizations, there is a line one often hears that “a burden shared is a burden lessened”. Addiction and diseases of the mind have a stigma that burdens the affected person with not only their disease but the corrosive effect of shame for having that disease. Standing up publicly as a physician in recovery from the disease of addiction is an assertion of my commitment to my own recovery and to that of others whom I hope to be fortunate enough to help.