Updated: Oct 31, 2020
"Don't worry, I'm in recovery and I know the way out."
It was in the very early days of my sobriety, and the last whiffs of my cocaine and wine were still wafting around in my brain. I thought my thinking was just fine, but I couldn’t have thought my way out of a wet paper bag.
For a brief moment in detox, simply being removed from the hell that my life had become, was an overwhelming relief. I could breathe deeply without wanting to cry. The steel door that clanked shut behind me cut off all contact with the outside world, and it swept away the black clouds that covered my eyes. I actually felt good, sort of.
But slowly, the outside world crept back in. The accountant wanted this, my old nursing staff wanted that, the ex-wife wanted something. The weight of what I had done, of what I had become, bore down on me. The thing they called a pink cloud had yet to appear.
My friend Mike and I were walking the path that lead through the woods and to the treatment center. The sky was overcast and gray. It seemed as if a thousand-pound weight was hung around my neck. Just looking up hurt my eyes. Mike took pity on me.
“Did somebody run over your puppy dog this morning?” he asked.
I mumbled a response but didn’t feel like talking.
“I guess this is probably the low point in your miserable life,” he said.
I glared but did not speak.
“Drugs of choice: cocaine and alcohol, I’ll bet.”
I glared louder.
“There is one good thing about all this.”
“What?” I barked.
“You don’t have to do it anymore.”
The words did little to cool on my aching brain, for I was still as lost as I could be. Later, my jolly friend Robert and I were hanging out on the patio behind the treatment center. Robert was a round, cheerful family practitioner who never met a honey bun he didn’t like. Or a crack pipe, for that matter. He could see the pain and disappointment that colored my face.
“You know,” he said, “you’re not alone anymore. You don’t have to fight this dragon all by yourself.”
My face was a bucket of tears.
“Let me tell you a funny story,” he said, trying to coax a smile from me.
This is the story he told me.
An alcoholic was stumbling drunk down a dark city street one rainy night when he fell into a large construction pit. The sides were muddy and slicked by the rain and he couldn’t get out. He began to shout.
“Help! I’m stuck in a hole and I can’t get out.”
Shortly, a physician walked by and hearing our drunken friend looked down into the pit.
“O my good man,” said the doctor, taking pity upon our friend. “I can see you’ve fallen into a hole and can’t get out. I’m a Harvard physician, don’t you know, and I have something that might help.”
With that the physician pulled a prescription pad from his coat, dashed off a prescription, and tossed it into the pit. “Take two of these,” he said, “and call me in the morning.” And he was gone.
“Merde,” said the drunk, whose mother was French. He stuffed the prescription into his pocket. Shortly a preacher happened along.
“O my good man,” said the preacher. “I see you’ve fallen in a hole and can’t get out. I’m a Seminary man, don’t you know, Princeton. Here, this may help.” He took out a small Bible, ripped out two pages from the Psalms and threw them into the pit. “Read two of these and call me in the morning,” he said. And he was gone.
“Sheist,” said the drunk, whose father was German. He now doubted if any help was possible, but just then a strange man with a broad smile peered into the pit.
“Help!” cried the drunk. “I’ve had too much to drink and I’ve fallen in this hole and can’t get out. The doctor gave me a prescription and the preacher gave me a Psalm, but I’m still in the pit.”
“Don’t worry, my friend,” said the man. “I know what to do.” With that, the stranger leapt into the pit with the drunk.
“Oh, no!’ cried the drunk. “Now we’re both stuck in here. That was a pretty stupid thing to do.”
“Not at all,’ said our rescuer. “I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been here before and I know the way out.”
I laughed. “I hope you know the way out.”
“No,” said Robert, “but I know where the all-night cafe is. Wanna get something to eat?”
This post is an edited excerpt from "A Spiritual Pathway to Recovery from Addiction, A Physician's Journey of Discovery" now available online.
“Overcoming substance abuse through the use of the spiritual principles behind 12-Step programs, to find long-term recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol and to live a sober life.”