By the second year of my PhD, I published or presented 54 medical papers. I’d published six peer reviewed medical papers, was a contributing author on a book, and owned and operated my own consulting company in respiratory medicine. I’d developed a patent for respiratory devices and was progressing successfully in my studies. I was 31 years old. I was proud of my accomplishments and my continuing success in respiratory medicine. But that was all about to change. A substance use disorder would enter my life and take everything from me: my possessions, my profession, my loved ones, and my sanity.
My pathway to struggling with a substance use disorder started when I made an appointment to see my medical school’s doctor for migraine headaches. I put great trust in him. In a timeframe of less than eight months, I was prescribed 6,647 pills. I had pills to help me stay awake and study, pills for helping me sleep, pills for anxiety, and pills for pain. I knew about substance abuse, but I thought I was too intelligent to become trapped by that disease. Anyway, the doctor said he had taken pills when he was in medical school to help him succeed. My ignorance would cause me to lose almost a decade of my life. My severe substance use disorder would bring me close to death many times.
Although this doctor lost his medical license for overprescribing controlled substances and not monitoring that prescribing, it was too late for me. I had to drop out of my program due to my substance use disorder. The doctor lost his license three months after I dropped out of the program.
At this point in my life, I had to confront and accept some very disturbing facts. I was no longer pursuing the goal I had been following for the past 15 years. I was severely addicted to prescription drugs. The doctor who had been prescribing me the drugs had his medical license revoked. The focus of my life was to obtain drugs. I was, in essence, trapped in the severity of my substance use disorder. For the first time, I had lost complete control over my life.
For many years, I went doctor shopping. I would acquire my drugs in many ways: from the internet, hospital emergency rooms, forged prescriptions, clinics, private doctors, and in other countries. I could hold a job short-term because of my experience in respiratory medicine. But every time, I was fired when my substance use disorder interfered with the quality of my work. Eventually, word of my substance use disorder became known to my colleagues and the respiratory medicine industry. From that point on, I was not called upon to lecture, consult, or in any way work in the respiratory medicine industry. I was, for all intents and purposes, “blackballed” from my profession.
Shunned from my industry, estranged from my family and friends, and homeless, I fell into a deep depression. I wrote a suicide note and attempted to commit suicide. I did not succeed. Over the next nine years, I would attempt suicide one more time. I survived 35 toxic overdoses and 45 seizures. Each of these nearly killed me.
During my active substance use disorder, I tried rehab periodically. Nine times, I made a serious effort to become substance use free. But, every time, I relapsed within weeks of being discharged. After nine years, I completely surrendered to my disease and understood that my substance use disorder was not going to be successfully addressed in weeks or even in a couple months of treatment. I realized that my recovery would require at least a year in a long term residential program where I could work on my substance use disorder issues every day, with no distractions. I found a year-long cognitive/behavioral rehabilitation program. This program not only worked on my substance use disorder issues, but also worked on my cognitive/behavioral issues that caused me to seek out the drugs.
Currently, my life is finally moving in a direction I can be proud of. Being free from substance use restored my clarity of thought and determination. Two attributes which were essential for completing my autobiography, From Hopkins To Homeless: My True Story of Prescription Drug Addiction. I believe I can inspire and educate others about substance use disorders and recovery management with my story.
My future is now completely open to possibilities. I do know that I am very thrilled and inspired living life as a substance use-free individual. And, for the first the first time in over nine years, I have a sense of self-confidence and respect for myself. This confidence reminds me that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. For this reason, I enrolled and completed my doctorate in public health education. I have also completed training to become a certified peer support specialist and a certified prevention specialist II.
It has been a long, arduous, and self-revealing journey. Unfortunately, along the way I sometimes was deceitful, dishonest, unreliable, and untrustworthy. On the other hand, I can proclaim that through my suffering and adversity, I received great rewards and prosperity. Today, I continue to advocate for those affected by the disease of addiction and mental health issues. It is a passion and a pathway that I will pursue for the rest of my life.