The Doctor

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“My father was an accomplished alcoholic, but anger ruled in our home life. My mother was an emotionally unstable and angry woman. I remember my mom, in one of her outbursts, shouting at me that she wished that she never had me because I made her have 'nervous breakdowns'. I can forgive her today, but then at 5 years old, I didn't understand. It hurt, and I felt bad that I had somehow made my mom’s life worse. I had no idea how to deal with that as a kid. It made me want to get away from there, anywhere, but I had nowhere to go. School was my only escape. The happiest time in my life, even to this day, was my adventures in the gifted student program at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was 12 years old and I finally felt accepted. Class started at 1:00, but I lied and told my teachers it started at 11:00. I jumped on the “L” train every Tuesday and explored the wonders of downtown Chicago. I felt independent and free! Like a young Ferris Bueller, I went to the penthouses of skyscrapers, extravagant office buildings, art galleries, museums, expensive restaurants, and the vast Chicago Public Library. It’s amazing what a 12-year-old can get away with, with a little confidence. It was like an oasis in a long stretch of barren desert. I felt like I could finally be myself."

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"I met a girl and we got married. At this point in my life, I was chasing after anything to make me feel accepted, wanted, loved. Being married was going to clear the fog. I could see myself loving and being loved in a lifetime relationship. But the mood swings and emotional problems and arguments didn’t take long to start. My own selfishness and confusion drove me deeper and away. We decided to start a family – another fix. As a father myself, I could find a real purpose in life. One more distraction from having to deal with who I was inside. And it worked – for a while. I was a great dad. I was kind, patient, and fun. I taught my kids respect and love for others and how to make their own moral choices. For 13 years of their childhood, I kept my shit together. I changed diapers, taught Sunday school, went on family camping trips, bedtime stories – a strong, loving father. Having 4 kids and raising them was wonderful. And it took the focus off the marriage and my shortcomings. But through my own delusions and avoidance of understanding who I was, my inner world was unraveling."

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"In 1997, I started back to school to earn my doctorate. After graduation, I started a medical practice. Within the first year, I doubled the business for my partner and I and launched my own office. Here I found success. My medical practice was flourishing. My patients loved me, the money was flowing in, I felt happy. I kept myself busy all the time, ignoring the hollowness inside. If you keep yourself busy enough, long enough, you don't have to face who you really are. You can ignore your character defects for a long, long time. You can even convince yourself that they are not really defects, it's just "who you are". But like a virus in the body, they never go away. They just lay dormant. I learned this the hard way beginning innocently in the spring of 2002.  Our marriage had lost its depth over the years and we were drifting apart. We realized we weren't compatible with each other anymore. We decided to see a counselor, but instead of helping, it made things worse: our differences became glaringly obvious. With this new-found unrest, something inside me snapped."

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"Even though I was married, I began receiving attention from attractive women. My patients would shamelessly come on to me. Open flirtation, whispers in my ear, phone numbers in my pocket. It was a huge ego boost, but I resisted. One day, a few of my staff at work had invited me to play on their team in a volleyball league. A few beers after games to celebrate, just harmless good times with friends. Up until then in my life, I rarely drank. Watching my dad slowly kill himself with alcohol, I swore I would never be like him. Once again, I had found a new escape. I never saw it coming, though I should have. A few beers turned into pitchers. Pitchers needed shots. And more and more shots. I loved the way it made me feel – I couldn't get enough. I started getting involved out on the weekends, drinking with all my new friends. My marriage was already dead on arrival. Things got to the point that I had to move out because I couldn't keep my two worlds separated any longer. Saying it now, it was a very selfish life I was leading. But at the time, when you find something that makes you feel better than anything your entire life, a perfect escape, you'll do anything to get it and sacrifice anything to get it."

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"The single most, saddest moment in my life happened that summer of 2008. We had a family meeting telling my daughters and son that I was moving out. Mom and Dad were separating. My two youngest girls took it the hardest – Amy was 9 and Sophie was 6. Amy begged me, ‘Daddy, please don't go...don't leave us! I love you, Daddy. I need you’. Sophie ran into the bedroom and laid on the floor, crying, sobbing. I held her face in my hands and said, ‘Everything's going to be okay’. Oh, the look in her eyes. Such grief and pleading in her tender eyes. She reached up and held my face in her hands. She said, ‘I love you, Daddy, why do you have to go?’. I held her tightly in my arms and I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her. Nothing could ever change that. Then I stood up and walked away. I left her crying there by herself. I had become a worse man than my father ever was."

"That was 9 years ago. In 2012, I went on a trip to Europe to see my oldest daughter, bringing along one of my girlfriends. It was a drunken disaster. Coming home after living homeless in Prague, the teetering remnants of my life came crashing down. I lost my practice. I was being evicted. I guzzled straight vodka every time I thought about all the heartache I had caused to my children. Every day, I wanted to die. It was a slow suicide. My dog was my only companion, watching me drink over a liter of vodka every day. One day, my car broke down on Main Street. I abandoned it at Walgreens and started walking. I saw an older man on a red scooter pull up to the curb in front of me. He got off the scooter, and I saw that he had only one leg. We struck up a conversation and he asked me "Have you been drinking?" And I said, "Hell yeah, I've been drinking. My car broke down and I'm pissed off!" He said "I used to drink too. And I lost everything". Then he asked me "Do you have any kids?". I don't know why he asked me that, but I said 'yes'. "Well, when's the last time you talked to them". I hung my head down. It had been a long time. Then he looked me square in the eye and said, "You're a loser" with a smile. A total stranger on the sidewalk just called me a loser. What could I say? He was right. I was a loser. He said ‘Man, life is precious. You matter to your kids. They need their dad in their lives.’ God, that really hit me. He gave me a meeting list and invited me to an AA meeting. He said 'Just give it a try. If you don't like it you don’t have to stay."

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"So, I went to the Thursday night meeting at the Blandine house. They welcomed me with open arms. My prejudices about the kind of people who went to AA meetings were completely wrong – that they were burnouts, bums, and losers. I was the loser! These people had a genuineness and humor I had never seen before. Their lives had meaning and purpose. I wanted whatever they had. I walked outside after the meeting and had a smoke and out of nowhere, two guys pulled me aside and said "You have to go to detox - now. If you don't go right now, you'll never do it". I'll never forget how they looked at me. So earnestly, like they were pleading with a dying man. So, I went. That morning, I walked out of the hospital into the bright sunshine. I didn't tell anyone what I was going to do next. I knew I had a bottle of vodka still in my car, over three-fourths full. I made a beeline for the car, and before I could have a chance to think about it, I grabbed that bottle, took off the cap, and poured it all out on the stones. Right there in the hospital parking lot with people watching a madman. And I said, "Done."

"I did not expect all of this to happen in my life. I believed that I was a “special case” – the exception, that I was forever destined to live a life of failure and isolation. At one time, I believed that I was smarter than everyone else. That I was cleverer than most people and could cheat the consequences, but that started falling apart for me. My whole life, I said, “I could do anything, get anything I wanted if I just set my mind to it”. And I did. But I was on a collision course. My self-will tore a hole in my life, like a plane at 30,000 feet. Today I do everything I can to give back. My alcohol addiction has been removed. It does not exist for me anymore. And that, to me is a true miracle. The Solutions Center has helped me get back on my feet. When my friend who was housing me suddenly passed away, I couldn't afford to stay where we were living. Two years sober now, I'm grateful to have a chance to rebuild my life. Living at the shelter has given me the stability I needed to be able to think ahead, find work, and be on my own. The positivity I've experienced at the center has brought back a ray of hope for me, something I haven't felt in a while."

Casey FrenchComment