Testimonials of Professionals Assisted by the APHP
September 13, 2021 As I reflect on the last 6 years of my life, I am humbled by how far I’ve come and I want y’all to know I couldn’t have done it without you. I’m so grateful for the support I received from APHP through this entire process. Y'all believed in me well before I could believe in myself on my journey to sobriety. I hope that you can continue to touch the lives of those struggling, because you truly make a difference. Thank you! Brittany Costello, MD
by Dr. William Park III --
I have been blessed to have this wonderful program advocate for me and monitor me with random drug screens since 1996. I have continued to do quarterly drug screens, attend Caduceus weekly support group meetings and general AA meetings on a voluntary contract after my first 5-year contract with the APHP. I am most grateful for the support the APHP has provided for hospital credentialing, annual licensure renewal, and correspondence with Health and Malpractice Insurance Companies over the years. I have had 16 years of sobriety and have appreciated being able to practice without relapse till my 70th birthday. It is a great way to live following the 12-Step AA program one day at a time.
I feel indebted to this program for my life, my ability to practice since 1996, and finding that staying in recovery one day at a time is and has been the "Easier Softer Way." It is the only way and has given me a great life. The Alabama PHP is the flagship program in the country in my opinion.
written in 2012 ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
by Dr. Jim Alford--
On the morning of 11/1119/91 I awoke with my usual hangover -- nausea, tremors, and sweats --no real headache, I just felt bad. I also felt guilty because I had been on call for our group the night before and had vowed (as I had done for the past few months) not to drink while on call. My progression to this stage of alcoholism had taken many years, but the disease process was moving rapidly now. In the past two years I had promised myself that I would only drink on Saturdays, then Fridays, then weekends, then nights I was not on call. I had changed my usual surgery day from Monday to Tuesday because the continuous weekend drinking made Mondays physically impossible to work in the OR. I had begun cancelling the last two to three patients on my afternoon schedule to begin drinking as soon as office hours ended. I knew it would be just a matter of time before I started drinking during or even before office hours. Even now I was having a couple of drinks before making weekend rounds.
Looking at my bloodshot eyes and red puffy face in the mirror I felt shame and self- pity. I had watched myself become more and more isolated from family, friends, and colleagues, and preferred to stay alone so I could drink without having to hide or make excuses. I felt that as long as I still went to the office every day and didn't hurt a patient, that I would be o.k. until I could cut down on drinking. I took Bufferin, put Visine in my eyes and thought of excuses for my red face. Usually, if questioned, I blamed it on sunburn, even if it had rained on the weekend.
As I drove to the office I promised myself that I would not drink until Saturday and then only after sundown. When I arrived at work my office manager said a Dr. Summer with the Medical Association had called and wanted to talk with me. I had a sudden panicky fear because I had seen his picture in the Journal and knew who he was and what he did for MASA. Immediately, however, my denial of my own problem began working, and I rationalized that he probably needed my advice on how to handle some situation with another physician. On the phone he gave no hint of what he wanted but asked to come to my office that afternoon when we had finished seeing patients. All day I had a nagging fear that he might want to talk to me about me.
At 4:00 I sent my staff home and waited. Dr. Summer and Lon Conner arrived. I felt better because I had known our executive director, Mr. Conner, for several years while working on projects with MASA. At that point I was sure that they needed my help with something. After we were introduced Dr. Summer's opening words were "I have reasons to believe that you have a problem with alcohol." The sudden sinking fear was overwhelming. The rest of the meeting was fuzzy, but I remember him asking me to have a 96-hour evaluation. If I complied with his request I would be protected from the Board of Medical Examiners. Otherwise, I would be subject to a full investigation by the Board and possible disciplinary action. After the meeting my fear gradually subsided and was replaced by a feeling of relief. The decisions to get help had been taken out of my hands!!
Then I began to get angry because my denial and rationalization process told me II would have done this on my own if left alone. I needed someone to blame, but Dr. Summer said names of individuals providing information were confidential. Had a complaint come from a friend, a patient, a family member, a colleague, or an enemy? I suspected everyone, but Dr. Summer was the target for my resentment, which continued to grow even after my four-day evaluation ended with a diagnosis of alcoholism and a recommendation to seek treatment in a facility experienced in treating physicians - which I did.
I have now passed my second anniversary of sobriety. I attend regular meetings of a recovering professionals group and AA. The difference in my personal life is incredible, my medical practice did not suffer as I feared, and my colleagues, friends, and family have been totally supportive of my recovery. Even though I have had some major stresses in my life since leaving treatment, I have been able to deal with all of them without the need for chemicals.
In short, I have a new life which is infinitely better than when I was drinking. I am very grateful for the way I was treated by Dr. Summer and all of the other members of the Physicians Recovery Network (now the Physicians Health Program). I hope that in the future insurance companies will pay for appropriate treatment.
I do know that it was several months after leaving treatment and returning to practice that I was able to give up my resentment because I continued to feel that I could have handled my own problem without any outside help. However, after looking at my situation with total honesty, I could finally admit that I would never have sought help for myself unless a severe disaster occurred, such as injuring a patient or someone else as a result of my drinking. Help was forced on me out of caring rather than as a punishment or penalty. I truly believe that my intervention has given me a new and far better way of living and has saved my life as well as protecting the life and health of the patients under my care. I now have a healthy new way of dealing with fear, anger, guilt and shame and all of the other negative emotions I had previously hidden with alcohol. I can run my medical practice instead of letting it run me, and I personally have a sense of peace and well-being that I never dreamed could be possible. Each day I can thank God for my new life and for the caring people who directed me to it.
written in 1993 Jim now has more than 21 years of sobriety
These two words might well have been written in a foreign language, that was how well I understood them. On the surface, everything in my life may have looked serene, to the outsider who wasn’t standing too close. To those caught in my world, I am sure it was like being in a field directly in the path of a tornado, exposed with nowhere to run or hide.
You see, I too was caught up in a tornado, one by the name of addiction. I thought the only peace I could have was when I had more, more, more. I sincerely thought the problem with my life was that I could not drink or use drugs in peace. Why, oh why, couldn’t people just leave me alone? I wasn’t hurting anyone, after all. It was my body, shouldn’t it be my choice.
Lies. All lies. The lies started when I was a child, and continued until I became sober at the age of 36. I took my first drink when I was sixteen, on a trip to the USSR (as it was called then). The very first time I drank I blacked out and woke up lying in the middle of a street in Moscow. I thought this was normal, and great fun. It was not until twenty years later that I discovered that most people do not have black outs when they drink. I do not recall ever drinking and not having a black out. I was extremely blessed with intelligence, and started medical school at the age of 19, and finished in three and a half years. I spent the first two years drinking, but the last year and a half I had to be in the hospital so I just didn’t drink. I still had the illusion of control at that point. It wasn’t to last
During residency I discovered the sample closet, and found that narcotics could take the edge off like alcohol, only no one knew (so I thought). Well, it was off to the races. I had two children and was so proud that I was able to refrain from taking any pain medication… during my first pregnancy at least. After my second child was born I went through a divorce, and suddenly, I couldn’t stop. I COULDN’T STOP. Oh, I had a million excuses. It was a horrid divorce that took four years, I was sued for malpractice, my parents were pressuring me and on and on and on. All reasons to justify why I deserved to have a little peace and had a right to use these pills to make me happy. Yes, I thought they were the only thing bringing me any happiness. I was blind.
My parents moved in with me to help me with the children. They were able to see what I had been hiding and gave me ultimatums. I went to a treatment center under a false name and paid $10,000 for a 24 hour detox. I stayed off drugs for six months. Then my parents threatened to go to the medical board and have my children taken away. So I left. I left my own home and left my children with my parents. I abandoned them. I got remarried and introduced another innocent person to my own personal hell.
During all this, I never really thought I had a problem. After all, I showed up for work every day. I had never missed work until I did that detox. My boss found out about that (from my mother) and I was invited to find another job. It was no big deal; I didn’t like that job anyway. The geographical cures had started. Luckily for me physicians are needed everywhere and I was licensed in three states. I say “luckily” with a great deal of sarcasm. My career allowed me to continue to progress down in my addiction. But you couldn’t have told me that at the time. It was hard for me to realize that I had a problem. I had no legal consequences of my addiction. I had never been arrested and I had never had a DUI. I was writing prescriptions for myself, and somehow word got back to my newest boss. I denied it, and the sad truth is when he asked me about it I honestly did not remember doing that. It was two weeks later when I was driving home from the hospital at 2 am in the morning when I remembered that I HAD gone to the drugstore and gotten medications on prescriptions I wrote out. As I write this now, I can recall the cold fear that consumed me as I was driving. How the hell could have I forgotten THAT? What else had I done that I could not remember? I started to think at this point that maybe there was something wrong, that maybe I did have a problem. A few weeks later I got a call from a DEA agent asking some questions about one of my partners who had written me prescriptions. They were apparently investigating my partner. I thought to myself, could they be investigating me? But it still wasn’t enough. I had not hit bottom yet.
It is hard to explain why I decided to come clean, so to speak. One of my other partners took me aside a few weeks after the above events, and all he said was “I think you have a problem.” For the first time in my life that I could recall, I was honest- with myself. I looked at him and said yes, I did have a problem, but that I had no idea what the hell to do about it. Fortunately he had been in my shoes many years earlier, and he knew where to go for help.
A Physician Health Program? I had never heard of such a thing. I knew what rehab was, but I had no idea what this AA stuff was all about. A few short hours after I admitted to myself, and to my partner, that I was an addict, I went home and told my lovely new husband that I had a drug problem, and that I was heading to rehab. I had no idea how long I’d be gone, how much it would cost, or how we would survive. I was the sole bread winner in our house. He drove me six long hours to the treatment facility. I spent three months there. It took that long just to get through all of my denial for me to realize how sick I really was. I was terrified of losing my license. When I got out of treatment I had to meet with the staff at the Alabama Physician Health Program and I was terrified. I mean, terrified. I had already been before a medical board in another state (they had no physician health program at the time) and I had been ripped apart there. Alabama was a different story. These people seemed to care about me, not as a doctor, but as a person. They were willing to work with me to help me keep practicing. I felt that they understood me. If I had known years earlier, perhaps I wouldn’t have stayed out so long. No matter, I had found this program now and I wasn’t letting go
I completed my five year contract with the PHP. It wasn’t easy, especially at the beginning, but I did every single thing they told me to. I wound up finding a permanent job outside of Alabama, and yet the Alabama PHP worked with me to keep monitoring me. Slowly my life began to change. I began to change. I no longer needed anything to make me happy- I was able to find that happiness within myself. I was blessed with reconciliation with my children. I was blessed with a husband who stood by me, and who is still with me today. I was blessed to realize that I had a career that I actually loved once I was sober. I was blessed, just blessed.
So, did I find serenity? Do I know peace? You bet! And if I had known how wonderful things could be I would have gotten sober sooner. But then again, it took every single experience I had to get me to the point of surrender. I cannot regret anything, because it is the sum of all those things that allowed me to become who I am today..... a physician, a healer, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a happy and loved person who has learned how to love and be loved. Someone who understands now what the word serenity really means, and who cherishes the peace I have been given.