How treatment brought intensive care nurse Derek N. back to life from opioid addiction Derek N. headed out for a routine run along the shores of Lake Superior when a crushing reality registered. He'd been listening to Bob Dylan's "Not Dark Yet," and a line about turning into steel literally stopped Derek in his tracks. "It hit me. My soul had turned into steel. That's who I'd become. I didn't care about anybody or anything. I didn't feel anything anymore. I was dead inside." Living at a Remove By all outward appearances, Derek was the picture of white-picket-fence success. He worked full-time as an intensive care nurse and also taught nursing courses at two local colleges. Home life was jam-packed with the hubbub of raising three young children with his wife. And yet there was an inner emptiness. And stubborn insecurities. By day, Derek filled the void by keeping himself too busy and putting in long hours at work. By night, he withdrew behind a numbing buzz of alcohol and pills. Recently, he'd begun diverting narcotic painkillers from the hospital where he worked—a new, personal low he couldn't quite admit to himself. Derek had acquired a liking for narcotics a few years prior when he was prescribed postoperative pain medications. As a heavy drinker on-and-off since his high school days, he appreciated the dulling sensation produced by opioids without the hangovers and outward appearance of intoxication that came with alcohol. A second surgical procedure provided Derek with a subsequent prescription for post-op painkillers, and when that supply ran out, an opportunity presented itself at work. "I was bringing two Oxycodone tablets to a patient, but he only wanted one. So the second pill went in my pocket. That was the beginning of the end." Over the next year, Derek diverted narcotic medications from his workplace on a regular basis. He was careful not to use drugs on the job and convinced himself he was too smart to actually become addicted. "I was an intensive care nurse, after all. I had things under control. At the same time, I knew deep down that I'd eventually get caught. I just figured I could talk my way out of any situation." Derek's carefully constructed facade caved one Friday morning in 2011 when he was summoned to an unexpected meeting with his director. Confronted with evidence that he'd been stealing medications, Derek offered a plausible explanation and an indignant denial. He was nonetheless placed on administrative leave and sent home where he railed to his wife about the ridiculous charges and preposterous situation. Just then, Derek's cell phone rang and his wife picked up. A woman who'd heard about the work incident was calling for Derek and, in the process, unwittingly confirmed his wife's growing suspicions of marital infidelity. There were more vigorous denials from Derek, but the truth was closing in. "Just like that, in a matter of hours, I lost everything. My family. My livelihood. My reputation." Contemplating suicide, Derek drove to a familiar rocky beach along Lake Superior. The riotous waves echoed the tumult in his life. As he climbed a bluff along the shore, Derek spotted a narrow rivulet of springwater trickling from the heights into the churn of Lake Superior below. He hiked closer and saw something unexpected: hope. "For whatever reason, seeing that small stream of water make its way forward felt like hope to me. It was a transformational moment." Coming to His Senses Derek returned home and began researching addiction treatment programs. He discovered the Health Care Professionals Program at Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota. Within a week, he was admitted, joining a cohort of other health care professionals and slowly beginning the process of, in his words, "coming alive." In addition to core addiction treatment components, the Health Care Professionals Program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation addresses occupation-specific recovery challenges, such as easy access to medications, extensive knowledge about pharmaceuticals, irregular shift work, long hours, repeated emotional trauma, workplace injury causing chronic pain, and more. As Derek came to appreciate during treatment, addiction is a disease driven by guilt and shame—especially for nurses. "Being in treatment with other health professionals was really eye-opening for me. We shared many of the same issues and fears, we carried tremendous shame and embarrassment about our situation, and we faced similar return-to-work repercussions once we completed treatment." With a background in both health care and addiction treatment, specialists from the Health Care Professionals Program helped Derek prepare for career restoration issues and navigate the ups and downs of early recovery. Following treatment, thanks to donor support, he stayed at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Dan Anderson Renewal Center for a week to strengthen newly acquired recovery skills. He also found help and guidance through the Foundation's web-based recovery support resources to supplement continuing care services and Twelve Step meetings. Keeping Hope Alive Resuming his nursing career proved more problematic. Derek's license had been suspended. The idea of searching for a new job under a restricted license filled him with dread. How much of his history should he reveal? Yes, the sanctions were public record, but he could steer clear of details if asked. He decided to be up front. "Honesty was a big part of my recovery, and I decided that being vague wasn't being honest." He was stunned by the response from prospective employers. They were overwhelmingly positive. Many told Derek how much they appreciated his openness and how addiction had impacted someone in their own life. "Once again, my eyes were opened to how many people across all walks of life are affected by the disease of addiction. And now I'm also able to share the hope of recovery." Today, Derek returns to Hazelden's Center City campus two or three times a year to talk with nurses in treatment, and he organized a recovery support group in his hometown specifically for nurses. His family, too, is now stronger than ever in recovery. A full-circle moment came 2 1/2 years ago when Derek was hired as the clinical educator for the critical care department where his active addiction had cost him his job. "I'm living proof that there is a way out of addiction, not that it's easy. Accepting help is the hardest part. But I've been granted a second chance at life in every respect. And I'm so grateful."