The Freedom of Not Fixing

Strength + Courage: A Story of Addiction, Treatment & Recovery
Senior couple sitting Adirondack chairs
Table of Contents
What happened is that she got sober, and I did not get better.

Q: At which facility did you receive treatment?

A: I went through the Family Program at the Betty Ford Center in 2001 and again in 2006.

Q: What is your 'freedom from codependency' date?

A: My freedom from codependency date is September of 2001. I went through the first Family Program in August, and—after some real soul-searching—I made the commitment to start my recovery in Al-Anon. I started to go to meetings several times a week in Whittier, California, which is where I live. I had been to Al-Anon before when my wife was in other treatment programs, but the counselors at the Betty Ford Center convinced me that I would never get over my anger and controlling behavior without Al-Anon. I've never looked back.

Q: Please tell us what it was like, what happened and what it's like now.

A: Before coming to the Family Program, I spent years trying to control the alcoholic's drinking. I was miserable, and others around me were miserable as well. I was angry, self-righteous, and of no help to my wife, who was struggling with her alcoholism. What happened is that she got sober, and I did not get better. I was still looking for bottles, being critical, and trying to run her recovery. I saw her moving along a spiritual path in AA while I was mired in my own destructive behavior. I finally took some good advice from her counselors at the Betty Ford Center and gave Al-Anon a serious try. Today our lives revolve around our own recovery programs. We try to be of service and keep out of each other's programs.

In 2006, my son entered treatment at the Betty Ford Center for his addiction to opiates. My wife had joined Al-Anon by then, and we were able to keep our hands off his recovery and let the counselors work their magic. Today he is sober and gets to live his life on his own terms. In 2011, my daughter entered treatment for addiction; and today remains a sober contributing member of society. We have continued to stay close to the Betty Ford Center and value the friendships we have with other alumni. We've been back to the Anniversary Weekend in the desert each fall since 2001.

Q: When did you realize you needed help? Was there something specific that led you to treatment?

A: I realized I needed help one day on the main campus at the Betty Ford Center. By then, my wife had been there two months, and I saw in her eyes something I had not seen in years. She was at peace in her recovery, and I was still miserable. I will never forget that moment. I had one of those "I want what she's got" moments that changed my life course forever.

Q: What was the toughest aspect of changing?

A: It was (and still is) hard for me to give up trying to control another person. In my career as a physician, I've always told people what to do, so giving this up was difficult. I specialize in addiction medicine, so you can imagine living with alcoholics/addicts and biting my tongue every time I see something I want them to do differently. Thank God for sponsors and meetings!

Q: What is the best thing about your life today?

A: Today I get to live my life and leave the heavy lifting to a God of my understanding. I know where I need to go when I am tempted to jump back in the ring with an alcoholic. It's freeing to not have to fix those you love the most. I use the lessons I learned at the Betty Ford Center daily in my work with patients who struggle with alcoholism and addiction.

Q: Do you have a favorite program 'catch phrase' that you value?

A: My favorite slogan from Al-Anon is "Progress Not Perfection". It reminds me that I'm a work in progress, and the recovery from the family disease of alcoholism happens slowly. I just need to put one foot in front the other.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice that has served you well to someone still suffering, what would it be?

A: I would advise someone still suffering to not try to do this alone. We who have been affected by this disease need help, and help is available. I felt so isolated for years, like I was the only one who was going through this. There was so much shame and guilt in my life. During Family Week, we talked about how—as family members—we felt so much at fault for our loved one's addiction. We were to blame. Opening up to others and asking for help was the small crack of light that led me out of my misery and into recovery. I tell people that you don't realize how wonderful recovery can be until you give it a try.

Q: What else would you like to share?

A: As I have said previously, I work in the field of addiction medicine as a physician. It has been my mission to educate my fellow physicians about alcoholism/addiction and how it is a treatable, chronic, relapsing illness. I tell them that alcoholics are some of the most rewarding people you will ever treat. Rarely in medicine do you see people get "weller than well." We see this on a regular basis in addiction treatment. People do recover, and go on to enjoy lives that are beyond their wildest dreams. I feel that it is an honor to travel with these men and women on their recovery journey.

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