I feel it is only right to provide some information about my background. I hinted at this at this in the previous post. My journey had started many years before – perhaps as a child. I was brought up in quite a privileged family. Both my parents were physicians and I was the eldest of three children. I don’t remember my childhood being particularly happy and it was very difficult to put a finger on exactly why this was. I was anxious as a young child and my parents took me to see a psychiatrist at around the age of 3. I had a real problem with going into shops or any enclosed spaces and would freak out and “do a runner”. On one occasion, my mum took me to the circus and I was so alarmed when they closed the doors that I managed to crawl out under the edge of the tent to escape. That was even before the clowns came out!
I worried constantly that my family didn’t love me. I used to spend a lot of time alone, in my head, making up stories about imaginary parents that would come and rescue me. It was sad looking back on it. I had friends at school but they were not felt to be as functional as my sister’s friends and I used to compare myself to her and usually come off worse. Teenage years were probably the worst. I developed quite extensive cystic acne and was bullied at school for it. I covered my face with make-up but I was so distressed by the acne, I used to put the foundation on without looking in the mirror. Cue the nickname “cake face”. I think that bullying can be really damaging to a child’s self esteem and now, as a practitioner working with college students, this is a story I hear repeatedly. Name calling and singling out can stick with people for a long time. We have a duty to call this sort of behaviour out in schools. It’s not acceptable.
In my early teens, my father died suddenly after a short illness. He had worked as surgeon and I was incredibly proud of him as he fixed people. He’d operated on the mother of a friend of ours with breast cancer and she’d outlived him. He wasn’t around very much when we were growing up as he was often called away to various emergencies up at the hospital. I found myself in a real conflict with this because I knew the patients needed him but so did we – his family. I found myself being angry with him for not being around, then feeling bad about being angry because of the importance of his job. My mother, very much had the attitude that that was the way it was and so we needed to accept it, but I found this hard. It wasn’t until I became a doctor myself that I understood what an effect the “pull of human need” can have on you. It can be really detrimental to family life and such was my dedication to my job, I made the decision not to have children because I didn’t think I’d be able to balance my life effectively.
After Dad died, I was very proud of myself for the degree of emotion I managed to suppress. I don’t remember feeling anything for many years. I suspect the lack of emotions and grief might have had something to do with the eating disorder (bulimia) that I developed a couple of years afterwards and also an episode of ulcerative colitis. It’s funny I do feel slightly angry writing this – perhaps that was the emotion I didn’t feel? Who knows?
I realised fairly early on that I was reasonably proficient academically and this was my saving grace. This kind of helped me buffer a very precarious sense of self esteem. I’d also been told that I had a good sense of humour. I channeled most of my efforts into these two factors. I got into medical school, qualified and started working. Then came the problem that would bring me to my knees – addiction .
I don’t believe anyone sets out to become addicted to substances. I initially started using prescription opiates to help me sleep when I was resident in the hospital. I found it took the edge off the anxiety I felt. The problem was that it wore off and I had to take more and more to have the same effect. After a while, I had to use just to feel normal. This went on for 8 years. By this time I was a qualified family physician and realised pretty quickly I couldn’t go on like this. I was in a horrible limbo of not wanting to live but also not having the guts to end my life. I was really stuck. I have counselled many patients who have said the same thing to me almost word for word so perhaps it is a very common human predicament. It’s not at all nice. The drugs are a false friend, on one level they provide a sense of relief but on the other they are what they are – an addiction. Finally in 2010, I surrendered, entered treatment and gave up. As Leonard Cohen says in Anthem – “There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCS_MwkWzes
This was the beginning of the next stage.