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I Am A Sober Nurse, But Only for Today

Nurses Article   (3,097 Views 13 Replies 1,022 Words)

J.Adderton has 26 years experience as a BSN, MSN .

7 Followers; 91 Articles; 30,644 Profile Views; 339 Posts

This month, June 2019, marks my third year living and working as a sober nurse. Still, after three years of sobriety, I can only be sober for today. I am openly sharing part of my journey with the purpose of bringing hope to someone struggling with substance abuse.

I Am A Sober Nurse, But Only for Today

Approximately 1 in 10 nurses suffer from substance use disorders, which parallels rates within the general population.  I have been one of the 10% and would like to share my experience and hope with other nurses and students living in addiction. For some reading this article, each day is spent in isolation, fear and overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt.  Even after three years, these feelings could still threaten my sobriety. Therefore, I can only be sober for today.

But You See, I Am A Nurse

I knew I needed help months before entering treatment.  Even though my sense of self and relationships were harshly affected by my drinking, it was the fear (or excuse) of losing my nursing license that kept me from seeking help.  I confided in my family that I needed treatment, but would always say, “but you see, I am a nurse”. I would then go on to explain the judgment that would come and shame associated with being an alcoholic member of the “most trusted profession”.  In addition, I did not know how treatment would impact my license. 

All Roads Lead to One

The disease of addiction follows a fairly predictable and progressive path.. Therefore, my drinking, subsequent withdrawal symptoms and consequences increased over time.  Nurses with addictions often continue to progress until their nursing career becomes jeopardized, revoked or surrendered. You may be reading this and have tried multiple ways to slow your disease, just as I did:

  • Vowing to “cut back” on your substance of choice
  • Attempting to wean yourself off of substance (i.e. decreasing amount you drink daily)
  • Quitting “cold turkey”
  • Researching on internet “ways to avoid withdrawal”
  • Seeking medical treatment for health problems, but not disclosing substance abuse as the cause

Although some may follow a different path, the disease progression usually takes a predictable road.

The Damage We Cause

I caused damage in almost every area of my life during my active alcoholism.  I was not “present” for my husband and children. I missed important family functions.  I isolated myself from people who loved and missed me. I was not at the nursing standard I valued for myself.  I caused financial chaos. I lost myself and those close to me grieved the loss of the person they once knew. I would drink to avoid facing the painful consequences of my actions and behaviors.  When I was newly sober and even at times today, the guilt and shame of what I caused could be a strong trigger for relapse. It was simply overwhelming. But I could face a single day and work towards recovery for a period of just 24 hours.  Therefore, I focused on being sober just for today. As time went on, I strung together days, weeks, months and now three years.

A Career Rock Bottom

I eventually lost my job due to my substance abuse and knew I would likely be reported to my state’s board of nursing.  I never dreamed of being in this position after 20 years of positively contributing to the nursing profession. I worked at a small hospital in an “everybody knows everyone” town and was unable to fathom how I would overcome this enormous “blow” to my reputation.

Three days after this event, I entered a treatment program designed for licensed professionals. During detox, I was told to focus on just getting through the next couple of hours. Eventually, the “numbing” effect of alcohol was out of my system and I was faced with the totality of my actions and behaviors.  Early in my inpatient rehab, I had to focus on getting through that one moment because anything more was too ominous.

One Really is the Loneliest Number

Quote

Because one is the loneliest number, That you'll ever do.

- Harry Nillson (song lyrics)

A pivotal moment in my recovery was discovering my experience with substance abuse was not unique.  Certainly it was my experience and my life consequences were different than others. However, the progression of my disease and the overall impact to my personal, financial and work life was similar to other healthcare professionals in the program.  I was once told by a member of my treatment team, “Jane, your disease is not unique and you are not alone.”.

If you are struggling with substance abuse, your path to recovery may be different from my own.  However, it may be a very powerful support to connect with another person in recovery. You will be surprised how many nurses are in recovery, like myself, that are successfully contributing to the profession of nursing.

After Three Years, I Am Still Sober for Today Only

Today, I think about drinking very little and live a joyful life.  Regretting the past or predicting the future could lure me back into active alcoholism.  Therefore, I try to keep my feet planted in the present and although I plan for the future, I try to avoid “what if” moments.  I would be lying if I told you I never get caught in the trap of “future-telling”. But, just for today, I can make the decision not to take a drink.

One of the most important pieces to my recovery is sharing my experience to support and give hope to another person.  If interested, you can read more about my experience.

Confronting Jane: From the Perspective of An Impaired Nurse (Part One)

Confronting Jane: From the Perspective of An Impaired Nurse (Part Two)

Resources:

SAMHSA National Hotline for Information and Referrals

Free Online Education- Understanding Substance Use Disorder in Nursing

Alternative to Discipline Program NCSBN

Substance Abuse Among Nurses and Nursing Students

Experienced nurse specializing in clinical leadership, staff development and nursing education.

7 Followers; 91 Articles; 30,644 Profile Views; 339 Posts

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VivaLasViejas has 20 years experience as a ASN, RN and specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

8 Followers; 142 Articles; 9,699 Posts; 249,130 Profile Views

Congratulations on your sobriety. It's hard work but well worth it. I was sober for 26 years before I relapsed last summer, so I know abstinence can be done. Just remember to be ever vigilant, because you just never know what circumstances may cause you to slip even decades after you get sober. Wishing you well, Viva.

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CharleeFoxtrot has 7 years experience as a ADN, RN.

539 Posts; 6,552 Profile Views

((hugs to you, and any other nurses out there who fight this battle each and every day))

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Brenda F. Johnson has 27 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Gastrointestinal Nursing.

5 Followers; 76 Articles; 262 Posts; 105,418 Profile Views

You are a brave woman, and I applaud your hard work. I enjoyed reading your article, it was very well done! Keep staying strong - 24- hours at a time

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1 Follower; 692 Posts; 3,700 Profile Views

Congrats! Wishing you many more sober days.

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JBMmom has 6 years experience as a MSN and specializes in Long term care; med-surg; critical care.

1 Follower; 854 Posts; 11,991 Profile Views

Wishing you all the best, and many more days sober, one at a time.

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beckyboo1 has 30 years experience.

370 Posts; 11,376 Profile Views

I am dealing with a family member in rehab as we speak and this gave me some insight into what that person could be feeling and how they could respond to those feelings.  Thank you.

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Lorie Brown RN, MN, JD has 30 years experience and specializes in Medical Legal Consultant.

11 Followers; 8 Articles; 107 Posts; 6,130 Profile Views

Congratulations on your sobriety.  I cannot imagine all the obstacles you faced.  I represent nurses in your situation and all too often I hear a similar story but they don't know what is on the other side when you have sobriety under your belt.  Get help before it's to late.  It is confidential.  I lost 2 clients to substance abuse, one with a husband and 2 small children.  I do not want this to happen to any other nurse.  There is help available but the first step is to admit you have a problem and then get help.  There are so many protections in place such as HIPAA and even stricter protection for mental health.  Get help before the Board gets involved.  It's your license, your livelihood and YOUR LIFE.

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MaleICURN has 30 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Critical Care, PICU, OR.

24 Posts; 3,646 Profile Views

One day at the time.

Congratulations

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DallasRN specializes in ICU/ER/Med-Surg/Case Management/Manageme.

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"There but for the grace of God go I".  

I come from an alcoholic family but somehow managed to escape that particular disease.  I turned to smoking as my "vice" but fortunately, it wasn't an addiction that threatened my livlihood.  However, when I quit years back, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  Like you and others, one day at a time. 

I congratulate you.  I admire you.  When we share bits of ourselves, we never know how many lives we affect.  You may have saved a life today.

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Tomascz has 3 years experience as a ASN, CNA, RN and specializes in Wound care.

84 Posts; 2,810 Profile Views

Thanks for sharing, Jane. It takes guts to stick it out there. I've found my experiences to be helpful in dealing with what seem to be a majority of my patients; if not for them, certainly for me. I've had to learn a lot about forgiveness and kindness and patience and honesty on a personal level, just to survive some days.
I've been physically abstinent (but not always emotionally , intellectually or ethically "sober" by my own strict definition)  for a really long time; almost 4x as long as I wasn't, and I started at 12, really, although the die was cast much earlier.

My whole family is shot through with emotional and self medication issues (nicotine is strong medicine; stronger and more addictive than Heroin according to a lot of junkies), and my personal feeling is that the dysfunction extends through our society a lot further than the 10% who are just so obvious as to be undeniable. You are certainly not alone.
I'm not better or worse than anyone else. I'm just glad I was offered the opportunity to make the choice to quit before it was too damn late. A lot of people either never get that chance, or can't recognize it if they do, and that's the part that just kills me.
 

Edited by Tomascz
clarity

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3 Posts; 285 Profile Views

Thank you for writing on this topic. I too am an Alcoholic and have been sober for 13 years. I was in Nursing for 40 years and went thru some tremendous family stressors, the addiction took over my life and I made bad choices which led to me losing my Nursing License. I have never forgiven myself, Nursing was the love of my life. I am sober today and have had to make a new life for myself but I miss working as Nurse. 

 

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