How in the world did I get started on this path?

  1. I have asked myself this many times when the world fell apart after diverting benzodiazepines from employers. I had always been the one that felt I would somehow "know" if I ever developed a problem with substance abuse, alas I was one of the last to fully acknowledge the gravity of the problem.

    Since I am now on my way back to nursing after years off, I am asking myself again, what went wrong and how can I deal with things differently? What factors led me down this path? What factors about the job helped lead me there? What personal factors and expectations of myself did I have that contributed?

    For me, my lack of work/life balance played a huge role. I didn't have much of a life outside of work. I worked overtime. I thought work success was everything, and chose the most demanding specialty areas, where life was always on the edge. I didn't take care of myself physically, emotionally or spiritually. I didn't participate in activities or activism to improve things. I did things like committee work, but didn't really see long term improvement within the healthcare system itself and became cynical. I didn't like the backbiting and meanness I saw among many nurses. I also saw many tragedies and witnessed murder/suicide personally in my work setting. I also thought that if I gave of myself, I would be rewarded.

    For a long time, I lived with profound shame that I had allowed this to happen. I don't believe any of us wakes up one morning and decides we are going to put our patients in danger, rip our lives up, and possibly lose our careers.

    I would be interested in hearing about the experiences of others, thank you in advance for sharing.
  2. Visit SororAKS profile page

    About SororAKS, ADN, RN

    Joined: Oct '15; Posts: 730; Likes: 1,630
    from US
    Specialty: 12 year(s) of experience in ER, ICU/CCU, Open Heart OR Recovery, Etc


  3. by   zephyr9
    Hi SororAKS.
    Well I can relate. It's only through wrecking myself that I've learned to take care of myself. And am learning. Getting off substances was the first part of that.
    Even within my recovery (9 years from opiates), there have been, in the jargon of recovery, bottoms. I am beginning to come up from one now. This is where I can relate to you. I pushed myself to the limit for six years becoming a nurse. I stopped doing what I did to get me to a place where I COULD become a nurse. Everything took a back seat to school...there was no balance. There were no meetings, there was no fun time, and eventually the support network and finally even the morning prayer fell away. Meanwhile, my family is being torn apart by the addiction of a child, and other assorted personal and financial hardships. I became very isolated.
    By the time I got licensed, I was too much of a basket case to seek out a job. That was a few months I am starting to put the pieces back together, going back to meetings, eating right, breaking out of the isolation and trusting a few people. Letting myself be open to support. I am even starting back up the morning routine which is so important to live clean and sober...the candle, the prayer, the daily reading... what worked for me when I got off drugs, I am doing that now but at a deeper level, in another recovery fellowship. I internalized that picking up a drug is not an option. You can too!!
    I admire the things you've accomplished in your career and these experiences are part of you, accomplishments that you own. The shame is something we all go through. It can transform into humility, the realistic understanding of your frailties/limitations/vulnerabilities, if you put down the drug and give yourself the right support.
    Last edit by zephyr9 on Oct 11, '15
  4. by   CryssyD
    It really sounds like you have done a lot of legwork in clarifying your relationship with and feelings about nursing. You seem to know who you are and where you might have gone wrong. You've learned a lot in your recovery journey. Awesome.

    Me, I spent a lot of time thinking about what being a nurse really meant to me; how hard was I willing to work to stay in a career that is so very, very demanding? As it turned out, harder than I thought. In the past few years, I have learned so much about myself--which I won't bore you with, but the most important thing I have learned is to love myself. I know that might sound a little flaky, but it's essential. I think I was always seeking a sense of self-worth from external sources--by doing for others, by being a good little nurse, by never saying "no" and always trying to be perfect. But without a solid core of self-esteem, I just kept finding fault, always focusing on what I did wrong and how I should do better. I was an excellent nurse, but a lousy person--I had no idea who I was, but whoever I was, I didn't like her much.

    But I've learned who I am. I don't have to solve everyone's problems, mediate every dispute, meet every need, or take responsibility for making other people happy or whole. I just have to be me, nothing more, nothing less. If I can spread a little sunshine along the way, so much the better; I like sunshine. If I brighten someone's day, that's great, but it's not my job to light up the whole world. I've learned to live with serenity, and I love it. That's been my experience so far.

    Shame has its place--it teaches us humility. Hopefully, you have learned from your shame and left it behind, where it belongs. I know you will find your own light to share with others. Keep us posted on how it goes.
  5. by   SororAKS
    Shame can lead us to better things. I spent years wallowing in it, until I realized it was so corrosive that if I didn't get a handle on it, it would be like a scarlet letter, following me every where I went. It was a relief to finally tell myself, "You did your penance. Now get out there, live, and get back to what you know and love."
  6. by   1sttime
    A little less than a year left in the program- tracing my path back to the beginning I would have to go a long ways back.

    Starting with my youth- I was not taken care of by my family or community- I was a broken toy. Going into a profession helping others seemed like a good idea- but I didn't know how to take care of myself.

    I started developing severe head pain in my early 30's, my MD said it was musculoskeletal pain, the only way to treat the pain cycle was with opiates to break it... of course the pain became more intense and frequent under this regiment... after a trip to the ER thinking I had an aneurysm and subsequent visits to several neurologists I was diagnosed with migraine.

    I was able to control my attacks with triptan medications- but the emotional pain that had been numbed by the opiates was back- my previous ability to handle this was weakened by the prescribed opiates. The other nurses I worked with would pull medications for themselves out- zofran- ibuprofen- etc... One day I was having a tough time- and thought whats the harm in taking waste narcotics...

    This of course led to just taking medications and never giving them- my hospital had opted for a pyxis system that didn't communicate with the patient chart- so there was never anything to reconcile except the pyxis count against itself.

    I was so under the influence of drugs that I didn't realize how impaired I was. My rationale: I was still the go to nurse in a high acuity environment, therefore how could I be impaired.

    I eventually started to feet trapped- I tried to quit as I knew something was wrong- pulled back in by the pleas of the manager, and the siren song of the narcotics. It was only another month before another nurse had a "funny feeling" and a pyxis report was run on my activity- probably a trees worth of paper spat out...

    4 years later and I have been through treatment, worked my 2 years as a nurse as required, and then did the best thing I could for myself: quit nursing.

    I am a stronger person for what I have been through- I have no shame in my addiction- I feel a key part in this is stepping away from nursing- it was terrible feeling like I had a shameful secret to hide from my coworkers.
  7. by   SororAKS
    I respect you and what you did. I just wish you had not left. I've always felt that substance abuse is but a symptom of unsolved issues within the healthcare system as a result of faulty systems and the for profit motive of the industry we call US Healthcare. I hate to see the profession lose caring, gifted nurses. I have also looked at the manner in which the monitoring programs operate, and wondered if turning the focus on the individual practitioner is a way of diverting attention away from the large Leviathan of the healthcare system in this country.
  8. by   dirtyhippiegirl
    Quote from SororAKS
    I respect you and what you did. I just wish you had not left. I've always felt that substance abuse is but a symptom of unsolved issues within the healthcare system as a result of faulty systems and the for profit motive of the industry we call
    I think you are reaching with that one. You can fault the healthcare industry for a lack of access to treatment and even for the heavy AA/NA bias that colors a lot of treatment in the US...but SA has been around and documented for a very long time. And it is certainly prevalent outside of the US -- there are even some non-Western countries thought to have higher addiction rates than places like the US or the UK.
  9. by   1sttime
    Is the poster reaching? Or is it something that could be prevented by caring for your employees? The treatment borderlines abuse- work faster, harder- you are lucky to have a job.... The next day....Oh, can you work for us, we are desperate...

    Substance abuse in health care is likely linked to a faulty system- when I sought help I was prescribed narcotics in spades. This MD knew I was a critical care RN with access to narcotics. This MD also knew that taking narcotics would change my neural pathways to desire narcotics like I do water...

    Excuse my french but I was robbed of a career and identity from a healthcare system that would rather throw a pill at me. Here is a little story about my MD, I don't dare do anything as I am in the confidential monitoring system...

    Woman prescribed 19,000 oxycodone pills, sues Milwaukie doctor and Gresham pharmacy for $1.5 million |
  10. by   SmilingBluEyes
    Oh boy, addiction is a tricky, convoluted thing. I really respect and appreciate the steps you are taking to wellness. Understand, health care providers (to include doctors, nurses, pharmacists, EMT/Paramedics, etc) have the same rate affected by being addicted to alcohol or other drugs/substances----- roughly 10 percent---as does the general public. 300,000 nurses are what we can classify as substance-use disordered (SUD). Some say "impaired", but that is not accurate as many are in successful recoveries and therefore, NOT "impaired". The health care system fails us, in many ways. Most often, health care providers cite PTSD, history of child abuse or sexual molestation, stress, exhaustion, long shifts, access (to drugs), and depression, as primary common links that lead to substance abuse.

    So, you are not alone, certainly. Many of us either are addicts ourselves or are close to and love addicts.

    The saying "one day at a time" is never more true than in recovery. I have benefitted greatly by attending Al-Anon meetings (for those of us who love/are involved with addicts/alcoholics). I am in a 12 step program, recovering from enabling addicts I love.

    While it may be very important to know "how you got here", it's much more important to know where you are GOING from here!

    The 12 steps are a great blueprint for success in recovery. Not perfect, but a really good start. Having a sponsor is really important, too.

    I wish you the best in your journey to wellness. Again, you are not alone.
    Last edit by SmilingBluEyes on Oct 17, '15
  11. by   SororAKS
    I don't think, at least not in the current healthcare climate, that caring for one's employees is a top priority. I agree that SA has been around for a long time, but with medical professionals there are factors that are not present in the general population with respect to SA and the issue of substance abuse could be much more proactively addressed in the present healthcare environment.

    Unfortunately CrissyD the way some practitioners deal with the issue of pain is by prescribing a pill instead of holistically assessing the patient, looking at all factors present in their lives. I have wondered if this is a byproduct of the Western approach to medicine in our country with its emphasis on treating symptoms instead of looking for the problem of origin.
  12. by   dirtyhippiegirl
    Yet despite easy access to drugs, addiction in healthcare workers is on par with the general population. Rate of addiction in restaurant workers is nearly double the general population. If there is something that I have learned from hanging around folks in recovery, it is that everyone seems to think that THEIR chosen occupation breeds addicts.

    Diversion programs are unnecessarily punitive and do a piss poor job of attracting addicts before they become hazards on the job. "Fixing" nursing would probably alleviate some of the addiction issues that nurses have -- also the burnout (75 percent of nurses leave the bedside at 5 years!), depression, anxiety, etc. issues that non-addict nurses suffer from. And the US healthcare system sucks when it comes to issues of addiction and mental health. But the overwhelming majority of nurses are not addicts and manage the stresses of the job and of life without resorting to stealing Fentanyl.
  13. by   1sttime
    Quote from dirtyhippiegirl
    But the overwhelming majority of nurses are not addicts and manage the stresses of the job and of life without resorting to stealing Fentanyl.
    Have you ever noticed how many nurses resort to food, or better yet- check out my Facebook and see how my nurse friends go on and on about wine being the answer to life... just because one is a functioning addict does not make one un-addicted.

    Certain professions do allow addictions to come up... when was the last time a nurse felt like she truly mattered. My favorite was being told that I could drop dead and the world would keep going without me- talk about minimizing my contribution to patients quality of life.

    I recently- yesterday- was triggered and had enormous cravings- but guess what- as the sole proprietor of my business I had to give myself a little pep-talk "You are the only one who can do this job, you matter, people are counting on you"

    The greatest gift I gave myself was leaving the abusive relationship with hospital administration... I do matter- what I think counts- and I do a good job. Engage nurses on those levels and I imagine less would need to drink away the pain.