Home Men's Health How One Busy Doctor Recovered from His Own Opioid Addiction

How One Busy Doctor Recovered from His Own Opioid Addiction

65
0

peter grinspoon md with lab coat on and stethoscope around neck

Courtesy Peter Grinspoon MD

PETER GRINSPOON, M.D., 55, was the classic busy primary-care practitioner, but he was also writing himself prescriptions for Vicodin. In 2005, he spent 90 days in rehab, and he’s been recovered for 14 years. Now he’s a primary-care physician in Boston and teaches medicine at Harvard Medical School. He’s also the author of Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction.


FIFTEEN OR 20 years ago, I wasn’t really listening to people. I was this insecure, arrogant, stressed-out person who wanted to take a drug because I was so frazzled that I thought I deserved it. People who are susceptible to addiction have very low distress tolerance. The minute they’re uncomfortable, they take a drug to replace the bad feeling with a good feeling.

It can be very aggravating to be a primary-care doctor—the computer doesn’t work, the insurance doesn’t pay, the patient doesn’t pick up the phone on the third attempt. I try to reframe things and remember that I’m lucky I get to help people.

I’ve learned to be able to just tolerate the feeling of being aggravated or frustrated, and I have internal resources that can bring me back to peaceful centeredness. A friend in rehab used to say that it’s too bad you have to totally screw up your life to have the opportunity to reinvent yourself. It’s really good to have the chance—midway through your life, or midway through your career—to reassess who you are. A critical component of recovery for me was rediscovering who I was and what was important to me—not what should be important, like being an “important” doctor or making money. What is important is being present with and connecting with other people and having a community around being healthy.

Listening to people and appreciating them and helping them—and allowing them to help you—requires a lot of humility and vulnerability. That helps you get over something as all-consuming and miserable and destructive as addiction. These skills are what keep you in recovery, and if you’re not practicing these, the shame and emptiness comes back, and you need a drug. But if you do practice these things, you’re happy and healthy, and there’s no space for the drugs to come back.

Recovery is about so much more than not using the drugs that were derailing your life. That’s necessary, but not sufficient. Recovery is a complex edifice—you’re restructuring your life in a way that you can find joy and fulfillment from all the things that aren’t drugs or alcohol or sex or gambling or whatever it was that you were using to fill the void of what you weren’t getting in healthier ways.

In rehab, we had to write a daily gratitude list. While I’m too lazy to actually write this out anymore, I do make a mental list every morning, and it grounds me in the fact that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. When I’m feeling down, I say, “Progress, not perfection,” meaning you’re doing your best to head in the right direction.

We have an obligation to be informed citizens in these challenging times, but sometimes you need a news break. The other day, driving home from a day at the clinic, I turned off NPR—about the pandemic—and started listening to the Beatles. It turned around my entire day.

A version of this story appears in the May 2021 issue of Men’s Health.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io

https://www.menshealth.com/health/a36291985/peter-grinspoon-addiction-recovery-opioids/

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.