When we are active in our addiction, we enter a state of arrested development—we’re unable to take in new information and apply it for betterment, as we are stuck in the maladaptive behaviors of our alcoholism. We talk about this stunted growth in emotional sobriety in meetings, but it applies to growth in all areas of our life.
I am a licensed clinical audiologist. This is a title I claimed in theory, but only tentatively in practice. I got married a year out of grad school, then had a baby a year after that. I had planned to go on three months of maternity leave, then return to work full-time. But as the vacuum of new motherhood sucked me in with all its new responsibilities, I instead reached out to the mild-mannered physician I worked for and said, “I think I’d like to go back part-time.” He was agreeable to that, until I reached out again a week later and said, “I’m thinking two days a week now…”
“I’m thinking you should call me when you’re ready,” he replied, not unkindly. As the only ENT of a rural community outside St. Louis county, he had the welfare of his practice to consider.
I gave birth to my second child two years after Madeline, and quickly discovered the truth in what my mother used to say about providing full-time care to two small children: “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” My history of anxiety and addiction left me with little room to consider taking on anything else at the time. But the truth was that working outside the home terrified me—facing the challenges, dealing with different personalities, making decisions that would affect the welfare of others. Sure, it was tough at home, but opening myself up to the scrutiny of the outside world would be worse.
I did work some when the girls got older, on an as-needed basis at an ENT practice, which was essentially just one day a week. I felt like a fake that would soon get found out. And I was, in fact, a fraud—I was an alcoholic posing as a professional. I could not advocate for others, because I would not advocate for myself.
Fear in addiction is a vicious cycle. I feared I “could not,” and my alcoholic tendencies fed that fear. Shame became my new dirty word. By an indirect line of questioning, my supervisor called me out. “Where did you say you got your master’s?” she asked. I was later to receive an email listing the transgressions I had racked up over the course of a few months, including putting a hearing aid receiver on backwards. The letter was kind. They wanted to give me the benefit of the doubt—I had the degree, I had the license, I was a likeable person. “What was wrong with her?” I imagined them thinking.
What I didn’t realize then was that my clouded mind was unable to clearly process all the information required for effective healthcare. Every alcoholic thinks alcohol is the answer, not the problem. So instead of blaming alcohol for my work problems, I attributed them to the feeling of inadequacy, of not being enough, that was actually causing me to drink in the first place.
Growing into the competent audiologist that I am today was a long haul. Once I got sober, I had to accumulate experience in mastering clinical tasks; to restart the development that got stuck years before. That is growth. It means stopping the cycle of “I can’t,” which feeds the fear that you actually cannot, and instead replacing that voice with “I can,” and then eventually “I did,” which strengthens confidence.
Now, I have 6+ years of sobriety. My day-to-day involves attending a home group of Alcoholics Anonymous, having a sponsor and working the steps. I have replaced alcohol with my Higher Power—God. Currently, I am in the process of obtaining my clinical doctorate in audiology. In the spring of 2021, I will fly out to Mesa, Arizona with my family to attend my graduation ceremony. On a recent video call with the director of my department, graduation was described as an occasion not to be missed, with pre-graduation events including receptions for the graduates and their families, complete with scenic mountain photo-ops. I will certainly not miss this.
Today, I walk into work every morning with confidence and competence, knowing I can handle whatever difficulties that may arise. When people call me Doctor, they will not know the depth of the work it took to get that title. But I won’t feel like a fraud. I will know that I earned it.