From Medicine to Healing
Corey John Richardson
Today, as I look back, I believe that the mast amazing thing is that I never realized that I would end up in prison.
One would think that I would have seen it coming, but I did not. I guess that I was more "dry" than sober. All the wreckage of my past needed to be cleaned up. Sooner or later, by the grace of God, I finally got it.
Thinking as usual that I am the center of the universe,
I would expect that my life's story would be epic. It is not.
It has had highs and lows, full of joy and regret. You see,
I am just like every other alcoholic and that about says it all. I had my fair share of abuse and humiliation while growing up. I clung to that even at a very young age. I also tried to
"rise above" much of that- I believe that I created "Corey," and re—created him again and again.
From a deep self-hatred grew an arrogance and a deprecating attitude toward all. With sufficient drama and trauma, isolation and melancholy, I buried myself and my pain — and that was before my first drop of alcohol. Yet, somehow in the midst of severe eating disorders and suicide attempts, I somehow excelled in academics and music. Although I did not know it, I was searching for an escape at every turn. A better life and a better me was just over the horizon.
So, I escaped to my first geographical solution: early acceptance to college at the age of sixteen. It did not take long to realize that I could not escape from myself. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I was held captive by my own dissatisfaction with life.
It was upon my return . home to stay with my grandparents that life changed forever. I had grown into a handsome young man in college with a tan, a new car, and a
.~.-so seemingly bright future, but inside a;fe1t like the same small awkward child that I had always been- When I was invited to a party by a girl whom before would not have considered dating” me, I accepted. She handed me my first beer and ...
Yes, you know exactly what happened. As the alcohol permeated my brain, everything, and I mean absolutely everything in the entire world, became okay. Even me. The more I drank, the more animated and interesting things became. I found courage as well. I did not try to find what to say next; it found me.
The overwhelming fear of rejection disappeared. The girl who he»: never §;§e me a chance before, was now on the hood of my car making out with me.
I do not remember driving home that night, nor do I remember much of that party. I do remember that I drank like a champ.
It was as if I had been practicing for it my whole life. My hands and mouth just took over. I was a fish in water. I also remember that everyone wanted me to "party" with them again.
I had unleashed something that I could have never imagined.
From night forward, I drank (or used) practically every day for the next ten years with very short respites. It was not all laughter and good times; mtjwas also a darker and angrier side of myself than I had ever known.
As the summer wound to a close, I returned to the university, but I rarely attended classes. My grades fell. I withdrew and began working as a research assistant and a Hospice caseworker. Work, and lots of it, could keep me from a drink, but never for long.
My mother, who had been a nurse for many years, had returned to school to become a physician assistant. I had never heard of PAs, but I was interested. I reviewed the pre—requisites and realized that I could apply with the pre-med courses that
I had already completed. The excellent grades that I had made while taking college courses part—time between the ages of thirteen and sixteen had saved me. I explained my recent failure in college due touaadistraction +f:M~~ my "lack of direction."
I interviewed well, tested high §;“the entrance exams, and my work experience covered the clinical hours requirement for the program. To my surprise, I was accepted.
At this point, a mere nineteen years old, frequent moves, chaotic relationships, and little contact with my family were the norm. Although alcohol predominated, drugs had begun to play a part as well in my destruction. I had become an enigma to myself and those around me. Life had become a surreal drama and I placed myself center stage.
Eventually, the dean of my school realized that there was a problem. He mandated my participation in a recovery program for health care providers. My graduation hinged on my participation to the program, but in a very little time I was using all the little tricks and lies to ﬂex circumventhng therapy. I maymthought that I was fooling them, but was only fooling myself.
I completed my medical training, but not due to my sobriety -ﬁmy time was taken up by clinical rotations and studying. I tried to schedule my drinking and drugging around work and upon graduation I attempted yet another geographical solution. I found a great position in cardiovascular surgery
1n the Midwest and thought that a new me was right around the corner.
My drinking took off once again. I was trying to function as a clinician during the day and at night I was "partying" with all my "new friends." During a blackout, I attempted to elude the police in a high—speed car chase. I vaguely remember the fear of a second DUI — now I was facing serious felony charges. My attorney was able to negotiate a plea bargain for a short period of probation and the lowest class of felony the state could offer.
I did find another position on the surgical staff of a prestigious hospital and vowed to never pick up again. I knew all about AA, but I decided that I would white knuckle it surrounded by all the same old types of friengg. It did not take long to pick up that first drink and the insane life that went with it. My work became more of a burden than ever before.
The director may have been pleased with my work, but my thoughts were always on my secret life of drinking and drugging.
Eventually, I decided I needed to move on again. I told myself and others that I resented the lack of clinical responsibilities with my position, or that I had grown tired of the city, but I was just sick of being me. I was offered a position by a Japanese corporation for their port clinic off the Bering Sea side of the Aleutian Chain in Alaska. I thought that this would certainly help me leave me drinking and drugging behind.
Initially the newness of Alaska and the sole responsibility of my own clinic held my attention, but in the middle of fishing boat accidents, diabetic patients, broken bones, and heart attacks, the cravings began again. The competent and caring professional receded and the arrogant elitist resurfaced once again. Next season, I was not asked to return.
I went through the tens of thousands of dollars I had earned in Alaska in a matter of a few months. Only after the death of a close friend due to an overdose did I begin to see my life for what it had become. Months later, my head swimming in alcohol and drugs, I was implicated in his death. I fought the case, but eventually accepted probation, again. I was a hopeless alcohlic/addict. I wanted my life to simply go away.
I returned to the east coast and found a tech position harvesting corneas. With a relapse here and there, the fluctuations between good guy and bad guy were too much. I had finally married my party buddy of many years and attempted to re—discover my faith in God. With the conception of our daughter,
I made one of the few sincere gestures of my entire life: I contacted the medical board to find a health professionals recovery group. I did not know where else to turn. I decided that whether I ever practiced medicine again was beside the point. I was miserable beyond words. Alcohol had won.
The director of the program offered me the knowledge and discipline that I desperately needed. Though initially it was very difficult, I was finally ready, truly ready to let go of the bottle. I began with intensive outpatient therapy, and followed with meetings, support groups, sponsorship, and individual and family counseling. It was alot, but I was willing to do whatever it took. My mind did begin to clear and my life seemed to come together for the first time. It felt great. The fresh beginning I had searched for by dealing with my past.
But the disease of alcoholism took shape in my life again, and not with a drink or drug.
I was given permission by my probation officer and the medical board to work as a surgical assistant, an unlicensed position, as long as my employers knew about my past. They contacted the dermatolgic/cosmetic surgery group I deﬁed fer to verify that they understood my past fully. To work for the first time as a completely sober person was an entirely new experience. I felt truly blessed. My skill and knowledge bubbled up with enthusiasm and true concern for the care of the patients that had always been missing before. I had all that I had ever wanted from life: a family with a baby on the way, meaningful work, friends in church and AA, and a life based on sobriety.
Was it enough? For some, everything is still not enough.
Increasingly, my employer extended my responsibilitiesh to meet the needs of his busy practice. I £;¥t honored andgﬁhat
I could never repay his kindness. He had placed trust in me despite of»my troubled past. He was more like a father figure than my boss. Pleasing him was paramount and if I disappointed him in any way, it cut me deeply.
One day, the scheduled surgeon was unable to make it. My boss asked if I would perform the procedure. If I had been licensed, it would have been just another day - but I was not licensed. I thought, No one will ever know. I performed the procedure without incident. In a very short time, my boss began schedulin%ga full segedn§e of patients. I justified the work that I did on many levels and pushed the thoughts that I was doing something wrong out of my mind. It went on like this for v I. -I *3-'-'v« 2, M, [Y ,‘ 32',’ 2.55
5,. ..<,.;, ,, .9 about twé: I even cared for several hundred patients from the state's prison system. I had relapsed and did not iwﬁh
The one thing that had lasted over the long years of addiction, my relationship, faded away when I stopped using.
599; *3" I’?
When the drinking was removed, a chasm was left between us. ﬂ”Q 3
My daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I felt angry
9,. in a‘ and helpless — truly, we are powerless.
$I separated from my wife. Though I was finishing my master's work with specialty training in dermatology and had been accepted into an accelerated
MD program for PAs, my enthusiasm was deflated due to the loss of my family.
Upon my return from a Christian medical missionary trip to Haiti, divorce proceedings began. It was acrimonious. Unknown to me, my wife and her divorce attorney went to the attorney general about my working without my license. A month later,
I was arrested at the clinic. The media attention was crushing.
The television crews were awaiting my release from jail and were at my apartment. I saw the nightmare offiy life surface in a matter of hours on the evening news; it was difficult beyond belief. Suicidal thought raced through my head. My church and
AA friends stayed with me night and day.
A California bench warrant placed me back in jail for a probation violation. I would remain in jail for the next year.
The prosecution turned the misdemeanor arrest into a felony indictment. Only then did I begin to see how what I was doing was more than bending the rules — it was criminal. Out of thousands of former patients, over one hundred patients filed civil suits with a criminal complaint. Several days into the trial, my former employer took a deal for probation. The prosecution would not offer me less than a twenty year sentence in prison. As a non—violent crime, I would have to serve four years to see the board. My attorney reassured me that I would make parole. The first time that I saw the board, having even taught rehabilitative programs as a peer facilitator and having been a model prisoner, I was denied any opportunity for parole. I will serve every day of my prison sentence. Of course, it was up to me how I would do it. I have tried to keep the tenets of AA as a roadmap and "do the next right thing."
Initially, the hardest part of the program was not staying away from the first drink, but the "not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it" part. Along the way, the 12 steps have allowed me to take responsibility for the wreckage that
I have caused, accept life exactly as it is today, and find the courage to live a truly amended life. Like our lives in recovery, we can learn to grow in miraculous ways in prison.
Every day, there is much to do to improve myself and the world around me. It may seem odd to thank God for the journey. Friends and family, though free, who have taken every step of this path with me have thanked me for the growth that they have experienced in their lives. As amazing as it sounds, I am freer today than
I have ever been before: my worst day in prison will always be better than my best "free" day drunk or high.
Recovery in prison has given me an opportunity to know myself on a deeper level. Words like forgiveness, love, and hope have a new meaning today. I am finding purpose in my life beyond money and personal achievement. I could never have foreseen all the blessings that have come into my life through
9 sobriety. I am given a large measure of peace knowing that these years have been spent well by offering a little of what I have been given with others "at—risk" of coming to prison and those struggling with addiction. I am not certain of the future, but today that is a joy. I know that I am going to be alright — and so are you. This I promise. AA is the way. Know that you are not alone on this journey, not even on the most difficult days. The hand of AA is right there — take hold.ﬁAndeknow that your broken dreams are a sure foundation of a beautiful life when coupled with sobriety and the fellowship of AA. Accept a new vision for your life and be encouraged. God bless.
— Corey Rac%mw"&Sﬁ#
After I arrived to prison, my sponsor sent me a card with the following inscription:
I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.
— Louisa May Alcott
It has carried me thus far.
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