It had been a couple years since my graduation from nursing school when I heard a rumor at work that some of the staff had been drinking on the job.
My good friend, also a nurse in the department, had called me in a panic the next day and said that she overheard there was potluck and someone said the cider was spiked. Too shocked and nervous to tell anyone, she did not go to the supervisors that night.
I felt like it couldn’t be true. Deeply ingrained in my soul was the belief that nurses were essentially perfect. As a teenager I’d experimented with drugs and alcohol, but at 23 years old, a newly graduated registered nurse, I believed I was entering a world of mature, responsible adults who at least knew moderation, and at best were virtuous nuns.
Finding out that some of my coworkers may have been drinking on the job just for the fun of it was the first major crack in my view of the nursing profession, and I began to see them – us really – for what we are. Imperfect humans.
This news bothered me so bad I couldn’t sleep. I was beyond disappointed, questioning the faith I’d put in others around me. As a new resident, taking care of patients was overwhelming enough, imagining trying to do this job impaired in any way seemed impossible. Their patients were at risk and these people thought drinking was funny! I felt compelled to do something about it, there was just no way I could let it go.
The organization I worked for had an “Integrity Hotline” - a phone number you can call to make an anonymous report. I felt I had an ethical obligation to ensure patient safety. After making the call, I heard through rumors that there was an investigation, but no serious repercussions. Still, I felt I’d fulfilled my duty and had been an advocate for justice and decency.
Nine years later, the rose colored glasses with which I’d viewed nurses, our profession, and my own integrity and morality were shattered. Thrown to the ground, stepped on, crushed, and damaged nearly beyond repair.
“May I give safe care, may I be compassionate and careful”
By that point, not only had I overstepped my boundaries of going to work impaired, I’d diverted (stolen) narcotics from the hospital. What began as a legitimate vicodin prescription to treat migraines had exploded into an out of control opiate addiction. I had once used my 30 minute work commute as a time for mediation and mental preparation, repeating a mantra of “May I give safe care, may I be compassionate and careful”. My new routine included drinking a couple strong drinks, and I’d actually started scanning the street corners on the outskirts of the hospital campus – toying with the possibility of a heroin hookup, in case my opiate access became too scarce.
I hadn’t yet tried heroin – in fact I have NOT as of yet and I never plan to. But I was beginning to reach my limit of physical tolerance, my life was a spiraling shit storm, and that seemed like the logical next step.
An intervention on the part of the hospital administration saved me from taking it to that level. A colleague of mine noticed that I seemed “bizarre” (her words) and the gig was up. Within a month, I was placed on administrative leave and given an option – get treatment or lose your license. That day I made the most significant, positive choice of my life; I chose to save myself, and my recovery continues today.
It’s now two years later – almost exactly to the day I was asked to give a urine sample and was rightfully accused of diverting narcotics. Through a strong recovery program which involves Refuge Recovery, mindfulness, connection with women, physical health, writing, and prioritizing self care, it’s difficult for me to believe that I was ever that low. Drinking and using don’t even enter my mind these days. My life is filled with positivity – I’m too busy living out my purpose to even consider having one drink. Where I used to love to numb myself, I know am totally turned off by the idea that it it would make me lazy, fuzzy or slow my momentum.
There was a time, within the first year of getting sober, that I thought I’d never live with integrity again. Even though I was abstinent from substances, and definitely remorseful for my actions – I wasn’t yet able to connect with my emotions, and I thought I’d lost my innocence beyond repair. I spent a lot of time grieving the loss of the starry-eyed, pony-tailed new nurse with sparkling personality and blissful ignorance that I had been in the beginning. I feared that nothing would ever shock me again – that we are all capable of the worst. I’d basically lost hope in the good of humanity – at least in the essential “good” of myself.
Thankfully, this hope is steadily returning. My vision is clearing and sometimes, it even feels a little bit rose – colored. I can see my situation for what it was - I became addicted to addictive chemicals – opiates and alcohol. My brain chemistry was affected, my judgment and insight impaired severely, and my moral compass veered way off kilter… but my inherent goodness – my intrinsic wholeness has not been irrevocably condemned.
"My intrinsic wholeness has not been irrevocably condemned."
I continue to work as a nurse and to find balance in “right” and “wrong”. I no longer desperately cling to the idea that all nurses are perfect altruistic beings, nor do I judge those who make mistakes. Living life through a recovery program encourages me to be open, compassionate, and understanding with all beings. To consider that all of us are capable of confusion and delusion, just as all of us are capable of love and redemption. We all have a path to follow, and we are all granted skills at different times.
There are still brief moments where I become wistful for the “nurse I used to be” – long before my relationship with drugs. But when I pause to view the bigger picture, I can see that I may have been a nurse doing the right thing at work every shift, but I was also confused about my life’s purpose, going through a 3rd divorce, clueless in regards to my spirituality, barely managing my anxiety, and constantly damaging myself – not with substances, but with an addiction to perfectionism and codependency that was ruining all my relationships.
Overcoming addiction isn’t my preferred method of self-actualization, but it’s the one I’ve been given. And so, I am grateful. Through recovery, I can let go of the way things “should be” and love things- and love myself – for the way they are. Intelligent, flawed, and deliberately moving toward a life of acceptance and radical self-love.