“Okay, listen,” he begged. “Will you just come visit me? I’m surrounded by a bunch of addicts"
Dr. Berger, a family physician, was referred to me by his wife and our mutual colleague, cardiologist Dr. Berg, for an evaluation of his drinking problem. It was clear that he wasn’t as concerned about his alcohol consumption as the people who were encouraging him to get help, but realizing he couldn’t stay sober on his own, he was finally willing to go to rehab. PART IV
Dr. Berger had only been at the rehab program for a day when he called me frantically — no less than nine times.
“You made a terrible mistake, Dr. Freedman! How could you send me to this place?! What, are you crazy?!”
“Oy, for not investing in Bitcoin back in 2018… yes, but don’t rub it in. For recommending that you go to a detox… no.”
Dr. Berger’s frustrated laugh was an improvement over his initial catastrophic despair.
“Dr. Freedman, how could you send me to a place filled with drug users and criminals? I’m a physician who enjoys a glass of whiskey sometimes. Really, this is totally overkill!”
“Well, Dr. Berger, it sounds like you’re having doubts regarding the current treatment location. But let’s have some objectivity before you decide to leave against medical advice. First off, rehabs take all kinds of people, but I doubt that it’s ‘filled with drug users and criminals.’ It’s a place where people with substance-use issues are getting help.”
“Alcohol is certainly one of those substances, and if we’re going to call everyone a criminal, then we should consider that you yourself were pulled over for driving under the influence. Everyone has their story.”
“That’s absolutely ridiculous — you’re calling me a common criminal?!”
“Secondly,” I continued, trying to ignore the tirade, “you don’t just ‘enjoy a glass of whiskey,’ Dr. Berger. We both know that you’ve shown the inability to get through the day without a glass of whiskey.”
“Dr. Freedman, please just—”
“And as to whether or not it’s ‘overkill,’ remember, Dr. Berger, that the outpatient setting didn’t work for you—”
“Okay, listen,” he begged. “Will you just come visit me? I’m surrounded by a bunch of addicts. Just come see the place yourself before you tell me that I really need to stay — deal?”
It was a reasonable proposition but I already knew the answer. That being said, I was happy to visit Dr. Berger. And I gently asked him if he’d mind me bringing along his good friend, Dr. Berg. After a bit of grumbling about how his AA friend is out to get everyone into recovery, he agreed.
We went to visit Dr. Berger at the rehab facility the following morning. As far as facilities go, it was a nice, clean place with professional staff and a solid clinical program. When people have complaints about such a place, it’s generally not because there’s something wrong with the product, but rather that they aren’t convinced they need to own it.
Dr. Berg was a bit of a local legend in the local recovery community, a fellow who was known for his fiery speeches at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as well as for his impressive 33 years of sobriety. Dr. Berg was the one who’d made the referral for his friend Dr. Berger to come in and meet me in the first place.
Dr. Berger was busy isolating himself in his room when I arrived, and Dr. Berg, meanwhile, had gone to speak to some staffers he knew while I checked things out with his friend.
“Dr. Freedman,” Dr. Berger greeted me glumly, “you’ve got to be kidding sending me to a place like this. I’m surrounded by a bunch of addicts.”
I shrugged and sat down in a chair across from the bed he was sitting on.
“Of course you are, Dr. Berger. It’s a rehab.”
“You know what I mean,” he said with some notable irritation.
I refused to give him further time to complain and responded bluntly, “You’re surrounded by a bunch of people going through the same exact stuff you’re going through, Dr. Berger. And you’re in a place that is built to help all of you to successfully navigate your way to sobriety.”
“But I’m a physician! I’m not some spoiled rich kid who spent his dad’s money on cocaine, or a construction worker who got hooked on painkillers. This is demeaning.”
With what could only be described as perfect timing, Dr. Berg popped into the room. “There are always at least a few doctors in a rehab, Mitch — one to be the medical director and the others to help fill the beds.”
Dr. Berger couldn’t help cracking a small smile.
I watched as they stood up and embraced each other lovingly.
“You know in AA we have The Big Book, Mitch,” Dr. Berg said as he found an extra chair and pulled up a seat. “And I know you don’t love AA, but how about I tell you a story, a Big Book kind of story about a cardiologist who was shooting opiates all day long. So of course he eventually came to the realization that he could either keep on injecting drugs or continue being a doctor — you can’t really do both at the same time.
“Anyway, this doctor, Mitch, he asked himself, ‘If I love being a doctor so much, then why am I doing something that makes it literally impossible to be a good physician?’ He thought and thought, and eventually realized that it’s because there was something going on that was just unacceptable to him. An annoying situation at work, a negative feeling at home. Someone or something would bother him and the feeling would grow and grow until it was overwhelming. At that point, it was frankly too hard to continue and ‘Bam! Gotta use some painkiller to make it go away.’ ”
“That’s my life,” Dr. Berger said softly with a tear-filled laugh. “That’s actually my life.”
“I know, Mitch,” Dr. Berg replied. “I know, because it’s my life, too. It’s all of our lives. And when you get it, I mean when you really, really get down to it and you’re able to realize it, you’re able to come to the conclusion that we all need to come to.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That ‘acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today.’ Stress, frustration, jealously, anger, fear, sadness, arrogance, anxiety. Alcohol doesn’t make any of that stuff go away, Mitch. It just makes everything a bit quieter for a few hours until life comes back to bite you. Knowing this is what got that doctor sober. That cardiologist is me, Mitch.”
Dr. Berger nodded and wiped away a few stray tears with his sleeve.
“Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today,” Dr. Berg said again. “When we realize this, we can stay sober and be the kind of people we want to be, Mitch. It gives us the perspective to know that all of life’s challenges aren’t just going to disappear — even a bottle of whiskey can’t do that kind of magic.”
Dr. Berg got up off of his chair and sat down on the bed next to his old friend.
“It starts today, Mitch, one day at a time,” he emphasized with a big pat on the shoulder. “And with Hashem’s help, we can find other tools to help us through those rough spots, starting with reexamining our own perceived needs and expectations.”
“Acceptance, huh. Well, I mean, is there a better choice?” Dr. Berger said with an optimism that I heard in his voice for the first time.
Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.
Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman, whose new book Off the Couch has just been released in collaboration with Menucha Publishers, can be found learning Torah in the Old City or hiking the hills around Jerusalem. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 876)
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