30 Years of Change Campaign

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Charlies Burns, MD

The first time I heard the words, "You're addicted, Doctor," it didn't make sense. I knew I had a problem, but I had always been able to stop before. Or so I thought! The reality of my life was that I was falling faster than I could lower my standards.

On the way from the interview room at [the rehabilitation facility] Marworth, I felt a terrible weight had been lifted from my heart. That was May 1989.

I knew alcohol was going to be a part of my life the very first time from the age of 14. I did not know alcohol and opioids would threaten to take away my dignity and everything else I valued in life, especially my family, job, and friends. I don't know any alcoholic who wakes up and says, "I have nothing to do for the next 25 years, so I guess I'll become a hopeless, helpless alcoholic and drug addict." But it happened.

From the very first time I experienced the high of alcohol, my brain chemistry was changed forever. I chased the feeling for a long time, ignoring the emptiness and loneliness inside. Instead, the false illusion that alcohol gives ran away with my feelings, and I along with it.

I initially thought I was recovering well, but I couldn't follow the simple 12-step formula. My wife, who saved my life and our family, recognized I was in trouble. She was going to Al-Anon and knew I needed inpatient rehabilitation again. So did the staff at Marworth, especially Marylyn Krause. She asked me to trust her and go to Alina Lodge for long-term care. At Alina Lodge, Mrs. Delaney told me I was "reluctant to recover." Confused, but determined not to die, lose my family or my job, I finally understood the meaning of powerlessness and surrender. It took time and gradually the 12-step program has given me a wonderful way to live.

That was a long time ago. But, as with all of us in recovery, events surrounding what I thought was the worst time in my life, turned out to be the transformation that my life needed. I never knew I needed a recovery, let alone that I could have one.

I joined PHP in 1990, and have had wonderful relationships with the staff, once I let go of my fear! My "handler" early on, Madelyn Orloski was as tough as nails, and told me how it was going to be. I needed that. We became good friends, and I have been fortunate to serve on the executive committee twice. Sitting at PHP meetings, I feel the genuine concern of the staff. I know they work hard to help the health care professionals of Pennsylvania. I can never repay the firmness and kindness they have given to me. They helped save my life, my family, and my professional career.