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Interview With J. D. Remy: ER Doc Finds Healing After Losing All To Alcohol — Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast

Interview with J. D. Remy: ER Doc Finds Healing After Losing All to Alcohol — Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast

My guest this week is Dr. J. D. Remy. Well, that’s not his real name, but as you’ll hear in this program, he has changed it to protect not only his own identity, but that of his children. Dr. Remy had an ideal life for a little while, until what he calls Implosion Day, when he lost everything. He writes about it in his new book, but I’ll let Dr. Remy tell his own story. 

Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.

A couple of highlights from our interview:

On Recovery

J. D. Remy

As a recovering alcoholic, I’m also a recovering egoist, a narcissist, as I think many professionals tend to be, many of whom don’t even realize it. And in addition to an alcohol recovery, I had to go through an ego and narcissism recovery, and an emotional recovery.

On Transitioning from Doctor to Patient

There’s no feeling that I will ever experience again, like rolling into my own ER with alcohol poisoning, and being cared for by the very same nurses and doctors whom I worked alongside just a week before. I was now the patient. As far as I was concerned, that was it, game over, I’m done. I was hospitalized for alcohol intoxication and I was moved into a patient setting where I had to play the patient.

Listen to my interview with J. D. Remy

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On the Inspirational Indie Authors #podcast, @howard_lovy features @remy_jd, an ER doctor who lost everything to alcohol. Find out how he found healing in his #memoir. #indieauthors Click To Tweet

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About the Host

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and Twitter.

Read the transcript of my interview with J. D. Remy

Howard Lovy: I’m Howard Lovy and you’re listening to Inspirational Indie Authors.

Every week, I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.

My guest this week is Dr. J.D. Remy. Well, that’s not his real name, but as you’ll hear in this program, he has changed it to protect not only his own identity, but that of his children.

Dr. Remy had an ideal life for a little while until what he calls implosion day, when he lost everything. He writes about it in his new book, but I’ll let Dr. Remy tell his own story.

J.D. Remy: Hello, my name is J.D. Remy. I’m a physician, I’m an alcoholic in long term recovery, and I am actively practicing emergency medicine to this day. I have authored a memoir known as Ballad of a Sober Man, An ER Doctor’s Journey of Recovery.

I enjoy writing, running, playing with my dog, and playing my guitar.

I’m thrilled to be alive; I’m thrilled to be sober and I’m thrilled to be an emergency physician.

Howard Lovy: And J.D.’s story of how he overcame his alcoholism, involves his dog, his guitar and other things that kept him active in the real world when he had lost all hope. First though, let’s learn more about J.D.

J.D. Remy: Well, I was born in New York city. After my parents separated very early in life, I moved with my mother and sister to Northern New Jersey.

I lived a very low key, suburban New Jersey existence. I tended to be a little fearful growing up, but I enjoyed my friends and my family. I found myself engaged in outdoor activities on a regular basis. I got into running in high school. I found my own little circle of friends and ended up going to college in Pennsylvania, and eventually decided, in college, I wanted to be a physician, after almost failing out of an economics class.

And so, I switched midstream my freshman year and went premed and decided, as I tend to be focused and punch my way through, to finish college and go straight through to medical school residency and on into emergency medicine. So, it was a straight through without any detours for me. I was thrilled, I was motivated, and I was always focused on the next big thing, and for me, that was achieving my Doctor of Medicine and going out into the world to practice emergency medicine.

Howard Lovy: Why specifically emergency medicine? Well, it has something to do with J.D. being addicted to adrenaline, which looking back may have been a warning sign for other addictions.

J.D. Remy: Well, I found myself very early on, even though I was very tentative and hesitant as a child, I was always attracted to excitement. I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I always prided myself on knowing a certain amount about a lot of different topics, rather than having an in-depth knowledge of any one particular topic. So, when I got to medical school, I realized that I wanted to know a little bit about all facets of medicine, and what a better place for an adrenaline junkie to want to know about all specialties than the emergency department.

And so, I found myself kind of loitering around emergency departments as a medical student, even in my time off, just to observe the action, and I decided that was for me. I wanted to practice medicine in a way I could be a surgeon one moment, a gynecologist the next, a dermatologist the next, an orthopedic the next, and a cardiologist the next.

I liked the concept of wearing many hats. And so, it drew me naturally into that specialty.

Howard Lovy: As for alcoholism, sometimes warning signs can be spotted first among family members, it is sometimes an inherited trait, but J.D. says there was none of that in his own family.

J.D. Remy: Strangely, not only was I the first physician in my family, but I was the first alcoholic in my family. I’m not sure that’s a great honor to wear, but it, in fact, seems to be the case. Now, you know, many people have other addictions and I did see that in my family, my father was addicted to his work and was also addicted to women who were not my mother. And my other family members were, for the most part, not involved in any kind of chemical dependencies that I’m aware of. So, perhaps I can say that, other than my dad and his process addictions, really, it was just me using alcohol to probably sooth some of my inner fears, insecurities and worries, more than any kind of genetic link predisposing me to alcohol.

Howard Lovy: So, as J.D. says, when he was a kid, he was afraid of his own shadow, but something happened to his confidence when he started sneaking in alcoholic drinks here and there.

J.D. Remy: I remember being afraid of my own shadow growing up, and I also remember when my parents threw parties. My mother remarried a man from old Europe, a very hearty Greek man we all loved, they would have lavish parties at the house and serve this punch, this sangria, which looked very attractive to me and I didn’t know what was in it. And I found myself taking some and in the spirit of old Europe, where there really is no drinking age, I found myself nipping at it and getting this sensation of a little more confidence and courage, and I wasn’t sure where it’s coming from, but I knew it had to be coming from that bowl after I did it a few times. So, I recognize that there’s something about alcohol that emboldens me, and it makes me less afraid of the world.

In high school, I wanted to be part of the gang part of the crowd, and so I went to a few parties and had a few beers and I got a buzz going, and I was more confident with women at the party. And then things progressed socially in college when I joined a fraternity and started to drink a little more on a regular basis, because mainly I enjoyed the feeling of it, and I felt like it made me a better man than I was.

Howard Lovy: So, J.D. embarked on his career as an ER doctor. He got married, had kids, and was respected by his colleagues, and his confidence and ego grew proportionately larger.

J.D. Remy: And that all kind of fed into this ego, which became increasingly inflated over the years. With the excitement of my new job, I found myself becoming increasingly entitled based on my station in life.

I felt like I had arrived, so to speak, which I have now in retrospect realized that is a very dangerous thing for a budding alcoholic, because with entitlement comes alcohol in many cases, as was the case with me. And so I decided to get fancy and have lavish parties and stock a very nice wet bar with all kinds of top-shelf alcohol, which I shared at the parties, and then eventually was taking from, after the parties ended, to keep the party in my mind going, and to keep myself soothed from the anxieties and the stresses that were starting to develop at work and the pressures that we’re starting to develop at home.

No matter how many confident layers I put on, no matter how many skills I had, I had a lot of unresolved conflict. I was, in general, very fearful as a child, and that really never left me. I lived in a state of, what if this happens? What if that happens? Even though I had so called arrived, and I had gotten myself into a good position in life, there was always the thinking ahead, never living in the moment, but what’s going to happen next, how can I protect myself against the future? And to mitigate some of those fears and anxieties, I started to drink, heavily. I started to feel better about who I was and where I was, without the outside fears trickling in when I had a good buzz going. That, of course, led to more drinking over time, and I never addressed my inner fears, my inner core defects the healthy way. It was always, at that point, running to the bottle. I found myself having a drink or two after work initially, which became more than a drink or two. I didn’t want my wife to worry that I was drinking too much, so I started to drink on the sly, I started to hide bottles. When all the top shelf liquors were running out, I filled the bottles up with the cheaper stuff, not letting her know that it was really a refill, because my alcohol consumption really started increase as the years went by. Kids came along, and I felt like I needed to escape from the stresses of child rearing, and I began to drink almost every day at that point.

Howard Lovy: To hide his drinking from his wife, J.D. began sleeping in a basement guestroom, where he conveniently kept his alcohol. So, J.D. spent more and more time in the basement with his booze, but it was fear of being found out, this deep insecurity of being discovered, that only heightened his anxiety and caused more drinking.

He thought he’d cure it during a mission to Haiti, but that only made it worse.

J.D. Remy: I formed a Haiti mission right after the big earthquakes in 2010, and I formed a team and went down there every year to a rural orphanage, and we took care of that same orphanage with the same children, run by the same patient pastor every year.

And I felt my sense of self-importance started to really climb, and I was doing it yes, to be charitable, but there was also something inside of me that made me feel even more important, and I was feeling that ever so destructive ego that was getting larger and larger, and I relied on alcohol to temper my inner fears of, what if this isn’t enough? What if I need to do more? What if things are not going well at home? What if things don’t go well in Haiti? What if I lose my license? I started to get very paranoid and I would counter that paranoia by drinking even more, which would cause even more paranoia and a vicious circle developed.

Howard Lovy: J.D. was able to give the outward appearance of functionality, until the last couple of months when his life imploded. In fact, in his memoir, he calls it implosion day.

J.D. Remy: My marriage was on the rocks, the children, while wonderful children, were stressing me out, and just being a father and doing the right thing, and the more I drank, the more I felt stressed and anxious when I wasn’t drinking. I became very irritable, I had volatile mood swings, and I felt myself increasingly unable to handle my workload, which I would counter by drinking even more when I wasn’t working, which made it even worse. When I was at work, I started to tremble and shake at work. I started to fight with people at work. At one point, the medical staff realized there’s something not right with me and asked me to take a week off to get a medical evaluation, which I faked through entirely.

I went to my physician’s office with a buzz going, so I wouldn’t show the shakes. I was able to say and do all the right things, and they reinstated me after a week, one-week evaluation.

I lost my dad and that’s when I went on my final bender. My wife said that we were finished. That all happened within the same few days of each other, and that’s when my life imploded and I ended up hospitalized and ultimately in rehab for my drinking.

And that’s the beginning of the story, and that’s really where the book begins.

There’s no feeling that I will ever experience again, like rolling into my own ER with alcohol poisoning, and being cared for by the very same nurses and doctors whom I worked alongside just a week before. I was now the patient. As far as I was concerned, that was it, game over, I’m done. I was hospitalized for alcohol intoxication and I was moved into a patient setting where I had to play the patient.

And in the beginning, that’s all it was, it was an act. I felt like I was still Dr. Remy, that I should be in control of my own care, that I knew what I was doing and that nobody else could do it as well as I could. And that was the basic problem, as an alcoholic, that I thought I could run my own show. And very clearly, it seemed like I could on the surface for all those years, but deep down, I wasn’t running anything. And it, all collapsed on me. So, there I was as a patient having to listen to what other people were telling me and be the good patient, which was very unsettling to me.

Howard Lovy: So, Dr. Remy is now patient Remy, a recovering alcoholic. But alcoholism wasn’t the only thing he was recovering from.

J.D. Remy: As a recovering alcoholic, I’m also a recovering egoist, a narcissist, as I think many professionals tend to be, many of whom don’t even realize it. And in addition to an alcohol recovery, I had to go through an ego and narcissism recovery, and an emotional recovery.

While in rehab I learned my triggers, I learned the things that make me tick. I was deconstructed, analyzed, and put back together. I had to learn gratitude. I had to learn humility and those are counter to ego and narcissism, within me. And so, there I went, chipping away at my ego, chipping away at my inability to accept, and it required a fundamental change within myself, something I could not do by myself. I had to be body slammed in rehab. I had to be knocked around and brought to my senses, and it took time and it’s still a work in progress. I was in rehab; I was no bigger than anybody else. I got out of rehab; I was in a situation where I had no money.

I had a very, very basic menial labor job for minimum wage. My sponsors taught me that humility would trump narcissism and resentment, and there were so many other elements that went into my recovery along those lines, and it was a gradual process. The miracle of the transition for those who recover from alcohol and drug addiction, I believe, happens very slowly and methodically, and it doesn’t automatically happen.

It requires a ton of work, a ton of introspection and an enormous amount of help from who I call my recovery mosh pit, those people who held me up when I could not stand on my own; my sponsors, my counselors, my network of sober friends, my network of past life friends, all of these people together taught me what I needed to know.

And by going to meeting after meeting, and it wasn’t all about AA, but it was a large part of it, I literally had to evolve, spiritually, beyond my arrested development, caused by alcoholism.

Howard Lovy: In Dr. Remy’s book, he writes about how his children no longer wanted any contact with him, which is a painful enough experience for anyone to go through. In the past, the way he dealt with pain was to drink it away. Now, there was only the pain.

J.D. Remy: Experiencing pain is something I had to learn how to do from the get-go, and the pain of estrangement from my children, is one of the greatest pains I have and currently am experiencing. But just because it is pain doesn’t mean I have to suffer, you know, pain has two elements in society. It has the initial physical or emotional elements, and then it has the psychological addition, a layer of, why me, poor me self-pity.

If you can eliminate that self-pity, the why me and the poor me, experience the pain and recognize that I’m improving, that I’m living one day at a time, making amends one day at a time, and also recognize that I have to turn it over to my higher power, that things will happen according to plan, and I can only do the best I can do right now.

So, the pain is there, the pain never goes away. I’m not necessarily suffering, but pain is not something that I can outrun, hide from with alcohol, or avoid, it’s something I must experience and spiritually grow beyond.

Howard Lovy: I won’t give away everything in J.D.’s book, but he describes the process of recovery from alcohol addiction, from narcissism and from physical and emotional pain.

It is a narrative different from other recovery stories because every recovery is unique. Dr. Remy eventually earned the right to practice medicine again, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic. This, obviously, adds another layer of anxiety to his work and his life, but this time, Dr. Remy is prepared.

J.D. Remy: I feel like sometimes my higher power has quite the sense of humor, you know, here I am having lost professionally, lost it all, clawing my way back, getting back into medicine and eventually stepping up, finally to the point where I’m beyond where I was when I left before rehab, and what do I get thrown at me is a worldwide pandemic. And so, I feel as a physician in recovery, dealing with whatever comes my way on a day to day basis is actually much easier than it would have been, because I recognize it is as it is, and I handle things one thing at a time, one day at a time. You want me to wear a mask? You want me to go into rooms with full PPE on to see coronavirus patients, people with severe COVID, who I put on ventilators? Well, that’s what I’m going to do, and I’m going to do the best job I can.

And it’s going to be processed in a way that’s not a whole lot different from any other sick patients I take care of. I don’t sit there at night and wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow at work. I just go in and I do my job. My program has allowed me to be in the moment and not live in a future of what if, what if this happens? What if that happens? What if I get sick? What if my family gets sick?

No, I’m here, I’m now, I’m going to do the best I can with the circumstances that I’ve been handed.

 

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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