Dentist have some of the highest rates of suicide, addiction and mental health problems. It is a stigma and a taboo both in the profession and in society.
Our guest is Sheetal Jain a dentist and mother of 3 young children who has suffered with an eating disorder and alcohol dependence and is now on a journey to recovery
In a frank and sensitive discussion Sheetal goes into her childhood marked by her father’s untimely death, a trigger for expectations set for herself which led to her eating disorder and subsequently her addiction and recovery
My husband understood addiction. He went away and he learnt about it because he knew what he was seeing was not Sheetal, the mum who didn’t care if she was drunk, the mum who didn’t care because I just passed it on to him. He knew that wasn’t me and so he took some. He took the kids and he said, I’m going to my family’s house and you know, you need to think about rehab or that’s it. So he gave me an ultimatum, rehab or nothing, and I was done.
This is Dental Leaders, the podcast where you get to go one on one with emerging leaders in dentistry. Your hosts Payman Langroudi and Prav Solanki.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome Sheetal Jain onto the podcast. This this podcast is we’re going to call it a Dental Leaders. But it could have been a mind movers because she tells the story is inspiring and painful at the same time. Drug and substance abuse is definitely more prevalent in doctors and dentists. Mental health issues are more prevalent, suicide is more prevalent, and Sheetal’s been through the worst of it and come out the other side. And she reached out to me to tell her story, which I think is incredibly brave and the right thing to do because, you know, substance abuse can be anything alcohol, even the substance that you secrete when you make a bet. Right? It could be a gambling addict. It could be so many different things. Thank you so much for coming in. Actually. Coming all this way. Welcome.
Thank you, thank you. And I just want to say thank you for being open and willing to talk about an area where it’s not really talked about enough, and I don’t know why. It’s kind of looked down upon. I don’t know why people are scared of it, but that’s something I’m willing to explore and for you to open those doors. It says a lot about you and your character and being curious about it.
I think, you know, Sheetal, we all, all of us have someone in a family or friend situation who might have been through this. And I found that separating the sort of the guilt of it, the looking, looking at it as mental health disease rather than this person has chosen to go down this route, seems to be the best way to sort of get over that stigma that you’re talking about. At the same time, coming out of it is a choice. And so the strange thing is, and I want to get into this with you, that, you know, so many people have friends and family in this situation, and none of what you try and help them with actually tends to go in and people talk about this rock bottom that the person has to get to themselves. What was your what was your first experience with misuse of substances?
Um, I firstly, I don’t know anyone of my circle that has come out and said they’ve had a problem with food, gambling, sex and love, drugs, alcohol, workaholic ism. That’s a big one. No one I know before I went into recovery. No one. So I was alone. I didn’t know one addict was let alone know that I was an addict. Well, so this is all new to me. Wow. And so the work that I have done, um, I found out alcohol wasn’t my first substance. That came on really late, actually, but it was louder, and it it was killing me faster. But for me, the substance that led to unhealthy coping mechanisms was eating. Oh yeah. So it was a disordered eating. So being quite fussy. So now we call it orthorexia and and all these words. You know, I’m going back nearly 35 years. I’m 41. And for me those habits were clearly there around the age of 11. And there was a trauma linked to that. I can accept that. But it was food for me. Really? Yeah.
And was it when your father passed away? Yeah.
Yeah. That’s when the substance used to suppress my feelings or help with my feelings started. But again, with work that I’ve done, um, it really came down to a lot deeper than that. And this is what addiction is about. Addiction is not about the substance. It really is about what it is within you. So the substance is just a symptom. So once that’s cleared out your system, hence why they say rehab a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks because it fogs your brain. You then get to the real stuff like the real stuff which you don’t want to go to. And I didn’t want to go to. I was afraid, and I had no choice but to go there and and what I believe. And this is why I want to start the story with everyone, is everyone I know does have children, or are becoming parents, or have nieces and nephews or work within a field. Their children are involved, and it’s those conditioned children’s beliefs that are hardwired in us. That changed things. That put us on a path that can either go up, stable or just down like it did in my story.
But then, you know, I’ve got kids, you’ve got kids. And I’ve noticed with kids, even with the best of intentions, you sometimes, in fact, particularly with the best of intentions, you set up an unintended consequence that comes out of it. I see it with with staff as well, with the team, you know, you think, well, you know, it’s a great idea. Let’s incentivise them on whatever it is. And then you realise, oh God, because I did that. Now there’s a new behaviour going on that’s only focussed on that or whatever. So have you found that there are lessons that you can gain from it as a parent, in terms of the way you can treat your children? Not to set up these issues 1,000%.
And I mean, I went to my third establishment of last year, facility wise, was a place in South Africa called Oasis, and it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I was in Thailand and then my eating disorder got found out and they said, alcohol wasn’t your primary, your food is your primary. So I ended up in Oasis and that was a story.
So like a rehab.
It’s a rehab. Yeah. For all for all types of things. And one type of therapy we did there they do. There is something called schema. And I don’t know why something like schema is not so established in the UK, and hence why my psychiatrist sent me to Oasis in South Africa because for some reason America, South Africa, places like that are so much more advanced in this knowledge. So I did schema and it’s single handedly changed my life and it’s changed everyone’s life that I saw that came in and came out of Oasis. And what schema is it’s everyone’s got a schema. You’ve got a schema, I’ve got a schema. The girl next door has got a schema. And it’s basically a your childhood conditioned belief, the way you’ve been brought up. What what scheme are you under and how are you today with that schema? So if I am now aware of what my schema is, unrelenting standards never being good enough, low self esteem, all those kind of things that’s going to feed off no matter what anyone’s going to give me. And so what we start with is just recognising what are the basic, basic children’s needs that we all, as do I forget in a world that we live in that is so stimulating, you know, lots of gadgets and this and that, lots of distractions.
Yeah. You know parents parenting field is like in, in in consumer markets the biggest one because you feed into it. So what I learnt was autonomy, safety ness, nurturing protection and having a voice is all a child needs or that’s bottom line. So now I’m a completely different mother to how I was before I went into Oasis. And I thank God every day because that place was not only a rehab for addiction, it was a school of life. It was how I want to be as a person, as a mother, as a wife, as a sister, as a daughter. And and what I really was grateful for is this I have this one chance with my children, and anyone that knows me knows that my motherhood is the thing I cherish the most. It’s a gift. So everything I’ve learnt I am channelling not only to myself, to my children. So if I get it wrong. Humility. I have to embrace humility because I know what I’m doing now is I’m doing it. Whatever I’m doing with the right intentions.
With any intention.
With any intention, right intention, and to the best of my ability. Now, if it goes AWOL after that, it just requires sustainability, perseverance, patience. And I’m really seeing that with my children because they act out. That’s what children do.
So give me an example of something that your kid would have done, or something that you would have done before you understood schema and how you’ve changed that since.
Wow, that’s a good question. Um, so all my three children are very different. Yeah. So I’ve had to address that. They all have different needs and different ways of expressing and suppressing, and all I, all I’m doing now is I’m listening to them. I’m being the biggest thing I’m doing. I’m being present. I’m giving present energy. I’m not just sitting there next to them. They’re watching TV and on my phone. I’m giving them my energy, whether it’s sitting in silence, but I’m holding their hand. Whether it is, I put my daughter to sleep now, and both of them and I do affirmations to them, and I say to them, you’re safe, you’re lovable, you’re protected. You are enough. I wake up in the morning and I say the same things again. If they have a problem, I stop what I’m doing. And I give them my focus, and I try and tune out the high sensitive volumes that they have. And it’s hard. I’m not I’m not lying to you, but I take my away from the situation. I take myself physically away and I just recenter myself. And then I go back in and I just say, mummy just shouted then and mummy is sorry. Mummy did something that was not right and it wasn’t your fault. And that is what a child needs to hear. Sometimes it’s not their fault and you hear of things when you’re fighting in a room with your wife. Your children are fast asleep, but they can hear something that is true, because what they’re thinking in that bed tucked up is it’s my fault. It’s my fault. Mummy’s crying. It’s my fault. Mummy’s upset. It’s my fault. I got sent to my room, you know, actually, they got sent to their room because mummy reacted irrationally. Really? Because everything is figureoutable in a sentence to a child, you know? So our actions and our reactions and our impulsivity, I’ve had to really look at and it’s hard.
And I think during a period of substance sort of abuse or substance or dependence, the whole what that is, is that thing is number one. Yeah, I mean, it that’s that’s why we call it that. Right? That thing is number one. Yeah. And so is that part of the reason why you’re now present. Because before you were present with the substance or with the, with the behaviour as well.
I mean, I say to I said to my therapist the other day, I said I’m knackered now, I’m tired. Physically tired, like being a mum is tiring. I’m not working at the moment. Yeah. And I said I don’t know how I did it before. I was always perfect. I looked the part, I said the part. I did all the school runs, I did all the activities, I turned up to events. I worked my ass off and I said, I don’t know how I did that. And she goes, well, you were using. That’s how you got through it. You acted out. You acted out an unhealthy ways to keep yourself going. Yeah. And so that’s how I that’s how I thought it was. I didn’t know any different going back to childhood. I didn’t know these feelings are meant to be felt. I didn’t know struggling was a thing. And it was okay to struggle. I didn’t know not being a certain way was okay. I wasn’t uncomfortable with my own skin. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t love who I was, and so what did I do? I abandoned myself because it was easier to do that. But to the world, I had it all together. And that’s what alcohol, that’s what food disorders, whatnot can give off that impression that you are okay.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But I’m in survival.
In a way. Being able to change your state at will is a massive advantage. Right. So if that’s what alcohol does for someone or if that’s what a cigarette does for someone or whatever it is. Yeah. Being able to say I can at 1113, I can be calm because I’m doing that thing. So have you got now? I guess you’ve been through the 12 step program. Have you got other ways of sort of getting calming yourself down that before you used to use. Yeah. So what did you meditate with?
I mean my, my drug of choice was wine. Oh really? The wine o’clock. The mummy. Oh red.
Both. Yeah. It was both and but it did, it did calm me down. Yeah. It did take the edge off me. And you know, I know all my friends and family that I, that I love still do drink. What, how it was different for me is that it worked until it didn’t work. Yeah. And then the dependence started. And I think that’s just what I want to really get the awareness out is that fine line is very fine. Yeah. And if you’re not assured and you’re not healthy, you’re not having those frank conversations with yourself going, is this taking the edge? Is this appeasing what it needs to appease, or do I need more of it? That’s the slippery slope. And so for me it worked. But then it just went further and further and further because the problems just got bigger and bigger and bigger.
So then the I guess like any other situation, by the time you sometimes realise that’s the situation, sometimes you’re a bit too deep in it. So what are the early warning symptoms? Is it as obvious as when it starts affecting other people in your life? And you know, the kind of what we were saying about being present in the room and.
Yeah. Is that it? I guess for me, unfortunately, I’ve only known the one way, which was I went too far and it was rock bottom. The warning signs were all there, God like, they were all. There and I guess it was denial. So if you can get over the denial. So today if I, if I’m connecting with someone that is going, oh, that sounds a little bit true, it sounds a little bit. And that’s what happened to me. You know, as a dentist, you know, you’re asking someone, what’s your what’s your weekly allowance? And I’m going, oh God, I’ve gone over that this week. It’s only day one. I wasn’t willing to look at myself. I wasn’t willing to go, is this habit of mine which it became a habit or this coping mechanism? Is it healthy or have I got have I got a hold of it? Can I just stop it tomorrow? Can I say.
Am I controlling it or is it controlling me? Absolutely. Yeah.
So you know someone very close to me. I don’t want to mention names because there’s boundaries and whatnot. But he looked at his habits. He was able to look at his habits and go, that’s got a bit unhealthy because it’s every day I’m going to try 3 or 4 days, got down 3 or 4 days, then go. You know what? I’m just going to just not have it because I don’t need it. So he was able to look at himself and he wasn’t frightened because he’s okay. He’s not an addict. Now, if you struggle with looking at yourself, if you struggle with well, I don’t need to prove it to anybody, not even to myself. I don’t need to prove it. That’s a warning sign. And if anyone’s looking or hearing this and being sorry to say judgemental or criticising me, I’ll hand that over because it’s not. This is my story. I’m not criticising.
You for falling into this.
Trap or for saying what you just said. This is what I. This is what I also did when someone I saw on TV, like people do, are talking about it. Well, that happened to you. It’s not going to happen to me. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I can have my glass of wine and I’m okay. I still function, I’m a functioning person. I didn’t say functioning alcoholic. I am functioning. So who are you to say I’m drinking too much? I did it, so I’m able to say that was a warning sign for me. Yeah, and I think it’s a warning sign for a lot of people.
And I guess, you know what you were saying about being a perfectionist, a perfectionist? I don’t think those are the words you use that self image thing. Yeah. And I don’t know whether you set that up in your own head to cope with your dad’s passing. And I don’t know, your brother or your sister might have gone into sport or into whatever it was. It’s it’s that kind of person that doesn’t go and question themselves on this sort of thing. Right. And so, so me and Rhona have been trying to figure out why is it that dentists are so stressed and suicidal is that you must have looked at this in detail, right, with doctors and dentists.
And that’s why I’ve like I said to you before, there’s a belonging I feel in this profession and I’m maybe not doing it clinically. There is a duty of care within my fellows and also the well-being of other people. And it just so happens that all of my circle are kind of medics and dentists and pharmacists and whatnot. So I’ve asked myself that question, and I can only talk for my myself is that it came down to that unrelenting standards. I can be something and I’m going to get it. And this pushes me. My ego gets the better of me and we are capable of doing it. And it’s the same thing. We’re capable of doing it until we are not capable of doing it, you know, and we lose ourselves. I think we lose ourselves, our humility. We are just human beings that are trying to do the best that we can, and we’ve chosen a vocation to do the best by others. It’s hard to do that and remain human, and it’s hard to do that without being criticised. And it’s hard to do that by leaving work at work and home at home.
It’s really hard to get those boundaries. Yeah. And it’s the especially in medicine, the frontliners, you know, they’re at it. The capacity is at it. You know working all these hours. It’s proven you need eight ten hours sleep to function. So how do you function if you’re not getting that sleep you get on a hamster wheel and then it stops and it’s not sustainable. So you’re then looking well, do I just ditch my career and have a lifetime change, or do I change something that can keep me at that pace? And unfortunately, as far as I know, it’s only substances that can keep that momentum going other than a lifestyle change or a well-being change or a mindfulness change. But this is easier. Getting a substance is easier. It’s at your disposable on demand and it’s very, very socially acceptable. Yeah. And that’s another field of alcohol being socially acceptable. It’s in freshers week. It’s in toasting. It’s in it’s 5:00. Let’s you know it’s the way we. Live.
I mean, alcohol and dentistry is gigantic, isn’t it? It’s every single event that you go to and. And what are the numbers? Do you know what are the numbers of. I mean, I guess we’ve got this issue of there must be thousands of dentists who rely on alcohol but don’t consider themselves as reliant on alcohol. But but what are the what are the numbers of people who sort of you would call problematic users of substances amongst the medical and dental field? What percentage are we talking?
So it’s hard and this is what almost the government want. They want numbers. They want quantitative data. And you can’t you know there are numbers out there.
And I’m really surprised you said, you know, no one who’s been I know loads of people.
I don’t know anyone.
Older than you.
No, no. But if you do know people, that’s great, because what that shows is that people are talking and they’re sharing you. There’s one thing recognising a behaviour. So yes, obviously now I’m in recovery. There are a lot of people I can see that have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. That’s not for me to say or do anything about, but I can observe it. And that’s what makes me sad, is that there is so much help out there. There is a committee. I don’t know if you know of it. British Dental Doctors Group, which is BDG, and they are. It’s a whole fellowship of people that are suffering with addiction and they need that safe space. So there is a separate entity aside from Na, AA and all of that sort of stuff for dentists and doctors, which is a first. And it’s very it’s.
Kind of like a 12 step programme tailored to medics.
No, no, it’s not a 12 step programme. It’s a safe space, okay? It’s a safe meetings. Meetings. You talk about work, you talk about your struggles and you feel there’s a connection because of the same job. Yeah, there’s an understanding that maybe others don’t understand. Yeah. So there’s a lot of the same agenda on all these things. It is the momentum. It is the pressure. There are the things, you know, people now willingly just say as though it’s normal defensive dentistry I practice defensive dentistry. What is defensive dentistry? Why why are we okay with going to work under attack? Yeah. Why is that okay? Why is it that we have to go to work and go? We doubt everything we do, and we don’t now take love in what we do. We fear what we do. And that fear, that capacity, that fear holds in us. It sets us back from so many things, for sure. And it’s not a way of living. And fear for me was a big thing that led me down to addiction.
So why is it that we haven’t heard of this organisation? What did you call it?
Mta, BDG I should have bought the QR code today. So anyone that is wanting to scan it have a look. But you can google it b.
B double d d g. So British doctors dentist group.
Why is it that we haven’t heard about it? Is it because there’s a stigma associated to it?
Do you know what. If I could give you an answer for that? That is what I would like to know. And I’m sitting here today raising that awareness, but I didn’t know about it until I was in addiction. And there’s PHP professional health professionals. They are there as a first port of call. If someone is struggling with substance abuse. I know that I went to that establishment because I was afraid of my dental career. So a lot of people go in fear of their registration, not because they want to go. So it’s almost like pushed upon them. And then some of these meetings are kind of pushed onto them to get the tick box and the CPD and whatnot. Oh.
So like if they’re at the GDC because of this, the GDC recommends that they go that direction.
Yeah. So there are facilities and PHP and BDG are amazing. The last thing they want you to do is be jobless or report to the GMC. They do everything within their power to be on your side because it is an illness. It’s not a choice. I didn’t wake up one day and say, hey, I’m going to ditch my kids and my husband, my marriage, my family and everything because I’m an addict. Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s let’s be an addict today. You don’t choose to have this illness, and it’s taken me a long time to really believe it’s an illness. And I don’t know if that is what’s stopping medics, medical professionals, dentists to actually think, oh, I’m ill. Yeah, this is a thing, but it’s not looked nicely on, so maybe I can’t say it is.
Well, I mean, it’s strange because as medics, we should be the ones who understand that more than more than everyone else. But you’re right. The stigma is so huge. And, you know, we discuss it on this podcast all the time about errors, mistakes and how we all hide from mistakes. This sort of image almost, that we think our patients think we have to be perfect. Yeah.
It’s the assumptions.
It’s not the assumption. It’s it’s what we put on ourselves. Yeah. It comes right back to the schemas. Yeah. Always goes back to childhood. What we believe is the truth. We are hardwired a certain way to get to a certain point that hard wiring.
Whereas whereas I mean, it’s an interesting question, right. If, if I was having an operation and the surgeon was a functioning heroin addict, and the way that he was functioning was by being an amazing surgeon, but a terrible dad or something. Yeah. My operation is going to be better than if my surgeon had never touched drugs in his life, but wasn’t the best surgeon in the world. Yeah, yeah, but there’s no way in hell that surgeon is going to tell me he’s a heroin addict. Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it?
Yeah, that is the illness.
The denial. Yeah. And that admittance of powerlessness. I am powerlessness, I am powerless to alcohol. Done. I’ve had to surrender. And it’s taken me so many years to get to that point. It took me three rehabs, so many rock bottoms, an attempt of my life, well, losing everything that I had. Everything for me to go. Okay, I surrender. This is it. It’s not obvious. It’s hard to accept. And it’s hard to surrender.
Do you want to go into.
The rock bottoms?
Yeah. If you want me to.
We don’t have to.
So there were so many rock bottoms because I kept going.
I would never admit defeat, but all I knew is I don’t know what is happening to me. It’s not fair. And you go into victim mode. You go into projection. You’re going to blame. This is never good enough. This is never good enough. This is the way I am. But the the substance was now a problem because it was changing who I was. I was Jekyll and Hyde. I did some very shameful stuff when I was drunk, but I wasn’t when I was at that stage, I was drinking just to stay alive. I was, I needed it, and that’s where my most shameful things happened. And that’s how addiction works. It thrives on shame. Right. Let’s just forget about it. The drink will make it better. That will soothe me. So all those bad habits just keep circulating. But the biggest rock bottom, which is where I got to with my family and my husband just said I can’t do any more, was when I got drunk after five days of being sober at home, where we went on holiday and he said, I can’t do this anymore. And you know, I believe in a higher power because he knew what he was seeing was not evil. So I was a lucky one. The mum who didn’t care if she was drunk. The mum who didn’t care because I just passed it on to him. He knew that wasn’t me and so he took some. He took the kids and he said, I’m going to my family’s house and you know, you need to think about rehab or that’s it. So he gave me an ultimatum, rehab or nothing, and I was done.
So you actually needed that?
I needed that, and I took some medicine. I drank a lot, and I was somehow I don’t quite remember the ins and outs. And it’s something that I guess it’s hard for my family to talk about, and I have to respect that boundary. But I was found on the floor unconscious and I was blue lighted to hospital. And I guess they see this every day overdose drinking. That’s a sad thing. It’s so common now, right? And the next thing I know, I’m in the Priory. But I was not ready. I was in denial. I was I was looking around going, I don’t hide vodka under my pillow. I don’t drink that much in the morning. But I did become that after that, because I left, I got chucked out because I smuggled alcohol in, which, by the way, I thought was normal. But that was okay. It’s their problem. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I thought, I genuinely thought that was okay. Big deal. God, I’m not an alcoholic. And then it just spiralled. And then my husband did what he had to do. He put the kids first and he said, I am here with you, for you 1,000%, but you need to get help. And he just for three months, it was awful. Three months of me being separated from the children and I just went, I spiralled, I spiralled, I spiralled and he just kept strong and just said. The psychiatrist says three months rehab. That’s the start, she thought. And after a summer of just going crazy, being at my wits end, all I wanted was him and all my children. That’s all I wanted. But he was asking me to do something I didn’t know how to do. And so I flew to Thailand and that’s the rehab that I chosen three months away. My my son was only six months old. Wow. I played on that. I played on that massively.
What do you mean?
How can someone ask a mother to leave their son? Oh, because who do you think you are? Yeah. Like what? Mother does that? So the guilt played in.
That was your first rehab.
So now Thailand was my second. Priory was my first.
Got to Thailand.
Is there something around? By going to rehab, it means you’re admitting that you have a problem.
Funny you say that. The famous.
Yeah. No it doesn’t. Oh, it comes when you’re ready to surrender. But you’re in a place that you can surrender. That’s what rehab is.
Yeah, but the reason you don’t want to go is because you don’t want to. Oh, the reason why.
Of God? Absolutely. Yeah. It’s like, okay, now I have a problem. But even though I went to the Priory and everyone knew, it still wasn’t enough for me, I was in I was in full denial. Denial. You know, I was manipulative, I was coercive, everyone got it wrong but me. Everyone on that table professionally was wrong. Um, and I guess that’s what people that are intellectual, they overintellectualize it, and they find it hard just to breaking it down and go, yeah, call a spade a spade. Um, but it’s when I got to Oasis, I left Thailand because they said your primary was Ed. I heard I’m not an alcoholic. Food is my problem. Ha, ha. Oh, I drank the whole way to South Africa, South Africa, but I was. I was six weeks sober. I did a couple of weeks before and four weeks sober in in Thailand. And Thailand was easy, by the way. It was easy because alcohol it was it was it was okay to give up. Like I knew that wasn’t that was just the substance, right? It was just symptom. So I was like, yeah, I’ll do this work. I’ll do my life story. I’ll do the the steps. No problem.
So quickly explain to someone what is rehab, what happens. You get there and.
You get there. And the first part is detoxing. Yeah. Getting the substance out of your system. So thank the Lord. I never dabbled in drugs, so alcohol was just my thing. So they detox you slowly from the alcohol by monitoring you, they give you like methadone or something of that to kind of, um, appease the alcohol. And so for me it was librium. So for drug addicts it’s methadone. And so they keep it safe. So it’s a clinically safe area. And then you’re, you’re in a safe space where you can. See what you’re doing and going. It’s placed where you should surrender and it’s a place to go to heal. It’s a place to work out what the hell is going on? That is rehab. That’s a good rehab.
That’s what it’s supposed to be.
That’s what it’s supposed to be. Yeah.
And what, as you imagine it.
Group therapy, group therapy meetings.
One on one.
Do they put you in a group with people like you in terms of like, is it alcohol and is it young people and is it ladies?
And you’re all the same in that room.
So what, you’ve got a 64 year old heroin addict and yeah, yeah.
I had a roommate that was in her 70s.
And it becomes clear that the issue isn’t the actual chemical.
The line is look for the similarities, not the differences. And so the opposite to addiction is connection. And that’s what rehabs try and work on is the connection. You build connections. You then see someone who’s got exactly the same story as you, because you know what the story is not about the drugs or the alcohol or the eating. The story is or the similarities are. Some traumas happen in your life. It’s not the trauma. It’s not the incident.
How you handle it.
It’s what it did to you. Yeah. It’s struggles, it’s egos, its character defects. It’s all the stuff that we have been conditioned to be because we’ve never really looked at how to live healthily, how to deal with stress, how to deal with an early loss, how to deal with never feeling good enough. You know, having that self affirmation for yourself, having loved for yourself. We all have that in common and that’s the bottom line.
You explained it really well because, you know, look for the similarities, not the differences. But I’ve spoken to people who’ve been to rehab and got out of it that, hey, I’m not so bad because they met all these people who whose stories are more crazy than theirs. But the way you explained it kind of makes it. That’s what.
Happened to me in The.
So the Priory wasn’t the right place for me? Yeah. An oasis, it was. It was a it was the account of effects. And my biggest rock bottom was I was comatose on the plane. I didn’t even drink that much. But they say when you pick up, you go back to the same amounts, but your body can’t handle it. Altitude, everything. So it’s not. Although I drank bottles and bottles. Yeah, even a few glasses would have got me to that state. And I was held in a holding cell. And not many people know this story. And so I’m just I’m being vulnerable here and being open and honest and. My husband got in contact with Oasis and again, I believe in this higher power connection. I was saved, I was saved from that holding cell if I was in Jo’burg. No, in fact, I was in Cape Town. I had a little bit of a chance. And then before I got onto the flight to Oasis. So in Plett, my husband on the phone and I was I was in paranoia. I was convinced someone had spiked me like that. That denial was still there. I was, I was shaken, I was full.
Of your tolerance had gone right down.
Everything. I woke up from that going, what? Where? I’m what? What is this like? Look at me. And that was the first time when I arrived at the gates at Oasis, I literally, I literally surrendered. I put my hand up and I said, I’m fully exposed. My eating sword is out there, my alcohol is out there. I’ve lost everything. My dignity, my family, money, everything I’ve lost. This is my last chance. So people who gain recovery treatment is different to recovery. People that are on that path of recovery is though people that have surrendered and said, help me now. I’m willing to do what it takes and trust the process. And the lady called Catherine who who owns Oasis, she just held me and she just said, I’ve got you. You’re safe. We’ve got you. Trust us. And for the first time ever, ever, have I given that control to someone else. And I had. I had to hand it over.
I guess she’d seen it before, right? It was. She recognised what it was.
Yeah, it was done. And that’s what is so good. They they know. They know addiction. They live and breathe it. They are top of their game and what they do. And I had the privilege, the gift that my family were able to afford for me to go there. So this is not just a normal thing. I understand that it was a privilege.
I mean, number one, your husband, the way he handled it, could have gone in any so many different directions that that itself is a massive, massive thing. I owe.
Yeah. Number two, having the resource. What does it cost to go to Oasis? What what are we.
Talking ballpark figure? Um, anything between 13 to 20 grand a month.
And how many months?
One month. I was there for about five.
But again, my husband.
Where were your kids at this point? Your husband’s family were looking after them.
My husband and his family. Yeah.
And then when you came back, how old were your children at that point?
Ayla was about to turn ten, Amalia was about to turn eight, and my son had just turned one.
The fact that you’re speaking up is so it’s so brilliant, right? Because you’ve recovered or you are in recovery or whatever. Which which are you? People say it. Recovery. You’re in recovery. You’re you could easily not mention this to anyone ever again and limit the damage that’s been done already and just cover it over, you know, and there’s loads of reasons why you might want to do that. Your your kids may listen to this podcast. It’s, you know, it’s taken for me. Likely. Yeah. Because my kids, my my my kids, you know, all it takes is a Google. Yeah, yeah. Why is it that you’ve chosen to come out with it? Is it because you felt so lonely and you don’t want others to feel that way or.
So recovery for me isn’t just abstinence from alcohol or abstinence from my eating disorder. That’s a big part. But it’s not the only thing. Recovery is emotional sobriety. And what I learned in Oasis, you know, once the alcohol and all that. Step one, step two was out the way I admitted I was powerless to this drug. That’s what I mean. The layers were peeled off. And when I say layers, I was down to the core. And I went places that I didn’t think I would ever get to. They went they they went there and and I guess what I learned in Oasis is vulnerability, the power of vulnerability and the power of authenticity. Now, in order for me to.
Sober, I have to be authentic. This is me. I’m sheethal. I’m an addict. That is me. Today, just for today. I am Sheetal and I’m an addict. And. I am accountable for certain things that I did, but I am now living a life in a fellowship that I am correcting my wrongs. I’m correcting my character defects. I am learning how to be who I want to be. I’ve got core and moral values that were always there. They were always there, not always been this person. Of course, I just didn’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with some of the stuff that was thrown at me as a child and going forward, because it was just going to multiply these problems. So I’m here today because this is how I’ve got to leave my life. I’ve got to have I have to leave my life with radical honesty, radical acceptance of myself. Be vulnerable when I need to be vulnerable. Feel my feelings. And share. Share the message. Do service. And that’s what makes me wake up in the morning. Go. I’m enough because I’m telling my truth. I’m tired. I’m so tired of hiding. I’m so tired of having this other alter ego. I have a purpose in life now. My main purpose is to be healthy, to be sober, but then also be there for my children. So like you said, of course I’ve thought about it. My children know I went to rehab. They know mommy had a had a problem with wobbly juice. They know. But what they also know is that mommy is calmer now. Mommy’s more fun. Mommy is more present. Mommy is.
There and all.
That. Mommy is just there. Yeah, mommy has capacity to hold them when they are not doing good. I am now capable without reaching for things that alter my mood, my sense of purpose, my actions. I can control that. And so I hope they’re going to be proud of me.
I’m sure they will. Take me back to when? Unfortunately, your father passed away. How did your mom cope? How old were you? How many kids were you?
There was four of us altogether. And my mum. So she had four children. Um, and it was a sudden heart attack in India. So they both were away and. It’s the hardest thing I think any of us in that family have ever been through. It doesn’t go away. That pain.
How old were you?
I was going to be 11. Um. But you can’t control things. Hey. Yeah. And so what I’ve learned is.
How did your mum cope?
She’s a strong woman. She was broken. Absolutely broken. Which did it for us. She stayed alive for her children and nothing more, nothing less. And that’s the strength in her that I try and pull on every day.
And this sort of perfectionism and what you expected of yourself. And do you do you think it was a direct consequence of of what happened with your dad? Is that was that your coping mechanism that you were going to excel at something, or was your mum pushing you hard on studies or or was that did it predate would that have happened anyway if your dad hadn’t?
What happened? And I’ve got to be careful here because I’ve got to respect each other’s boundaries and privacy. Yeah. And but what I can say is when my father died. And it can be anything, by the way, for anyone else. But it left me with a sense of unsafety ness like I can’t put my finger on even now today. So any time I’m feeling something, I go back to that same day as a little girl where I felt unsafe on shaky ground. And that’s why I say when the basic needs for children safe, protected, nurtures autonomy, being heard and listened to. And I guess you can say some of my child’s basic needs were taken out, out of no control of my mum or my family. They were just taken. And when I tried to alchemise my trauma and I’ve done a bit of eMDR work. Emdr is when they do an instinctive wisdom with the hand to get you back to that traumatic event, so you don’t have the same PTSD reactions. And I remember when doing that, there was a sense of fear and anger and blame and resentment and fear and this loneliness, this real depth of loneliness that no one could understand what I was going through. And as a child, you’re very selfish. It’s just your needs. You don’t think about anyone else’s needs. You think about your needs. And all of a sudden, I have to say that at 11 years old, I was not thinking about my needs. I was thinking about everyone else’s needs. And that is where I I’ve discovered that is where I abandoned myself by not looking at what I sheetal’s needs. Because back then this was not talked about. Mental health was not talked about. You just got on with it like even my friend from high school messaged, did your teachers ever help you? Did we even help? You know, because I didn’t talk about it. The first time I ever really spoke about it was in university. Was at university.
And the the first thing was the eating disorder.
That was my way of controlling. It was my way of controlling these feelings of feeling unsafe, worried anxiety about exams. Where was I going to be in life, who’s going to pay for my everything? And so I had to drive. I had this drive in me to get things done, and without that drive, I wouldn’t be here today. So it in a way it can get you some things, but it can also have a damaging side. So I use that drive. But with that drive I couldn’t cope with those dark days. So I acted out on eating and that gave me that momentarily, that release of anger and fear and. Just the unknown. The things I couldn’t control. Then I went back into the mode of being in control again. And it’s that deep. It’s not about how I looked. It wasn’t about my weight. It wasn’t. It was about control.
Like, how do I control my feelings? I can’t feel them. I don’t want to do. When I feel my feelings, I go a bit crazy. So let’s just keep it. Let’s just keep that. That tunnel vision.
I mean, I’m.
No expert, but but I mean, they say things like anorexia are all about control, aren’t they? They’re not actually about the way the person looks.
Eating disorders is is a mental illness that is very, very intricate and it’s very prominent. It’s very prevalent, especially eating nowadays. You don’t have to have an eating disorder to have a problem with food. Yeah, it’s it’s a form of acting out. Um, so it’s something that I’m very aware of. And like you said about my children watching this, you know, I’m not in denial that this could happen to my children. It could happen to me. It can happen to anyone. Right? But what keeps me sober, one thing also keeps me sober is if that day ever arose, any challenges of that nature. If I’m sober and only if I’m sober, I will have the tools and the capacity to know what to do in that situation. Otherwise, I’m no use. If I pick up a drink or if I go back to my old ways.
The stigma in I mean, obviously you must have a bunch of family type questions and all that, but I’m interested in dentistry. Did patients ever find out? Did staff find out? Did you worry about that? Did you now come out and tell everyone in dentistry how did it play out.
So this is my first.
Is it big thing.
Yeah. Wow. And I had to think about that. It was a choice I had to make. Is this the platform? That I’m going to choose. But like I said, I’ve made that vow to myself to now live a life of authenticity and humility. And. I was lucky, extremely lucky, that with my practice and my work, that I was already out of that game before the addiction took over because I had my son.
You’d stop practising dentistry.
Already, and I.
Think that that didn’t happen by chance. That was someone looking over me. Like I said, my my high connection saving me from going down that route. But it does happen. And I am fortunate to have say that I have work and my drinking never overlapped. And when the addiction got fully, it was very quick and very succinct and talking about months where it just went from 0 to 100, and those months I was off work. But but yeah.
But every every addict has that situation of almost under the radar. And then I guess you think you’re under the radar, but everyone actually knows. And then where it gets to a point where people find out. And so did you. Was that a it must have been a source of anxiety.
If I’m telling the truth, if I say to people, you know, I’m an addict, I’m in recovery, I’m more shocked about the resistance to talk about it, as opposed to the curiosity to talk about it. And all I can say is the resistance to go, oh, tell me more about that. Is a bit of. If I know too much now, maybe I have to look at myself. And there’s a there’s that line. Do you think.
That’s the reason.
You do your.
I’m okay. How I.
You know, and I’ve had to accept that. I have to accept that I was willing to look at myself and change myself and do right by wrong, you know, and do the wrong. Sorry. And. So I don’t have the stigma label on my head because I’ve come I’ve done work on that. It’s one of the one things I had to really work on in Oasis is I’m an Asian woman. I’ve got three children, I’m married, I’m in a Punjabi family. Like, what the hell? But this is where I’ve been blessed with people around me that have learned to accept that it is an illness, and she didn’t choose to be like this. There are reasons and red flags that have shown. That’s why I ended up the way I am. And Puneet said something to me the other day. He goes, people are starting to lose respect for you when you are acting out towards the end. And it was like one month of people seeing me in this rage and like saying not very nice things about him. And he goes, that switched as soon as you started, you, you surrendered and you’ve done something about it. Otherwise there’s no substance to you, to your story. If you don’t do as you say, you’re doing. So for me, that appeases that stigma of what other people think about me because. I’m proud of myself. So if people want to judge me, put me in a box. That’s on them. It’s not on me.
You know, as I said in the in the intro, I think you’ve shown a lot of sort of courage to step forward. But now talking to you, it seems like this this is this is you now, this is the new you. It’s feeds you now to talk about it and help others, I guess.
And this is what this is what recovery is about. Like I said, opposite to addiction is connection. And. I daily have to connect with people that understand my struggles. That is my medicine. And if anyone is out there and they resonate even just with one thing I’ve said, you know, being a mom is hard. Doing the right thing always by your children is hard. Being a good wife is hard. Being the best dentist is hard. If anyone can just resonate with anything that I’m saying, just look at it. Be vulnerable about it. Share about it. Talk to someone. Connect with someone and say, hey mom, I’m in a bit of a low day today. I’m feeling this feeling, but I don’t know what it is and I’m acting this way. So where is this all linked? You know? And once you start joining the dots, it’s quite a beautiful thing.
I think as a woman there’s this sort of expectation of perfection from others. And I think particularly from, from the person I sometimes I sit in a cafe and I see a group of women talking to each other, four of them. And it’s like even in that, in that environment, everyone’s super smiling and being super present and being super correct. And, and I often reflect on that and think, you know, why is it and I see it more with women than men in that sense. You know, why? Why is it that we have to put out perfection and what is it costing us to put out perfection? Right.
That’s the thing.
That’s the thing.
That’s the thing.
What is it costing us? And so that’s.
In your case.
It was it was substance abuse, you know. But it could be as bad as that.
It started from that.
What does it cost us like.
But if it’s not substance abuse it’s something else. Right. It’s shame or pain or what are the 100 other things it can be. Yeah. You going forward now? You told me you want to do a some sort of work within dentistry, but you’re not sure exactly what. And you’re looking at different opportunities and so on. But you don’t want to be a dentist anymore, right? I get it. I stopped 14 years ago. Right. Um, if you were the queen of the world, what would be like your dream job now? I mean, how could you? I’d say it would have to be something around increasing connection. Then. She’s a very isolated job. Increasing connection to dentists. You should start a pod. That’s it. You should be. You should have a podcast. But that’s the correct move. Are you.
You should have your own. We’ll have another.
What do you think? I mean, I, I, I’ve got a zest for life now that I never had before, and I didn’t know I was living a life of self harm. I mean, I was on a slow suicide and I got to a t junction and I had to choose. Do I just want to do I choose life on life’s terms or do I choose this death? And when I got to that t junction, I’ve done this step work. I’m on this perfection, this idealistic view. Socialness it’s all there. I’m never going to have a big enough voice to stop all of that. And I think it’s just that question to ask. Tell yourself I am enough, dude. Doesn’t matter if I have curly, frizzy hair or if I’ve got straight hair, doesn’t mean I’ve got my nails done or not done. And all those thoughts were coming through my head this morning. Why do they have to rain on me? Why don’t I get my nails done? Like all this stuff? It’s still there, but I can shift it now and go, what? What is the point? I’ve got someone that loves me, I love myself, my children love me. That should be enough. It was never enough before because there was something that was fundamentally missing from me and that was connection.
It was a sense of belonging. It was a sense of authenticity. And day by day I’m finding that. So just for today, I’m okay with my hair being frizzy because I am connecting with you. This is so much more meaningful and value to my life than the way I look, because I’m going to go home and no one cares about what I look like. You know? Only I cared. So I think a lot of it, again, is just asking these questions, you know? And I don’t know if you listen to Gabor, mate, but he did a podcast recently and he was saying that he had this nurse that he knew who looked after the elderly in their care home. And I think 95% or 93%, they they were all high achievers and not one of them said. That the purpose of my life was getting this MD, this PhD, this OB, whatever their value was, the value of their love and the connection they made in their life, and that’s all they wanted at their deathbed. So why are we striving in life to get to the next goalpost when it’s all there, right in front of us? That just needs nurturing. And I genuinely believe that.
You know, a lot of us, you know, go chase after the last, the next car, the next house, the next whatever. And in your rock bottom, all you wanted was to have your kids and your health.
And had it all.
And, you know, that’s all it was all. Thank you so much for coming in. Thank you so, so much. I knew we had to do this in person. This wouldn’t have worked in zoom, had to be in person. And I think we should follow up. We should do more and you should do your own pod 100%. I’m sure of it.
I’m sure it out.
I mean, at the moment it’s my priorities are my recovery and my children. And I think I underestimated how much my children need me and how much I need them. They make me grow as much as watching them grow. They teach me something every day. And but yes, my calling is is connection, you.
Know, because it’s so just talk.
You know, it’s it’ll all be okay. It’ll all be.
Thank you so much for doing this. Thank you. And for being so open as well. Thank you so, so much.
Thank you so much for your time. Thank you.
This is Dental Leaders, the podcast where you get to go one on one with emerging leaders in dentistry. Your hosts. Payman Langroudi and Prav Solanki.
Thanks for listening guys. Hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Make sure you tune in for future episodes. Hit subscribe in iTunes or Google Play or whatever platform it is. And you know, we really, really appreciate it. If you would give us a.
Six star rating.
Six star rating, that’s what always leave my Uber driver.
Thanks a lot, guys. Bye.