Doctor With A Past And A Future

Author. Doctor. Iron Man. Abuse survivor. Drug addict.

When you meet Larry S. it’s pretty easy to not see any of those descriptors.

He’s diminutive in size, soft spoken. Polite. Eloquent.

But make no mistake. Like so many in recovery, behind that public persona is a warrior. A survivor. A man who has been there, done that.

Winnipeg born and raised, Larry is a two time Edgewood alumnus and owner of a story that won’t quit. It’s not an easy one to hear. It’s not an easy one to write. It may not be an easy one to read. But it is one that needs to be shared.

They say the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree in addiction. Many alcoholics have alcoholics in their family history. That was not the case for Larry. His early upbringing was quiet. Dad was an office manager for a major chemical company. Mom was a stay at home mom sometimes, an office worker at other times. His closest ally his only sister, four years older. No problems.

“They were honest hardworking parents,” says Larry. “And my relationship with my sister was mostly good. I mean inside the house we fought like crazy, but outside she always stuck up for me. Typical.”

A typical Canadiana upbringing for a prepubescent boy in a prairie town. Sports sports and more sports. Bicycle riding. Posters on the bedroom walls, shrines to heroes like Davey Keon and Muhammad Ali.

“I loved sports. That was my thing. I was very, very active. Football. Hockey. Baseball. That’s what I lived for. To play sports. I was going to be a football player and a hockey player when I grew up.”

In fact to this day many of Larry’s time references relate to key moments in sports.

Oh yeah, it was 1979 because 1980? That’s the year Davey Keon came back and played for Hartford and beat Toronto. He was playing with Gordie Howe,” he says while establishing a time line for part of his story. “1972 the Viet Nam war? No. No. Team Canada.”

He was young and free – and it was all  about to crash.

At age 11 an Anglican priest helped himself to Larry’s innocence and his world as he knew it came crashing down.

“It was a church down the street. I was quite interested in it and the family was involved. Dad was treasurer of the Men’s Club and mom was doing all the cooking and baking. We were friends with the priest before. I ended up being a server, on the altar.”

Sure the courts both civil and criminal would punish the man. A jail cell door would slam with a four year sentence. A public apology from the heights of the church, a defrocking and public humiliation for the perpetrator. Boys now men involved, financial compensation would arrive decades later. Too little, too late. In some cases justice is never served.

Larry went to his mother with the information. But times were what they were. It was too shocking to handle.

“I tried to tell my mother and she would hear nothing of it. It didn’t happen,” he says with a shake of his head. “It can’t be. It cannot be. To her, anybody in a position of authority – teachers, doctors, or God, respect them. He was just trying to teach you. No. No. He didn’t do that.”

If mom wouldn’t accept it, then there was no point in going to his father he figured, “but I told my sister, thank God. She said she’d heard stories about that!”

It was bad. It could have been worse.

“The minister (Charles David Griggs) phoned me the next day. He said he had locked himself out and he wanted me to come over and crawl in the window and undo the door. So he’s on the phone talking to my mom and I’m talking to my sister, saying I can’t do this, I can’t do this, here’s what happened! My sister said don’t go, don’t go! So she saved me. Otherwise I would have been there again. My mom was mad because I wouldn’t go and help him.”

Years later Larry would find closure with his parents. The court documents, many others coming forward, the judgment and jail time sentenced would show his story was the painful truth.

“They’re both gone now. But I was totally okay with the fact that they were never going to get it. They knew it was settled. They knew all about that. It was right there in all of the newspapers.”

But at 11 he learned he could not trust adults. Not even his parents. They did not have his back. And he couldn’t tell his friends it was all too humiliating. So he locked it down. Deep inside.

“I didn’t tell anybody. Did not tell anybody. That was buried. I put it into sports. Self esteem? If my performance was good Larry is good. If my performance wasn’t good Larry wasn’t good. I got into self harm. People can interpret what that means.”

Coincidently or consequentially, he drank for the first time soon after.

“I got sick and threw up all over my parents’ shoes and some companys’ shoes,” he recalls. Then came the first of many promises to straighten up with “the alcoholic national anthem: I’m never doing that again.”

But he did. Of course he did. He tried pot and didn’t like it. But he soon discovered medications his mother and sister had. Anti-depressants. Valium. Mandarix.

“On an adolescent brain I just felt so good. When my mom took them she would slur her words and stagger. But if I took a Mandarix, I would just get that really high buzz and then the valium would bring me down.”

Sports and partying were the theme of his high school and college years.

“I would do well during the week. I would study. I would be exceptional in some grades and the things I didn’t I wouldn’t be interested in I would do just enough to pass. Sciences I was interested in, and writing. I liked writing. By Grade 10-11 I was writing stories about hangovers. I was basically a weekend alcoholic.”

Weekend alcoholic with a dark secret about being abused. And then another major event. A car crash.

“We were going on a trip to my friend’s cabin in Ontario. A cement truck. It was coming towards us on the number one highway. It hit us head on. I saw it coming towards us and kind of put my head down. The next thing I knew I was out the passenger window, rolling on the ground. There were five people in the car. My friend’s sister and his dad were instantly killed.”

That was major. We had support but it reinforced the whole “if I don’t feel good about things I’ll self medicate” thinking,” he says.

“I was okay doing sports. I was okay on the outside. But inside I did not really feel good which is why I had to medicate. I was not good enough. I medicated with alcohol and valium. Weekends and then chipping at the valium during the week. It all depended on how much I could steal without getting caught.”

Larry finished high school and went off to the University of Manitoba. He studied Physical Education with an eye focused on becoming a chiropractor following positive experiences he had had following a skateboarding accident as a youngster. At university he was an above average athlete, excelling in gymnastics – all the events; floor, pommel horse, rings, vaulting, parallel bars, high bar.

By the time he finished university he had raised his own bar of excessive use of alcohol and drugs to new highs and lows.

“I get into scotch. Rusty Nails. I liked the hard alcohol but I would drink it too fast and get sick. The idea was if I chug six beers then maybe have a few more … have some Gravol ready for when I’m sick. Then also I started getting into the Tylenol and codeine.  I had a sore throat or a cold. I wasn’t feeling very well going to school. My sister had 222’s so I took two or three of them. I felt so horrible and was thinking how am I going to get through school. I immediately got this buzz. It was whoa! I became alert. The pain went away. I was just immediately high. The trouble was my stomach was a little upset. So I told my sister the pills had worked but my stomach was a problem, so she says well take the ones with Tylenol. So I got into Tylenol 1.

So he started a 20 year daily love affair with codeine. Soon he was buying 100 to 200 pills a week.

“I would have six or eight in the morning to keep me going. Then 14 or so in the evening, nap and do homework. Then four and a half Gravol to get to bed. I kind of had it down. It really scratched the itch for when I wanted to get drunk and do the valium. But that valium was hard to come by because they were starting to get wise to me, those doctors. They didn’t want to be prescribing that.”

Somehow he grinded it out, working to get into chiropractor college.

“I was very much trying to cut down on my drinking because my reputation was so bad. And they’d made me team captain of the gymnastics team. I was MVP twice! And these are people I really respect too, so I really worked hard on it. I tried so many ways. I would have three drinks then wait an hour. It nearly killed me. Or I would check out early and go home and get drunk on my own so I wouldn’t be in front of people.”

Nine years after finishing high school, Larry became a chiropractor. The quintessential doctor, alcoholic, addict.

His last 10 years of using included a move to Vancouver Island and starting a practice.

“I did pills during the week. It was a public position so I have to do a lot of this stuff closet because I didn’t want to be seen,” he recalls. “Amazingly the practice was going well, don’t ask me how. In the work life I was very good at it. But what was happening with the personal, well the outside was starting to eat into the office hours. I started being sick.”

He defines his relationships as volatile, and much preferred to drink, drug and do sports than hold down a committed relationship.

Through it all, he kept his physical fitness up.

“I got into the running. Then I was running marathons. I ran my first one in 1992 –  the year the Jays won the World Series. I’ve always done something, always been active.”

“I actually got into triathlons in 1989, before marathons. I had no clue what I was doing, nobody did it around here. A patient of mine told me he was going to one. So I went. So here I am. I bought a helmet the day before, going in on a mountain bike,” he laughs. “I had no clue but I loved it. The next year I got a road bike and actually trained. I was very disciplined, running three to four days a week.”

He charged towards his bottom however.

“I couldn’t keep up the drinking because I kept on getting sick. So there were more pills. I started ordering from the internet, 400-500 valium at a time from Thailand. But there was always some sort of prescription bottle at home from a legitimate doctor. And I was still into codeine.”

He had the outside image of a successful doctor, athlete. But his inside world was small and dark.

“How I liked to spend a Friday I’d buy those little six ounce bottles of liquor, down it, take the valium or the codeine with dinner. The problem was two or three hours later I’m craving more. So I’d go to the liquor store and buy some more and be sick the next morning. Then I would go running Saturday morning.”

In 1996, not long before his first trip to treatment came another volatile relationship. It left him devastated, bitter.

“Figure it out. Two sick alcoholics. It didn’t work out very well,” he says. “We’d been dating for a few months, we get married. We were married for five weeks – and one week was in detox,” he laughs. “She was in pseudo recovery. I was too busy drinking.”

A year later he “presented” himself to Edgewood.

“I was dragged there by a woman who was in the program. I remember saying to this person, do you really think I’m that bad? I didn’t think I was that bad. I can run marathons. I’ve got a practice. I can’t be an alcoholic.”

“But she convinced me to go. She took me there. I presented myself and you guys let me in.”

It wasn’t necessarily a life changing experience.

“The first few days were humiliating because I was so sick. One time Jane (Ferguson, clinical director) said to the patients ‘there’s somebody in the back row who might now make it’ referring to me.

“A lot of the guys were making fun of me. I was pissing myself. I was in diapers. It was humiliating,” he says quietly. “But there was always one or two to befriend me.”

“I remember just sitting there in treatment, not saying anything, until I got into a family sculpt.”

He was not interested in extended care. He wanted to get back to work. Completing, he attended a few AA meetings, a few aftercare sessions, and relapsed.

“I don’t think I was ready to leave. I should have had extended care and been watched, get meetings set up. The aftercare was not cutting it. Within a week I was buying drugs off the internet,” he says. Of course “I wasn’t going to drink but I was going to use. For the next two years I suffered horribly.”

“In lectures counselors would say that alcoholics in their late 30s early 40s start showing up in emergency rooms. That was my story too. Minor traffic violations. Getting pulled over. I should have been taken off the road.”

The pain was percolating from his abuse as a child. Between his stays at Edgewood Larry began to deal with it all. Charges were laid against the priest. Prosecutors. Lawyers. Psychiatrists. All probing.

The Anglican Church paid for some counseling, but “my trouble was I would go from counseling to the liquor store.”

The final crash came in the summer of 1999 as he slunk into work one day. His receptionist, who had stuck with him through his bottoming out, his first decision to go to Edgewood and his subsequent relapse saw him trying to get into the door to his clinic.

“She stopped me as I was going in the back door. She said you can go in there yourself, but if you’re like this I’m not going. If you want to work I can’t stop you, but I’m not going in there. It took a lot of guts,” he said of his faithful employee, a dear friend who has passed on.

Then things got a little strange as they often do just before the bottom. He went to a bar to consider his options.

“The bartender says sir are you having a hard day? I look right out of it, with all the pills and stuff. He says I’ll walk you home and he takes me home. I wake up at 5 or 6 in the afternoon and I go to work. I thought it was the next morning.”

As he’s heading into his office a man from the business next door saw a clearly dysfunctional Larry and offered to help.

“He said he knew me, but I don’t know how. He shall be referred to as the talented Mr. Ripley. He’s the one who drove me to treatment. He said he knew me, which was a total lie. He said he was a doctor, a total lie. He was very clever. He said he was a recovering alcoholic. And he phoned Edgewood!”

“Oh. We go back to my place to get some clothes. So of course now he has the keys to my car, the keys to my condo. He comes to visit me in treatment and he’s had the chance to research everything about me. He’s talking to my parents, talking to my sister. I’m starting to come to a week or two later. And I’m going I don’t remember you! But he got me there.”

Larry owns his part in it.

“It was bizarre but that’s what I was attracting into my life. All these insane people. Because that’s what I was. It was exactly the energy I was giving the universe, it was giving me back.’

But the guy who got me there, who was going to take over my life and run the business, we finally figured out that he was fraud and staff talked to him. And that was a scene. Of course he had all the keys, to my car, my condo. So staff had to go to my place and the RCMP station. But that was a good part of it too. I had to go to my banker, to my accountant, to all these people and tell them that I was getting help, can you help me? Alumni would drive me.

“The counselors said here’s how the program works. You get on the phone. We’ll support you. They took me to all these places.”

The second time through Edgewood was much different than the first. Larry was a mess. The disease had progressed much further. He experienced more humiliation as he couldn’t control his bladder yet again through the detox.

“They made me do a Something Similar exercise. That’s what some of the counselors got me to do when I felt humiliated. They made me go around and ask each person when something happens to you, when you are embarrassed about something, how does it make you feel? So I would go up to 10 people and write down their responses and report back. Every single one of them I connected with,” he says.

“That got me out of myself, and I knew that we were all the same. Which is why when I go to meetings now they bring tears to my eyes. That is where the recovery is. Not in the Suboxone, though yeah, you have to have that for the withdrawal. But it’s about connecting with others. You’re not alone. That’s where the miracle happens!”

“The first time through I kind of figured out fast what I had to do to get the counselors off my back. The second time through was different. When I was not saying anything they would get at me in group until I became volatile and I’d start yelling. They’d be like ‘once you calm down let’s talk it through. So they would not let me get away with anything.”

He recalls wanting to leave in the first week.

“I bolted while I was withdrawing. I decided I would just take my bags and walk out. I was planning to go to (nearby) Beban Park and grab a taxi. I had my credit cards at home. Some of my peers and staff tried to follow me on Boxwood, all these guys. Finally Jane (Ferguson) comes up in a car. For a small woman she had big stature! She wouldn’t get out of my face. So I said shut up you f-ing b! She says ‘You used us!  Now you come back and pay your bill!’ So I figure I’ll show them, I’ll go back and pay the bill. Well you know how that goes,” he chuckles. “I think I got some meds, fell asleep. Then they got me into a room and phoned my sister. That calmed me down.”

This time the doctor did extended care. This time he reached out. Put himself out there in group therapy, in aftercare meetings. He agreed to random urine tests.

“The second time for me there was more accountability, more supervision. I had to report in everyday. And being in extended I would work a couple few days a week and then come say how I did.”

When he completed treatment, for the first year he attended a meeting “basically every day of the week. I made a commitment to do three but I’d do five plus aftercare.”

They made a big difference. Sixteen years clean, he can still list where the seven meetings a week were at the time.

Larry lost some of his trusted patients.

“Some of my patients knew. Some left. It’s just part of it. There’s one person, I saw her the day before I went into treatment. And I still see her. She said ‘I knew there was something wrong with you.’ But she said ‘Just get help and I’ll be waiting for you.’

“Some would leave and that’s their absolute right. But I know I’m not alone.”

Larry has 16 years clean time under his belt today. Now at 57, he has a full, grateful life. He still attends his home group every week. He has spoken about recovery and healthy living in prisons, in schools, to service clubs. He has run 17 Marathons, 14 Half Ironmans. Three Ironmans.

He is in a long term relationship with a loving woman, Laurie, an elementary school teacher who was a widow with four young children when they met.

“She has been very supportive of my recovery. She has given me everyone of my 16 medallions,” he says. “It is a very loving, very authentic relationship.”

Though they’ve had no children biologically together, he smiles when he says the children now refer to the duo as “the parents.” They have a dog named Kai, who they call their “dog-ter.” Life is good.

Having faced his abuser in court, having walked through the fire of addiction and relapse, Larry is passing the message on in many ways.

He has facilitated health and wellness workshops, created a Fitness Prescription DVD used by chiropractic colleagues across the globe, written dozens of articles on healthy living accessible through his website at www.larrysmith.com

In 2007 he wrote a book titled Embracing the Journey of Recovery, explaining his story and experience, strength and hopes.

“The focus is not about what has happened to you nor is it a contest of who has the most pain worst trauma or serious disease,” he writes. “The focus is on the present and what an individual can do to move forward. The book not only explores the issues of the recovering individual but actually confronts the many problems and dilemmas that will inevitably arise.”

Larry says he wrote the book to help himself and others, to show that yes recovery is doable.

As for his faith in God, he hasn’t done much church since he was a boy. But he has a strong faith.

“I do believe in God. But I find it out there, when I’m in a state of grace, or when I’m in a state of suffering, I reach for it. When I’m doing well I’m very grateful. When I’m not doing well I say can I find a way to get through? Can I have clarity if it’s in your will for me to get through this? I realize it’s my doing, and my just being a human being, but can you help me through this?”

“I don’t know who exactly I’m praying to. But it’s something out there. Then the fellowship and close friends, anything that’s important, I will bare my heart and my soul to. I’m still not as totally outgoing as some people. I’m not out there socializing all the time. That’s just the way life works.”

It’s all about staying right sized for Larry.

“I feel there’s a lot to be said for being humble. It can be taken away. I can be knocked off tomorrow and not have such a good life. It’s not likely but it could happen and I’d have to deal with it,” he says. “But I’m not planning on it.”

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