York Twp. doctor turned life around after addiction
After first threatening to destroy Dr. Steven Heird's life eight years ago, his addiction to opioids and alcohol instead presented the 58-year-old father of four with a reason to change — everything.
"(My) addictions led me down a path that would seem to be a terrible, terrible thing, but was the greatest blessing in my life," Heird said.
On Sept. 29, 2006, he found himself inside York County's booking center being fingerprinted and having his mug shot taken after agents with the state attorney general's office charged him with a felony offense for writing fraudulent hydrocodone prescriptions.
The York Township vascular surgeon, who at the time was division chief of York Hospital's department of vascular surgery, had been writing Vicodin prescriptions in the name of his wife, then getting those prescriptions filled himself so he could "supplement" his drinking.
Eventually, he became physically addicted to Vicodin. He was already emotionally addicted to the pills and alcohol, he said.
'Sense of relief': In May 2006 when he confessed his addiction to his wife — who had just been visited by investigating agents — "there was a sense of relief that poured down over my body ... because I knew that I was finally going to get help and my secret was finally out," Heird said.
"At that point I was powerless over the disease."
His feelings in the short term also included apprehension at "the reality that your best friend ... is no longer going to be the solution to your problem."
The consequences of Heird's descent into addiction included the eventual unraveling of his marriage and the public shame of having his fraud charge published in local newspapers and broadcast on local TV news. Crushing guilt, especially where his children were concerned, was another consequence, as was the embarrassment suffered by his family.
But by the time he was charged and his name hit the news in early October 2006, Heird had been sober for about four months and had begun to get a real taste of what awaited him if he could change what he calls "my addictive way of thinking."
A fellow doctor, and fellow patient, he met in rehab put Heird on his current path with two simple words: Change everything.
It's an epiphany he wants others to experience as well — alcoholics, drug addicts and people who suffer from addictive behaviors, such as self-loathing, guilt, compulsive shopping and gambling.
"I knew by the time I was out of the rehab hospital that I was going to share my story with the world," Heird said. "I just knew that it was my path to offer the opportunity of hope to others, and to recognize that there is an experience in recovery that's beyond your wildest dreams."
Doctor and author: Heird wrote "To Hell and Back: A Surgeon's Story of Addiction: 12 Prescriptions for Awareness," which was self-published last year and is available at Amazon.com.
The book chronicles his slide into opioid addiction, his legal troubles, rehab, his family life in the wake of his addiction and the lessons he learned that led him to find redemption.
A proponent of self-help literature, Heird offers readers 12 "prescriptions" he believes can help them find peace, joy and happiness — if they are willing to embrace a fundamental change in mindset. Prescription No. 3, for example, advises, "Be aware that there's a karmic price to pay for trying to avoid pain at all times."
And he has a message for addicts:
"There is hope, and there is life after drugs that's far and away a much happier and more peaceful and serene existence than they could possibly imagine until they get here," he said. "And they need to stop trying to do it alone. (They need to) tell on themselves and ask for help."
Heird spent about a decade using alcohol and, intermittently, Vicodin as a way to relieve negative feelings. As a doctor, he could recognize when he began experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms from the Vicodin and would stop taking it for a time, he said. But then he began to take more and more pills.
"I can recall the last time I stopped and started up again. I knew in my heart I wasn't going to be able to stop again, because the withdrawal symptoms had been rather strong," he said. "I remember putting that pill in my mouth and a voice in my head saying, 'Don't do it' ... but not being able to control that impulse."
Chasing happiness: Heird says he was chasing the American dream and would feel a temporary sense of elation with each new milestone and success. But it didn't last.
"I would become more and more and more unhappy until I was just in a state of total misery and clinical depression that was partly due to the alcohol and drugs, but also partly due to chasing happiness for so long.
"It ultimately creates a hole in your soul that is so big ... it stops working," Heird said. "It's a lonely, dark place to go."
It was in rehab that he experienced a spiritual awakening and began to understand what fueled his addiction, he said. Triggers included his own feelings of guilt and worthlessness, not being in the moment and living a spiritually empty lifestyle.
"I was freed from guilt, shame and remorse," Heird said, and he now concentrates on nourishing his soul every day.
"You need to constantly feed yourself — shower yourself — with spiritual food in order to maintain a spiritual level of consciousness that is happy, joyous and free," he said. "I do it by prayer, meditation and reading on a daily basis."
Sober lifestyle: Heird also attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, does yoga, goes skiing, rides mountain bikes and love to hike, including 14,180-foot Mount Shasta in Northern California. Heird said all these things help keep him sober, fit and serene.
He was allowed to plead guilty to a third-degree misdemeanor charge of drug possession and was accepted into the county's drug court program with no prison time ordered, according to his book. After he successfully completed the program, his record was expunged.
Heird now owns three businesses: Advanced Vein and Laser Center, Bikram Yoga York and Theia Light Center, which is a wellness center. All three are in York Township.
"That's really where my passion lies now — wellness," he said. "Addressing the mind, body and spirit. All three. ... I now recognize we live in a disease-maintenance industry. The attitude a pill is going to fix you is flawed thinking."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.