CASE HISTORY OF A ADDICT
“I’ve told you this story,” he said, “because I know how easy it is to throw away 35 years. It’s almost unbelievable to be nearly (60 and yet just beginning”
LATE ONE EVENING EAST SPRING, a police car brought a struggling, incoherent and violent man from St. Michael's Hospital to the emergency admitting ward of the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital. The man was shouting that he was going to kill his wife. On admittance to the psychiatric hospital, he was strapped into a bed by two orderlies.
This man—whom I will call Adam Alpha— had. ten years previously, lived in a $45,000 mansion in Rosedale, had employed three servants and had proved himself to be one of the most gifted salesmen, bons vivants, gamblers and real estate men in Canada. He had, in the thirty-odd adult years previous to his violent admittance to the hospital, won and lost about $1.000,000 on race tracks all over North America. He had drunk something in excess of $38,000 worth of liquor. He had consumed about $36,000 worth of barbiturate drugs between 1927 and the time of his admittance.
“I SHOULD BE DEAD OR CRIPPLED”
I spent many hours with this man recently. He is voluble, physically active and mentally alert. He does not drink or take drugs—or at least, he hasn't done so for the last twelve months —and he claims he is living proof that there is no level of degradation from which a determined man cannot fight his way back. I have talked to Alpha's doctor, to a former employer, to his secretary and his wife, and although there are gaps in his story that can’t be verified, most of it occurred as he related it. “Theoretically,” he says. “1 should either be dead, or physically crippled. Instead, I'm fighting hard to pay back thousands I owe. And I'll succeed.” The extraordinary thing about him is that, despite drunkenness, long periods not working, lack of organization or, indeed, any direction to his life at all. he has won and lost several fortunes. He always made money easily while wallowing in the midst of physical and moral disintegration.
Having experienced the gamut of degradation and despair caused by drugs and alcohol, he believes the story of his life is a cautionary one for the countless thousands in society who are “drinking too much, reaching too high for money and success.”
The story of his life is an incredible one because it involves two totally different men. One is Alpha of yesterday, the heavy drinker and pill-taker who, under the influence of these drugs, was a fast talker, a hot-shot salesman, a hard-headed and selfish pursuer of what he wanted, regardless of anybody else. The other is Alpha today, the nondrinker, the nondrugtaker. who is a very gentle fellow, quiet-spoken, proud of his family, but bitterly ashamed of much of his past life.
It took him nearly thirty years to get enough courage to take the cure for his drug-taking
and then he found, to his astonishment, that the cure took only a few weeks. “I had always thought it would take a year or more,” he says, “and I knew I could never afford that dislocation from my work and my family.”
Now he wants as many people as possible to know about his experiences. "No man likes to expose such a life to general view,” he says. “But I'm hoping it will convince people with problems like mine how high are the penalties for refusing to face reality, for fearing to accept psychiatric help. I could have solved my problems years ago if I'd known what I know now.”
Alpha thinks his life personifies the twin forces of good and bad in all human lives. Drugs and drink saw the triumph of bad in his life for more than thirty years. Now, in his new and real identity, he wants to spread his power for good as widely as possible while he can.
His life story is compelling enough. His parents were English and he was born in London on June 5, 1906. He says he cannot think of anything in his early life which presaged disaster except that his mother was strong-willed, impractical and an actress. His family was scarcely conventional, though. One of his aunts, convinced she was dying, ran her life entirely from a bed in a hospital. Another aunt traveled the world with a roulette wheel under her arm. "Most of the family were hypochondriacs,” he says, “though none of them matched me in recent years.”
He was a brash lad in Canada, but nervous, and he used to have peculiar attacks of giddiness. His stomach would often churn and he would feel terror-stricken for no apparent reason. Despite his nervousness, he matched his mother in strength of will.
When his mother, who suffered from a number of illusions, could not afford the fees at a private boys’ boarding school, she refused to withdraw young Adam from the school. Somebody at the college—-Alpha suspects the bursar —circulated the story among the boys that the fees were unpaid. He went home in a rage, told his mother that either the fees be paid or he would leave home. His mother, not suspecting the extent of his rage, icily told him that either he would get back to school or take $10 and leave home.
“I wonder how many lives arc changed through such misunderstandings?” says Alpha. Early on the morning of March 20. 1923, he walked to Union station and boarded a train for Detroit, which happened to be as far out of the country as $10 would take a seventeenyear-old boy. He recalls that he was determined to “become a big shot and make a million dollars.” As the train rattled down through southwestern Ontario, he felt that first big appetite
of his life developing — the desire for money.
In Detroit, he persuaded one of the city’s leading men’s clothiers that he was “the hottest young salesman out of Canada,” even though he'd never sold anything in his life. But he was merely anticipating his success. Within six months, he had charge of the boys’ clothing department and was earning $75 a week.
Though this was a big salary in /92.3. it was no way to become a millionaire and Alpha decided he had to supplement it some way. He had already done some gambling at Woodbine race track while at the boarding school and now he decided to take up gambling professionally. Unfortunately, just as he was getting going, he was caught in a raid on a gambling joint and lost his job. But in that short time, he lound he had a real flair for gambling and intuitive judgment. “Some men can make a living at gambling,” he says, “and I'm one of them.”
However, he was always on the lookout for easier, faster money. At that time a Detroit man had introduced the idea of modeling men’s clothes in store windows in which the model pretended to be a dummy or a mechanical man. Alpha sold a big store on the idea of hiring him as its mechanical man. “I was a fantastic success,” he says. “Within two months, I was earning $300 a week. I toured the States, spent my income-tax-free earnings in riotous living.” He was then just eighteen.
THE DAY THE MECHANICAL MAN FELL DOWN
When A. B. Dunkelman of Tip Top Tailors in Toronto asked him to come back to Canada to open some stores here, he accepted immediately. It appealed to his sense of the dramatic to return home in a burst of glory. After many successful openings throughout Ontario, the 1 inale was at Oak Halls in Hamilton, where the most realistic show took place. He thought he would give the crowd a thrill by leaning back casually, and mechanically, against a wall. But he misjudged and fell flat on his back where he lay, twitching, eyes rolling jerkily. “Some people,” he says, “really believed I was mecha nical.”
But for a man bent on making a million dollars, $300 a week was chicken feed. Alpha had to find a way to make really big money, and astonishingly enough, he decided that the method was to begin selling furniture for one of Toronto's biggest department stores. “A friend in the stock market told me the furniture business was booming because building was booming.” says Alpha. “I knew I could sell, so why not furniture?”
He started at $35 a week plus commission and in six months sold $200,000 worth of furniture, more than the combined sales of ten other salesmen in the department. His figures were so astonishing
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“More and more, I was becoming frightened by what was happening to me”
that he could break every rule in the store. He would roll up for work at eleven and be gone by four. His second big appetite — liquor — was developing nicely, and he frequently needed to take naps on the job. One morning, suffering from a monumental hangover, he climbed into an enormous wardrobe for a snooze. A customer yanked open the double doors about an hour later and Alpha sprawled on the floor. Nobody reprimanded him. “I’ve always had the smell of success around me,” he says, "and this is a self-perpetuating thing which allows you to do almost anything and get away with it.” Later that day, he sold a $1,000 dining room suite, a $550 sofa, $600 worth of chairs, and lurched home at 4 p.m. to resume his sleep.
Actually, Alpha had so many hungers at that time that it was difficult for him to know which to satisfy first. He liked Scotch but he found women even more fascinating. Few, if any, men have ever used a department store as a headquarters for a Don Juan career, but Alpha did just that. “I got very interested in real estate and renovating old houses,” he says, “and soon found myself to be quite an expert.” This brought him in close consultation with many rich female customers.
He had a wild affair with a gorgeous, divorced model from New York and openhandedly picked up all the bills for educating her three children at expensive private schools. “I didn’t want them running away to Detroit,” he told a friend. He took her to the opening of the Royal York Hotel in 1929 and was introduced to Ben Bernie, then a famous band leader. They went to the races the next day and Alpha picked so many winners that Bernie won more than $3,000. “My good friend,” he told Alpha, “You must tour the States with me.” Alpha, who had run himself $12.000 into debt on behalf of his girl friend, was glad to leave Toronto the following morning with Bernie.
The American tour with Bernie, which took up most of 1929, was like a gigantic lost week end. Bernie led his band at night and the two men hit the racecourses by day. “I was really hot that year.” says Alpha wistfully. At one time, Bernie, some other prominent show people, and Alpha, spent $20,000 in three days, eating, drinking and having a riotous time, entirely on Alpha’s winnings.
During these days, Alpha says he had no intimation there was trouble ahead. “I was a very happy fellow,” he recalls. One drink would usually pull him out of a hangover. He drank one bottle of Scotch a day. and smoked about seventy cigarettes. On some days he would go through two bottles. He thought he w'ould live forever.
When the change came, it was drastic. The novelty of all this endless drinking and gambling suddenly diminished. He shook hands with Bernie one night, got on a train and came back to Toronto, broke. He split with his girl friend. The department store manager was delighted to see him back and promised to settle all his debts as an advance against commission if he would return to work.
Whatever it was that had changed in his life, it was not to be satisfied easily. Alpha began to have the most extraordinary indigestion. Having always been nervous, he was accustomed to peculiar aches and pains. But this he could not ignore. An internal medicine specialist prescribed Luminal, a sedative, and told him to “begin chasing butterflies,” as a hobby. “Butterflies?” said Alpha. “I already have them in my stomach.” At first, the pills didn’t have much effect. But then he found they
worked excellently with liquor. They cleared up his indigestion and also gave him great confidence and pep. His nervous condition disappeared.
In this new mood of confidence, he became fascinated by a young woman at a party one night. For some reason that, to this day, he still can’t fathom, he complimented her extravagantly and, late in the evening, proposed marriage. “I certainly didn’t love her, at least not then,” he says. But within six weeks they were married. It was June, 1933. His wife had no idea he took drugs.
After the marriage, another significant new direction began in his life. The effects of the drugs, even with drink, began to diminish. At times, the return of his nervous condition was frightening. He phoned his doctor in a panic at three o’clock one morning because he thought he was going to die. The doctor prescribed Nembutal
and within three weeks Alpha was so dependent on this new, more powerful barbiturate that he couldn’t go without it for more than five hours.
None of this slowed his speed of life. His wife bore a daughter (the first of two) and Alpha persuaded his bankers to give him a $100,000 line of credit. He quit the store and went into partnership with another man in the real estate business. His salesmanship was dazzling. In twelve months, he did more than $1,000,000 worth of business, took home $60,000 for himself, bought a $40,000 house, spent $15.000 adding new rooms to it.
He had then been on drugs for twelve years. At this time—around 1939—there were signs of real trouble ahead. Sometimes, when drinking, he would get violently and unaccountably ill. He developed exhausting bouts of sneezing. The compulsion to gamble was getting stronger, and he once spent three days and three nights at the gambling tables.
During these crises, a secretary he had hired kept his business going. “She is a fantastic woman,” says Alpha. But the big crisis loomed constantly in the background. He was on a fishing—and drinking —trip to Northern Ontario one week end with Ernie Finger, an Ohio businessman when, strangely, he began staggering wildly and wanting to pick fights with his friends. Soon, it looked as though he was about to have a fit. A doctor was raced to the lodge
and gave Alpha a shot of morphine. He immediately turned yellow in reaction to the drug. He lurched out of the lodge to the end of a nearby jetty and tried to urinate, but couldn’t. “It was a beautiful moonlit night,” he recalls, “and I was deai scared.”
Later, in Toronto, a specialist told him, “If you don’t stop drinking you’ll be dead within a year.” But Alpha didn’t stop. He just got more pathetic. Drunk, he acted senile, falling about like a fool and making embarrassing scenes at home.
Actually, unknown to him, these were' the symptoms of drug withdrawal. When a doctor put him on new superstrength barbiturates, the results were fantastic. Alpha had four doses under his belt, along with assorted liquor, and was “feeling terrific for the first time in months” at a family party. Suddenly, to the astonishmen of ever) ,,.,dy, he began barking fiercely. Another time, at a night club, heavily drugged, he suddenly dived under the table and howled like a wolf while startled diners leaped clear of his table.
This coincided with another warning of trouble ahead. He began going off his food. His wife was pregnant for the second time and she was fed up. She packed up her bags one morning, took her daughter with her. and left. Alpha sold the house (he had to because of mounting debts), took an apartment on Oriole Parkway and spent a month doing some really serious drinking. His secretary saved the business from bankruptcy that month.
But even in adversity, he still had the golden touch. He picked up $10,000 in a lucky stock market deal a few months later and his wife, regretting the separation, persuaded him to buy another house. “It was typical.” says Alpha, “that after the deal was clinched, I persuaded the vendor’s wife to have a drink with me.” Unfortun ately, the wife was unaccustomed to liquor and when Alpha brought her home, somewhat tight, in the late evening, he found the husband waiting for him. The ensuing fight smashed nearly all the living room furniture.
By this time. Alpha’s wife knew about his drug problem and had begun a fight to “cure” him. She would stay up half the night, quite unknown to him, using a hot needle to puncture the drug capsules and remove most of the barbiturate powder. Alpha sensed there was something wrong because he began getting withdrawal symptoms even while taking what he thought was his full daily dosage. One morning, Mrs. Alpha mistakenly gave him all faked pills without any powder in any of them. Alpha went to work but collapsed in the street with symptoms that resembled those of a heart attack. “More and more,” he says, “I was getting scared of what was happening to me.”
Subconsciously, he then knew he was “hooked” on the drugs, but he never believed—and still does not—that he was a real alcoholic. He reasoned that, perhaps if he gave up liquor, he might avert the crisis. He got his chance soon enough. One day, he had three drinks with some customers in his business office. Then, feeling very strange, he went into the bathroom adjoining his office. To his horror, his face had gone a deep, rich purple. “To this day,” he says, “I can’t think of anything that has terrified me more.” He resolved to quit drinking instantly. It was midsummer, 1945.
Giving up alcohol was six months of purgatory. As a substitute, he bought gallons of vitamin B-12, which tasted like wine. He drank it like beer. It made him
sweat profusely and he smelled constantly of cod liver oil. The stench was so terrible he decided to try another drug, liquid chloralhydrate, a mild sedative for old people. He drank bottles of it. His wife used to pour half the stuff down the drain and dilute the rest with water.
Business associates never saw him in an obviously drugged condition. He could maintain an appearance of sober normality through his working day, and “relax” only when he got home.
He recalls one irony from this time. It occurred at a party when a friend congratulated him on giving up liquor. “He little knew,” says Alpha, “that I was riding a damn sight higher than he was with three Nembutals under my belt.” His unfortunate druggist, not wanting to lose $200 a month of Alpha’s pill business, had been faking his books to the point where he got desperate. He cut Alpha off. “I should mention,” says Alpha, “that I have never had any trouble getting some doctors .to prescribe barbiturates. I had no trouble finding another co-operative druggist who would give me much bigger supplies than the prescriptions called for.” The new druggist was equally scared. He gave Alpha’s wife interminable lectures on the evils of drug-taking.
Because Alpha wasn’t drinking, he needed more drugs than ever. By the early 1950s, he thought he could see the solution to his problem. Business was booming. He would work at fever pitch for two or three days and nights, taking the minimum amount of sedative to “keep him going.” Then he would relax just long enough to start working again. During these periods of “relaxing” at home, he would take enough pills to obliterate all worry about the future. Neighbors, seeing him asleep in a garden chair, believed Alpha was suffering from some sort of heart ailment which required much rest. "I thought if I could just make enough money for the next five years, I would then be in a position to take a long holiday and get over my habit.”
, It was in 1958 that Alpha’s wife and secretary first noticed that the drug was taking such a terrible toll. His fits of depression lasted longer, and were occurring far too often. Business started to fall off, and Mrs. Alpha refused almost all social engagements because she couldn’t anticipate when his bad days would come or how he might behave on such days. He started becoming suspicious of people, and intolerant with his family. The character of a generous and high-spirited man was changing in an alarming direction. Like an animal caught in a trap, he made countless useless attempts to free himself. “I know now,” said Mrs. Alpha, “that he was planning suicide so that the girls and I would have his insurance money.” Sometimes, he would go into the bathroom and lock himself in and run all the tapj full blast. One day Alpha heard his eldest daughter say, “Mother, you’ve just got to do something. He’s going to do it today. I’m sure of it.”
At two o’clock one morning, he suddenly ran to the third floor and threw open the window overlooking the paved driveway. His wife frantically called a minister. But when the unfortunate, half-dressed cleric
arrived, Alpha was calmly reading the Bible in his room.
“It was just like living on the edge of a volcano all the time,” says Mrs. Alpha today. Unknown to her husband again, she was making a desperate, last-ditch attempt to get him off drugs. She tried to persuade some drug manufacturers to prepare 5,000 barbiturate pills at half strength, 1,000 at quarter strength and 500 at an eighth strength. But the drug companies refused. “It's unethical to fool the patient,” said one drug company executive.
By early 1961, Alpha knew that the big
crisis that he had always feared was now inevitable. “I could feel sanity slipping away almost by the hour,” he says. HÍJ business was slipping even faster, a id this made him desperate. He phoned the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital one morning and said he wished to take a drug cure. He was told there was a long waiting list. “You'd have to be committed by your family doctor, anyway,” said a doctor at the hospital. This, said Alpha, pushed his determination to the breaking point.
He put down the phone and went to his room. There, he swallowed twelve
pills and soon after sank into a deep sleep. He w'oke, swallowed four more, slept, woke again, and took another four. Finally, he woke to find himself in St. Michael’s Hospital. Attendants were holding him down. He vaguely remembers someone saying, “The cops will be here any moment,” and he groaned inwardly. “It seemed like supreme irony to me,” he recalls, “that wanting to get into hospital, I was actually going to end up in jail.”
But the police took him to the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital, which was perhaps the best irony of all. For five days and
nights, he did not recall sleeping. On the fifth night, he succumbed to the growing derangements of withdrawal from drugs. For twenty-four hours, he went quite mad, felt sure he was dying, and indeed, wanted to die. Huge hands came at him from across a desert and he screamed wildly, then realized it was an attendant at his bedside reaching forward to mop his brow. Nightmare followed nightmare. He dreamed he was dead and was lying on a desert. Nearby, also dead, was F. P. Taylor, the Toronto millionaire. When Alpha awoke, he felt perfectly lucid, saw his wife at his bedside and asked her whether she had cashed the $ 1,000,000 cheque she had received. "What cheque?” she asked, and he
knew she was lying. He slept again and when he awoke, he was near to normal.
This was only April of 1961 but the same frenetic, almost hysterical energy that sent Alpha rip-roaring through a lifetime of debauchery, seems to be sustaining him just as successfully today. “A man,” he says, “can do anything.” Coming from anybody else, this might cause a smile, but from Alpha it sounds like an ultimate truth. Perhaps it is, because now he is reaching out hungrily for a normal life. He regularly helps other drug addicts. He’s trying to get to know his two daughters, to whom he is practically a stranger. He must remain a stranger to his parents, both of whom are very old.
He is now left facing an enigma. “My life seems to have passed in a flash,” he told me recently, “so that only the present is reality. Everything else has been & dream. I’ve told you this story because I know how easy it is to throw away 35 years of a life. This was a needless, senseless waste. Too many people today are making exactly the same mistakes I made But it’s possible for anybody to come V grips with drugs and alcohol if they’ll fac 1 facts and accept help. I’d be happy tu identify myself to anybody who is suffering the way I did and who needs help.”
He says it is a strange, almost unbelie, able revelation to be nearly 60 and yet tc be just beginning life, ic