TO HELL AND BACK

CONCLUSION OF A LONG DESOLATE JOURNEY

September 4 1965

TO HELL AND BACK

CONCLUSION OF A LONG DESOLATE JOURNEY

September 4 1965

TO HELL AND BACK

CONCLUSION OF A LONG DESOLATE JOURNEY

"This is the first writing I have done in twenty years while not under the influence of alcohol or drugs." So began this agonizing story of one man's battle against addiction by a writer whose name is withheld. Here he tells of his greatest fight — against the drug he’d hoped would be his salvation but which came to rule his life

I THOUGHT I HAD ENDURED every kind of hell a man can know during the twelve years I had been an alcoholic, but the doctor who gave me my first prescription for barbiturate-X unwittingly set me on the path to a more hellish existence than I could ever have dreamed possible. This happened in 1955 in Port Arthur, Ont., where 1 was offered a job as a reporter on the News-Chronicle. I wanted that job desperately; it seemed like my last chance after a decade of bouncing in and out of jobs and jails, all brought on by my addiction to alcohol. I went to the doctor to ask him if there was something that would control my drinking, something that would carry me over my fits of tension and depression. He gave me a prescription.

At the time, I was quite certain that drugs would never offer any problems for me. I had tried heroin when I lived in Vancouver a few years earlier, but it didn’t take with me. It gave me no sensationat all. But I found, to my lasting misery, that I reacted differently to barbiturate-X. Almost immediately I discovered that it removed me into a new world, a blissfully trouble-free world where 1 could avoid life’s burdens — including my own alcoholism — and where I seemed to coast in a subdued, leisurely ride across the surface of life.

1 didn't have any trouble getting all the pills I needed — at least not at first. The doctor in Port Arthur left orders with his pharmacy to refill my prescription any time I asked (this would be impossible today under the newly tightened controls on barbiturates), and I was thoroughly hooked before the doctor realized what had happened. 'Then he threatened to cut me off until I pleaded with him that I would lose my job if I had to go back on booze. He decided to go along with the barbiturate addiction as the lesser of two evils. Little did he know.

The barbiturate was an unpredictable master. 1 would start each day by taking two capsules before I dressed — but I was never certain what the results would be of this dosage. If 1 didn’t keep moving. I'd often end up back in bed asleep; often I was very sloppy at breakfast, spilling food on my clothes; sometimes I would become ravenously hungry and eat a whole steak first thing in the morning; once I passed out while 1 was shaving and another time I knocked myself out when 1 fell in the bathtub.

Curiously, despite these effects and despite the slurred speech and the unsteady walk the pills brought on, for the first three years of my addiction barbiturate-X did ease my tensions and cleared my mind — and helped me to handle my reporting job, after a fashion. Somehow I seemed to make it through the work day and even on a couple of occasions to distinguish myself. Once I drowsed through most of a complicated trial concerning the legality of bingo games, but was still able to write a story about it, under the stimulus of the pills, that prompted the magistrate to phone my publisher the next day and praise my “brilliant and perceptive account.”

However, any benefits that this kind of relaxed approach to life brought me were far outweighed by the evils of a Jekyll-Hyde metamorphosis the pills caused in me. Whatever scruples and morals I

had were dissipated, and I developed a sense of bravado that was ridiculous. Once I walked up to a woman on the street, a complete stranger, and made a brazen and thoroughly indecent proposal to her. She answered by punching me squarely in the nose.

I became, under the barbiturate, totally irresponsible, even warped in my behavior. I have never been to Winnipeg but I know that there is a ten-year-old boy there who must bear a striking resemblance to me: he is the son I have never seen. When his mother — whose name I have guiltily forgotten — told me she was pregnant, I listened, completely uncaring, and then gave her money for an abortion. She used it to go to Winnipeg instead and have the baby, who was immediately adopted. I don’t know whether I’m glad she did that or not, but I do know I feel tremendous shame and guilt when I think of the child.

ANOTHER TIME during those years a Toronto friend got me a job editing a small newspaper for the Progressive Conservative Party during their last leadership convention in Toronto. When I failed to produce any material for the printers, my friend had to write it all himself, on top of other responsibilities he had at the convention. The strain of the extra work was too much for him and he died of heart failure shortly after. I feel that I killed him just as surely as if I’d pulled the trigger of a pistol aimed at his heart.

Twice during my three years in Port Arthur I became sufficiently alarmed over my drug addiction to try to quit. I used alcohol to cushion the shock of withdrawal, but booze proved an inadequate substitute, and I went without pills for only three days on each occasion. The withdrawal periods were agonies of stomach cramps and severe nausea, and I went through unbelievable mental anguish. 1 suffered from all kinds of imagined fears and panic and from horrible visual and audible hallucinations. The intensity of these symptoms increased steadily until by the third day of each attempt at withdrawal I was afraid that I’d lose my sanity. The only thing that would restore my balance, I realized, was barbiturateX, and I resumed my addiction.

It was my second attempt to quit that actually cost me my job at the News-Chronicle. Between the agonies of my withdrawal pains and the alcohol I was taking to relieve the pains, I just couldn’t get myself out of bed to go to work on the third morning of my grand attempt. The paper had no choice, I guess; I was fired. So the drug I started taking to save my job — the last one I have held for more than a few weeks — was eventually the cause of my losing it.

My memories of the next few months are vague. I got a job as news editor at the radio station in Port Arthur, but after a couple of months I was fired for drunkenness. The funny thing is I hadn't touched alcohol: I wasn't drunk, I was drugged. I left the Lakehead and began to drift through the large towns in northern Ontario. I took any odd jobs l could find; at various times I was a dishwasher, a fire-fighter, a night cleaner in a continued on page 30

continued on page 30

Finally my biggest battle began — to kick the drug habit

TO HELL AND BACK

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hotel and a chainman on a survey crew. But no matter what the town was or what job 1 found, my first stop was always a local doctor’s office to replenish my drug supply. If I couldn’t con the doctor into giving me some capsules, I moved on immediately.

In one of these towns, my job lasted longer than the others and that proved to be the beginning of the end of my ratrace. My habit was so big by then — to keep going I needed ten capsules a day — that I was badgering the town’s four doctors regularly to maintain my supply. Eventually, the four of them got their heads together and they all cut me off. I tried to fight the withdrawal pains with brandy and beer but it was no use, and by the fifth day I had my first convulsion.

I was taken to the hospital but the four doctors, who were thoroughly fed up with me and my problems, refused to treat me. That night, back in the hotel where I was rooming, I went a little crazy. I began to scream and cry in the most insane way and finally I collapsed. The hotel telephoned my mother and the next day 1 was on the train to Toronto. That was the day, back in 1958, when I at last began, under medical supervision, the seemingly endless—and, until this past six months, fruitless—battle to kick once and for all my terrible drug habit.

Many times during the years since 1958 I was certain I’d never win the battle. 1 was arrested over fifty times in six years on charges of being drunk —yet on every occasion I was drugged, not drunk. And once, in 1962, I threw in the sponge completely and went on a drug-inspired cheque-cashing binge through Ottawa. Sudbury, North Bay, Barrie, Toronto and Hamilton until 1 was finally nabbed and sentenced to two years in Kingston Penitentiary. 1 was so despondent that I decided to take my own life. I strung myself up in my

cell with my belt, but I didn't have the courage or whatever it took to go through with it, and before any of the guards knew what I’d done I let myself down.

In those years I underwent treatment to get myself off drugs six times in three different institutions-—twice at the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Research Foundation, three times at the Ontario Hospital in Whitby and once at the Salvation Army’s Harbour Light—and all ended in failure. In every case I went right back on barbiturate-X as soon as the treatment was completed. The doctors at Whitby specialized in the physical aspects of drug addiction but they were far too overworked to spend much time on the psychological aspect, which was, I later realized, what I needed.

The Research Foundation and the Harbour Light emphasized the mental causes of addiction — the foundation stressed group discussions and lectures, the Harbour Light stressed religion and prayer — but neither had much time for individual therapy, the kind of treatment I needed if I was ever to shake my habit.

With these defeats behind me, I was hardly in an optimistic frame of mind when I arrived at yet another institution, the A. G. Brown Memorial Clinic at Mimico in suburban Toronto on December 15, 1964. I was in fact at the lowest ebb of my life, physically and mentally. I had fractured my skull a few days earlier when I’d fallen in the street in a drugged stupor. I weighed only a hundred and eleven pounds instead of

The time came to leave the clinic. What would happen when I was on my own?

People, I found, wanted to help

a normal hundred and forty-five. All the clothes on my back had come from mission houses and 1 didn t have a cent in my pockets. My mind was completely fogged and 1 was shaking all over with withdrawal pains. One of the custodial officers who saw me at the time told me some time later, “1 really thought there was a mistake in your committal papers and that you should have been sent to a mental hospital.”

When I first saw the sprawling onestory red-brick clinic hidden behind a ten-foot wire-mesh fence I was apprehensive. I had no inkling then that I would come to regard that building as the closest thing to a home that I have known in twenty years and that 1 would make some very good, even close friends in its warm environment. There were five other patients "in residence” when 1 arrived and during my six-month stay, the population totalled only nineteen—fourteen narcotic addicts, two marijuana smokers and two "pillheads,” including me.

The main difference between the clinic and the other institutions I'd been in — apart from the relaxed, harmonious and healthy atmosphere I found there—was the constant emphasis on highly personalized therapy. The clinic, which was opened in 1956 by the Ontario government, has established the best rehabilitation record of all addiction treatment centres in North America—successes are in the neighborhood of thirty percent—and in my opinion it’s the personal approach that accounts for the remarkable record. At any rate it was this approach that finally, after my twenty years of alcohol and drug addiction, began to get through to me. And, more particularly, if I really have shaken off my habit once and for all, it was the personal attention of one amazing woman at the clinic that I can credit with my salvation (though I do owe much to a team of workers: to Dr. E. E. Temelcoff, a psychiatrist, AÍ Beech, a psychologist, Alf (iregcrsen, the rehabilitation officer, and to the Reverend David Busby, an Anglican minister). The woman I refer to is a social worker named Blanche Horsham. She is a petite, bouncy, very attractive and intensely intelligent Trinidadian, and she is the most dedicated person I have ever met. 1 thank God that 1 met her before it was too late for me.

Basically, what Miss Horsham and the others at the clinic brought me to admit to myself, in the search for the root cause of my addiction, is that I can't do everything alone, that 1 don’t even want to try anymore. They made me realize that there arc people in this world who want to help me and. more than that, that help is not just something you take from others —it’s something you share and enjoy with them, like a game of give and take. This may not sound especially remarkable to some people, but to me it represented the big breakthrough in my life. I had never let myself get close to people before, not even my

family. I always shied away from any personal feelings or any display of sentimentality. Miss Horsham changed all that for me. As my six months at the clinic went along. I began to feel that things—life itself— were beginning to matter to me again, for the first time in twenty years . . . me, the man who had always tossed every kind of horror off with a whogives-a-damn attitude.

But as the six months went by and my time to leave the clinic approached, 1 felt another emotion: fear. 1 was afraid of what might happen to me once I was away from the clinic and out on my own. In the last few days, as a kind of therapy to try and settle my jangling nerves, I started to

put down on paper just exactly how 1 felt. When 1 finished, my essay ran on for pages and pages, and 1 guess that in its way it turned into a rather amazing document. At any rate it was a pretty accurate record of the emotional turmoil an addict can put himself through.

In a way what I had written frightened me. A good deal of it seemed childish to me and full of selfpity. 1 admitted this to Miss Horsham just before 1 was to leave the clinic, but she reassured me. What that piece of writing could represent, she told me, was a final expiation of my addiction. If 1 could look at myself whole as I did in what I'd written, if 1 could admit everything to myself, all

my weaknesses and fears, then perhaps it was a sign that I was finally on the way to a cure.

I don't know now whether I'm cured of my habit or not. I'm on my own, but 1 don’t know how long 1 can stay away from drugs. 1 do know that I'm determined to make it this time, for Miss Horsham, for the others at the clinic, the people who helped me. and for myself. The thought of using drugs again is terrifying to me because it would be the beginning of the end for me. But, in the back of my mind, the temptation will always be there because I'll never be able to forget the euphoric release from the pain of tension and anxiety that drugs can give me. ★