Terrance Gavan – Editor and Pontificant

Sober since March 20, 1998.

That’s just by way of bona fides. Never had a desire to drink since that date. And that sets me apart because I am one of the chosen who had an awakening of some kind.

I am a clinically diagnosed alcoholic, which means simply that I did enough damage to my liver to place me on a transplant list after one year of sobriety. I am no longer on the list because apparently my liver has recovered enough to provide me, as my specialist says, with a rosy enough outlook to preclude recourse to transplant.

I did not get sober via AA. I went to a doctor, who told me I was dying. That my liver function had dawdled into so little efficiency that I had varices well up my esophageal tract. “In medicine (gastroenterology), esophageal varices (or oesophageal varices) are extremely dilated sub-mucosal veins in the lower third[1] of the esophagus. They are most often a consequence of portal hypertension, commonly due to cirrhosis; patients with esophageal varices have a strong tendency to develop bleeding.”

Bleeding is the important part here. Because when they burst, high in the esophagus, you are dead. I was saved by two doctors. Dr Duffy and Dr. Corner. I gained entry into the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba on Portage Avenue. I was there for 72 days.

I attended a lot of AA meetings while there and for many, many years after.

This week on Radiolab, they did a segment on drugs that seemed to work for alcoholics. Muscle relaxants are being used to treat both addiction to drugs and alcohol.

The Fix is the name of the episode and if you are interested you may go on ahead to Radiolab. 

What’s important to note here is the intersection of the program of recovery and the use of drugs to enhance or accommodate recovery.

The founders of AA, Bill and Bob, set out a blueprint for recovery in something we call the bible of AA: The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The program was very careful about stepping on toes, but they did refer to the recovery rate in AA. It’s in the single digits. I know that it’s in the single digits. I know it anecdotally and I have looked at the figures. I know that one in ten is loosely construed as the rate. That puts it just on double figures, but the one in ten benchmark is an optimistic rounding of the real figures. AA is hard. It is based upon a spiritual program of renewal, and if some of you are familiar with Karl Jung, you might be surprised to hear that a lot of the Big Book of AA is based on some of Jung’s fundamental precepts.

I don’t know how many diagnosed alcoholics most of you have met or chummed around with, and that’s not important. Let me just make the point that a great many of the drunks who wander into AA meetings for the first time are not enamored of the grace and tenets of spirituality or inspired by God’s grace.

God is mentioned a lot in AA. It was here that the two founders damn near foundered when attempting to find some common acreage. Dr Bob was committed to the spiritual path that included God in a flat hierarchical sense. Bill, was a former Wall Street broker who knew that a program that stressed God over the lay approach would necessarily limit the appeal.

They brokered a deal. For a long time AA was lauded as the only cure.

Today, as the Radiolab program elucidated, there are other approaches. Drug therapy, including LSD therapy, is slowly grabbing some traction.

Every treatment looks to turn the switch off. The addiction switch.

I know that one exists. Because my switch got turned off on March 20, 1998. And the problem is? I can’t tell anyone how to do it.

I went from needing a drink from the moment I got up (in the shower) to the moment I passed out. I destroyed my liver and my pancreas.

I took no muscle relaxers. I took no pills. I had no AA intervention. I put the cap on a bottle of vodka and walked into the AFM on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

My last thought was this: “You have some friends that are trying to save your life, and you’re drinking vodka in a park. Stop it you moron!”

And the craving for alcohol simply went. I committed to treatment, I went to AA, I went to the hospital to get scoped and I took the beta blockers that will preserve my liver function.

So I know that The Fix… that thing that turns off the switch is there.

I am if nothing else, the anecdotal proof, the living testament, if you will, that the switch exists.

But I cannot explain it.

So there.

Be kind to your ghost. Your alcoholic.

Or your addict.

Leave if you must. But tell them you love them first. Sometimes we have to leave.

Just don’t give up. There’s a switch.

Somewhere.