Categories: Medications and research
Gotta start somewhere, I suppose. Details about how My Way Out began are in my book of the same name, and there’s more info at the website, mywayout.org. But here’s the story.
I’d suffered with a drinking problem for over 20 years. Loved the sauce, hated what it was doing to me. But I couldn’t stand the thought of going to AA or entering a treatment program. The irony was this: I was recognized as someone who solved people’s problems, especially medical. I worked closely with docs and high level researchers. In fact, I considered myself a proficient researcher and I knew how to find answers. For everyone but me, it turned out. I had read all the popular self-help recovery books, I experimented with nutritional supplements, medications, herbs, you name it. I even went so far as to seek counseling–a real stretch for me, for some reason. It was an experience I found difficult and painful. (I’ve since learned it’s a pretty good thing.) But nothing helped. And nobody except my husband knew.
My career was on fire at the time. I had worked in both academia and the private sector; I had moved up the ranks to become an information technology manager. I oversaw teams of people much smarter than me. I was actively involved in my children’s school, sports and music activities. I enthusiastically volunteered with civic groups. I had a satisfying marriage. People envied my life. But they didn’t know that every night I went home and drank myself to sleep. I’d wake up in the morning filled with a dry mouth, sore eyes, and indescribable remorse. I was a fixer, damn it, but I could not fix this.
Change came in the most remarkable way. In the summer of 2003, I had decided to try (once again) to commit myself to a plan of sobriety, but this time would *combine* techniques I had found somewhat helpful in the past. (Helpful in curbing the craving for a few evening hours, anyway. To date, I hadn’t achieved a single day without a drink, as hard as I’d tried.)
But this time I decided to tackle the problem by blending a special combination of nutritional supplements, a light exercise program and a new medication I’d read about in a recently published Lancet article. It was called Topamax, an anti-seizure drug used off-label in a clinical trial. The results were reportedly quite dramatic. Nearly half of those in the study quit drinking or cut back substantially.
I’d already played around with an anti-craving drug and had some limited success. It was two years earlier and I had awaited FDA approval of this new medication with great anticipation. It was called Naltrexone and I considered it my Great Hope. My Last Hope. I persuaded a young shrink to prescribe it to me–he must have considered me a colleague or perhaps he took pity on me, I don’t know. He also advised me to seek counseling while taking it, but I refused, as as I’d found my earlier session distasteful. Plus, I preferred to cure my problem in the privacy of my own home. So I took my daily pill and awaited the brain chemistry change. Surprisingly, it came! For a while, anyway. But this was before I understood more about how all this works…
Anyway, the key for me was a final and unexpected element–something I learned serendipitously at a dinner party when I was traveling on business. It was shortly before I was to return home with my goal of committing to this new found recovery program. The talk one night had turned to hypnotherapy for treating addiction (smoking, to be exact.) Powerful hypnotherapy to modify behavior. Everything changed that night.
Fast forward two years. Short version: Anti-craving meds work, it’s absolutely true, and it’s becoming increasingly less difficult to coax an Rx out of a physician. A number of new meds (some used off label) have been incredibly helpful to those who are able to find providers willing to issue them. It’s a whole new world out there. Just ask the thousands of visitors to our message board/s (currently in transition) who are anxious, willing and happy to discuss the topic. We’ve had over 1.3 million visits at the original site. There’s obviously enormous interest.
But then again, the problem is enormous. Four problem drinkers for every hard core alcoholic. 17.5 million in America alone addicted to alcohol. And everywhere, folks more often than not uncomfortable with traditional approaches to recovery. I know I was. Nothing against AA, Women for Sobriety, or any other well intentioned and effective fellowship-based program. (In fact, many of our members follow “MWO” in conjunction with local meetings. They are a lifeline for millions and I respect and honor what goes on there.) Maybe I just wasn’t brave enough to do it. For whatever reason, it didn’t work for me.
So here we are. And here’s what happened. I wrote a book under a pen name about my experience and the program I developed only for me. Certainly, I never aspired to be an author and clearly am no writer, but after all this, I felt compelled to share my story and was was urged by confidants to do so. And fast. So I called upon my friends in the medical community, as well specialists in each area represented by this home grown “program” I had developed. We leaked it out to others. As it turned out, the more people who tried it, the more it seemed to work. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just me, it wasn’t the placebo effect, it wasn’t parlor tricks. It was the real deal and it confirmed what I knew in my gut. What I knew one day would one day be validated in double blind, clinical studies.
But I’ve never been very patient. So I wrote my book, broke a bunch of publishing rules, and, as it turns out, quickly found an eager audience of professional people, moms, dads, grandparents, you-name-it…essentially people like me who thought they were the only ones with the big secret. They they learned they were not alone. That finally there was therapy for them that could help–and there were others who understand exactly what they were going through. They have become part of an incredibly large community people who needed help, but hadn’t known where to turn until then.
To say the virtual community we’ve developed over the past two years is supportive of one another is an understatement. The people who meet on our “board” are the most honest, caring, smart, funny, remarkable people I’ve ever met. I’m honored they’ve chosen this program to regain their health and thankful every day that it’s working for so many of them, just as it did for me. The numbers over these many months–at least on our original message board–bear out the popularity of the program. We’ve been averaging about 6,500 hits a day with over 26,000 messages posted so far. All is in flux as we now move to a new, more robust message board system.
Since we first started, the program has been mentioned in Newsweek, in Wall Street Journal, on wired.com, and other media all over the world. I’ve been lucky enough to have been interviewed on dozens of radio stations (here’s a recent one on KQRS-FM in the Twin Cities). The thing is taking off. We’ve even had a recent book offer from Time Warner.
It’s all been rather dizzying really, this past couple of years. But bottom line: many people suffer with the same pain I did back when I was grasping for a solution. I wasn’t finding any answers back then. However, the times, they have certainly changed. There is treatment now: whether you wish to quit drinking completely or take on a program of moderation. Some in the tradition recovery movement question whether or not heavy drinkers can ever drink socially. We believe that many can (and for others, abstinence is truly the only safe option.)
But most importantly, new, effective therapy–offered without stigma or shame–is now available. Just as it was a decade ago for those who suffered with depression. A remarkable physician named Dr. Linda Garcia shared my enthusiasm early on for an integrative approach in treating alcohol dependence and agreed to become Medical Director of our program. The moving story about her mother’s alcoholism is told in the foreword of my book. Dr. Garcia often lectures and writes about the importance of treating alcohol dependence as we do other diseases like hypertension or diabetes. With a multi-faceted approach incorporating medication, behavioral modifications, exercise, proper nutrition and support. Like me, she and many other health care providers are now sharing this therapy with patients and are finally able to help others overcome a progressive, debilitating disease which is so incredibly harmful to both individuals and society.
These are pretty exciting times.