in Swaziland instead of Switzerland.
(Chris at # 3 Tina Close Highlands, Zimbabwe, approximately around the time of that this story occured in 1981.)
A man came to the hospital where I was a patient to take another man to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I was fortunate to read this man’s life story, as I could identify with a lot of the insanity going on in his life, prior to his achieving sobriety (no longer drinking alcohol).
I don’t recall a lot of the details, as this was 21 years ago. The gist of the matter is the man quit drinking after many years, and dedicated his life to helping suffering alcoholics. He was a prominent newspaper journalist would couldn’t control his drinking. He would take plane flights to various countries, while ending up in strange foreign countries that he had no knowledge of, not where he was or how he got there. His life story was fascinating to me and I was a bit envious, because I wasn’t being taken to the AA meetings.
I was still too sick and felt cooped up, because I was a ward of the main Zimbabwe state psychiatric hospital. The gentleman that the AA member was taking to a meeting was a late stage suicidal alcoholic member of Parliament who had lost most of the function of his legs due to his alcoholism. He could walk but only with a cane and he had poor circulation. This gentleman was in denial and was not looking forward to his hospital pass to one of the few AA meetings being held in Harare, Zimbabwe at the time.
This recovered alcoholic was visiting the alcoholic at the hospital and I glanced at a book of his personal story. His stories and escapades of waking up in strange countries as a drunken alcoholic, the amazing survival techniques of overcoming blackouts and embarrassment fascinated me because I could relate. The unbelievable circumstances of his drinking paralleled my own: that I knew I was in the alcoholic club, I qualified as an alcoholic. I knew I was an alcoholic but I knew I couldn’t stop drinking.
I accepted the fact was that I was going to die young. I could now only laugh at my denial and current situation. Quitting drinking seemed like a good idea, but how? AA seemed like a religious way of life. Besides, the recovered alcoholic journalist seemed like a priest to me in his dedication to helping others selflessly. This was not for me and I was addicted tenfold. My problem was ten times more severe than the member of Parliament’s, even though he was on his death bed.
I wasn’t invited and I probably wouldn’t have joined them if I had been invited to go along. I did completely identify with both of their alcoholic stories. I was committed to the state hospital because of an almost successful suicide attempt. I was being treated by an American psychiatrist, Dr. Noel Galen, who is now still one of my dad’s best friends. Dr. Galen is a member of an organization that my dad started called the Black Sheep Club.
The cured alcoholic had written his personal life story. He shared the book with us in the hospital. He got help by going to a treatment center on an island in a remote part of the world, a place founded by some priests or monks. The religious tones of all this scared me. But it did cross my mind that I too could benefit from some kind of treatment for my alcoholism.
But my problem was much worse, as I was an addict physically addicted to Morphine, Wellconal, Valium, sleeping pills, and Marijuana. I was also psychologically addicted to escaping life. I did not want the responsibility of growing up and accepting the hardships of life. My motto was using as many drugs as you can until you die. Make sure to have as much fun as you can along the way. The problem was that most of the drugs that I was taking, excluding speed and LSD, were Depressants.
I attempted to kill myself in the pits of despair after I had failed in my career as a safari guide. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, because I had an amazing life full of opportunities and excitement. Everything was given to me on a silver platter and I truly was living my dreams. A safari guide in the wilds of Africa, and living with a beautiful blonde girlfriend who also was madly in love with me. However, I was addicted to drugs and managed to get loaded on a daily basis for approximately 13 years.
My Alcoholism progressed to blackouts, morning drinking, shakes, and complete loss of control; once I started I couldn’t stop until I was falling down. Marijuana made me paranoid. The Morphine helped my Alcoholism, but I ran out of veins because I discovered this synthetic painkiller for terminal cancer patients called Wellconal. These tablets contained a wax to prevent junkies like me from shooting them up. The wax makes the veins in your body that you use constrict and collapse, eventually making every vein only accessible one or two times.
I quit my safari guide job and came home to my parents. I was suicidal and the gloom and doom was so strong that I made the decision to end my life. I called my friend Nancy, who is now dead from a prescription drug and alcohol combination. I attempted to get her to come to my house. She refused. In a drunken stupor, I swallowed several handfuls of drugs.
Now fully aware that this desperate action was going to be fatal, I called for an ambulance. My father was the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, and we lived in a very fancy house with a huge yard. I was wearing an orange jumpsuit, like a mechanic’s overalls. I walked to the bottom of the yard by the front gate, where a security guard was stationed. I told him that I had called for an ambulance to come get me. I gave him a pack of cigarettes. I then lay down on the ground to die.
An ambulance did come and my heart stopped beating while I was being transported to the hospital. I was revived in the ambulance and at the hospital remained in a coma for three days. When I awakened from the coma I was embarrassed about my action and what my life had become.
I attempted to rip out the IV and catheters attached to my body. I didn’t want to live any more. My girlfriend Valerie and my mother were in the room. On the fourth day a friend named Ian visited me and brought some Zimbabwe Lager beers. He wanted to know what drugs I had taken, because he wanted some.
My memories of the coma are of an out of body experience with white light. I remember looking down on my body almost like in a dream state. I remember hearing Valerie and my mother talking to me. I also felt them wiggling my toes and I opened one eye and eventually both eyes. I was so groggy from the drugs. My biggest fear was that they would discover the severity of my addiction to Wellconal and would cut me off.
My girlfriend Valerie had told the doctors and my parents about each and every drug I had taken, because they needed the information to revive me. I was a big embarrassment to my family and myself because Vice President Bush was visiting Zimbabwe that weekend. He was the guest of honor of the Zimbabwean government while I was lying in the hospital in a coma. Barbara Bush sent some fruit and flowers for me to my hospital room.
I had a private room at the hospital, with the nicest person as my nurse. I was practically in love. She was a Rhodesian and she was missing some fingers from a farming accident. I had 24-hour care, but the beers were discovered. I then got transferred to the local State Psychiatric hospital, where they could keep a better eye on me. So I lost that beautiful nurse. I was so in love with her, because she accepted me unconditionally and gave me such good care.
At the State Psychiatric hospital I had my own room, but it was nothing like the fancy hospital I had been in. There was no 24-hour nurse and the food was horrible. My parents had an embassy driver bring me two meals a day prepared by the cook at our house. I was getting souffle’s and steaks. I could request whatever I wanted. This was quite a special privilege and made the hospital stay tolerable.
My girlfriend Valerie and my mother visited me every day. One time Valerie brought me some Marijuana. It was only the tail end of a Marijuana cigarette (joint roach) that she had smoked prior to coming in. I got so paranoid after smoking it that she wouldn’t bring me any more.
Dr. Noel Galen asked me to write an autobiography. I wrote about three pages of stories. He was (is) a great doctor. I could trust him. My goal was to convince the doctor that I wasn’t crazy. All I wanted was to get out, to be discharged, so I could smoke Marijuana and eat Psychedelic Mushrooms.
I was having hallucinations and very strange dreams. I couldn’t distinguish my dreams from reality. It took me about two months to convince Dr. Galen that I wasn’t suicidal. He was treating me for Depression. About 7 or 8 years earlier I had been diagnosed as a Manic Depressive. However, that was a mistake. (My dad now tells me that when the head psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital told him that manic depression was his diagnosis, my father replied: No, Chris is not a manic depressive. He takes drugs. Lots of drugs. To which the doctor replied: Don’t tell me. The drugs are just symptoms. I invented manic depression as a diagnosis. End of conversation.)
Today, I know I was a drug addict and the symptoms used to diagnose me came from the numerous drugs that I took and the effects of those drugs. In the past twenty years that I have been clean I haven’t needed any medication, any psychiatric or psychological care from a therapist of any kind. That is why today I suggest to many people similar to me that they should try 100% clean first, because they too can recover without psychiatric medication.
Dr. Galen told me a couple of years ago that in Zimbabwe when I was his patient after the suicide attempt, I gave him great purpose for living, meaning I validated his existence. He discharged me and Valerie picked me up from the hospital. We headed straight to a doctor to get a prescription for Wellconal.
Valerie told the doctor that she had terrible menstruation cramps and that Wellconal would relieve her pain. The doctor gave her a prescription for 30 Wellconal tablets and we were off to the pharmacy. I was also drinking beers that night. I kept the hospital pajama shirt for many years, and wore it occasionally, until it no longer fit.
The good news is that after two more hospitalizations in that year of 1983, I eventually found recovery from my disease of addiction through getting help from professionals who understand the disease model and the live-saving concept of complete abstinence from all drugs.
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