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Anatomy of Addiction (Sigmund Freud, William Halsted and the Miracle Drug; Cocaine) by Howard Markel

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“I’ve studied psychology in school (along with a slew of other random things!) and found Freud to be my favourite. Sure, he was the guy that talked all about sex but he was also the guy that talked about dreams and the ego. He was quite controversial in his day and I always found his work and depth of thought to be so intriguing and inspiring. Thats how I was first draw to this book while I was searching for informative novels on addiction. But as I read the description, I found that he had a similar problem as me. He was a coke addict!

This book takes place back in the day but was incredibly relatable and filled with, well, Anatomy of Addiction! Not all of people like these kinds of non-fiction but I have enjoyed it thus far and I am very excited to finish it!” -Love and light, Robyn

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From acclaimed medical historian Howard Markel, author of When Germs Travel, the astonishing account of the years-long cocaine use of Sigmund Freud, young, ambitious neurologist, and William Halsted, the equally young, pathfinding surgeon. Markel writes of the physical and emotional damage caused by the then-heralded wonder drug, and how each man ultimately changed the world in spite of it—or because of it. One became the father of psychoanalysis; the other, of modern surgery.

Both men were practicing medicine at the same time in the 1880s: Freud at the Vienna General Hospital, Halsted at New York’s Bellevue Hospital. Markel writes that Freud began to experiment with cocaine as a way of studying its therapeutic uses—as an antidote for the overprescribed morphine, which had made addicts of so many, and as a treatment for depression.

Halsted, an acclaimed surgeon even then, was curious about cocaine’s effectiveness as an anesthetic and injected the drug into his arm to prove his theory. Neither Freud nor Halsted, nor their colleagues, had any idea of the drug’s potential to dominate and endanger their lives. Addiction as a bona fide medical diagnosis didn’t even exist in the elite medical circles they inhabited.

In An Anatomy of Addiction, Markel writes about the life and work of each man, showing how each came to know about cocaine; how Freud found that the drug cured his indigestion, dulled his aches, and relieved his depression. The author writes that Freud, after a few months of taking the magical drug, published a treatise on it, Über Coca, in which he described his “most gorgeous excitement.” The paper marked a major shift in Freud’s work: he turned from studying the anatomy of the brain to exploring the human psyche.

Halsted, one of the most revered of American surgeons, became the head of surgery at the newly built Johns Hopkins Hospital and then professor of surgery, the hospital’s most exalted position, committing himself repeatedly to Butler Hospital, an insane asylum, to withdraw from his out-of control cocaine use.

Halsted invented modern surgery as we know it today: devising new ways to safely invade the body in search of cures and pioneering modern surgical techniques that controlled bleeding and promoted healing. He insisted on thorough hand washing, on scrub-downs and whites for doctors and nurses, on sterility in the operating room—even inventing the surgical glove, which he designed and had the Goodyear Rubber Company make for him—accomplishing all of this as he struggled to conquer his unyielding desire for cocaine.

An Anatomy of Addiction tells the tragic and heroic story of each man, accidentally struck down in his prime by an insidious malady: tragic because of the time, relationships, and health cocaine forced each to squander; heroic in the intense battle each man waged to overcome his affliction as he conquered his own world with his visionary healing gifts. Here is the full story, long overlooked, told in its rich historical context.

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Take Six

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Here, she feels stable. Here, she has a fresh start. The scene is familiar but only from the years spent visiting her grandparents and wandering the streets that surrounded her with shopping centers full of chain supermarkets and restaurants. She remembers the only store that was remotely unique was called Twist Treat in the shape of a large swirl of pink ice cream in a giant kiddy cone. They always armed her with extra sprinkles on the side and she would dip her chocolate ice cream in the bowl to replenish the sweetness. She reminisces and digresses. She can’t escape the fact that she left behind her home three days ago. Twenty years of the same people, places and things made her feel nauseous. She had to leave, it was her only choice for sanity.

She walked around for miles, up and down the same streets. She drove around uptown, glancing at the little shops and old nooks she used to hang around. Tears rolled down her face but she couldn’t help but smile. This was depressing to think about– leaving her home– but she was so excited. This meant she was one step closer to independence. She had a plan. A master plan to get her long overdue “proper” education that could really take her places.

Since she first heard her father tell her, “if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, at least believe in something,” she was determined to find the answers to life and death. She studied all the great texts in high school, only to find the same patterns disheveled in creative tales and sonnets. All this information only made her more confused. So she busied her mind with something else; art and music. It wasn’t long until the expression and lack of answers led her to experimenting with her reality through drugs. Soon enough she only became concerned with consciousness and lost all desire to pursue her hobbies. When she ran away from philosophy, she made a mistake. The search kept her going at the time, art was just a distraction. When her addiction took over to later reveal her disorders, she morphed into an egocentric, hopeless disaster. But now that she realizes this, she is able to recognize her passion that has followed her all along.

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She had always been afraid to pursue a philosophy major because she thought the only thing you could to with that is become a writer or a teacher. At this point, she just didn’t care. Those two options didn’t seem so bad anymore. She daydreamed that one day she might be able to conjure up a novel outlining her two months of insanity. She was inspired by all the books she has read while she is in recovery; books about addiction, bipolar disorder and the psychotic mind. She was so intrigued with the memoirs that completely related to her, she felt like she was no longer alone. These people had been best selling authors, brave and admirable for they’re ability to tell their truths so vividly to the world. She knew she would need a lot of strength to dig out those memories she tried so hard to suppress but she thought it was worth it to explore herself enough to help another struggling addict/bipolar. She would need to do extensive interviews with the people that went through it with her. That would require another trip to India… As scary as that thought was, it made her feel warm. She fell in love with India and all the people who helped her along the way. She would want to write down every single experience– even the most embarrassing and shameful. She cringes at the idea of any of her loved ones reading her stories but she had been open up until this point, publishing her journal in front of the whole world. While maybe the whole world wasn’t reading it, they most certainly could. And maybe someday they would. She has big ambitions. Maybe even “grandiose.” But she didn’t care anymore. This is what drove her. This is what kept her clean. This is what kept her sane. This is what kept her alive.