Wednesday, June 21, 2017

‘If you want to keep it, give it away’

Dermot Staveacre, who helped countless addicts in Portugal conquer their dependence on alcohol or drugs, has died peacefully in his home in the Algarve.

The old adage about life beginning at 40 was not far off the mark for Dermot Staveacre. For years he had been an alcoholic on a steeply downward spiral, drinking a bottle of whisky a day. By the age of 41 he was a down-and-out. He had lost his home, his savings, his job and his friends. On the edge of the abyss, he finally sought help in an English treatment centre.
That was 35 years ago and that is how long he remained a non-drinker. For most of those years he continued helping other alcoholics and drug addicts make the same life-saving adjustment he made.
Central to his work in Portugal as a counsellor was a conviction first voiced in the mid-19th century by an American psychologist, Benjamin Rush: alcoholism is an illness with the same basic characteristics of other illnesses. It has a cause (alcohol), symptoms (loss of control) and a way to recovery (abstinence).
This is the crux of the whole problem. In its simplicity it is as true today as it was 150 years ago”, Staveacre said.
Addiction to alcohol or other mood changing substances, like heroin, seems to be hereditary and it seems to effect about 10 percent of the population. It has nothing to do with poverty or riches, intelligence or stupidity, being good or bad at sports.
If you put 10 students in a room and fed them all heroin, nine would emerge not wanting it again and one would become an addict.
Because those addicted to heroin are suffering from chemical dependency, were heroin not available to them it is probable they would become chronic alcoholics 10 or 20 years later”.
Staveacre agreed that there is a grey area between the social drinker and the full-blown alcoholic. The difference is in the symptoms.
The alcoholic cannot go into a bar and say, ‘ I’ll have two beers’. Normally he has no control over the amount he drinks. But it goes much deeper than that. If a drinker puts alcohol before his work, his finances, his family, his health or the law, it is probable he is an alcoholic and has lost control of his life.
Limiting or controlling consumption for an alcoholic or drug addict is impossible in the long term. Recovery from addiction is only possible through total abstinence”.
If the illness is in the genes, all it needs is a trigger. The problem then invariably goes from bad to worse until a point of crisis is reached. Most – perhaps 90 percent or more - die of cirrhosis of the liver, overdosing, accidents of one kind or another, or suicide.
Of the individuals who survive, “there needs to be a crisis which leads them to willingly to accept help”, said Staveacre. “An alcoholic or addict will continue so long as it is more comfortable to continue than to give up”.
He estimated that alcohol or drug addiction at any one time affected more than 30,000 people in the Algarve, but most wanted to cover it up.
I knew a foreign couple who lived in the hills behind São Brás de Alportel. She would drive down into town to buy her husband the booze because she was afraid he would crash the car. It would have been better if he had crashed the car, because then he would have had to face up to the consequences.
In my own village there are two men, both working, who spend all the money on heroin, while their mothers, both widows in their 70’s, house them, feed them and clothe them. While the sons live in this sort of comfort they will continue to be addicts”.
Staveacre worked closely with families and loved ones who needed education, guidance and counselling as much as addicts themselves.
What I try to do is help people face reality. But, of course, it is more comfortable to talk about a problem than to do something about it”.
With support and the vital ingredient of personal commitment, addicts can turn their lives around remarkably quickly – in a matter of weeks. There again, it may be easy to stop drinking or using drugs. The difficult bit is staying stopped.
If 100 alcoholics go into treatment, probably only 60 percent will complete the course and half of that 60 percent will be drunk within hours of leaving”.
Naturally, Staveacre saw a good deal of human misery but he was very upbeat about his work because, he said, “there is the other side of the coin – the people who get into recovery and start living quality lives”.
After training and working in England for several years and spending time at the Hazelden Foundation, a precursor to the Betty Ford clinic in Minoso in the United States, Staveacre ran a drug rehabilitation centre near Castelo Branco in central Portugal. He went on to make regular visits there to counsel counsellors.
In the Algarve he saw clients privately in his home in Pêra. He believed his own recovery from alcoholism gave him an advantage over other trained specialists.
I can read the mind of an alcoholic or an addict much more easily than a psychiatrist or psychologist because I have been there. I don’t need to know the answers to questions like, why do you do it?
He was a firm advocate of the philosophy and methods of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. In helping others, members help themselves and refresh their own commitment. Staveacre recalled that delightful Zen-like saying: “if you want to keep it, give it away”.
After 27 alcohol-free years, Staveacre suddenly found himself faced with an illness of a very different kind. A serious heart problem was diagnosed and he was taken to Lisbon where he underwent a quadruple bypass operation.
I’m still in denial about it”. he said with a smile some time later. “They open the chest cavity, deflate the lungs, take out the heart and put it on a slab, stick you on a life-support system, tear a vein out of your leg, cut it into bits, put the heart back in, inflate the lungs, put everything together up and down with steel clips and give you a 30-year guarantee. I feel almost as well now as before I went in”.
He died peacefully in his home on 9th June at the age of 76. Family and friends from the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland will join the local community at his funeral service in Pêra on Friday 23rd.


Monday, June 5, 2017

On top of conflict and climate controls


Recent events have been a reminder of Portugal’s laudable position well ahead of many other more powerful countries in at least two key areas of human endeavour: keeping the peace and controlling climate change.
The atrocities in London last weekend and Manchester last month made the latest Global Peace index all the more poignant and pertinent.
Collated by an international panel of experts and published by a Sydney-based think-tank, the 2017 Global Peace Index places Portugal among the fop five most peaceful countries in the world.
In this annual index – the 11th so far - Europe remains the world’s most peaceful region. Iceland, Austria and Denmark are together with Portugal in the top five individual countries. Four other countries in Europe are in the world’s top ten.
The index provides a comprehensive analysis on 26 indicators based mainly on levels of safety and security in society, internal and international conflict, as well as militarisation.
The latest index research pre-dated the Manchester and London attacks, but the peace levels in 21 of the 34 countries in Europe has statistically improved over the past decade.
The average has not changed significantly, however, due to a worsening of conflict in Turkey, the impact of the terrorist attacks in Belgium and France, and worsening relations between Russia and its Nordic neighbours.
More notably, the United States has plummeted to 114th place in the latest index. Based on a wide range of negative factors, the US is now slotted between Rwanda and El Salvador in the analysis of 163 countries representing 99.7 percent of the world’s population.
America's ranking has dropped 11 places since last year due to what researchers say is a “deterioration in intensity of organised internal conflict and level of perceived criminality in society”, both strongly linked to the ongoing political turmoil.
Coincidentally, the United States has been further humiliated on the world stage by President Trump who famously described global warming as “a Chinese hoax” and tweeted that “this very expensive bullshit has got to stop”.
Having now deemed the Paris climate agreement a pernicious threat to the US economy and American sovereignty, Trump has announced he is pulling out.
While criticising the shortcomings of other nations and promising “to make America great again” by revitalising America’s coal mining industry among other things, Trump seemed to overlook the fact that the US is the world’s second biggest carbon dioxide polluter nationally and the biggest on a per person basis.
I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” declared the president at the end of a bombastic speech that was condemned by political leaders, scientists, environmentalists and corporate executives around the globe. It was also denounced by American Democrats, members of Trump’s own staff and a large majority of those polled on the subject in Pittsburgh itself.
President Trump expressed willingness to renegotiate the 2015 climate agreement to get a better deal for the US, but the leaders of France, Germany and Italy immediately issued a joint statement saying that the Paris accord was “irreversible” and could not be renegotiated.
Prime Minister António Costa is emphatic that Portugal is “totally committed” to the Paris agreement and has described global warming as “a challenge that does not allow further delays, because every day the threat is greater”.
Portugal is already at the forefront of renewal energy production through hydro-electric, solar and wind resources. It is committed to an ambitious agenda with the aim of accomplishing the goals established in Strategy Europe 2020 and in the EU directive on renewable energies.
Prime Minister Costa pointed out in Morocco at the last major international climate conference that Portugal had already achieved “more than 87% of the goal set for 2020, after installing 12 300 megawatts of renewable technology, which represent 61% of the potency of all our electricity production”.
Former prime minister António Guterres, now secretary-general of the United Nations, said President Trump’s withdrawal decision was “a major disappointment”, but Guterres remains confident that “all other parties to the Paris agreement will continue to demonstrate vision and leadership, along with very many cities, states and businesses in the United States and around the world, by working for the low-carbon, resilient economic growth that will create quality jobs and markets for 21st century economic prosperity”.