Several weeks ago I confessed to having succumbed to the demons of alcohol.
On most days from Christmas/New Year onwards I consumed alcohol – sometimes as little as a couple of glasses, sometimes as much as four or five bottles. It’s not something I’m proud of nor is it something I’ve beaten myself up over. After all, as someone kindly pointed out to me, they were surprised I had taken so long to turn to alcohol after all I’ve been through!
As of today, I can proudly admit to being alcohol free for thirteen days. Although there have been many occasions that I’ve wanted to drink (such as after my session with the counsellor on Monday and the Munch I attended on Tuesday evening) I was successfully able to steer myself away from the wine; usually by replacing it with unhealthy comfort eating, soft drinks and mooching around the house doing my best cranky bear impersonation.
So no matter how proud I am of this achievement, this period has reminded me not only how vulnerable I am to addiction but how sodding difficult it is to give up the booze.
Which is why I found myself nodding in agreement with an article I discovered today on The Siberian Times.
Deep in Siberia, scientists claim they have made an astonishing breakthrough in curing drink and drug addicts, as well as helping workaholics and even those obsessed with sex – by using corporal punishment.
The moment I began reading this article it reminded me of an article published several years ago about a Russian scientist who believed a possible treatment for depression was regular canings on the bare buttocks (a standard treatment was 30 sessions of 60 strokes each). The belief was that such treatment caused the brain to release endorphins, which has a similar effect on pain to the drugs codeine or morphine, but does not lead to dependency.
As I read on it became clear that this was a far more detailed article on the same theory.
The psychologist behind (the pun is not deliberate!) this ‘cure’ is Dr German Pilipenko who with fellow practitioner Professor Marina Chukhrova has treated more than a thousand patients, and is now getting foreigners travelling to try his unconventional ‘method of limited exposure or pain’, often as a last resort.
The cure involves literally beating the addiction, obsession or depression out of the patient. Dr Pilipenko claims he is restoring or modernising a method of treatment known to previous generations including notorious cane-happy English schoolmasters and monks in medieval holy orders.
‘We cane the patients on the buttocks with a clear and definite medical purpose – it is not some warped sado-masochistic activity,’ says Professor Chukhrova, a psychiatrist with more than 25 years experience treating drug addicts and alcoholics.
In simple terms, addicts suffer from a lack of endorphins often known as ‘happiness hormones’, she says, adding that the acute pain of corporal punishment stimulates the brain to release endorphins into the body ‘making patients feel happier in their own skins’.
Now, most people would scoff at such therapy or crack jokes loaded with deviant sexual innuendo. But I’m not most people. My first thought upon reading the article several years ago was quiet agreement. Part of me could see where the scientists were coming from, even though the article itself was presented in a condescending and patronising fashion. After all, why subject yourself to such an ordeal when a course of antidepressants and/or talk therapy is a much less painful way to manage these conditions?
The simple fact is these options don’t work for everyone and when you’re at the end of your tether – as I am – you’re willing to consider anything.
In the case of Natasha (22), her heroin addiction had begun at the age of sixteen. After nearly overdosing her parents took her to hospital after hospital for a variety of ‘conventional’ treatments, but none of them worked. After a religious retreat failed to help her, Natasha’s mother suggested this new unconventional therapy.
‘There were so many deaths around me. I nearly died too – I just couldn’t see a way out. It was then that my mother heard about this new method of treatment in Novosibirsk, her home city. I agreed to try it’.
‘All I was told at first was that it would involve some physical pain but that Professor Chukhrova believed it could really help me’.
Like other patients, Natasha is given psychological counselling before each session of 60 lashes (those with alcohol or other addictions face 30) – and also undergoes a electrocardiogram to ensure the shock therapy is not causing unexpected heart problems.
‘I was so scared before the first time – and I am still frightened many months later’, she says.
‘I’m not a masochist. My parents never beat me or even slapped me, so this was my first real physical pain and it was truly shocking. If people think there’s anything sexual about it, then it’s nonsense.
‘With each lash I scream and grip tight to the end of the surgical table. It’s a stinging pain, real agony, and my whole body jolts. Often I cry, and the doctor sometimes asks what I am feeling, and if I am ok.
‘My body gets really hot and my palm starts sweating. It’s really unpleasant – but after each session, I can see that it works. In fact, it’s the only thing that has worked for me. As he strikes me, the doctor explains the danger of the drugs. But this treatment is not about punishing me for taking heroin. It works because of the effect on my body – the release of these endorphins – that is letting me get rid of the addiction.
‘The pain helps me understand the dangers I have caused to myself, how I was simply killing myself’.
The doctors echo what she says, and insist that they are not seeking to humiliate Natasha and their other patients; nor is punishment their primary aim.
‘Despite this, in a strange way I suppose I do feel I’m getting punishment which at the same time brings me back to life. After each session I have red lash marks on my backside but it doesn’t bleed. It’s not easy to sit down for a few hours afterwards.
Unlikely as it sounds, Natasha is adamant that this treatment has transformed her life.
‘I wouldn’t keep coming back for this if I didn’t think it was working’, she says. ‘I know many of my friends think I am mad to trust these doctors. But I want to live. For the first time since I because an addict five years ago, I feel I have a chance.
‘I just want to be like all those thousands of girls who have a normal life – finding a man, getting married, having kids, going through the problems of life together. I want that kind of normal life – and finally I can feel I am coming back to it.
Several months into her treatment, she got a new job and – against expectations – was holding it down, working as a dispatcher in a local taxi company, she says.
‘It’s a simple job, but for me it is a start. I feel I have my self respect. So far I don’t have a new boyfriend but when the right man comes along, I now feel I could cope with a relationship again’.
Natasha is now free of the drugs. ‘I still have cravings, of course I do. But it’s getting less and less. I really feel on the way to a new life’.
In the case of Yuri (41), like Natasha, he had undertaken many conventional therapies. After waking up in a drunken stupor with three empty bottles of eau de cologne by his bed, he decided to contact Professor Chukhrova.
‘I also went to hypnosis – but everything I tried worked for one year at the most. Then came the desire for more vodka to help me cope with the stress of his job. I had heard about the caning treatment and rejected it. Then one morning I woke up in a drunken stupor and found three empty bottles of eau de cologne by my bed. I realised my real choice – try Professor Chukhrova’s treatment, or die.
‘They checked my heart and spoke to me in detail about my drink problem and my work pressures. It seemed like the usual psychiatrist’s stuff, much as I had gone through before. She told me the science behind it but also explained that it had been used to cure addictions in the past.
‘She checked my heart and said all was OK, then told me to remove my clothes.
‘The first strike was sickening. I screamed, and swore like a drunk sailor. Somehow I got through all 30 lashes. The next day I got up with a stinging backside but no desire at all to touch the vodka in the fridge. The bottle has stayed there now for a year.
‘I feel that my psychological craving for alcohol has gone. For three months I made secret visits to the clinic, not wanting any colleagues or friends to discover. Of course, I feel like a fool having to undergo this humiliating treatment. Now I just come once a month.
‘The toughest part was hiding the marks from my girlfriend. Eventually she saw – and there was the most appalling scandal.
‘She suspected me of all sorts of weird things, from a secret affair to visiting the local Dominatrix. I told her the truth – and when I explained it all she said she was proud of me for taking such a risky step to cure myself’.
Yuri says he has changed so much that his girlfriend says she wants to have a baby with him.
‘For the first time, she thinks she can trust me to be a good father. And our love life is better too. I don’t mean from some weird consequences of the caning. It’s better because I’ve given up alcohol.
‘I know people react strangely to such an extraordinary way of getting rid of addiction, but it was the only thing which helped me’.
It should go without saying that many conventional doctors have openly dismissed this method of therapy, with many commenting that there are many other ways to achieve endorphin release, such as acupuncture, exercise, chocolate, massage and (most obviously) sex. The Siberian psychologists say none of these are as effective as caning. ‘But you could eat chocolate, do a lot of exercise, and then have a caning – that way you’ll get a maximum dose of endorphins’, joked Dr Speransky.
The history of caning goes back to the 12th and 13th centuries’, says Dr Pilipenko.
‘Monks practiced it. They referred to caning like this: ‘If you are persecuted by some trouble or suffering in your life – come to us, we’ll help you end it, so that both your memory and you are freed from it’.
‘We, too, help our clients to realise the reason for their stress and their suffering, verbalise the reason and its consequences – and create a different reaction to the stress. The pain works like an injection against stress. It also helps to wake up the consciousness and makes the patient understand why he or she got into the stress in a more rational way.’
He insists: ‘We find a verbal analogue to every feeling, and create words of support from within the patient to himself or herself. We help create like an internal dialogue so that every stress is met with a clear understanding of what the patient is feeling, who they are, how they are going to deal with it, and how will they will win over this situation.’
The treatment is, he claims, ‘an old method of carrots and sticks, which works in two ways. We mark with a pain a mistake that the person made, and stimulate him or her for future deeds, so that he or she does something better in the future, fulfilling their dreams.
‘The pain acts like a warning so that the individual doesn’t let offence, annoyance, anger, laziness, desolation or hopelessness get in his way of going towards the next achievement.
‘We are helping by talking them through the painful experience, making sure that there is no confusion or fear over the feeling of pain, but instead a clear understanding of how he or she should overcome this pain being in a clear mind and observing one’s own reaction.
‘Our method is like a once-in-a-lifetime event which the patient remembers forever. It helps to have another look at a patient’s own inner resources – which makes many people healthier and happier.
‘It is the same way as we do vaccinations to make the immune system stronger. So we do an anti-stress jab to the nervous system. Out method helps to shorten the emotional reaction to the stress, and make it conscious and controllable.
‘A large number of various psychosomatic illnesses can be sorted by this fast and dynamic method. We get a lot of patients annoyed with themselves and with the world, weak, apathetic, tearful, and tired. We help them to change the way they react to the stresses, and help them overcome any worrying situation in the future’.
Like all therapy, there is a cost involved. Each session costs 3,000 roubles ($99), with each session lasting for two hours with three separate caning sessions within it – each with psychological analysis afterwards and express therapy. The recommended treatment period is two beating sessions a week for three months – with follow-up visits every four weeks for the next year. Even with taking the twice weekly sessions into account, compared to the cost of therapy in Australia, this is actually damned good value!
Given the unconventionality of the treatment, it is certainly not something most people would ever consider. However, as I said earlier, I’m not most people.
If I were being completely honest – as I always strive to be on this blog – I would definitely be willing to give this course of therapy a chance. Over the years I have taken many different medications, undergone countless different therapies and tried every last thing I can think of that could help me get my life back on track. So far, very little of this has worked.
With my episode worsening and the recent collapse back into alcoholism, I’ve reached a point where I’m willing to give anything a shot – even if it means sacrificing my ability to sit comfortably! Although thinking about it, I’d much prefer this to some of the more severe side effects I’ve received from medication over the years!
Unfortunately, Siberia is 2495km (1547 miles) from where I am, so the chances of me getting the opportunity to experience this treatment is slim to none.
Ah, well, maybe one day I’ll be able to see if I agree with Natasha or not.
‘I am the proof that this controversial treatment works,’ Natasha says, ‘and I recommend it to anyone suffering from an addiction or depression. It hurts like crazy – but it’s given me back my life. Without it I seriously believe I would now be dead’.
So? How far are you willing to go to deal with depression and/or addiction? Would you put your ass on the line (so to speak) over such an unconventional therapy? I’m genuinely curious as to what people think about this and any of the other unconventional therapies that are out there.