Of the Baker City Herald

Alcohol no longer controls one Baker City mans life, but his alcoholism motivates him to help others suffering the same addiction that nearly killed him less then five years ago.

My life went from being totally hopeless to being pretty cool, says Mike Durgan, a Baker City native, who returned to his hometown to die in 1994 after suffering ongoing health problems caused by alcoholism.

He credits the detox program at Baker House, a division of New Directions Northwest Inc., with helping him to finally turn his life around.

Thats why he has volunteered his time and energy to secure funding to keep the program afloat. And more than that, to increase the overall investment in treatment and prevention at all levels.

Durgan is president of the New Directions Northwest Board of Directors in Baker City. This summer he will take office as vice chairman of the Governors Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs. The council meets monthly in Salem.

Durgan also serves as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer; is a member of the mutual ministry team of St. Stephens Episcopal Church; does volunteer work through Alcoholics Anonymous at the prison; and volunteers at the district and state basketball tournaments at Baker High School.

Durgan has busied himself this spring lobbying the Legislature for increased funding for alcohol and drug programs.

Were trying to get them to understand that its fiscally responsible to fund treatment, he said.

He believes that if legislators could visit the New Directions Northwest programs in Baker City, which serve adolescents, prisoners at the Powder River Correctional Facility and women and children at Recovery Village, funding would not be a problem.

If we could stick a baby in their arms who is clean and healthy with a sober mother whos not going to be abused, we wouldnt have any trouble getting money. And thats what weve got to do a better job of, he said.

Durgan has been sober since June of 1996, and he credits his success to support from friends who wouldnt give up on him.

He was hospitalized in serious condition for extended periods about two dozen times between 1992 and 1996. His recovery began with detox in the fall of 1994. It took three times through detox before he finally was successful in treatment.

One time he left after just a few days and ended up in the hospital a short time later with a pancreatitis attack.

The hospital stay cost him $10,000, compared to the $750 it would have cost had he stayed in detox for five days, he said.

Its important to let people know that recovery is hardly ever an event, he said. Its an ongoing process that happens for some people quickly and for some people takes a long, long time.

He believes he has always been an alcoholic, but his drinking escalated shortly after graduation from Baker High School in 1964 when he became seriously ill.

After a successful high school athletic career, he had planned to play football or basketball in college. His illness ended that dream.

I directed all my energy from athletics to drinking, he said.

Still, he became a successful banking executive and had a great family.

Everything looked really cool, but I knew my life was falling apart, he said.

Finally, in 1980, after family problems and trouble at work developed, he sought help through an outpatient treatment program.

People close to me knew I had a drinking problem, he said. They were worried about me before I was.

From 1980 to 1994, Durgan was in treatment four times. He lost two families and his good jobs along the way.

He remembers lying in a Salem hospital bed after his pancreas had blown up and deciding to return to his hometown to die.

Instead, he began the road to recovery. And about two years ago, after watching a Bill Moyers television special about addictions, he decided to become publicly active in changing societys perception of the problem.

Moyers son is an alcoholic, and the program identified prominent U.S. citizens who also have the disease, Durgan said.

The theme was that in order to educate the public to what addiction is about, people need to step up, he said.

By doing that, society can begin to understand that the illness effects people from all walks of life and that it is treatable, he said.

My life is a gift everyday now and I would have felt like a real coward if I didnt step up, he said. God intervened in all this stuff or I sure as heck wouldnt be here.