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A pandemic story of addiction and pain

by Chris Churchill - Feb. 10, 2022 - Times Union

The COVID-19 pandemic threw Jamie Magur off the wagon. Newly released from jail, he's putting his life back together.

TROY — At the start of the pandemic, Jamie Magur had been sober for nearly seven years.

That was no small thing. In a prior version of his life, Magur's long, painful struggle with alcoholism had resulted in an 18-month prison sentence after six arrests for drunken driving. As he willingly concedes, he was fortunate not to have killed somebody.

But after leaving prison, Magur turned a corner. He launched a successful downtown Troy barbershop. He was married and raising two children. He ran for the Troy City Council a few times, unsuccessfully. Then, the wheels fell off.

Early in 2020, the pandemic closed his barbershop, Troy Grooming Co., and overturned Magur's life. His kids were no longer in school. Financial pressures were mounting. To stop himself from worrying, to numb the pain and the stress and the depression, Magur poured himself a stiff drink. Then another. And another.

Many Americans were doing the same. Alcohol consumption spiked when the pandemic arrived and has apparently continued, with one recent study finding that nearly 20 percent of adults have been drinking heavily.

For many of us, those glasses of wine or whiskey helped deal with the sudden loss of connection to friends and family, with the disruption to routines, with new anxieties or even with simple boredom. Heck, in the early days of the pandemic, there wasn't much else to do — and liquor stores were "essential businesses."

But for Magur, that first drink (vodka, he believes) was a descent. Suddenly, he was right back to where he was before the prison sentence. He spiraled. He lost control. He drank daily,

consuming a few drinks, at best, or as many as 12.

One evening late in 2020, Magur sneaked a few drinks after work then climbed onto his Vespa for the trip to his family's home near Frear Park. He crashed the scooter before he got there, an accident that sent him to Albany Medical Center with severe head trauma.

The crash also put him back behind bars on a felony DWI charge. As part of a plea deal, Magur walked into Rensselaer County Jail in October. That four-month sentence probably saved his life, Magur told me, but it was torture. Most of all, he missed his two young daughters. He felt guilty for letting them down and the pain he had once again caused.

"That's just something that I have to accept," he told himself. "This has to be the end of my relationship with alcohol."

Magur, 42, left jail about a week ago and is attempting to rebuild his life. He's working again at the barbershop. He's trying to heal the damage done to his marriage and to friendships. He's trying to regain trust and atone.

It is possible, of course, that Magur would have returned to drinking without the coronavirus pandemic. In that alternate version of reality, some other stress or frustration might have led him to pour that first drink.

But after two years of COVID-19, Magur also illustrates the pandemic behind the pandemic — a tidal wave of depression and addiction fueled, in part, by isolation and loneliness. Alarmingly, drug overdoses were up 30 percent in 2020 to the highest number on record, and early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests last year's toll was even higher. "What COVID did to people who struggle with addiction is real," said Magur, who is taking the medication naltrexone to quell his cravings.

Magur doesn't want people to think he's using the tragedy of the pandemic as an excuse for his fall. He knows skeptics will find his decisions unforgivable or contemptible. Of course, it would be easier for him to return to his life without airing his mistakes so publicly.

But talking openly and honestly about addiction, he said, is the only way to drag it from the shadows. It's also his way of accepting responsibility.

"I know that I let people down, but I'm praying that I have the opportunity to make amends," he said. "I'm human. I made a mistake. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."

As he reconstructs his life, Magur hopes he can be a light for those trapped in the darkness of addiction. Don't give up, he said. There is hope. You can get through this. Most importantly, ask for help.

"You have to reach out to someone, no matter who that is," he said. "The door at the barbershop is always open."



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