It was the winter of 2012-13, and Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam was in the middle of a heated re-election campaign. In one of only two officially contested races, Ald. Tendam faced Mark Sloan, one of two opponents from four years earlier.
In the midst of the campaign, a grueling months-long marathon that would end in early April 2013, Ald. Tendam realized all was not right in his world. A dependence on anti-anxiety and sleep aid medication, begun after a series of heart attacks, grew over time to the point that an increase in dosage was no longer a realistic option. Augmenting the medication with doses of alcohol boosted the effectiveness of the drugs, but usage continued to grow to the point, sometime in early 2013, that Ald. Tendam’s spouse, Neal Moglin, looked him in the eye one night and asked a very frank, direct question.
“Mark, do you think you have a problem?”
“I think I do,” responded Ald. Tendam.
The timing could not have been worse. A campaign requires constant face time, coffee events, possible debates, interviews and meetings. Yet Ald. Tendam decided the problem was serious enough that it could not wait. Immediately after his conversation with Mr. Moglin, Ald. Tendam entered the drug and rehabilitation program at the Chapman Center at Evanston Hospital.
Ald. Tendam traces his dependency to his stay in the hospital after a series of heart attacks in 2005. While in the hospital undergoing angioplasty, he was given anti-anxiety drugs on a slow drip. He remembers thinking, as the drugs entered his system, “What a relief.”
After his release from the hospital, Ald. Tendam could not stay asleep through the night. “I had trouble sleeping because my mind was racing,” he said. “I was worried about another heart attack, and I knew that it would take a couple of good stress echo tests to get out of the woods.” His doctor prescribed Lorazepam (Ativan), a Benzodiazepine, as a sleep aid. The problem was not getting to sleep, said Ald. Tendam, but staying asleep. The Lorazepam helped, but it turns out that the drug is actually what Ald. Tendam calls “a highly addictive narcotic.”
Ald. Tendam said Lorazepam is “no longer popular at all to prescribe as a sleep aid, but this was six years ago.” While it helped with sleep, dosage levels would only work for a certain period of time. Effectiveness would wear off as the body became tolerant of the drug.
Over a five-year period, the solution Ald. Tendam and his doctors reached was simply to increase the amount of Lorazepam. “My doctor did not hesitate to increase the dosage,” he said.
Ald. Tendam said he did not think of his usage as a problem, because the drug was perfectly legal and prescribed by a doctor. “Certainly, for a long time it was helping,” he said. He also hesitates when talking about his doctor’s role in his addiction. “I take responsibility for this myself,” he said. “I don’t want to blame a doctor.”
What started as a useful sleep aid became something else over the years, however. Ald.Tendam worked out, exercised, passed his stress echo tests, and got his cholesterol level below 140. He was, as he wanted to be, out of the woods.
Yet the Lorazepam continued. “It is hard for me to say I was addicted … but I believe I was addicted,” he said. The dosage level reached about as high as it could go under the circumstances, and Ald.Tendam realized “I would have to do something illegal,” such as “shop” with different doctors for prescriptions or buy on the online “black market” to get more. He said he would never take such a step.
“Rather than trying to seek another dosage, I started to drink more,” said Ald. Tendam. A couple of glasses of wine before taking the drugs would make the drugs more effective – at first. More drinking followed. “I probably went from a social drinker to more of a habitual drinker,” he said.
Then in the summer of 2012, Ald. Tendam went on a family cruise and drank more than he was accustomed to drinking. One reason, he said, was that the drugs eliminated hangovers. When he came home from that vacation, “I kept drinking more,” he said.
As the campaign season intensified, Ald. Tendam keep drinking more and more. “I was hiding it. I became self-conscious about it, obviously,” he said. He started drinking white wine because, in part, of the screw cap. He could finish a bottle, refill it with water, and replace the cap.
He began hiding empty bottles, then “releasing them” when no one was looking. “I was sneaky,” said Ald. Tendam. “I began to live dishonestly. I sacrificed some trust. That was something Neal and I had to figure out” as time went by, he said.
Prior to 2012, “I had never been much of a big drinker,” said Ald. Tendam. “I was usually the designated driver.” He would have a drink or two with dinner if not driving, he said, but not much more than that.
People began to notice his increased drinking, he said, noticing his third or fourth glass of wine with dinner. Mr. Moglin picked up on the change in behavior as well. After one dinner in particular, Ald. Tendam and Mr. Moglin returned home and Ald. Tendam filled a water bottle with wine.
“Are you drinking more wine?” Mr. Moglin asked.
“I thought I needed another glass,” Ald. Tendam replied.
It was at that point Mr. Moglin asked Ald. Tendam if he had a problem, and the following Monday that Mr. Moglin went with Ald. Tendam to get help. A doctor recommended the Chapman Center.
The Chapman Center program lasted six weeks, six hours a day, five days a week. In the middle of the campaign, the candidate disappeared for stretches of time. “Nobody knew this was going on except Neal and me” said Ald. Tendam. “Occasionally, someone [working on the campaign] would ask, ‘What have you been doing all day?’” But for the most part, “Neal took over the campaign.”
Ald. Tendam has high praise for the Chapman program. “There’s no hierarchy there,” he said, “It is all for one and one for all…. Everyone fits in at Chapman.” Rehab weaned him from drugs with smaller and smaller doses. Counseling helped the mental elements, but addiction was not all psychological. “I wasn’t in a dark corner shaking, but there was a physical component to it,” he said.
After the six week program, Ald. Tendam returned in time for the election. He emerged “feeling good, feeling better than I had in years.” He felt “bolder, more articulate, funnier.”
Ald. Tendam sounds almost guilty when talking about his recovery, because he knows that many people have a much longer, tougher struggle than he had. “There are all different degrees of addiction,” he explained. “I was able to recover quickly and get beneficial guidance. … I jumped in and got help.” Others have it much tougher, he readily admits.
He also recognizes that it could have been much worse. Tendam always clung stubbornly to a number of rules whenever he drank. “One thing I can say about myself is that I never drove after drinking. I wasn’t going to risk it,” he said.
Also, Mr. Moglin told him all along that politics and drinking do not mix. Ald. Tendam said never had more than a single glass of wine at political events and he never got on Facebook or sent emails while drinking. He never had even a single drink before or during Council meetings or events.
Ald. Tendam said he decided to go public with his addiction struggles to “promote awareness” of drug addiction. “If someone reading this” recognizes the signs of drug addiction and gets help, he said, then he will have “helped someone to avoid the experience I experienced. … At some point, I lost control. The drug went from helping me to hurting me,” he said.
“I am not ashamed or embarrassed” about going through rehab,” Ald. Tendam added. “At most I am disappointed in myself.” At the same time, he said, he is “proud of how Neal and I handled it.”
Ald. Tendam said his experience at Chapman made him realize how much drug addiction there is in the community, and that has changed the way he views certain issues at City Council. “I want to pursue mental health issues,” he said, “and especially the substance abuse aspects of it. [My experience] really strengthened my concern for keeping mental health funding.”
He now brings more energy, and mindfulness, to Council votes. “I don’t think I realized the effect” the Lorazepam was having.