Monthly Archives: January 2014

My head is out to get my ass

These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.. – Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 23

 AA can’t get you sober. That’s a medical issue for which we have no resources.

AA can help you stay sober under the right circumstances.

The most insane thing I can do is to start drinking, and I must be sober to do it. In other words, every AA that has gone back out did it while sober. This may seem obvious, but there is a crucial fact emerging from that: AA is here to protect the minds of sober alcoholics from themselves.

 As Bill found out all too well, the tremendous self-knowledge he had acquired from his time with Dr. Silkworth was useless because this self-knowledge was operating from within an insane mind.

We are all familiar with the stock definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, yada yada. But that’s really a definition of neurosis, a mild and very common form of unhealthy thinking. A psychotic, on the other hand, is reacting perfectly rationally to the distorted reality in which he finds himself. And most people suffering from psychoses are quite convinced of their own sanity. So which side of that wall do you think the alcoholic stands? That’s why we’ll find words like “delusion” in chapters to come.

I love to recount an episode in my own life. (Many of you have heard it, probably too much. Apologies.) I was in treatment back in 1981 at a place called Sacred Heart run by a recovered alcoholic priest in downtown Detroit. The center was mainly for low-bottom drunks. I did not, by the way, think I belonged there, but how I ended up in that place is a story in itself.

We received rudimentary medical workups by nurses who probably did it for nothing. As my blood was being drawn for liver enzyme tests, I mentioned that I would be interested in the results since I was worried about the condition of my liver. Her reply was simple and profound: “Your problem ain’t your liver, honey. It’s your thinker you need to worry about.” That is exactly what that quote from the Big Book is saying.

I remember the “Forty Questions” pamphlets which I think the National Council of Alcoholism put out. I though I was doing pretty good because I only answered “yes” to half of them, until I found out that two or three “yes” responses were enough for a positive diagnosis. But some years later I heard a speaker make the following observation. If you substitute the word “think” for “drink” it is also a good barometer. Have you ever lost a job because of thinking? Does thinking interfere with your relationships? Has anyone ever told you that you should stop thinking, or that your thinking had become a problem?

Eventually we will be told that we can use our God-given minds because sanity will have returned, but a lot of work will have been done by the time we reach that happy point.

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Reasons Yet Obscure

The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink. – Alcoholics Anonymous, p.24

If you’ve ever attended a “Joe and Charlie” Big Book study, you know that you are supposed to pay attention to the “squiggly writing.”  So, even though I haven’t been particularly inspired to comment on this chapter, I feel duty bound to discuss this squiggle.

To this day, with all the powers of science and medicine being brought to bear on this question, the reasons are “yet obscure.” And I certainly make no claim to understanding the roots of alcoholism per se. But I can make some very specific observations about my own case.

I drank because, as Dr. Silkworth says in his “opinion,” I liked the effects of alcohol. From the moment I took my first drink, I knew that this was something that was going to become a permanent part of my life. It would be inaccurate to say that I was “addicted” to alcohol at this point. I simply knew that drinking made me feel better. And who didn’t want to feel better all the time?

Now what is really strange about that last paragraph is the unstated assumption that not drinking felt bad. I didn’t know I felt bad until alcohol made me feel better. So it was obvious that I was born with a deficiency, one that I was not aware that I had. I was truly born with an alcohol deficiency. And drinking made me whole, made me right.

I make the analogy of someone who, from the day they are born, has a burning sensation over their entire body. They don’t know they have it because they have never know anything else. Then one day they get a shot of Novocaine. Suddenly that part of their body feels indescribably better, and they make the decision that this Novocaine is some good stuff. They’re going to use it every day they can.

So what kind of pain was I in before alcohol came along to relieve it? I don’t know. To say that my pain was the kind that a sedative would cure simply begs the question. But I strongly suspect that most alcoholics can relate to that condition.

However, as I became more and more caught up in this obsession, those around me began to be affected, mildly at first but worse and worse each passing year. And I was a witness to this tragedy. But to acknowledge it would threaten my drinking. So I needed to become more and more selfish in order to protect the only source of happiness I knew.

For me, alcoholism was an abnormal state of mind and body coupled with an ever intensifying selfishness needed to relieve it. It would be a long time before I developed true physical dependency on booze, but I would never have gotten to that point if I hadn’t started out this way.

Thus was my denial cemented into place. And when the sad day came when I could no longer hide from the miserable truth, I had no resources to cope with it. I could only imagine a life stretching dismally before me, of one binge after another with no relief in sight.

I don’t know if any of that sheds light on alcoholism in general. But when enough of us get together and begin describing that inward experience of being a drunk, the mystery of “why” becomes increasingly irrelevant. We become caught up in the glorious reality that “there is a solution.” 

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