Thanksgiving 2017. Jacob ben Abraham. The following essay has been written out of love for Rachel, who will be working soon as a teacher and counselor in the recovery movement. It is dedicated to her, and was composed in the hope that it would help her do her work. She is a perfectionist who gets miserable if she suspects her work is anything less than the best. I would adore her if she decided to sweep floors or pump gasoline instead. But since she chooses to teach, I want her to know everything I know that might help her achieve her almost impossible goal. She has picked work that frustrates everyone who takes it seriously. I have looked for her for four decades. Now that I have found her, I want terribly to be some small part of her joy in life. If anybody else gets anything from reading this essay, that is OK too.
The subject of this essay is the subject I know best—recovery from alcoholism. My father was an alcoholic and so was my identical twin. I loved both and lost both to alcoholism. I drank from the summer I turned 18 until the summer I turned 40. From the beginning I was an abnormal drinker, and I suffered many of the consequences of being an alcoholic. Most of my energies for 35 years have gone into my own recovery and trying to be helpful to others who are alcoholic. Somewhere along the line I have spent nine years working in the field of alcoholism and drug addiction recovery, been a part of a DUI Court team, and read many books and articles on alcoholism and related subjects. Always my diligence has been sharpened by the intensely personal motives a student has when the subject of his studies is the life and death struggle of his own existence and that of those he loves most.
Perhaps my most significant source of information on this subject has been the huge body of experience that I have been given through listening to hundreds of alcoholics with whom I have worked closely as a sponsor. They have included many medical doctors, scientists, teachers, clergymen and addiction counselors, as well as even more men and women who were not professionals of any kind. Most of these people have also been individuals who had experienced varied degrees and forms of drug abuse or addiction. More than a few have gotten well and have been living wonderful sober lives, and many others have died as the result of returning to alcoholic drinking. I loved them all then and love them still.
Offering advice about drinking is usually a thankless mission. Almost all adults believe they need no advice about what to believe or practice when it comes to religion, politics and drinking alcoholic beverages. No amount of experience or learning on the part of the advisor is likely to overcome the advisee’s conviction that he already knows that which is truly basic and worthwhile. My approximately seventy years of curiosity and study and experience may be seen as worthless compared with the reader’s innate good sense and own experience. Please bear with me a few moments while I say a few things on this subject that will be foundational in the subsequent writing about alcoholism and recovery.
Of course we are talking about drinking beverages which contain alcohol. What some people refer to as “just another mood changing or mind altering drug” is much more than that. The front page article for the February 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine began by declaring “Alcohol isn’t just a mind altering drink: it has been a prime mover of human culture from the beginning, fueling the development of arts, language, and religion.” The article finishes off the notion that alcohol has retarded human progress with data that shows the enormous positive effects of drinking. It demonstrates conclusively that prohibition was not merely ineffective at achieving its goals; it also took dead aim at the fuel that has powered human development since before it helped invent writing, agriculture and music. Being anti drinking is as stupid as it is repressive.
Some form of drinking alcohol is a very important part of virtually every worthwhile social occasion from casual dating to holy sacrament. He who would discourage drinking alcohol is defying customs and ceremonies that bring millions of people together in bars and lounges, parties and celebrations, sports observances and once-in-a-lifetime achievements. Graduations and weddings, anniversaries and commencements, communions and Kiddush, Sabbath rituals and christenings. None of these events and many more would be crippled or demolished by abstinence from drinking alcohol.
For us, dear Rachel, wine has been at the heart of our lives for millennia. “Wine in Jewish thought is symbolic of many things. Life, joy, Torah, Israel, Jerusalem, the Messiah—all are compared to wine. There is thus a halo of poetic association over the goblet of wine used in religious celebration. The fact that wine forms part of every Jewish rite, including the Marriage Ceremony, had much to do with the characteristic sobriety of Israel. Wine was associated with religion, and undue indulgence became a sin as well as a vice (Abrahams).” The Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire with Commentary, J.H.Hertz (London;1946)at page 809.
Alcohol is the universal solvent for organic chemicals, that huge range of compounds which compose the human body and most of the things the human body depends upon. Incidentally and often consequently alcohol has a very great many effects on humans that no other compound can have. Drinking alcohol introduces consequences for every lining organ, tissue and cell in the human body. Mind changing drugs affect the transmitting of signals between nerve cells; alcohol does that, but alcohol does more. Much more.
Alcohol is a food. A damned good, immensely varied food that is properly used to enhance the pleasure of eating almost every other food. There are more varieties of alcohol in a well stocked grocery store than there are varieties of bread, cheese and meat combined. Of course this variety in grocery stores does not even include the even more immense varieties of beverages that can be obtained from distilled alcohol.
And a lot of what alcohol does within the human body and spirit is also very positive. Moderate drinkers average longer lifespans than people who never drink. Countless studies have shown that drinking red wine lowers blood pressure, enhances vascular performance and improves cardiac health. The symbolic value of certain alcoholic beverages is also very positive. Champaign toasts and beer bashes are as mandatory for certain celebrations as fireworks on the fourth of July.
The suggestion that alcohol is bad is especially offensive to alcoholics. But, as the text of Alcoholics Anonymous points out, most moderate drinkers recoil from condemnations of drinking as well.
I start with the subject of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are two very different paradigms called by the same name—AA. One is a very simple program and fellowship which originated in the efforts of two alcoholics to help each other stay sober in 1935. I will call that “Plain AA.” The second is probably more familiar to most people these days. It has grown out of the efforts of professional “treatment” to adapt the former to the real or supposed needs of clients suffering from drug addiction, substance abuse and chemical dependency—to use the most familiar labels.