is meant by mental obsession and the obsessional character
as I understand it, we are all born with the freedom
of choice. The degree of this varies from person to
person, and from area to area in our lives. In the case
of neurotic people, our instincts take on certain patterns
and directions, sometimes so compulsive they cannot
be broken by any ordinary effort of the will. The alcoholic's
compulsion to drink is like that.
As a smoker, for example, I have a deeply ingrained
habit - I'm almost an addict. But I do not think that
this habit is an actual obsession. Doubtless it could
be broken by an act of my own will. If badly enough
hurt, I could in all probability give up tobacco. Should
smoking repeatedly land me in Bellevue Hospital, I doubt
that I would make the trip many times before quitting.
But with my alcoholism, well, that was something else
again. No amount of desire to stop, no amount of punishment,
could enable me to quit. What was once a habit of drinking
became an obsession of drinking - genuine lunacy.
Perhaps a little more should be said about the obsessional
character of alcoholism. When our fellowship was about
three years old some of us called on Dr. Lawrence Kolb,
then Assistant Surgeon General of the United States.
He said that our report of progress had given him his
first hope for alcoholics in general. Not long before,
the U.S. Public Health Department had thought of trying
to do something about the alcoholic situation. After
a careful survey of the obsessional character of our
malady, this had been given up. Indeed, Dr. Koib felt
that dope addicts had a far better chance. Accordingly,
the government had built a hospital for their treatment
at Lexington, Kentucky. But for alcoholics - well, there
simply wasn't any use at all, so he thought.
Nevertheless, many people still go on insisting that
the alcoholic is not a sick man - that he is simply
weak or willful, and sinful. Even today we often hear
the remark "That drunk could get well if he wanted to."
There is no doubt, too, that the deeply obsessional
character of the alcoholic's drinking is obscured by
the fact that drinking is a socially acceptable custom.
By contrast, stealing, or let us say shop-lifting, is
not. Practically everybody has heard of that form of
lunacy known as kleptomania. Oftentimes kleptomaniacs
are splendid people in all other respects. Yet they
are under an absolute compulsion to steal - just for
the kick. A kleptomaniac enters a store and pockets
a piece of merchandise. He is arrested and lands in
the police station. The judge gives him a jail term.
He is stigmatized and humiliated. Just like the alcoholic,
he swears that never, never will he do this again.
On his release from the jail, he wanders down the street
past a department store. Unaccountably he is drawn inside.
He sees, for example, a red tin fire truck, a child's
toy. He instantly forgets all about his misery in the
jail. He begins to rationalize. He says, "Well, this
little fire engine is of no real value. The store won't
miss it." So he pockets the toy, the store detective
collars him, he is right back in the clink. Everybody
recognizes this type of stealing as sheer lunacy.
Now, let's compare this behavior with that of an alcoholic.
He, too, has landed in jail. He has already lost family
and friends. He suffers heavy stigma and guilt. He has
been physically tortured by his hangover. Like the kleptomaniac
he swears that he will never get into this fix again.
Perhaps he actually knows that he is an alcoholic. He
may understand just what that means and may be fully
aware of what the fearful risk of that first drink is.
Upon his release from jail, the alcoholic behaves just
like the kleptomaniac. He passes a bar and at the first
temptation may say, "No, I must not go inside there;
liquor is not for me." But when he arrives at the next
drinking place, he is gripped by a rationalization.
Perhaps he says, "Well, one beer won't hurt me. After
all, beer isn't liquor." Completely unmindful of his
recent miseries, he steps inside. He takes that fatal
first drink. The following day, the police have him
again. His fellow citizens continue to say that he is
weak or willful. Actually he is just as crazy as the
kleptomaniac ever was. At this stage, his free will
in regard to alcoholism has evaporated. He cannot very
well be held accountable for his behavior. (The N.C.C.A.
'Blue Book', Vol. 12, 1960)