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CATHOLIC WORLD, Vol. 169: 272-276, 1949
UP IS NOT ENOUGH
Joseph B. McAllister
member of long standing in Alcoholics Anonymous was telling
a young father how all his troubles came from drinking.
Once he "dried up," said the counselor, life might
not be exactly heavenly, but certainly it would be far removed
from the hell-on-earth it was at present. The prospect was
delightful. It was what he wanted to hear and believe.
sat down and reviewed his many problems. Wasn't drink the
cause of them all? His troubles with his boss obviously
came from his frequent absences from work, and the fact
that when he was on the job, too often he was muddle-headed.
His family's poverty was due not to his low earning power
but to his alcoholic spending. His relationship with his
wife and children - awful and getting worse - was clearly
a product of his lust for drink. He didn't feel well most
of the time. That too could be blamed on alcohol. As the
young man sweated through his list of woes, it became marvelously
apparent to him that he could dispose of them all by doing
one thing - a difficult thing, certainly, but not impossible.
He simply wouldn't drink anymore.
realized he would always be an alcoholic, potentially. His
friend in A.A. told him that. But an alcoholic who never
took a drink was just the same as a non-alcoholic - outwardly.
The net effect was the same. All he had to do was stop -
and then live up to the program.
I looked at the young man I couldn't help wondering how
he would react on a not far distant day when he would have
to face the fact that drying up was not enough. I recalled
how a friend of mine took it. He was bewildered and bitter
when, dry as a bone, he discovered that some of his troubles
were worse than ever. The realization came close to throwing
him back into the nightmare of alcoholism.
build up such false prospects in the mind of the compulsive
drinker is to do him a great unkindness. Drying up is seldom
the complete answer to his problems. The involved and underground
impulses that sent him down the alcoholic way in the first
place remain with him.
the compulsive drinker who has an inferiority complex. Alcohol
furnishes a quick, easy hurdle over repressions. Given a
few drinks, the timid soul finds himself a brilliant conversationalist.
His humor seems peerless. He shines. Now remove the alcohol.
He is once more his diffident, self-conscious, nervous and
feeling of inferiority is, of course, only one of many human
woes which taken singly or in combination may furnish the
impulse toward alcoholism. There was Joe, for instance.
After seven years of marriage he was still in love with
his wife. But she had remained the sweet, irresponsible
adolescent who first attracted him. His children were neglected,
his home badly kept, his hard-earned money carelessly spent.
The thing that bothered him most, however, was the feeling
that she took him for granted. Resentment and hurt pyramided
within him. Words led to words and Joe found himself playing
the bully and saying cruel things he did not mean. His wife's
tears made him despise himself.
he discovered alcohol. Through its haze he got a flattering
picture of himself - much sinned against and justly enraged.
Best of all, he could think about his wife without feeling
all hurt inside. She deserved what she got. The sad old
process followed. Joe became a drunkard. Job, home, wife,
children - everything he valued was slipping away from him
when he joined A.A.
stuck to the program. Month after month he stayed away from
the first drink. Yet home conditions grew steadily worse.
His wife, completely her immature self, more than once wished
Joe would go back to his favorite tavern - he was so irritable
with her and the children. His self-restraint set her on
edge. Incredible as it sounds - but it will sound that way
only to the uninitiated - she took to drinking herself.
Whatever the collective causes of Joe's alcoholism, drying
up did not make his home idyllic.
compulsive drinker, Dick, started drinking because he couldn't
get along with his business associates. His temper was always
getting out of hand. Trouble inevitably followed, either
with his boss or his fellow employees. A kindly man at heart,
he loathed himself for these outbursts of temper and the
caldron of bitterness they stirred up. Alcohol became his
cushion and his consolation. But it cost him one job after
another. It ruined his home, got him more and more into
debt, and was well on its way to destroying him physically,
mentally and spiritually. Drying up surely seemed a cure-all.
But he discovered that, dry as the Sahara, he still had
his temper. He resented opposition and restraint as much
as ever. Only now he had to face his frightening inadequacies
without any anesthesia.
there was Eleanor, unmarried and in her forties. She had
a well-paid job in which she was not particularly interested
and an attractive apartment which served merely as a backdrop
for loneliness. Gradually she made friends with John Barleycorn.
After that, loneliness was never a problem. But the price
was staggering. Her solitary drinking seemed headed for
inevitable tragedy, when she joined A.A. She achieved sobriety
all right; but the loneliness returned. She seemed only
to have swapped tormentors. True, she found a certain amount
of companionship amongst the members. But it didn't go deep
enough. Much more than abstinence was needed to bring her
to a satisfactory adjustment.
she had access to an alcoholic clinic and through the guidance
of its competent psychiatrist eventually proved herself
superior to her personality defect.
and Dick worked out their problems too, but their help came
in a different way. They became people of meaning to themselves
and of value to others through the assistance of trusted
advisers. Joe and his wife were led to see the basic weakness
in their marriage, and eventually to erase it. Dick came
to realize that back of his temper was a terrible pride
which detonated his anger. Self-knowledge sent him back
with extra fervor to his religion and the imitation of Christ.
alcoholics, perhaps all, need psychiatric help. A man starts
to drink for reasons of which he may or may not be aware.
When he parts from alcohol those reasons may or may not
still exist. In any case his means of escape is gone, but
his difficulties remain. The dried up alcoholic still has
his inferiority complex. He still has his temper. He still
must suffer uncongenial moments with family! friend! employer
- and worst of all with himself. He must still live in a
world with painful prodding.
of the personality problem which is the substructure of
his inability to adjust to conditions under which other
people are living successfully is the first step in his
rehabilitation; the second is the building up of attitudes
and habits which will help him overcome the weakness. Both
require long-term! intelligent psychiatric help - but above
all, he must be convinced that ultimately he is the doctor.
As in the cases of Joe and Dick, the help may come from
other than professional... ...alcoholic is smart enough
to know that whisky is controllable - but it is just a start.
might tend to discourage some who are struggling for sobriety.
But it should not. For what every alcoholic must know is,
that unless he stops drinking, there is no hope of anything
else. Once dried up he can proceed to take the basic difficulties
shall attempt to outline, first in a general and then in
a specific way, the steps he must follow. First of all (in
keeping with the A.A. program) the compulsive drinker seeking
rehabilitation ought to turn with all fervor and humility
to the faith and discipline implicit in his obligation to
God. Such action will serve a twofold purpose: religious
discipline will help him to overcome character weaknesses;
faith in a will higher than his own, will open a source
of limitless strength which he is free to make use of, when
and how he needs it.
he must establish a motive, clearly understood and powerful
enough to direct, even impel, him toward choices that will
replace old defeating habits with healthful new ones. Acquiring
good habits is not a mechanical procedure. It does not fall
into the classification of muscle building or weight reduction,
dependent solely upon a day-by-day repetition of certain
prescribed exercises. Rather, the will must adhere to the
principle of reasoned choice. And choice, following the
cue of man's intelligence must have motive behind it.
then, is the motive powerful enough to impel the alcoholic
toward right choice in all things that affect him - from
the minutest detail of his environment to the broadest intellectual
well meaning people still assault the alcoholic with appeals
to decency, loyalty, love of wife, children, mother or father.
They bring in the fear of punishment in this life and maybe
hell in the next, or both. Experience has shown that none
of these motives is sufficient.
alcoholic's own obligation to himself is the only motive
strong enough and wide enough to support the construction
of his new life. This may sound egotistic and selfish. Actually
it is neither; for self-love is not selfishness. It is the
obligation a man has to act in such a way that his conduct
will conform to his destiny, which is his inherent and over-all
development in terms of his highest and most truly human
ideals. In the order of grace and nature, a man's own perfection
is his truest destiny. It furnishes him with the most powerful
motive within the scope of human imagination.
applying these broad, general principles toward a solution
of his own problem, the alcoholic, and those who would help
him, may find a few specific suggestions of value:
He should put himself into situations favorable to his new
way of life and incompatible with his former behavior. This
means choosing his physical surroundings, friends, books,
hobbies, work, pleasure, and everything which bears upon
him externally, with his motive firmly in mind. A persevering
member of A.A. once told me that he likes everything about
drinking. "I like the taste and smell and sight of
liquor," he said. "Above all, I like the men I
drank with." The day may come when the compulsive drinker
can be with his friends again and not drink. But in the
beginning he would be foolish to try it.
He should not permit exceptions - either in the resolve
not to drink or in the systematic building of new habits.
Each slip, says William James, is like dropping a ball of
string. Just a little carelessness and much tedious work
He should carry out good resolutions as soon as possible.
Sentiments and wishes are for the most part useless unless
they end in action. In fact, they can be harmful. A wasted
resolution is more damaging than a lost opportunity, for
it sets a positive obstacle in the normal, wholesome path
of future resolutions. William James thought there was no
more contemptible type of human character than the sentimentalist
and dreamer who spends his life on a sea of sensibility
but never gets down to vigorous action. In short, a person
should not allow himself the luxury of an emotion toward
good without giving it concrete expression.
in this article I have referred to normal living. Too much
should not be read into that word normal. Most people's
lives vibrate between success and failure intermixed with
peaks of tranquility and tumult. No life is free from dissatisfaction
and incompleteness. St. Augustine in his Confessions, wrote:
"Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless
until they rest in Thee." The seeds of discontent ferment
in human nature along with man's insufficiency. Recognition
of these truths is behind A.A.'s insistence that the alcoholic
must admit his need for divine help.
the alcoholic know what he is in for. Sobriety truly means
the alcoholic's salvation - in this life and perhaps in
the next. But drying up is not the complete solution. It
is only the key, which opens the way for him to live successfully
without the crutch of alcohol. Granted intelligent help
and perseverance, the compulsive drinker can anticipate
a rewarding life. Yet, it will not be that simple because
he stays away from drink. But unless he does stay away,
he will not be able to look forward to anything.