Recovery Today / September 2010
-- by Fr. Bill W.
The poet Carl Sandburg once wrote: “Whenever a society or civilization fail, there is always one condition present … they forget where they came from.” And for us alcoholics and addicts, Sandburg might have added a little postscript. He might have noted that if we forget where we came from - we often do more than fail – sometimes we die!
Over the years, I’ve seen so many alcoholics and addicts succumb yet again to the sick, siren’s call that beckons us back to the madness of our drinking or drugging. The Big Book calls it our “obsession of the mind” – a certain “unmanageability” that takes control of our lives. This “alcoholic insanity” lies buried somewhere deep in our unconscious and from time to time it awakens and calls us back to the very thing that’s killing us. As the Big Book describes it, “We are unable, at certain times, to bring to 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 (or drug.)” We forget all about Nancy Reagan’s advice to “Just say NO”;” instead, we answer “Yes” and we play another deadly round of Russian roulette from which some of us never return.
Back in the early 1930’s, Carl Jung spotted this madness in his alcoholic patient Rowland Hazard. Jung was one of the best in the healing arts, yet he had the deep-seated humility to tell his patient that he could be of little further aid in his case – that he was up against a force of near demonic proportions – a force that would not respond to ordinary analysis or psychotherapy, but required instead a “vital spiritual experience” if it was to be overcome. In retelling this story, the Big Book says, “Rowland felt as though the gates of hell had closed on him.”
Something I learned not too long ago was that the word “alcoholic” is actually fairly new when it comes to talking about men like Rowland and me – and possibly about you too. But there was another word that was far more popular back in the mid 1800’s and early 1900’s that the men of science used to describe us. They called us: “dipsomaniacs.”
On first hearing it, I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the word – so I looked it up in my dictionary. (Fortunately for me, it was listed right next to the word “dipshit” – a character trait my wife had diagnosed me with on numerous, previous occasions, so I went immediately to the right page!) Now the word “dipsomaniac” actually comes from the Greek word “dips” which translates, “to thirst” and “maniac,” which, of course, means to do something “wildly, uncontrollably, irresistibly.” So, what scientists were describing in that strange sounding word was a person who “thirsted uncontrollably after alcohol.” And even though he might stay sober for long stretches at a time, when “the great thirst” came over him – it took over – it took control - and it sent the dipsomaniac right back to the only thing he knew that could quench his thirst.
There was no “Dipso’s Anonymous” back in Rowland’s day; but there’s a pretty good chance Jung may have sent his patient to check out the Oxford Group and to hope and pray for one of those “spiritual experiences” those folks were claiming in great numbers. And a book that was popular in Oxford Group circles at the time was Varieties of Religious Experiences by William James.
James was the Father of American psychology and his was actually the book Bill Wilson read in Town’s Hospital the day after he claimed his own spiritual awakening. James doesn’t pull any punches when he describes the spiritual warfare raging in the mind of the dipsomaniac. But in the battle to remain sober James tells his readers why the odds fall so heavily in favor of relapse: James writes, “Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says NO; drunkenness expands, unites, and says YES. It is in fact the great YES function in man.”
Why would we ever go back to using the very stuff that’s killing us? The answer is: Because somehow, deep in the unconscious of our illness, we see it as our only way to “LIFE!” Most alcoholics and addicts and addicts can remember our first drink or drug. Why is that? I think James would answer, because it opened a mystical door deep inside us. It opened a door that when we walked through – somehow it felt like home. Alcohol or drugs took us to a place where we felt like we finally belonged. A place that shouted, “YES” and quickly drowned out our paltry, little “NO.” James writes: “The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature – usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour.”
James, and Jung, and AA, eventually, all arrive at the same conclusion to the addict’s spiritual dilemma – that if we don’t find a new and higher level of consciousness – a spiritual place, deep inside our minds – a place that feels better to us and more at home to us than we felt in that drunken place – then sooner or later we’re going to go back there.
James concludes by warning, “The only cure for dipsomania is religiomania!” The only cure for addicts of the “hopeless variety” is the hope that comes from being made into new creatures through a new and vital relationship with God. The Big Book concludes its Chapter to the Agnostics with the assurance that this path is open to us all. “…God restored us all to our right minds…. He has come to all who have honestly sought Him. When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us.”
When Carl Jung penned his famous letter to Bill Wilson, he spoke of the deep thirst that dipsomaniacs know so well and that only God can seem to quench. He concluded his letter with the first verse of Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” We dipsos are indeed a thirsty bunch – the question is: Where will we go to drink?
Fr. Bill Wigmore is President/CEO of Austin Recovery.
Send comments, questions and treatment scholarship donations to:
Fr. Bill Wigmore, President/CEO / Austin Recovery / 8402 Cross Park Dr. /Austin, Texas 78754
or email: BillW@AustinRecovery.org