the doctor’s opinion

When COVID broke out in March and I suddenly found myself squatting in a camper on a cement slab in my Mom’s backyard, I thought I might lose my mind if it stretched into summer.  By July, however, California had the highest rate of infections in the country, many businesses were back under lockdown orders, and they were talking now like it might be another year before things returned to normal, if they ever got back there at all.   

To struggle against the situation would be like flopping around in a straightjacket.  You would only injure and exhaust yourself, ultimately making things worse.  My attempts to drink myself out of it had resulted in a seizure and an even greater loss of freedom when I’d lost my driver’s license.  All of my instincts and every trick I’d used in the past were useless now.  I could either accept the situation and learn to be a human for the first time in my life, or die a gruesome death on the battleground of the fantasy world I’d been occupying since I was a child.

The ghosts from the Holy Ghost Tribe were largely unfazed by the hysteria and fear that accompanied the pandemic.  For them trauma is as natural as water to a fish.  They know that there are fates worse than death, such as suffering from an addiction severe enough to rob you of your connection to your Creator and fellow passengers, to become a hungry ghost, wandering the face of the planet, trying to fill a bottomless pit, never remotely satisfied, no matter what you toss into it.

When I discovered the gathering at Tower 7, and learned that there were others out there like me, and that there was hope for us, my panic turned manic, and went from terror to euphoria within the space of one week.  Then, when after flying around on a pink cloud for five days, I discovered that there is a psychiatric condition called euphoria, that perfectly described my state of mind, I plunged into a deep depression, the old, familiar baseline that I’ve been operating from for most of my existence. 

I went to the gathering every morning and the bonfire ceremonies on Saturday night, but still had long days to survive.  At least once a day I’d need to hurry to the shoreline and try to shake up my mood by plunging into the icy ocean.  I’d walk on the sand, miles every day, and now that I had a bike, take it on marathon journeys, up and down the coast.

At every gathering I went to, some ghost would always say that showing up at the circle was fine, it was a great start, but if you really wanted to be healed, if you were serious about finding your humanity, or having it restored, you needed to find a guide to take you through the Twelve Awakenings.  I’d approached Santos, a roaming vagabond, drawn to the fact that when he shared it was always about a solution to a common problem, not just the things he was going through in his daily life or his messed-up childhood.  We all had one of those.

Santos had gotten me started on my journey by giving me a copy of the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Within it lies the twelve-step program created by two alcoholics in the 1930s to treat what they referred to as their spiritual malady.  They’d concluded that the only cure for their chronic condition was to establish a connection with a Higher Power, one powerful enough to accomplish what they could not, and keep them from drinking.

Santos had asked me to read all the personal stories that make up the second half of the book and then to write my own story.  The stories that I read were the same as mine.  It felt like I was reading about extended family members, others who’d discovered a magic potion that had freed them from their insecurities and inadequacies, only to have it turn on them at a later point and begin to devour them, like a black widow, feeding on its mate.

After identifying my affliction, I was eager to get to work on the remedy, and had read and underlined the whole book in only a few days.  I didn’t know what the timeline for anything was anymore.  Perhaps a vaccine for COVID would soon become available, and then I’d need to find a job and get back on the road again.  What I hoped was to make it through all Twelve Awakenings in two or three months.  If I hadn’t fully absorbed them by then, at least I would’ve gotten a strong overview.

Santos, however, seemed to have another pacing plan in mind, and for my third assignment just asked me to read The Doctor’s Opinion, a chapter of less than eight pages that I’d already read and felt like I could get through in five minutes.  When I asked about doing more, he said if I found the assignment to be that underwhelming, then I could go ahead and read the preface and foreword to the first four additions as well.  Perhaps that would tide me over.

I did read the preface and foreword to the four editions, again, and noted how the fellowship had grown from one hundred members in 1935, with branches in Akron, New York, and Cleveland, to over two million members by the time the fourth edition went to print in 2001, with groups in over a hundred and fifty countries.

Then I got to The Doctor’s Opinion.  Dr. William D. Silkworth was the chief physician at a hospital specializing in drug and alcohol addiction in the 1930s.  One of the eventual co-founders of AA, Bill W., came through his doors as a patient, and was the type of alcoholic that the doctor regarded as a hopeless case.  Bill W., began to develop some of his own ideas and work with other alcoholics during this time, however, and the results had been promising.

The doctor believed that chronic alcoholics must have an allergy to alcohol that prevents them from drinking like normal people.  Once given a drink, they cannot control their cravings, and will almost inevitably find a way to drink again, even if they have everything to lose.  He came to agree with Bill W. and some of the other early members of AA, that something more than human power is required to lift the cravings from a chronic alcoholic.  He concluded that a psychic change must occur in the alcoholic in order for this to happen.

Up until this point, the medical establishment considered most chronic alcoholics to be doomed.  The altruistic movement that Dr. Silkworth watched spring up, right before his very eyes, however, gave him hope for the future.  He ends his testimony by earnestly advising every alcoholic to read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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