RW151 - Chasing the Dragon

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • Alcoholism and addiction (Drugs)

The show title refers to the phenomenon when a person is trying to go back to a positive state that they once were in when using drugs, but never being able to go back there.

The audio starts with John articulating something from later in the show.

John texted Dan much earlier than usual to confirm their time and Dan had the impression that John was awake, but John rolled over and went back to sleep immediately. He was just trying to determine how much time he had left to sleep. If Dan had said anything other than what he said, John would have done something different, or the same. John has been doing a lot of things and there are a lot of things to do. He would prefer to sleep in, but that hasn't been much of an option lately.

Alcoholism and addiction (RW151)

People like to be busy because they like to not like to be busy. They like to be busy and have that be the problem, for instance John talked to a friend last night who has always been busy for the last 20 years. He wished he could do that one thing but he can't because he is so busy. John told him for 20 years: ”Well, you could probably do the thing!” - ”I wish I could!” He owns his own business and last night was the first time that he said: ”I have done this to myself!” and John nodded. He is aware that he has done it to himself, but he is not prepared to change course in his life. He is not ready to not have that be the case, meaning there must be something about it that he likes or needs, although he professes to be miserable.

John is not sure how to interpret it when busyness is someone's addiction. He knows a lot of people where a drug is the addiction or alcohol is the addiction and they often recognize that it makes them miserable, that it consumes their life, that it impacts their relationships, and that it makes them unhealthy, but they keep doing it. We look at them and we call them a drug-addicted person, but busyness is doing the same thing: Affecting their health, depriving them of enjoyment, making their relationship suffer, making them miserable for decades, and in a lot of cases we admire the person! We say: ”Wow! They are industrious! They are doing work!”, which is the ultimate virtue in American society.

You almost want to stage an intervention and say: ”Stop it! You are hurting yourself! You could be doing something else! You could stop doing this drug and go on long walks and wake up late!” and the person goes: ”Yeah, easy for you to say!”, which is exactly what a drug addict says. John does not want to apply the drug addiction analogy to every obsessive behavior that vaguely resembles it, but Alcoholics Anonymous meetings branched off into 10.000 little splinter groups, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addiction Anonymous, or the gambling addiction. If you wanted to go to AA and talk about those things in the past you could, but the old Mustache Petes wouldn't like it, but fuck those guys.

12-step programs for every kind of addiction

Now you can find a group that applies the 12-step principle to almost anything that ails you and John feels conflicted about it because a lot of damage has been done culturally to the proliferation of 12-step programs just in dealing with drugs and alcohol. 12-step programs work if people come to them with humility and the desire to stop drinking. People in AA will say: ”It works if you work it!”, but AA isn't a cudgel. 12-step programs can't just grab somebody off the street and put them on a bus with barred windows and say: ”We are going to 12-step the shit out of you and you are going to get cured!” because they don't work that way.

You come to AA and say: ”I've tried everything! I am beat! I will do what you say! It feels super-weird for me to talk to you strangers about God and it feels super-weird for me to admit that I am powerless over alcohol, but I am so beat that I am willing to do these things that I consider indignities. I consider them indignities because I have so much pride, but I recognize my pride has led me to this fall, and I surrender and I submit!” You are not submitting to anything! You are not taken into a room with a tribunal, nobody becomes your boss, there is no hierarchy in it, but you are just submitting to the idea that you can't fix it yourself.

AA and 12-step principles got plucked out of that pretty rarefied and intense situation. A lot of drunks will never ever bend the knee to AA, and there are surely drunks listening right now who are saying: ”I'm not going to fucking bend the knee to AA!”, but you are not doing that! There is no AA! It is not a group that you are submitting to, but you are submitting to the idea and the first thing you say is: ”I am powerless over alcohol!” and that is the thing that most drunks cannot do and won't do. Most addicts of all kinds will not say that they are powerless over the thing, but they will say they have it under control and all they need to do is one more thing.

The ultimate question is what about it is so difficult to do, which is why we talk about those things as a disease. They are clearly not a disease in the usual sense of the word. Addiction is not a disease that you can catch or pass on and it is not a genetic disease in the sense of it being identifiable in the gene-scape, but ”disease” is the best description of this mental and spiritual affliction because it is hyper-resistant to any kind of cure. It is not the same as other psychological disorders either. It is not uniform, but it has a lot of similarities that are shared by everyone who suffers from it.

It is mental, but also very much a soul disease, which makes it difficult for a lot of rationalists to confront, because rationally you should be able to make a chain of decisions, you should be able to follow a plan, and resolve the situation, which is why so many addicts of all kinds say things like: ”From now on I am only going to gamble on Fridays!” or ”From now on I am going to switch the color of binders and I am going to adopt this 14-point organization plan!” or ”I am only going to drink light beer from Miller!” They try to get a hold of things with a plan, but that plan falls apart and rather than recognize over and over again that there is no plan that can help them here, they switch their attention to the next plan.

They say: ”The problem was that the color of the binders was wrong and I got to get a whole new set of binders!” It is variously like an ego problem or a hubris problem and most alcoholics can look back at their lives and recognize that they were on the same path a long time before they started drinking. They can find things in their past that will make everybody at an AA meeting laugh, and it is a laugh of recognition. They can acknowledge that there was always this thing in them, that they were either the greatest or the worst in every situation, and it could oscillate 15 times in a day. First you are the fucking greatest, and then you are the fucking worst. It is a constant disproportionate sense of yourself. You are neither the greatest nor the worst in any of these situations, but you really feel like you are, which dovetails with a lot of mental disorders, but it is in its own class.

Being able to have only one beer

It is not the alcohol and the drugs because there are plenty of people who have one or two beers every day and don't become drug addicts. There are people out there who smoke a joint every once in a while and there are even people out there who have a little bit of heroin every once in a while! It is astonishing because it never occurred to John! After the first time he got high on anything it was all he wanted to do from then on. The first time he got drunk he didn't immediately want to go out and get drunk the next day, but the next time he had an opportunity to get drunk, the next time somebody handed him a beer or a California cooler, the idea that he wouldn't drink as many of them as he could didn't make any sense to him: ”Why would you have one? Do you know what happens when you have two? Have you tried it? Have you tried having three? It is incredible!”

People would say ”Let's have a beer!” - ”Let's have as many beers as it takes to get that feeling back!” and it is similar with pot and other drugs. There are people who take LSD every day and John can’t fathom that either because if he would be taking LSD he wouldn't want to take it once a year, but he would want it to be a part of his overall drug catalogue, which meant that today was LSD day and tomorrow was a day of rest where he only got drunk and stoned and the following day was ”Let's try some pills”-day. Being able to be messed up he would prefer to be messed up. For somebody to say: ”I had a beer! Let's call it a night!”, John never felt that and it got to the point where he really couldn't have done that.

Whenever John went out for a beer with a couple of people they would finish their deal and say: ”Okay, well, good night! That was fun!”, they would leave by the front door of the bar and John would leave by the backdoor because he would be headed out to meet up with some other people somewhere to have some more beers. He would say: ”See you guys later!”, go to the bathroom and come back out and sit back down at the bar stool. There wasn't ever a feeling of drinking beer or smoking pot as a component of a regular life. You would do that because you had to get to work or you had obligations tomorrow. For John those obligations tomorrow were not any kind of check on what he wanted to do tonight.

His rational mind would say: ”I got tomorrow covered, don't worry about that! I will figure out tomorrow when it is tomorrow!” There are plenty of alcoholics who keep their shit dialed in and keep a lid screwed down tight. They go out and they get blotto and they do wake up on time and they do get to work in the morning and they do maintain their responsibilities, and they think you can't come at them. They are unassailable, they are getting the job done, so: "Get off their back!" John’s version of being an alcoholic is totally different from the top-down view.

There are alcoholics who are fucking billionaires or politicians who manage to get it all lined up, but they suffer from the exact same thing John did and they are decayed inside! Steve Bannon is never going to go to an AA meeting, but he is going to drink himself to death in front of everyone. Most people who suffer from that stuff don't ever hit a wall where they say: ”I need to do anything but this!”, even something so degrading as sitting in a room full of other people who also pursued this to its end.

Dan was talking to a friend who has a brother just like that. He wouldn't go and have a beer or even two, but he might take 12 beers or six beers and a bottle of wine. Dan talked to him about it and asked what made him keep going after the first one or second one, and he said the same thing that John just said: He wants to get whatever that feeling was that he is looking for, and you go until you get that feeling, but sometimes it seems like you keep going well past that feeling.

How the night in a bar evolves

You will see this in any bar: Normal people are having a good time and as a longtime sober person who spends a lot of time in bars and parties John can tell just by the sound where you are in the night. At the beginning of the night there is a murmur of chatting, a couple of hours into the event there is a lively sound of fun burble and banter and every once in a while somebody goes: ”Ha ha ha!” and there is some tinkling of glasses and the music goes up a little bit. Then there is a point in the mid-to-late evening around 10-11pm where the party peaks. The conversation is loud in the room, it is sparkling, there is laughter, somebody is doing an impression, the music is loud, a couple of people are dancing: ”This is a fun party!”

At 12pm that same party still seems fun, but over there somebody is like: ”Ha ha ha ha!” (John makes a very loud laughter) and over here there is another person that is like ”No no no no no no!” It is a little too loud and there is a girl shrieking somewhere and somebody bumps into you as they walk past and spill your drink, but they don't look back or say: ”Sorry!” At that point you realize that everybody got to 11pm and looked around and said: ”This is great!” They felt great, they felt funny, alcohol was doing its job, they felt lively, their conversation was really interesting, their friends all looked great to them, this was the best night of their life, and they all wanted to keep that going, and they all wanted one more beer to do it.

But one more beer takes a big 20% chunk out of the inhibition in the room that was keeping the party cool and it makes the party start to get unruly. When John is not working and is not at the party to put on a show, at the point when he hears that pitch-change happen, he twists the egg timer on how much longer he is going to be at this party because shortly thereafter that it starts to suck. People are yelling at each other, not angry, but they have forgotten that they don't need to yell at each other: ”No, you dude!” and it starts to sound like shit, it doesn't sound fun anymore. You look around the room and don’t want to be part of either of the groups there.

People are getting into arguments, they are bumping into each other, you run into some friends, you are like: ”Hey man! How's it going?” and their eyes are a little out of focus: ”Oh, what's up John? Man! Haven’t seen you in a long time!” and John is out because he is not going to get anything else out of that party. All the people in that party think they are still having a great time, their conversations are amazing and they are really getting to the bottom of shit. If you listen in from over the top, these conversations are like: ”What if…No, wait wait wait wait wait… what if the president is actually working for the company…” Fuck you! This is stupid, but they think they are smart as shit and their friends are either listening wrappedly or not listening or whatever. The social glue has gotten soft.

If you follow that party, you will find that people are stumbling out, they are getting in their cars and driving drunk, they are getting into fistfights with each other, they are having relationship fights where one person is crying and the other person is standing over them, they are vomiting, and at each stage of that party a certain group of people, maybe 10% of them peel off. Some people leave the party at 9pm, some leave the party at 10pm, and there are people who say: ”We got to get home because: The babysitter!” and they are gone. Some people only came to see the opening band or they say after the second band: ”I really want to stay, but I'm just cashed. I got to be at work tomorrow!” and they peel off.

Then there is a small group left who are not all drug addicts or professional alcoholics, but mostly normals chasing the dragon who use those drugs embarrassingly badly and are on their way to having some bad times. There are a lot of different kinds of alcoholics, not only weekend warriors who get messed up at a show once in a while. Some alcoholics drink once a year, but every time they drink they blackout, puke all over themselves, and wake up without their shoes or their wallet. Chasing the dragon is the feeling of: ”I love where this party is and how I feel right now! I wish it could last forever, and I am going to accomplish that with one more drink!”

Alcohol and drugs flip a switch in our minds that inspires us to say: ”One more! One more!” As an addict the last good thing you got out of that drug was long ago. The first time you did it, it blew your mind and you never felt so alive. The second time it only felt better, but there is a moment where you are at your peak and you are never going to feel that good again. It doesn’t matter what circumstance or how little or how much you drink.

You can have a drink of champagne at your daughter's wedding, but it is still not going to be any good. You are always trying to recapture it, and you have that glass of champagne at your daughter's wedding and you say: ”This is the best!”, but you know that it is not. In some crucial place in your soul you know that this glass of champagne is the beginning of how you are going to ruin your daughter's wedding. It is not helping you to find that magic place anymore, but it doesn't keep you from chasing it because it is all you know.

The first time you had that drink it made you feel finally complete or it gave you that feeling of: "I am there! I arrived! I am finally the person I wanted to be!” You never felt that feeling any other way, you connected it to alcohol, and you make a mistake that is not a mind mistake, but it is a mind / soul / body mistake. It is a path to enlightenment that you desire, even long after the evidence shows that the alcohol or the drug is actually permanently impeding your ability to get back to that place, but you can't accept it.

Dan's thoughts

Dan wonders if people won’t learn that they are not going to achieve it? Aren't they able to see how things tend to go, or is that a hard lesson to learn? Dan’s goal has been to not be in those situations, to not be in those kinds of places, to not hang out with the people who are doing that. Not saying he wouldn't hang out with someone who does that, but is just trying not to be there when they do it. Not being around drunk people has been a high priority goal and it has worked out that way. He is not in places where people are drunk and he doesn’t know the etiquette around drunk people.

Dan has only been drunk a couple times, maybe twice in college. It was unpleasant and there was nothing good about it. He didn't feel good physically or mentally, he wasn't having a good time, and the next day he felt horrible. After the second time he knew it was nothing he wanted to do again. He didn't seem to advance any relationships through the process, and nothing good came out of it. After the second, maybe third time that he did it, his takeaway was: ”lose-lose situation!”

Dan did enjoy the way he felt after one drink, it was fine, it was nice, and he can get that from a Martini, a glass of wine or a beer, but the situation never really improved that much with the second drink and by the fourth or fifth drink it had gotten a lot worse and he wasn't having a better time, but he was having a worse time. It was not like weed where things seem to get better as you get to a certain level of your high. Music might sound really good, you feel really relaxed and nice, but with alcohol Dan never really got any of those kinds of benefits.

Dan generally doesn’t get into politics discussions with people because very few people hold his bizarre viewpoints on the world and it just creates problems because two people who might have been friends all of a sudden realize that one is a Democrat and one is a Republican and they hate each other now. It is better to just not talk about it and to not bring that into the relationship. Instead: Let's go bowling, or whatever it is that you do.

That was how Dan felt when people would start drinking: The person is going to come out and the things that Dan liked about them will be pushed down and muffled and maybe go away entirely while the things he doesn’t really like about them will get amplified. This is a good time to peel off and head out because Dan had his drink now, maybe even the second one, and so have they, but they are now getting more drinks and the fourth and fifth drink are going to amplify whatever has started to emerge. There is no longer any chance of quality conversation, which is why Dan is there in the first place. They probably are going to punch Dan in the shoulder again when they tell that joke. This is the point where he gets bored.

His roommate Tom from college did not ever drink. He was trying to get into a couple of different fraternities and Dan asked him why because the main reason they exist is the parties and the alcohol, but Tom insisted it was for lifelong friends and a really great way to network. One day you want to get a job and you find out the guy is in the same frat as you and you do the secret handshake and now you got the job. Dan said there is also the potential to just get the job on the merits of qualifications and personality. He was a very personable guy, very smart, very funny, and he didn’t really need the frat.

He was doing all these weeks of rushing, which it is called when you join a frat, and he was going to all the different frat parties, but none of them wanted him because he did not drink. He would walk around with nothing or with a cup of water and everybody else would have their red cups with beer in them and be lining up at the keg. Although he was really funny and a great guy, they wanted nothing to do with him. It is not like he would stop at the second beer, but he would not have any beer and they knew right away that whatever it is that they wanted to come out in that environment would never happen with him.

He would ask Dan to join him and Dan would go with him once and have a beer or two, but after that he was done. Dan with his almost nonexistent beer consumption was more accepted not wanting to be a part of the frat than Tom who was desperately trying to be there. It was an early feeling for Dan that that whole environment wasn't for him. He never did the binge drinking thing that so many of his friends did.

As a kid, especially at the Jewish holidays, he would get to drink wine and his parents didn't care if he had a second glass of wine. He had a little bit of a buzz, he felt good, it wore off, done! Wine, beer or alcohol in general was never prohibited to Dan. If he had asked his mom for a little taste of wine she would have given it to him and it never seemed like it was a big deal. He had that at dinner on Rosh Hashanah the other night, who cares? Why is that a big deal?

Dan always thought of that as the reason why he missed out: It wasn't a taboo or an exciting thing. He never equated it to the way he felt when he had it and after the second one he generally didn't feel good. He always was puzzled why people were drinking. Why don't they just stop after one or two? Why do something that is knowingly going to make you feel sick? They make bad decisions and potentially do dumb things and Dan never understood it. He understands it better now through hearing other people talk about it, and maybe he is lucky in the fact that more than two or three drinks make him feel sick.

John's reply

John agrees that Dan is lucky! It is a kind of physiology. Plenty of people have two drinks and are like: ”Gross!” and Dan will never know what the other thing feels like. People who feel great after two beers and only want more are built a certain way. Then there are also an awful lot of people who don't put themselves in situations where they have a drink. They go out after work with their co-workers, they get a glass of something, it sits there at their elbow, they take a couple of sips of it, and they get up to leave at a time that feels like it accomplished the social grace, and they leave their drink sitting there. John worked in bars and found a lot of drinks sitting there with two sips taken out of them that somebody had bought and there are plenty of drunks walking around a cheap bar, probably not a nice bar in a hotel, who vulture those left-behind drinks.

John used to do that. If a group of people was putting on their coats and there was half a pitcher of beer left on their table, he would position himself for the perfect moment between when they turned their backs on the table and started to move toward the door, but before anybody from the bar looked at the table and decided they were going to go bust it. There was this opening where you could grab that half of a pitcher and John would return to his area with half a pitcher of beer and to a certain group of people he would be a hero. Where did the beer come from? These are fucking Skid Row bars, not nice bars!

The reason why addicts don't recognize it when things get bad for them, and this is back to the hubris problem, is that they believe that they have insight into the truth of the matter and into how things actually are. When things start to go south for them, they neither go: ”I don't know what's happening!” nor do they go: ”Wow, what's the common denominator in all this? Me and my drinking is the common denominator in all my problems!” They don't see it either way, but they look at it and go: ”The world is made in such a way that people are corrupt and things are stacked against me. It is unfair because of the following conditions. My suffering is because I see the truth of the world. I am unhappy, my wife is a bitch and a nag, and my boss is an asshole”

It is not always someone else's fault, but part of why the addict thinks they can cure themselves is that they have a handle on it and they know how the system works, which is a big debate within recovering alcoholics: ”Was that always there? Is that a sign of alcoholism before you ever have a drink or is that a thing that the alcohol produces in people?” We can all find examples of that manner in ourselves, but it becomes a characteristic of being an addict, the feeling that you are wiser than other people.

John's good friend Mark died of alcohol last year

John talked about this friend in RW133.

One of John’s friends drank himself to death earlier this year. John had been seeing him in rehab and he had talked to him over the course of a few years at his house. They would go do things, they went out on his boat, and he was a wealthy guy with a successful family. He knew John from when they drank together and partied together 20-30 years ago. He knew John when John got sober and it confused by him, but he was a good-natured person and a good-natured friend and he was just like: ”Alright, well whatever! You are John Roderick! You go your own way!” - ”Yeah man, that's right!”

By the time his drinking was destroying him John was going to talk to him about it and tell him that there was a path out there if he wanted. He knew John well, he knew how it had been for John to spend the last 20 years sober, he knew John’s life was not over, ruined or uncool. He often would tell other people that John was the smartest person he had ever met. John would hear from people: ”Mark says you are the smartest guy he has ever met!” It wasn't that he thought John was a blind or uninformed idiot.

He was a conservative guy and during John’s campaign for city council he said: ”I disagree with everything you say politically and if you were elected to the city council you would make my life as a businessperson a lot harder, but I am going to give you the maximum donation because I know that you are trying to do a good job and I feel like you are trying to help people and that is worth supporting!” - ”Right on man! At this point, just give me the money, I don't want to hear your fucking soliloquy!” That is what sucks about running for office!

They would have long conversations about his drinking and John would say: "You are drinking yourself to death now, this isn't a game anymore! You are 49 years old and you are in rehab for the third time. I know you are embarrassed, I know this is humiliating, but there is a path and you know that it is fine because I'm sitting here in front of you. You know that you can walk the path and come out the other side and you are still the same guy. I am still the same guy that I was when I was 20. I am still funny and fun!” and he would go: ”Yeah, yeah I know! I feel like this time I really got it on the ropes, I feel like this time I have got it figured out!”

John would say ”Mark, it's not a thing that you figure out! You don't go to rehab and then you figure it out. It is going to creep up on you again!” - ”Yeah, I know, but that last time it got so bad and I am never going to do that again!” - ”Mark, that is not how it works!” If it was enough that just something bad happened, then there wouldn't be any alcoholics because something bad always happens. Something awful happens, and yet people go back to drinking!

People lose their entire families, people lose all their money, people burn down their house, people are permanently scarred, people die. ”If you are an alcoholic, which you are, it is never just that something really shitty happened one night and that will be it for you!” - ”Yeah, I know, but boy this time…” He was humiliated, but he was keeping a brave face and he was telling John to fuck off and he was telling everybody else in his life to fuck off because somewhere in him he felt like he had it. He got it figured out this time, he was going to do it himself and he didn’t need help.

He was a religious guy, he went to church, he had a priest who took his confession, an old family friend type of situation. He believed in God and he prayed to God and they surely tried a religious cure on him, too! But he never admitted he didn't have the power to solve his own problem. He could never go what seems like a tiny little step, but what is a crazy step, an enormous gulf for people in that situation, to step over and say: ”I just don't have the power to fix it! I'm not looking for something to get me straight so that I can resume having the power over myself, I honestly have arrived at a place where I know for a fact I do not have the power!” Part of John’s Aloha, part of everything he tries to keep him going through life, is acknowledging that he still doesn't have the power and he never did.

None of us truly has the power to make the world the shape we want it to be, but in alcohol or addiction it is put in such bold relief because all we are talking about is you. It is easy for people to say they don't have any power over global economics, but it is also true for all of us that we don't even really have power over ourselves. When John quit drinking you would be astonished at the number of people who congratulated him on his willpower. If willpower was all it took to quit drinking there wouldn't be any alcoholics, because hardly anybody doesn't have enough willpower. Who doesn't have enough willpower to not pick up a cream soda? We all can just be like: ”I'm never going to have a cream soda again!” It is hard!

How many times has John said: ”I'm never going to eat a Digiorno’s pizza again!”? It is just bad for you! Whatever nutrition he is getting out of a Digiorno’s pizza is not worth the amount of sugar bread. Digiorno’s pizza is basically a cinnamon roll with pepperoni on it, but John bought a Digiorno’s pizza yesterday because he was in the supermarket and one Digiorno’s pizza won’t hurt him. We are not masters of ourselves! The ones who are, who do it through pure fist clenching grit, are fucking miserable! Their sphincter are clenched tight, and to be a jaw-grinding master of yourself is not the way. There is surrender involved in health and peace, a certain amount of surrender of control to something, whatever it is.

The alcoholics who are listening now are probably saying: ”I don't want to be a slave! I don't want anybody to be the boss of me!” People surrender their control to religion or to whatever cult they are in, and the ideology that we are all secretly under the mind-control of a giant conspiracy, that television keeps us docile, just plays into it. The idea of saying ”God, whoever you are, I don't care, little baby floating in a pram, little baby crawling on the ceiling like out of Trainspotting, I don't care what baby it is. I just can't do this anymore and I don't know how to stop, please help!”

If you are in the throes of an addiction that would be a worse indignity than to take all your clothes off, smear yourself with your own shit and walk through your high school reunion. Saying you are powerless to some fucking God and ask for help goes against everything that you think about the world, even if you believe in God! That is not how God works! You have to get to the point where you feel ready to do it, when it is the thing that you are constitutionally least able to do.

John has never met a single alcoholic who walked in to AA and said: ”Boy, things are really bad for me, what am I supposed to do?” - ”Well, except that you are powerless over alcohol and that your life is unmanageable” - ”Oh shit, you are right!” This never happens! There is not a single person in there for whom it was easy. Every single one of them is like ”What? I thought you guys had some kind of way for me to stop drinking?” - ”What if this is it?” - ”Well, meeeh!”

What is alcoholism or addiction? John keeps saying ”…or addiction” because he keeps thinking of the addicted gambler for whom all of the same shit happens. They lose their family, they lose their house, they lose their health, and they keep going back to the table and they keep thinking that this next time is going to be different because they will recapture that thing, they are going to get back up, and as soon as they do they are going to quit and that is going to be the end. They do the same exact dance!

This is why John is conflicted. He can't be against 12-step programs that help gamblers or that help people who are like this with food. Listen to John and his Digiorno’s pizza! It is not everybody, it is not even most people, but John wanted his friend Mark to not die! Even as it went along, you are always expecting something is going to intervene, that there is going to be something that interrupts it. And when people do die it is often that they die of suicide or they die in an accident or some other thing happens. John is 50 now, he is not 25. The people he knew at 25 who drank themselves to death choked on their vomit or they froze to death because they were drinking, but they didn't actually drink alcohol until their organs shut down, which in some ways is a pure alcoholic death. They didn't walk out in the snow and freezed, they didn't fall off a bridge.

John had never watched somebody who just pickled themselves over enough time, but that is what happened to Mark. He drank until he had internal bleeding, basically. They say that he fell in the end and knocked his head on something, but he was bleeding out of his mouth. In a way maybe he fell and bonked his head and that was some last tiny gesture of refusing to acknowledge that he had drunk himself to death, that maybe he fell and hit his head on a toilet in order to prove that he was still in control. That is the type of thing you say in an AA meeting and everybody laughs into their coffee because of course that is not what happened.

The spiritual aspect of it is the craziest part because so many addicts are not spiritual, but they reject it. It isn't rational, and John too is a rationalist. He does not generally look attribute any significance to the third time a black cat crosses his path in a day, but it is inescapable that we have a spiritual aspect, whether it is connected to anything real in the outside world or not. There is a metaphysicality to us because where the fuck are we? Who are we? Why do we have a consciousness? None of it is perfectly explained by doctors or by brain science. There is something about us that we can't explain and that takes the form of spiritual questions, of spiritual paths, of spiritual problems that aren't a physical disease and they are not fixable with the addition of some salts into your diet or a tab of lithium.

Whom do we have to talk to about our spiritual malady? Psychiatrists and psychologists are trying to fix it through practice, priests and ministers are trying to help you by getting you closer to a system and to the notion of a systemic God, a clockwork universe, an intentional universe where your spirit is part of a collective. But where else do you get it? People get it by going to Rock concerts and sitting there with all the fans of their favorite band, bathing in the music. They get it by watching their team go to the Super Bowl, but what if you've got problems there? What do you do? Most people have a beer with their friend and say: ”Argh, my wife is a bitch!”

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