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Chapter 1: Relapse or Research?

DISCLAIMER: Cogniventus.com has not been approved of, nor endorsed by, and is not affiliated with, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. or any service entity of A.A.W.S., Inc. This website’s currently Featured Project, “Rewriting the Big Book,” is not AA Conference-Approved Literature; it is non-fiction commentary submitted here for non-commercial single-use, and gives Fair Use citations, for educational purposes, of limited sections of the 2nd Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1955, which has been in Public Domain since 1983.

Sponsor’s Note: Any relevant follow-up to the 1939 publication of “Alcoholics Anonymous” should tell an historically important new story with the same pioneering urgency with which Bill Wilson framed the narrative of the alcoholic drinker. Our worthy successor to AA’s Basic Text begins with the dilemma of long-time sober alcoholics (> 7 years) who drink again and experience a different, adaptive alcoholism that emerges in direct response to recovery, and is now immune to it. Among many other things, our new narrative will expose how the “chronic brain disease” model actually trivializes the severity of alcoholism, while simultaneously minimizing humanity’s most heroic responses to this mutable beast.

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“But being chosen by one’s addictions means that there is also a postponed choice, not in one’s own hands, but in one’s heart, though unknown to oneself, the choice which decides whether one is damned in Hell, or whether—without one knowing it oneself—one is seeking redemption; whether one is in Purgatory.”                                                 Stephen Spender

I was shaving one afternoon. A 1.7-ounce miniature of Chivas peeked out from behind a can of Barbasol in the medicine cabinet. The limousine driver from our wedding had given it to my wife and me, asking us to save it to toast the birth of our first child. We kept it as a memento of the big day, even though we were both active, sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous and had no intention of ever opening it. That little bottle had been there for about five years, and I had noticed it at least once a week without a passing consideration. On this particular afternoon—after twelve years without a drink—I mused to myself: “No way we’re having any kids”; then, “No sense in wasting good Scotch.” With those two random thoughts I opened the bottle, gulped the contents in two grimaced swallows, and finished shaving.

Nothing happened for several months—no drinking, no thoughts of drinking, no-thing. The next time I drank was deliberate and calculated. I was under no delusion that I could drink safely, but carefully considered the consequences of re-addiction and drank anyway. The danger was not even an issue: I was willing to spin the relapse roulette and see what color came up. It might be comforting in retrospect to identify some tragic life event or devious mental gymnastic that triggered such a brazen experiment in choice. It might even be comforting to believe that making it unscathed through that first drink months earlier had fostered a confidence that I could survive a second or third attempt. Any reason at all that was amenable to review & correction would have been preferable to the truth: my motivation was simple curiosity—that primary impulse that has driven human beings throughout history to both discovery and destruction. I just wanted to see what would happen.

Noticing an absence is usually more difficult than noticing a presence, but one guest was conspicuously missing from my fated reunion with alcohol: the mental obsession for the first drink. That uncontrollable urge that had once continually drawn me back to the bottle—no matter what the consequences—was nowhere to be found. Instead, an observable gap was opening up between the thought of drinking and the act of taking the first drink, a discontinuity that I had never noticed during my first bout with alcohol. Perhaps it had always been there, but I just didn’t see it. With intent suspended, I did not experience the grip of any compulsion, but instead, the freedom to choose whether or not to drink. Sometimes I drank; sometimes I didn’t—and there seemed to be no discernable pattern to those choices.

Taking the first drink, however, did bring on a modified version of the phenomenon of craving so succinctly summarized in the AA epithet: “One drink is too many; a hundred is not enough.” Once I started to drink, every drop of alcohol in my possession had to be consumed—but no more. Going to the liquor store now meant not only choosing when to drink but also how much to drink. Each pre-drunk game plan was inviolate, and after about a year I settled into a comfortable routine of a six-pack every time my wife was out of town, which was about every third weekend. This went on for several more months.

If alcoholism is a disease, then this was a different kind of malady, a virus of volition, a corruption of the decision-making process—and I chose that corruption. Then, just as casually as I decided to start drinking, I decided to stop. The whole affair had been rather flat and boring and now seemed like a waste of time—not that bad, not that good. Mildly disappointed, I felt had nothing left learn; the experiment was over.

Or so I thoughtEnd of UNRESTRICTED ACCESS

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