Philip Wylie Jabs A Little Needle Into Complacency
© The A.A. Grapevine, September 1944
An editor of The Grapevine called on me and asked me for a piece. He asked because I recently reviewed a book about a drunk - Charles Jackson's The Lost Weekend. He thought that what I'd said in the review showed I had an interest in alcoholism.
I have. The editor didn't know that I am one. I quit solo - by which I mean that no organized group like AA was around to assist or advise. But I had plenty of assistance and expert advice, much of which curiously parallels what I know now about AA. To reach a point where I can say that I am not drinking and have not been drinking for a long time, took years. It took an unconscionable amount of energy. It left me with a few ideas that I'd like to pass along. It left me with a couple of hunches that I'd like to ask about.
The things I did are, maybe, the things that others are doing. I was psychoanalyzed twice. I studied psychology after that - Jungian, Freudian, Alderian, behaviorist.
Then I read all the basic religious books.
Then I read the philosophies.
Then I went to insane asylums and looked at them.
Here are some of the ideas that came my way: One of the "reasons" I had given myself for drinking was that I was then able to do easily a great many things other men could do sober and I could not. So I did them sober. I did everything without a drink that I had done when drunk, excepting for the destructive trouble making ones. Everything.
That was useful to me.
I had jitters that there is not the literary skill to describe - though Charles Jackson has come as close as any writer ever did. Every fear, phobia and compulsion entered my head - and not so always just when I was hung over. So I got into the habit - a suggestion of a psychiatrist - of writing down in detail the nature and formidability of these mental distresses. Maybe the fact that I am a writer gave that system special merit. But I found I couldn't endlessly retail the awfulness of my obsessions - sitting perfectly comfortably in a quiet room. On paper - they weren't gigantic and overwhelming. They grew silly. They made me laugh at myself and do deflated themselves.
Dr. Jung himself suggested that I look at a few asylums. I don't know why until I made the visit. Then it became evident to me that the inmates were not like me at all. Thus I got to know that my alcoholism was not the onslaught of insanity - and I got to know I had been subconsciously afraid of precisely that.
The Jungians, incidentally, give a different name to the "religious experience" which you discuss in AA. They arrive at that "experience" by different methods - methods which conform to their scientific psychological technique. They call the spiritual quantum which gives rise to the experience a "transcendent symbol." Naturally, I haven't room to describe the method here: it would take more than this magazine - a book perhaps.
But, whether you call it a religious experience or a transcendent symbol does not matter - and it may be of interest to alcoholics who are semi-knowingly engaged in protesting formal, churchly "religions" to learn that there are thoroughly abstract, non-religious routes to the same, universal, human contact with inner integrity, truth, and the "nature of nature itself."
Of course, I read everything about alcoholism I could find. And I became interested in the care and condition of alcoholic friends. Among them I noticed two who still make me wonder about the possible relationship of epilepsy to alcoholism in some cases. These two friends of mine had had fits. They both had the epileptic "picture" on the electroencephalogram. The new drugs that avert or postpone epileptic attacks seemed to aid these two men in stopping their alcohol addiction. I know that if I were a doctor - and an alcoholic - I'd investigate this special aspect of the puzzle thoroughly. The possible future values of chemistry should not be overlooked by any of us in the presence of the proved value of psychological and philosophical regeneration.
I also have a hunch that insanities, neuroses, and all
other aberrations vary largely with the passing of centuries. Alcoholism too. I
do not believe people in the main were exactly the same sort alcoholics and for
the same reason in 1700 as in 1944. That is to say, I believe such conditions of
the soul are "as if" epidemic - and definitely of a social causation. That is
what especially interests me about AA: it represents to me the first really
effective effort to deal in kind and in scale and in the right category, with
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