This week’s HTYH is a medical doctor’s story: I just returned from Dallas, Texas where I spoke to a group of people involved with treatment centers for alcoholism and addiction and also a group of doctors who practice in that same field. Many of the people who are involved in treating alcoholics and addicts today are practicing principles and ideas that are not scientifically, or spiritually sound. I was there attempting to enlighten them about the science behind our illness. I’ve spent the last 25 years practicing addiction medicine and 25 years before that practicing family medicine-the two frequently overlapped. When my AA sponsor told me that I had an illness I said, “I don’t care if I have an illness; I just want you to teach me how not to drink alcohol.”

He said, “You better remember that you have this illness because if you forget you’ve got it and become so spiritual that you think you can safely drink alcohol again-it will kill you. I’m intrigued by the fact that so many of us in AA do not believe that we have an illness.”

One of my favorite stories about Bill Wilson was when he told his wife Lois, “I’m trying to give this sobriety to others but it’s not working.”

Lois said, “Of course, its working Bill, it’s keeping you sober!” Lois suggested that he should talk to Dr. Silkworth about it and perhaps he might have some suggestions. When Bill explained his problem to Dr. Silkworth the doctor said, “Bill, stop preaching! Tell them that they have an illness—stress the illness!”
Alcoholics are bodily and mentally different than normal people. Explain the science to them like I did to you. Our objective is to get alcoholics back to normal by showing them that they are physically and mentally different. They live in a world that is too noisy and if science can treat the physical aspect of their illness and AA can teach them the spiritual aspect, between science and AA the afflicted ones can be restored to normal—that’s a pretty good way to live. If we only believe in the science, the mental gets a little goofy and if we only believe in the mental aspect, the science gets goofy. I had a great time in Dallas because I had the chance to go there, take names and kick butt and tell them the scientific and spiritual aspects of our illness. God picked a good man for the job because I like being an evangelist. When I return home my AA sponsor can restore me to my right size-I’m five-foot-nine, not six-foot- eight.

I’m going to tell you a story about a little boy swinging in a swing at a Baptist Church where they told him that God is love and he really wanted that power in his life, but didn’t know how to find it. Something changed for him in the first grade and he became frightened. His fear compounded throughout grade school, high school, medical school and he found alcohol–it made the fear disappear, that is, until it stopped working for him. He finally drank enough whiskey to give him the ass whipping that brought him to AA where he found a design for living based on a power greater than him that really worked.

My home was a good home, but it was a crazy home because my mother had been physically, mentally and sexually abused by a sick, alcoholic father, but thanks be to God, our home was a loving home. We lived on a forty-acre farm outside of Mayfield, Kentucky and when I was 5 or 6 years old, I followed my father around the field while he plowed behind a mule pulling a single bottom plow. I picked up a dirt clod and hit Lightening (our mule) on the butt and he kicked at Papa. Papa said, “Burns, don’t do that.” I said, “OK Papa,” but later on, I picked up another dirt clod and hit Lighting on the butt and Papa said, “Burns, stop that,” and I said, “OK Papa.” Sometime later, after my second warning, I picked up another dirt clod and hit Lightning on the butt again and this time Papa stopped Lightening, cut a switch and whipped my butt. I said, “What was that Papa?” He said, “That was an ass whipping and if you hit that mule again, you’ll get another one.” Twenty years later, alcohol gave me a terrible ass whipping and it continued to whip my butt until I finally came to AA where they picked me up, dusted me off, and showed me a new way of living that’s based on a power greater than me–a power who loves me just as I am. To be continued…

John Barleycorn

The phantom writer of the column "Here's to Your Health". This writer is an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous and therefore must maintain anonymity. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer