This weeks HTYH is a continuation of a medical doctors story: The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states that alcoholics are mentally and bodily different than non-alcoholics. During the 1990s medical science discovered that alcoholics are deficient in certain brain chemicals; we were born that way—it’s because of our genetics. We were born feeling restless, irritable and discontented and when we took a drink of alcohol it raised our chemical levels, not to normal, but above normal and for the first time in our lives we experienced a great sense of ease and comfort—we felt wonderful—who wouldn’t want to go back to feeling like that? Alcoholics and addicts are either above or below the line and the only time we see normal is when we swing past it on our way to the other extreme.

I’m going to talk about drugs for a minute even though they’re not part of the AA purists company line. I’m a card carrying, shotgun in the mouth; two-quarts a day drunk, but for the first 8 years of my addiction I mostly used drugs—they made me feel good and they will also raise the level of certain feel-good brain chemicals. The last 12 years of my addiction I used only alcohol, except for the Valium I needed to treat hangovers, but once the alcohol had me, I could not stop using it. Of the 300 men I currently work with in prison do you know how many only used alcohol? Three out of 300 and out of 200 men in our homeless shelter, do you know how many just used alcohol? Four, that’s 7 out of 500 who only used alcohol. I’ve had several people under forty years of age tell me they definitely are not alcoholics. My answer to them is yes you are but you have yet to take a drink of alcohol and if you do you’ll find out you are.

If I’m practicing an honest program, I must talk about drugs because they are part of my story. The self-righteous among us, the so-called pure alcoholics, demand absolute honesty, but in the same breath they don’t want us to use the “D” word—we are supposed to call them mood altering chemicals, or party substances, but God forbid we should ever say the word drugs at an AA meeting full of drug addicts.

I got kicked out of medical school two weeks before graduation for punching one of my professors. I was placed under intense psychiatric care for two years and I never took a drink, or did illegal drugs during that two-year suspension so the medical board allowed me to return to medical school as a senior. At the end of my senior year, I picked up amphetamines again and in less than one hour, I was strung out and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I sat in there and cried because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Alcoholics Anonymous is certainly not against psychiatrics and therapists and if we need them—we should use them. Knowledge from psychiatry and therapy can help a lot of people and they helped me—they gave me a lot of useful knowledge, but yet, I remained spiritually dead—dog meat.

I graduated from medical school while the Vietnam war was raging and I was madder than hell at everything and everybody. I was raising hell in the doctor’s lounge, higher than a kite on amphetamines, when one of my friends said, “If you don’t like the war join it.” I thought that was a good idea so I drove to Frankfort, KY and joined the Army. I didn’t call my wife, or my job, I just joined the Army. One of my psychiatrists, after that incident, added compulsive disorder to my medical chart.

In the Army I almost got court-marshaled for using amphetamines. The post commander asked me if I was using drugs and I said yes. After he explained to me what could happen (Leavenworth Penitentiary), I quit the drugs cold turkey but started drinking alcohol because it was socially acceptable. After I was discharged, I started practicing family medicine again. I had a gall bladder attack and some of my doctor friends removed it. I got drunk every night, even though I never planned on getting drunk. I didn’t take the first drink until after work at 4:30 PM but it was all that I thought about during the day. I went home after that one drink and my wife fixed me a steak and a baked potato. I’d finish supper, play two albums, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and sit in a big chair with two quarts of whiskey and drink. My wife would say, “Please come to bed.” But I’d say, “I’m crazy, and I’ll drive you crazy too–get away from me.” She would cry and go to bed and the next morning I was still sitting in that chair. I’d take a Valium and go make my rounds.

One morning after my wife went to work, I knew it was over; it was a moment of clarity. After nine years of psychiatric care and being a deacon in five different churches, I still had never heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, but I prayed and asked God to help me and then got my 12-gauge shotgun and stuck it in my mouth—I was going home. I believed in God, I thought he lived on a cloud and looked like Charlton Hesston, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Clause. I believed He was up there, I was down here, but had no clue how I could get from down here to up there? All that I knew was if I pulled the trigger my pain would stop. The end result of untreated alcoholism is suicide, homicide or institutionalized. I had already been institutionalized and now I was going to commit suicide. 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