May 16, 2021 | Andrew's Blog

Shellac and alcoholism

With shellac being the product used to produce the wonderful effects of French polishing French Polishers had a reputation of being buggers for the bottle due to the solvent for shellac being methylated spirits. After a day of inhaling and absorbing it was only natural to drop in for a few top ups after work...

Afew top ups which often lead to somewhat unpredictable consequences including membership of Alcoholics Anonymous. As recounted to yours truly by a couple of victims of this syndrome is the following.

Twelve step fellowships have become a modern day institution in almost every village and city in the western, and sometimes not so western, world. The bugbear of addiction has plagued the human race since time immemorial but unlike most health hazards the monster of addiction has been immune to scientific or intellectual solutions. Before the twelve step system some of history's greatest minds turned this issue over and over from top to bottom always seemingly ending up back at the bottom, often the alcoholic rock bottom. In 1934 an alcoholic New York stock broker Bill Wilson, down on his luck in a strange city came into contact with a similarly afflicted doctor by the name of Bob Smith The pair found that as individuals the wagon was too rough a ride to hold onto but each with the support of the other could kick the booze, stay on the wagon and pass the baton to others. This they did with extraordinary success, proceeding to save the lives of countless millions over the next eighty years. Add partners children and otherwise would've been victims of, and their contribution is immeasurable.

Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

That this system of Bill and Bob's worked so successfully with alcoholics did not go unnoticed by others with the monkey of addiction on their back and at last count around 140 different types of issue had a 12 step program. From overeaters to underearners from gamblers to love addicts from drugs to sex.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient, architect of the Vietnam war, and former U.S Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, when asked what America's greatest contribution to the world was replied, Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the truly amazing aspects of all this is that it has never cost any Government or health care institution a cent due to the 12 stage charter, or traditions as they call them, which include "declining outside contributions".

How an institution whose policy insists on "ought never be organised" and "there are no dues or fees for AA membership" has, for the most part managed to escape the blade of mainstream media assassination which has destroyed so many is truly perplexing. Especially when one considers the backgrounds of some of its more than 2 million members, and one of the few instances when the deal of "friends in high places" should not be read as nepotism. Even the location of its launch, New York seems to have been with pinpoint accuracy. If one spins a globe (flat earthers excused from this exercise) and lands a pin on the ideal location from which to launch something such as AA in 1934 the pin would likely land on New York, the most eligible city in the world for the title capital of the world due to its interconnectedness with the rest of it.

The basic premise of Alcoholics Anonymous is that the alcoholic will be subject to irresistible craving for more after consuming even the smallest amount of booze hence the only solution to their dilemma is to drink none at all ever again.

At first glance the idea of foregoing several thousand drinks a year for none has all the appeal of sinking ones teeth into a dry cuttlefish bone, but this solution does offer some flavour. Bill and Bob's experience of one alcoholic talking to another proved that if the alcoholic attended meetings regularly they would have the wherewithal to not pick up the first drink hence avoid the monster of craving full stop. The alcoholic's biggest expense in life would disappear and he or she got to keep all the money. But what about the emotional residue? What of the conflicts and turmoil one drank to escape in the first place? Dovetailing with this fellowship of the spirit (play on words) are the notorious twelve steps.

AA in many ways echoes the Christian values of its founders and their parable of the Good Samaritan helping others by "carrying the message to the alcoholic who still suffers" to those in no position to help themselves.

But AA contrasts with Christianity in at least one fundamental principal. The Christian, when searching for Gods will is instructed to facilitate this hunt and to seek, search and knock on doors but the AA suggestion of "praying only for knowledge of God's will for us" lets the seeker off the hook because if God wants you to know he'll tell you just so long as you ask. And so this new kid on the block took the practice of faith to a new level.
It has been said that if you brought together all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat and all the Kings that ever reigned their combined good would fall far short of that of the Palestinian Carpenter, and so it would, but the church that carries that carpenters goodwill to this day has perhaps some differing thoughts on the Father from those of AA. Christian churches have always been quite specific about the nature of God and what God expects but AA encourages ex drunks to find a God of their own understanding "improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him". That Bill and Bob managed to get this fundamental discrepancy past the powers that be in what was the ultraconservative Christian fundamentalist society of 1930s America is no doubt impressive, but then with all those drunks and the victims thereof, the powers that be probably considered there to be bigger fish to fry and that God's self-esteem in no way hinged on what anybody said about him. In the 21st century the majority of AA meetings are held in Christian church facilities to whom is paid a peppercorn rent. That churches don't pay taxes annoys many, but should they be required to, their social support obligations would be eroded and it would be those most in need suffering most. Mutual funds and private equities don't do nice, they don't rent safe clean environments to troubled people, old people and disenfranchised people for ten bucks a night, or nothing if that's too much.

And so it came to be that a problem which had haunted humanity for eons now had a simple solution.

Don't pick up the first drink and keep coming back. If one attended meetings regularly the need to drink evaporated along with whatever booze was left over. Rather than being a drunk one could join AA and become an alcoholic which meant one could no longer drink, or at least no longer enjoy it if they did.
The label of alcoholism is often applied to a condition we really don't fully understand, one of the few illnesses for which there is no pill. Alcoholism is a condition for which there is no official medical definition outside of its relationship with alcohol with many an excellent doctor claiming one drink wouldn't hurt after a period of abstinence. Yet alcoholics who haven't drank for 50 years still attend AA meetings to address the emotional and spiritual components of alcoholism and insure against a drink. So what is this ailment surrounded in myth superstition confusion and lies for so long. For many the simple act of identifying with the label "alcoholic" and attending meetings is enough for reprieve from booze. One trait many alcoholics agree with is a sense of alienation from others and so the label "alcoholism" often gives a sense of belonging and unity. Some claim immense relief, especially from physical ailments by apparently revisiting and healing past lives and yet others claim their problems started when the excessive drinking started. Some suggest it's in the DNA whilst others claim it a product of experiences prior to the drinking life. Alcoholics are so often associated with dysfunctional families that author and councilor John Bradshaw wrote that after counselling several thousand of them he'd never met one who wasn't. The resultant emotional residue of such upbringings can be grave and a common complaint is that AA meetings often have a controlling personality in the group who manages to keep the meeting within certain emotional boundaries, thereby hindering the opportunity to deal with the more serious issues. Some claim an advantage to online meetings such as Zoom is that such emotional suppressors or cross talkers can be neutralised by simply turning down the volume.

Over the years many an attempt has been made to circumvent the concept of anonymity, especially in the United States and Australia where AA "circuit speakers" build personality based business's on the AA platform. Many play an almost identical role to the TV evangelist. Even the speech structure is that of the classic evangelical, with the audience first brought to feel accepted then shamed then frightened then offered a solution. Australia and the United States are imbued with a guilt which is exploited by these performers, few if any doors in Europe are open to them.

The first experience many visitors have of AA is of a stream of the seemingly well intentioned approaching them with offers of sponsorship. This sponsorship can be as a supportive closed mouth friend with a loving concern and understanding of a person's situation found nowhere else. It can also manifest as hyper control freakery, sociopathic bullying and an endless list of orders to an extent the victim often decides that returning to the booze is a better option.

In 1970 tattoos were for nonconformists but today a new tattoo is indicative of conforming with mainstream ideas and values. Hats wallpaper and cigarettes also represented conformity but now its reversed. Believing in God was up until recently the conformist thing to do but in the 21st century this has been turned upside down with atheism now the conformist mainstream belief. The problem some professionals often have with the God of AA is that not only is he unfashionable and invisible but he is also free, you simply can't charge for him the way one can for qualifications pharmaceuticals and accommodation. How AA has saved so many with this "God of our own understanding" is perhaps a mystery but few people doubt the mathematical certainty of runs on the board, just ask a Don Bradman fan.

If one has ten twenty or even 100 thousand dollars or more a private rehab is an option. Australian private rehabs have an almost 100% success rate which is to say the people who own them don't drink. These businesses often provide a much-needed safe place for addicts to detox. One popular rehab technique is to send clients to AA then take the credit for their reversal of fortunes.

Government funded institutions usually operate on a Government policy termed "harm minimisation" This policy permits drug addicts to drug and alcoholics to drink but not to harmful levels. Completely at odds with what AA and professionals have been telling the world for over 80 years and totally ineffective with alcoholics it nonetheless achieves its objectives. Its objectives being the acquisition of government funding and "harm minimisation" to the reputations of those in power and those associated with them who profit from these operations. Should a drug and alcohol counselor advise a client to trust God and attend AA, the legal liabilities should the client kill or maim themselves or another could be immense. "I suggested they trust God" sounds terrible in the witness stand under cross examination when accused of malpractice. Yes yes I know it all sounds so bitter.

So there we have it, or at least an opinion of it. If you have a serious drinking problem - Do not pass "Go" do not collect $200 go straight to a 12 step group, do not pick up the first drink, do keep coming back and not only will you save your own life but probably that of someone else. And remember, if you're desperate enough to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, you've already paid your lifetime membership fees.

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