RECOVERY/Larry Kearney

Watch the Money

There are guys out there who want to make a buck and don't much care how.

The obvious ones sell personal fulfillment, or flammable kids' pajamas, or corporation as lovable uncle holding the hand of a wondering child. But others have academic credentials. They get grants to do funded studies for charitable institutions, like the pharmaceuticals industry.

And every once in a while they'll make the papers with a study that proves that, drum roll, Alcoholics Can Drink Again!

Now I don't know any alcoholics who are really very eager to drink again, nor do I know any who have successfully gone back to that wonderful whirl of broken children, stomach pumps and sickness unto death, so the demand for this info is limited. Where are the funds coming from, do you think?

Time will run a piece, and radio talk shows will burble about the strange, cult-like loyalties of AA. Dan Rather will look thoughtful, a ghastly spectacle in itself.

What is it about a bunch of sober drunks offering unconditional love that so disturbs the aether? There are those who just can't stand it, and murmur darkly about substituting one addiction for another.

Of course there's a profound difference between an addiction to heroin and the active belief in a transformative and democratic love for those who suffer, but strangely enough the second seems to be a little less acceptable than the first.

It was Tolstoy who analyzed the message of organized religion and found it to be "love is fine in heaven, but down here you have to get along." Getting along, unsurprisingly, took in every sin imaginable except stiffing the church. Tolstoy took a hard look and decided that it's easier to live by, say, the Gospels, than to be ensnared in church law, pragmatic morality and unworshipping rhetoric.

This was about the time the literary community stopped taking him seriously. Why? At any given time the needs of human power are not served by any large group of people attempting to rescue each other with love.

So an academic can always find a reason to tell a gullible drunk that he can drink again (and love it). "Hey, you can go back and this time be as cool and attractive as you thought you were last time around."

And somewhere, some poor sonofabitch thinks to himself, "Hell, I wasn't so bad. There are worse drinkers than I was and it's sure a hell of a lot easier getting along at parties when I don't have to say 'no' then get patronized. Hell, I can try it out and see how it goes."

When I was moving steadily toward an early death that was less frightening, really, than another two weeks of what I was living, I came across a book called Games Alcoholics Play. On the back cover it said, "Alcoholism isn't a disease, it's just a very bad habit."

"Ah," I thought, "I can live with that."

Eight months later I was homeless and neither my wife nor son wanted to see me. I was sick unto death, and the residential program took me in against their rules because someone had seen me in the street and said, "He's going to die unless we take him in."

I'd emptied my veins on a mountainside. I'd had my stomach pumped and my brain treated with electric shock. I'd stood in front of a mirror and listened as one of my minds talked my other into opening a bottle of vodka.

I was altogether useless except to those who chose to love me because of how I was, and put me to bed in a broom closet, and came to visit me in the middle of the night -- to put a hand on mine, and talk me through the dark. And guess what? It was easier for them to live having done these things than it would have been had they not done them.

It was easier to live inside love than outside.

So for all those guys who love to look thoughtful and talk about the recoverable joys of social drinking, I offer nothing at all -- no more drunken credulity, no more time, no more respect.

For God's sake, ask yourself where the money is coming from and where it's going. I used to think that if you wanted to understand the last 55 years it was only necessary to understand World War II. That may still be partly true, but these days it's even simpler than that -- if you want to understand, find out where the money is and watch it like a hawk.

Because money doesn't ordinarily flow toward love -- it flows toward those who'll do anything to get it, and keep it -- anything at all -- and sober drunks are a threat to that process because they know a few things.

And when they choose to live, who knows what they might say.

Larry Kearney is a writer in Larkspur, Calif., whose works of non-fiction include Whiskey's Children [Kensington], a prose narrative of an alcoholic life, and its sequel, A Bar on Every Corner [Hazelden]. Email This is the sixth in a series.

Home Page

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2004 The Progressive Populist