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Category Archives: Essays

Writers and Drinking: The Myth of Creative Synergy

The author and commentator Christopher Hitchens died a couple of months ago, provoking an outpouring of sympathetic praise from his many admirers, especially among the intelligentsia, where he loomed large, respected for his outspokenness and razor-sharp mind and debating skills.

But in addition to his writing and speaking on subjects of intense current interest, Hitchens was a drinker. Another respected author, Katha Pollit, wrote of this in The Nation magazine. In commenting on his death, she wrote words that surely apply to many, many of the writers and artists who seem to believe that alcohol is an important part of what makes them creative. She wrote:

His drinking was not something to admire, and it was not a charming foible. Maybe sometimes it made him warm and expansive, but I never saw that side of it. What I saw was that drinking made him angry and combative and bullying… Drinking didn’t make him a better writer either–that’s another myth. Christopher was such a practiced hand, with a style that was so patented, so integrally an expression of his personality, he was so sure he was right about whatever the subject, he could meet his deadlines even when he was totally sozzled. But those passages of pointless linguistic pirouetting? The arguments that don’t track if you look beneath the bravura phrasing? Forgive the cliche: That was the booze talking…. It makes me sad to see young writers cherishing their drinking bouts with him, and even his alcohol-fuelled displays of contempt for them… as if drink is what makes a great writer, and what makes a great writer a real man.

The description, with some modifications, applies to many, many drug and alcohol abusers.

A Message from LifeRing’s Chairman of the Board

One of my jobs for LifeRing is keeping an eye on the website comments. It’s a regular occurrence for someone to post a plaintive plea for help as a comment, often as a response to an item that seems completely unrelated. “I just found your website. I’ve tried and tried to quit drinking. Nothing I do works. Please help me,” they write, or words to that effect. I get similar messages in emails sent directly to me. I respond trying to give them hope and get them involved, usually online because they live in an area where we don’t yet offer face-to-face meetings.

The messages are often heartbreaking in their sadness and desperation. But they also remind me of how I felt when I first stumbled across LifeRing a dozen years ago. I feel undying gratitude to LifeRing for the support I received in overcoming my own addiction. I want everyone to have access to that kind of help. Becoming known to more people who need what we offer is a daunting task. We’re a tiny boat in a huge ocean. We’re trying to grow and are steadily doing so, but it’s slow and there aren’t very many of us and we don’t have much money. We could use your help.

There’s a button on this page that links to the donation section of this website. Or you can just click HERE. I used to spend a lot of money on alcohol; now I try to donate a fraction of that each month to LifeRing. We’re a volunteer organization with one part-time office worker – everybody else works for free (although the psychic rewards are huge). But we do have expenses and they’ve been growing. We’re running a deficit this year as we try to do more. In the new year we’ll either have to reduce our spending or increase our income, particularly from donations.

There aren’t very many causes you can contribute to that will do more good than this one – every day we work hard to save the lives of people, give them hope and allow them to regain a life of meaning and self-respect. Please help if you can. Donate.

Yours in sobriety,

Craig Whalley

“Addiction and Alcoholism: Beyond 12 Steps”

The MSN website carried an article by Maia Szalavitz recently that should be of great interest to those seeking an overview of addiction that looks deeper than “spiritual weakness.” It’s a bit long, but worth the effort. Here it is:

Although addiction and alcoholism treatment research has advanced tremendously since Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935, many people do not know that equally effective alternatives to 12-step programs exist—nor do they know how to find them.  In popular culture, AA is often portrayed as the only way.

Worse, while reality TV spotlights tough family “interventions” as a way of getting people to enter treatment and often shows rehab as a “boot camp” or exercise in humiliation, research finds that both these approaches have significant risks, and other less risky tactics have equivalent or superior benefits.

So, how can you find evidence-based addiction and alcoholism treatment for yourself or a loved one instead of—or as an addition to—12-step approaches?

Read more ...

“Why I Can’t Drink”

One of the hardest things in recovery is simply to remember how bad life was when drinking. Time passes and the painful memories become blurred and they disconnect themselves from the act that brought them about. In a recent note, an e-mail pal sent me a list she had made of why she can’t drink. She wants to remember. I thought I’d share it:

I cannot drink like other people
Once I start I cannot stop until the bottle is empty no matter how drunk I am
Drinking makes me do things destructive and dangerous like drunk driving
I have serious blackouts and cant remember putting kids to bed or what I did, who I spoke to, even what I ate.
I am incapable the next morning of functioning normally
I lose the power to achieve anything unless I can drink thru it
I emotionally neglect my children
I wake up thinking “how little can I get away with doing today”
Drinking makes me depressed, irritable, anxious, scared, paranoid and very guilty…those feelings make me want to drink more
I embarrass my self in front of friends, family and my husband’s work colleagues and even worse my children.
Drinking makes me bloated, tired and unattractive; I eat badly and smoke too much
I lose interest in all the things i used to enjoy and stop growing as a person
I am incapable of forming friendships for fear of being found out so I isolate myself
I am increasing my risk of cancer and heart disease by drinking
I know from the bottom of my very soul that if I carry on drinking I will die very soon.

LifeRing Recovery and Procrustes

A LifeRing supporter recently posted to another website a good description of what sets LifeRing apart. Writing to the forum of, a poster identified as Willcat wrote:

In ancient Greek mythology there was a roadside bandit named Procrustes who had a bed in which he forced all travelers to lie. Those who were shorter than the bed, he stretched until their bones cracked; those who were longer, he cut off their feet.

Most alcoholism and addiction programs are like Procrustes and his bed. Everyone has “The Program”: one size fits all. In AA, everyone does the Twelve Steps. In Rational Recovery, everyone does AVRT. In SMART, everyone does REBT. And so on. Each vendor promises that its particular Program is the Answer. In fact, some people are helped by the Steps, some are not, and the same is true of the others. There is no such thing as one Program that works for everybody, and we doubt there will ever be.

LSR is unique in the alcoholism and addiction movement in deliberately not offering a capital-P Program. We have no Program, no panacea, no one-size-fits-all, no cookie cutter, no miracle cure, no magic pill to sell. We reject the whole dichotomy between Program and alcoholic, in which The Program is the active, knowing, healthy protagonist and the alcoholic is the passive, dumb, sick raw material to be stamped and molded into the desired shape. We think that any approach that acts on the alcoholic over time as an outside compulsion, a Program, is doomed to fail with most people most of the time.

No program, including the LSR self-empowerment approach, will work if the person doesn’t have an inner desire to escape from addiction. LSR rests its entire chance of success on the encouragement and rational nurture of that desire.

We hold that each alcoholic or addict needs to construct their own sobriety based on their own experiences and needs. We think each alcoholic not only needs to, but is able to constuct his or her own personal sobriety program, if afforded the support and the tools. The work of puting a program together must be and is done by the newly recovering persons themselves, just as each of us with long-term sobriety has done it for ourselves. We have confidence in the ability of alcoholics and addicts, no matter how serious our history, to pull ourselves together with peer support. We have seen it work. Conversely, we are quite certain that we cannot get and stay sober unless we construct a sobriety program for ourselves. That is why we say that we have no one (big-P) Program; we have as many programs (small p) as we have participants.