Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rant For The Week: Booze Is To Drugs Like Milk Is To Cookies

It comes down to this: no one was smoking crack in Akron, Ohio in 1935. If they were, the first Twelve Step program would not have been called Alcoholics Anonymous and seventy-seven years later you would not see "sober" people smoking weed between meetings.

Alcohol is a drug. Put it in your system and it alters your consciousness, impairs your body, and makes you think you're extremely interesting, a great dancer, an unbeatable fighter, and able to drive home even though your right eyelid won't open for some reason. Maybe you can't stop drinking it even though you desperately want to. But when you say you're an alcoholic, you can still think of marijuana as something outside of your alcoholism instead of inside of your addiction.

Alcoholics - drug addicts - are already people prone to self delusion and hypocrisy. When you tell them that alcohol is different from drugs, you are giving them an easy out. When you label their condition "alcoholism", you are giving them an external focus instead of forcing them to confront themselves. The problem is not the liquid in the bottle, it is the shit in their brains.

I don't believe that addiction is a disease. Bill Wilson and the other founders of AA called it a disease because that was the best explanation they could come up with at the time. They did not have access to brain scans and the other tools of modern neuroscience. When the people of ancient Sumeria saw a comet, they figured it was a message from the gods. When the people of 1935 saw a man take a shot of whiskey minutes after his doctor told him one more drink would kill him, they figured he had a disease. It was a logical assumption at the time. Today, it's no longer an accurate conclusion based on the given evidence.

In my opinion, addiction is self-programming run amok. We are self-programming beings. If we learn to deal with overwhelming emotions by shutting down our central nervous systems with a six pack (or two), then that will become our default behavior. Eventually, we will literally not be able to do otherwise. Until we learn a new program.

I believe this idea of being able to re-program the brain keeps the responsibility of recovery on the addicts, while also giving them active hope. Addiction as an incurable disease is a depressing premise. Addiction as a reversible set of programming is an open invitation to a new way of living. And it doesn't make me roll my eyes when I hear it the way I do when someone tells me "alcoholism is a disease just like cancer is a disease." Is that so? Then how come I don't see cancer patients driving their cars into telephone poles after they take their medicine?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

To The Book Depository!

January First: goals have been spoken aloud, auto-da-fe have been handed down, and gauntlets have been thrown. The Annual Read-Whatcha-Got Challenge has begun (yes, I re-named it!).

As the ancient Mayan prophecies foretold, it is now 2012 - the End of the To Be Read Pile!!!!!!

It can be looked at as a literary housecleaning, a feng shui re-orientation of your narrative spirit. The rules are simple: from 1 January until 1 April, you will read no new books. Read my blog: No. New. Books. You can only read books you have already purchased and which, quite frankly, are beginning to lean precariously over the edge of your nightstand, threatening to topple over onto your head while you sleep (most likely dreaming of all the books you're going to buy, you insatiable bastard).

You must read only those books, and read only those books you shall. It is a challenge, it is a goal, and it is an endurance test. It will be long. It will be grueling. You will curse the day you ever agreed to do something so publicly stupid. You will go mad watching all the shiny, new books rolling by. The endless "Best Books of 2011" lists and the upcoming Tournament of Books will be especially torturous. The way is dark and lit only by the flaming bodies of those who have fallen before you, but...

Don't be discouraged! We'll get through this together and be better readers for it.

To get you started, here is my personal Ball & Chain List:

1. Joy Williams "Honored Guest"
2. Grace Paley "Enormous Changes At The Last Minute"
3. Warren Ellis "Crooked Little Vein"
4. Marcel Proust "Swann's Way" (Lydia Davis translation)
5. Tom Rachman "The Imperfectionists"
6. Diane Ackerman "A Natural History of the Senses"
7. Lisa Lutz "Curse of the Spellmans"
8. S. J. Perelman "The Most of S.J. Perelman"
9. Haruki Murakami "1Q84"
10. Kevin Brockmeier "The Brief History of the Dead"
11. Rick Bass "The Ninemile Wolves"
12. Thomas Wolfe "Look Homeward Angel"
13. Katherine Porter "The Collected Stories"
14. Lewis Thomas "The Lives of a Cell"
15. The Dalai Lama "Healing Anger"
16. John McPhee "Coming Into the Country"
17. John Steinbeck "Journal of a Novel"
18. Thomas Browne "Religio Medici" (don't ask)
19. Deborah Harkness "A Discovery of Witches"
20. Brandon Sanderson "Mistborn"
21. Rainer Maria Rilke "The Notebooks of Malte Laurid Brigge"
22. William K. Krueger "Iron Lake"
23. Mary Doria Russell "Doc"
24. Don Winslow "The Power of the Dog"
25. Josh Ritter "Bright's Passage"
26. Ellen Datlow (ed.) "Teeth"
27. Teddy Wayne "Kapitoil"
28. Virginia Woolf "The Waves"
29. Karl Marlantes "Matterhorn"
30. David W. Page "Body Trauma"
31. Stanley Fish "How To Read A Sentence"
32. F. Scott Fitzgeral "Tender Is The Night"
33. Terry Pratchett "The Color of Magic"
34. Janna Levin "How the Universe Got Its Spots"

Three months and thirty-four books? I don't know if I'll read all of these (in fact, I know I won't because the previous sentence equals a little over two books a day), but I intend to stick to this list for any and all reading pleasure. No matter what.

May God have mercy on our souls. Now go, and buy no more.