My name is Michael O and I am a recovered alcoholic. I am also a progressive political activist. The two are not always compatible. It is a principle of personal recovery from the disease of alcoholism that I will cease fighting anybody or anything in order that I maintain the necessary level of spiritual serenity that keeps me from creating resentments and justifiable anger. Those two emotional states will lead me to drink. They are, as our experience has taught, the two most common emotional causes of relapses.
When I indulge in either of those two emotional states of mind, I am not rational. My perception is blurred by my own self-righteousness, which is driven by self-centered fear. That is not the right state of mind to live everyday life. Certainly not one by which to make decisions that affect all humankind. That is why I am writing.
The two recent, brilliantly insightful and brave pieces on George W. Bush’s relationship to alcohol, Dry Drunk by Alan Bisbort in American Politics Journal (1) and Addiction, Brain Damage and the President, “Dry Drunk” Syndrome and George W. Bush by Katherine van Wormer in Counterpunch (2) are the most incisive, analytical explanations of his irrational behavior yet in print. They also provide a basis upon which we must argue for a debate on his mental competence to govern. An ambiguous proviso: Those of us in recovery hold that only an alcoholic can diagnose him/herself. It is too complex a disease to do otherwise, being three fold in nature as we see it. That is physical, mental and spiritual.
Further, far too often, the alcoholic has been ‘diagnosed’ by others both pedestrian and professional as everything from an immoral scumbag to a person without backbone to a clinical case of paranoid schizophrenic. (Parenthetically, the lack of “backbone” is George W’s favorite rant at the UN.)
However I believe that it essential to understand the emotional, mental and spiritual state of the unrecovered and practicing alcoholic in order to understand the ‘dry drunk.’
Common traits of the alcoholic are a concurrent sense of superiority along with an inferiority complex. A sense of never fitting in. Feeling irritable and discontent, or not comfortable in one’s own skin. A childish selfishness that is never satisfied by people, places or things. An innate fear that someone is always trying to take away what the alcoholic has, or will deprive them of what they think is their due.
Often, anger, resentment and rage are the only ‘true’ emotions that the alcoholic exhibits. At the same time, because of these emotional state’s relationship to the chemistry of the central nervous system, they alone can ‘fuel’ the alcoholic’s behavior. The alcoholic functions on ‘self-will’ or ‘self-will run riot.’ The alcoholic’s favorite phrase is: ‘my way or the highway.’
Then along comes alcohol. In the beginning its use brings a false sense of ‘well being.’ The alcoholic only feels ‘normal’ when under the abnormal influence of a mind-altering chemical.
However, it must be noted that with some alcoholics, the disease function entirely the opposite: they alcoholic seems like a placid, normal person until that first drink and then the Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde syndrome takes place and they become angry violent people. In other words, as indicated by the American Medical Association, and now by countless clinical studies of behavior, physiology and mental health, the practicing and unrecovered alcoholic is a very sick person.
Often, at various times in the alcoholic’s life, as the disease takes more toll, the alcohol no longer works or soothes the continually irritated state of the alcoholic. Then and/or when, the behaviors caused by the toxic allergic effects of the alcohol produce periods of out of control insanity the alcoholic often becomes both suicidal and homicidal.
At this point only total abstinence and a ‘psychic’ change in personality, as Jung described it, seems to save the alcoholic. Most often this ‘psychic’ change is spiritual in nature, followed by a life altered course based on spiritual principles that are practiced one day at a time by the recovering/recovered alcoholic. These are most often found in a continued lifetime utilizing Twelve Step recovery programs.
Where this does not take place, that is when the alcoholic drinks again, the alcoholic can only become worse. Or, when the alcoholic only abstains but does not experience the ‘psychic’ change and alter life behaviors based on spiritual principles, the alcoholic, as described in the afore mentioned articles, becomes very much the same person as when drinking. Only the fuel becomes self-will and self-centered fear and an obsession to control everything and everybody.
In the average alcoholic this simply means that no one but masochists and enablers wish to befriend him/her. He/she is a miserable, unrelenting pain in the ass and/or a tyrant.
Another core mental characteristic of both the practicing alcoholic and the dry drunk is denial. Alcoholism is the only disease that continually tells the victim that he/she does not have it while it is trying to kill him/her. For the dry drunk to maintain a rational appearance requires that he/she proclaim that they are not alcoholic. Or as Bush said, he was not “clinically alcoholic.”
Katherine van Wormer states in her Counterpunch article that “dry drunk” traits consist of: Exaggerated self-importance and pomposity. Grandiose behavior. A rigid, judgmental outlook. Impatience. Childish behavior. Irresponsible behavior. Irrational rationalization. Projection. Overreaction.
All of these mirror the character of the practicing or unrecovered alcoholic.
These behaviors are recognized as commonplace by all familiar with alcoholics and the disease of alcoholism. They are tolerable only to those who have a vested interest in seeing that those behaviors continue, either out of a personal need for attachment and dependency, or, because those behaviors enable others to manipulate the results to their own ends. In the domestic environment it creates co-dependents. In the political environment the enablers are the political minions or manipulators of the ill alcoholic.
In persons with external power/control over their domain, such as police and military officers over their jurisdictions and chain of command, business and corporate bosses over their employees and the direction of the company, husbands and wives over each other and their children, these people become dangerous to the well being of those around them.
To a state ruler, depending upon the weaponry at command, they become dangerous to an entire universe.
MICHAEL O’McCARTHY is a poet, writer and political organizer. He can be reached at: Opolitique@aol.com