A young boy was walking along a country path leaving town. The path followed a small creek. The creek ran through town and although it had always been there, the boy had paid little attention to it. It was a small stream of water. It hardly had any significance at all. As the boy walked further and further from town, the path seemed less traveled and the small creek grew larger. The boy had never been this far from home before. The small creek had become a small river and the water was flowing fairly rapidly. This was an exciting adventure for the boy. Following the path as it curved, he suddenly found himself facing a damn that had been built across the river. Clearly the damn was controlling the flow of the river holding the flow back from possibly flooding the town. The boy looked at the damn in awe trying to imagine what his little town must have been like before this damn was built.
As he was looking at the damn and thinking how exciting it was to be this far from home, the damn began to leak near where he was standing. With no thought, the boy approached the damn, inspected the leak and put his finger in to the hole to stop the flow. He was immediately swelled with a sense of pride. He felt as though his actions had possibly prevented the town from flooding had the leak been left to get bigger. He felt very powerful at that moment. As he savored the good feeling, the damn sprung another leak. He was able to put a second finger in the damn and once again prevent possible tragedy. Then it sprung another and another until all ten of the boy’s fingers were being used to plug the holes in the damn.
Where there had been a sense of power when one finger was holding back the flow of the damn, there was now a sense of powerlessness as the boy had no more resources should the damn spring another leak. He cannot safely take his fingers out of the damn as doing so would certainly cause a flood to his city in the valley below. Where he had once been a rescuer, he was now a prisoner.
Alcoholism works in much the same way. Unaware of a possible predisposition to the chronic, progressive disease of alcoholism, the drinker takes a drink of alcohol with impunity. Maybe it’s a high school party, the wedding of a friend, college graduation or simply at home alone, age irrelevant, for no real reason. For 90% of the population, that drink has little significance. For the alcoholic, it triggers a physical allergy and a mental obsession but both are so subtle, the drinker is generally unaware of his condition much the same way as the young boy had been unaware of the potential consequences when he put the first finger in to control the damn. The drinker experiences a sense of ease and comfort. A feeling, perhaps, similar to that of the young man when he put the first finger in to the damn.
The boy could not go for help. He would have to wait for someone traveling up the country path to come to him. It may be days or weeks before someone travels that path. The boy had no idea as he himself had never been here before. The same is true with the alcoholic. It may be months or years before the seriousness of his alcoholic condition is revealed. Rationalization, justification and denial will slow the awareness process as the alcoholic can give reasons “why”, why his marriage failed, why he lost a job, why he has to move again and none of the reasons will have anything to do with alcohol. The alcoholic often is unable to see the seriousness of his condition and he often has to wait for someone to come to him.
Eventually a man does appear around the bend and sees the boy being held prisoner by the damn. He rushes to assist him offering help. The boy is skeptical. The man is not carrying any tools. The boy thought he knew what tools were necessary to repair the damn. This man had none of them. He is uncertain about what this man might do that he is not doing already.
The same is true for the alcoholic. Presented with a spiritual solution for the seemingly hopeless condition, the alcoholic balks at the actions suggested.
At the damn, the man told the boy his story. He had helped build this damn years ago. He knew how it was constructed. It was, in fact, a part of his regular schedule to inspect the damn for leaks. Although seemingly without proper resources, the boy believed the man knew what he was doing and removed one finger from the damn knowing, if the man could not repair it, he could always re-plug the leak himself. Immediately he regained a sense of power and it seemed a different power than the one he felt when he first put a finger in the leak. The leak was repaired and a finger at a time, the boy became free of the damn. He was once again free to continue his journey up the country path investigating what was around the next bend and the next.
At its core the powerlessness of alcoholism stems from the spiritual deprivation brought on by the slow and constant surrender of principles, integrity, pride, and self worth as the alcoholic slowly gives up everything for one more drink, the physical allergy and mental obsession.
The word “spirituality”, refers to connections. Men and women have a need to connect and the alcoholic has a seeming inability to form and maintain personal relationships. The obsession brought about by taking a drink slowly pushes everything good and decent out of the alcoholic’s world. The little boy, with his fingers in the damn, started out innocently trying to prevent a flood and now is held hostage. He is powerless. He is alone. He had given everything up to the damn and would have died there had not a man come along offering help. A man who told the boy a story about the damn. When the boy heard the man’s story, he knew there was power and he knew he was not alone. In the same way, the alcoholic hears the story of another alcoholic and knows he is no longer alone.
Alcoholism is a disease of isolation and loneliness. Even the “life of the party”, when left alone at home, is often lonely. It’s a spiritual malady. An inability to connect to another human being. The cure to the loneliness, the beginning of a solution, is in telling a story. The alcoholic tells his story and another alcoholic connects. That’s the spirituality. That’s the solution.
Me? It’s my turn to tell my story. I hope someone will be able to take one finger out of the damn and connect with a spiritual solution for a seemingly hopeless disease.
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