"Phoenix in a Bottle" is a book I read recently co-authored by Lilian and Murdoch MacDonald, a couple now residing in Scotland who went through their own personal hell with alcohol. Lilian and Murdoch met in the early '90's at an AA meeting. They had both been attending AA for years with limited success. They married within a year against all the advice of their AA peers. At first it looked as if those peers had been right, for Lilian and Murdoch went on an extended bender, even ending up on the streets of Cambridge, England for a couple of weeks, "sleeping rough" as they called it. Their account of this experience is at once harrowing and heartening. It left no doubt in my mind that they know what they're talking about when it comes to having a problem with alcohol. They write:
By this time we were close to depair. We were freezing, the alcoholic shakes were starting to seriously manifest themselves, and an awful dread was setting in as we realised that we could think of no possible way out of the mess we were in, at least until Monday morning, when we might be able to wring a last few pounds out of the bank. Before then, a whole weekend without anything to drink, nothing to eat, sleeping rough and perishing cold - we couldn't face the thought of walking back to Christ's Pieces for the duvet, even if we had been able to find it again.
They tried AA one last time before deciding that if they were to solve their alcohol problem, they would have to do it together and find a solution that was specific to them.
Thus began a journey of exploring their childhoods and the belief systems that followed them into adulthood. They spent a few months working on this exploration while rebuilding their personal and professional lives. Now, more than ten years later, they are valued and active members of their families, workplaces and society. They drink occasionally with no consequence and are attempting to spread the word that there are many alternatives to the problem of alcoholism without committing to a lifetime of abstinence or a program that may not fit your core values.
Their discussion involves much of what they perceive as myths and superstitions about alcoholism that have been perpetrated on society through the proliferation of the 12-step communities through profit-based treatment programs. They also contend that AA is a quasi-religious cult based upon the contemporary medical orthodoxy of the time and the involvement of both founders with the evangelical doctrine of the Oxford Groups of the early 1930's, from which Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, took much material for the 12 steps. Another quote from their book:
Frankly, the whole thing is total nonsense. What it all boils down to in essence is that they are saying that alcoholism is a progressive, incurable and fatal illness or disease of mind and body. That's the bad news, right? But the good news is that you can get continuing remission on a daily basis, by turning your will and your life over to the care of God (as you understand him), confessing your sins, making amends for them, and living the rest of your life in accordance with His will (not yours) and carrying the message to others.
These ideas, although a strange mixture of contemporary medical ignorance and evangelical Christianity, at least reflected the current thinking of the time in these two fields. However, instead of changing, developing and progressing over the years, this philosophy became fixed, to the extent that barely a dot or comma was allowed to be changed in the AA bible, the so-called Big Book, at it moved from one edition to the next.
I've been in touch with Lilian and Murdoch personally and I can assure you these are two sincere, honest and brave people. They are not out for personal gain, but only wish to help others who find themselves in a similar boat.
As for me, I hope this post will be met in the same spirit in which it is written - as an open and frank discussion into the many avenues recovery can take, and the many definitions of recovery an individual can claim for themselves.
I have added a link to their website, "Alcoholics Can Drink Safely Again" to the websites on the left hand side of the blog. I will link directly to their book as soon as I can figure out how to do that through Amazon UK.