Monday, February 04, 2013

When Addiction Was Always Fatal

At least, a time when there was no treatment for it in any way, shape, or form.

That was the other reaction I had to the Guthrie Theater's production of Eugene O'Neill's A Long Day's Journey Into Night. The play is based on O'Neill's own family history, taking place on one day in August 1912. In that day we see the father and two sons of the Tyrone family drink as their own way of coping with the wife/mother's morphine addiction take control after some time of sobriety that they hoped would be more permanent. Everyone is caught up in the devastation of addiction.

Hope? None! It is tragedy at it's worst. King Lear and Macbeth on the coast of Connecticut in 1912.

In 1912 addiction had no treatment available. It was a death sentence which everyone felt was a matter of choice. They could stop if they wanted to, was the standard thinking. It was an issue of morals and will-power and wanting it badly enough. In August 1912 Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson was only 16 years old.

Hope? Nope!

O'Neill's own family history shows the destructive power of alcoholism and addiction. He older brother and two sons died of alcoholism/addiction.

Today we live in a fortunately better time. We have a little better understanding of some of the underlying issues that have made addiction so difficult. We have seen the development of neuroscience giving us insight into the brain chemistry that is the possible cause and likely result of alcoholism and addiction. There are millions of recovering addicts today. They can live with a sense of hope that Eugene O'Neill and his family would never have known.

We are only at the early stages of our awareness. There is still so much we don't know and so many people who still don't get into recovery and stay there. Relapses occur at a frustrating frequency and we can't predict who will relapse and who won't.

But today we do have hope. It is not a 100% fatal disease. People do make it into recovery and stay there. The odds are better than in 1912 when O'Neill and his family stood in the midst of a multi-generational story of loss and pain. We have made a start and we can offer possibilities for the future so other families can liv with a sense of optimism.

1 comment:

Greg Chamberlin said...

Yes, we've come a ways in our understanding of this disease. Unfortunately, accompanying our current understanding is the persistent perspective that it is an individual problem, a singular human experience arising out of a particular brain chemistry in combination with alcohol.

What gets ignored in the current disease conception is the shaping power of environment, the post-birth development of humans, the economic pressures that compel both parents to work (assuming there are two parents present) and the anxiety visited upon the developing human child and the lingering affects thereof.

Our use of the word "disease" manages to isolate addiction, individualize it, and settle for an unsatisfying etiology that lets the way our society lives off the hook.