Alcohol is a beverage that is actively undergoing the process of decay, also known as fermentation. That’s why it’s bitter to the taste, and why the tongue, throat and stomach naturally recoil when exposed to it, especially when the concentration of alcohol is high. After all, the body accepts substances which nurture life, and rejects those that threaten its vitality. The aversive quality of alcohol’s taste reveals its intrinsic lack of value in nurturing the life-sustaining functions of the organism. Alcohol, in a very literal, realistic sense, is death.
Yet, when swallowed and digested in the body, the effect of intoxication and inebriation is produced. Since there is often a sick pleasure derived from such inebriation, the body’s natural reflex to reject alcohol can be bypassed by personal willpower. We chase the foggy euphoria, and in spite of the reflexive warning to stay away, we continue to harshly swallow the beverage—often ad nauseum. With repetition and habitual usage, consumption of alcohol develops an acquired taste on our palate. We acquire a tolerance to, and bittersweet liking of, its harshness.
The same tendency can be observed in actions like smoking, whether it be tobacco, marijuana, or any other mind-altering substance. Once inhaled, the lungs cough in protest, but the smoker sucks in more carbon monoxide to induce the stimulating effects of the chemicals contained in the smoke. Even coffee is bitter to the taste, but that doesn’t stop millions of coffee drinkers from adding milk and sugar to mask their beloved beverage’s bitterness. Then they get the buzz with a sweet overcoat.
This begs the question: Why are these obvious facts skipped over in the literature of AA?
Well, perhaps the founders and authors of AA and the Big Book jumped prematurely to some erroneous conclusions. Maybe they incorrectly assumed that the drinker of alcohol must be at fault (or somehow dysfunctional) rather than inquiring into the inherent toxicity of alcohol itself. Then they formed their psychology based on a belief that they were physically and mentally abnormal. Since the drinking of alcohol has been culturally embedded in the mainstream for millennia, it would seem a viable option to classify someone as abnormal if they could not readily conform to normalcy. But is normalcy, or mainstream culture, always reflective of health, truth, and progressive well-being? Unfortunately not. There is a plethora of evidence to reveal the pitfall in believing that just because an activity is conducted on a large scale, that it’s automatically pure, wholesome, or in favor of unity, harmony, and balance. Because of our ability to exercise free will, we have undoubtedly veered off course, both as individuals, and as cultures and institutions. We need not look any further than war and violence to see this pattern. Of course, making mistakes is inevitable, but we can also learn from these mistakes.
Another question arises: Why would a taste of death give us momentary pleasure?
Hmm...isn’t one of the age-old questions whether or not life continues after death of the body? Haven’t seekers been chasing a direct experience of an eternal realm, an immortal soul, a God that transcends this material world?
Everyone knows they are special, that there is something more than this birth, life, and death. It resonates somewhere deep inside all of us.
What if getting drunk on alcohol, or high on drugs, gives us a temporary glimpse of this consciousness beyond the confines of our mortal body? If this is the case, it’s kind of like watching a movie, but only catching a sneak preview. I think it’s fair to say that most of us want a tranquility that is both perpetual and lasting.
Spiritual development is not primarily about having a temporary peak experience. Rather, it is a natural and permanent awakening, which can be achieved only through ongoing deep inner purification. This is why anyone engaged in daily deep meditation will find urges for substances that produce artificial experiences falling away.
Could it be that “alcoholics” are not mentally or physically dysfunctional, but that instead, they merely picked a shortcut that ultimately failed in bringing lasting satisfaction? Could it just have been an honest mistake that turned ugly? And finally, maybe we’ve been dodging a very important question, which is: even if we could drink moderately or responsibly, is drinking in itself an activity worth doing? After all, it’s a poison.