Thursday, September 22, 2005

Off the Wagon

Via Salon.com’s War Room, we’ve heard that the National Enquirer is reporting that George W. Bush is “drinking again.” According to the tabloid, he slugged down a belt when the news of Hurricane Katrina hit, and Mrs. Bush told him to stop.

Although the National Enquirer isn’t exactly America’s newspaper of record, they have gotten a lot more careful after several lawsuits, and they did scoop the world on Rush Limbaugh’s drug problem. But even if it’s true, I’m not exactly sure that it’s as scandalous as it sounds to depict the president as falling off the wagon after what he says have been nineteen years without drinking. That’s because in order to fall off the wagon, you have to be on it in the first place.

I’m not going to analyze Mr. Bush from afar, but if what he says about his own come-to-Jesus is true — that he simply stopped drinking the morning after his fortieth birthday — then all he did was stop drinking. If he thinks that he had a problem with alcohol and just decided to stop abusing it, he really hasn’t solved the problem. Stopping drinking is not recovery, it’s de-tox. There’s a lot more to it than that, and anyone who’s been through recovery, whether they follow a 12-step program or work through it in some other way, knows that you also have to change not just your behavior but your attitude about yourself and your life. Whatever it was that made you start abusing in the first place has to be dealt with, including a certain amount of humility and acceptance of the fact that admitting to a weakness makes you stronger. Admitting to your mistakes and accepting responsibility for your actions is part of that, as is reaching out to those you’ve harmed. Along the way you examine yourself and your actions and you try to make the changes as you can with the help and support of your friends and your family. It’s not easy. The easiest part of recovery is putting down the bottle; it’s what comes after that’s the real bitch.

There’s also a spiritual side of recovery that is rather powerful. When I was involved with Al-Anon, it was the closest thing I found to a Quaker meeting outside of the meeting house. It was a recognition that what they call the “higher power” was in us, not in the sacraments of the church or temple. (Ironically, my Al-Anon meeting was held in a church basement.) The element of the internal process of recovery helps the healing, and just as the Quakers speak of the Light — “that of God within us” — the acceptance of our duty to ourselves and our inner peace through a spiritual context is of great importance. It isn’t couched in religion or the acceptance of a dogmatic doctrine, and I didn’t meet a lot of Jesus-shouters at the meetings. As someone once said, religion is for those people who are afraid of Hell; spirituality is for those who have been there.

I don’t really care if Mr. Bush has started “drinking again.” If his behavior before and after is the same, it doesn’t make any difference whether or not he’s finding his courage in a Scotch bottle. Nothing’s changed.