The Drunken State

What has been said above about the treadmill of symmetrical pride is only one half of the picture. It is the picture of the state of mind of the alcoholic battling with the bottle. Clearly this state is very unpleasant and clearly it is also unrealistic. His "others" are either totally imaginary or are gross distortions of persons on whom he is dependent and whom he may love. He has an alternative to this uncomfortable state—he can get drunk. Or, "at least," have a drink.

With this complementary surrender, which the alcoholic will often see as an act of spite — a Barthian dart in a symmetrical struggle — his entire epistemology changes. His anxieties and resentments and panic vanish as if by magic. His self-control is lessened, but his need to compare himself with others is reduced even further. He feels the physiological warmth of alcohol in his veins and, in many cases, a corresponding psychological warmth toward others. He may be either maudlin or angry, but he has at least become again a part of the human scene.

Direct data bearing upon the thesis that the step from sobriety into intoxication is also a step from symmetrical challenge into complementarity are scarce, and always confused both by the distortions of recall and by the complex toxicity of the alcohol. But there is strong evidence from song and story to indicate that the step is of this kind. In ritual, partaking of wine has always stood for the social aggregation of persons united in religious "communion" or secular Gemütlichkeit. In a very literal sense, alcohol supposedly makes the individual see himself as and act as a part of the group. That is, it enables complementarity in the relationships which surround him.

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