The hotel was full of dapper young men with vests and blow-dried hair. In the exhibition hall, enough computers, closed-circuit TV, slide projectors and assorted terminals to run World War III were whirring, clicking and softly buzzing, while their living, breathing attendants handed out brochures. At dozens of workshops and tightly scheduled little meetings in every one of the Washington Hilton's conference rooms, the talk was of detox, volunteerism, credentialing and staff burnout.
The alcohol control business has come a long way from tent-show ranting about Demon Rum.
"It's a little bit like Zen, you know; it's a paradox."
This from Jeffrey J. Shore of Chicago, whose talk was on "sobriety vs. the Human Need to Get High: a Dilemma," and his very first point would shake up many a fire-breathing sermonizer: It's natural to want to get high now and then.
Small children seek to vary their conscious state, he noted, by whirling to make themselves dizzy, or causing a faint or sniffing various fumes. In almost every culture, people have taken "time out" from their normal lives one way or another, and it didn't take much research to discover that "consumption of fermented juices produces interesting variations from ordinary consciousness."
In a word, the first problem is finding ways for the recovering alcoholic to feel high without drinking.
"But the paradox here is that the more you try to help, the less you succeed. Here we are, most of us, people who are gonna die unless they quit, but you can't just tell 'em." said Shore, who at 28 is a clinical training specialist in the alcoholism program at Grant Hospital in Chicago.
He was here for the 30th annual meeting of the Alcohol and Drug Problems Association of North America, in conjunction with the first annual National Drug Congress Conference. The sessions last through tomorrow.
How do you get high without alcohol?The obvious answer won't work here: Shore rejects marijuana as a substitute for booze because it is simply another form of chemical dependency. (He's not for repressing grass, however.)
Sports is one way, providing social contacts and a certain flow of freedom from self-consciousness. And there are hobbies and "any activity which precipitates a light trance," like movies and music and dancing.
Especially there is yoga and meditation, which reinforce the identity while also "encouraging feelings of oneness with the world." Shore, who has spent some time on Eastern thought, noted that Alcoholics Anonymous, which he ardently admires, was influenced by Jung, who in turn worked with Eastern philosophies.
The idea is for the alcoholic to increase a sense of self and at the same time decrease his alienation from others.
It was a curious convention. A conventional convention in many ways, what with the awards luncheons and section meetings and receptions (with cash bar). But there was all that coffee. You never saw so much coffee: on dollies, on trays, in fancy china sets at the exhibit hall, in Styrofoam cups balancing on chairs, windowsills and knees.
It seemed almost as if the coffee were a statement of some sort. Yet here were all these young, ambitious people, clearly not alcoholics themselves -- they hadn't had time to be -- the technocrats of a new medical frontier.
"One of the great advances," said Shore, "is seeing alcoholism as a disease, getting away from the moralistic attitude. Because the first hurdle for an alcoholic is dealing with the guilt and shame of telling himself he is just that."
He is not an ex-alcoholic himself, nor is there alcoholism in his family. He drinks now and then, "but coming from a Jewish family it's not a problem. My real problem is eating."
Starting as a prelegal student at City College of New York, he wound up with a psychology degree, worked with young drug addicts in the South Bronx awhile, then took a graduate degree in social work at the University of Chicago.
"I hadn't thought specifically of this field; I only knew I wanted to do something to help people, but it turned out that this was where the jobs were. It's a new field, and its burgeoning in a lot of directions. For instance, industry has become much more aware of the problem recently, not altruistically but because it's been costing a fortune in lost employes."
He'll probably stick with the field now that he's in it, for he is impressed with the way it cuts across all levels of society, reaching all sorts of people.
"Most alcoholics are middle-aged people with families. A very small percentage are the skid row types. I'll never forget when I got my first lawyer, my first bank president as clients. It was a little bit intimidating."
He is now teaching others the new ways of working with alcoholics, helping them to find ways to combat feelings of meaninglessness in life without drink, and to get nice, as some would say, to move into different kinds of consciousness without a bottle.
"One thing you have to learn is to mourn the loss of alcohol. That's part of the awareness. Then there are the workshops that AA and other groups run, with group treatment derived from the Human Potential Movement. And your family, if you have one, is brought into the effort to replace alcohol.
"After all, the alcoholic isn't neurotic per se.There may be a physiological and genetic predisposition to it, but it's normal to want to get high."
Carrie Nation would flip.