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Balancing the personal narratives of Alex DeJong and...
Balancing the personal narratives of Alex DeJong and his wife with professional insights from Alex's treating physician, Dr. Martin Doot, the book helps readers understand the social, medical, and psychological elements of alcoholism. Each of the chapters also includes questions for discussion and reflection.
Sensitive, honest, and caring, Dying for a Drink is a valuable resource for churches, counselors, health-care professionals, and individuals and their families who are struggling in the grip of alcoholism.
This is a very personal little book, and I am a little person who feels impelled to begin in the first person. This is also a book about a phrase that appears on page 1: "full disclosure." So I will make a full disclosure and say that one of the co-authors, Dr. Martin Doot, was at one time our family physician. While I have seldom seen him in recent years, I have vivid recall of our relationship and from it draw confidence in his work and words. (He offered excellent care and empathic counsel when my first wife and our family were dealing with her terminal cancer—the best test I know.)
I was also for a time on the board of MacNeal Memorial Hospital, where the other co-author, Pastor DeJong, began his treatment and recovery. So I have confidence in this particular facility, although both of the authors and I are aware that such treatment could have been undertaken at any number of other places.
End of my "full disclosure." The authors also make their joint acknowledgment to Cecilia Hofmann, disclosing that she, as they say, "wove our collective stories into a readable text." Whoever did what, this book did turn out to be more than readable. So now let me become impersonal, neutral, fair-minded, and objective to say this: After reading the galleys, I left my study for wife Harriet's studio and mentioned that, while I own a decent library of books on addiction and have weekly access to many more, this succinct address to the issue is the most helpful I've yet seen, and I consider it far more important than its modest scope would suggest.
Suppose you have not read the publisher's copy on the back cover. Suppose you have not peeked at what follows this foreword. Suppose that you are therefore coming "cold" to the ensuing pages. Then let me set up a situation for a surefire way to avoid the disease of alcoholism.
First, be sure to have dedicated, faithful, Christian parents. Let the father be a minister in a quite conservative denomination, where God's law and God's love are taken equally seriously. Become a minister yourself, so you have all the spiritual resources you need to ward off the threat of bad habits, addictions, and diseases. Develop a fulfilling ministry to which you bring talents that help you counsel people with addiction problems and win their confidence.
Enrich this set of premises by marrying well, choosing, as in this case, a gifted, theologically informed teacher. Raise a family in which the dual voices of law and love, backed by God's Word and enlivened in daily life, get their hearing. Let the spouse continue to be a partner in work and in leisure. Develop habits that reinforce the marriage—for example, the custom of winding down in easy chairs and comparing notes at the end of the day.
Since you may want insight into health problems, why not have children and see that all three of them become physicians? Develop friendships with physicians, and a deep friendship with one who can look you in the eye and level with you.
With all these elements in place, you are all set to be addiction free, leading what at least in this respect is a blameless, shameless life.
And then wake up one day to recognize, upon the doctor's urging, that none of the defenses helped. You have to acknowledge that you are a hopeless alcoholic. No, not hopeless. Dr. Doot is going to tell you, Reverend DeJong, that you have a chronic but treatable disease. You surrender and begin taking tentative steps toward recovery to face what here is called a "desperate" situation.
If this were only a narrative of how someone got into this circumstance, the book would be engrossing but not helpful. Instead it does help, thanks to the information Dr. Doot provides on up-to-the-minute understandings of how alcohol affects brain chemistry, what kinds of therapies are available, and the importance of spiritual counsel. It also helps to have the personal accounts of both Reverend DeJong and his wife, including their reflections on the resources of faith. I'll get offstage very soon now, so they can do what this foreword says they will do.
What I like about the book—besides its narratives, current data, questions for discussion, and further suggestions—is its moral point. The authors recognize that alcoholism is a disease and never treat it as a mere sign of human weakness or sin about which to be ashamed. Yet they also recognize that the individual, especially if supported by community—such as Alcoholics Anonymous and church-based support groups—can take responsibility and must do so.
José Ortega y Gasset's life motto was "I am I and my circumstances." The genetic determinist says, "I am my circumstances. I cannot help it that I was born with a kind of brain chemistry that makes me vulnerable to alcohol and a candidate for alcoholism." The self-helping egotist says, "I am I." She takes on herself the whole responsibility and believes that she can transcend her genetic programming, life experiences, and habits. No, "I am I and my circumstances" sets up the dialectic that informs this book.
Words on pages cannot effect what a look in the eye or the experience of living with an addicted person can do: bring to life all the passion and fury, the frustration and disappointment that alcoholism elicits from the individual who would be good and do good. But this book comes very close to doing so. In the process it makes clear that gaining ground against alcoholism and becoming and staying dry is a tremendous challenge—physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. With helpers like Dr. Doot and Reverend DeJong and AA and clinics and medicines and God and friends, at least one does not face the challenge alone.
Martin E. Marty
Walking on Water
Pastor DeJong Reveals His Problem
Families Get Alcoholism Too
Words from the Drinker's Spouse
Finally Ready for Treatment
Dr. Doot Explains How It Happens
A Drugstore in the Brain
Dr. Doot Explains Alcoholism
Life in Recovery
Pastor DeJong Finishes the Story