WHEN I CAME INTO THE LOUNGE AT MCCALLUM, JERRY BECKoned me into her office and motioned for me to sit. She was chic in a suede outfit and a blue silk scarf around her neck.
"This is unacceptable," she said, handing me back the notebook I'd written in the night before.
"What's wrong with it?" I said defensively. I hadn't had a literary rejection for a long time.
"No feelings," she said. "You've been way out of touch with your feelings for years. Maybe decades. Your feelings, like those of most drunks, have been anesthetized."
"I did what you told me," I said sulkily. I hadn't quite gotten used to being called a drunk.
"You described everything well enough. But I want to know how you \o7 felt\f7 emotionally, not what you thought intellectually."
"Yes, you know, like anger, anxiety, happiness, loneliness, hate, love, resentment, apprehension and so forth. Do it over. Now, Barny, did you ever do anything while under the influence that you were ashamed of?"
"Plenty," I said.
"Didn't we all?" she said with a smile. "I want you to write in detail about one of those episodes. And--important--how you felt about it. For Monday."
She handed me "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," published by Alcoholics Anonymous.
"As you probably know, we are totally AA-minded here at BFC. We believe the Twelve Steps program is often the only thing that works for the alcoholic and the addict. AA has the very best record of any program in history; on that everyone agrees."
"Why didn't I just stay home and go to AA?"
"You tried that once, didn't you? I saw that on your record sheet. Few years ago, wasn't it?"
"I tried going to meetings for a while."
"It didn't take. I went because other people thought I should."
"I'll bet you'd go to a meeting, and then go to a bar afterward."
"Sometimes before, too. How'd you know?"
"Don't forget that everyone in this place has been where you've been, where you are now. We've all done things as bad and bizarre as you, and in my case, I know, a helluva lot worse. Why do you think AA didn't work for you?"
I shrugged. "I didn't take it seriously, I guess."
"When you get out of here, you will. Now, we only have time in four weeks to cover the first five steps. You'll start this weekend with the first. Know what it is?"
"Giving up booze."
"Right. The First Step says, 'We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.' Is that hard for you to admit?"
I hesitated. " 'Powerless' seems a bit strong. Sounds as though I was lying drunk in a gutter someplace."
"But, you must be powerless over it. Otherwise, why haven't you been able to quit? Isn't the urge and habit of drinking stronger than your resolutions to quit? You've proved it over and over."
"All right. I'll admit that much."
She looked at her watch. "Time for the lecture. I want you to read about the first step in this book and also in the big blue book, and write your feelings about it for Monday. Plus, of course, your daily impressions, and a complete revision of your first entry."
"That's quite a bit." I said.
"What'd you think you were signing up for--a country club?"
THE LECTURER WAS DR. JAMES WEST, MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF the clinic. He was tan, trim, 60, with bushy, dark eyebrows and iron-gray hair, and dressed in a natty gabardine suit. He started out with a fine description of alcoholism and the alcoholic in general in understandable terms. He spoke without notes in an impressive and decisive way, and we had to scribble our notes in our binders fast to keep up with him. He didn't talk down to this audience, but his section on alcohol and the brain was a model of science made understandable to the layman. "The brain is the target organ for the pharmacological effect of the sedative-hypnotic chemical alcohol. Alcohol is closely related to the anesthetic ether.
"One of the brain functions most obviously affected by alcohol use is memory. It is thought by many authorities that short-term memory is primarily a transitory phenomenon that can be compared to an electrical charge, but that over a period of time, usually after about 15 minutes, certain changes begin to occur in the brain that make these short-term memories, or electrical charges, permanent and convert them to chemical or permanent memory engrams. The process by which this takes place is called encoding.
"After the circuitry of memory has been exposed to alcohol repeatedly and over a long period of time, and in relatively large amounts, the encoding process, as a physiological function of the brain, begins to fail. This failure results in the drinking person not being able to recall what occurred during his or her drinking episode. As time goes on, it requires less and less alcohol to bring about this so-called blackout. Eventually, the circuitry of the brain becomes so damaged that the patient is incapable of remembering anything beyond a very short time. This condition is referred to as Korsakoff's syndrome. It is usually an irreversible state."