Although I’ve already finished the book, I’d like to talk in today’s post about something in M. Scott Peck’s Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth. Peck has a chapter about Alcoholics Anonymous, which he praises because of its spirituality and the way that the sponsorship within it provides informal psychotherapy to people.
On pages 140-141, Peck relates an experience that he had in counseling an alcoholic executive. The executive told Peck that AA wasn’t working for him, for, although he went to AA meetings every other night, he continued to get drunk. The executive also claimed to understand all of the twelve steps.
Peck probed him on this claim, as Peck said with some surprise that “it usually takes people at least three years to even begin to be able to comprehend” the twelve steps (page 140). The executive replied that he didn’t really understand the part about the higher power, but he at least had a grasp on the First Step, which states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—-that our lives had become unmanageable.”
The executive understood the First Step to mean, “I’ve got this kind of biochemical defect in my brain such that whenever I take a drink, the alcohol takes over and I lose my willpower.” That means that he cannot take the first drink. Once he takes that first drink, he is powerless, for he will then crave and have another drink, then another, then another.
Peck then proposed another way to understand the First Step: perhaps it not only means that an alcoholic is powerless after he takes the first drink, but also before he takes the first drink. The executive insisted that such was not the case, that he was only powerless after the first drink, and that the choice was his whether or not he would take the first drink. Peck responded that the executive wasn’t behaving that way, however, for the executive was continuing to get drunk. When the executive kept insisting that it was up to him whether he took the first drink, Peck replied, “Well, have it your way, then.”
Peck concludes this story by saying, “The executive had not yet undergone the surrender required to the very first of the twelve steps, much less the remaining eleven.”
I didn’t particularly care for this story, to tell you the truth. The reason is that I’d prefer for a therapist to be more nurturing, kinder, and gentler than to end the discussion with “Well, have it your way, then.” I’d feel so alone if a therapist told me that. Plus, I feel that the discussion gets unnecessarily bogged down in the definition of “powerless”. So the executive does not feel that he is absolutely powerless before the first drink. So he doesn’t define his problem in those exact terms. Maybe there’s still a way to work with him, without being so absolutist.
After all, the executive is coming to Peck because he realizes that he has a problem with getting drunk. Perhaps he and Peck could try to get at the bottom of why the executive feels like drinking—-what problems he is going through, what he feels before he takes that first drink, etc. Maybe he and Peck can talk about whether or not the executive has a sponsor and is working the twelve steps, and if not, why not? Is the executive reluctant to be honest about himself, or to trust, and, if so, why? Is there something that the executive deems to be unmanageable that can be made more manageable to him? I doubt that the executive has the same issues that I do in the exact same way that I have them—-such as shyness or struggles in making social contacts, which could create difficulties in terms of getting a sponsor, lining up friends whom one could call when one feels like drinking, reaching out to other alcoholics in fulfilling the Twelfth Step, etc.—-since he is, after all, an executive. But he may have challenges that inhibit him from working the program. In short, I don’t think that Peck should have said, “Well, have it your way, then.”
Maybe Peck and the executive actually did work on these issues, even though Peck does not talk about that in the book. After all, there are times when a therapist can say, “Well, have it your way”, then come back and try to get to the bottom of things. Saying something that indicates finality does not always mean finality, on a practical level. People can resume dialogue or choose to continue it after they seem to have ended it.