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The Lost Weekend

depressed woman struggling with alcoholism

According to a 2013 New Yorker article, writer Ian Crouch wrote of a novel that will make a person “never want to drink again.” Naturally, that piqued my interest, and I wondered, which book is this?

Is that possible? Is there a book that would make an alcoholic want to stop drinking?

The novel is Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend, and according to the 1944 New York Times book review, the story is about an upper middle-class New Yorker, Don Birnham, an alcoholic that goes through a five-day period of binge-drinking while avoiding his girlfriend, Helen and his brother. While intoxicated, Birnham isolates inside his apartment, and only leaves his abode in search of booze. At one point, unaware that it is Yom Kippur, he tries to hunt down a pawnshop to sell Helen’s coat, which he stole, but much to his despair, all the Second Avenue pawnshops are closed.

Then, Birnham falls down a staircase, and ends up in the alcoholic ward of a hospital, where he partially detoxes, before being sent home where he starts the vicious cycle of drinking all over again.

While at the hospital, a counselor lectures him on alcoholism,

“There isn’t any cure, besides just stopping. And how many of them can do that? They don’t want to, you see. When they feel bad like this fellow here, they think they want to stop, but they don’t, really. They can’t bring themselves to admit they’re alcoholics, or that liquor’s got them licked. They believe they can take it or leave it alone — so they take it.”

The counselor’s look is full of doom and gloom, hinting that ALL alcoholics really don’t want to stop drinking, and the only cure is for them to STOP.

Let’s get real.

This story takes place in the early 1940s, when AA was still a fledgling organization. Maybe alcoholics did not want to get a “cure” because back then, the “cure” was quite depressing.

During that time, alcoholics were committed inside a ward of a hospital, asylum or sanitarium. These wards were often crowded, and included metal cots, where patients were literally packed together like sardines, breathing each other’s sweat, booze and other odors.

That sounds more like a purgatory for lost souls.

During their stays inside the hospital, many alcoholics detoxed cold turkey, which can be dangerous. Other forms of treatment included a seven-day taper, and a prolonged taper with the use of narcotics like codeine.

While The Lost Weekend is a thinly disguised autobiography, Jackson vehemently denied that the story was about him.

But it was.

Additionally, Jackson was sober when he wrote The Lost Weekend, and relapsed when the novel turned into a success, followed by becoming a Hollywood film, The Lost Weekend starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman.

In 1953, Jackson checked into a drug rehab, and joined AA where he became a circuit speaker. Jackson talked about his drug addiction, as well as his alcoholism, and was one of the first speakers to discuss both drugs and alcohol, which is still a questionable thing to do in the present day, as AA meetings are supposed to focus on alcoholism.

While working on a sequel to The Lost Weekend, he died of barbiturate poisoning. His death was ruled a suicide.

The book is horrifying, and the author’s death a tragedy, but in retrospect, the only book that helped me when I surrendered and realized that I could no longer drink, was the Big Book.

I did not quit.

I surrendered.

I feel so blessed to live in a time when substance abuse and addiction treatment has become comprehensive. Alcoholics and addicts must be treated with compassion, which is something that AA co-founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith realized.

As Abraham Lincoln said about alcoholism, upon addressing the Washington Temperance Society, in Springfield, Illinois, on February 22, 1842,

“The victims of it were to be pitied and compassionated, just as are the heirs of consumption and other hereditary diseases.”

Compassion is an important part of substance abuse and addiction treatment.

At Cycles of Change, we offer empathy because we care.

We provide clinical, evidence-based substance abuse and addiction treatment that not only helps addicts and alcoholics recover from substance abuse, but also from co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety and trauma.

Our hands reach out to any alcoholic and/or addict, as well as their families.

Let us help you regain your life.


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