Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Earlier this week, I was in conversation with one of my students about class presentations. She was telling me how little she liked getting up in front of people. I confided in her that I, too, hate standing up in front of people. She was surprised by my words because I am sure lectures seems to her, as it seems to me, a major component of my job.

IDr Jekyll and Mr Hyde have a ton of social anxiety. I have told this to many people over my lifetime, but it always seems to be discounted with a wave of the hand and a, “But you’re so outgoing.” But its true. Somewhere along the way, I think I just got good at faking it. In fact, I think alcoholics are good at faking all sorts of things: our lives, our feelings, our personalities.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (21).

Robert Louis Stevensons’ Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was publish in London in 1868. Dr. Jekyll (who for most of my life I thought was the bad guy because his name reminds me of jackal) is actually the good guy. As a character, Jekyll is well liked and successful. The problem is that there is a sort of stain on his soul- the kind of thing that makes him crave to do less than noble deeds. Jekyll fears that if he indulges this baser portion of his personality, someone will figure out. He will ruin his reputation. Thus, he creates a transformation potion. When he takes said elixir,  Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde.

Unfortunately, as with life, after Jekyll takes the potion a few unforeseen consequences happen. First, Jekyll doesn’t realize the extent of the monster he would become- a man whose bad acts become increasingly more sinister up to and including murder. Second, Jekyll doesn’t anticipate that he would be unable to stop himself from changing. Initially, Jekyll cannot stop transforming due to an mental obsession on his part to be Hyde- a constant thinking followed by an eventual lack of willpower and an indulgence. But after a while, the transformations happen even when Jekyll doesn’t want them to, and even more importantly, without ever taking a single sip of the potion. By the end of the novel, the transformations are complete and involuntary. Knowing he will soon turn into Mr. Hyde permanently, Dr. Jekyll commits suicide.

I feel that recently I have become increasingly isolationist. I didn’t really intend for it to happen. My husband and I moved away from our homegroup and friends, and then we got married. Meetings turned from a jaunt across the street to a long drive, a need to make the time count by seeing friends and family, eating dinner, shopping, and suddenly my meeting becomes a day or a night out. And as I entered grad school, the nights out became less frequent. It became easier and more productive to stay home and work. It became easier and more comfortable.

I don’t think that the story of Jekyll and Hyde only refers to the more literary metaphor of a man who drinks and changes, becoming an uglier version on himself with greater frequency until he kills himself- though this is the reference the Big Book is clearly making. But I think this Jekyll and Hyde transformation can happen when we are not drinking too. I can see how someone can make the voluntary decision to stay home or to engage in character defects. At first its just an occasional thing but then the occasional becomes routine. Before we know it, its just who we are. Involuntary. The transformation is complete.

I think that is the real lesson of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I think in society we mostly talk about Jekyll and Hyde as if they are two people, but they’re not. Hyde was always a part of Jekyll’s being. Jekyll just stopped listening to his conscience. He stopped fighting the fight.

The Elimination of our Drinking is but a Beginning

I have been thinking about the line form the Big Book, “We feel the elimination of our drinking is but a beginning,” (19). I often hear in meetings that if you do not remember your last drunk, then you haven’t had it. I don’t really understand that. I presume it means that usually something so terrible happened the last time you drank, that it would be hard to forget. But that’s not my case. I don’t remember my last drunk. My guess is that it was like the hundreds that came before it.

Sometime towards the end of February 2007, I awoke one morning with the flu. At least, I think it was the flu. To this day, I still struggle to put all the pieces together. Over the next few days, the flu continued get worse. I was nauseous and had a shivering fever, but it went much deeper than that. I hurt down to my bones. I went in and out of sleep and had terrible nightmares mixed with paranoia. At some point, I knew this was no longer (if it ever was) the flu, but rather the DT’s. It is not my last drunk I remember so well, but my sobering up. The fear of experiencing that level of pain again has kept me sober through some of my most desperate white-knuckle times.

By the time I made it to AA, all I wanted was to not drink. I was not worried about anything else. I was so tired and so beat up. I don’t even know if I really thought I could be sober. I just knew I couldn’t drink that day.

I remember a particular meeting from early on. It was one I attended fairly often. A girl about my age started to share about how difficult it was growing up in public. I sat there for the rest of the hour trying to figure out who she was. She didn’t look rich or famous. Nor did I recognize her as any of the kid stars from my childhood TV watching. When the meeting let out, I rejected the idea of asking her how she was famous and just walked out. I figured maybe it was one of those TV shows that I never watched, “Eight is Enough” or “The Waltons.”

Thank goodness I kept coming back. Yes, elimination of our drinking is but a beginning. The funny thing though is I am still at the beginning. If you would have asked me at thirty days if I were acting rightly, I would have looked you straight in the eye and told you emphatically, “Yes.” That would have been the truth too, as much truth as I had at thirty days. At seven years, I’m doing the best I can with seven years. I continually stumble my way through the process of “growing up in public.” I make what feels like a ton of mistakes. I am, at any given time, impetuous and demanding, self-pitying and foot-stompingly immature. I don’t always think my actions through to the consequences. I am often too quick to answer and too slow to think. I want everybody to read my writing every day and then tell three friends about it! Hands on hips and a sharp nod for emphasis.

But as I wrote last week, “AA does not make too hard terms with us.” Whenever I fail at maturity, AA is there. Sure, they may not pass me the Kleenex box, but they do not deride me either. Last night’s meeting topic was the spiritual axiom. I realize part of the way through that I had been nursing a resentment about one thing while totally misdirecting my anger towards another thing entirely. So when my turn came, I shared about it. Speaking my truth allowed me to realized the solution to my, let’s face it, high-end problem. It helped me put things in perspective. AA allows me the forum to learn. I think that’s why meeting makers sometimes do make it. I need to hear other people sort through the problem of living life sober. Even with a few years, I still cannot heal my mind with my mind. I need other people to infiltrate my crazy and show me a better way. Everyday I stay sober, I think, man, I’m still at the beginning, for the I closer I come to perfection, the further away it feels. But really, isn’t that a good thing?