By William Porter
I ended up at the cinema the other day. My wife and I went with our two sons of four and five to watch Trolls. Those without young children would have had no reason to watch such a film, so I’ll provide an overview of the story. The trolls are little creatures who are loving and kind, and spend their days dancing and singing and hugging, just generally being happy.
The other breed of creatures in the tale, the Bergens, are not like the Trolls. They are bigger (big enough to pick up the Trolls and eat them), and they are miserable. They don’t dance, sing, or hug. They are NOT happy. They are just miserable.
One day, the Trolls are spotted by one of the miserable Bergens. Seeing how happy they are, the Bergen eats one, thinking that he might then, by ingesting the Troll, have the happiness of the Troll. Because he thinks he will be happy if he eats one, he is! There is power in belief.
Within a short time, the whole race of Bergens becomes obsessed with eating Trolls since they believe that the Trolls are their sole source of happiness. The Trolls run away, and the film is about the Bergens recapturing the Trolls, and the Trolls trying to evade the nastiest of fates, being eaten by the Bergens.
For those who have become sufficiently excited by my astounding storytelling ability to want to rush out and watch the film, STOP READING NOW!!
I am about to tell you the ending.
The Trolls manage to convince the Bergens that it is ridiculous to think that by eating something, one can become happy oneself. There are many reasons to be happy. Happiness comes from within, and not from something ingested. In the end, Bergens and Trolls live happily ever after. The denouement very much reflects our current times, with the baddies being rehabilitated, rather than defeated.
Be that as it may, it was a strangely insightful little piece. The Bergen Prince, at one point, is sat on his father’s lap, and told by the King that he will never, ever, ever be happy unless he eats Trolls. With the Trolls having escaped, the Prince is destined to a life of unhappiness. Thus the Prince becomes miserable and without hope. The belief that one is fated to a life of being miserable is misery-producing in and of itself.
The idea that one’s destiny is to be sad is, in actuality, the cause of the sadness. There is power in belief, whether positive or negative. The problem lies NOT in the lack of edible trolls. When one believes the rest of his life will be unhappy, he is guaranteeing his own unhappiness. The prospect of a miserable life is a horrible one, enough to make anyone miserable. The self-fulfilling prophecy leads to an inevitable fulfillment. The plot of this film parallels the fate of the problem drinker who is persuaded to stop drinking. A life without liquor is bleak and foreboding. That is his belief.
Of course, it is not at our fathers’ laps that we are told of the dullness of sobriety, that parties can’t be parties, and that fun can’t be fun. The link in our minds between happiness and the consumption of alcohol, is socially generated. Films and television programs show people drinking at every opportunity. Liquor is the reward for our toils. “Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend!” Why wait for the weekend?
The drinking in television commercials is absolutely joyous. Exciting. Electrifying. Social. Convivial. Sexual.
Before we ever drink, as children we see adults drinking. It’s fun. It’s adult. We want it even before we appreciate what it is. The mind of an unhappy child, like a Bergen, will magnify the anticipated magic. The belief is well formed even before the first Troll . . . err . . . I mean, the first drink is consumed.
Of course, drinking isn’t all dancing, singing, hugging, and beach volleyball, though it may in fact start out that way. For some of us, drinking becomes something entirely different. At that point, each time we experience the desire to drink, there may be a schizophrenic battle that arises between the part of the brain that KNOWS it’s bad and the old synapses that promise a short term boost. There are times when we desperately want that boost.
So we tell ourselves stories filled with all kinds of excuses and lies. We justify the decision to take that first drink. The most recurrent of these excuses for many of us is that a drink will make us happy (or happier, or less miserable, depending on where we are emotionally at the time). We force this view on ourselves again and again, so that when we try to stop, we believe we won’t be able to enjoy certain situations, or life in general without a drink.
Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. If we genuinely believe we won’t enjoy life (or even just certain situations that we used to enjoy), that alone will be a cause of misery.
Next, we can actually take this misery a step further. An antidote for misery is hope. Having been through some fairly grim situations during my lifetime, the thing that kept me going through them is hope that things will get better. I remember reciting a section from a Levellers song to myself over and over again during my time in Iraq that goes “. . . there’s never been a day that lasts forever, just as the sun sets, it will rise at dawn forever after . . .”.
It is a comfort sometimes, when there is no other to be had, that time marches inexorably on to a different tomorrow. Whatever misery or horror we might be going through, it cannot last forever. Things end, so there is always hope.
But what if we are in a situation when we know that the misery can never end because it is self-inflicted and we have decided that the one thing we can do to alleviate our misery is the one thing that we can never allow ourselves to do? Then not a glimmer of light is perceived as we peer down the blackest of tunnels, that is a new ballgame; one where the old rules have changed. It is indeed a dark, dark place when the addict sees no hope. Beyond mere misery, with no hope of reprieve, there is only despair — utter despair. The addicts’ rock bottom is a place of mental, if not physical anguish.
There is no more happiness to be had through ingestion. Th e troll-eating fantasy has faded. The drug is destroying him, ruining his life, causing loss of job, home, and loved ones — his very life. These being the consequences of taking the drug, he still tends to choose the drug. An irrational choice, but so often, the one taken nonetheless. At some level, the choice seems a sane one to the addict, as he views the misery of the drug consequences as, at least marginally, better than the agony that is sobriety.
“There are many situations which arise out of the phenomenon of craving which cause men to make the supreme sacrifice rather than continue to fight.” (Big Book) Facing the bleakest of pictures, either the misery of the life-devastating results of continued drug use, or the misery that life without it seems to offer, such choices are too frequently made.
It need not be so.
The entire mental prison is built on one key point: a genuine belief that we cannot be happy, or cannot enjoy certain situations, without drinking alcohol. And the beautiful truth is that this one single point from which the entire prison of addiction is built on is a lie, a fabrication, it is utterly wrong. We can enjoy life without alcohol, in fact not only can we enjoy life without alcohol, but in fact it can become a life beyond our expectations – far more enjoyable. We can be free, free from hangovers, free from misery, free from catastrophic relationship, employment, and medical problems, free from craving, and perhaps, most importantly, free from self-loathing.
It worked for the Bergens, and it can work for us.
About the Author, William Porter
William is the author of Alcohol Explained. He lives in London with his wife and two young children. He is currently a lawyer and previously served with the 4th (Volunteer) Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. For more information on Alcohol Explained, and to read the first five chapters for free, please go to www.alcoholexplained.com.
DreamWorks Animation and Cope C.
The audio version of this story was recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georiga. Len is interested in starting a secular AA meeting in his area. If you would like to join him, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .