In this episode, I’m joined by my friend Sam S. from my home group in Kansas City to discuss the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. This story is a great metaphor for alcoholism and drug addiction, and though I have always been familiar with story simply by reference in popular culture, I found that actually reading the book and then discussing it with Sam to be quite educational.
00:00 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by for and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.
00:25 John: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson was written during Victorian times when it was considered proper to repress one’s emotions. Steven’s novel could be considered a criticism of that tendency, but more importantly, it appears that Dr. Jekyll was clearly addicted to a drug that seemed to change his personality. In this episode, I will explore The Strange Case with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with my friend, Sam. Sam, how are you doing today?
00:55 Sam: I’m great. How are you John?
00:57 John: I’m wonderful and I thank you for suggesting this podcast episode because I know the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and when you read references to it in the Big Book, I understand that he’s a doctor who drinks a potion and he turns into this evil character, and that’s all I knew. [chuckle] So, it was really neat to read the book, and I had to really read it slowly. It was really well written, no doubt about it, but I really had to pay attention because it was written so well. I guess I’m not used to reading language like that. So, I read it and found it interesting, and I could definitely see the parallels of addiction with Dr. Jekyll and his potion.
01:43 Sam: Yeah, for sure. Despite having minored in English in college, I had never read it either, and I struggled with it a bit too at first with that Victorian language. But yeah, I was actually inspired to finally read it because I had a friend go through a relapse recently, and just seeing the change in personality between their sober self and when they were drinking, I thought, “This is just so staggering, and maybe I should write something about this.” And then I thought, “I think maybe something’s already been written about.”
02:28 John: Yeah.
02:29 Sam: So, I decided to finally read this and… I think even when new people come in and you watch the process of them getting sober, and you start to see the personality changes, yeah, there’s a lot in this that is relevant to that, for sure.
02:46 John: So, why don’t you help us out since you’ve read this book twice and I think you have a pretty good understanding. Can you put it into context and give us an overview of the book to help us with our conversation?
03:00 Sam: Sure. So, as you said, the full title is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1885, published in 1886. So, Stevenson was British and this novella is set in London and it’s known as a commentary on the dual nature of people or the bifurcated self, so the good and evil within all of us, and sometimes the difference between our public persona and our private life.So it falls under the category of Gothic literature which is a genre known to combine fiction and horror, death, sometimes romance, although there’s no romance in this one, and employs darkness, drama, fear, dread, secrets, supernatural elements and bleak motifs. In that vein, most of this novella takes place at night. There’s lots of fog involved and sometimes the physical atmosphere is actually described as being as in a nightmare.
So, just for a little more historical context, in 1885, the Berlin conference was concluding where the European countries were splitting up Africa for colonization. The US President was Chester A. Arthur and he dedicated the Washington Monument that year, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York, child prostitution was outlawed in Britain.
04:48 John: Oh, really? Wow.
04:49 Sam: The first rabies vaccine was tested, Carl Benz pat to the first automobile, and this was also the year that Ezra Pound, Alice Paul, and George Patton were born.
05:01 John: How about that?
05:02 Sam: So, just kind of some fun historical tidbits from then.
05:05 John: My great-grandmother was born around that time, and I actually knew her.
05:10 Sam: Oh, really?
05:10 John: Yeah, yeah. When she was in her late 90s, I would sit at her feet and she would tell me about what it was like when cars first started driving around on the streets.
05:19 Sam: Wow, that’s fascinating.
05:22 John: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So anyway, how should we approach this? Do you want to go through the book itself, chapter by chapter?
05:32 Sam: Yeah.
05:33 John: I’ll let you lead the way. Why don’t you lead us through the book.
05:36 Sam: Okay, that sounds good. So, the first chapter is called “The Story of the Door,” and we start out with two characters Utterson and Enfield, and they’re two lawyers and they’re friends that like to go on walks together. And they’re out on a walk and Enfield points out the door of a building to his friend and tells him a story about when he was walking down the street previously late at night, and he witnessed a man trample a girl in the street. And he chases down this man and brings him back to the scene, and a crowd gathers around wanting to see some justice done for this girl. And the man goes to this door that Enfield pointed out, uses a key to get in and comes back with a check for the girl’s family, and the check is signed by Henry Jekyll, who is a friend of these two men who were talking. And Enfield indicates that this man was Mr. Hyde and that he had seen him as recently as like last week, still using a key to get into this door.
06:54 Sam: So one thing that I thought was funny as they described Utterson was that he was inclined to help rather than to reprove. He says, “I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.” And “he is frequently the last reputable acquaintance and last good influence in the lives of down-going men.”
07:17 John: Oh, I didn’t even catch that. Do you think he’s an enabler? Is that what you’re thinking?
07:23 Sam: Perhaps. He has struck me as a helper with pretty good boundaries but interested in helping people, and it also drew to my mind the attraction rather than promotion part of the program.
07:43 John: Later in book, he begins to have some suspicions, but he never really goes too deeply into exploring those. He always puts it out of his mind. We’ll talk about this later, but he actually has something in his safe that he later opens, a letter that he will never read. But yeah, so he has this friend who, he has some suspicions about, but he just lets it go.
08:10 Sam: Yeah. So, the next chapter is “The Search for Mr. Hyde”, and we learn that Utterson is Dr. Jekyll’s attorney. So, back at his home, he takes out Dr. Jekyll’s will from his safe and notices that this Mr. Hyde is his beneficiary. So, he goes to visit a mutual friend of his and Jekyll’s named Dr. Lanyon, who thinks he might be able to explain what’s going on. Lanyon says that Jekyll’s one of his oldest friends but they had recently grown apart because Jekyll was taking to some unscientific ideas and falling away from practicing sound science. But he hadn’t heard of Hyde, so Utterson goes home and he keeps dwelling on this mystery of Hyde.
09:29 Sam: This is when Utterson really starts to remind me of someone in Al-Anon, [laughter] like a friend or a family member of an alcoholic because it says that he was laying up at night puzzling on it and he says, “If he could but once set eyes on him, he thought the mystery would lighten and perhaps roll all together way, as was the habit of mysterious things when well examined. He might see a reason for his friend’s strange preference or bondage, call it what you please, and even for the startling clauses of the will. And at least it would be a face worth seeing, the face of a man who was without bowels of mercy, a face which had but to show itself to raise up in the mind of the impressionable Enfield a spirit of enduring hatred.”
That just reminded me of the non-alcoholic trying to puzzle out the reasons for their friend’s alcohol abuse and to explain why their attitude is the way it is.
10:09 John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I found it interesting that he never questioned why this guy is giving this other guy the ke to his place and making this other guy the beneficiary. It’s like Utterson never really questioned that, it seemed.
10:30 Sam: Yeah, I think at this point in the story, he knows that Hyde is some kind of bad guy, and he knows that he’s the beneficiary to Jekyll’s will. He has no idea what their connection is, and I don’t think they know yet that the door Hyde entered was a back door to Jekyll’s laboratory. Yeah.
10:53 John: Oh, okay. Oh, okay, okay, gotcha, okay.
10:56 Sam: So those pieces fall into place as the story goes on.
11:00 John: Okay.
11:05 Sam: So Utterson at this point starts stalking Hyde.
11:08 John: Yeah.
11:10 Sam: He stalks Hyde’s… The door that Enfield had pointed out, waiting and wanting to see him in person and get a better idea of who he is, which again, the Al-Anon obsessive thing, obsessing over this person. So, he eventually does see him coming up to the door, so he goes up to him, really startles him, introduces himself, and asks to see his face, but Hyde basically refuses and slips into the house and shuts the door.
I think this is at the point where he realizes it’s the back door to Jekyll’s place because he goes around to Jekyll’s front door and asks to see Jekyll, but Jekyll’s servant Poole says that Jekyll is not there. So, Utterson talks to Poole about the fact that Hyde has his own entrance into Jekyll’s laboratory in the back, and Poole says that all of the servants have been ordered to obey Hyde. This is when Utterson starts to believe that Jekyll’s definitely being blackmailed or punished in some way or taken advantage of by Hyde. So, he decides that he really wants to figure out what Hyde’s weaknesses are to help relieve Jekyll from whatever bind he’s in with this man. So, here again, the friend trying to find a reasonable explanation and figure out a way to release his friend from the grips of his problem.
12:50 John: I missed some of that. I probably would have benefited from reading it twice too. That door was actually the door to Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory.
13:04 Sam: Yep.
13:04 John: Yeah.
13:05 Sam: Yeah, some of this I definitely got from the second reading. So, in the following chapter, Jekyll hosts a dinner party which Utterson attends and Utterson’s able to take him aside and bring up the issue of the will and ask who this Hyde man is. So, Jekyll tries to change the subject and Utterson presses him on it saying he’s learned that Hyde did this terrible thing to this girl, but Jekyll gets really defensive that says, “There’s no point in talking about it.” Utterson’s saying, “I’m your friend, I can help you, just let me know what’s happening,” and Jekyll says, “I can get rid of Hyde any time that I want.”
13:53 John: Yeah.
13:53 Sam: “I have this under control. Let it go.” Which is very familiar to any of us with the alcoholism experience.
14:00 John: Yeah, I got that myself actually. People would tell me that I have a problem here, that I could get in trouble, that my job is on the line. “Oh, I’ve got it under control. Don’t worry,” I believed it and maybe Jekyll believed it too.
14:12 Sam: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think we’ve all experienced that, and this part really did strike me as the intervention that was refused. So, Utterson says, “Listen, I’m not gonna pretend to like this, but I’ll do what you say. I’ll accept it.” And Jekyll says, “Yeah, you don’t have to like it, but basically, get off my back. This is my deal. It’s none of your business,” yeah.
So, about a year later, there is a gruesome murder of an old man in the street takes place. So, there’s really… About a year has gone by, and there’s no issue with Hyde. So apparently Jekyll has it “under control” for a while. But then this horrible murder happens, there’s a witness who identifies Hyde as the perp. And so something that’s on the victim, I wasn’t quite sure, some kind of paper had to do with Utterson. I think he was like a client of Utterson and there was something in his pocket. So, Utterson’s called in to identify the body. And they also find information on Hyde’s personal address. So they go to, Utterson and the police go to Hyde’s place. The servant says he’s not there, but they go in and search the place, find ransacked, papers burned recently in the fireplace, and they also find the murder weapon there.
15:44 John: Okay. So, this was Hyde’s apartment in SOHO. This isn’t Dr. Jekyll’s house. This is actually Hyde’s place, right?
15:51 Sam: Correct.
15:52 John: ‘Cause he had set up this whole scheme because he loved being Mr. Hyde. He got a thrill out of this, so he had this elaborate scheme drawn up where he would have the separate apartment for Hyde, he learned how to write his signature, backwards or whatever, so it look different from his own signature, and he created this story that to somehow keep this going. And so that was his apartment, yeah, yeah.
16:24 Sam: Yeah, exactly. Later in Jekyll’s confession we find out that he has set up this whole system to protect his second life which also seemed very familiar.
16:38 John: So, they’re ransacking his apartment and they find the murder weapon, the cane.
16:42 Sam: Right, or whatever’s left of it. So then, in the chapter “Incident of the Letter,” Utterson goes back to Jekyll’s place. He’s let in by the servant. Jekyll looks super sick. Utterson asks if he’s hiding Hyde. He insists he’s totally done with Hyde, never again.
17:08 John: [laughter] Never deal with Hyde again.
17:12 Sam: Right, that was the last time, period.
17:14 John: Yeah, yeah.
17:20 Sam: So, I noted that I’m reminded at this point in alcoholism when really bad things start to happen to us, and the alcoholic says, “I swear, I’m really done this time.”
17:27 John: Yeah, so as he was Hyde, he was committing this murder and I’m kind of jumping ahead, but when he’s committing the murder, he’s really getting high from it. As Hyde, he’s not feeling any shame, remorse. He’s actually thrilled at the murder. Then later, as Jekyll, he’s feeling the remorse, and that’s when he tells Utterson, “I’m not going to mess with this Hyde. He’s done.” [laughter]
17:53 Sam: Yeah, right. [laughter] Exactly. So, Jekyll says that he’s gotten this letter from Hyde, and he shows it to Utterson. And the letter says, basically, “Thanks for everything, but I’m out of here. You’ll never see me again,” or whatever. And Jekyll claims that he had burned the envelope but that it was hand delivered to the house anyway. So Utterson is leaving and he asks Poole who delivered Hyde’s letter to try to get a trail on where he might be, but Poole says, “No one’s delivered anything to the house that day.”
18:33 John: And there was no envelope, he said, “No envelope, no postmark,” or anything like that.
18:36 Sam: So, Utterson takes the letter and, to a friend of his to compare Jekyll and Hyde’s handwriting, and that’s when we find out that it’s the same, except the slope is different.
18:49 John: Exactly.
18:52 Sam: But Utterson still thinks that Jekyll is forged a letter to protect Hyde. And so here’s kind of the illusion to the alcoholic lying and covering things up.
19:08 John: Okay. Yeah, he’s really trying to protect his friend, I guess.
19:17 Sam: Right. I think at this point, the idea that they’re the same person is, it’s the supernatural element of the thing. So, it’s kind of unfathomable.
19:27 John: True, true.
19:33 Sam: So, then we have “The Remarkable Incident of Dr. Lanyon.” So Hyde, obviously, nowhere to be found, Utterson back to visit Lanyon who looks like total shit is what I wrote. [laughter]
19:47 John: Oh, that’s right. I remember this. This is amazing, yeah.
19:51 Sam: Yeah. So he says that he’s had a shock that he probably won’t recover from.
19:56 John: Yeah.
19:57 Sam: And Utterson tells Lanyon that Jekyll is really sick too, but he says, “I don’t wanna hear it. I don’t wanna have anything to do with that guy anymore. I’m done.” He’s given up on Jekyll. So Utterson goes home and he writes to Jekyll asking about why he and Lanyon have fallen out, what happened to their friendship. And Jekyll just writes back like, “I’m in deep seclusion. I don’t wanna see any of my friends anymore.” So this is what I’m reminded of the alcoholic starting to isolate, drink alone, cutting themselves off from the world.
20:33 John: I can’t remember, Sam. Is it because Lanyard actually saw Hyde, and does he kind of understand now? Is that the deal, or is it just… He just saw Hyde.
20:42 Sam: Not yet. So later in Lanyon’s letter, that’s the letter that Utterson doesn’t open for a while, he explains seeing the transformation.
20:55 John: Okay. Okay, okay. Gotcha. Okay.
20:57 Sam: So we still don’t know what’s wrong.
20:58 John: It was so horrible that it killed Lanyon. Yeah, it was just too much for him to handle.
21:01 Sam: Yes, yes. Exactly. So Jekyll writes back to Utterson, “You must suffer me to go on my own dark way. I have brought on myself a punishment and a danger that I cannot name. If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also. I could not think that this earth contained a place for sufferings and terror so unmanning, and you can but do one thing to lighten this destiny, and that is to respect my silence.”
21:33 John: Wow. That’s beautiful writing, isn’t it?
21:37 Sam: It is. I love it.
21:38 John: Yeah, yeah.
21:39 Sam: I love it. And it goes on to say, “Utterson was amazed that the doctor had a week ago, smile with every promise of a cheerful and honored age. And now in a moment, friendship and peace of mind, and the whole tenor of his life were wrecked. So great an unprepared to change pointed to madness, but in view of Lanyon’s manner and words, there must lie for it is some deeper ground.” So here, Utterson the friend, shocked by the speed of this personality change that they’ve witnessed and… So then Lanyon does die about a week later. Utterson receives this letter from Lanyon which says, “Do not open until the death or disappearance of Jekyll.” So he respects this. He doesn’t open the letter. But he does go back over to Jekyll’s place. Poole says he’s more confined than ever to this area over his laboratory where he’s been silent and brooding. And yeah, so he’s unable to see Jekyll at that time, and he does…
22:48 John: And he begins isolating more and more, withdrawing from everybody.
22:51 Sam: Yeah. So following that, the chapter Incident at the Window, Utterson and Enfield, they’re back on another walk. They pass this back door to the laboratory. They see Jekyll through a third story window, and Jekyll’s talking to them out of it. He says that he’s very low and he thinks he’s gonna die soon. They tell him he just needs to get outside and get some fresh air, [laughter]
23:22 John: Right, get some fresh air. [laughter]
23:24 Sam: Why are you just in there dying alone? But he says no. And then all of a sudden, his face goes crazy, expresses an expression of abject terror and despair as froze the very blood of the two gentleman below. And so Utterson and Enfield just book it. They get scared, and they run away. [laughter] Alright, so next chapter, “The Last Night,” Poole comes to visit Utterson to say “Something’s horribly wrong. This has gotten completely out of hand with Jekyll. All the servants are terrified. We can’t take it anymore.” They even think maybe somebody broke in and murdered Jekyll, and is living in there.
24:13 John: That the murderer is living there, yeah. Yeah. They’re totally freaked out, aren’t they? They’re not comfortable.
24:20 Sam: Yeah. No, no. It’s become unmanageable. So Utterson goes over the house to investigate. Poole says, “Whoever is living in there has been crying night and day, weeping like a lost soul.”
24:38 John: Yeah, yeah. Oh, my God.
24:40 Sam: And begging for some kind of medication, but the servants can’t find this medication from the local chemists. Utterson calls in to Jekyll, but he hears Hyde’s voice come back. So he thinks, “Hyde’s in there. He’s killed Jekyll.” So they break down the door to go into Jekyll’s little hidey-hole. They go in, they find Hyde. His clothes are way too big for him. He’s dead, he’s still twitching, he’s got an empty vial in his hand, clearly having just committed suicide. And it says, “Utterson knew he was looking on the body of a self-destroyer, which really kinda hit me.
25:26 John: Wow. Yeah.
25:27 Sam: I feel like I could say in a meeting, “Hi, my name’s Sam, and I’m a self-destroyer. [laughter]”
25:35 Sam: So, they searched around thinking they’re gonna find Jekyll’s body, they don’t find him. They do find some papers which is Jekyll’s will with Utterson listed as the beneficiary now, instead of Hyde. There is a note written in Jekyll’s hand dated for that day, and another sealed packet which is what I believe ends up being Jekyll’s whole confession that we read later. So, Utterson then takes all of these documents back to his office to read them.
26:07 John: I think you are doing a really good job going through this book. [laughter]
26:11 Sam: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
26:13 John: It’s probably the best summary of the book I think I’ve ever heard before in my life, it’s really, really well done.
26:18 Sam: Oh, thanks. [chuckle] Okay, so then now we finally get to read Dr. Lanyon’s letter. Now that we know that Jekyll has disappeared. So, Lanyon said that he had received a letter from Jekyll asking him to drop whatever he’s doing, come straight over to his house, go into a specific cabinet, take its contents over to Cavendish square and at midnight, which I’m not exactly sure where that is, but somewhere off-site. And at midnight, he’s supposed to admit some guy to his house and get him all that stuff from the cabinet.
So, Lanyon follows his instructions, he gets to the cabinet, he finds some vials of substances, he takes them, he meets this dude. The man he meets is in clothes way too big for him. And he describes him as something abnormal, seizing, surprising, revolting. The man is really eager to get his hands on these substances that he has, he mixes them up and he kind of asks Lanyon like, “Are you gonna stay for this?” [laughter] And so he decides to stay. He says, “Sir, you speak in enigmas.” [chuckle] And so the guy drinks the mixture, he starts to convulse and swell up, and his features in his face seem to melt and change and tada he is Jekyll.
27:50 John: He is Dr. Jekyll, yeah.
27:52 Sam: So, that’s when we learned what the shock was. And so, yeah, then finally, we come to this last chapter, the longest chapter of the book, and if anybody listening hasn’t read this and maybe doesn’t wanna read the whole thing, I would say definitely…
28:13 John: Yeah, the story is in the last chapter, isn’t it?
28:15 Sam: Yeah. Definitely just read this last chapter cause to me this is where all the gold is as far as the alcoholism reference is.
28:21 John: But the book itself is surprisingly short. I mean it’s less than 100 pages.
28:24 Sam: Yeah. Yeah.
28:25 John: And it’s really a pleasure to read, I really enjoyed it, and it’s kind of a relaxing experience because you do have to kind of read it slowly. It’s not a book you can rush through at all. And it’s just… It’s really beautifully written. It reminds me when I first got sober, I had all these problems and everything and I just couldn’t focus, I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t read anything and comprehend it. So, after a certain period of sobriety, I think it was maybe 60 days or whatever, I got Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, and I was reading that, and this reminded me of that a lot.
It was really helpful for me at the time to read because it forced me to read slowly and pay attention and comprehend, and that was the first book I read in sobriety, and it was just… I don’t know, it was kind of like a test I was giving myself, because I guess I was questioning my mental capacity to ever again be able to read something and comprehend what I read. I don’t know. [laughter] So, anyway this reminded me that almost instantly as I started reading it, it took me back to that Charles Dickens’ novel.
29:42 Sam: That’s really interesting. I had the same problem when I was drinking, and I considered myself like a big literature person, but I really wasn’t reading a whole lot at that time, and I think it’s been a real pleasure in sobriety is to read more and remember more of what I read. [chuckle]
30:03 John: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
30:06 Sam: And still, I kind of use reading as one of those gauges of my serenity or my emotional sobriety, like am I able to sit down and get through more than a couple of pages before my mind is all over the place.
30:21 John: Exactly, exactly, and it’s really nice because it forces you during this time that we’re living in right now to get away from all the craziness of what’s going on, and to just put yourself back in that time. So, this last chapter, this is really cool. I don’t know if Stevenson did this on purpose. I don’t know what his life story is, but in this chapter he outlines the process of addiction, in my opinion, the whole thing about how when he first drank of the potion, his first reaction to it, it made him kind of feel sick, he didn’t like it.
31:04 Sam: Yep.
31:05 John: But the transformation when he became Hyde, he loved that feeling because he felt younger, he had more energy, he didn’t have his inhibitions, I guess, just like a lot of us express about our first drink. I didn’t really much care for the taste when I first had it but boy, I really liked what it did for me.
31:28 Sam: Yep. [laughter]
31:30 John: Exactly.
31:31 Sam: Yeah.
31:33 Sam: So he starts out explaining that he was born into a pretty wealthy respectable family, he had a very happy childhood, but that as he started to mature, he stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life. “Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of but from the high views that I had set before me, I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame. It was thus rather the exacting nature of my aspirations than any particular degradation in my faults that made me what I was and with even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature.” So apparently his family has some really high expectations for him, and he’s supposed to be a respectable member of society, and he kind of blames that for…
32:34 Sam: The extra sense of shame he has at his other desires.
32:38 John: Yeah, because he thought he had to be extra special good and he had to repress these bad thoughts he would have and so he would put on this public display. I think he’s said he would just have a serious face all the time, he didn’t show a lot of emotion.
32:54 Sam: Uh-huh, right. So he pursues scientific study, he continues to grow and realize that there are these two sides of him. And he says, “Certain agents I have found to have the power to shake and to pluck back that fleshly vestment, even as a wind my toss the curtains of a pavilion and I have been made to learn that the doom and burden of our life is bound forever on man’s shoulders, and when that attempt is made to cast it off, it but returns upon us with more unfamiliar and more awful pressure.” So he’s really feeling the pressure.
33:34 Sam: He says, “I knew well that I risked death; for any drug that so patently controlled and shook the very fortress of identity, might by the least scruple of an overdose or at the least inopportunity in the moment of exhibition, utterly blot out that immaterial tabernacle which I looked to it to change. But the temptation of a discovery so singular and profound, at last overcame the suggestions of alarm.” So he knows from the beginning how dangerous that this is, but it’s just too…
34:11 John: It’s too…
34:11 Sam: Good.
34:12 John: He’s really describing describing addiction here, at least the obsession or the want, that not being able to say… You can’t just say no, you can’t say no to this. He just… It’s too good.
34:30 Sam: Yeah, good, I could relate with that. For sure. That he talks about when he took the potion for the first time, which you described. He said, “The most racking pangs succeeded: A grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death. Then these agonies began to swiftly subside, and I came to myself as if out of a great sickness. There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new, and from its very novelty, incredibly sweet, I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a mill in my fancy, and solution of the bonds of obligation.”
35:18 John: I see drinking the potion or having a beer, having a whiskey, whatever, and just kind of reducing those natural inhibitions that we have. I remember just as a teenager when I started drinking and I would go to a party and you drank, you could be funny, or you think you’re funny and you’re part of the party and everything. [laughter] But then after a while, it’s like, it doesn’t work, you find yourself away from everybody in the party, they’re off doing whatever they do, and you’re in the bathroom getting sick or something.
35:53 Sam: So, then he talks about how… Because of this experience that he finds the rest of life a little bit too boring. This is like the only way he knows how to have fun. Trying to go about his dry life of study and think about aging and just general everyday life stuff is… It’s just too much, so he decides to keep drinking and…
36:25 John: He needed to have the thrill. He needed the thrill.
36:29 Sam: Yeah, exactly. And he describes how he sets up this system that we talked about earlier to protect his other life.
36:43 John: And he also described that he was losing control. Sometimes he would have to take more than just one dose, he would have to take a double dose. And sometimes he’d take even three at the risk of his own death knowing that he could die maybe from that.
37:00 Sam: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. And he does seem to be conscious of some of the negative changes in his personality that it bring… He’s having… He’s enjoying himself, but he also says, “I was plunged into a kind of wonder at my own depravity that my every act and thought was centered on self.”
37:29 John: So when he was Hyde, he’d have this depravity and he was just like totally into it, but… And then when he came out as Jekyll, he remembered everything he did as Hyde.
37:41 Sam: Yes, yeah. He was not a blackout drunk. [laughter]
37:43 John: So, here you’re saying that he was intrigued by it at first.
37:46 Sam: Yes, he understands that it releases him from his own conscience. And that strikes me as the cunning, baffling and powerful aspect.
38:03 John: He was drinking for the effect.
38:04 Sam: Yeah. And then he describes he does remember trampling the child and then he remembers murdering the guy.
38:14 John: But then he’d always try to make up for it. He’d always try to make it right.
38:20 Sam: Yeah. As far as saying like, “This is never gonna happen again.” But then at that point, he starts transforming into Hyde without…
38:33 John: Without drinking…
38:33 Sam: Taking the potion. Then that gets… That really was interesting to me.
38:38 John: Yeah. And it wasn’t like every time he would fall asleep that he would wake up as Hyde.? It could just be a nap or something and he’d just wake up and be Hyde.
38:46 Sam: Yep. And he does not understand how it’s happening. So he says, “I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and slowly becoming incorporated with my second and worst.”
39:00 John: Yeah. Just like an addict. Your addiction transforms your personality, and that becomes kind of the normal life. My life is now this, having these problems and having to lie and connive my way through life. That’s the way I am now. I’m no longer Dr. Jekyll, who was prim and proper and doing everything right.
39:22 Sam: Yeah. And even when he decides like, “Okay, this is it, I’ve gotta make a choice who I’m gonna be. I’m gonna go with Jekyll,” but he makes a conscious choice… Well, it says unconscious reservation that he had, because he didn’t give up the house in Soho.
39:40 John: He didn’t.
39:40 Sam: He didn’t destroy Hyde’s clothes.
39:43 John: That’s right. He always kept it there as an option, didn’t he?
39:48 Sam: Yeah, yeah. So he didn’t surrender completely, I guess you could say.
39:52 John: He said, “I’m done with this, I aint gonna do this Hyde anymore,” but at the same time, he kept the flat in Soho, he kept all the clothes, so he always had that out.
40:02 Sam: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, let’s see, so Hyde starts coming back more and more frequently, as we said. He says, “I became a creature eaten up and emptied by fear, languidly weak both in body and mind, and solely occupied by one thought, the horror of my other self. I am a soul boiling with causeless hatreds, a body that seemed not strong enough to contain the raging energies of life.” and then so both sides of himself start to really hate the other side too. Hyde totally detests Jekyll and Jekyll is sick of Hyde and wishes he could get rid of him. And finally, he says that he’s been overcome by a certain callousness of the soul, “A certain acquiescence of despair finally severed me from my own face and nature.” And this is when he realizes that the medicine has ceased to work very well, and he doesn’t know how he’s gonna get more anyway, and he decides that he has to commit suicide.
41:15 John: Yeah. It wouldn’t work anymore. I found that kind of interesting. He sent out for a servant to bring more of the stuff so he could make it and it wouldn’t work, and he thought the stuff that they brought him wasn’t pure enough, there was something wrong. But it’s just kind of a metaphor for how your drinking, your drug use just doesn’t work anymore. You’re no longer getting the effect that you were in the beginning. It’s just really just killing you at this point. It’s taking you out of life, it’s taking you away. And he found his only option was suicide.
41:48 Sam: Yeah. It’s too bad he didn’t have AA.
41:51 John: That’s right. That’s right.
41:57 Sam: So what I did not know about this that I learned in researching it is that it’s widely considered by experts to be a sexuality morality tale…
42:09 John: Oh, really?
42:09 Sam: And a gay allegory.
42:10 John: I wondered about that. Okay. Alright. Now how is that? Do they say?
42:17 Sam: I don’t know. I think… I mean, it can apply to, obviously…
42:24 John: It’s pretty much all men in the story. It’s all men.
42:24 Sam: To hidden lives and like… Yeah, like the… I think just at that time, probably homosexuality was like the most shameful thing that a man could be hiding.
42:38 John: Yeah. Okay, that’s interesting. So it wasn’t like deliberately written to be the story of an addict?
42:48 Sam: I don’t think so. I think it was supposed to be written about like a secret gay life, but to me and to my reading, it just screams addiction.
43:00 John: It sure does, it sure does, from your first experience with it, the elation that it gives you, your dependence upon it, how you need more and more of it, how it stops working, your life is all messed up, and you’re drinking, and your life is still messed up, and you can’t get your life straight.
43:16 Sam: Yeah.
43:16 John: You can’t get back to Dr. Jekyll.
43:20 Sam: Yeah.
43:21 John: How interesting. I remember reading the Big Book and it talks about that Jekyll and Hyde thing, about how your personality changes when you drink. Of course I read that in the Big Book and I understood what it was saying, but it’s really nice to actually read the story to get a more fuller explanation of that.
43:47 Sam: I read a bit of really interesting analysis of the story by this guy, Steven Padnick, who points out… Because I guess when I first read it and I was thinking about how alcohol changes our personality, I guess I think of it in terms of there’s two people, there’s our sober self and our alcoholic self, and it’s almost like they’re completely different people. But what Padnick pointed out, he says the most fundamental mistake that people make is not understanding that Jekyll wants to do all the things he does as Hyde. He loves being Hyde, as you pointed out. He revels in that freedom, and it’s only when the consequences catch up with him that it becomes a problem for him. He’s not two different people. People think that Jekyll and Hyde are distinct people, but they’re one person. And he points out we…
44:56 John: Yeah, ’cause they’re aware of each other. I mean, Jekyll knows what he does as Hyde.
45:00 Sam: Well, and Hyde never speaks, really. We don’t have… We have this explanation from Jekyll. We don’t get that from Hyde.
45:08 John: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah.
45:09 Sam: So…
45:13 Sam: He says that this mistake leads us to other misunderstandings. First, Jekyll is not good. He’s not bad either. He is deeply repressed.
45:28 John: Yes, that’s the thing, that’s the thing, the repression.
45:31 Sam: And his biggest sin is that he wants to face no consequences for what he does, right? Second, Hyde’s not an accident. He was totally intended. And third, that, as you mentioned, Jekyll’s not unaware or out of control when he’s Hyde. He remembers everything and he knows exactly what he’s doing, and lastly, that Hyde is not a monster, he’s described in a very non-human terms as like ape-like or brutish, but he’s actually still…
46:17 John: Still a human being.
46:18 Sam: Just a person, yeah.
46:19 John: Still a person. Yeah.
46:20 Sam: So it’s, to most people, this is a story of two completely different people and personalities, one good, one evil, they’re at war with each other, but Padnick says that it’s much more like a complicated take on the nature of evil, society, shame, repression and it’s important that we remember that this is one person and that is within all of us, like the potential is within every one of us.
46:52 John: And that’s hard sometimes for us, as human beings to comprehend that within any person, any human being has the capability of good and horrible evils at the same time. At the same time, the same person could have those two different qualities.
47:07 Sam: Absolutely.
47:08 John: It’s hard to understand because we like to think of things as black and white, you’re either good or bad.
47:14 Sam: Right, but we’re just complicated people, and no matter how long we’ve been sober too, it’s in there, there’s always that potential. So, I wanted to make sure to mention that even though I was inspired to read this by someone else who relapsed, I see that in myself too, and in everybody, where…
47:40 Sam: It could happen to anybody.
47:41 John: How interesting that you were inspired to read this from your friend’s relapse, that did you noticed a change in your friend and you thought, “I need to read that book.”
47:48 Sam: Oh, yeah, and it’s not the first time I’ve witnessed that with a relapse and I’ve relapsed myself, and I think looking back, I can see the change in myself, but at the time, not really. When you’re inside of it, that’s why it’s so cunning, baffling and powerful and insidious, you really can’t perceive it as strongly when you’re under the spell.
48:18 John: I remember, actually early in sobriety when I’m facing the consequences of my actions from my drinking. I remembered comparing myself to what I was then to what I was in high school, when I was first starting out in a high school, and all the dreams I had of a great life, all the wonderful things I wanted to achieve, but the reality was that I was sitting in a jail cell because of all my drinking, and it’s just that I could see that I had veered off. It’s almost like I was looking back at a different person in a way, but I knew I was all the one person.
49:15 John: I remember turning myself into the bail bondsman because I was paranoid because they were after me. But I wasn’t really paranoid ’cause they’re really were after me, but anyway.
So I turned myself in and then they put me in jail where I have to wait to see the judge, and so as I’m in jail, I’m there for quite a long time, and I have time to think, and that’s when I’m thinking back to when, before my drinking got really bad and I was this person with dreams and ambition, and I was kind of a good kid. I was a good kid, but all of a sudden I became this law breaker that you had to lock up. [chuckle] My Mr. Hyde. [chuckle]
49:44 Sam: Absolutely, I can certainly relate with that, I’m sure most of us can.
49:49 John: Yeah. Well, you really did a good job with this, Sam. I really appreciate all the effort that you put into the analysis of it. I read the book, I enjoyed it. I think I might want to go back and read it another time because as I said, it’s a very short book, very well written. It’s really poetic the way that he writes. I also like the way that the book is set up because it’s almost like a movie.
50:28 Sam: Well, and I guess I had never read it because at this point, everybody knows the ending, so it’s like, what’s the fun of reading a mystery if you already know the ending, but I would say it’s still really worth reading, it surprised me how great it was.
50:47 John: Yeah, it really is. And it does put context so that when you read the Big Book and you read that little part about the, if you read the Big Book, like I actually don’t read it anymore.
50:57 Sam: I don’t either. [chuckle]
50:58 John: Why would you want to? [chuckle]
51:00 Sam: I actually didn’t even know that there’s this reference in the book…
51:01 John: Oh, you didn’t, yeah.
51:02 Sam: Until you said that.
51:03 John: Yeah, yeah, there’s that reference of Jekyll and Hyde, of course, but yeah. Well, okay, well, thank you, Sam. I think that you did a fantastic job. It was a great book. It definitely is an interesting study of repression or addiction or whatever, but as a person in recovery, I can certainly appreciate the parallels there. Thank you so much for this suggestion, it was a great idea. We’ll have to read another classic sometime [chuckle] and see if we can…
51:34 Sam: Yeah, we could make this a thing, well, let’s get some comments from the listeners on suggestions or something.
51:40 John: Yeah, kind of high brow for the podcast. [chuckle]
51:44 Sam: Let’s take this podcast up a notch, intellectually… No. Well, thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
51:51 John: Oh, thank you, it was…
51:51 Sam: It was fun.
51:52 John: It was a lot of fun. So that’s it, that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. Thank you everybody for listening. And thank you, Sam, this was so much fun. What a great way to spend a Sunday morning. And so anyway, if you do want to help out the podcast, you can do so by visiting our Patreon site, patreon.com/aabeyondbelief. Become a patron b contributing dollar a month or $5 a month, whatever you can, it really does help out a lot, but if you can’t, that’s okay too. We just love doing this, it’s so much fun. You all take care, be well, we’ll be back again, soon.
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