The incidence of war in the human experience is enormous; it has been estimated that, in the 5,600 years of recorded human history, there have been 14,300 definable wars. In our modern times, the wars of WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan and their aftermaths occupy much of the period of the last 100 years. Wars affect everyone, not just the participants, but their families and larger communities as well, in many subtle and powerful ways.
Many mythological stories revolve around wars. The Iliad and the Odyssey are about the monstrous war over the City of Troy, at the western edge of modern day Turkey. In the Hindu tradition there is an epic called the Mahabharata, about a similar war at Kurukshetra in far northern India. Many, many literary works of recent centuries similarly focus on the psychical aspects of war. All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel about WWI, concentrates on the subtle, and not so subtle, aspects of how war affects the individual soldier in and around the battlefield and in society during and after the war.
The story of Bill W., Founder of AA, in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, starts with him returning from WWI in 1918. Without much mention of the War, Bill details in incredible poignancy how he spent the years of the 1920’s and early 1930’s in a descent into the terrors of his alcoholism. WWI was a terrible war, a clash of new mechanized warfare systems against old human-wave infantry tactics. Hardships and catastrophes on the battlefields and in the trenches were commonplace and gruesome. It could easily be assumed that Bill’s experiences in this war were a big part of the trauma that enabled and precipitated his descent in the years that followed.
Bill’s experiences parallel the themes of the literature of War and they tie into the stories of our own Journeys out of the depths of addiction, in many fascinating ways, even if we did not participate in the actual experience of War. For many of us sufferers, images of war experiences, whether a veteran or not, provide powerful analogies of our battles with addiction. I like to say that, for the long-time sufferer of Addiction, crossing the threshold of AA and doing the rigorous work to build a sober life can be as difficult and gruesome as storming Omaha Beach…as seen in opening frames of Saving Private Ryan.