Self-Constructed Disgrace

I no longer drink socially. Drink exclusively at home, typically in the presence or company of my partner, who rarely drinks, and who won’t let me greet the dawn in the overend of some supposedly big moment zone, fired by alcohol. So much film or music to see or hear, so creative, so creative, can’t stop now. End up missing much of the next day, but my, my, such a creative time.

Stopped drinking socially about twenty years ago. During the completion of the doctoral thesis, though don’t remember the specific incident; maybe just had no time to socialize or no time to drink at all. Still, took me roughly ten years to appreciate lessons from the early 80s. Quite difficult starting over, with ginger ale.

An evening social event at one of my employers, to which spouses or “significant others” were not invited. Didn’t appreciate that such an event was the danger zone. The social control, the balancing of spouses and “significant others” was not there. Open bar. These are not my friends, but everyone becomes overly friendly in the alcohol-fuelled conversation and, in particular, the dance. Also the rivalries and resentments erupt. One executive assistant tries to pull down another’s dress; the most beautiful woman in the organization, resented for style or size, or both.

The 3:00 a.m. taxi. Been there before; back there, again. Next day look of shock and awe; the horror of all that led to 3:00 a.m.. Post party that is no party. Office blasted apart.

Should have remembered the actions of a young student studying to become a Chartered Accountant, in the late 1970s. Not me. He was the one who refused to enter an upscale downtown strip bar (seriously; no contradiction in terms) with his work colleagues, including me, who regularly frequented this place after work, since it was so close to the Toronto downtown towers. One of my colleagues from law school, then and now a major force in commercial law, used to stay until the end of the evening, to drive the dancers home. The student in Chartered Accountancy simply said “No, I’m not comfortable with this”, and walked away at 5:30 on a Friday afternoon. Can’t even remember his name, but appreciate more how he just knew what it took me so long to learn: we create the circumstances of our own disgrace.

The door that isn’t left open. The room that shouldn’t be entered. The party that shouldn’t be attended. The time to leave, which is ignored.

The life that we can choose, with help, as Father Fitz knew; simple and difficult path.
Postscript, October 12, 2012: To my surprise, I used the “walk away” stripper bar example in a later piece, “Canada Day Hijab“, forgetting that it had been referenced here. The idea of turning away from temptation seems to transcend circumstance. Also stays, as a caution.


About brucelarochelle
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7 Responses to Self-Constructed Disgrace

  1. On September 1, Ahmed Abualsamh commented as follows (e-mail communication reproduced with permission):

    Various Hadiths:

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 763:

    Narrated Abu Huraira:

    Allah’s Apostle said, “When an adulterer commits illegal sexual intercourse, then he is not a believer at the time he is doing it; and when somebody drinks an alcoholic drink, then he is not believer at the time of drinking, and when a thief steals, he is not a believer at the time when he is stealing; and when a robber robs and the people look at him, then he is not a believer at the time of doing it.” Abu Huraira in another narration, narrated the same from the Prophet with the exclusion of robbery.
    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 764:
    Narrated Anas bin Malik:

    The Prophet beat a drunk with palm-leaf stalks and shoes. And Abu Bakr gave (such a sinner) forty lashes.

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 765:
    Narrated ‘Uqba bin Al-Harith:

    An-Nu’man or the son of An-Nu’man was brought to the Prophet on a charge of drunkenness. So the Prophet ordered all the men present in the house, to beat him. So all of them beat him, and I was also one of them who beat him with shoes.

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 766:
    Narrated’ Uqba bin Al-Harith:

    An-Nu’man or the son of An-Nu’man was brought to the Prophet in a state of intoxication. The Prophet felt it hard (was angry) and ordered all those who were present in the house, to beat him. And they beat him, using palm-leaf stalks and shoes, and I was among those who beat him.

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 767:
    Narrated Anas:

    The Prophet lashed a drunk with dateleaf stalks and shoes. And Abu Bakr gave a drunk forty lashes.

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 768:
    Narrated Abu Salama:

    Abu Huraira said, “A man who drank wine was brought to the Prophet. The Prophet said, ‘Beat him!” Abu Huraira added, “So some of us beat him with our hands, and some with their shoes, and some with their garments (by twisting it) like a lash, and then when we finished, someone said to him, ‘May Allah disgrace you!’ On that the Prophet said, ‘Do not say so, for you are helping Satan to overpower him.’ “

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 769:
    Narrated ‘Ali bin Abi Talib:

    I would not feel sorry for one who dies because of receiving a legal punishment, except the drunk, for if he should die (when being punished), I would give blood money to his family because no fixed punishment has been ordered by Allah’s Apostle for the drunk.

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 770:
    Narrated As-Sa’ib bin Yazid:

    We used to strike the drunks with our hands, shoes, clothes (by twisting it into the shape of lashes) during the lifetime of the Prophet, Abu Bakr and the early part of ‘Umar’s caliphate. But during the last period of ‘Umar’s caliphate, he used to give the drunk forty lashes; and when drunks became mischievous and disobedient, he used to scourge them eighty lashes.

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 771:
    Narrated ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab:

    During the lifetime of the Prophet there was a man called ‘Abdullah whose nickname was Donkey, and he used to make Allah’s Apostle laugh. The Prophet lashed him because of drinking (alcohol). And one-day he was brought to the Prophet on the same charge and was lashed. On that, a man among the people said, “O Allah, curse him ! How frequently he has been brought (to the Prophet on such a charge)!” The Prophet said, “Do not curse him, for by Allah, I know for he loves Allah and His Apostle.”

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 772:
    Narrated Abu Huraira:

    A drunk was brought to the Prophet and he ordered him to be beaten (lashed). Some of us beat him with our hands, and some with their shoes, and some with their garments (twisted in the form of a lash). When that drunk had left, a man said, “What is wrong with him? May Allah disgrace him!” Allah’s Apostle said, “Do not help Satan against your (Muslim) brother.”

    Volume 8, Book 81, Number 773:
    Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas:

    The Prophet said, “When (a person) an adulterer commits illegal sexual intercourse then he is not a believer at the time he is doing it; and when somebody steals, then he is not a believer at the time he is stealing.”

    Before you scoff at these “draconian” and “uncivilized” forms of punishment, consider the 24 year old Jack Tobin, now serving three years in prison for the DEATH of his best friend. Or the myriad stories of death, destruction and disintegration of our society through the effects of alcohol. How civilized a society is that? I can’t speak for Mr. Tobin, but I’m certain, given the choice, both he his father and the parents of his best friend, in addition to all those who loved them, would have preferred the former punishment, to what led to the latter.

    I am impressed that the Islamic punishments in relation to drunkenness never vilified the offender, or took anything away from his bretheren’s Islamic obligation of respect and fraternity towards him. It was less like a punishment and more like a firm intervention by friends and loved ones. Not meant to disgrace, as much as to serve as a “wake-up” call, and a shaming into resisting this sometimes irresistible and seductive poison.

    I remember in med school, we were to list the many causes of some disease, can’t remember which, but as any doctor will tell you, we rely on categorization, so as not to miss anything. I remember identifying alcohol under the “dietary” category, to which I was reprimanded by my professor, and told firmly that “alcohol is NOT a DIETARY item!!” It goes under “TOXINS!” Indeed, I later learned that the body does not treat alcohol like a food product, whatever the amount of sugar and calories, but as a noxious poison. From the moment it touches the palate, through to its journey down the esophagus, and into the usually hardy lining of the stomach (which is designed to resist acid at a PH low enough to melt metal, but with alcohol turns red and congested and just plain ole’ angry), onto the liver where it is “detoxified”. Those genetically lacking the necessary enzyme needed to “disarm” alcohol, which includes most Asians, know well what happens after one glass of beer. The true face of alcohol rears its red inflamed and sickly head. I was amazed to discover that many of my Chinese friends didn’t know why they reacted so miserably to alcohol. I was more amazed that they persisted, after finding out.

    To those referring to recent discoveries of the “benefit” of alcohol, I say, the Qur’an beat you to it, over 1400 years back!

    The Holy Qur’an, 2.219:

    They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: “In them is great sin, and some benefit, for men; but the sin is greater than the benefit.” They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: “What is beyond your needs.” Thus doth Allah Make clear to you His Signs: In order that ye may consider.

    The Holy Quran, 5.90:

    O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

    Of course, one can make a case for both alcohol and even gambling (ask the hospitals and foundations that use lotteries to raise money), but as with all things, and from my own experience in medicine, the efficacy of something is based on its risk/benefit ratio. With these two sins, it is a losing deal. The cost to society as a whole, so that a restrained minority can imbibe a glass of wine a day, to gain whatever relatively infinitesimal benefit that can probably be acquired by some other means, is ridiculous and should not even merit the analysis.

    Alcohol is an Arabic word, originating from the word Al Ko Hoool. No one has had a love affair with alcohol like the Arabs. The amount of poetry and verse written about this poison is endless. To forbid it outright would not have worked. The failure of American prohibition will attest to that. Something so ingrained in pre-Islamic Arab society was outlawed gradually, with a heavy reliance on faith, and less reliance on punishment. Islam is the only method that consistently has and does successfully get people dry or abstinent. In those “Islamic” countries where alcohol is legal, most Muslims do not and have never touched the stuff. (A lengthy analysis of this elegant and effective means of abstinence is for another discussion)

    But this isn’t a thesis about the ills of alcohol, but about how “we creat the circumstances of our own disgrace” as you stated so eloquently. To confirm what you wrote, in the Qur’an, whenever a sin is stated or a transgression mentioned, God sometimes follows it with something along the lines of “These are God’s limits, so do not TRAVERSE them”, except when discussing sins of a sexual nature or alcohol. The admonition is then “These are God’s limits, so do not NEAR/APPROACH them”. Such as in the verse above, where the word “eschew-avoid” is used. Scholars have interpreted this as alluding to the slippery slope that is invariably associated with the fall that comes from this type of sin. The likelihood of me robbing a bank is very low, so saying this is God’s line and do not cross it is sufficient (to inform and forbid,), but with these other temptations, a steering clear and complete avoidance of even the vicinity of such things is required (As God goes a step beyond informing and forbidding to actually help us achieve).

    Modern day abstinence programs are known to pair their members with buddies, in the Islamic tradition of those who are “prosperous” and “…who enjoin truth, and those who enjoin patience”. Qur’an, S. 103. The first two requirements for success: believing and doing good deeds is not enough, if you don’t support each other in truth and patience for those times when, invariably, believing and doing good gets difficult, or is resisted by the forces of “evil and corruption”. Hence, every Muslim in a society is a “buddy” to his brothers and sisters, supporting him or her for when he/she falters.

    There are some times in life when one cannot help having been at the wrong place at the wrong time, but these times are few and far between. To the best of my recollection, most of my regrettable moments have been when I put myself squarely in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people. Thus, we create the circumstances of our disgrace.

  2. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ first miracle is the changing of water into wine at a wedding, at his mother’s behest. So, I start with the belief that drinking alcohol is OK, or that it has some purpose. And of course I have just come from the Eucharist, in which the communion wine represents or is transformed spiritually into the blood of Christ.

    I was originally going to write that drinking was OK if one had self control, but it occurred to me in Church that there was a deeper answer. Reading part of the Confucian Canon, I came across something so different from Western belief, it really made me think. It said that a condition of true enlightenment was that a person had to purify not only his/her consciousness but also his/her unconsciousness.

    This is so different from, for example, the Jungian vision. In it, one represses to unconsciousness aspects of one’s personality that one rejects. So the shadow unconscious personality of a very good man would be very evil because the bad stuff had been repressed. And the danger, according to Jung, is both projection (I project my negatives onto you, so I see you as evil, even though I am just seeing my own feelings in you), and also that the shadow can take over the consciousness under periods of extreme stress. So the argument has been made that the US shadow came out after 9/11 in the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the US projected its negative fears and anger onto Islamic nations because those who drove the planes into the Twin Towers were Muslims.

    But then I think of the Confucian task of purifying not only one’s conscious attitudes and actions, but also the sources of this projection and unconsciously driven behavior. The virtue of alcohol is that it loosens the control of consciousness. You get an idea of what sinfulness you still harbor that you have been trying to suppress in yourself. Suppression is not good enough! You have to eliminate it from yourself. Alcohol may allow you to see that what you thought was true about yourself was actually hypocrisy, and that you still have work to do to purify yourself.

    So you, Bruce, are writing that you could see when your self-control was loosened, that you were inclined towards sinfulness. And that made you feel anxious. So that is good to know about oneself, that one is not so good as one hopes. I must be able to confess my sins in order to repent and hope to be forgiven. I cannot confess what I do not know or believe to be true about myself. And it is my self-control that may mask my true self from my awareness. Therefore, I do not confess and repent and then: am I forgiven?

  3. On August 30, 2011, following discussions as to the circumstances I was contemplating writing about, Ahmed Abualsamh wrote to me as follows (e-mail extract reproduced with permission):

    No need to “expose” yourself or your past in any way. In fact, we are admonished from public confessions of past sins, faults or floundering. The prophet says “if you have been tried, then take cover”. The actual word is fas ta te roooo. The f=therefore. The as ta tee rooo is the verb form of sitar, which in Arabic means curtain or rideau, in French. The mental image is that of one enveloping himself in a protective cloak of privacy. Every sinner is commanded to do so, revealing their guilt and penance only to God.

    Western news showing the adulterer politician or evangelist in tears, begging the public’s forgiveness after an awkward allocution of past transgression, is not only alien to Muslims, but actually forbidden. Islam would have actually protected the likes of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Swaggart. Their falter is their affair. All Bill Clinton would have had to say is “none of your damned business”. Instead he “lied”, and was charged for that and not the sex.

    In Islam, it’s illegal to ask someone if he or she has sinned. Exceptions are questions by those in authority investigating sins that have transgressed against others, like robbery and murder. I’m talking about “victimless” crimes, though in Islam, there is no such thing, as for every sin, at the least the perpetrator is the victim.

  4. Neil Abramson says:

    According to Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, one prays and confesses to God and in private. The person who does so in a great public show is already receiving his/her reward, which is attention and possibly admiration (or revulsion) of others.

    Kierkegaard’s point is that one must confess to God. God, however, already knows all our sins. It is we – I – who must discover what my sins are, because I may cover them even from myself. And I need to know what my sins are, because the purpose of confession is not merely to confess hoping for forgiveness, but the hope that, through sincere repentance and atonement I may change my behavior – or sincerely try – so there will be some basis for forgiveness and redemption.

    If I have masked my sin through repression, then I am not conscious of the sin. Hence, I cannot sincerely confess and repent. Intellectual theoretical repentance does not equal sincere repentance. So, there needs to be some mechanism for loosing the self control of the repression – like alcohol – to reveal if I am as good as I hope or claim; likely not.

    I must truly know myself in all my dark recesses to sincerely confess all my faults to the Lord, who already knows and therefore can gauge my sincerity.

  5. On September 5, 2011, Ahmed Abualsamh commented as follows (e-mail reproduced with permission):

    Unleash you inner animal, but not on us.

    Most people think that it’s your brain that allows you to “doo” things. People think that, without a brain,one is in a state of paralysis, both actually and figuratively. Yet the Arabs use the word “Aql”, when referring to the brain. “Aql” is root for “iqaal” which is the binding used to cobble a camel. It’s also the black “fan belt” we Arabs use to hold down our head cloth. Likely named for the same inhibitory characteristics. When an Arab child is unruly, the parent’s command is “I’iqal!” or become “of brain”. An “aaqil” is the legal designation of one who is sane and legally accountable. In slang it may refer to one who is wise or a sage, but the connotation is that of one who is reserved, inhibited, conservative. Not given to impulses.

    “I itiqal” is imprisonment and incarceration. “mu’taqal” is the prison You get the idea. Seems the Arabs were on to something. In med school we learned about the brain. Turns out the brain does not instigate action, but is mostly the source of inhibition.

    So you are right. One doesn’t “blame” alcohol for all that lies beneath and within one’s sane, inhibitory control.

    The blame lies squarely on the once sober and “aaqil” individual, who surrenders his entrusted prisoner (the brain), to that which has no legitimacy or jurisdiction (alcohol). Then stands in the aftermath of the ensuing spree, wondering what happened.

    If one is so inclined to see what happens when one is brainless, I believe that society would appreciate not being included in so indulgent a journey of self-discovery. One should have the decency to find a distant Mesa and some Mescal, and connect to one’s spirit guide, well away from civilized society.

  6. On September 8, 2011, Ahmed Abualsamh commented as follows (e-mail correspondence reproduced with permission):

    “In Vino Veritas”? So that’s it? That’s Dr. Abramson’s argument for alcohol? Really? Have we ever known someone to get BETTER with alcohol? Do we really need to see what comes out? Is there really that pressing a need to get at both Dr. Jekyll AND Mr. Hyde in order to better oneself? I’d much rather people purified/suppressed (don’t care which) their evil twin, rather than impose the ills of alcohol on society. Besides, haven’t I already addressed this fictional notion of “moderation” already?

    I’ve never heard it being referred to as “good” (in the context of the
    “Good vs. Evil” good), even by the most enthusiastic drinkers. Have to say, I did not see that one coming.

    Even if one were to accept the premise and concede these aformentioned points, does the personal “enlightenment”/”atonement” attained, justify the death and destruction that societies have had to endure under the yoke of alcohol?

    I suppose if one seeks answers from too many philosophies and “isms”, there is the danger of entertaining a myriad of conflicting or opposing views with equal weight, and no bias or discrimination towards one or the other. While this may appear as worldly and benevolently tolerant, it divests the discussion of any sort of compass, moral or otherwise. Especially when there is a modicum of merit to each of the different claims. However, there is not enough lifetime per individual, or even per generation, to wade intellectually through every conundrum and dispute, to tease out the “right” answer.

    Isn’t it time we surrendered to the One who has created us and everything around us, and who truly knows, knows. Not just conjecture; “knows”:

    And most of them follow naught but conjecture. Surely conjecture will not avail aught against the Truth; surely Allah is cognizant of what they do.

    Qur’an Surah 10 Verse 36

    And they have no (actual) knowledge of it, they do not follow anything but conjecture, and surely conjecture does not avail against the truth at all# therefore turn aside from him who turns his back upon our reminder and does not desire anything but this world’s life.

    Qur’an Surah 53, Verses 28-29

    As for Xunzi and all others mentioned, there is a grain of truth in much of what has been presented. Much like the truth of many blind men feeling an elephant’s different parts and describing what they feel respectively. It’s part of the truth, just not the whole truth and sadly not “nothing but the truth”, either. In the end, these are just men.

    In response to Xunzi’s Nature of Man:

    Verily, we created man in the best stature/mould,*then have we reduced him to the basest of base (lowest of the low)* save those who believe and do righteousness, then they shall have a reward everlasting.

    Qur’an Surah 95, Verses 4-6

    It’s all right there in our “owner’s manual”, The Qur’an. I’m not advocating blind faith. certainly not. Instead let’s treat this book, claiming universal answers, like we do any document.

    Authenticate its source, its claims and even answer the many challenges that are found within it, demanding that anyone try and find ANY fault or inaccuracy in it (scientific or otherwise). What other document (theological or otherwise) dares its reader to do that?

    Once satisfied its from who it claims to be and does what it claims to do, let’s readdress our confusion, that we may be granted the sagacity of surrender.

  7. On September 9, 2011, Ahmed Abualsamh commented as follows (e-mail correspondence reproduced with permission), in relation to a news story about a drunk moose stuck in a tree:

    It seems even Nature is weighing in on this discussion:

    In this morning’s paper, and on the radio, the strangely not so strange story of the drunken moose، entangled in an apple tree, with three hooves off the ground!

    Seems that, this time of year, fermented fruits abound and the rescue services are all too familiar with a call of “grazing under the influence”

    One witness was quoted as saying “the moose appeared sick drunk, or half-stupid”. Guess he couldn’t tell which.

    Think of how effectively more repentant this sheepish moose will be after tomorrow’s hangover.

    Just the same, I propose that after the many moose-auto collisions on Ontario roads the OPP not restrict their test of blood alcohol to the humans.

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