AlCoHoLiC InSaNiTy Asylum: William Seabrook Book Review


Hi there, it’s Marcus and welcome to!

In today’s review we’re going through Asylum by William Seabrook.

This is a very interesting book because it goes through an old account before there was rehab.

So this guy was trying to get help for alcohol addiction being an alcoholic and at the time people didn’t know what to do so they sent this poor fellow to a mental asylum which is funny because often times you’ll notice that the symptoms of the severe alcoholic actually mimic those of mental illness and this is a great book because it tells us account of what it was like not only going through alcoholism and the inability to quit but also going through the mental hospital and saying, “Hey I’m not much different than these people there you know I’m not much better than them because I keep drinking.”

That’s what we call the alcoholic insanity.

It’s really important because if you drink long enough alcohol will make you insane.

He says here in page 29, we’ll just dive right into his story, he says that is “I had begun to wonder whether my drinking hadn’t been merely a plausible pretext used by my friends to put me in a place or ought to be for an entirely different reason.” 

So here he is his friends are like I don’t know what to do with you, you keep getting drunk, you keep going out you can’t quit, you’re not managing!

He wasn’t a managing alcoholic as it were and his friends didn’t know what to do so they took him and they put him in this mental hospital to get help and so he’s thinking to himself which is oftentimes what we would think, Hey you know what, are my friends just using this drinking as an excuse to shove me in a mental hospital because I really am mental?” Well the answer to that is YES YOU REALLY ARE MENTAL, keep drinking and it will get much WORSE!

He goes on in page 39, he says psychiatry sometimes seems crazier than any of the patients a treat. Now this is interesting because for me as a student of psychiatry and psychology and mental illness and mental health and things like that.

I noticed that often times there’s a lot of miscommunication, a lot of craziness and a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about a lot of people who haven’t gone through these things and a lot of quackery. We could see throughout the years all the different things that they have used to treat us alcoholics to try to help us to stop drinking.

They’ve tried things like shock therapy, they’ve tried things like locking us in mental wards different kind of things like that, talk therapy all kinds of different things but the fact of the matter is they never really treated the underlying cause.

A lot of people believe that people would get better with religion and different things like that.

He says on page 47, contrary to some impressions the whiskey habit is HARDER TO CURE than the general run of the ordinary mental derangement. 

So here we have this and we look at people with like severe mental derangement and this guy gets admitted to the mental hospital and the doctors at the mental hospital actually call him incurable while the other guys with all these crazy things going over and you know barking at the wall and things like that are the people they say are curable and not as bad off. So when we deal with alcohol it’s a very very serious thing and it is affecting the way that your brain works. Now the problem is that it affects the way your brain works so subtly that you don’t notice yourself going crazy and the only way to reverse it is to go back and get clean and start to realize hey these things were happening, here’s how we reverse them and then start to deal with the stuff like trauma and abuse and pass things and whatever it is that’s going on that caused you to drink in excess in the first place.

We go through that in my last book review which was on the body that keeps the score.

Next he says let’s see here he goes on in page 51, he’s talking about drinking and how his drinking progressed and he said you know now he had lost control of it and throughout this book he talks about the theme of losing control.

As he says on page 53 he says so long as any man drinks, if anyone out there drinks and he drinks when he wants to and he stops when he wants to he isn’t a drunkard no matter how much he drinks.

This is important because a lot of people say well what’s an alcoholic, right am I an alcoholic? I don’t know right so he said for long as any man drinks when he wants to drink and stops when he wants to he isn’t a drunkard no matter how much he drinks or how often he falls under the table.

So he has his definition of a true alcoholic here of someone who cannot stop drinking no matter what.

Here is someone who keeps drinking the wrong after he’s enjoying it.

Here’s a person who can’t stop, who has to drink, who can’t not drink and oftentimes we look at this and we say the definition of the alcoholic is someone who continues to drink despite negative consequences in their life and it’s the same thing here. He says you know what he’s not drinking when he wants to anymore, he’s drinking because he has to and he’s drinking even though all these terrible things are happening in his life and he can’t control it and that is the true definition, do you have control?

Often times in different alcohol meetings they’ll tell you it goes out and drinks if you have control. I don’t think that’s the greatest advice. I think that right now you can determine whether you’re an alcoholic or not from patterns in your own life.

What has been your track record?

What has been the motivating cause?

What’s been going on there?

Have you wanted to quit?

Have you tried to quit?

Do you keep drinking even though you’re trying to quit thinking that there’s some magic bullet out there that’s going to help you?

Well the fact of the matter is that you’re thinking has been tainted by drinking!

So trying to solve this problem whether it’s self-control or mental or whatever it is, right I tend to believe it’s deeper than that, but whatever it is if you try to solve it with the same mindset that got you into it you’re not going to get anywhere!

It’s like a crazy person trying to think himself sane- no no no no he needs a sane person to come alongside him, show him the airs of what’s going on help him restore his brain to sanity and then once he’s all better send him on his way but if he tries to do it on its own it’s not going to work.

He says here in page 59, life had gotten too hot for us writing he goes on to say hey years these people these alcoholics and at some point life got too much for them to handle and this is a theme that you see in alcoholic meetings and everything like that where they say life had become unmanageable. Their life got unmanageable, got too hot for me couldn’t handle it and he needed a way to escape and he found it in drinking. Unfortunately drinking as good of a friend is as it is in the beginning, it turns on you very fast and it affects your brain in a way that you’re not going to like and you’re not going to notice that you don’t like until it’s too late and it’s already overcome you and you have lots to the power to choose whether or not you can continue to drink without help.

He said we were all cases who had gone off our trolleys as it were or had broken an axle her had a monkey wrench thrown in our gears or had lost control or gone haywire, we hadn’t been born so.

Now this is extremely important because a lot of people look at mental illness and they say well you know some people are born that way and you know I’m not a neuroscientist so I don’t know for a fact but I think that some people are born with mental defects, actual physical problems with their brain.

Now the rest of us that have things that are more or less terrible or fixable I hate to use the word cure because sometimes it’s just remission it’s not really cure but he says you know we hadn’t been born this way and often times these things like you weren’t born in alcoholic. If you were born and you never touched alcohol all your life you wouldn’t be an alcoholic. The definition of an alcoholic is someone who drinks therefore if you didn’t drink you wouldn’t have that.

Oftentimes people that have mental Illness, it develops over time as a coping mechanism to life and it’s something that you haven’t necessarily been born with, it’s just something that happened.

He goes on to say that because a lot of people, when you look at it and saying I’m born with it then you’re branding yourself for life saying this is my lot in life, this is who I am and I tend to differ that, I don’t think that who I am is an alcoholic. I have been an alcoholic I was addicted to drinking. Do I want to drink again and find out if it’s going to work? No.

I know what it does to my mind, why the hell would I want to do that? The benefits far far outweighed by the risk and the chance of will it manipulate my brain so much that I won’t recognize it.

He says here on page 117 and this kind of controversial for the normal run-of-the-mill alcoholic crowd. It is very controversial because in the end he actually does return to drinking I don’t know how it turns out for him but he does return to casual drinking which you know to each his own I don’t think it’s a good idea personally I don’t plan on returning to drinking I don’t think it’s a good idea but to each his own. 

He says on page 117, I still believe that no man has ever become a victim of whiskey but only of some weakness within himself so they’re so weakened as he’s saying, hey there’s a weakness within yourself that is causing you to be susceptible to this alcohol addiction.

Now this is important because you want to look at it, you want to say well what are the what are the three things at play here one we have the drink okay so we have the alcohol.

The alcohol is addictive by nature right so the alcohol is addictive by nature. If you drink enough of it you’re going to go down the road wacko and you’re not going to be able to quit. That’s the nature of the chemical and what it does to our mind.

Next we have the underlying psychological issues right the stuff that goes on and this is why in -step meetings and things like that they say fix this and make amends and do all these things because naturally if you do those things a lot of the underlying psychological stuff is going to be solved because of the way that it programs it, not some magical cure or anything like that it’s just refocusing your energy and getting you away from the booze. Third, establishing the social element.

A lot of times people who suffer from drinking have a social element missing from their lives whether they don’t feel at home in their body, whether they don’t feel like one of the group or like they belong in the world or whatever they tend to isolate and this is something that I still do sometimes I try not to but we tend to isolate and for whatever reason but he’s saying, “Hey look you know what he’s not a victim of whisky, it’s something else which it’s kind of controversial,” you know kind of interesting.

He goes on in page 129, and he says and any man’s case is desperate de facto when liquor has really gotten him down. When liquor really gets him down he’s desperate and he says it’s merely repeating that no man is a drunkard until he has to drink when he doesn’t want to.

Now this is really dear to my heart because I had to drink when I didn’t want to.

I remember morning is where I’d wake up and I couldn’t believe the house and I didn’t leave the house but I would literally walk and buy pajamas or sweats or whatever to go to my favorite liquor store whatever liquor store was close by to get what I needed to get so I could make it till eleven o’clock when I could patch myself up and go get the real stuff that I needed and everything like that but I remember my life revolved around alcohol. I had to have it. There was no way around it. There was no maybe I won’t or maybe I will oh sure I could go times maybe two or three weeks without drinking but in the back of my mind I still needed it. There was something that had to be solved. There was something that had to click. There was something I needed to do to be able to have any long-term sustainable sobriety as I have today which is close to three years now.

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He says here a quote from epictetus which is one of my favorite philosophers he says everything has two handles- one by which it can be carried and one by which it cannot. He’s talking about life and how in life there’s always things that you have and they always have two handles- one by which you can pick it up and carry it and one that you and in alcohol there’s two things- there’s some people who just pick up by the handle and quit drinking by whatever miraculous reason works for them. There’s others where it takes a lot more work and a lot more time and a lot more soul-searching and understanding to get where they need to be.

He says on page 160, my first thoughts were physiological. I thought how I had enjoyed believing that I was the victim of some glandular stomach or nervous craving for alcohol.

Now he’s talking about when he first starts to get sober here and he says you know at the beginning I really had a good time and I enjoyed the fact that I thought that this was something beyond me, this was something bigger than me like some spiritual thing or some mental thing or whatever maybe a craving or maybe there’s a gene in my body that causes me to be an alcoholic and he says then that within three months of incarceration during which I had been given no medicine or drugs whatsoever I had already exploded that alibi.

It had been a false excuse right and he looks at me he’s like okay well what is this and his main outcome here is that life had become too hot and that he basically drank for psychological reasons to run away from whatever.

He says on page 161, one of the reasons which might hit home with you it certainly hits home with me, he says I was afraid deep down that I was not good enough. I was afraid no matter what I did I wrote books I people knew who I was but I was afraid I was never going to be good enough that when I showed everything, when I put all my cards on the table I was going to come up empty and everyone was going to say you know what you’re not good enough you don’t matter enough. He said this is always the deal he’s always been afraid of it and he was afraid that he’d never be good enough.

We have here he goes on to say I had been afraid to do my best for fear that my best wouldn’t be good enough. He didn’t even try to do his best because he was afraid that the outcome would be that he’s not good enough.

He says on page 165, that until he got caught in a trap in his own devising where I had to sit down and face myself and do my utmost. So here he is in his trap of his own devising in this mental prison that he created and fueled with alcohol and until he got there and was stripped to his rock-bottom or whatever you want to call it he wasn’t able to see what was really going on.

On page 166, he says whatever I had was all I had and if I wasn’t a hopeless coward I would do my best with what I had.

Page 167, he says the habit they hope to simply break him from the habit of using alcohol as a psychic painkiller and an anesthetic, a coward’s refuge and he hoped talking about his doctor, he hoped to goodness I’d reconcile myself to remain locked up long enough to do that for he believed they could do it and remark that even if it didn’t make me any happier it would end in any way it’d be something.

He’s talking about how to deal with getting rid of using this as self-medicating. So many times that’s what we’re doing. We have those pain in our mind, we have this fear, we have all this stuff that we want to shut off and alcohol does that for us and we need to learn to cope without it and I know right now it might seem like that’s the farthest thing from reality you’re like well what am I going to do right and then the thoughts creep in and you want to drink again because all this stuff comes up and you are in yourself made prison, you are probably an alcoholic if you’re watching this and it resonates with you.

He says whether a major element in psychiatry might not simply be a matter of supplying the patient with the safe pleasant surroundings and then waiting for something to happen. Now this is kind of interesting because he’s talking about his experience in this mental ward and he says I wonder if what helps us is just providing us with safe and pleasant surroundings and letting ourselves do the work, letting ourselves heal on our own and that’s what happens when you stop drinking is you know you’re providing that safe environment for your brain to get better and for yourself to learn and in Alcoholics Anonymous they call it the the fourth dimension, the dimension of living that they never thought was possible it was like a miracle and it’s very interesting to look at it.

It says on page 209, I don’t think they could ever change the essential nature of the patient and he’s talking about the nature of who these people are never changes it’s just the thought patterns the thought loops and the trap they’re in. So we look at this and it’s quite interesting to look at myself I was in a mental hospital for about four hours when I was drinking and then I went to a rehab and the rehab didn’t cure everything it just taught me some things and got me sober long enough to where I can maintain it. I was in it for 30 days and I was scared to death I dealt with 30 days of unlike uncontrollable anxiety every waking moment. All I wanted to do was drink and not drink at the same time because I wanted to drink for the relief but I knew that drinking would put me worse than I was before and continue the cycle.

I realized you know I remember when I first went into the mental hospital I was like William and I remember thinking about you know I don’t really belong here I saw a lady you know talking to every blade of grass and I was afraid and a lady in the corner who looked like she’d been catatonic for years and I thought to myself you know you don’t belong here you got a business you got a family but deep in my mind I knew that I did belong there because alcohol had made me insane, my thoughts had made me insane I was in a prison of my own making. If you feel like you’re in a prison of your own making this is a good book to pick up and also you need to get some help right that’s why we want, you to go to

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So I hope you enjoyed this book review of Williams rooks Asylum kind of creepy pictures on it but very good book to read through and understanding what happens with the alcoholics mind and how it leads to insanity.

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