This famous quote from the ‘Proverbs of Hell’ is by poet and artist William Blake. For me it’s an eloquent but slightly ambiguous signpost at the head of a road. It can be seen as a warning against excess and a reminder of the consequences to pushing oneself too far. But also as an invitation to explore new experiences and push oneself outside of one’s comfort zone.

The delights of the ‘road’ of excess have been explored in countless formats, The Wolf of Wall St springs to mind.

“When people become millionaires, they want to become billionaires. When they become billionaires, they want to become trillionaires.”
Jordan Belfort
As a personal aside, I felt alcohol was a conduit to God almighty himself. It was an accelerant that made everything ‘colour’ instead of cardboard brown. And whether it was a ‘ruby murry’ and ‘stair diving’ around a friend’s house, getting lashed while filming ‘Top of The Pops’ or pie eyed with clients during a ‘media lunch’ (read ‘session’) alcohol was fundamental to that spiritual feeling. Screw the consequences I was having a laugh. And that ‘laugh’ lasted about thirty years.
Some shrinks say that when growing up we tend to be, if not need to be, excessive. We need to break all the rules just to be able to find out what, if anything, those rules are made of. Perhaps it’s only through excess we learn when enough is enough. (Adam Phillips)

So exploring what excess is actually accords us understanding and wisdom. It’s only by pushing the envelope, by going past the extreme edge (the known limits) into excess (beyond the those limits) that we learn from our mistakes. The ‘palace of wisdom’ is the hard won reward: a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

What does it mean in context of alcoholism?

But since this is an article about alcoholism and addiction what can the ‘road of excess be taken to mean? I feel, it describes the pilgrimage of a person who has excessively used alcohol to manage their feelings and who has finally hit their ‘rock bottom’. It’s here they garner insight and wisdom. For the addict the ‘aha’ moment, the big reveal, the ‘palace of wisdom’ is final disillusionment with the way they’ve lived their lives to that point.

The realisation (not for the first time, but finally) that the repeated excessive ingestion of drink and drugs used to anaesthetise and self sooth for example feelings of inadequacy or anxiety just isn’t working as it once did. (If it ever did).

So here’s a couple of screenshots I took. These were produced in the A.U.C app 2011-2013 during the last years of my drinking and, yes. they illustrate the industrial amount I was consuming. But the real takeaway is that I was creating a chart at all. There I was, definitely hungover, tip tapping away, giving myself the appearance of controlling my behaviour because I was making a chart of it. Faithfully trying to impose my will on my consumption and failing every time. Hilarious with hindsight, it’s become a chart of my own excess and abject failure to limit my consumption in any consistent way.

But what I realise now and couldn’t have then is that I was still a lucky bastard. By this point so many people had crashed through so many conventional boundaries losing relationships, driving license, job, health. More by luck than judgement I still had most of those things. Finally the destructive nature and consequences of my behaviour dawned on me. ‘Denial’ wasn’t a river in Egypt it was something I had to admit to. I’d arrived at the gilded and bejewelled ‘palace of wisdom’ the metaphoric location for the catalyst for change and growth.

Gift of desperation?

Better yet, inside is a ‘gift’.

“The gift of desperation” is the moment a person reaches a point where they are willing to do whatever it takes to overcome their addiction. (Not surprisingly) AA has a saying for this.

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Step One

By taking oneself to the limits of excess, the alcoholic achieves hard won insight. A ‘gift’ which is a catalyst for change. Paradoxically this ‘gift’ resides in a sense of powerlessness and recognition: a person can’t overcome their addiction on their own. The goal, which seems impossible, becomes the attempt to become sober and to stay sober. One day at a time and with the shared support of others.

“The Only Thing Standing Between You And Your Goal Is The Bulls*** Story You Keep Telling Yourself As To Why You Can’t Achieve It.”
Jordan Belfort

Benefits of animation

Just to change tack for a second. It’s fair to say I’m an evangelist for the power of animation to communicate mental health and wellness ideas in a creative and relatable ways. The animated moving image has an incredible power to ‘move’ people emotionally hence its mass market entertainment appeal e.g. Disney animated features from Sleeping Beauty through Bambi to Frozen. Animation is also an incredibly cost effective resource. It’s both free to air and can be duplicated for free.

If you’re reading this and would like to know more please don’t hesitate to get in touch.