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Regardless of who is chosen to take over the role of James Bond now that Daniel Craig has been set out to pasture, one thing will likely never change about the character: He drinks often, and probably a lot. Why else would one of his most iconic phrases be “shaken, not stirred” - in reference to how he prefers his martinis? Drinking booze is one of the things that makes Bond, well…Bond. It’s a big part of his job: Kill all the bad guys, sleep with any woman he wants, drive the hottest cars, defy death, and drink as much alcohol as his cold, dark heart desires.  Even during missions. Especially during missions (see “Dutch courage” below).

Granted, we never see Bond drunk, face down in a gutter, or at a 12-Step meeting. That would be off-brand for MGM, the Studio that produces his films. But that doesn’t mean a guy like Bond doesn’t have a complicated relationship with alcohol. There are millions of so-called “high functioning alcoholics” in the world, and I used to be one of them. The fact that people can seem to function at a high level and drink heavily is one of the most pernicious facts about alcohol. It imperils people over (sometimes long) periods of time. Think of the “boiling frog” analogy.  Or my favorite phrase: "It's amazing, until it's not..."

Does drinking alcohol actually help people function at a high(er) level? Casting Bond aside for the moment, several films included in our Recovery Movie Meet-Ups Workbook have played around with this idea. FLIGHT, starring Denzel Washington, is a wonderful (if troubling) example. In the film, a pilot (Whip Whitaker), encounters serious mechanical failures during a routine flight, and manages to execute a seemingly impossible maneuver where he flips the plane and flies it upside down to maintain control long enough to land in a field.  He’s plastered at the time.

So here’s the obvious question: Did being drunk help Whitaker save countless lives? One of the maddening things about this film is that the director, Robert Zemeckis (BACK TO THE FUTURE, CAST AWAY), didn’t seem to want to spend too much time on that question. The film is more about Whip’s journey of self-realization where he eventually admits the truth about his problem both to himself and the NTSB. Still, the film begs certain questions that are interesting for anyone in recovery to consider (see Page 59 of the Recovery Movie Meetups Workbook). Can alcohol enhance certain abilities?  The answer is yes. Sometimes. Sort of. But it really, really depends. 

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A film that examines these “depends” beautifully is 2020’s ANOTHER ROUND, helmed by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. The film won that year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and I think it’s an absolute gem of a film. In it, a group of teachers at a sleepy Danish public high school feel like their careers and personal lives could use a little lift. So they dig a “research study” out of the dustbin of bad-ideas-purporting-to-be-scientific which claims that maximum personal happiness and success can only be achieved by maintaining a 0.08% BAC throughout the day.  So, for me, basically most of the 90s.

One of the best scenes of the film is when a teacher - played by Mads Mikkelsen - delights his history students with an ironic but revealing comparison between the drinking habits of two of history’s most notable figures: A psychopathic madman (Adolf Hitler, who didn’t drink alcohol and preferred meth intravenously) and Winston Churchill (a day drinking, “high functioning alcoholic” who helped save the world from the aforementioned meth addict).

Now I won’t ruin any of the many delightful surprises in this excellent film, but suffice to say that the experiment goes off the rails - much like moderate drinking does for (some, but relatively few) people in real life (according to studies at Harvard University, nearly one-third of Americans are “excessive drinkers, and only 10% would qualify as having AUD). The characters in the film enjoy the benefits of being “buzzed” in the short term, but then eventually deal with the consequences of prolonged and ever increasing use and misuse in the long term. 

In case you’re interested, I wrote a review of the film, and I covered it in Chapter 3 of my recent book ADDICTED IN FILM entitled “The Great Danish Alcohol Experiment.”  ANOTHER ROUND (originally titled DRUK, Danish for "binge drinking") is also included on page 75 of the Recovery Movie Meet-Ups Workbook.

But back to Winston Churchill. There is no denying his greatness as a leader and a statesman. I mean, the guy basically helped save the world, and somehow managed to do it while three sheets to the wind.  He was known to start his day with a “few” morning whiskey or brandy and sodas. He claimed it helped him “wake up and get started with his work”, but given the way Churchill drank most evenings prior, “hair of the dog” seems more like it.

While some of the anecdotes and “first hand observations” about Churchill’s massive and continued daily drinking schedule are apocryphal, there is little doubt he knew how to pack it in. After his “few” morning drinks, for lunch he would polish off the equivalent of 5 units worth of wine and/or champagne (he is famously quoted as saying, "Remember, gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!"). Toss in a few Brandies after lunch as a “digestif” (sure, wherever you say, Winston) and you have an average daily consumption of between 8-14 (maybe even 20?) units a day.  And we’re not even counting the evening hours yet.

One wonders if World War II would have had a different outcome if Churchill hadn’t drunk at all, and been totally sober, clear-minded and “present” throughout his leadership. Is it possible that while drinking he came up with a crazy, out-of-the-box political or military maneuver that helped the Allies win the war, just like Denzel’s crazy last-minute maneuver managed to safely land the plane? This much is known: A huge part of his charm offensive to get President Roosevelt to get America’s financial support for Britain’s defense against Germany (pre-Pearl Harbor, that is) was through copious amounts of boozing. One wonders if alcohol isn’t a key reason why we’re not all speaking German right now.   

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Please gentleman, by all means have another...

Roosevelt & Churchill as Drinkin' Buddies

We could also ask if the very existence of the United States itself may be due to alcohol consumption. General Ulysses S. Grant led the Union armies to eventual victory over the Confederates, thus ending the American Civil War. His fondness for alcohol was well-documented, and he is rumored to have been plastered for the battles of Shiloh and the Vicksburg Campaign. Not that drinking before or during battle (“liquid courage”) was anything new. The Spartans, the Vikings, the French armies under Napoleon, even a majority of Russian ground troops fighting in Ukraine today (ie. cannon fodder) - alcohol seems to blend nicely with violence. Not that that’s anything new either. It’s quite possible that Grant’s drinking could have tipped the results of the Civil War in such a way that half the country might today live in the Confederate States of America. 

 

These revisionist history thought experiments about alcohol’s role in world history are fun, but hopefully just that. The overarching lessons from the films like FLIGHT and ANOTHER ROUND (and of course real life too) are that alcohol consumption may have sometimes miraculous and unpredictable short-term benefits, but are just outliers, black swan events that should not be mistaken as reasons to drink in excess. Churchill’s drinking may (key word “may”) have helped the Allies win the war in the same way that intravenous meth use may have led Hitler to lose it (thank you meth!). But let’s not forget that Churchill’s political career and health pretty much tanked after 1945. And many a war has been lost because of excessive alcohol consumption, too (keep up the great work, Russian ground troops in Ukraine!).

Which leads me back to James Bond, arguably the world’s poster child for the “high functioning alcoholic.” Granted, he probably doesn’t fit the definition of an “alcoholic” (an unhelpful term with limited categorical validity anyway). But alcohol appears to be a major part of his overall “happiness” (is James Bond happy?) and success (he’s still alive, after all). Which is unfortunate, when you think that generations of people like me have been brought up to think that alcohol is a vital, even necessary component of a successful life brimming with adrenaline-fueled excitements and visceral pleasures galore. I mean, what guy wouldn’t want to be like James Bond after all?  

While it is true that movies can sometimes do harm to impressionable viewers by glamorizing the wrong role models, as the readers of my book ADDICTED IN FILM can attest - and as the Recovery Movie Meetups Program argues - the opposite is also true. Films can feature incredible heroes who battle it out with their addictions and come out winners. They're great recovery role models. They can inspire people everywhere to critically self-evaluate, change their drinking or substance use behaviors, and ultimately transform their lives and the lives of those around them in the process.

So would James Bond’s drinking ever get to the point that he’d require an intervention and go to rehab? No, of course not. It would ruin MGM’s biggest brands and be way too serious.

 

That said, Recovery Movie Meetups is producing a film based on that exact premise. It's called SHAKEN NOT STIRRED and will be hitting theaters in late 2024!

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On "Aha" Moments & Movies

by Ted Perkins

Founder & President

RECOVERY MOVIE MEET-UPs 

August 3 2023

I use the term “Recovery” so much in my personal and business life that the other day I decided to think more about what it is, what it isn’t, when it starts, and when it ends. Most individuals who have ceased to indulge in their addictive substance or behavior of choice see a Recovery without end.  It’s a lifestyle, a continual state of affairs, a cross to bear for some, a blessing for others—forever. Recovery is like reality at the quantum level, fuzzy and indeterminate. And like the universe at the largest scale, boundless and eternal.  

Regardless, what we can all agree on is that Recovery definitely has a beginning. And to me, Recovery’s Big Bang is that pivotal moment in an addicted individual’s life when they do something previously unthinkable—a mental paradigm shift, a phase transition, an act both terrifying and exhilarating: They change their minds.

 

Now on the level of everyday reality, changing one’s mind is obviously a fairly mundane affair that happens continually. People change their mind about a preferred brand of milk, password, or hair color. But at the level of addiction, the process of changing from active daily user to complete abstinence and sobriety is the mental equivalent of the earth reversing its polarity. Regular change is hard enough. Changing one’s entire life to pursue sobriety (because it does imply a complete change of lifestyle) feels next to impossible. And yet, it happens all the time. 

Change as an integral aspect of recovery was studied extensively by Carlo DiClemente and James Prochaska, who developed the Stages of Change Model to describe the various phases an individual goes through as they overcome addiction. I am very honored to have Dr. Di Clemente as a member of the Recovery Movie Meetups Advisory Committee. While the model provides a powerful framework to describe the process of change over time generally, I noticed that it doesn’t (nor did it necessarily need to) define the key moment when a person changes their mind about their addiction - the necessary precursor to taking action (like quitting and/or going to rehab). 

So what makes people change their minds? What elements factor into such potentially life-altering / life-saving decisions? What kind of tools do family, friends, and therapists have at their disposal to motivate individuals to cross the threshold into Recovery?

  • REASON: Sound reasoning can help people change. Tools like the Cost-Benefit Analysis (or CBA) come in handy, and I made a popular YouTube video about it. But can addicted individuals always be expected to listen to reason? And even if they did, to what extent have cognitive biases and magical thinking overpowered their ability to be swayed by it? If reason worked as effectively as reason should work, we probably wouldn’t have a drug and alcohol problem to begin with. Also, addiction is just as much a matter of the “heart” as it is the mind. Addictions are bound up in countless emotions (both positive and negative), and vice-versa. How do you convince a young, poorly-educated, impoverished childhood trauma survivor that talking rationally about their emotional anguish will work better or faster than just self-medicating over it?

  • PAIN: The anticipated physical discomfort of withdrawal can be a strong motivation to not change, or delay changing as long as possible. Conversely, many addicted individuals have built up such a tolerance to their drug of choice that taking it just makes them feel “normal.” But “normal” is still incredibly painful. By comparison, the pain of withdrawal seems like a small price for a person to pay for relief from their daily existence. Quitting is less painful. That's an incentive, albeit a negative one. The effectiveness of the drug Disulfiram (Antabuse) is predicated on its ability to inflict physical pain and suffering on an individual who willingly drinks alcohol after taking it. Unlicensed or ad-hoc Recovery “centers” in some parts of the world use daily beatings to change people’s behavior. Does the threat of pain or actual pain make people change their minds? Sometimes. But at what ethical cost? Another way to describe using pain as an incentive is “torture.” But what if that "torture" saved an addicted individual's life because it motivated them to stop using? Can incentives be considered negative if they ultimately work?

  • FEAR: Fear is a strong motivator, whether it’s the fear of jail time, loss of money, forfeiture of a promising career, or damaging relationships with loved ones. The power of many AA “drunkalogue” lies in their descriptions of rock bottoms so harrowing that newbies end up scared shitless of going down the same rabbit hole. But fear can only go so far. Drunkalogues are just scary stories. An individual can quickly forget these stories, or employ cognitive biases to make them seem much less harrowing in their minds. And people build up a natural tolerance to fear. There’s a reason horror movies become less scary the more you watch them. An individual who is addicted to Desomorphine (aka “Krokodil”) and continues to shoot up despite the fact that their arm is rotting off is obviously not afraid of anything, nor likely ever will be.

  • SHAME: As highly social creatures, humans are constantly preoccupied with how others perceive them. Before the rule of law and threats of eternal hellfire, shame was an important tool to keep bad actors in check. “Losing face” has 100,000 years of social history behind it. The problem is, any change motivated by shame is done in reaction to others, not centered around a person’s own desires. Over long enough periods, addiction inoculates many people to any feelings of shame whatsoever. Or perhaps they never cared what other people thought about them to begin with. Even if people were to feel shame, it usually provokes so much anxiety that they just end up relapsing. 

  • INSPIRATION / IMITATION: Who doesn't love a great role model? Sharing stories of individuals who are in successful long-term recovery and now lead happy, healthy, productive lives are wonderful ways to motivate people to change.  By nature we are often driven to imitate successful people. I was honored to interview dozens of these role models for testimonial videos I produced for SMART Recovery’s YouTube channel. As parents, we know that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishing our children—although at times, punishment seems like a better option. And so it is with recovery. Positivity trumps negativity every time. Unfortunately, the outdated concept of “tough love” still loiters around in many parts of the recovery landscape, especially as applied in the criminal justice system.

To me, one of the most powerful but least-discussed factors that compel people to change their minds are AHA MOMENTS—instances when a person’s ego is put in check, their pride vanishes, and their heart is open for guidance. It’s a moment of surrender when all the cognitive biases cease to function, all the clever old rationales are revealed as hollow lies, and people finally understand and accept that they have a serious problem and need to act. Yes, the term "AHA MOMENT" itself is vague and decidedly nonclinical. But while no two clinicians may agree on how best to make these AHA MOMENTS happen, they acknowledge that there are legitimate therapeutic benefits when they do.   

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AHA MOMENTS can take many different forms. In the 12 Steps tradition, the AHA MOMENT may often be referred to a Spiritual Awakening, a profoundly transformative experience made all the more significant because individuals believe that the moment is shared with - and ultimately initiated by - an all-powerful and loving Higher Power. I do not doubt for a second that this type of moment is transformative because I have seen its effect on many people whose lives have been saved by it. Many Spiritual Awakenings have positively altered the course of human history. 

In formal psychotherapy, efforts are made to create an AHA MOMENT through talk therapy, motivational interviewing, CBT and REBT, and other treatment modalities that gradually lead individuals to see themselves in a new light. A common description of these moments is: “I had a huge breakthrough with my therapist.Little doubt that traditional psychotherapy can work wonders, but not on everyone, and certainly not right away. It may take countless meetings with a therapist to arrive at this moment, if at all.  But not necessarily. It depends on the openness of the patient and the skills of the therapist.

AHA MOMENTS can also emerge from psychedelic experiences. Research into the potential use of psychedelics in the treatment of alcohol and substance use disorders has yielded intriguing results. Many psychedelics precipitate or facilitate an "ego death"—a state where an individual’s ego is temporarily liberated from its usual constraints and self-defenses, allowing the person to step back and see themselves from a radically new, fresh and healthful perspective. 

 

The first time I let my ego defenses down enough to acknowledge that I had a very serious problem with alcohol was when I was on LSD. It has been reported that Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, thought acid could help cut a clearer path towards Spiritual Awakening. Regardless to what extent that’s true or not, most of my colleagues who have tried these substances would agree - like I do - that psychedelic trips are chock full of tremendously valuable AHA MOMENTS. The question is, do these drug-induced moments always cause the person to actually change their minds? Yeah, LSD made me realize I had a problem, but it was another 20 years before I did something about it.

Meditation, mindfulness, and other practices that foster deep introspection and self-reflection can also facilitate AHA MOMENTS, but in a practical context a more apt term might be “enlightenment”—the ultimate goal of meditation generally. The effectiveness of this approach to addiction recovery has been studied extensively and there is little doubt that deep inward personal reflection can lead to powerful moments, or even the AHA MOMENT itself. But that is not always guaranteed. Nor does it happen quickly. Many people are frustrated that they can’t meditate, while others who can meditate think that most of the world’s problems could be solved if more people did.

All these possible paths towards AHA MOMENTS can work in their own ways, singularly or in tandem.  Multiple pathways to recovery, after all.  But must they have to take so long, and have such unpredictable outcomes? For years, drug scientists have been looking for a “magic bullet” that will “cure” addictive behaviors. We don’t seem to be much any closer, although there is quite a buzz about Ozempic as a possible contender. I highly doubt this. Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)—while still a contentious issue for some old-school traditionalists—isn’t intended to “cure” anything, just assist people in their overall multifaceted recovery plan.  

What if there were a way to guarantee that an individual could quickly experience an AHA MOMENT powerful enough to absolutely and fundamentally change their mind—resulting in them quitting their addictive behaviors, seeking treatment, and embracing long term recovery? Sobriety for life. 100% guaranteed.

 

Is such a thing possible? It is, but only in science fiction movies. 

If you haven’t seen it, INCEPTION is a visually stunning, intellectually dense sci-fi action film that features the AHA MOMENT as a central plot point. The film's premise revolves around secret agents who have mastered the ability to enter a person's dream world and perform what they call "inception." Inception involves planting an idea or thought into their victim’s subconscious that then carries over into their waking world, leading to a critical change of mind with far-reaching consequences that benefit their adversaries. 

 

But inception isn’t easy, any more so than convincing an addicted individual to change their mind in real life. Director Christopher Nolan went to great lengths to depict the subject's ego as a heavily fortified fortress, housing an enormous, seemingly impenetrable safe. It’s an apt visual metaphor. In many ways a person’s addiction is a heavily-guarded mental construct—an “addiction safe”—that the outside world is trying to crack with any tools available: Reason, shame, fear, pain, inspiration, meditation, psychedelics and psychotherapy are just different possible combinations to the lock. 

Another compelling aspect of inception is that the idea that is implanted into the subject’s subconscious cannot appear to have been forced. The subject must believe that changing their mind is 100% their own idea, free from outside influences or coercion. This resonates strongly with what we understand about recovery in real life. The chances of success are significantly higher when the idea of recovery itself—the decision to change—is not forced upon them through threats of legal consequences, family ultimatums, or financial pressures. The AHA MOMENT must arise organically. 

If inception were possible in real life, would we employ it as a legitimate therapeutic intervention? Would it be considered ethical? Would the AHA MOMENT implanted via inception lack the power or legitimacy of moments arrived at by "conventional" means? Would it enjoy higher rates of long-term success? More importantly, would inception be billable to insurance?

Rehab jokes aside, I propose that there is another way to crack the addiction safe in real life instead of the movies—and that’s by using movies themselves to help people recover. The Recovery Movie Meetups Program that I developed asserts that visual representations—stories—of characters struggling through addiction and long term recovery can be highly therapeutic and lead to powerful AHA MOMENTS, especially when viewed with others in a supportive group context. 

“Seeing is believing” is not just an overused cliché. What people see greatly influences what they believe.  And seeing someone else in pain in a film leads to strong emotional connection, empathy, and fosters deep self-reevaluation. This point cannot be overstated. The image of a naked nine-year old girl fleeing in terror from her recently-incinerated village (aka “Napalm Girl” - real name Kim Phuc Phan Thi) changed several million American minds about the Vietnam War. Images of fire hoses and police dogs completely upended the narrative about desegregation. Reams of scientific data didn’t move the needle on global warming awareness nearly as effectively as that picture of a sad polar bear stranded on a little sliver of ice in the hot sun.

Leveraging visual cues and fostering connections with the characters, plots, and themes of the films used in the Recovery Meetups Program can be a powerful way to guide individuals towards their AHA MOMENT(s). Films enable a level of emotional immersion that traditional interventions currently lack. We have seen this phenomenon in action in meetings across the country:

  • As they watch the films, participants can experience negative motivations—FEAR, SHAME, PAIN—vicariously, without the discomfort or risk of having to feel or experience those motivators themselves in real life.

  • Films with happy endings allow participants to celebrate positive motivations—INSPIRATION and IMITATION. Sad ending remind participants that recovery success isn't guaranteed unless they really want it and work for it. 

  • To help in optimal integration, the Recovery Movie Meetups Workbook questionnaires provide a framework to guide RATIONAL group discourse and personal introspection after the movies end. 

Most importantly, Recovery Movie Meetups' carefully curated film selection empowers participants to extract whatever valuable lessons and inspiration they need from each film with barely any prompting from the meeting facilitator.

 

As a result, the AHA MOMENTS that arise for participants during these group sessions feel organic, profoundly personal, and have greater impact. And similar to the concept of inception, the profound transformation of their perspective—the act of changing their minds—becomes a self-driven process, unforced, as if Recovery had been their idea all along. 


 

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