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Dewey seems to have been the first to call attention to the great value of fasting in alcoholism. His book, Chronic Alcoholism, first published in 1899 is devoted to this subject, although he emphasized the value of fasting in this abnormality in his other and earlier works.
Subsequent writers have also stressed the value of fasting in alcoholism. In his Vitality, Fasting and Nutrition Carrington says: "a fast is one of the easiest methods for the cure of alcoholism." I do not subscribe to the explanation he gives of how and why fasting puts an end to alcoholism, but I am satisfied with the foregoing statement as it stands. In his Encyclopedia of Physical Culture, Macfadden says: "There is no better method of giving a victim of this disease (alcoholism) an opportunity to again secure control of himself, at least in the beginning of the treatment, than can be suggested by a complete fast."
Since, apparently, fasting was first used in alcoholism and later employed in other drug addictions, it may be well to begin with a brief study of this addiction. It is now everywhere recognized that the alcoholic is a sick man (or woman), but nowhere, it would seem, is the true nature of the illness recognized. Any form of drug addiction is an unintelligent seeking after "relief." Those who are comfortable seek no soothing poisons. Restless bodies and irritable nerves are soothed, often with the very occasion for the restlessness and irritability. The coffee user "relieves" her headache with more of the coffee that induced her headache in the first place. The morphine addict soothes his damaged nerves with more of the morphine that is responsible for their damage.
There is no drug-hunger, no craving for a poison of any kind, as is popularly supposed to exist in the victims of drug habits. The supposed craving for poison of any kind is a peculiar and unbearable nervousness arising out of exhaustion and injury. It is not a loud call for more stimulation (irritation) or more narcotization (depression)--nor yet a call for more poisoning, more injury, greater exhaustion--but a cry of distress. The real need is rest and a cessation of abuse. The "relief" that follows the repetition of the poison-dose is fictional and unreal.
Addicts take their beer and tobacco to soothe their distressed nerves. They feel weak and faint without them. They are just as weak and faint with them, but they are unconscious of the fact. The drug merely temporarily wipes out their awareness of their true condition. A man becomes irritable and cranky when denied his tobacco. The irritableness and crankiness are merely part of his general uneasiness--an uneasiness that has grown out of and is perpetuated by his habitual poisoning of himself.
That temporary respite from a sense of weakness and uneasiness, that temporary "relief" from misery and pain may be had from a re-narcotization of the nerves that are suffering from prior narcotization, leads the poor victim of the poison-vice to believe that his misery is a craving for his accustomed poison. This all adds up to the fact that the drug habit is the "relief" habit. Many drugs are said to be habit-forming. It is not the drug, but man that forms the habit. Man is, indeed, a habit-forming animal. For whatever reason he first takes the poison, he later takes it habitually as a means of escape from his intolerable suffering.
The development of the illness called alcoholism is so insidious that even the most thoughtful become enslaved to a remorseless habit, almost before they are aware of it. Starting the use of alcohol, usually in youth, when the energy reserves of the body are so great that almost any amount of indulgence seems perfectly safe, the habit progresses to a chronic illness that seems hopeless to the helpless inebriate. Fettered by chains of his own forging, weakened in body, mind and will by the very indulgence that he would discontinue, suffering unutterably when he does not take his alcohol, he will often commit crime to get the "relief" he seeks.
The suffering of the alcoholic is so much greater than that which his drinking causes the members of his family that he does not hesitate to spend all his money for more alcohol and let the family suffer for want of food or other necessities. He finds temporary "relief" from his suffering by re-narcotizing himself with alcohol. He may have started drinking to drown sorrows that refused to stay drowned; he now drinks because he is miserable--a misery induced by his prior drinking--and he finds a fictional surcease from his unutterable misery in more of the narcotic that induced his misery. He is a sick man. He is profoundly enervated. His injured nerves will give him no peace.
When it is recognized that alcoholism is a chronic illness, it will be easy to understand how and why fasting may be of service in the condition. It is a period of rest during which the much abused organism undergoes much-needed adjustments and repairs and recuperates its wasted energies. When the fast is ended and the system has been freed of its accumulated toxins, and what is even more important, the nervous system has been restored to health, the supposed craving for alcohol is no more.
Alcoholism is an illness involving structural abnormalities. The thickening and toughening of the membranes of the mouth, throat and stomach are necessary defensive expediencies. Fatty degeneration of the liver or sclerosis of the liver are, of course, late developments. When the alcoholic fasts the thickened membranes are removed and new membranes are formed. The new membrane of the mouth, tongue, throat and stomach will not be a thickened, seared one, impervious alike to foods and poisons, but a thin, delicate and sensitive one that permits full appreciation of the fine delicate flavors of foods.
Glands and nerves that have been lashed into impotency by overstimulation, rest into full functional power when given an opportunity. Renewal of their power can come in no other way. Will nerve energy be restored through rest? Just as certainly as a night of sleep will permit recuperation from the expenditures of the day. The abused organism will heal itself through rest as the broken bone will knit through rest. Do we deny rest to a broken bone, a wound, an ulcer? Do these need other means of healing? Can we deny that restorative cell-action resides within and that it operates best while the body is at rest?
Dewey said that the only remedy for alcoholism is "through a rest from all irritation from either alcoholics or food." He says of fasting in alcoholism: "the fast cure is one of the very easiest after the first three or four days, and even the most desperate old chronics can fast on for two, three, or even more weeks with only an increasing sense of comfort, and with no loss except disease and pounds. Was ever a cure for the alcoholic disease more rational, more in line with the very laws of nature?" He declared that there are only the fewest cases of chronic alcoholism so desperate, so long continued that a fast will not result in a new stomach, a repaired and renewed nervous system and a new outlook upon life.
Of this new outlook upon life, resulting from the emancipation of the man from his slavery to alcohol and of his renewed health, it may be well to take a brief glance. Dewey said to the alcoholic: "let me presume that for a whole month you have been absent from your homes undergoing the rest (fasting) cure, aided by my encouragement, your homes the while having the 'peace be still' comfort you have not permitted for years. You will return to those homes saner men, and because of your clearer vision and soul power in reserve you will see far more in the countenance of that long suffering wife to love, honor and respect than you really were able to see in your days of food gluttony even before the alcoholic disease.
"And those children, as soon as they find that it is safe to be in the same house with you, will respond to your soul, born again, as the rose unfolds under the favoring conditions of June. It will take them a little time to overcome fear of your attacks of emotional insanity, but in time they will get accustomed to the dazzling light where they have only found darkness and violence. As certainly will this be the result as you comply with the conditions."
Secret "cures" for alcoholism involve the expenditure of hundreds of dollars, weeks of absence from home and work, the introduction into the body of poisons (dangerous drugs) which are often worse than alcohol, and, usually, if not always, failure. The folly of trying to "cure" one poison addiction by resort to another poison should be apparent to all who read these lines. Occasionally the medical profession announces the discovery of a drug that will cure alcoholism or other drug addiction. As often as these poison-cures for poison-addiction are announced, they fail. Still the merry search for such a magic drug continues.
To the question: How long must I fast for alcoholism, Dewey replies: "Until you get into such comfort of body and mind that fasting will be a luxury. You will fast until there is a perfectly clean tongue and you feel capable of fasting unlimited. You will fast until there is a slight hint that some food of the nourishing kind is craved. Some of you will not get this felicity in less than a month, others sooner, and others will require even more time. The time is of no special account when cure is so certain and for such diseases as yours."
When the alcoholic has fully recovered from his illness and hunger has returned, no form of alcoholic drink will tempt him and should he attempt to drink some form, he will discover that he no longer "likes" it. It will bite and sting as it did when he first took it as a youth. He will be a free man again--no longer a slave to King Alcohol.
Let us look at tobacco next. Nicotinism, like alcoholism, is a chronic illness that is more or less willfully, although largely ignorantly cultivated. Young people usually begin the use of tobacco because it is "being done." It is the "proper thing." They must be in style, they must conform to the approved usages of the society in which they live and of which they are a part. Being in Rome, they must "do as the Romans do." Poor purblind fools! They know not what chains they are forging for themselves.
All that has been previously said about the use of alcohol, opium, etc., as a means of securing "relief" from uneasiness and distress, applies with full force to the use of tobacco. To chew or snuff, to smoke a pipe, cigar or cigarette, is to "relieve" distress--the distress of profound enervation. It is to re-narcotize the outraged nerves of the user of tobacco, to again cover up or hide from consciousness the true condition of the slave of Lady Nicotine.
Many tobacco-slaves try repeatedly to discontinue the use of the poison, but fail to succeed. They return to the poison-vice rather than endure the irritableness, grouchiness, "nervousness," and uneasiness that the prior use of tobacco has induced. They lack the determination to "tough it out," until the nerves have repaired themselves; they lack the will power to carry through; they are unwilling to bear the suffering, but return again and again to the fictional "relief" offered by another dose of their accustomed poison.
To such as these fasting is a God-send. It makes discontinuing the tobacco-vice easy, almost pleasant. Indeed, in but a few days the very taste of the weed becomes obnoxious. It is no uncommon complaint of the old smoker, after a thorough overhauling, that he cannot get a cigar of the right brand, or that he cannot find a cigarette that he likes. The difficulty is not, however, as he thinks, in the tobacco, but in his improved nervous system, and in the regenerated membranes of his mouth and nose. I have seen heavy smokers, who smoked half a life-time, after a fast, become so "sensitive" to the obnoxious fumes of tobacco that the odor of a cigar wafted to their nostrils from a block away was objectionable to them.
It should not be necessary to devote space to coffee, tea, chocolate and cocoa addiction. These poisonous substances (caffeine-containing drugs) are used by many millions of people for the same reasons that tobacco and alcohol are employed--to "relieve" distress. Caffeine is classed as a stimulant and is commonly employed by the enervated and weak to "sustain" them in their work or to keep them awake at night. Stimulation is wasteful of the energy of life, producing enervation. The headache, nervousness, unease, and suffering of the caffeine addict drives him, or her, to more of the same poison that produced his, or her enervation in the first place.
Other drug habits, such as the opium and morphine habit, the cocaine habit, the chloral habit, etc., are developed in much the same manner and follow much the same course in their development as the tobacco and alcohol habits. First resorted to in our search for "relief" from strain and tension, or from pain, or sleeplessness, or because of our mad search for thrills, the use of these drugs becomes a habit. This damages and enervates the nervous system to such an extent that the user is uneasy, uncomfortable, in pain and distress. He returns to his narcotic as a means of escaping from his intolerable suffering. Drug addiction is a phase of man's incurable escapism.
The drug addict uses no more intelligence in his search for "relief" from his exhaustion, unease and actual pain than does the sufferer with the jumping ache of a diseased tooth. His groaning nerves will not permit him to sleep and his distress cries out for "relief." "Relief" he will have if he has to die to get it. His resort to alcohol, or morphine, or cocaine, or other "relieving" poison is no more a matter of morals than the forceps of the dentist.
The opium and morphine habits are often the result of the use of these drugs by the physician in the treatment of some disease that can be more readily, and certainly more rationally cared for by Hygienic measures. The medical profession stands convicted of the crime of producing thousands of drug-addicts. As it pleads guilty to the charge, there seems to be no reason to labor the point. Cocaine using often becomes habitual as a result of using proprietary catarrh "remedies." Chloral and barbiturate addiction is a common result of the use of these drugs for purposes of inducing "sleep" in insomnia. Had the medical profession not taught mankind for ages that poisons are beneficent, these forms of poison addiction would be unknown.
Macfadden's Encyclopedia of Physical Culture says: "Fasting is the most valuable of all forms of treatment for overcoming the pathologic condition of the body brought about by the habitual use of poison. Fasting gives the body an opportunity to readjust itself in a normal way and also hastens the elimination of any poison remaining in the system. The drug-fiend has lost his appetite anyway, and by means of a fast will regain a normal condition of the alimentary canal in a fraction of the time that would otherwise be consumed in the process. Especially the mind will clear and gain strength, and he will much sooner find himself in possession of the moral impulse and the will to fight his habit."
The digestive system and the nervous system of the dope addict are somewhat the same as those of the alcohol addict and from the same causehabitual lashing with poisons. Rest--physical, mental and physiological--are the great needs. In a remarkably short time, the fasting patient finds his supposed "craving" for morphine or other poisons, has disappeared.
It is, of course, necessary to discontinue the use of the drug. Experience has shown just what we should expect on a priori grounds to be true, namely, that the abrupt withdrawal of all drugs at the very outset is far more satisfactory in the long run than any effort to gradually withdraw it. The "tapering off" process continues the injury and keeps alive the suffering that causes resort to the drug.
Violent reactions often follow the withdrawal of the drug. For this reason, it is essential to take great care of the patient. Mania following the withdrawal of morphine or opium, or delirium tremens following the withdrawal of alcohol are similar developments. They indicate the gravity of the injury to the nervous system and reveal how important and urgent is the need to get away from the use of the poison. It is much better, in cases of mania, to completely immerse the body of the patient in warm water for two to three hours, even if he has to be strapped in the tub, until his nerves become quiet, than to resort to even a small dose of the drug. A cold cloth or a cold pack should be placed on the head while the patient is thus immersed in the hot bath.
Bear in mind that these violent reactions soon cease as the patient fasts. With the gradual recovery of energy, repair of his damaged nervous system and regeneration of his membranes, the "call" for the "soothing" morphine, chlorate, cocaine, etc., grows so faint that it is easy to discontinue its use. Of the cases of morphinism I have assisted in caring for in this manner, not one, so far as I have learned, has ever returned to its use.
It seems necessary to point out that any return to the prior mode of living, after the fast, will reproduce a state of enervation and toxemia, thus giving rise to more suffering, which may tempt the "relief" seeker to again resort to the old "relief" measure. If he does this, he may again find himself in the grip of addiction. Only by first-class habits of living can any man guarantee himself against evils of all kinds. The eating habits of the former addict are of special importance.
The medical profession now says that drunkenness is a disease. They have not considered it so for any great length of time. On the other hand, the fact that it is a disease has long been recognized in Hygienic circles. I take the following statement from A History of the Vegetarian Movement by Charles W. Forward, published in London in 1878: "A remarkable instance of success in the treatment of intemperance by means of a vegetarian diet was that of Dr. James C. Jackson, of Dansville, N. Y. Writing in "The Laws of Life," Dr. Jackson stated that "it is now twenty-five years since I took the position that drunkenness is a disease arising out of waste of the nerve tissue, oftentimes finding the center of its expression in the solar plexus or network of nerves that lies behind the stomach, and reflecting itself to the brain and spinal column by means of the great sympathetic. Since that time there have been under my care not less than a hundred habitual drunkards, some of them with such a desire for liquor that if they could get it they would keep drunk all the time; others having periodic turns of drunkenness, during the paroxysms of which they would remain drunk for a week or a fortnight at a time. Everyone of these persons was so far gone as to have lost all self-respect, character, and position, and many of them fine estates. In only two instances have I failed to give back good health and sobriety where these individuals have been under my personal management and direction; and of all the agencies that have been brought to bear upon them, save the psychological, none have proved themselves so effective as those of diet and bathing. It is morally and physically impossible for any man to remain a drunkard who can be induced to forego the use of tobacco, tea, coffee, spicy condiments, common salt, flesh meats, and medicinal drugs. If his diet consists of grains, fruits and vegetables, simply cooked, and he keeps his skin clean, he cannot, for any length of time, retain an appetite for strong drink. The desire dies out of him, and in its stead cooks up a disgust. This disgust is as decidedly moral as it is physical. His better nature revolts at the thought of drinking, and the power in him to resist is strengthened thereby. The proof of this can be seen at any time in our institution, where we have always persons under treatment for inebriety. The testimony is ample, is uniform, is incontrovertible." And further on, Dr. Jackson declared, 'I have found it impossible to cure drunkards while I allowed them the use of flesh-meats. I regard animal flesh as lying right across the way of restoration. Aside from its nutrition, it contains some element or substance which so excites the nervous system as in the long run to exhaust it, to wear out its tissues, and to render it incapable of normal action'."
Note that he taught that both flesh and alcohol and other "stimulants" produce enervation--"waste of nervous tissue". Enervation is the basic fact in all addiction and to avoid re-cultivation of a drug addiction, it is essential that the individual so live that he does not enervate himself. While Dr. Jackson, in the foregoing, emphasizes addiction to alcohol, what he says is applicable to any drug addiction. It should also be stated that flesh eating is far from being the only, or the greatest enervating factor in the lives of our people. All sources of enervation should be studiously avoided. A well-nourished body, the energies of which are conserved by first-class habits, will not feel the "need" for stimulants and will not "need" to be "relieved" of discomforts and pains.
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