Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey

Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey

Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey

Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey

Synopsis

In The Language of the Heart, Trysh Travis explores the rich cultural history of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its offshoots and the larger "recovery movement" that has grown out of them. Moving from AA's beginnings in the mid-1930s as a men's fellowship that met in church basements to the thoroughly commercialized addiction treatment centers of today, Travis chronicles the development of recovery and examines its relationship to the broad American tradition of self-help, highlighting the roles that gender, mysticism, and bibliotherapy have played in that development.

Excerpt

Though he may be remembered more vividly for some of his other accomplishments, Bill Clinton will also go down in history as America’s first recovery president. During his 1992 presidential bid, Clinton spoke candidly about his step-father’s alcoholism and his step-brother’s cocaine problems, and the media was quick to pick up on the role addiction had played in the life of the candidate whose campaign biography called him “the Man from Hope.” “There are many possible ways to respond to an alcoholic parent,” opined New York Magazine. “Bill Clinton’s was to become the perfect child.” The would-be president’s childhood exposure to alcoholism became the preferred explanation for what could only be described as a lifetime of manic overachievement. “I understand addictive behavior,” Clinton said the week of his inauguration. “You know, a compulsive politician is probably not far from that.”

Clinton’s intimate understanding of addiction took on new significance in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Former president Gerald Ford was only the most prominent of the commentators who argued that “Clinton has a sexual addiction,” and suggested that he seek professional treatment for his apparently uncontrollable womanizing. “A lot of men have gone through the treatment with a lot of success,” explained Ford’s wife Betty (herself a recovering alcoholic), “but he won’t do it, because he’s in denial.” The self-awareness about the dynamics of addiction that had seemed so refreshing during Clinton’s campaign now became a bitter irony: clearly, knowing how addiction worked had done nothing to elevate him above its insidious grasp. Ultimately, the Fords and many other observers concluded that the sexual addiction of the man from Hope “damaged his presidency beyond repair.”

Americans weary of what critics had taken to calling “the recovery presidency” breathed easier once George W. Bush took over the White House in 2001. Bush admitted to having been a heavy drinker for much of his youth, but quit cold turkey the year he turned forty, the beneficiary, allegedly, of an old-fashioned gospel temperance appeal delivered to him by family friend Billy Graham. His ability to stop drinking with-

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