The popular, and recovering, chef and author dishes about social graces
By Liz Scott
When I was deciding on a title for my book on alcohol-free holiday and special occasion entertaining, my editor and I felt a play on the word spirits would be a good way to go. We settled on Sober Celebrations: Lively Entertaining Without the Spirits to communicate to the reader that—contrary to popular thought—it is indeed possible to throw a fun party without adding alcohol to the mix. That instead of proving a dull and boring affair, with a little creativity, good food and great company, you could have a wildly successful party despite the absence of beer, wine or other intoxicating substances. After all, we may be clean and sober, but we definitely haven’t lost our party spirit and the ability to enjoy a good time.
Interestingly, the origin of the word spirit, which is often used to refer to distilled liquors, actually lies in the Latin word spiritus, which means life breath or what we might today refer to as the soul, our higher self or even a higher power. This unmistakable irony wasn’t lost on the well-known psychiatrist Carl Jung in a letter dated Jan. 30, 1961, to Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in which he pointed out that we use the same word for the “highest religious experience” as we do for the “most depraving poison.” Jung concluded that inevitably the solution must lie in “spiritus contra spiritum” or when “spirit conquers spirit,” which has since been reworded and accepted as meaning “higher power opposes alcohol” by most AA proponents.
Although by 1961 Wilson was already clearly aware of this spiritual phenomenon having witnessed it countless times during the early decades of AA, Jung’s words must have still wielded enormous validation.
What has also clearly wielded enormous impact in the continued success of AA attendees (and very recently been validated by research) is the effectiveness of alcoholics getting together in a spirit of sharing and support. Since this concept took hold, many a sufferer has been able to find his or her spirit once again and face the challenges of addiction. Although Wilson instinctively knew this would prove helpful, only last year—about 75 years later—has science been able to suggest why and provide its own form of validation.
Apparently as we become more dependent on what Jung demonized as the “depraving poison,” our brains—specifically the prefrontal cortex area of our brains—are less able to regulate behavior and resist triggers such as people, places and things that remind us of the pleasurable effects of our addiction (and not the devastating results it precipitates). However, scientists have now concluded that attendance at AA meetings somehow manages to whip the prefrontal cortex back into shape and enables it to once again make reasonable and healthy behavioral decisions and perhaps even in some way begin to repair itself. Indeed, spiritus contra spiritum.
There’s no denying that spirituality and recovery go hand in hand for many former addicts. Clearly the spiritual—or spiritus—has become an integral part of many people’s recovery experience and is often the foundation of their continued sobriety. In an odd twist of fate, by giving up the so-called depraved spirits, we have made way for a far better connection based on true spirit. The spirit of camaraderie. The spirit of good health. And the spirit of authentic, unabashed and sober enjoyment of life and our relationships with others through gatherings and get-togethers, whether they be in a church basement with five strangers or at a five-star wedding reception surrounded by family and friends.
Looking back, perhaps I should have titled my book Sober Celebrations: Lively Entertaining With Spirit! After all, if it’s true what the research scientists have suggested, my prefrontal cortex must be operating pretty well these days, so I needn’t worry about the unwanted triggers that the word spirit might provoke. Instead, I can see it as a word related to spirituality with all the positive and rewarding connotations it might happily bring.
The next time you are asked where you’ve been as you return from you home meeting, you could reply that you’ve just been part of a spirited get-together. “A seance?” the curious might respond. “Well, in a way I suppose,” might be your response. You see, if we carry our word derivation discussion a step further, the word seance comes from the French word seoir, which means to sit, while the dictionary definition of seance is simply a meeting of people to receive spiritualistic messages. I wonder what interesting irony Jung might have found in that.
Celebrated chef Liz Scott draws from her own experience in recovery from alcohol dependence to share her ruminations on life’s finer matters. Her most recent book is Zero Proof Cocktails: Alcohol Free Beverages for Every Occasion.
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