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CASE HISTORY: ALCOHOLISM, ANXIETY, AND MENTAL DISORIENTATION

Diane Witherspoon was in her early forties and had started having a problem with alcohol when she worked as a stewardess, more than a decade before. Her excessive drinking continued when she got an influential job in politics and became exacerbated when she got married and had a child. Within three days of giving birth, in fact, she got drunk, and, she says, remained intoxicated for most of the next three years.

This period of alcoholism was preceded, during her pregnancy, by a craving for sweets and a weight gain of sixty pounds.

During her three-year period of alcoholism, she drank a fifth of vodka a day. At times she became so nervous that she shook violently. The only way that she could relieve this shaking was to drink more vodka. She could no longer read, since she had “floaters” in the form of dots, threads, beads, and circles drifting across her field of vision. On one occasion, while bathing her child, she was overcome with uncontrollable rage at some meaningless remark and violently beat the youngster.

After living as a virtual recluse, she managed to drag herself to a local church and appeal to the minister for help. He referred her to Alcoholics Anonymous. AA exhorted her to abandon drink.

None of this seemed to help. She still had “cobwebs” in her head, nervousness, fits of anxiety, visual distortions, and “floaters.” And she still had a craving for alcoholic beverages.

Mrs. Witherspoon drank tea compulsively and began to suspect that it was not agreeing with her. She suspected the sugar she added to the tea, and so she eliminated it, with no beneficial effect. She then tried other beverages, such as herb tea and even plain hot water. Everything seemed to make her feel worse. Her psychiatrist predictably accused her of being “neurotic” about food. (It was not until she came to the Ecology Unit that she discovered that she was sensitive to all chlorinated water.)

A perceptive woman, she began to find clues of her food susceptibilities, although she had never heard of clinical ecology. After eating a salami sandwich once, she felt as if she were about to explode from nervousness. She waited a few days and then experimented by trying salami again. Again she experienced a nervous attack. She did this four times.

Having learned about clinical ecology through a lecture, she was admitted to the Ecology Unit. In her initial interview, she cried constantly and was in a state of nervous exhaustion. After a few days of fasting on pure water, however, she was symptom-free and almost euphoric. When she began to test various waters, in sequence, she had a serious reaction to one particular water. It turned out to be from Lake Michigan sources, the same kind she drank at home and out of which she had made her tea.

Upon testing she was found to have some degree of susceptibility to almost every food tested. We call such persons “universal reactors,” and they have a serious problem indeed. On her second morning, she was given pears for breakfast. “My mind closed down,” she later recalled, “and my brain was floating around as if on water. There was no way to lock it into place. I could not talk or converse. I could hear words coming out of peoples’ mouths, but I could not respond.”

Usually, but not always, one reacts most strongly to those foods which one eats regularly, more than once every three days. Pears were not listed among such foods in her history. Upon further inquiry, it turned out that she had had a pear tree in her backyard as a child and had eaten them compulsively and to excess at that time. It is entirely possible that this early, excessive exposure had left her with a fixed allergy to the fruit.

Her most dramatic reaction was to potato. She had finished her first boiled potato and was eating her second when, five minutes or so into the test, she crumpled over in agony. She later said that the pain was the worst she had ever experienced in her life, worse than her difficult childbirth.

When she left the hospital, Mrs. Witherspoon’s prescription was to avoid those foods to which she had the strongest reactions, try to find new, compatible foods, and eventually try to reintroduce some of her “failed” foods back into her diet. In her case, however, all alcoholic beverages were taboo, because she was susceptible to various components of all of them.

To summarize, the treatment of alcoholism by the methods of clinical ecology has been successful in many cases. It even has been possible to permit some alcoholic beverages, in limited amounts, to former alcoholics, provided they only take compatible beverages, in a rotated schedule. Whether this can be done depends on the individual nature of the case.

Alcoholics, like schizophrenics, need a supportive atmosphere in which to recover. If the family unit is still intact, the patient frequently does very well. But an alcoholic who has no family, and who eats in restaurants frequently, has a much smaller chance of making a full recovery through the methods of clinical ecology. The reason is that most American alcoholics are highly corn-sensitive, and there is some form of corn in almost every commercially prepared meal.

In order to go on this program, then, the reformed alcoholic must either make his own meals, according to his individual needs (as determined by food tests), or have someone with the necessary knowledge to prepare them for him. In practice, these needs could best be met inside a functioning family unit. The homeless alcoholic is likely to leave the Ecology Unit in decent shape, go out to eat, and immediately resume his addiction to com, wheat, or whatever was making him sick in the first place. This “up” phase may last an hour or two, as in the case of Mr. Parsons, before he starts to come down and experience a kind of “hangover.” The experienced alcoholic, however, knows very well how to ward off a hangover—and before long he is in a bar, drinking down his dose of corn or wheat in convenient liquid form.

Similarly, an alcoholic who has not worked out his food allergies along the lines indicated in this book has little chance of breaking the addiction for good, since he is constantly being restimulated by contact with the very foods which lie at the basis of his problem. It is as if a heroin addict were given a small amount of his craved substance just as he was trying to get over his addiction. Yet the alcoholic is unaware of the real nature of his craving and takes the wrong substance unintentionally. He is left with a constant craving for alcoholic beverages and must exercise extraordinary willpower to fight off his physiological need.

The safest course for anyone who fears alcoholism is not to drink more often than once every four days and only to drink those beverages (or eat those foods) to which he knows that he is not allergic.

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