After 50 years, Asylum is back in print.
So what, exactly, is Asylum and why are we talking about it?
Asylum is a book, a true story by author William Seabrook, that tells his dark and winding path into addiction and his desperate attempt to find a cure.
Seabrook, a journalist in the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald, battled his own demons against alcoholism. And when he could not do it alone, after failing time and time again, he resorted to checking himself into an insane asylum. Extreme? Perhaps, but this was in an age before 12 step programs, support groups and rehab. The result is his tome, or, as writer Ryan Holiday says on the Observer, " not just quite possibly one of the first modern addiction/recovery memoirs, but perhaps the most honest and haunting accounts of the struggle for mental health in literature."
Why after 50 years is this book back in print? Maybe it's because of a few readers recommending it via social media, causing avid readers to look it up and reach out to the publishing company.
Or, maybe it's because in 2015, we're living in a world where more than 23.5 million Americans are struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Maybe it's because we are living in an age where so many are addicted to heroin and painkillers that it's become an epidemic. Maybe it's because addiction and the illness behind it are at an all-time high. And maybe we need to find a way to relate to those who are suffering.
Seabrook gives those something to relate to. In his own words he says, "I was forced to see sober a panorama that had been nothing but a miserable series of 'runnings away from myself' since earliest childhood, and in which I now fully realized for the first time, neither whiskey nor the particular trade I had adopted were anything more than incidental. I took sober stock and saw that dissatisfaction, a sense of my own inability to arrive at a harmonious adjustment in any environment - sporadically dotted with flights and attempted escapes - had been the whole pattern of my life. I had run away ineffectually at 6, to be a pirate as all children do, and instead of getting maturer powers of adjustment as I grew older, I had been running away ever since. Now I knew that all the time I had been running away from something, and that the thing had always been myself."
If it sounds familiar, it's because that need to escape is far too common for those who use. But unlike in Seabrook's day, our modern society now offers therapy, rehab, counseling and other alternative programs to help see addicts through to the other side. The need to resort to committing yourself to an asylum, thankfully, no longer exists. But when you reach rock bottom and you're searching for help, sometimes, there isn't anything you won't do. Even if it means locking yourself away from the functioning world in order to finally get help.
"Sadly, it was a solution that didn't work for Seabrook." As Holiday points out, "Eventually, with the approval of the naive medical opinion at the time, [Seabrook] began to drink again. And then moved on to drugs and increasingly dark sexual behavior. He died in 1945 of an overdose in Rhinebeck, N.Y."
If he had today's modern drug and alcohol rehabilitation options, perhaps his great talent would have been around to pen as poignant a piece about recovery.
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