It is amazing to see how society is changing and how the battles are being fought in three different areas: drinking, smoking and eating.
Smoking, for instance. Have you noticed the high number of people who smoke in their cars? The car is the last hassle-free place to light up.
Youths still manage to look defiant when they smoke, but middle-age people look guilty. They correctly interpret the frowns of strangers as the result of the effort it takes of adding their share of future hospital bills for emphysema. Strangers glare at the smoker as they figure out what it will cost to make up for your inadequate health coverage.
Still, more and more people quit all the time, bombarded by negative articles in newspapers and scary messages on TV. This is a good thing.
Another success has been society's changing attitude toward drinking, a change that has been nothing less than revolutionary. This change has been fueled by the publication of a book, "Alcoholics Anonymous," in 1939. You don't have to be an alcoholic to read this book. Copies are widely available at libraries, used book stores and book sections of thrift shops (you just hope the original owners of these books died sober).
It used to be that you couldn't go to a party, take a flight on a plane, or go out to lunch without being offered a drink. Now no one seems to care if you drink or don't drink.
I know a woman who is not an alcoholic and has never attended an AA meeting and yet has very strong negative opinions about this worthy organization.
"Don't tell me it's not Christian," she sniffed. "They say the Lord's Prayer."
I couldn't argue with her, so I got in touch with a Catholic priest who specializes in a substance abuse ministry and asked him about the many members of the CIA (Catholic, Irish, Alcoholic) found in AA.
I asked him, "Is AA a Christian organization?"
"No," he said. "Its historical roots were found in a Christian organization called the Oxford Movement and two cofounders of AA were members of that early group. And AA has common elements found in all religions in that AA emphasizes a fundamental spiritual awakening and the move from fear to love, away from shame. But the founders subtracted specifically Christian words and references to Jesus."
"But what about the Lord's Prayer?"
"I'm surprised the Lord's Prayer is as accepted as it is (at AA) because it is part of Christian scripture, but analysis shows that it is easy to interpret in a universalist fashion and is in harmony with the spiritual awakening that people in an AA group are seeking."
A Jesuit priest, Father Dowling, met AA founder Bill Wilson and was his spiritual adviser, but Dowling did not establish AA doctrine.
The book "Alcoholics Anonymous" easily earns a place on any list of the most influential books of the 20th century. Just think of all the financial, mental, emotional and physical destruction that comes to an end when an alcoholic stops drinking.
That leaves the sin of over-eating: 59 percent of American men and 49 percent of American women are overweight. Obesity has increased 50 percent in the last 30 years.
Obesity is so commonplace here that you may not even notice it unless you happen, for instance, to go to the mall with a visitor from another country. Foreign visitors are amazed at the high percentage of fat people in the United States. It's an eye-opener and makes you think: Is there a food addiction going on here?
The authors of "Why Can't I Stop Eating? Recognizing, Understanding and Overcoming Food Addiction" (Hazelden, $15, 2000) think so. Authors Debbie Danowski and Dr. Pedro Lazaro say that certain foods (sugar, flour, caffeine, alcohol, fats) we eat may make us crave more.
Like any other addiction, food addiction has its roots in biochemistry. The answer, they say, is abstinence from addictive food substances. The food addict has to take responsibility for his or her life and health in developing eating techniques that support lifelong recovery.
Thankfully, Monday is an addiction-free day. On Valentine's Day, chocolate is the mandatory food of the day.
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