From AA to AD, A Wistful Travelogue
by Mike Donohue
(CreateSpace / 1-449-58367-9 / 978-1-449-58367-5 / December 2009 / 142 pages / $9.00 / Kindle $6.00)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM
Books by alcoholics who beat the odds and save themselves from that deadly disease are not rare. Often, Alcoholics Anonymous plays a central role. However, I would think that books by someone with Alzheimer's Disease who similarly rises above his affliction (also with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous) must be almost non-existent. But in fact, From AA to AD, A Wistful Travelogue, by Mike Donohue, is such a book, and I found it fascinating and inspiring.
The young Mr. Donohue was expected by his lawyer father to follow in his footsteps, and he did, for ten unsatisfying years. He entered an unhappy marriage that ultimately fell apart. Those situations and others, including a bad chain-smoking habit, left him with a terrible drinking problem that nearly destroyed his life. He bottomed out, as so many alcoholics do, and turned to AA out of desperation. Their twelve-step program finally enabled him to stop drinking and turn his life around. One can only imagine his exhilaration at being able to begin a glorious new life, a second, happy marriage, and to set new goals and repair his shattered relations with friends and family.
That all crashed in an instant when several odd symptoms sent him to a doctor and he was found to have Alzheimer's Disease, an implacably debilitating and ultimately terminal condition. It is impossible to imagine the shock of going from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. The questions one would have are easier to predict: why me? After such a great personal triumph, why this horrible fate?
Mr. Donohue did ask himself those questions. Incredibly, perhaps conditioned by his habits of introspection and personal analysis learned from Alcoholics Anonymous, he set himself to come to grips with his new reality. This book was partly the result. In clear, straightforward style, he relates his personal search for meaning in his life in a systematic, even lawyerly, manner.
The Catholic faith of his upbringing, with its rigid rules, offered neither answers nor comfort. He studied Judaism and Jewish historians, and made a trip to Israel. He moved on to the Jewish existential philosophers, Herschel and Buber, and found their ideas fit nicely with the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. Both stressed the transcendence of the mundane: turning oneself over to the Thou, or higher power. From those he extracted three helpful tenets: do good for others, pray, and study.
Feeling at that point that he understood his own history, he went on to try to identify the spiritual significance of his life. He turned to Buddhism. Its meditations taught him ultimately to turn his disease over to his higher power as he had done with his alcoholism, to accept his suffering, and understand that having compassion and doing good for others was his final purpose in life. Thus he achieved serenity.
This review, condensed as it must be, cannot do justice to Mr. Donohue's description of the process of his journey, which, as I said at the outset, I found fascinating and inspiring. Each person's journey is his or hers to cope with, of course, and Mr. Donohue does not intend his book to be in any way a how-to volume. It is an account of his own personal journey only. For my part, I took it as a startling example of the power of the human mind to heal itself and to arrive at its place in the greater scheme of things. Surely, whatever our own individual situations might be, we can all take comfort in that possibility.
Note: I discovered Mr. Donohue's book by virtue of the fact that he mentioned one of my own books on his blog, specifically here (near the bottom, just above the red graphic). He wrote this in an email: "I am aged 73, on the down hill slide. Do not be sorry about my affliction. Even though it has me sliding it has forced such opportunity on me to get everything in my wavering brain expressed in writing or in digital art. 43 years I was a successful trial lawyer traveling throughout the country handling cases. That is small potatoes to where AD has now placed me. Now I am totally involved with who I am, have always been but could not see it until all the glitter was removed. This parting segment of life is just not all that bad.... I work feverishly at getting it all done before my mind beats me to it. This provides me a pretty satisfying life in race with the demons."