To decide during childhood, whether as an ideal from a dream or fantasy, or from being impressed or influenced by others in the community, to delve into the netherworld of drugs and alcohol--actually choosing to live a life of chaos is one of those mysteries of human behavior. Most addicts do not wake up one morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll spend my life as a drug addict." Maybe not quite that literally, but many of us do make such decisions, usually unconsciously. Leonard (I 989) shares that "all addictions are killers; each in its own way kills living in the moment, kills creativity, love, and the trusting faith of the inner child. Archetypally, The Killer is the inner character who decides against life (p. 196). Little do we know, those of us who take that route do not realize that "no one ascends from the underworld unmarked" (Inanna,p. 68). We are often warned, however:

"Gilgamesh, you are young, your courage carries you too far, you cannot know what this enterprise means which you plan. We have heard that Humbaba is not like men who die, his weapons are such that none can stand against them; the forest stretched for ten thousand leagues in every direction; who would willingly go down to explore its depths? As for Humbaba, when he roars it is like the torrent of the storm, his breath is like fire and his jaws are death itself Why do you crave to do this thing, Gilgamesh? It is no equal struggle when one fights with Humbaba, that battering-ram." (Gilgamesh, p. 73-74)

"Little boy, you are young, your courage carries you too far, you cannot know what this enterprise means which you plan." Unfortunately, there are usually no counselors of Uruk who can warn the contemporary little Gilgamesh. Typically, around junior high school age, little Gilgamesh starts drinking on the weekends and is inevitably offered a few hits of a joint, a line f crank or coke, or some pharmaceutical substance or black-market equivalent, which is the prelude to a life in the abyss. His delusional, self-proclaimed omniscience will gradually descend him and his cohorts into the company of the Erinyes. But first, as his initiatory prelude to the nekyia (also called first-stage alcoholism/addiction), he must do battle with Humbaba.

"I have a long journey to go, to the Land of Humbaba, I must travel an unknown road and fight a strange battle" (Gilgamesh, p. 74). In the world of addiction, Humbaba is an invisible foe, and his weapons are alluring. Little Gilgamesh will smoke that joint to impress Alice--Alice who is already in wonderland lures him with her charms--"c'mon little boy, let's go to my place." Then, after having developed a penchant for stealing, being expelled from school, jailed, and kicked out of his parents' home, little Gilgamesh will sell drugs--the money he can use for flashy cars, nice clothes, and an infamous reputation that will make other little Gilgameshes want to follow his ignominious lead. These are Humbaba's weapons. "Humbaba, when he roars it is like the torrent of the storm, his breath is like fire and his jaws are death itself. Why do you crave to do this thing, Gilgamesh?" Gilgamesh does not heed these fatidic projections. Unconsciously, he wants to lose the battle so he can start his descent to the flashy, exciting fires of the Infemo.

In Uruk he abandoned his [home] to descend to the Underworld.

In Badtibra he abandoned his [school] to descend to the Underworld.

In Zabalam he abandoned his [family] to descend to the Underworld.

In Adab he abandoned his [morals] to descend to the Underworld.

In Nippur he abandoned his [health] to descend to the Underworld.

In Kish he abandoned his [dreams] to descend to the Underworld

In Akkad he abandoned his [soul] to descend to the Underworld. (Inanna, p. 520)

Enkidu--faithful companion, before his descent, please tell little Gilgamesh that a farrago of difficulties awaits him; tell little Gilgamesh that county jail or prison awaits him; tell little Gilgamesh that cirrhosis or hepatitis awaits him; tell little Gilgamesh that unhappiness and guilt awaits him- tell little Gilgamesh that mental institutions and the morgue awaits him; and tell little Gilgamesh that Anhanga' awaits him.

Anhanga is the devil of the Amazon Indians of Brazil. According to the myth, Anhanga is a formless shape-shifter who can assume many identities. He is a prankster who delights in tricking humans. The dark god is also adept at filling people's minds with horrific visions of the supernatural, including frightening images of a horrific afterlife (Encyclopedia of Hell).

The Descent

To no avail--Gilgamesh is not afraid. Addicts are not afraid. It does not matter what happens to them, they will predictably go back for more, for they are non compos mentis--not of a sound mind. They will get out of prison, then repeat the refractory behavior and expect different results. They will get out of the hospital and continue the scabrous practices that got them there in the first place. They will get DUI'S, then get behind the wheel, and decide that nunces bibendum--now it is time to drink. They will make solemn promises, then break them. While immured in the Underworld, they will continually hurt the ones they love, not unlike how Inanna hurt her loved ones. Wolkstein (I 983) explains that

"Meanwhile, Inanna's servant and two sons, who care deeply about her, have abandoned the routine of their daily lives. Ninshubur waits by the gate of the underworld for Inanna. Shara and Lulal, Inanna's sons, wait for their mother in their temples, most likely praying. All three have taken off their customary clothes and put on sackcloth, the garment of mourning." (p. 161)

The poem version renders a more graphic depiction:

When, after three days and three nights, Inanna had not returned,

Ninshubur set up a lament for her by the ruins.

She beat the drum for her in the assembly places.

She circled the houses of gods.

She tore at her eyes; she tore at her mouth; she tore at her thighs. (Inanna, p. 61)

Gilgamesh' descent to the Underworld keeps his friends and family continually worrying about him. Mothers and wives of addicts like Gilgamesh, alone in their desperation, will tear at themselves in worry. When the addict is around friends and family, he or she will lie, steal, and manipulate them. Gilgamesh, for example, is sitting on the sofa at a friend's house. In walks his friend and asks "hey bro, have you seen my stash (drugs)." Gilgamesh retorts "what are ya askin me for, I didn't take it!" Then after a little more discussion, Gilgamesh starts helping his fiend tear the house apart looking for the stash. That is the turpitude of an addict--he'll steal your dope, then help you look for it! That is the way of the Underworld. "the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned" (Innana, p. 58). An addict interacts with others by manipulating and using them to fulfill addictive needs. Doing this takes a certain amount of self- confidence: an ability to assert oneself, or an ability to appear helpless to get others to act as caretakers.

The blandae mendacia Linguae--the lies of a smooth tongue, and other dark practices by Gilgamesh are conpounded by additional complexities concerning family members. Family members cannot bring themselves to believe that their son/daughter, brother/sister would stoop so low. Eventually, however, they cannot deny it any longer and they get angry. Wolkstein (I983), offers an analogy: She shares that

"Entil, Inanna's father's father, the authority and director of the rational world, wants nothing to do with Inanna in the kur. Nanna, Inanna's father and good son of Enlil, also has no appreciation or understanding of why Inanna might have gone on such a journey. Both Enlil and Nanna are angry that Inanna should pursue a direction that is different from theirs." (p. 159)

Often both husband and wife are addicts, and each of them behave, scandalously, like anguis in herba--snakes in the grass. In addition to tumultuous assaults and casting aspersions on one another, for pecuniary purposes they will steal from one another to keep from going to jail. They will tell on one another and for a bag of dope they will be unfaithful to one another. A good example is the following joke:

Two couples were playing cards one evening. Gilgamesh dropped a card on the floor. When he bent down to pick it up, he noticed that Enkidu's wife's legs were spread wide, and she was not wearing panties! Shocked by this, Gilgamesh hit his head on the table and emerged red-faced. Later, Gilgamesh went to the kitchen to get a beer. Enkidu's wife followed and asked "Did you see something you liked under there?" Surprised by her boldness, Gilgamesh admitted that he did. She said, "well, you can have it for $500." After thinking about it for a while, Gilgamesh agrees. She tells him to be at her house around 2pm Friday. Gilgamesh shows up at Enkidu's house at 2pm sharp, and after paying her the $500., they did their thing. Afterward, Gilgamesh left. As usual, Enkidu came home from work at 6pm and upon entering the house asks his wife "did Gilgamesh come by the house this afternoon?" With a lump in her throat, she answered, "Why yes, he did." Her heart nearly skipped a beat when Enkidu asked, "and did he give you $500?" After mustering up her best poker face, she replied, "well, yes, in fact he did give me $500." Enkidu, with a satisfied look on his face, said "good, I was hoping he did. Gilgamesh came by the office this morning and borrowed $500 from me. He promised he would stop by here on his way home to pay me back. This nefarious parable is classic drug addict behavior.

Though not a drug addict, Inanna was a woman scorned by her husband:

I placed him on the throne, gave him his position. I loved him and he left me to attend to affairs of state. While I went to deal with matters affecting my deepest soul, he used my powers to make himself more important. Once I was his whole world--now he refuses to descend from his throne to help me. (Inanna, p. 162)

In true drug-addict fashion, she retaliates and sacrifices him. How many other family members will suffer other kinds of hell during Gilgamesh's descent (also referred to as second stage alcoholism/addiction)?

The time comes when his friends will abandon him, but family members are often taken hostage, much like Persephone was taken hostage by Hades. Whereas Persephone was taken hostage into the Underworld of Hades, Gilgamesh's family members are also taken hostage into the Underworld--into the Underworld of psychological illness.

1 have opted not to include parables or information on third stage alcoholism/addiction in the interest of brevity. Most people do not ascend (recover) from third stage anyway.

According to Miller and Gorski (1982)

"when family life becomes painful, chaotic, and unpredictable because of addictive behavior, the family reorganizes itself around new roles, new rules, and new rituals that protect it from disintegration. As resentments develop in the family, productive communication may cease to exist. Family members withdraw from one another because of the pain of interaction, and they withdraw from people outside the family because of the fear of exposure. There is no consistency or dependability in any area of family life" (p. 28).

Gilgamesh needs treatment. His family needs treatment. With treatment, a return--or an ascent(typically called recovery) back to the dayworld can occur.

The Ascent

The entire family can seek therapy with family therapists. They can also attend Al-Anon meetings, which do not cost anything. At no cost Gilgamesh can attend AA or NA meetings, and there are various other forms of treatment available for him in recovery homes/treatment centers. Concentrating on the plight of the addicts recovery, Leonard (1989) reminds us that

"Dionysus was connected with addiction, as the god of wine and revelry, and with creativity, as the god of drama. The addict, like Dionysus, is dismembered, torn into pieces, through the addictive process. But as Dionysus is reborn in a new cycle of creation, so is the addict in recovery" (p. 81).

Recovery can also be thought of as an alchemical process. The first coniunctio (conjunction) is the transformation from the dregs of active addiction to the clamor of abstinence. There is a death- the death of an inveterate lifestyle. Raff (2000) says

"the ego that has reached this level in the work will have the nasty surprise of meeting its own death. If it is fluid and open enough to allow that experience to occur unhindered, it will quickly move to the next stage" (p. 118).

Of course, Gilgamesh may not allow that experience to occur unhindered; therefore, the non compos mentis, the clamor of abstinence often results in relapse. The second coniunctio is the transformation from abstinence to recovery. There is a death: the death of the dragon's teeth (seeds of strife) for recovery. According to Raff (2000),

"Dorn called the second coniunctio the bodily union, and this reference is very significant. To move from the mental union to the bodily union indicates that integration has occurred; that is, what had previously been only an idea has become a living reality" (p. 133).

During the stage of abstinence, Gilgamesh is literally trudging the road to happy destiny. Once the second coniunctio occurs, what was for varying periods of time only an idea becomes a living reality. The third coniunctio I do not include as part of the recovery process. Since the emotional development of an addict is callow--having stopped at the onset of the addictive process, the alchemical process of recovery can only hope to attain enough maturity to start the process again in order to individuate. However, the second coniunctio is a mental and emotional halcyon compared with the imbroglio of active addiction. We can finally see lux mundi or varnah--the light of glory.

The ways of the underworld may be perfect, but we often do not agree with them. if one is fortunate enough to ascend, there will have been a price to pay. Wolkstein (1983) offers a parabola:

After losing her bridegroom through her uncontrollable willfulness, Inanna realizes she has lost the "sweetness" of life. In "The Huluppu-Tree," the young Inanna wept because she could not get her way. In "Inanna and the God of Wisdom" and "The Courtship," she was able to channel her resources to achieve her desires. But now, having returned from the underworld charged with her own dark, ruthless powers, the widowed Inanna grieves because she has pushed her way through and destroyed the bridegroom and husband she loves. (Inanna, p. 165)

The wreckage of the past can be an enduring nuisance: prison record, health problems, estranged families, debts, and learning how to live all over again are just a few examples. Most aggravating to many people in recovery trying to forge a new life in a society that is often unforgiving, is like trying to swim in the river of forgetfulness. "Unfortunately," writes Hillman (1979)

"psychology emphasizes attention and recall; the dayworld wishes to have, must absolutely have, a "good memory"; a bad memory is more devastating to success than is a bad conscience. Forgetting therefore becomes a pathological sign. But depth psychology based on an archetypal perspective might understand forgetting as serving a deeper purpose, seeing in these holes and slips in the dayworld the means by which events are transformed out of personal life, voiding it, emptying it. Somehow we must come to better terms with Lethe, since she rules many years, especially the last years, and we would be foolish to dismiss her work only as pathological. (p. 154)

"Especially the last years," Hillman said. Well, we can add the chthonic years of addiction too. What deeper purpose could Lethe be serving to a recovering addict? Maybe the river of forgetfulness well serve as an ancilla. If Gilgamesh, for example, could remember everything he did during those years, self-forgiveness may not be possible. Hillman (1979) suggests that

"what is being forgotten out of the dayworld of our lives may be making possible the inflow of another sort of remembrance by turning our attention from chasing the lost bit of data to the empty, sinking feeling that forgetting leaves behind. (p. 154)

If re-membering the past of Gilgamesh's addiction is supplanted with another sort of re-membrance, such as how much he admired his high school social studies teacher, then maybe he can re-member the education ethic his parents instilled in him. The nexus between his teacher and his father could render Gilgamesh susceptible to an education.

Obviously, there is more to recovery than dealing with a lapsus memoriae--a slip of the memory, but it is a start. Between the various forms of treatment available, and a remembering of the past, Gilgamesh can lead a four square and happy life, just as the union of Inanna and Dumuzi represents the reawakening of life in the spring.


Parts of the hypothetical Gilgamesh above was my own experience, and some was the plight of addicts in general. Having spent more than 30 years in hedone, I consider myself lucky to have emerged as an incipient opsimath and found my way to higher education. Who knows, maybe it was because of Hillman's suggestion about "making possible the inflow of another sort of remembrance." Ending up intra muros, within the walls of the California Department of Corrections is often thought of as a bottom. Bottoms are often good things. If I had not been lucky enough to get into the prison system and a subsequent substance abuse education program while I was incarcerated, I would have certainly returned to my previous cipherous lifestyle upon release, which is what most addicts do--mea culpa.


Hillman, J. (I 979). The dream and the underworld. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Jung, C. (I 953). Psychology and alchemy. New York: Pantheon Books. Leonard, L. (I 9 89). Witness to the fire: Creativity and the veil of addiction. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Miller, M. & Gorski, T. (1982). Family Recovery: Growing beyond addiction. Independence, Missouri: Independence Press.

Raff, J. (2000). Jung and the alchemical imagination. New York: Nicolas-Hays, Inc.

The Epic of Gilgamesh. (N. K. Sanders, Trans.). (1972). New York: Penguin Books. (Original work 2000 B.C.E.).

Van Scott, M. (Ed.). (1998). Encyclopedia of hell (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.

Wolkstein, D. & Kramer, S. (Eds.). Inanna: Queen of heaven and earth: Her stories and hymns from sumer. (Original work 2000 B.C.E.). New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Author's Bio: 

After 40 arrests, five formal probations, four country jail sentences, and a prison term (as a result of chemical dependency), I turned my life around. I was released from prison in Dec 1989, and have been clean and sober since. I started at Barstow College in Feb 1990. Received my AA degree in '92 from Barstow College in Barstow, CA; BA in '94 from Chapman University in Orange CA; MHS in 98 from National University in San Diego CA, and finished with a Ph.D. from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA in Feb 2004. I have taught as an adjunct instructor for Park University and Barstow College. I can be contacted through my website or directly to my email account