The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 51

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 51 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

There is a 1964 British war film about an 1879 battle between a British contingent of 150 men at Rorke’s Drift in the Natal Colony of South Africa and an army of 4000 Zulu Warriors.  It is set at the height of the British Empire under the reign of Queen Victoria at a time when the Sun truly never set on Great Britain.  In South Africa, the Zulu Nation was challenging Britain’s domination, and had defeated a major British force at Isandlwana just a week prior. The stories of these engagements as told on film were largely true and the defeat at Isandlwana was not only one of the worst in British history but a major embarrassment for the high command in London.

The British contingent at Rorke’s Drift was commanded by Lt John Chard, played in the film by Stanley Baker, and Lt Gonville Bromhead, played by Michael Caine.  It was Caine’s first major role.  Chard was a very practical, experienced engineering officer and Bromhead was an insufferable public school snob who resented that Chard was his superior, the result of the fact that Chard’s commission was just a few months earlier in time than was Bromhead’s. 

The battle lasted days, with multiple instances of near defeat for the British.  But the overall defense was brilliantly organized and commanded by Chard and courageously executed by all the men.  After a massive final assault by the Zulus and a long and intense barrage by the British which just kept beating back hordes of Zulu warriors, the Zulus just quit suddenly and left the region.  After a few hours, as the British were clearly away all the bodies, the entire Zulu force returned and, standing on the ridge overlooking the encampment, they voiced a chant of praise for the valiant British warriors.

The movie’s introduction, of the events at Isandlwana, and the summation of the achievements of the Rorke’s Drift defenders at the end, were beautifully narrated by Richard Burton, as only Burton can do.  The Rorke’s Drift success was cast as a truly bright shining moment in the history of British warfare.

But what strikes me most in this story, and its presentation on the screen, is the parallel I see with those of us who are achieving success in our ongoing battles with the scourge inherent in our addictive psyches. The initial efforts to stop the insane patterns of consumptive behavior were bad enough, but many of us also faced, and may still be facing, constant challenges to our sobriety, challenges that require a fiery vigilance and a deep resolve to repulse.  We are much like the soldiers at Rorke’s drift fighting so bravely and steadfastly to defend ourselves.

While there is no final victory over alcoholism or drug abuse for most of us, the cheering of our compatriots in our small daily victories and in our constant milestones in sobriety sound much like the Zulus in the praise and resonant esteem of their chants from the ridge at the film’s conclusion.