Malcolm X: Six Point Therapeutic Process for Treating Addicts

I have recently taken the opportunity to revisit several books which I read when I was younger. Taking advantage of an Audible 2 for 1 sale, I purchased The Autobiography of Malcolm X, narrated by Laurence Fishburne. One of the most important books of the 20th Century, when I listened to it last week, The Autobiography’s impact on me was every bit as profound as it had been the first time that I read it. Fishburne’s performance is exceptional.

In the words of Kevin Young, Director of Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: ‘People’s lives aren’t linear, they’re messier than that… but writer Alex Haley sought to create a narrative of Malcolm’s personal development marked by clear epiphanies that signal either complete or critical breaks with a previous stage of himself.’ It is this aspect of the book, the chronology of change, which I have always found to be most inspiring. Whilst Malcolm’s indomitable spirit is evident throughout almost every stage of his life story (regardless of whether or not he was playing the role of Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Satan, Malcolm X or El Hajj Malik el Shabazz), his mental, physical and spiritual development is continuous and subject to constant re-evaluation.

Because of my work as a Drug and Alcohol Worker at a Public Prison, I am particularly interested in two episodes from The Autobiography: Malcolm’s awakening in prison – and his description of the ‘Muslim six-point therapeutic process’ for treating drug addicts. This article features extracts from the chapter of The Autobiography which concerns the treatment of addiction. As a 12 Step practitioner and facilitator, I am fascinated by the psycho-social-spiritual checkpoints of certain schools of addiction recovery, those omnipresent points which transcend whichever movement or organisation happen to practice them.

The claims of the Black Muslim movement of phenomenal successes in rehabilitating narcotics addicts and alcoholics are beginning to attract professional attention

Milton L. Martin, a psychiatric social worker in the mental hygiene department of Harlem Hospital, admitted yesterday that he and his colleagues had been so amazed at the number of Muslims that they encountered in the streets of Harlem who had been addicts that they decided to seek the assistance of the movement.

The therapy said to have been developed by Mr. Muhammad has two psychological elements in common with Alcoholics Anonymous. These are group therapy, through which the afflicted draws strength from the group, and the transference of a new motivation to the patient to fill the void left by addiction.

One of the aims of the therapy is to compel each recovered addict to assume full responsibility for his actions, because one of the characteristics of addicts is that they run away from responsibility.

New York Times – 10.01.1964

In the section below I have highlighted in bold what I consider to be the crucial psycho-social-spiritual checkpoints of the ‘Muslim six-point therapeutic process’ for treating drug addicts.

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An extract from The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 

From Chapter 14 – ‘Black Muslims’

You may have read somewhere – a lot has been written concerning it-about the Nation of Islam’s phenomenal record of dope-addiction cures of long-time junkies. In fact, the New York Times carried a story about how some of the social agencies have asked representatives of the Muslim program for clinical suggestions. The Muslim program began with recognizing that color and addiction have a distinct connection. It is no accident that in the entire Western Hemisphere, the greatest localized concentration of addicts is in Harlem.

Our cure program’s first major ingredient was the painfully patient work of Muslims who previously were junkies themselves. In the ghetto’s dope jungle, the Muslim ex-junkies would fish out addicts who knew them back in those days. Then with an agonizing patience that might span anywhere from a few months to a year, our ex-junkie Muslims would conduct the addicts through the Muslim six-point therapeutic process.

The addict first was brought to admit to himself that he was an addict.

Secondly, he was taught why he used narcotics.

Third, he was shown that there was a way to stop addiction.

Fourth, the addict’s shattered self-image, and ego, were built up until the addict realized that he had, within, the self-power to end his addiction.

Fifth, the addict voluntarily underwent a cold turkey break with drugs.

Sixth, finally cured, now an ex-addict completes the cycle by “fishing” up other addicts whom he knows, and supervising their salvaging. This sixth stage always instantly eliminated what so often defeats the average social agencies the characteristic addict’s hostility and suspicion. The addict who is “fished” up knew personally that the Muslim approaching him very recently had the same fifteen to thirty dollar a day habit. The Muslim may be this addict’s buddy; they had plied the same dope jungle. They even may have been thieves together. The addict had seen the Muslim drifting off to sleep leaning against a building, or stepping as high over a matchstick as if it were a dog. And the Muslim, approaching the addict, uses the same old junkie jungle language. Like the alcoholic, the junkie can never start to cure himself until he recognizes and accepts his true condition.

The Muslim sticks like a leech, drumming at his old junkie buddy, “You’re hooked, man!” It might take months before the addict comes to grips with this. The curative program is never really underway until this happens. The next cure-phase is the addict’s realization of why he takes dope. Still working on his man, right in the old jungle locale, in dives that you wouldn’t believe existed, the Muslim often collects audiences of a dozen junkies. They listen only because they know the clean-cut proud Muslim had earlier been like them. Every addict takes junk to escape something, the Muslim explains. He explains that most black junkies really are trying to narcotize themselves against being a black man in the white man’s America. But, actually, the Muslim says, the black man taking dope is only helping the white man to “prove” that the black man is nothing. The Muslim talks confidentially, and straight. “Daddy, you know I know how you feel. Wasn’t I right out here with you? Scratching like a monkey, smelling all bad, living mad, hungry, stealing and running and hiding from Whitey. Man, what’s a black man buying Whitey’s dope for but to make Whitey richer-killing yourself!” The Muslim can tell when his quarry is ready to be shown that the way for him to quit dope is through joining the Nation of Islam. The addict is brought into the local Muslim restaurant, he may occasionally be exposed to some other social situations-among proud, clean Muslims who show each other mutual affection and respect instead of the familiar hostility of the ghetto streets.

For the first time in years, the addict hears himself called, genuinely, “Brother,” “Sir” and “Mr.” No one cares about his past. His addiction may casually be mentioned, but if so, it is spoken of as merely an especially tough challenge that he must face. Everyone whom this addict meets is confident that he will kick his habit. As the addict’s new image of himself builds, inevitably he begins thinking that he can break the habit. For the first time he is feeling the effects of black self-pride. That’s a powerful combination for a man who has been existing in the mud of society. In fact, once he is motivated no one can change more completely than the man who has been at the bottom. I call myself the best example of that. Finally, vitally, this addict will decide for himself that he wants to go on cold turkey. This means to endure the physical agonies of abruptly quitting dope. When this time comes, ex-addict Muslims will arrange to spend the necessary days in around the-clock shifts, attending the addict who intends to purge himself, on the way to becoming a Muslim. When the addict’s withdrawal sets in, and he is screaming, cursing, and begging, “Just one shot, man!” the Muslims are right there talking junkie jargon to him. “Baby, knock that monkey off your back! Kick that habit! Kick Whitey off your back!” The addict, writhing in pain, his nose and eyes running, is pouring sweat from head to foot. He’s trying to knock his head against the wall, flailing his arms, trying to fight his attendants, he is vomiting, suffering diarrhea. “Don’t hold nothing back! Let Whitey go, baby! You’re going to stand tall, man! I can see you now in the Fruit of Islam!” When the awful ordeal is ended, when the grip of dope is broken, the Muslims comfort the weak ex-addict, feeding him soups and broths, to get him on his feet again. He will never forget these brothers who stood by him during this time. He will never forget that it was the Nation of Islam’s program which rescued him from the special hell of dope. And that black brother (or the sister, whom Muslim sisters attend) rarely ever will return to the use of narcotics. Instead, the ex-addict when he is proud, clean, renewed, can scarcely wait to hit the same junkie jungle he was in, to “fish” out some buddy and salvage him! If some white man, or “approved” black man, created a narcotics cure program as successful as the one conducted under the aegis of the Muslims, why, there would be government subsidy, and praise and spotlights, and headlines. But we were attacked instead. Why shouldn’t the Muslims be subsidized to save millions of dollars a year for the government and the cities? I don’t know what addicts’ crimes cost nationally, but it is said to be billions a year in New York City. An estimated $12 million a year is lost to thieves in Harlem alone. An addict doesn’t work to supply his habit, which may cost anywhere from ten to fifty dollars a day. How could he earn that much? No! The addict steals, he hustles in other ways; he preys upon other human beings like a hawk or a vulture-as I did. Very likely, he is a school drop-out, the same as I was, an Army reject, psychologically unsuited to a job even if he was offered one, the same as I was. Women addicts “boost” (shoplift), or they prostitute themselves. Muslim sisters talk hard to black prostitutes who are struggling to quit using dope in order to qualify morally to become registered Muslims. “You are helping the white man to regard your body as a garbage can-” Numerous “exposes” of the Nation of Islam have implied that Mr. Muhammad’s followers were chiefly ex-cons and junkies. In the early years, yes, the converts from society’s lowest levels were a sizable part of the Nation’s broad base of membership. Always Mr. Muhammad instructed us, “Go after the black man in the mud.” Often, he said, those converted made the best Muslims

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