Noah, master of the earth, began and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent”—Genesis 9:20–21.

The debacle of Noah after exiting the ark is the first documented case of alcohol abuse in the Bible. Perceiving the need to build a new world, he began to cultivate the earth, and quite deliberately chose wine grapes as his first crop. Noah’s intoxication—far from being an accidental outcome—was his actual intent from the start.

What was Noah’s plan? According to Kabbalah, Noah realized that the downfall of man, which led to the Flood, originated from the sin of Adam and Eve. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—as its name indicates—had implanted within man an awareness that everything has the potential to be used in the service of G‑d—or to be exploited for selfish gain.

Before the sin, Adam and Eve lacked the self-consciousness to perceive physical pleasure as a source of personal gratification. Rather, they saw everything as a tool for performing a G‑dly purpose. As such, even their genitalia caused them no shame. After eating from the tree, however, their “eyes were opened” (Gen. 3:7). They became strikingly aware of themselves, and of the vast possibilities for extracting sensual stimulation from life, even from the most necessary biological functions.

So, Eve deliberately chose to eat of the Tree of Knowledge because, to her thinking, the ability to derive personal pleasure was the secret to happiness, which G‑d guarded to Himself. Of course, the results were the opposite. In exchange for his innocence, man was granted frustration, insatiability and shame.

Since Noah realized that rather than bringing happiness, this sophistication was actually the source of all misery, he sought to rebuild the world based on a new paradigm. He conceived of a simpler, more wholesome ideal—freedom from self-consciousness. So, with the best of intentions, Noah chose intoxication as his means toward this end. Noah awoke, however, to find himself degraded and ashamed. His drunkenness failed to grant him the anticipated deliverance from the curse of the Tree of Knowledge that he had sought.

Of course, Noah’s mistake was in concluding that the opposite of self-consciousness is self-obliteration. In reality, these two attitudes, like arrogance and self-loathing, are really just two sides of the same coin. Both are, in essence, a preoccupation with self.

Many say that we alcoholics and addicts are an extremely sensitive type of people, and that we feel things too deeply. Some say that it is our sensory overload that drives us to self-medicate. Of course, self-consciousness is the fate of all mankind, but we have felt that we inherited more than our fair portion of the curse of Adam and Eve. So, when we thought we had discovered the secret antidote, like Noah, we threw ourselves singlemindedly into carrying out our plans. But also like Noah, we emerged from our self-medicated state worse for the wear every time. Numbness and oblivion were deceptively promising remedies for an ego which was far too sensitive.

But the real secret, we have found, lies not in anesthetizing the self—but in rising above it. In our active alcoholism, we fluctuated madly between our natural state of feeling too much and our self-medicated condition of feeling too little. When we work hard on our recovery, however, our love-hate relationship with stimulus becomes increasingly a non-issue. The opposite of self-consciousness, we now know, is not unconsciousness. We now have the wonderful new option of G‑d-consciousness.