A commonly held misconception about alcoholism is that people who are given to drink do so out of depression, anxiety, or general unhappiness. While some people might drink because of the misfortunes in life, the reverse is usually true: that depression and unhappiness stem from excessive indulgence of drink.
When a person regularly floods their body with toxins like alcohol, it degrades the mind and soul, producing great unease, a twisted outlook on life and extraordinary unhappiness. Thus, what seems like a person driven to the bottle is usually somebody whose problems in life appear so because of the effect of alcohol abuse on the their mind and soul.
This simple rule that what you put into your body is what your mind and soul radiate outward. This lesson is on display in much more gruesome fashion in The Twilight Zone episode “The Masks.” The episode opens up with an ailing old man named Jason meeting with his family doctor. Jason is at home, in bed and nearing the end of his life. They are in New Orleans, surrounded by the pomp and revelry of Mardi Gras. Jason’s doctor tells him he doesn’t have much time and seeing as his family is coming to visit later that day, the doctor suggests that he get his affairs in order as soon as possible.
As the doctor goes to slip out of the house, Jason’s family shows up. They are a warped menagerie of individuals: Emily, the craven, histrionic wife; Wilfred, the callous, greedy businessman and husband; Paula, the self-absorbed, vainglorious daughter and Wilfred Jr, the mean-spirited, brutish son.
They have all shown up with one design in mind: to get their respective cuts from Jason’s fortune. He views the bunch with great disdain and open hostility. He insults them and lets them know he knows they haven’t shown up to pay their respects or comfort the dying, but simply to ensure they get their due from his soon-to-be executed will.
After dinner that evening, Jason draws his relatives into his study. He has a number of garish-looking masks spread out across his bureau—they are Cajun masks created for a specific purpose. He informs his relatives that in the spirit of Mardi Gras, they should don a mask that reflects the antithesis of who they are.
He asks each of his relatives how they see themselves, knowing full well they individually have no sense of their true selves. As such, he furnishes them a mask that is an outward reflection of who they truly are. His relatives simply have to wear the masks till the stroke of midnight.
As the night draws to a close, Emily, Wilfred, Paula and Wilfred, Jr. are all growing cantankerous. They complain that their masks are incredibly uncomfortable and unbearable to see on each other’s faces. Tired of their self-absorbed whinging, Jason berates them for being caricatures, beings utterly incapable of responding to love and kindness. He laments that none of them have a shred of self-awareness and not a spot of care for their fellow human beings.
After this, the clock strikes midnight. A sense of calmness and serenity passes over Jason as he finally dies. Completely unconcerned with his well-being after his death, his family celebrates his death as they can know take off their terrible masks and enjoy their newly found millions.
Wilfred is the first to take off his mask, much to his family’s horror. He turns to the mirror and sees that his mask was no illusion—his face has permanently been transformed into the caricature of an ugly, greedy man. The rest of his family take off their masks and approach the mirror, all finding out that they too are now just caricatures. Unusually wealthy, yes, but caricatures of who they truly are.
As Jason is quietly taken away by the servants and the family doctor, Serling narrates:
Mardi Gras incident, the dramatis personae being four people who came to celebrate and in a sense let themselves go. This they did with a vengeance. They now wear the faces of all that was inside them – and they’ll wear them for the rest of their lives, said lives now to be spent in the shadow. Tonight’s tale of men, the macabre and masks – on the Twilight Zone.
One of the only true measures that gauges what anybody becomes over time is what they do. We all have positive thoughts and give in to negative feelings from time to time, but what is defining for somebody is what patterns of thought they give license to. Certain dispositions—positive or negative—are a product of these recurrent thought patterns. If a man allows certain thoughts and feelings to build up and gain steam over time, he can either build a positive force inside himself or construct a negative web.
As such, it is a curious thing, perhaps, to notice what happens to a man over time. What was once a bright, vibrant young man could—many years down the road—become a battered old man, consumed with anger and resentment. As noted above, he could easily become a stunted alcoholic teetering on the edge of sanity, living in fear of his hobbling addiction. A dismal, bitter young man could just as easily become a confident and wise old man, his soul rich with the experience of a life well lived.
The only difference between the two divergent paths is what the men fed their souls. If a man’s soul is persistently tortured with anger, resentment and jealousy, that man’s soul can only remain small and craven. If a man’s soul is consistently nurtured with positivity, grace and magnanimity, then his soul can grow and climb out of the limiting mucks of outrage and petty jealousy. It might be a bit too flowery of language, but the soul is a garden—and gardens can only grow and thrive when they are well taken care of.
This isn’t simply limited to the spirit. A man simply cannot crowd his mind with the tawdry and insignificant and expect to maintain his mental acuity. He cannot stuff fast food down his gullet and expect to maintain his health. A man gets what he gives—and if gives his mind, body and soul nothing but garbage and filth, he cannot reasonably expect himself to become anything else.
In “The Masks,” Serling is right to note that the foursome did, indeed, let themselves go, but they didn’t do it the night they traveled to New Orleans. We saw only the end product of a lifetime of indolence and neglect—they let themselves go with a vengeance over time. Wilfred gave into his rapacious, greedy appetite over time, just as Emily must have let her sniveling cowardice slowly command her life. By letting negative thoughts and feelings take over and rule their souls over time, they let themselves go.
When presented with Jason’s imminent death, they could do nothing but give into their irrepressible greed. Having never worried about what they fed their souls in their lives, they couldn’t muster any sense of decency in the face of another’s death. The cruel twist for the family was they would be forced to carry the scars of their inner devastation on their faces for the rest of their lives.
The lesson here is a quiet and profoundly important one: always and forever be mindful of what you put into your body and soul. You may never trick yourself into donning a mask that hideously disfigures you, as you hopefully don’t live in the Twilight Zone, but what you decide to let into your soul will become you.