Speaker recordings courtesy of Odomtology Books
To view all recordings, click the small menu icon in the upper left of the video image below.
Speaker recordings courtesy of Odomtology Books
** These recordings are pulled from Youtube and may contain advertising. If advertising is present, it does not mean that AA District 2 endorses any product or outside institution as prescribed in our 6th Tradition.
Speaker recordings courtesy of Odomtology Books
** These recordings are pulled from Youtube and may contain advertising. If advertising is present, it does not mean that AA District 2 endorses any product or outside institution as prescribed in our 6th Tradition.
In 1947, because of the growing interest in AA, the Grapevine editors decided to write a brief definition of the Fellowship. Thus, the AA Preamble was first published in the June 1947 issue. They used portions of the Foreword to the first edition of the Big Book.
The Grapevine had just begun to circulate among non-alcoholics, and the Preamble was intended primarily to describe for them what AA is and is not. It is still often used for public information purposes.
As time passed, it began appearing in all Conference-approved publications, and many groups now use it to open meetings.
The original version was slightly different from what we know today. For example:
1) It stated that the only requirement for membership is an HONEST desire to stop drinking, and 2) it contained only the very brief statement “AA has no dues or fees.”
At the 1958 General Service Conference, a delegate pointed out that the word “honest” does not appear in the Third Tradition, and suggested that it should be deleted from the Preamble. Many delegates felt that as AA had matured, it had become almost impossible to determine what constitutes an honest desire to stop drinking, and also that some who might be interested in the program could be confused by the phrase. The mid-summer 1958 meeting of the General Service Board ratified the deletion, and since then the Preamble has read simply “a desire to stop drinking.”
The phrase “AA has no dues or fees” also was clarified to read as it presently does: “There are no dues or fees for AA membership, we are self-supporting through our own contributions.” The current version of the Preamble appears on the first page of every issue of the Grapevine.
Source: The AA Grapevine Workbook
By Nancy O.
Other AA Preambles
A few months after the Grapevine published the Preamble in June 1947,Ollie L., Dick F., and Searcy W. decided to beef it up for the drunks in Texas. “We worked on it, passed it around, and agreed on this version,” says Searcy W. “It’s now read by groups throughout the state.” It works for Searcy. He’s been sober 54 years.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.
We are gathered here because we are faced with the fact that we are powerless over alcohol, and are unable to do anything about it without the help of a Power greater than ourselves.
We feel each person’s religious convictions, if any, are his own affair, and the simple purpose of the program of AA is to show what may be done to enlist the aid of a Power greater than ourselves, regardless of what our individual conception of that Power may be.
In order to form a habit of depending upon and referring all we do to that Power, we must first apply ourselves with some diligence, but repetition confirms and strengthens this habit, then faith comes naturally.
We have all come to know that as alcoholics we are suffering from a serious disease for which medicine has no cure. Our condition may be the result of an allergic reaction to alcohol, which makes it impossible for us to drink in moderation. This condition has never, by any treatment with which we are familiar, been permanently cured. The only relief we have to offer is absolute abstinence – a second meaning of AA.
There are no dues or fees. The only requirement is an honest desire to stop drinking. Each member is a person with an acknowledged alcoholic problem who has found the key to abstinence from day to day by adhering to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. The moment he resumes drinking he loses all status as a member of AA. His reinstatement is automatic, however, when he again fulfills the sole requirement for membership – an honest desire to quit drinking.
Not being reformers we offer our experience only to those who want it. AA is not interested in sobering up drunks who are seeking only temporary sobriety. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree and in which we join in harmonious action. Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are those who will not or cannot lend themselves to this simple program– usually men and women who are incapable of being honest with themselves. You may like this Program or you many not, but the fact remains that is works.. and we believe it is our only chance to recover.
There is a vast amount of fun included in the AA fellowship. Some people may be shocked at our apparent worldliness and levity, but just underneath there is a deadly earnestness and a full realization that we must put first things firs. With each of us the first thing is our alcoholic problem. Faith must work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.
We are gathered here because we are faced with the fact that we are powerless over alcohol and unable to do anything about it without the help of a Power greater than ourselves. We feel that each person’s religious views, if any, are his own affair. The simple purpose of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is to show what may be done to enlist the aid of a Power greater than ourselves, regardless of what our individual conception of that Power may be.
In order to form a habit of depending upon and referring all we do to that Power, we must at first apply ourselves with some diligence. By often repeating these acts, they become habitual and the help rendered becomes natural to us.
We have all come to know that as alcoholics we are suffering from a serious illness for which medicine has no cure. Our condition may be the result of an allergy which makes us different from other people. It has never been by any treatment with which we are familiar, permanently cured. The only relief we have to offer is absolute abstinence, the second meaning of A.A.
There are no dues or fees. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Each member squares his debt by helping others to recover.
An Alcoholics Anonymous is an alcoholic who through application and adherence to the A.A. program has forsworn the use of any and all alcoholic beverage in any form. The moment he takes so much as one drop of beer, wine, spirits or any other alcoholic beverage he automatically loses all status as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. is not interested in sobering up drunks who are not sincere in their desire to remain sober for all time. Not being reformers, we offer our experience only to those who want it.
We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree and on which we can join in harmonious action. Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our program. Those who do not recover are people who will not or simply cannot give themselves to this simple program. Now you may like this program or you may not, but the fact remains, it works. It is our only chance to recover.
There is a vast amount of fun in the A.A. fellowship. Some people might be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity but just underneath there lies a deadly earnestness and a full realization that we must put first things first and with each of us the first thing is our alcoholic problem. To drink is to die. Faith must work twenty-four hours a day in
and through us or we perish.
In order to set our tone for this meeting I ask that we bow our heads in a few moments of silent prayer and meditation.
I wish to remind you that whatever is said at this meeting expresses our own individual opinion as of today and as of up to this moment. We do not speak for A.A. as a whole and you are free to agree or disagree as you see fit, in fact, it is suggested that you pay no attention to anything which might not be reconciled with what is in the A.A. Big Book.
If you don’t have a Big Book, it’s time you bought you one. Read it, study it, live with it, loan it, scatter it, and then learn from it what it means to be an A.A.
The Wilmington Preamble has long been surrounded by controversy and discussion of such has sparked many a debate almost from its inception in the early years of Alcoholics Anonymous. The history of our fellowship has mostly been passed from member to member over the expanse of many years; member whose very disease has a tendency to distort one’s memory. Inaccuracies may prevail. The following is in no way an attempt to dispel those controversies, but an effort to establish an accurate history of the birth of the Wilmington Preamble and to keep it’s true history alive for the enlightenment of future generations. Documentable corrections are welcomed.
The Wilmington Preamble’s birth ties in with one of Wilmington’s earliest members, Shoes L. Shoes joined the Wilmington Group and got sober in May of 1944.The following month in June, Shoes was Chairman of the group and in charge of getting speakers for their meetings. There was at this time a sportswriter in town covering the horseraces at Delaware Park. His name was Mickey M. and Shoes asked him to speak at the group’s meeting. Mickey replied that he wasn’t much of a speaker but that he would write something appropriate. He reportedly went back to his room at the Hotel Dupont and wrote the Wilmington Preamble as we know it and it was read the following Friday night.
Being a sportswriter, Mickey M. covered events in other towns, and while in Baltimore covering the races at Pimlico gave the same preamble to the Baltimore Group which they also adopted as their own. Where it was actually read first is the subject of many debates but one fact remains clear, that this “Preamble” was widely accepted in Maryland and Delaware long before World Service sanctioned the shorter A.A. Preamble that is more universally accepted today.
The Wilmington AA Preamble:
We of Alcoholics Anonymous are a group of persons for whom alcohol has become a major problem. We have banded together in a sincere effort to help ourselves and other problem drinkers recover health and maintain sobriety.
Definitions of alcoholics are many and varied. For brevity we think of an alcoholic as one whose life has become unmanageable to any degree due to the use of alcohol.
We believe that the alcoholic is suffering from a disease for which no cure has yet been found. We profess no curative powers but have formulated a plan to arrest alcoholism.
From the vast experience of our many members we have learned that successful membership demands total abstinence. Attempts at controlled drinking by the alcoholic inevitably fail.
Membership requirements demand only a sincere desire on the part of the applicant to maintain total abstinence.
There are no dues of fees in A.A.; no salaried officers. Money necessary for operating expenses is secured by voluntary contributions.
Alcoholics Anonymous does not perform miracles, believing that such powers rests only in God.
We adhere to no particular creed or religion. We do believe, however, that an appeal for help to one’s own interpretation of a higher power, or God, is indispensable to a satisfactory adjustment to life’s problems.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not a prohibition or temperance movement in any sense of the word. We have no criticism of the controlled drinker. We are concerned only with the alcoholic.
We attempt to follow a program of recovery which has for its chief objectives: Sobriety for ourselves; help for other alcoholics who desire it; amends for past wrongs; humility; honesty; tolerance; and spiritual growth.
We welcome and appreciate the cooperation of the medical profession and the help of the clergy.
Bill writes in the Big Book (page 2): “I took a night law course…I studied economics and business as well as law…Potential alcoholic that I was, I nearly failed my law course. At one of the finals I was too drunk to think or write…By the time I had completed the law, I knew the law was not for me.”
Dan Demarest, a former Stepping Stones board member (Stepping Stones is where Bill & Lois lived the last half of their life) and a lawyer himself, was curious about Bill’s almost-law career and contacted Brooklyn Law School for more information. He writes:
“I spoke on the telephone yesterday with Dean Traeger of Brooklyn Law School, who had before him the School’s file on Bill Wilson’s academic career as a law student in the early 1920’s.
“He stated that, in Bill’s first year at law school, his grades varied sharply from brilliant (90 in Contracts, 89 in Torts) to mediocre (77 in Agency and in Partnerships). In his second year, his grades were ever more up and down, including some high marks and also a 67 and a 68; which were flunking grades. Both of these failed courses Bill took again and passed.
“In February of 1923, Bill flunked a course on Equity and left the Law School. His file shows that he returned in September, when all his courses were third year courses except for Equity, which he repeated and passed. “He was scheduled to graduate in June of 1924, except that he failed a course called “Executors and Administrators” (relating to wills, estates and trusts).
“He again returned in the fall and began repeating the Executors and Administrators course, but left the Law School finally on November 20, 1924 without, according to Dean Traeger’s records, again taking the exam for the Executors and Administrator’s course.
“My surmise is that in later years Bill remembered that he had more than once made up for and successfully passed a test previously failed but that he did not recall that he had not gotten around to retaking this last examination.”
This is the first printed draft of the Big Book, which was mailed to various individuals for their comments and also as a fund raising tool. It is unclear at what time during the writing of the Big Book “Bill’s Story” became chapter one. The language in this draft is in many ways different than the final manuscript. This illustrates the process of having many individuals add their opinions to the contents.
[archivist’s note: All pages are 8.5″ by 14″; marked text (underlined) means more than one letter was typed over another, or text was crossed out with x’s though still readable]
[handwriting: “Wilson’s original story”]
1. When I was about ten years old my Father and mother
2. agreed to disagree and I went to live with my Grandfather,
3. and Grandmother. He was a retired farmer and lumberman. As I
4. see him in retrospect, he was a very remarkable man After he
5. returned from Civil War he settled in the small Vermont
6. town where I was later to grow up. His original capital con-
7. sisted of a small, unimproved hillside farm, as sweet and
8. willing helpmeet, and enormous determination to succeed in
9. whatever he attempted. He was a man of high native intelli-
10. gence, a voracious reader, though little educated in the
11. school sense of the word. There was plenty of financial
12. sense in his make-up and he was a man of real vision. Under
13. other conditions he might well have become master of an in-
14. dustry or railroad empire.
15. My Grandmother brought into the world three children,
16. one of whom was my Mother. I can still seem to hear her tell-
17. ing of the struggle of those early days. Such matters as
18. cooking for twenty woodchoppers, looking after the diary,
19. making most of the clothes for the family, long winter rides
20. at twenty below zero to fetch my Grandfather home over snow-
21. bound roads, seeing him of long before daylight that he and
22. the choppers might have their access thawed out so that work
23. might begin on the mountaintop at daylight- this is the thought
24. of tradition upon which they nourished me. They finally
25. achieved their competence and retired late in life to enjoy
26. a well earned rest and the respect and affection of their
27. neighbors. They were the sort of people, I see now, who
28. really made America.
29. But I had other ideas – much bigger and better ones
30. so I thought. I was to be of the war generation which dis-
31. ipated the homely virtues, the hard earned savings, the
32. pioneering tradition, and the incredible stamina of your parents
33. Grandfather and mine.
34. I too was ambitious – very ambitious, but very un-
35. disciplined. In spite of everyone’s effort to correct that con-
36. dition. I had a genius for evading, postponing or shirking
37. those things which I did not like to do, but when thoroughly
38. interested, everything I had was thrown into the pursuit of
39. my objective. My will to succeed at special undertakings on
40. which my heart were set was very great. There was a persis-
41. tence, a patience, and a dogged obstinacy, that drove me on.
42. My Grandfather used to love to argue with me with the object
43. of convincing me of the impossibility of some venture or
44. another in order to enjoy watching me ’tilt at the windmill’
45. he had erected. One day he said to me – I have just been
46. reading that no one in the world but an Australian can make
47. and throw a boomerang. This spark struck tinder and every–
48. thing and every activity was instantly laid aside until it
49. could be demonstrated that he was mistaken. The woodbox was
50. not filled, no school work was done, nor could I hardly be
51. persuaded to eat or to go to bed. After a month or more of
52. this thing a boomerang was constructed which I threw around
53. the church steeple. On its return trip it went into trans-
54. ports of joy because it all but decapitated my Grandfather
55. who stood near me.
56. I presently left the country school and fared forth
57. into the great world I had read about in books. My first
58. journey took me only five miles to an adjoining town where I
59. commenced to attend a seminary well known in our section of
60. the state. Here competition was much more severe and I was
61. challenged on all sides to do the seemingly impossible. There
62. was the matter of athletics and I was soon burning with the
63. ambition to become a great baseball player. This was pretty
64. discouraging to begin with, as I was tall for my age, quite
65. awkward, and not very fast on my feed, but I literally worked
66. at it while others slept or otherwise amused themselves and
67. in my second year became captain of the team, whereupon my
68. interest began to languish, for by that time someone had told
69. me I had no ear for music, which I have since discovered is
70. almost true. Despite obstacles I managed to appear in a few
71. song recitals whereupon my interest in singing disappeared
72. and I got terribly serious about learning to play the violin.
73. This grew into a real obsession and to the consternation of
74. my teachers, grew in the last year and everyone else it be-
75. came the immediate cause of my failing to graduate. This was
76. my first great catastrophe. By this time I had become Presi-
77. dent of the class which only made matters worse. As in every
78. thing else I had even very good in certain courses of study
79. which took my fancy, and with others just the opposite,
80. indolence and indifference, being the rule, So it was that
81. the legend of infallibility I had built up around myself
83. In the ensuing summer I was obliged for the first
84. time to really address myself to the distasteful task of re-
85. pairing my failure. Although my diploma was now in hand, it
86. was by no means clear to my grandparents and parents what
87. they had better next try to do with me. Because of my interest
88. in scientific matters and the liking I had to fussing with
89. gadgets and chemicals, it had been assumed that I was to be
90. an engineer, and my own learnings were towards the electrical
91. branch of the profession. So I went to Boston and took the
92. entrance examination to one of the leading technical schools
93. in this country. For obvious reasons I failed utterly. It
94. was a rather heartbreaking matter for those interested in me
95. and it gave my self-sufficiency another severe deflation.
96. Finally an entrance was effected at an excellent
97. military college where it was hoped I would really be disci-
98. plined. I attended the University for almost three years
99. and would have certainly failed to graduate or come anywhere
100. near qualifying as an engineer, because of my laziness and
101. weakness mathematics. Particularly Calculus, in this
102. subject a great number of formulas have to be learned and
103. the application practiced. I remembered that I absolutely
104. refused to learn any of them or do any of the work whatever
105. until the general principles underlying the subject had
106. been made clear to me. The instructor was very patient,
107. but finally through up his hands in disgust as I began to
108. argue with him and to hint pretty strongly that perhaps he
109. didn’t quite understand them himself. So I commenced an in-
110. vestigation of the principles underlying Calculus in the
111. school library and learned something of the conceptions of
112. the great minds of Leibneitz and Newton whose genius had
113. made possible this useful and novel mathematical device.
114. Thus armed I mastered the first problem in the textbook and
115. commenced a fresh controversy with my teacher, who angrily,
116. but quite properly, gave me a zero for the course. Fortunate-
117. ly for my future at the University, I soon enabled to
118. leave the place gracefully, even heroically, for the
119. United States of America had gone to war.
120. Being students of a military academy school
121. the student boy almost to a man bolted for the first
122. officers training camp at Plattsburgh. Though a bit under
123. age, I received a commission a second lieutenant and got
124. myself assigned to the heavy artillery. Of this I was
125. secretly ashamed, for when the excitement of the day had
126. subsided and I lay in my bunk, I had to confess I did not
127. want to be killed. This bothered me terribly this suspicion
128. that I might be coward after all. I could not reconcile
129. it with the truly exalted mood of patriotism and idealism
130. which possessed me when I hadn’t time t o think. It was
131. very very damaging to my pride, though most of this damage
132. was repaired later on when I got under fire and discovered
133. I was just like other people, scared to death, but willing
134. to face the music.
135. After graduating from an army artillery school,
136. I was sent to a post which was situated near a famous old
137. town on the New England coast ones famous for its deepxsea
138. whaling, trading and Yankee seagoing tradition. Here I made
139. two decisions. The first one, and the best, to marry. Th
140. second decision was most emphatically the worst I ever mad took up with
took up with
141. I made the acquaintance of John Barleycorn and decided that
142. I liked it him.
143. My wife to be
144. Here I set out upon two paths and little did I realize
145. how much they were diverge. In short I got married
146. and at about the same time, took my first drink and decided
147. that I liked it. But for undying loyalty of my wife
148. and her faith through the years, I should not be alive today.
149. She was a city bred person and represented a background and
150. way of life for which I had secretly longed. Her family
151. spent long summers in our little town. All of them were
152. highly regarded by the natives. This was most complimentary
153. for among the countrymen there existed strong and often un-
154. reasonable prejudices against city folks. For the most
155. part, I felt differently. Most city people I knew had money,
156. assurance, and what then seemed to me great sophistication.
157. and Most of them had family trees. There were servants,
158. fine houses, gay dinners, and all of the other things with
159. which I was wont to associate power and distinction. All
160. of them, quite unconsciously I am sure, could make me feel
161. very inadequate and ill at ease. I began to feel woefully
162. lacking in the matter of poise and polish and worldly know-
163. ledge. Though very proud of the traditions of my own people,
164. I sometimes indulged in the envious wish that I had been
165. born under other circumstances and with some of these advan-
166. tages. Since then immemorial I suppose the country boyshav
167. thought and felt as I did have thought and felt as I did.
168. These feelings of inferiority are I suspect responsible for
169. the enormous determination many of them have felt to go out
170. to the cities in quest of what seemed to them like true
171. success. Though seldom revealed, these were the sentiments
172. that drove me on from this point.
173. The war fever ran high in the city near my
174. post and I soon discovered that young officers were in
175. great demand at the dinner tables of the first citizens of
176. the place. Social differences were layed aside and every-
177. thing was done to make us feel comfortable, happy, and heroic.
178. A great many things conspired to make me feel that I was im-
179. portant. I discovered that I had a somewhat unusual power
180. over men on the drill field and in the barracks. I was about
181. to fight to save the world for democracy. People whose
182. station In life I had envied were receiving me as an equal.
183. My marriage with a girl who represented all of the best
184. things the city had to offer, was close at hand, and last,
185. but not least, I had discovered John Barleycorn, Love, ad-
186. venture, war, applause of the crowd, moments sublime and
187. hilarious with intervals hilarious – I was a part of life
188. at last, and very happy.
189. The warnings of my people, the contempt
190. which I had felt for those who drank, were put aside with
191. surprising alacrity as I discovered what the Bronx cocktail
192. could really do for a fellow. My imagination soared – my
193. tongue loosened at last – wonderful vistas opened on all
194. sides, but best of all my self consciousness – my gaucheries
195. and my ineptitudes disappeared into thin air. I seemed to
196. the life of the party. To the dismay of my bride I used to
197. get pretty drunk when I tried to compete with more ex-
198. perienced drinkers, but I argued, what did it matter, for
199. so did everyone else at sometime before daylight. Then
200. came the day of parting, of a fond leave taking of my brave
201. wife. Amid that strange atmosphere which was the mixture
202. of sadness, high purpose, the feeling of elation that pre-
203. cedes an adventure of the first magnitude. Thus many of us
204. sailed for ‘over there’ and none of us knew if we should re-
205. turn. For a time, loneliness possessed me, but my new
206. friend Barleycorn always took care of that. I had, I thought
207. discovered a missing link in the chain of things that make
208. life worth while.
209. Then w were in dear old England, soon to cross
210. the channel to the great unknown. I stood in Winchester
211. Cathedral the day before crossing hand in hand with head
212. bowed, for something had touched me then I had never felt
213. before. I had been wondering, in a rare moment of sober
214. reflection, what sense there could be to killing and
215. carnage of which I was soon to become an enthusiastic part.
216. Where could the Deity be – could there be such a thing –
217. Where now was the God of the preachers, the thought of which
218. used to make me so uncomfortable when they talked about him.
219. Here I stood on the abyss edge of the abyss into which
220. thousands were falling that very day. A feeling of despair
221. settled down on me – where was He – why did he not come-
222. and suddenly in that moment of darkness, He was there. I
223. felt an all enveloping, comforting , powerful presence.
224. Tears stood in my eyes, and as I looked about, I saw on the
225. faces of others nearby, that they too had glimpsed the great
226. reality. Much moved, I walked out into the Cathedral yard,
227. where I read the following inscription on a tombstone. ‘Here
228. lies a Hampshire Grenadier, Who caught his death drinking
229. small good beer – A good soldier is ne’er forgot, whether
230. he dieth by musket or by pot.’ The squadron of bombers
231. swept overhead in the bright sunlight, and I cried to myself
232. ‘Here’s to adventure’ and the feeling of being in the great
233. presence disappeared, never to return for many years.
235. I was twenty two, and a grisled veteran of foreign wars.
236. I felt a tremendous assurance about my future, for was not
237. I the only officer of my regiment save one, who had re-
238. ceived a token of appreciation from the men. This quality
239. of leadership, I fancied, would soon place me at the head
240. of some great commercial organization which I would manage
241. with the same constant skill that the pipe organist does
242. his stops and keys.
243. The triumphant home coming was short lived. The
244. best that could be done was to secure a bookkeeping job in
245. the insurance department of the one of the large railroads.
246. I proved to be a wretched and rebellious bookkeeper and could
247. not stand criticism, nor was I much reconciled to my salary,
248. which was only half the pay I had received in the army. When
249. I started to work the railroads were under control of the
250. government. As soon as they were returned my road was re-
- turned to its stockholders, I was promptly let out because I
- could not compete with the other clerks in my office. I was
- so angry and humiliated at this reverse that I nearly became
a socialist to register my defiance of the powers that be,
255. which was going pretty far for a Vermonter.
256. To my mortification, my wife went out and got a
257. position which brought in much more than mine had. Being ab-
258. surdly sensitive, I imagined that her relatives an my newly
259. made city acquaintances were snickering a bit at my predica-
261. Unwillingly, I had to admit, that I was not
262. really trained to hold even a mediocre position. Though
263. I said little, the old driving, obstinate determination to
264. show my mettle asserted itself. Somehow, I would show these
265. scoffers. To complete my engineering seemed out of the ques-
266. tion, partly because/my distaste for mathematics, My only
267. other assets were my war experiences and a huge amount of
268. ill-assorted reading. The study of law suggested itself, and
269. I commenced a three year night course with enthusiasm. Mean-
270. while, employment showed up and I became a criminal investi-
271. gator for a Surety Company, earning almost as much money as
272. my wife, who spiritedly backed the new undertaking. My day-
273. time employment took me about Wall Street and little by
274. little, I became interested in what I saw going on there.
275. I began to wonder why a few seemed to be rich and famous
276. while the rank and file apparently lost money. I began to
277. study economics and business.
278. Somewhat to the dismay of our friends, we moved
279. to very modest quarters where we could save money. When we
280. had accumulated $1,000.00, most of it was placed in utility
281. stocks, which were then cheap and unpopular. In a small way,
282. I began to be successful in speculation. I was intrigued by
283. the romance of business, industrial and financial leaders be-
284. came my heroes. I read every scrap of financial history I
285. could lay hold of. Here I thought was the road to power.
286. Like the boomerang, episode, I could think of nothing else.
287. How little did I see that I was fashioning a weapon that
288. would one day return and cut me to ribbons.
289. As so many of my heroes commenced as lawyers,
290. I persisted in the course, thinking it would prove useful.
291. I also read many success books and did a lot of things that
292. Horatio Algers’s boy heroes were supposed to have done.
293. Characteristically enough I nearly failed my
294. law course as I appeared at one of the final examinations
295. too drunk to think or write. My drinking had not become
296. continuous at this time, though occasional embarrassing in-
297. cidents might have suggested that it was getting real hold.
298. Neither my wife or I had much time for social engagements
299. and in any event we soon became unpopular as I always got
300. tight and boasted disagreeably of my plans and my future.
301. She was becoming very much concerned and fre-
302. quently we had long talks about the matter. I waived her ob-
303. jections aside by pointing out that red blooded men almost
304. always drank and that men of genius frequently conceived
305. their vast projects while pleasantly intoxicated, adding for
306. good measure, that the best and most majestic constructions of
307. philosophical thought were probably so derived.
308. By the time my law studies were finished,
309. I was quite sure I did not want to become a lawyer. I know
310. that somehow I was going to be a part of that then alluring
311. maelstrom which people call Wall Street. How to get into
312. business there was the question. When I proposed going out
313. on the road to investigate properties, my broker friends
314. laughed at me. They did not need such a service and pointed
315. out that I had no experience. I reasoned that I was partly qualified
316. /as an engineer and as a lawyer, and that practically speaking
317. I had acquired very valuable experience as a criminal investi-
318. gator. I felt certain that these assets could not be capita-
319. lized. I was sure that people lost money in securities be-
320. cause they did not know enough about managements, properties,
321. markets, and ideas at work in a given situation.
322. Since no one would hire me and remembering that
323. we now had a few thousand dollars, my wife and I conceived
324. the hare-brained scheme of going out and doing some of this
325. work at our own expense, so we each gave up our employment
326. and set off in a motorcycle and side car, which was loaded
327. down with a tent, blankets, change of clothes and three
328. huge volumes of a well known financial reference service.
329. Some of our friends thought a lunacy commission should be ap-
330. pointed and I sometimes think they were right. Our first ex-
331. ploit was fantastic. Among other things, we owned two shares
332. of General Electric, then selling at about $300.00 a share.
333. Everyone thought it was too high, but I stoutly maintained
334. that it would someday sell for five or ten times that figure.
335. So what could be more logical than to proceed to the main of-
336. fice of the company in New York and investigate it. Naive
337. wasn’t it? The plan was to interview ohe officials and get
338. employment there if possible. We drew seventy five dollars
339. from our savings as working capital, vowing never to draw
340. another cent. We arrived at Schenectady, I did talk with
341. some of the people of the to company and became wildly en-
342. thusiastic over GE. My attention was drawn to the radio end
343. of the business and by a strange piece of luck, I learned
344. much of what the company thought about its future. I was
345. then able to put a fairly intelligent projection of the
346. coming radio boom on paper, which I sent to one of my brokers
347. in town. To replenish our working capital, my wife and I
348. worked on a farm nearby for two months, she in the kitchen,
349. and I in the haystack. It was the last honest manual work
350. that I did for many years.
351. The cement industry then caught my fancy and we
352. soon found ourselves looking at a property in the Lehigh
353. district of Eastern Pennsylvania. An unusual speculative
354. situation existed which I went to New York and described to
355. one of my broker friend . This time I drew blood in the
356. shape of an option on hundred shares of stock which
357. promptly commenced to soar. Securing a few hundred dollars
358. advance on this deal, we were freed of the necessity of work,
359. and during the coming year following year, we travelled all
360. over the southeast part of the United States, taking in power
361. projects, an aluminum plant, the Florida boom, the Birmingham
362. steel district, Muscle Shoals, and what not. By this time
363. my friends in New York thought it would pay them to really
364. hire me. At last I had a job in Wall Street. Moreover, I
365. had the use of twenty thousand dollars of their money.
366. For some years the fates tossed horseshoes and golden bricks
367. into my lap and I made much more money than was good for me.
368. It was too easy.
369. By this time drinking had gotten to be a very
370. important and exhilerating place in my life. What was a
371. few hundred dollars when you considered it in terms of ex-
372. citement and important talk in the gilded palaces of jazz up-
373. town. My natural conservativeness was swept away and I began
374. to play for heavy stakes. Another legend of infalability
375. commenced to grow up around me and I began to have what is
376. called in Wall Street a following which amounted to many
377. paper millions of dollars. I had arrived, so let the scoffers
378. scoff and be damned, but of course, they didn’t, and I made
379. a host of fair weather friends. I began to reach for more
380. power attempting to force myself onto the directorates of
381. corporations in which I controlled blocks of stock.
382. By this time, my drinking had assumed
383. serious proportions. The remonstrances of my associates ter-
384. minated in a bitter row, and I became a lone wolf. Though I
385. managed to avoid serious scrapes and partly out of loyalty,
386. extreme drunkenness, I had not become involved with the fair
387. sex, there were many unhappy scenes in my apartment, which
388. was a large one, as I had hired two, and had gotten the real
389. estate people to knock out the walls between them.
390. In the spring of 1929 caught the golf fever. This
391. illness was about the worst yet. I had thought golf was
392. pretty tepid sport, but I noticed some of my pretty
393. important friends thought it was a real game and it
394. presented an excuse for drinking by day as well as by
395. night. Moreover some one had casually said, they didn’t think
396. I would ver play a good game. This was a spark in a
397. powder magazine, so my wife and I were instantly off to the
398. country she to watch while I caught up with Walter Hagen.
399. Then too it was a fine chance to flaunt my money around
400. the old home town. And to carom lightly around the exclusive
401. course, whose select city membership had inspired so much
402. awe in me as a boy. So Wall Street was lightly tossed
403. aside while I acquired drank vast quantities of gin and
404. acquired the impeccable coat of tan, one sees on the faces
405. of the well to do. The local banker watched me with an
406. amused skepticism as I whirled good fat checks in and out
407. of his bank.
408. IN October 1929 the whirling movement in my bank
409. account ceased abruptly, and I commenced to whirl myself.
410. Then I felt like Stephen Leacock’s horseman, it seemed as rapidly
411. though I were galloping/in all directions at once, for the
412. great panic was on. First to Montreal, then to New York, to
413. rally my following in stocks sorely needing support. A few
414. bold spirits rushed into the breach, but it was of no use. I
415. shed my own wings as the moth who gets to near to the candle
416. flame. After one of those days of shrieking inferno on the
417. stock exchange floor with no information available, I lurched
418. drunkenly an the hotel bar to an adjoining brokerage office
419. there at about 8 o’clock in the evening I feverishly searched
420. a huge pile of ticker tape and tore of about an inch of it.
421. It bore the inscription P.F.K. 32.. The stock had opened at
422. 52 that morning. I had controlled over one hundred thousand
423. shares of it, and had a sizable block myself. I knew that I
424. was finished, and so were a lot of my friends.
425. I went back into the bar and after a few
426. drinks, my composure returned. People were beginning to jump
427. from every story of that great Tower of Babel. That was high
429. that I was not so weak. I realized that I had been care-
430. less, especially with other peoples money. I had not paid
431. attention to business and I deserved to be hurt. After a few
432. some more whiskey, my confidence returned again, and with it
433. an almost terrifying determination to somehow capitalize this
434. mess and pay everybody off. I reflected that it was just
435. another worthwhile lesson and that there were a lot of
436. reasons why people lost money in Wall Street that I had not
437. thought of before.
438. My wife took it all like the great person she is.
439. I think she rather welcomed it the situation thinking it
440. might bring me to my senses. Next morning, I woke early,
441. shaking badly from excitement and a terrific hangover. A
442. half bottle of Gin quickly took care of that momentary weak-
443. ness and I soon as business places were open I called a
444. friend in Montreal and said -“Well Dick, they have nailed my
445. hide to the barn door” – said he “The hell they have, come
446. on up”. That is all he said and up W went.
447. I shall never forget the kindness and generosity
448. of this friend. Moreover I must still have carried one
449. horseshoe with me, for by the spring of 1930, we were living
450. in our accustomed style and I had a very comfortable credit
451. balance on the very security in which I had taken the
452. heaviest licking, with plenty of champaigne and sound
453. canadian whiskey, I began to feel like Napolean returning
454. Melba. Infallible again. No St Helena for me. Accustomed
455. as they were to the ravages of fire water in Canada in those
456. days, I soon began to outdistance most of my countrymen both
457. as a serious and a frivolous drinker.
458. Then the depression bore down in earnest. and
459.I, having become worse than useless, had to be reluctantly
459. Though I had become manager of one of the departments of my
460. friend’s business, my drinking and nonchalant cocksureness,
461. had rendered me worse than useless, so he reluctantly let me
462. go. We were stony broke again, and even our furniture
463. looked like it was gone, for I could not even pay next months
464. rent on our swank apartment.
465. We wonder to this day how we ever got out of
466. Montreal. But we did, and then I had to eat humble pie. We
467. went to live with my Father and Mother-in-law where we
468. happily found never failing help and sympathy. I got a
469. job at what seemed to be a mere pittance of one hundred
470. dollars a week, but a brawl with a taxi driver , who got
471. very badly hurt, put an end to that . Mercifully, no one
472. knew it, but I was not to have steady employment for five
473. years, nor was I to draw a sober breath if I could help it.
474. Great was my humiliation when my poor wife was
475. obliged to go to work in a department store, coming home ex-
476. hausted night after night to find me drunk again. I became
477. a hanger-on at brokerage shops, but was less and less wel-
478. come as my drinking increased. Even then opportunities to
479. make money pursued me, but I passed up the best of them by
480. getting drunk at exactly the wrong time. Liquor had ceased
481. to be a luxury; It had become a necessity. What few
482. dollars I did make were devoted to keeping my credit good at
483. the bars. To keep out of the hands of the police and for
484. reasons of economy, I began to buy bathtub gin, usually two
485. bottles a day, and sometimes three if I did a real workman-
486. like job. This went on endlessly and I presently began to
487. awake real early in the morning shaking violently. Nothing
488. would seem to stop it but a water tumbler full of raw liquor.
489. If I could steal out of the house and get five or six
490. glasses of beer, I could sometimes eat a little breakfast.
491. Curiously enough I still thought I could control the situation
492. and there were periods of sobriety which would revive a flag-
493. ging hope of my wife and her parents. But as time wore on
494. matters got worse. My mother-inlaw died and my wife’s health
495. became poor, as did that of my Father-in-law. The house in
496. which we lived was taken over by the mortgage holder. Still
497. I persisted and still I fancied that fortune would again shine
498. upon me. As late 1932 I engaged the confidence of a man
499. who had friends with money. In the spring and summer of that
500. year we raised one hundred thousand dollars to buy securities
501. at what proved to be an all time low point in the New York
502. stock exchange. I was to participate generously in the
503. profits, and sensed that a great opportunity was at hand. So
505. prodigious bender a few days before the deal was to be
507. In a measure this did bring me to senses.
508. Many times before I had promised my wife that I had stopped
509. forever. I had written her sweet notes and had inscribed
510. the fly leaves of all the bibles in the house with to that
511. effect. Not that the bible meant so much, but after all
512. it was the book you put your hand on when you were sworn in
513. at court. I now see, however, that I had no sustained de-
514. sire to stop drinking until this last debacle. It was only
515. then that I realized it must stop and forever. I had come
516. to fully appreciate that once the first drink was taken,
517. there was no control Why then take this one? That was it-
518. never was alcohol to cross my lips again in any form. There
519. was, I thought, absolute finality in this decision. I had
520. been very wrong, I was utterly miserable and almost ruined.
521. This decision brought a great sense of relief, for I knew
522. that I really wanted to stop. It would not be easy, I was
523. sure of that, for I had begun to sense the power and cunning
524. of my master – John Barleycorn. The old fierce determination
525. to win out settled down on me – nothing, I still thought,
526. could overcome that aroused as it was. Again I dreamed
527. of my wife smiling happily, as I went out to slay the dragon.
528. I would resume my place in the business world and recapture
529. the lost regard of my fiends and associates. It would take
530. a long time, but I could be patient. The picture of myself
531. as a reformed drunkard rising to fresh heights of achive-
532. ment, quite carried me away with happy enthusiasm. My wife
533. caught the spirit for she saw at last that I really meant
535. But in a short while I came in drunk. I could
536. give no real explanation for it. The thought of my new re-
537. solve had scarcely occurred to me as I began. There had
538. been no fight – someone had offered me a drink, and I had
539. taken it, casually, remarking to myself that one or two
540. would not harm a man of my capacity. What had become of my
541. giant determination? How about all of that self searching I
542. had done? Why had not the thought of my past failures and
543. my new ambitions come into my mind? What of the intense de-
544. sire to make my wife happy? Why hadn’t these things – these
545. powerful incentives arisen in my mind to stay my hand as I
546. reached out to take that first drink? Was I crazy? I hated
547. to think so, but I had to admit that a condition of mind re-
548. sulting in such an appalling lack of perspective came pretty
549. near to being just that.
550. Then things were better for a time. I was
551. constantly on guard. After two or three weeks of sobriety
552. I began to think I was alright. Presently this quiet con-
553. fidence was replaced by cocksureness. I would walk past my
554. old haunts with a feeling of elation – I now fully realized
555. the danger that lurked there. The tide had turned at last –
556. and now I was really through. One afternoon on my way home
557. I walked into a bar room to make a telephone call, suddenly
558. I turned to the bartender and said “Four Irish whiskies –
559. water on the side” – As he poured them out with a surprised
560. look, I can only remember thinking to myself – “I shouldn’t
561. be doing this, but here’s how to the last time”. As I
562. gulped down the fourth one, I beat on the bar with my fist
563. and said, “for God’s sake, why have I done this again?” Where
564. had been my realization of only this morning as I had
565. passed this very place, that I was never going to drink again
566. I could give no answer, mortification and the feeling of
567. utter defeat swept over me. The thought that perhaps I
568. could never stop crushed me. Then as the cheering warmth
569. of these first drinks spread over me, I said – “Next time
570. I shall manage better, but while I am about it, I may as
571. well get good and drunk”. And I did exactly that.
572. I shall never forget the remorse, the horror
573. the utter hopelessness of the next morning. The courage to
574. rise and do battle was simply not there . Before daylight
575. I had stolen out of the house, my brain raced uncontrollably.
576. There was a terrible feeling of impending calamity.
577. feared even to cross a street, less I collapse and be run
578. over by an early morning truck. Was there no bar open? Ah,
579. yes, there was the all night place which sold beer – though
580. it was before the legal opening hour, I persuaded the man be-
581. hind the food counter that I must have a drink or perhaps die
582. on the spot. Cold as the morning was, I must have drunk
583. a dozen bottles of ale in rapid succession. My writhing
584. nerves were stilled at last and I walked to the next corner
585. and bought a paper. It told me that the stock market had
586. gone to hell again – “What difference did it make anyway,
587. the market would get better, it always did, but I’m in hell
588. to stay – no more rising markets for me. Down for the count-
589. what a blow to one so proud. I might kill myself, but no –
590. not now,” These were some of my thoughts – then I felt
591. dazed – I groped in a mental fog – mere liquor would fix
592. that – then two more bottles of cheap gin. Oblivion.
593. The human mind and body is a marvelous
594. mechanism, for mine withstood this sort of thing for yet
595. another two years. There was little money, but I could al-
596. ways drink. Sometimes I stole from my wife’s slender purse
597. when the early morning terror of madness was upon me. There
598. were terrible scenes and though not often violent, I would
599. sometimes do such things as to throw a sewing machine, or
600. kick the panels out of every door in the house. There were
601. moments when I swayed weakly before an open window or the
602. medicine chest in which there was poison – and cursed my-
603. self for a weakling. There were flights from the city to
604. the country when my wife could bear with me no longer at
605. home Sometimes there would be several weeks and hope would
606. return, especially for her, as I had not let her know how
607. defeated I really was, but there was always the return to
608. conditions still worse. Then came a night I when the physi-
609. cal and mental torture was so hellish that I feared I would
610. take a flying leap through my bedroom window sash and all
611. and somehow managed to drag my mattress down to the kitchen
612. floor which was at the ground level. I had stopped drinking
613. a few hours before and hung grimly to my determination that
614. I could have no more that night if it killed me. That very
615. nearly happened, but I was finally rescued by a doctor who
616. prescribed chloral hydrate, a powerful sedative. This reliev-
617. ed me so much that next day found me drinking apparently
618. without the usual penalty, if I took some sedative occasion-
619. ally. In the early spring of 1934 it became evident to
620. everyone concerned that something had to be done and
621. that very quickly. I was thirty pounds underweight, as I
622. could eat nothing when drinking, which was most of the
623. time. People had begun to fear for my sanity and I fre-
624. quently had the feeling myself that I was becoming deranged.
625. With the help of my brother-in-law, who is a
626. physician I was placed in a well known institution for the
627. bodily and mental rehabilitation of alcoholics. It was
628. thought that if I were thoroughly cleared of alcohol and
629. the brain irritation which accompanies it were reduced, I
630. might have a chance. I went to the place desperatly hoping
631. and expecting to be cured. The so-called bella donna
632. treatment given in that place helped a great deal. My mind
633. cleared and my appetite returned. Alternate periods of
634. hydro-therapy, mild exercise and relaxation did wonders for
635. me. Best of all I found a great friend in the doctor who
636. was head of the staff. He went far beyond his routine duty
637. and I shall always be grateful for those long talks in which
638. explained that when I drank I became physically ill and that
639. this bodily condition was usually accompanied by a mental
640. state such that the defense one should have against alcohol
641. became greatly weakened, though in no way mitigating my
642. early foolishness and selfishness about drink, I was greatly
643. relieved to discover that I had really been ill perhaps for
644. several years. Moreover I felt that the understanding and
645. fine physical start I was getting would assure my recovery,
646. Though some of the inmates of the place who had been there
647. many times seemed to smile at that idea. I noticed however
648. that most of them had no intention of quitting; they merely
649. came there to get reconditioned so that they could start in
650. again. I, on the contrary, desperately wanted to stop and
651. strange to say I still felt that I was a person of much more
652. determination and substance than they, so I left there in
653. high hope and for three or four months the goose hung high.
654. In a small way I began to make some progress in business.
655. Then came the terrible day when I drank again
656. and could not explain why I started. The curve of my de-
657. clining moral and bodily health fell of like a ski jump.
658. After a hectic period of drinking, I found myself again in
[archivist’s note: the typewritten manuscript text continues correctly with
page 23, but line numbers 659 – 679 remain unknown ]
680. Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I
681. would have to be confined somewhere ore else stumble
682. along to a miserable end, but there was soon to be
683. proof that indeed it is often darkest before dawn,
684. for this proved to be my last drinking bout, and I am
685. supremely confident that my present happy state is to be
686. for all time.
687. Late one afternoon near the end of that
688. month of November I sat alone in the kitchen of my home.
689. As usual, I was half drunk and enough so that the keen
690. edge of my remorse was blunted. With a certain satis-
691. faction I was thinking that there was enough gin se-
692. creted about the house to keep me fairly comfortable
693. that night and the next day. My wife was at work and I
694. resolved not to be in too bad shape when she got home.
695. My mind reverted to the hidden bottles and at I carefully
696. considered where each one was hidden. These things must
697. be firmly in my mind to escape the early morning tragedy
698. of not being able to find at least a water tumbler full
699. of liquor. Just as I was trying to decide whether to risk
700. concealing one of the full ones within easy reach of my
701. side of the bed, the phone rang.
702. At the other end of the line Over the
703. wire came the voice of an old school friend and drinking
704. companion of boom times. By the time we had exchanged
705. greetings, I sensed that he was sober. This seemed
706. strange, for it was years since anyone could remember his
707. coming to New York in that condition. I had come to think
708. of him as another hopeless devotee of Bacchus. Current
709. rumor had it that he had been committed to a state institu-
710. tion for alcoholic insanity. I wondered if perhaps he had
711. not just escaped. Of course he would come over right away
712. and take dinner with us. A fine idea that, for I then
713. would have an excuse to drink openly with him. Yes, we
714. would try to recapture the spirit of other days and per-
715. haps my wife could be persuaded to join in, which in self
716. defense she sometimes would. I did not even think of the
717. harm I might do him. There was to be a pleasant, and I
718. hoped an exciting interlude in what had become a
719. dreary waste of loneliness. Another drink stirred my
720. fancy; this would be an oasis in the dreary waste. That
721. was it – an oasis. Drinkers are like that.
722. The door opened and there he stood, very
723. erect and glowing. His deep voice boomed out cheerily –
724. the cast of his features – his eyes – the freshness of
725. his complexion – this was my friend of schooldays. There
726. was a subtle something or other instantly apparent even to
727. my befuddled perception. Yes – there was certainly some-
728. thing more – he was inexplicably different – what had
729. happened to him?
730. We sat at the table and I pushed a
731. lusty glass of gin flavored with pineapple juice in his
732. direction. I thought if my wife came in, she would be re-
733. lieved to find that we were not taking it straight –
734. “Not now”, he said. I was a little crest
735. fallen at this, though I was glad to know that someone
736. could refuse a drink at that moment – I knew I couldn’t.
737. “On the wagon?” – I asked. He shook his head and looked
738. at me with an impish grin .
739. “Aren’t you going to have anything?”-
740. I ventured presently.
741. “Just as much obliged, but not tonight”
742. I was disappointed, but curious. What had got into the
743. fellow – he wasn’t himself.
744. “No, he’s not himself – he’s somebody
745. else – not just that either – he was his old self, plus
746. something more, and maybe minus something”. I couldn’t put
747. my finger on it – his whole bearing almost shouted that
748. something of great import had taken place.
749. “Come now, what’s this all about”, I
750. asked. Smilingly, yet seriously, he looked straight at me
751. and said “I’ve got religion”.
752. So that was it. Last summer an alco
753. alcoholic crackpot – this fall, washed in the blood of the
754. Lamb. heavens, that might be even worse. I was thunder-
755. struck, and he, of all people. What on earth could one
756. say to the poor fellow.
757. So I finally blurted out “That’s
758. fine”, and sat back waiting for a sizzling blast on sal-
759. vation and the relation of the Cross, the Holy Ghost, and
760. the Devil thereto. Yes, he did have that starry edy
761. eyed look, the old boy was on fire all right. Well, bless
762. his heart, let him rant . It was nice that he was sober
763. after all. I could stand it anyway, for there was plenty
764. of gin and I took a little comfort that tomorrow’s ration
765. wouldn’t have to be used up right then.
766. Old memories of Sunday School – the profit
767. temperance pledge, which I never signed – the sound of the
768. preacher’s voice which could be heard on still Sunday
769. mornings way over on the hillside beyond the railroad
770. tracks,- My grandfather’s quite scorn of things some
771. church people did to him – his fair minded attitude that
772. I should make up my mind about these things myself – his
773. convictions that the fears really had their mooxx music –
774. but his denial of the right of preachers to tell him how
775. he should listen – his perfect lack of fear when he men-
776. tioned these things just before his death – these memories
777. surged up out of my childhood as I listened to my friend.
778. My own gorge rose for a moment to an all time high as my
779. anti-preacher – anti-church folk sentiment welled up in-
780. side me. These feelings soon gave way to respectful at-
781. tention as my former drinking companion rattled on.
782. Without knowing it, I stood at the great turning point of
783. my life – I was on the threshold of a fourth dimension
784. of existence that I had doubtfully heard some people des
785. describe and others pretend to have.
786. He went on to lay before me a simple
787. proposal. It was so simple and so little
788. complicated with the theology and dogma
789. I had associated with religion that by
790. degrees I became astonished and delighted.
791. I was astonished because a thing so simple
792. could accomplish the profound result I now
793. beheld in the person of my friend. To say that
794. I was delighted is putting it mildly , for I
795. relized that I could go for his program also.
796. Like all but a few u human beings I had truele
797. believed in the existence of a power greater
798. than myself true athiests are really very scarce.
799. It always seemed to me more difficult and illogical
800. to be an athiest than to believe there is a
801. certain amount of law and order and purpose
802. underlying the universe. The faith of an athiest
803. in his convictions is far more blind then that
804. of the religionist for it leads inevitably to
805. the absurd conclusion that the vast and ever
806. changing cosmos originally grew out of a cipher,
807. and now has arrived at its present state thru
808. a series of haphazard accidents, one of which
809. is man himself. My liking for things scientific
810. had encouraged to look into such matters as
811. a theory of evolution the nature of matter itself
812. as seen thru the eyes of the great chemists
813. physicists and astronomers and I had pondered
814. much on the question of the meaning of life itself.
815. The chemist had shown me that material matter
816. is not all what it appears to be. His studies
817. point to the conclusion that the elements and there
818. meriad combinations are but in the last last
819. analysis nothing but different arrangements
820. of that universal something which they are pleased
821. to call the electron. The physicist and the
822. astronomer had shown me that our universe .
823. moves and evolves according to many precise
824. and well understood laws. They tell me to the
825. last second when the sun will be next eclipsed
826. at the place I am now standing, or the very day
827. several decades from now When Hallyes comet
828. will make its turn about the sun. Much to my
829. x interest I learned from these men that great
830. cosmic accidents occur bringing about conditions
831. which are not exceptions to the law so much
832. as they result in new and unexpected developments
833. which arise logically enough once the so called
834. accident has occurred. It is highly probable for
835. example-that our earth is the only planet in the
836. solar system upon which man could evolve – and it
837. is claimed by some astronomers that the chance
838. that similar planets exist elsewhere in the universe
839. is rather small. There would have to be a vast
840. number of coincidences to bring about the exact
841. conditions of light, warmth, food supply, etc.
842. to support life as we know it here. But I used to
843. ask myself why regard the earth as an accident
844. in a system which evidences in so many respects the
845. greatest law and order’ If If all of this law
846. existed then could there be so much law and no
847. intelligence? And if there was an intelligence
848. great enough to materialize and keep a universe in
849. order it must necessarily have the power to create
850. accidents and make exceptions.
851. The evolutionist brought great logic to bear
852. on the proposition that life on this planet began
853. with the lowly omebia , which was a simple cell
854. residing in the oceans of Eons past. Thru countless
855. & strange combinations of logic and accident man
856. and all other kinds of life evolved but man possessed
857. a consciousness of self, a power to reason and to
858. choose , and a small still voice which told him the
859. difference between right and wrong and man became
860. increasingly able to fashion with his hands and
861. with his tools the creations of his own brain .
862. He could give direction and purpose to natural laws
863. and so he, created new things for himself and of
864. [line number skipped in the typewritten manuscript]
865. and do he apparently created new things for himself an
866. [line number skipped in the typewritten manuscript]
867. out of a tissue composed of his past experience
868. and his new ideas. Therefore man tho’ resembling
869. other forms of life in many ways seems to me
870. very different. It was obvious that in a limited
871. fashion he could play at being a God himself .
872. Such was the picture I had of myself and the
873. world in which I lived, that there was a mighty
874. rhythm, intelligence and purpose behind it all
875. despite inconsistencies. I had rather strongly
877. But this was as far as I had ever got toward
878. the realization of God and my personal relationship
879. to Him. My thoughts of God were academic and
880. speculative when I had them, which for some years
881. past had not been often. That God was an intelligence
882. power and love upon which I could absolutely rely
883. as an individual had not seriously occurred to me.
884. Of course I knew in a general way what theologians
885. claimed but I could not see that religious persons
886. as a class demonstrated any more power, love and
887. intelligence than those who claimed no special
888. dispensation from God tho’ I grant de that
889. christianity ought to be a wonderful influence
890. I was annoyed, irked and confused by the attitudes
891. they took, the beliefs they held and the things
892. they had done in the name of Christ,. People like
893. myself had been burned and whole population put
894. to fire and sword on the pretext they did not
895. believe as christians did. History taught that
896. christians were not the only offenders in this
897. respect. It seemed to me that on the whole
898. it made little difference whether you were
899. Mohamadem, Catholic, Jew, Protesant or Hotentot.
900. You were supposed to look askance at the other
901. fellows approach to God. Nobody could be saved
902. unless they fell in with your ideas. I had a
903. great admiration for Christ as a man, He practiced
904. what he preached and set a marvelous example.
905. It was not hard to agree in Principle with
906. His moral teachings bit like most people, I preferred
907. to live up to some moral standard but not to others.
908. At any rate I thought I understood as well as any
909. one what good morals were and with the exceptions
910. of my drinking I felt superior to most christians
911. I knew. I might be week in some respects but at
912. least I was not hypocritical, So my interest in
913. christianity other than its teaching of moral
914. principles and the good I hoped it did on
915. balance was slight.
916. Sometimes I wished that I had been religiously
917. trained from early childhood that I might have the
918. comfortable assurance about so many things I found
919. it impossible to have any definite convictions
920. upon. The question of the hereafter, the many
921. theological abstractions and seeming contradictions
922. – these things were puzzling and finally annoying
923. for religious people told me I must believe
924. a great many seemingly impossible things to be one
925. [line number skipped]
926. of them. This insistence on their part plus a
927. powerful desire to possess the things of this life
928. while there was yet time had crowded the idea of
929. the personal God more and more out of my mind as the
930. years went by. Neither were my convictions strengthen
931. by my own misfortunes. The great war and its
932. aftermath seemed to more certainly demonstrate the
933. omnipotence of the devil than the loving care of
934. an all powerful God
935. Nevertheless here I was sitting opposite a
936. man who talked about a personal God who told me
937. how hw had found Him, who described to me how I
938. might do the same thing and who convinced me
939. utterly that something had come into his life
940. which had accomplished a miracle. The man was
941. transformed; there was no denying he had been re-
942. born. He was radiant of something which soothed
943. my troubled spirit as tho the fresh clean wind of
944. mountain top blowing thru and thru me I saw and
945. felt and in a great surge of joy I realized
946. that the great presence which had made itself felt
947. to me that war time day in Winchester Cathedral
948. had again returned.
949. As he continued I commenced to see myself as in
950. as in an unearthly mirror. I saw how ridiculous and
951. futile the whole basis of my life had been. Standing in
952. the middle of the stage of my lifes setting I had been
953. feverishly trying to arrange ideas and things and people
954. and even God, to my own liking, to my own ends and to
955. promote what I had thought to be true happiness. It was
956. truly a sudden and breath taking illumination. Then the
957. idea came – ” The tragic thing about you is, that you
958. have been playing God.” That was it. Playing God. Then
959. the humor of the situation burst upon me, here was I a
960. tiny grain of sand of the infinite shores of Gods great
961. universe and the little grain of sand, had been trying
962. to play God. He really thought he could arrange all of
963. the other little grains about him just to suit himself.
964. And when his little hour was run out, people would
965. weep and say in awed tones-‘ How wonderful’.
966. So then came the question – If I were no
967. longer to be God than was I to find and perfect
968. the new relationship with my creator – with the Father
969. of Lights who presides over all ? My friend laid down
970. to me the terms and conditions which were simple but
971. not easy, drastic yet broad and acceptable to honest
972. men everywhere, of whatever faith or lack thereof. He did not
973. tell me that these were the only terms – he merely said that
974. they were terms that had worked in his case. They were spiritual
975. principles and rules of practice he thought common to all of the
976. worthwhile religions and philosophies of mankind. He regarded them
977. as stepping stones to a better understanding of our relation to the
978. spirit of the universe and as a practical set of directions setting
979. forth how the spirit could work in and through us that we might
980. become spearheads and more effective agents for the promotion
981. of Gods Will for our lives and for our fellows. The great thing
982. about it all was its simplicity and scope, no really religious
983. persons belief would be interfered with no matter what his training ,
984. For the man on the street who just wondered about such things, it ws
985. Was a providential approach, for with a small beginning of faith
986. and a very large dose of action along spiritual lines he could be
987. sure to demonstrate the Power and Love of God as a practical
988. workable twenty four hour a day design for living.
989. This is what my friend suggested I do. One: Turn my face
990. to God as I understand Him and say to Him with earnestness – complete
991. honesty and abandon- that I henceforth place my life at His
992. disposal and direction forever. TWO: that I do this in the presence
993. of another person, who should be one in whom I have confidence and if
994. I be a member of a religious organization, then with an appropriate
995. member of that body. TWO: Having taken this first step, I should
996. next prepare myself for Gods Company by taking a thorough and ruth-
997. less inventory of my moral defects and derelictions. This I should
998. do without any reference to other people and their real or fancied
999. part in my shortcomings should be rigorously excluded-” Where have I
1000. failed-is the prime question. I was to go over my life from the
- beginning and ascertain in the light of my own present understanding
1002. where I had failed as a completely moral person. Above all things in
1003. making this appraisal I must be entirely honest with myself. As an
1004. aid to thoroughness and as something to look at when I got through
1005. I might use pencil and paper. First take the question of honesty.
1006. Where, how and with whom had I ever been dishonest? With respect to
1007. anything. What attitudes and actions did I still have which were not
1008. completely honest with God with myself or with the other fellow. I ws
1009. was warned that no one can say that he is a completely honest
1010. person. That would be superhuman and people aren’t that way.
1011. Nor should I be misled by the thought of how honest I am in
1012. some particulars. I was too ruthlessly tear out of the past all
1013. of my dishonesty and list them in writing. Next I was to explore
1014. another area somewhat related to the first and commonly a very
1015. defective one in most people. I was to examine my sex conduct
1016. since infancy and rigorously compare it with what I thought that
1017. conduct should have been. My friend explained to me that peoples
1018. ideas throughout the world on what constitutes perfect sex conduct
1019. vary greatly Consequently, I was not to measure my defects in this
1020. particular by adopting any standard of easy virtue as a measuring
1021. stick, I was merely to ask God to show me the difference between
1022. right and wrong in this regard and ask for help and strength and
1023. honesty in cataloguing my defects according to the true dictates
1024. of my own conscience. Then I might take up the related questions
1025. of greed and selfishness and thoughtlessness. How far and in what
1026. connection had I strayed and was I straying in these particulars?
1027. I was assured I could make a good long list if I got honest enough
1028. and vigorous enough. Then there was the question of real love for
1029. all of my fellows including my family, my friends and my enemies
1030. Had I been completely loving toward all of these at all times
1031. and places. If not, down in the book it must go and of course
1032. everyone could put plenty down along that line.
(Resntments, self-pity, fear, pride.)
1033. my friend pointed out that resentment, self-pity, fear, in-
1034. feriority, pride and egotism, were thingsx attitudes which
1035. distorted ones perspective suc and usefulness to entertain such
1036. sentiments and attitudes was to shut oneself off from God and
1037. people about us. Therefore it would be necessary for me to
1038. examine myself critically in this respect and write down my
1040. Step number three required that I carefully go over my
1041. personal inventory and definitely arrive at the conclusion that
1042. I was now willing to rid myself of all these defects moreover
1043. I was to understand that this would not be accomplished by
1044. [line number skipped]
1045. myself alone, therefore I was to humbly ask God that he take
1046. these handicaps away. To make sure that I had become really
1047. honest in this desire, I should sit down with whatever person
1048. I chose and reveal to him without any reservations whatever
1049. the result of my self appraisal. From this point out I was
1050. to stop living alone in every particular. Thus was I to ridx keep
1051. myself free in the future of those things which shut out
1052. God’s power, It was explained that I had been standing in my
1053. own light, my spiritual interior had been like a room darkened
1054. by very dirty windows and this was an undertaking to wipe them
1055. off and keep them kleen. Thus was my housekeeping to be ac-
1056. complished, it would be difficult to be really honest with my-
1057. self and God and perhaps to be completely honest with another
1058. person by telling an other the truth, I could however be ab-
1059. solutely sure that my self searching had been honest and effective.
1060. Moreover I would be taking my first spiritual step towards my
1061. fellows for something I might say could be helpful in leading
1062. the person to whom I talked a better understanding of himself.
1063. In this fashion I would commence to break down the barriers
1064. which my many forms of self will had erected. Warning was
1065. given me that I should select a person who would be in ho way
1066. injured or offended by what I had to say, for I could not expect
1067. to commence my spiritual growth at the w expense of another.
1068. My friend told me that this step was complete, I would surely
1069. feel a tremendous sense of relieve accompanying by the absolute
1070. conviction that I was on the right t road at last.
1071.l0 Step number four demanded that I frankly admit that my
1072.deviations from right thought and action had injured other people
1073.therefore I must set about undoing the damage to the best of my
1074.ability. It would be advisable to make a list of all the
1075.persons I had hurt or with whom I had bad relations. People I
1076.disliked and those who had injured me should have preferred
1077.attention, provided I had done them injury or still entertained
1078.any feeling of resentment towards them . Under no sircumstances
1079.was I to consider their defects or wrong doing , then I was to
1080.approach these people telling them I had commenced a way of life
1081.which required that I be on friendly and helpful terms with every
1082.body; that I recognized I had been at fault in this particular
1083.that I was sorry for what I had done or said and had come to set
1084.matters right insofar as I possibly could. Under no circumstances
1085.was I to engage in argument or controversy. My own wrong doing
1086.was to be admitted and set right and that was all. Assurance was
1087.to be given that I was prepared to go to any length to do the
1088.right thing. Again I was warned that obviously I could not
1089.make amends at the expense of other people, that judgment and
1090.discretion should be used lest others should be hurt. This sort
1091.of situation could be postponed until such conditions became such
1092.that the job could be done without harm to anyone. One could
1093.be contented in the meanwhile by discussing such a matter frankly
1094.with a third party who would not be involved and of course on a
1095.strictly confidential basis. Great was to be taken that one
1096.did not avoid situations difficult or dangerous to oneself on
1097.such a pretext . The willingness to go the limit a s fast had
1098.to be at all times present. This principle of making amends
1099.was to be continued in the future for only by keeping myself free
1100.of bad relationships with others could I expect to receive the
1101.Power and direction so indespensable to my new and larger useful-
1102.ness . This sort of discipline would helped me to see others as
1103.they really are; to recognize that every one is plagued by various
1104.of self will; that every one is in a sense actually sick with
1105.some form of self; that when men behave badly they are only dis-
1106.playing symptoms of spiritual ill health .
1107. one is not usually angry or critical of another when he
1108. suffers from some grave bodily illness and I would
1109. presently see senseless and futile it is to be disturbed
1110. by those burdened by their own wrong thinking . I was to
1111. entertain towards everyone a quite new feeling of tolerance
1112. patience and helpfulness I would recognize more and more
1113. that when I became critical or resentful I must at all
1114. costs realize that such things were very wrong in me
1115. and that in some form otro or other I still had the very
1116. defects of which I complained in others. Much emphasis
1117. was placed on the development of this of mind toward others.
1118. No stone should be left unturned to acheive this end.
1119. The constant practice of this principle frequently ask-
1120. ing God for His help in making it work under trying
112l. circumstances was absolutely imperative . The drunkard
1122. especially had to be most rigorous on this point for one
1125. burst of anger or self pity might so shut him out from his
1124. new found strength that he would drink again and with us
1125. that always means calamity and sometimes death.
1126. This was indeed a program, the thought of some of the
1127. things I would have admit about myself to other people
1128. was most distasteful – even appalling. It was only to o
1129. plain that I had been ruined by my own colosal egotism
1130. and selfishness, not only in respect to drinking but with
1131. regard to everything else. Drinking had been a symptom
1132. of these things. Alcohol had submerged my inferiorities
1135. and puffed up my self esteem, body had finally rebelled
1134. and I had some fatally affected , my thinking and action
1135. was woefully distorted thru infection from the mire of
1136. self pity, resentment, fear and remorse in which I now
1137. wallowed . The motive behind a certain amount of generosity,
1138. kindness and the meticulous honesty in some directions
1139. upon which I had prided myself was not perhaps not so
1140. good after all. The motive had been to get personal
1141. satisfaction for myself, perhaps not entirely but on the
1142. whole this was true. I had sought the glow which comes
1143. with thexflaws and Praise rendered me by others.
1144. I began to see how actions good in themselves might avail
1145. little because of wrong motive , I had been like the man
1146. who feels that all is well after he has condesendingly
1147. taken turkeys to the poor at Xmas time . How clear it
1148. suddenly became that all of my thought and action, both
1149. good and bad, had arisen out of a desire to make myself
1150. happy and satisfied. I had been self centered instead of
1151. God centered. It was now easy to understand why the taking
1152. of a simple childlike attitude toward God plus a drastic
1153. program of action which would place himx would bring
1154. results. How evident et became that mere faith in God
1155. was not enough. Faith had to be demonstrated by works
1156. and there could be no works or any worth while demonstrations
1157. until I had fitted myself for the undertaking and had be-
1158. come a suitable table agent thru which God might express Himself.
1159. There had to be a tremendous personal housecleaning, a
1160. sweeping away of the debris of past willfullness , a restoring
1161. of broken relationships and a firm resolve to make God’s
1162. will my will . I must stop forcing things , I must stop
1163. trying to mold people and situations to my own liking.
1164. Nearly every one is taught that human willpower and ambition
1165. if good ends are sought are desirable attributes. I too
1166. had clung to that conception but I saw that it was not good
1167. enough, nor big enough , nor powerful enough . My own will had
1168. failed in many areas of my live. With respect to
1169. alcohol it had become absolutely inoperative . My ambitions,
1170. which had seemed worthy at some time, had been frustrated.
1171. Even had I been successful , the pursuit of my desires
1172. would have perhaps harmed others add their realization
1173. would have added little or nothing to anyone’s peace,
1174. happiness or usefulness. I began to see that the clashing
1175. ambitions and designs of even those who sought what to them
1176. seemed worthy ends , have filled the world with discord and
1177. misery . Perhaps people of this sort created more havouqx
1178. havoc than those confessedly immoral and krucked croocked
1179. I saw even the most useful people die unhappy and defeated.
1180. All because some one else had behaved badly or they had
[archivist’s note: the rest of this manuscript is currently missing]
(This is another “pre-original manuscript” draft of chapters in the Big Book. Please notice that the order of these first two chapters are reversed. Also, part of the Rowland Hazard/Dr. Carl Jung story is moved to the front of “There Is A Solution”, and the end of the same chapter mentions that they were planning for the next few chapters to be personal narratives. God bless and take it easy! – Barefoot Bill)
THERE IS A SOLUTION
“I have never seen one single case in which alcohol-mindedness was established in the sense you have it, that ever recovered.” These fateful words were spoken to a man we know, some seven years ago. The speaker was a noted doctor and psychologist having world eminence in his specialty. The men to whom he spoke, like many of us before and since, had searched the world for the solution of his alcoholic problem. He was a man of ability, good sense, and high character. For many years before his encounter with this noted doctor, he had floundered from one sanitarium to another. He had consulted several of the best know American psychologists. On their recommendations he had gone to Europe and confined himself for a year in an institution. There he was under the care of this celebrated physician.
Though many bitter experiences had given him ground for skepticism, he left the place with unusual confidence. He felt that his physical and mental condition was unusually good. Above all, he had acquired such a profound knowledge of the inner workings of his mind and its hidden springs, that relapse was unthinkable. Nevertheless, he was drunk in a few weeks. More baffling still, he could give no satisfactory explanation of why he became that way. So he went back to his doctor, whom he admired, and asked him point blank why he could not recover. Why was it that he who wished above all things to regain self control, who seemed quite rational and well balanced with respect to other problems, had proved to be non compes mentis with respect to alcohol? He begged the doctor to tell him the real truth, and he got it. In the doctor’s judgment he was utterly hopeless; he could never regain his position in society and he would have to place himself permanently in an institution or hire a bodyguard if he expected to live long. That was a great physician’s opinion.
But our friend lives, and is a free man. He does not need a bodyguard, nor is he confined. He can go anywhere on this earth without disaster, provided he remains willing to maintain a certain simple attitude.
We, of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, know one hundred men who were as hopeless as our friend. They are free men also. They have an answer for this terrific problem that really works. We are ordinary Americans. All sections of this broad land and many of its occupations are represented. Among us are to be found many political, economic, social and religious backgrounds. We are a crowd of people who normally would mix like oil and water. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after shipwreck has been averted. Comraderie, celebration, joyousness and democracy pervade the ship from steerage to Captains table. But unlike the feelings of a ship’s passengers at such a time, our joy in escape from disaster does not abate as we go our several ways.
There are potent reasons why this is so. We have been through many shipwrecks and, at long last, there has been the final one at which it seemed we must certainly perish. We have been the victims of a common calamity. We collectively experienced almost every known variety of human misadventure and misery. We have inhabited sanitariums, insane asylums, and occasionally jails. We have felt the pangs of remorse as shadows deepened over our disintegrated lives and homes. We are sure hell promises no more exquisite mental and physical tortures than we have survived. Ask anyone who has flirted with delirium tremens. We have seen undertaking after undertaking, and ambition after ambition, wilted and snuffed out, usually, at the very point of success. Some of us have attempted self-destruction, and have felt sorry we failed in our attempts. In earlier years, most of us thought well of our abilities, our qualities and our futures. It has been hard to bear the dawning realization that there was no bearable future. Those successive smashing blows to our pride and self-sufficiency have been intolerable. Consequently, an important ingredient of the powerful cement which binds us is the feeling we have been victims of a common disaster.
However universal these troubles have been, they of themselves would never have bound us together, as we are now joined. The tremendous fact for every one of us has been the discovery of a common solution. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action. This is the great news we are confident this book will bear to those who suffer as we have.
An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way that no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer, all are sorry for him, and no one is angry or hurt. Presently he dies honorably enough. After the anguish of parting has worn away, people murmur, “Wasn’t it too bad about Jim.” But with the alcoholic illness, there goes a seeming never-ending annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It encompasses all who are near and dear to the sufferer, the misunderstanding, fierce resentment, and financial insecurity.
Therefore we are certain this volume should attempt to inform, instruct and comfort all of those who are, or may be affected. This is pretty much everyone. As a group, we have had four years of intensive and unique experience on which to draw. During this time we have intimately touched some two hundred cases of acute alcoholism. The approach to these situations has been unusual. It has always consisted of men who have found the answer for themselves. They carry the message to others as a part of their own cure. Hardly a day passes that we are not in contact with those who are trying to rid themselves of an appalling state of affairs. We have found great satisfaction in the knowledge that we may be so happily and peculiarly used. Where one alcoholic approaches another upon the basis we are about to discuss, things happen and results follow which were formerly impossible. Highly competent psychologists who have dealt with us – often fruitlessly we are afraid – complain it is almost impossible to persuade an alcoholic to discuss his or her situation without reserve. Strangely enough, wives, parents and intimate friends usually find us more unapproachable than do the psychologist and the doctor.
On the contrary, an ex-alcoholic who has found this solution, who is properly armed with certain medical and psychiatric information, can generally win the complete confidence of another in a few hours. Until that high degree of understanding is reached, little or nothing can be accomplished. The fact that the man who is making the approach has had the same difficulty, that he obviously knows what he is talking about, that his whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that here is a man with a real answer, that there are no fees to pay, no axes to grind, nor people to please, no lectures to be endured, no attitude of holier than thou, nor anything whatever except the sincere desire to be helpful; these are the conditions we have found necessary. After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again.
None of us makes a sole vocation of this work, nor do we think it would increase its effectiveness if we did. We feel that elimination of the liquor problem is but a beginning. A much more important demonstration of the principles upon which we became well lies before us in our respective homes, occupations and affairs. Every one of us spends much of his spare time in the sort of effort which we are going to describe to you. A few are fortunate enough to be so situated that they can give nearly all of our time. If we keep on the way we are going there is little doubt that much good will result. But the problem would hardly be scratched. Those of us who live in large cities are overcome by the reflection that within gunshot of us hundreds are dropping into oblivion this very minute. Many could surely recover if they had the opportunity we have enjoyed. How then shall we present the thing which has been so freely given us?
More harm than good might be done should a description of our work get into the ordinary channels of publicity in such a way as to involve our personal identities. We might be besieged by numbers of people who only imagine they wish to give up drinking, whose families think they ought to stop, who are badly impaired mentally or whose alcoholism is complicated by other difficult states. Though we dealt only with those cases who really want to recover we could not begin to handle them on a personal basis. There are not enough of us, nor have we accumulated the experience that would be necessary. Yet, the desire to get this message to the thousands who can use it bears down with much weight upon us all.
We have concluded it might be helpful to publish an anonymous volume such as you are about to read, setting forth the problem as it appears to us. We shall bring to bear upon it our combined experience and knowledge, which ought to suggest a useful program of action and attitude for everyone concerned in a drinking situation. Of necessity there must be much discussion in these pages of matters medical, psychiatric, social, and religious. We are aware that these subjects, from their very nature, are controversial. Nothing would please us so much as to write a book which would contain no basis for contention or argument. We shall do our utmost to achieve that ideal. Certain activities and attitudes have proved vital to the successful solution of our drinking problem. These, we think, ought not conflict with the views of honest men the world over, whatever their race, creed or color. This is the spirit in which we shall try to proceed, remembering always that we may be mistaken here and there on matters concerning which there can be honest differences of opinion. We are most anxious not to appear in the role of those who would preach or reform. We deem such attitudes ill befit the kind of people we have been and, to some extent, still are.
For example, it is surprising that most of us have not developed a downright hatred for John Barleycorn and all his works; that we have not become intolerant and impatient with those who like to drink. Many people sincerely believe that they should not be deprived of an age-old privilege and pleasure just because a lot of people are softened and made sick by it. Perhaps they are right. Some of us may differ but we all respect their views. We are sure we have a way of life which, if adopted generally, would render excessive drinking a stupid and impossible practice. Most of us sense strongly that real tolerance of other people’s shortcomings and viewpoints, and a sincere respect for the opinions of mankind, are attitudes which enhance our usefulness to others. In the last analysis our very lives, as ex-alcoholics, depend upon the constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.
If you have read this far, you have commenced to ask yourself why it is that all of us became so desperately ill from drinking. Doubtless you are still more curious to discover how and why, in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from an utterly hopeless condition of mind and body. If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you are already beginning to say to yourself, “What do I have to do?”
The main purpose of this book is to answer such questions specifically. We shall tell you what we have done. Before going into a detailed discussion it may be well to summarize some points as we see them.
How many time people have said to us: “I can take it or leave it alone.” – “Why don’t you drink like a gentleman or quit?” – “That fellow can’t handle his liquor.” – “Why don’t you try beer and wine?” – “Lay off the hard stuff.” – “His will power must be weak.” – “He could stop it if he wanted to.” – “She’s such a sweet girl, I should think he’d stop for her.” – “The doctor told him that if he ever drank again it would kill him, but there he is all lit up again.”
Now these are commonplace expressions with respect to drinkers which we hear all the time. Back of them is a world of ignorance and misunderstanding. We see that those expressions pertain to people who react very differently to alcohol. We observe in them the moderate drinker who has little trouble in abandoning liquor altogether, if any good reason appears why he should do so. Then we have a certain type of hard drinker. He may have only a bad habit which will gradually impair him physically and mentally. Perhaps it will cause him to die a few years before his time. If a sufficiently strong reason, such as ill health, falling in love, change of environment, the warning of a doctor becomes operative, this fellow can also stop. He may find it difficult and troublesome, and may discover it advantageous to get medical or psychiatric aid.
But what about the real alcoholic who may have started off as a moderate drinker, who may or may not become a continuous hard drinker, but who, at some stage of hisdrinking career, begins to lose all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink? Here is a fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, tragic things while drinking. He is so often Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is seldom pleasantly intoxicated. Almost always, he is more or less insanely drunk. His disposition while drinking does not square with the man you know when sober. When normal he may be one of the finest fellows in the world. Yet let him drink for a day, and he frequently becomes disgustingly, and even dangerously anti-social. He has a positive genius for getting tight at exactly the wrong moment, particularly when some important decision or engagement must be met. He is often perfectly sensible and well balanced concerning everything in the world, save liquor. With respect to that, he is incredibly dishonest and selfish. He often has ahead of him a promising career.
No matter what his station in life, or his educational or intellectual rank, he often possesses special abilities, skills, and aptitudes. How many times have we seen him use these gifts to build up a promising prospect for his family and himself, then pull thestructure down on his head by a senseless series of sprees. He is the fellow who goes to bed so intoxicated he ought to sleep the clock around. Yet we find him feverishly searching early next morning for the bottle he misplaced the night before. If he can afford it, he may have liquor concealed all over his house to be absolutely sure no one gets his supply away from him to throw down the waste pipe.
Every business man’s convention presents a like spectacle. Certain individuals are always found, going about from room to room in the early morning, shaking like the proverbial aspen leaf. They tell you they are dying for a drink, and can’t wait until the bar opens. This is very annoying to their brother businessmen who may have been twice as indiscreet the night before. The average tired delegate wants to sleep. On awakening he has no more inconvenience than a headache and the foolish feeling he was much too skittish last evening. But not so with alcoholics, no matter how drunk when they get to bed.
As matters grow worse for our alcoholic friend, he begins to use a combination of high-powered sedative and liquor to quiet his nerves so he can go to work. Then comes those days when he simply cannot make it, and he gets drunk all over again. Finally he begins to appear at hospitals and sanitariums, or he gets in with his doctor who may give him a dose of morphine or some high voltage sedative to taper off with. This is by no means a comprehensive picture of the true alcoholic, as our behavior patterns vary considerably. Perhaps this description should identify him roughly in the reader’s mind.
But you are asking yourself, “Why does he behave like this? If hundreds of experiences have shown him that one drink means another debacle with all its attendant suffering and humiliation, how is it he takes that one drink? What has become of the common sense and will power that he sometimes displays with respect to other matters?” Perhaps there never will be a full answer to your questions. Psychiatrists and medical men vary considerably in their opinions as to why the alcoholic reacts differently than other people. No one is sure why, once a certain point is reached, all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men can seem to do nothing about it whatever. We cannot answer that riddle. But we have, out of our experience and observations of each other, arrived at some pretty definite conclusions, which in the main, we think correct. While they may not entirely square with what others say, they do meet our needs, and they do make sense to us. We are positive that nine out of ten serious drinkers who honestly review their own histories will agree with us.
To begin with, it is self evident that the reaction of our bodies and nervous systems to alcohol has become radically different, in fact abnormal as compared with the ordinary person; or with even many hearty drinkers. It may take ten or fifteen years of stiff drinking to bring about this condition in a body predisposed to alcoholism, though a very short period does the trick sometimes. Most of us now realize that our reaction to alcohol was somewhat abnormal from the very beginning; that we were actually “hooked” and sickened by it long before grave symptoms, or incapacity to attend to business put in an appearance.
The nature of these symptoms, and the bodily conditions we think lie back of them, we shall cover later on. It is enough now to say that we believe ourselves to have been sick, and not just foolish, when we have been drinking.
We know that while the alcoholic keeps away from drink as he may do for months or years, he does not suffer from a bodily malady. Equally positive are we, that once he takes any alcohol whatever into his system, something happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually impossible for him to stop. We believe the experience of any alcoholic will abundantly confirm that.
These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting in motion the terrible cycle that everyone has seen so many times. Therefore, the real problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body. If you ask him why he started on that last bender the chances are he will offer you any one of a hundred alibis, many of which we shall list further on. Sometimes these excuses have a certain plausibility, but none of them really makes sense in the light of the havoc an alcoholic’s drinking bout creates. They sound to you like the philosophy of the man who, having a headache, beats himself on the head with a hammer so that he couldn’t feel the ache. If you draw this fallacious reasoning to the attention of an alcoholic, he will laugh it off, or become irritated and refuse to talk. Once in a great while he may tell the truth. And the truth, strange to say, is usually that he has no more idea why he took that first drink than you have. It is true that numbers of drinkers have excuses with which they are satisfied some of the time. But in their hearts they really do not know why they do it. Once this malady has a real hold, they are a baffled lot. Nearly all of them have the obsession that somehow, some day, they will beat the game. But deep down in them, they often suspect they are down for the count.
How surely they have already gone with the wind, few of them realize. In a vague way their families and friends sense that these people are abnormal. But everybody hopefully waits the day when the sufferer will rouse himself from his lethargy and assert his power of will.
The tragic truth is that, if the man be a real alcoholic, the happy day will never arrive. In the early part of this chapter, we cited the case of a man who was frankly told of his utter hopelessness by a physician who is possibly the world’s leading authority on the subject. At a certain point in the drinking of every alcoholic, he passes into a state where the most powerful desire to stop drinking is of absolutely no avail. Let us again emphasize that this unhappy situation has already arrived in virtually every case, long before it is suspected. The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice with respect to drink. Our so-called will power with respect to that area of thinking and action becomes practically non-existent. We are unable at certain times, no matter how well we understand ourselves, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. The almost certain consequences that follow taking a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind and deter us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy, and become readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete failure of the kind of defense that would keep one from putting his hand on a hot stove. The alcoholic says to himself in the most casual way: “It won’t burn me this time, so here’s how.” Or perhaps he doesn’t think at all. How many times have some of us begun to drink in this nonchalant way, and then after the third or fourth, pounded on the bar and said to ourselves, “For God’s sake, how did I ever get started again,” only to have that thought supplanted by “Well, I’ll stop with the sixth drink,” or “What’s the use anyhow?”
When this sort of thinking is fully established in an individual with alcoholic tendencies, he has become, in our opinion, just like our friend who consulted the great doctor. He has placed himself beyond all human aid, and unless locked up, is virtually certain to die, or go permanently insane. It is a grim business indeed. These stark and ugly facts which have been confirmed by legions of alcoholics throughout history. But for the grace of God, there would have been one hundred more convincing demonstrations among us. It is amazing how many want to stop, but cannot.
There is a solution, and how glorious to us was the knowledge of it. Almost none of us liked the self searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at out feet. We have found much of heaven right here on this good old earth, and have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence that none of us dreamed could be a fact.
And the great fact is just this, and no less; that we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences, which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God’s universe. It works! The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that the Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is to us a marvel. He has commenced to accomplish those things, which by no stretch of the imagination could we do by ourselves.
If by chance you are, or have begun to suspect that you are, an alcoholic, we think you have no middle-of-the-road solution. You are in a position where life is becoming impossible, and if you have passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, you have but two alternatives. One is to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best you can. Or you can surely find what we have found, if you honestly want to, and are willing to make the effort. After years of living on a basis which now seems wholly false, we did not become rightly related to our Creator in a minute. None of us have found God in easy lessons, but He can be found by all who are willing to put the task ahead of all else.
Some of our alcoholic readers may think they can do without God. Let us complete the conversation our friend was having with the European man of medicine. As you will recall, the doctor was saying, “I have never seen one single case in which alcohol mindedness was established in the sense you have it that ever recovered.” Naturally our friend felt at that moment as though the gates of hell had closed on him with a clang. He said to the doctor, “Is there no exception?” The doctor answered, “Yes, there is just one. Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring now and then since early times. Sporadically, here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital religious experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you. With many individuals the methods which I have been employing are successful, but they are never successful with an alcoholic of your type.”
Upon hearing this, our friend was somewhat relieved, for he reflected that after all he was a good church member. His hope was promptly dashed by the doctor, who told him that his faith and his religious convictions were very good as far as they went, but that in his case they did not spell the vital experience so absolutely imperative to displace his insanity with respect to matters alcoholic.
Our friend found himself in a hideous dilemna. So have we, when it began to look to us as though we must have something or go off the deep end. Our friend finally had such an experience. We in our turn sought the same happy outcome, with all of the ardor of drowning men clutching at straws. But what seemed at first a flimsy reed has proved to be the loving and powerful hand of God. A new life has been given us. Or, if you prefer, a design for living that really works.
The distinguished American psychologist, William James, once wrote a book, “Varieties of Religious Experience”, which indicates a multitude of ways in which men have found God. As a group, or as individuals, we have no desire to convince anyone that God can be discovered only in some particular way. Anyone who talked with us would soon be disabused of the idea. If what we have learned, and felt, and seen, means anything at all, it indicates that all of us, whatever our race, creed or color, are the children of a living Creator, with whom we may form a new relationship upon simple and understandable terms the moment any of us become willing enough and honest enough to do so. For those having religious affiliations there is nothing disturbing to their beliefs or ceremonies. All such testify to that effect. Hence there is no friction in our simple common denominator.
We have concluded that it is no concern of ours as a group with what religious bodies we shall identify ourselves as individuals. We feel that this should be an entirely one’s own affair, which one is bound to decide for the best in the light of his past associations, or his present choice. Not all of us have joined religious bodies, but we are mostly agreed that by so joining, one would be taking a step toward new growth and availability for God’s purpose.
In the next few chapters are personal narratives. Each individual in these stories describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way in which he found or rediscovered the living God. We shall tell a number of these, that the reader may get a fair cross section, and a clear cut idea of what has really happened. We hope no one will be disturbed that these accounts contain so much self revelation of the kind some people might feel in bad taste. Non-alcoholic readers should consider that many men and women desperately in need may see these pages. It is only by disclosing ourselves and our problems to complete view that any of them will be persuaded to say, “Yes, I am one of them; I must have this thing.”
At the age of ten I went to live with my grandfather grandmother – their ancestors settled the section of Vermont in which I was to grow up. Grandfather was a retired farmer and lumberman; he nurtured me on a vigorous pioneering tradition. I see, now, that my grandfather was the kind of man who helped make America.
Little did anyone guess I was to be of the war generation, which would squander the savings, the pioneering traditions and the incredible stamina of your grandfather and mine. Ambitious but undisciplined – that I was. There was a genius for postponing, evading and shirking; but a certain dogged obstinacy persistence drove me to succeed at special undertakings upon which my heart was set.
Especially did I reveal in attacking the difficult or the impossible. Grandfather, for instance, that no one but an Australian could make and throw the boomerang. No school work was done, no wood box filled and little sleep was there, until a boomerang had circled the church steeple, returning to almost decapitated him. Have accomplished this, my interest ceased.
So it was with my ambition to be a ball player, for I was finally elected captain of the team at the little Seminary I attended after leaving country school. Someone told me I could never sing, so I took up voice until I had appeared in a recital, then, as with the boomerang, my interest ended abruptly. I had commenced to fuss with the violin. This became such an obsession that athletics, school work, and all else went by the board much to everyone’s consternation. I carried fiddling so far I failed to graduate. It was most embarrassing, for I was president of the Senior Class. So collapsed a certain legend of infallibility I had built around myself. Repairing this failure, I attempted to enter a leading technical school. Because of fierce enthusiasms I had displayed for matters chemical and electrical, it was assumed I was destined to become an engineer. At Boston, I failed the entrance examinations dismally. My people were heartbroken and my self sufficiency got another severe deflation.
Finally I commenced electrical engineering at an excellent military college, where it was fervently hoped I would get disciplined. No such thing happened. As usual I had good grades when interested but often failed when not. There was an illuminating instance concerning my calculus teacher. Not one formula would I learn, until all of the theory underlying the subject was made clear. At the library, I pored over the researches of Leibnitz and Newton, whose genius had made calculul possible. Loving controversy, I argued much with my instructor, who quite properly have me a zero, for I had solved only the first problem of the course. At this juncture, and quite conveniently for me, the United States decided to go to war.
We students bolted, almost to a man, for the First Officers Training Camp at Plattsburgh. I was commission second lieutenant of artillery, electing that branch rather than aviation or infantry. For when I lay in my bunk at night, I had to confess I did not want to be killed. This suspicion of cowardice bothered me, for it couldn’t be reconciled with the truly exalted patriotism which took possession when I hadn’t time to think. Later, under fire abroad, I was relieved to learn I was like most men: scared enough, but willing to see it through. I was assigned to a post on the New England coast. The place is famous for its Yankee trading and whaling traditions.
Two far reaching events took place here. I married; had my first drink and liked it. My wife was city bred. She represented a way of life for which I secretly longed. To be her kind meant fine houses, servants, gay dinners, cultivated conversation and a much envied sophistication. I often felt a woeful lack of poise and polish. These inferiorities were later to drive me cityward in quest of success, as I suppose they have many a country boy.
War fever ran high, and I was flattered that the first citizens of town took us to their homes and made me feel comfortable and heroic. So here was love, applause, adventure, war; moments sublime with intervals hilarious. I was part of life at last.
My gaucheries and ineptitudes magically disappeared, as I discovered the Siphon and the Bronx Cocktail. Strong warnings and the prejudices of my people concerning drink evaporated.
Then came parting, with its bizarre mixture of sadness, high purpose, the strange elation which goes with adventure having fatal possibilities. Many of us sailed for ‘Over There’. Loneliness seized me, only to be whisked away by my charming companion, Prince Alcohol.
We were in England. I stood in Winchester Cathedral with head bowed, in the presence of something I had never felt before. Where now was the God of the preachers? Across the Channel thousands were perishing that day. Why did He not come? Suddenly in that moment of darkness – He was there! I felt an enveloping comforting Presence. Tears stood in my eyes. I had glimpsed the great reality.
Much moved, I wandered through the Cathedral yard. My attention was caught by a doggerel on an old tombstone.
“Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his death
Drinking cold small beer
A good soldier is ne’er forgot
Whether he dieth by musket
or by pot.”
My mood changed. A squadron of fighters roared overhead. I cried to myself, “Here’s to Adventure”. The feeling of being in the great presence disappeared.
Homecoming arrived at last. Twenty two and a veteran of foreign wars! I fancied myself a leader, for had not the men of my battery given me a special token of appreciation? Leadership, I imagined, would place me at the head of vast enterprises which I would manage with the assurance of a great pipe organist at his stops and keys.
Soon enough, I was brought to earth. A position at half the army pay, from which I was presently discharged as a poor and rebellious bookkeeper, was the first salutation of unsentimental industry. My resentment was so great I nearly turned Socialist; which in Vermont is downright treason. Humiliation and more came when my wife got a much better job and commenced to pay the bills. I fancied my new city friends were snickering at my predicament. Unwillingly, I had to admit, that I was not trained for anything. What then to do?
Characteristically, I nearly failed my law course. At one of the finals I was too drunk to think or write. Though drinking was not continuous, it frequently disturbed my wife. We had long talks, when I would still her forebodings by saying men of genius conceived their vast projects when jingled; that the most majestic constructions of philosophic thought were so derived.
When the law course was done, I knew the profession was not for me. The inviting maelstrom of The Street had me in its grip.
Business and financial leaders were my heroes. Reminiscent of the boomerang episode, I became wholly absorbed and fascinated. Out of this tissue of drink and speculation I commenced to forge the weapon that one day would turn in its flight, and all but cut me to ribbons.
Both at work, and living modestly, my wife and I saved $1,000.00. It went into utility stocks then cheap and unpopular. I rightly imagined that they would some day have a great rise. Failing to persuade my broker friends to send me out looking over factories and managements, my wife and I decided to go anyhow. I had a theory people lost money in stocks by not knowing markets, managements and the ideas at work in a given situation. I was to discover lots more reasons later on.
We quit our positions and off we romped on a motorcycle and side car stuffed with a tent, blankets, change of clothes, and three huge volumes of a financial reference service. Our friends almost wanted a lunacy commission appointed. Perhaps they were right. There had been some success at speculation, so we had a little money though we once worked on a farm for a month to avoid drawing on our capital. It was the last honest manual work for many a day. The whole Eastern United States was covered in a year. At the end of it, strangely enough, my reports sent back to Wall Street procured for me a position there, and the use of what seemed to me a large sum of money. The exercise of an option brought in more money and we had several thousand dollars profit.
For the next few years fortune threw money and applause my way. I had arrived. My judgment and ideas were followed by many to the tune of paper millions. The great boom of the late twenties was soothing and swelling. Drink was taking an important and exhilirating part in my life. Loud talk in the jazz places uptown – we all spent in thousands, and chattered in millions. Scoffers could scoff and be damned. Of course they didn’t, and I made a host of fair weather friends.
My drinking had assumed more serious proportions, going on all day and nearly every night. Remonstrance of my cooler associates terminated in a row, and I became a lone wolf. There were many unhappy scenes in our apartment. This, by the way, was large, for I had rented two, and had the wall between knocked out. There had been no great infidelity. Loyalty to my wife, and sometimes extreme drunkeness, kept me out of those scrapes.
In 1929 I contracted golf fever. That is a terrible illness. We went at once to the country, my wife to applaud while I overtook Walter Hagen. Golf permitted drinking both by day and night. It was fun to carom around the exclusive course which had inspired such awe in me as a lad. I acquired the impeccable coat of tan seen upon the well-to-do. With amused skepticism the local banker watched me whirl fat checks in and out of his till.
Abruptly in October, 1929, the whirling movement ceased. Hell had broken loose on the New York Stock Exchange. After one of those days of inferno I wobbled from a hotel bar to a brokerage office. It was eight o’clock – five hours after the market close. The ticker still clattered. I was staring at an inch of the tape. It bore the inscription PFK – 32. It had been 52 that morning. I was dome and so were many friends. The papers said men were already jumping to death from those towers of Babel that were High Finance. That disgusted me. Going back to the bar I felt glad I would not jump. My friends had dropped several millions since ten o’clock – so what? Tomorrow was another day. As I drank, the old fierce determination to win came back.
Next morning I called a friend in Montreal. He had plenty of money left, so he thought I had better come up. By the following spring we were living in our accustomed style. It was like Napoleon returning from Elba. No St. Helena for me. But I soon excelled as a serious and frivolous drinker, and my generous friend had to let me go. This time we stayed broke.
We went to live with my parents-in-law. I found a job; then lost it through a brawl with a taxi driver. Mercifully no one knew I was to have no real employment for five years nor hardly draw a sober breath. My wife began to work in a department store, coming home exhausted to find me drunk. I became a hanger on at brokerage places, less and less desired because of my habits.
Liquor ceased to be a luxury; it became a necessity. “Bathtub” gin, two bottles a day, and often three, got to be routine. Sometimes a small deal would net a few hundred dollars, and I would pay the bars and delicatessen. Endlessly this went on, and I began to wake early, shaking violently. A tumbler full of gin followed by half a dozen bottles of beer would be required if I ate any breakfast. I still thought I could control the situation. There were periods of sobriety which would renew my wife’s hope.
But things got worse. The house was taken over by the mortgage holder, my mother-in-law died, my wife became ill, as did my father-in-law.
Then I had a promising business opportunity. Stocks were at the low point of 1932, and I had somehow formed a group to buy. I was to share generously in the profits. I went on a prodigious bender, and that chance vanished.
I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not take even one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had written lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant business. And so I did.
Shortly afterward I came home drunk. There had been no fight. Where had been my high resolve? I simply didn’t know. It hadn’t even come to mind. Someone pushed a drink my way, and I had taken it. Was I crazy? I began to wonder, for such an appalling lack of perspective came near being just that.
Sticking to my resolve I tried again. Some time passed. Confidence began to be replaced by cocksureness. I could laugh at the bars. Now I had what it takes! One day I walked into a place to telephone. In no time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened. As the whisky rose to my head I told myself I would manage better next time, but I might as well get good and drunk then. I did just that.
The remorse, horror and hopelessness of the next morning is unforgettable. The courage to do battle was not there. My brain raced uncontrollably. There was a terrible sense of impending calamity. I hardly dared cross the street, lest I collapse and be run down by an early morning truck, for it was scarcely daylight. An all night place supplied me with a dozen glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled at last. A morning paper told me the market had gone to hell again. Well, so had I . The market would recover but I wouldn’t. That was a hard thought. Should I kill myself? No, not now. Then a mental fog settled down. Gin would fix that. So two bottles, and – oblivion.
The mind and body is a marvelous mechanism, for mine endured this agony two years more. Sometimes I stole from my wife’s slender purse when the morning terror and madness were on me. Again I swayed dizzily before an open window, or the medicine cabinet where there was poison, cursing myself for a weakling. There were flights from city to country and back, as my wife and I sought escape. Then came the night when the physical and mental torture was so hellish I feared I would burst thru my window, sash and all. Somehow I managed to drag my mattress to a lower floor, lest I suddenly leap. A doctor came with a heavy sedative. Next day found me drinking both gin and sedative without the usual penalty. This combination soon landed me on the rocks, and my wife saw something had to be done and quickly. People feared for my sanity, and so did I. When drinking, which was almost always, I could eat little or nothing. I was forty pounds under weight.
My brother-in-law is a physician. Through his kindness I was placed in a nationally known hospital for the mental and physical rehabilitation of alcoholics. Under the so-called bella donna treatment my brain cleared. Hydro therapy and mild exercise helped much. Best of all, I met a kind doctor who explained, that though selfish and foolish, I had also been seriously ill, bodily and mentally. It relieved me somewhat to learn that in alcoholism, the will is amazingly weakened concerning drink, though frequently remaining strong in other respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a desperate desire to stop was explained. Understanding myself now, I fared forth in high hope. For three or four months the goose hung high. I went to town regularly and made a little money. Surely this was the answer. Self-knowledge.
But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski jump. After a time I returned to the hospital. This was the finish, the curtain, so it seemed to me. My weary and despairing wife was informed that it would all end with heart failure during delirium tremens. Or I would develop a wet brain, perhaps within a year. She would soon give me over to the undertaker or the asylum. It was not necessary to tell me. I knew, and almost welcomed the idea. It was a devastating blow to my pride. I, who had thought so well of myself and my abilities, of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was cornered at last. Now I was to plunge out into the dark, joining that endless procession of sots who had gone on before. I thought of my poor wife. There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends? That career I’d set my heart upon, that pleasant vista, was shut out forever. No words can tell of the loneliness and despair I found in that bitter morass of self pity. Quicksand underlay me in all directions. I had met my match. I had been overwhelmed. King Alcohol was master.
Trembling, I stepped from the place a broken man. Fear sobered me for a bit. Then came the insidious insanity of that first drink, and on Armistice Day, 1934, I was off again. Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before morning comes! In reality, this was the beginning of my last debauch. I was soon to be catapulted into what I like to call the fourth dimension of existence. I was to know happiness, peace and usefulness, in a way of life that is incredibly more wonderful as time passes.
Near the end of that bleak November I sat drinking in my kitchen. With a certain satisfaction I reflected there was enough gin concealed about the house to carry me through that night and the next day. My wife was at work. I wondered whether I dared hide a full bottle near the head of our bed. I would need it before daylight.
My musing was interrupted by the telephone. The cheery voice of an old school friend asked if he might come over. He was sober. It was years since I could remember his coming to New York in that condition. I was amazed. He had been committed for alcoholic insanity. So rumor had it. I wondered how he had escaped. Of course he would have dinner. Then I could drink openly with him. Unmindful of his welfare, I thought only of recapturing the spirit of other days. There was that time we had chartered an airplane to complete a jag. Another glass stirred my fancy. His coming was an oasis in this dreary desert of futility. The very thing – an oasis! Drinkers are like that.
The door opened. He stood there, fresh skinned and glowing. There was something about his eyes. He was inexplicably different. What had happened?
I pushed a drink across the table.
“Not now” he said.
Disappointed but curious, I wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn’t himself.
“Come, what’s all this about”, I queried.
He looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said, “I’ve got religion.”
I was aghast. So that was it – last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now I suspected a little cracked about religion – he had that starry-eyed look. The old boy was on fire alright. But bless his heart, let him rant! Besides, my gin would last longer.
But he did no ranting. In quite a matter of fact way, he related how two men had appeared in court, persuading the judge to suspend his commitment. They had told of a simple religious idea and a practical program of action. That was months ago and the result was self evident. It worked.
He had come to pass his experience along to me – if I cared to have it.
I was shocked but interested. Certainly I was interested. I had to be, for I was hopeless.
He talked for hours. Childhood memories rose before me. The sound of the preacher’s voice which one could hear on still Sundays, way over there on the hillside; the proffered temperance pledge I never signed; my grandfather’s good natured contempt of some church fold and their doings; his insistence that the spheres really had their music; his denial of the preacher’s right to tell him how he must listen; his fearlessness as he spoke of these things just before he died; such recollections welled up from the past. They made me swallow hard. That war-time day in old Winchester Cathedral came back again.
In a power greater than myself I had always believed. I had often pondered these things. I was not an atheist. Few people really are, for that means blind faith in an illogical proposition; that this universe originated in a cipher, and aimlessly rushes nowhere. My intellectual heroes, the chemists, the astronomers, even the evolutionist, suggested vast laws and forces at work. Despite contra indications, I had little doubt that a might purpose and rhythm underlay all. How could there be so much of precise and immutable law, and no intelligence? I simply had to believe in a Spirit of the Universe, which knew neither time nor limitation. But that was as far as I had gone.
With preachers, and the world’s religions, I parted right there. When they talked of a God personal to me, who was love, superhuman strength and direction, I became irritated and my mind snapped shut against such a theory.
Of Christ, I conceded the certainty of a great man, not too much followed by those who claimed Him. His moral teaching – most excellent. I had adopted those parts which seemed convenient and not too difficult. The rest I disregarded.
The wars which had been fought, the burnings and chicanery that religious dispute had facilitated, made me sick. I honestly doubted whether the religions of mankind had done any good. Judging from what I had seen in Europe and since, the power of God in human affairs was negligible; the Brotherhood of Man a grim jest. If there was a Devil, he seemed the Boss Universal, and he certainly had me.
But my friend sat before me, and he made the pointblank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. His human will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like myself he had admitted complete defeat. In effect he been raised from the dead; suddenly taken from the scrap-heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known.
Had this power originated in him? Obviously it had not. There had been no more power in him than there was in me at that minute; and this was none at all.
That floored me. It began to look as though religious people were right, after all. Here was something at work in a human heart which had done the impossible. My ideas about miracles were drastically revised right then. Never mind the musty past; here sat a miracle directly across the kitchen table, straight out of the here and now.
I saw that my friend was much more than inwardly reorganized. It went deeper than that. He was on a completely different footing. His roots grasped a new soil.
Thus was I convinced that God is concerned with us humans, when we want Him enough. At long last I saw; I felt, I believed. Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view.
The real significance of my experience in the Cathedral burst upon me. For a brief moment, I had needed and wanted God.
There was a humble willingness to have Him with me – and He came. But soon the sense of His presence had been blotted out by worldly clamors – mostly those within myself. And so it had been ever since. It was simple as that. How blind I had been.
At the hospital I was separated from King Alcohol for the last time. Treatment seemed wise then, for I showed signs of delirium when I stopped drinking.
There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then I understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction. I admitted for the first time, that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins of omission and commission, and became willing to have my new-found Friend
take them away, root and branch. My schoolmate visited me, and I fully acquainted him with my problems and deficiencies.
We made a list of people I had hurt or toward whom I felt resentment. I expressed my entire willingness to approach these individuals, admitting my wrong. Never was I to be critical of them. I was to right all such matters to the utmost of my ability.
I was to test my thinking by the new God consciousness within. Common sense would thus become uncommon sense. I was to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my problems as He would have me. Never was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore on my usefulness to others. Then only might I expect to receive. But that would be in great measure.
My friend promised when those things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of life which answered all my problems. Belief in the power of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish and maintain the new order of things, were the essential requirements.
Simple but not easy; a price had to be paid. It really meant the obliteration of self. I had to quit playing God. I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over
These were revolutionary and drastic proposals, but the moment I fully accepted them the effect was electric. There was a sense of victory, followed by such a peace and serenity as I had never know. There was utter confidence. I felt lifted up, as though the great clean wind of a mountain top blew through and through. God comes to most men gradually, but His impact on me was sudden and profound.
For a moment I was alarmed, and called my friend the Doctor to ask if I were still sane. He listened in wonder as I talked.
He finally he shook his head, saying: “Something has happened to you I don’t understand. But you had better hang on to it. Anything is better than the way you were.” The good doctor now sees many men have such experiences. He knows that they are real.
While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work with others. My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of my demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Particularly was it imperative to work with others, as he had worked with me. Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the alcoholic! For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work he would surely drink again, and if he drank he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that!
My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems. It was fortunate, for my old business associates remained skeptical for a year and a half, during which I found little work. I was not too well at the time, and was plagued by waves of self-pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove me back to drink.
I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day. Many times I have gone to my old hospital feeling terrible. On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet. It is a design for living that works in the tough spots.
We commenced to make many fast friends and a fellowship has grown up among us of which it is a wonderful thing to feel a part. The joy of living we really have, even under pressure and difficulty. I have seen one hundred families set their feet in the path that really goes somewhere; have seen the most impossible domestic situations righted; feuds and bitterness of all sorts wiped out. I have seen men come out of asylums, and resume a vital place in the lives of their families and communities.
Business and professional people have regained their standing. There is scarcely any form of human misadventure and misery which has not been overcome among us. In a Western city and its environs, there are sixty of us and our families. We often meet informally at our houses, so that newcomers may find what they seek. Gatherings of twenty to sixty are common. We are growing in numbers and power.
An alcoholic in his cups is an unlovely creature. Our struggles with them are variously strenuous, comic and tragic. One poor chap committed suicide in my home. He could not, or would not see what we beheld.
There is, however, a vast amount of fun about it all. I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just underneath one finds a deadly earnestness. God has to work twenty four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.
Most of us feel we need look no further for Utopia, nor even for Heaven. We have it with us on this good old Earth, right here and now. Each day that simple talk in my kitchen multiplies itself in a widening circle of peace on earth and good will to men.
“I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not take so much as one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had written lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant business. And so I did. Shortly afterward I came home drunk.”
“Big Book” page 5.
“There were unhappy scenes in the sumptuous Livingston Street apartment. Promise followed empty promise. On October 20, 1928, Bill wrote in the family Bible, the most sacred place he knew: ‘To my beloved wife that has endured so much, let this stand as evidence of my pledge to you that I have finished with drink forever.’ By Thanksgiving Day of that year he had written, ‘My strength is renewed a thousandfold in my love for you,’ In January 1929, he added, ‘To tell you once more that I am finished with it. I love you.’
“None of those promises, however, carried the anguish Bill expressed in an undated letter to Lois: ‘I have failed again this day. That I should continue to even try to do right in the grand manner is perhaps a great foolishness. Righteousness simply does not seem to be in me. Nobody wishes it more than I. Yet no one flouts it more often.’
“Again, he wrote a promise to his wife in the family Bible: ‘Finally and for a lifetime, thank God for your love.’ The promise was dated September 3, 1930. Like those that had preceded it, it was not kept. That was the last of the Bible promises.”
“Pass It On” pages 81 & 86.
This is a transcribed talk that Bill Wilson gave back in 1944. It can be found in a book called “Alcohol, Science and Society” that came out in 1945 which contains 29 lectures with discussions as given at the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies. This is the only talk by Bill in the book. I love the fact that there is a question and answer part at the end!
THE FELLOWSHIP OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
As Given at the Yale School of Alcohol Studies
My first task is a joyous one; it is to voice the sincere gratitude that every member of Alcoholics Anonymous present feels tonight that we can stand in the midst of such an assembly. I know that in this assembly there are many different points of view, that we have social workers, ministers, doctors and others – people we once thought did not understand us, because we did not understand them. I think right away of one of our clergyman friends. He helped start our group in St. Louis, and when Pearl Harbor came he thought to himself, “Well this will be a hard day for the AA’s.” He expected to see us go off like firecrackers. Well, nothing much happened and the good man was rather joyously disappointed, you might say. But he was puzzled. And then he noticed with still more wonder that the AA’s seemed rather less excited about Pearl Harbor than the normal people. In fact, quite a number of the so-called normal people seemed to be getting drunk and very distressed. So he went up to one of the AA’s and said, “Tell me, how is it that you folks hold up so well under this stress, I mean this Pearl Harbor?” The A.A. looked at him, smiled, but quite seriously said, “You know, each of us has had his own private Pearl Harbor, each of us has known the utmost of humiliation, of despair, and of defeat. So why should we, who have known the resurrection, fear another Pearl Harbor?”
So you can see how grateful we are that we have found this resurrection and that so many people, not alcoholics, with so many points of view, have joined to make it a reality. I guess all of you know Marty Mann by this time. I shall always remember her story about her first A.A. meeting. She had been in a sanatorium under the care of a wonderful doctor, but how very lonely she felt! Somehow, there was a gap between that very good man and herself that could not quite be bridged. Then she went to her first A.A. meeting, wondering what she would find; and her words, when she returned to the sanatorium, in talking to her friend, another alcoholic, were: “Grenny, we are no longer alone. ” So we are a people who have known loneliness, but now stand here in the midst of many friends. Now I am sure you can see how very grateful for all this we must be.
I am sure that in this course you have heard that alcoholism is a malady; that something is dead wrong with us physically; that our reaction to alcohol has changed; that something has been very wrong with us emotionally; and that our alcoholic habit has become an obsession, an obsession which can no longer reckon even with death itself. Once firmly set, one is not able to turn it aside. In other words, a sort of allergy of the body that guarantees that we shall die if we drink, an obsession of the mind that guarantees that we shall go on drinking. Such has been the alcoholics dilemma time out of mind, and it is altogether probable that even those alcoholics who did not wish to go on drinking, not more than 5 out of 100 have ever been able to stop, before A.A.
That statement always takes me back to a summer night at a drying out place in New York where I lay upstairs at the end of a long trail. My wife was downstairs talking with the doctor, asking him, “Bill wants so badly to stop this thing, doctor, why can’t he? He was always considered a person of enormous persistence, even obstinacy, in those things that he wished to achieve. Why can’t his will power work now? It does work even yet in other areas of life, but why not in this?” And then the doctor went on to tell her something of my childhood, showing that I had grown up a rather awkward kid, how that had thrown upon me a kind of inferiority and had inspired in me a fierce desire to show other people that I could be like them; how I had become a person who abnormally craved approval, applause. He showed her the seed, planted so early, that had created me an inferiority-driven neurotic. On the surface, to be sure, very self confident, with a certain amount of worldly success in Wall Street. But along with it this habit of getting release from myself through alcohol.
You know, as strange as it may seem to some of the clergy here who are not alcoholic, the drinking of alcohol is a sort of spiritual release. Is it not true that the great fault of all individuals is abnormal self-concern? And how well alcohol seems temporarily to expel those feelings of inferiority in us, to transport us temporarily to a better world. Yes, I was one of those people to whom drink became a necessity and then an addiction. So it was 10 years ago this summer that the good doctor told my wife I could not go on much longer; that my habit of adjusting my neurosis with alcohol had now become an obsession; how that obsession of my mind condemned me to go on drinking, and how my physical sensitivity guaranteed that I would go crazy or die, perhaps within a year. Yes, that was my dilemma. It has been the dilemma of millions of us, and still is.
Some of you wonder, “Well, he had been instructed by a good physician, he had been told about his maladjustment, he understood himself, he new that his increasing physical sensitivity meant that he would go out into the dark and join the endless procession. Why couldn’t he stop? Why wouldn’t fear hold such a man in check?”
After I left that place, fear did keep me in check for 2 or 3 months. Then came a day when I drank again. And then came a time when an old friend, a former alcoholic, called me on the phone and said that he was coming over. It was perhaps right there on that very day that the Alcoholics Anonymous commenced to take shape. I remember his coming into my kitchen, where I was half drunk. I was afraid that perhaps he had come to reform me. You know, curiously enough, we alcoholics are very sensitive on this subject of reform. I could not quite make out my friend. I could see something different about him but I could put my finger on it. So finally I said, “Ebby, what’s got into you?” And he said, “Well, I’ve got religion.” That shocked me terribly, for I was one of those people with a dandy modern education which had taught me that self-sufficiency would be enough to carry me through life, and here was a man talking a point of view which collided with mine.
Ebby did not go on colliding with me. He knew, as a former agnostic, what my prejudices were, so he said to me, blandly enough, “Well, Bill, I don’t know that I’d call it religion exactly, but call it what you may, it works.” I said, “What is it? What do you mean? Tell me more about this thing?” He said, “Some people came and got hold of me. They said, “Ebby, you’ve tried medicine, you’ve tried religion, you’ve tried change of environment, I guess you’ve tried love, and none of these things has been able to cure you of your liquor. Now, here is an idea for you.” And then he went on to tell me how they explained, they said, “First of all, Ebby, why don’t you make a thorough appraisal of yourself? Stop finding fault with other people. Make a thoroughgoing moral appraisal of yourself. When have you been selfish, dishonest? And, especially, where have you been intolerant? Perhaps those are the things that underlie this alcoholism. And after you have made such an appraisal of yourself, why don’t you sit down and talk it out with someone in full and quit this accursed business of living alone? Put an end to this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation into which you have fallen. And then, why don’t you continue this policy of abating the disturbance in yourself? Why don’t you take stock of all the people among your acquaintances that you have hurt -all of the people who annoy you, who disturb you. Why don’t you go out to them and make amends; set things right and talk things out, and get down these strains that exist between you and them? Then, Ebby, we have still another proposal. Why don’t you try the kind of giving that demands no reward? We don’t mean the mere giving of money, though you once had plenty of that. No, we mean the giving of yourself to someone who is in need. Why don’t you try that? Seek out someone in need and forget your own troubles by becoming interested in his.” Ebby said, “Where does religion come in?” And his friends went on to say, “Ebby, it is our experience that no one can carry out such a program with enough thoroughness and enough continuity on pure self-sufficiency. One must have help. Now we are willing to help you, as individuals, but we think you ought to call upon a power greater than yourself, for your dilemma is well nigh insurmountable. So, call on God, as you understand God. Try prayer.” Well, in effect, that was the explanation my friend made to me. Those of you who know a little of the A.A. are already able to see a little of the basic idea.
You see, here was my friend talking to me, one alcoholic talking to another. I could no longer say, “He doesn’t understand me.” Sure he understood me. We had done a lot of drinking together, and gone the route of humiliation, despair and defeat. Yes, he could understand. But now he had something. He did not shock me by calling it the resurrection, but that’s what it was. He had something I did not have, and those were the terms upon which it could be obtained.
Honesty with oneself and other people, the kind of giving that demands no return, and prayer. Those were the essentials. My friend then got up and went away, but he had been very careful not to force any of his views upon me. In no sense could I have the feeling that he was moralizing with me or preaching, because I knew it was not long ago that he was no better than I. He merely said that he was leaving these ideas with me, hoping that they would help.
Even so, I was irritated, because he had struck a blow at my pet philosophy of self-sufficiency, and was talking about dependence upon some power greater than myself. “Ah yes,” I thought, as I went on drinking, “yes it’s this preacher stuff. Yes, I remember, up in the old home town where my grandfather raised me, how the deacon, who was so good, treated Ed MacDonald, the local drunk – as dirt under his feet; and more than that, the old son of a gun short weighted my good old grandfather in his grocery store. If that’s religion, I don’t want any of it.” Such were my prejudices. But the whole point of this was that my friend had got onto my level. He had penetrated my prejudices, although he had not swept them all away.
I drank on but I kept turning this thing over in my mind, and finally asked myself, “Well how much better off am I than a cancer patient.” But a small percentage of those people recover, and the same is true with alcoholics, for by this time I knew quite a good deal about alcoholism. I knew that my chances were very, very slim. I knew that, in spite of all the vigilance in the world, this obsession would pursue me, even if I dried up temporarily. Yes, how much better off was I than a cancer patient? Then I began to say to myself, “Well who are beggars to be choosers? Why should a man be talking about self-sufficiency when an obsession has condemned him to have none of it? Then I became utterly willing to do anything, to try to accept any point of view, to make any sacrifice, yes, even to try to love my enemies, if I could get rid of this obsession. First, I went up to a hospital to ask the doctor to clear me up so I could think things through clearly. And again, came my friend, the second day that I was there. Again I was afraid, knowing that he had religion, that he was going to reform me. I cannot express the unreasonable prejudice that the alcoholics have against reform. That is one reason that it has been so hard to reach them. We should not be that way but we are. And here was my friend, trying to do his best for me, but the first thought that flashed across my mind was, “I guess this is the day that he is going to save me. Look out! He’ll bring in that high powered sweetness and light, he’ll be talking about a lot of this prayer business.” But Ebby was a good general, and it’s a good thing for me he was.
No, he did not collide with those prejudices of mine. He just paid me a friendly visit, and he came up there quite early in the morning. I kept waiting and waiting for him to start his reform talk, but no, he didn’t. So finally I had to ask for some of it myself. I said, “Ebby, tell me once more about how you dried up.” And he reviewed it again for me.
Honesty with oneself, of a kind I had never had before. Complete honesty with someone else. Straightening out all my twisted relationships as best I could. Giving of myself to help someone else in need. And prayer.
When he had gone away, I fell into a very deep depression, the blackest that I had ever known. And in that desperation, I cried out, “If there is a God, will He show Himself?” Then came a sudden experience in which it seemed the room lit up. It felt as though I stood on the top of a mountain, that a great clean wind blew, that I was free. The sublime paradox of strength coming out of weakness.
So I called in the doctor and tried to tell him, as best I could, what had happened. And he said, “Yes, I have read of such experiences but I have never seen one.” I said, “Well doctor, examine me, have I gone crazy?” And he did examine me and said, “No boy, you’re not crazy. Whatever it is, you’d better hold onto it. It’s so much better than what had you just a few hours ago.” Well, along with thousands of other alcoholics, I have been holding on to it ever since.
But that was only the beginning. And at the time, I actually thought that it was the end, you might say, of all my troubles. I began there, out of this sudden illumination, not only to get benefits, but also to draw some serious liabilities. One of those that came immediately was one that you might call Divine Appointment. I actually thought, I had the conceit really to believe, that God had selected me, by this sudden flash of Presence, to dry up all the drunks in the world. I really believed it. I also got another liability out of the experience, and that was that it had to happen in some particular way just like mine or else it would be of no use. In other words, I conceived myself as going out, getting hold of these drunks, and producing in them just the same kind of experience that I had had. Down in New York, where they knew me pretty well in the A.A., they facetiously call these sudden experiences that we sometimes have a “W.W. hot flash.” I really thought that I had been endowed with the power to go out and produce a “hot flash” just like mine in every drunk.
Well, I started off; I was inspired; I knew just how to do it, as I thought then. Well, I worked like thunder for 6 months and not one alcoholic got dried up. What were the natural reactions then? I suppose some of you here, who have worked with alcoholics, have a pretty good idea. The first reaction was one of great self-pity; the other was a kind of martyrdom. I began to say, “Well, I suppose that this is the kind of stuff that martyrs are made of but I will keep on at all costs.” I kept on, and I kept on, until I finally got so full of self-pity and intolerance (our two greatest enemies in the A.A.) that I nearly got drunk myself. So I began to reconsider. I began to say, “Yes, I found my relief in this particular way, and glorious it was and is, for it is still the central experience of my whole life. But who am I to suppose that every other human being ought to think, act and react just as I do? Maybe were all very much alike in a great many respects but, as individuals, we’re different too.”
At that juncture I was in Akron on a trip, and I got a very severe business setback. I was walking along in the corridor of the hotel, wondering how God could be so mean. After all the good I had done Him – why, I had worked here with drunks for six months and nothing had happened – and now here was a situation that was going to set me up in business and I had been thrown out of it by dishonest people. Then I began to think, “That spiritual experience – was it real?” I began to have doubts. Then I suddenly realized that I might get drunk. Buy I also realized that those other times when I had had self-pity, those other times when I had had resentment and intolerance, those other times when there was that feeling of insecurity, that worry as to where the next meal would come from; yes, to talk with another alcoholic even though I failed with him, was better than to do nothing. But notice how my motivation was shifting all this time. No longer was I preaching from any moral hilltop or from the vantage point of a wonderful spiritual experience. No, this time I was looking for another alcoholic, because I felt that I needed him twice as much as he needed me. And that’s when I came across Dr. “Bob” S. out in Akron. That was just nine years ago this summer.
And Bob S. recovered. Then we two frantically set to work on alcoholics in Akron. Well, again came this tendency to preach, again this feeling that it has to be done in some particular way, again discouragement, so our progress was very slow. But little by little we were forced to analyze our experiences and say, “This approach didn’t work very well with that fellow. Why not? Let’s try to put ourselves in his shoes and stop this preaching. See how we might be approached if we were he.” That began to lead us to the idea that A.A. should be no set of fixed ideas, but should be a growing thing, growing out of experience. After a while, we began to reflect: ” This wonderful blessing that has come to us, from what does it get its origin?” It was a spiritual awakening growing out of painful adversity. So then we began to look the harder for our mistakes, to correct them, to capitalize upon our errors. And little by little we began to grow so that there were 5 of us at the end of that first year; at the end of the second year, 15; at the end of the third year, 40; at the end of the forth year, 100.
During those first 4 years most of us had another bad form of intolerance. As we commenced to have a little success, I am afraid our pride got the better of us and it was our tendency to forget about our friends. We were very likely to say, “Well, those doctors didn’t do anything for us, and as for these sky pilots, well, they just don’t know the score.” And we became snobbish and patronizing.
Then we read a book by Dr. Carrel. From that book came an argument that is now a part of our system. (How much we may agree with the book in general, I don’t know, but in this respect the AA’s think he had something.) Dr. Carrel wrote, in effect; the world is full of analysts. We have tons of ore in the mines and we have all kinds of building materials above ground. Here is a man specializing in this, there is a man specializing in that, and another one in something else. The modern world is full of wonderful analysts and diggers, but there are very few who deliberately synthesize, who bring together different materials, who assemble new things. We are much too shy on synthetic thinking – the kind of thinking that’s willing to reach out now here and now there to see if something new cannot be evolved.
On reading that book some of us realized that was just what we had been groping toward. We had been trying to build out of our own experiences. At this point we thought, “Let’s reach into other people’s experiences. Let’s go back to our friends the doctors, let’s go back to our friends the preachers, the social workers, all those who have been concerned with us, and again review what they have got above ground and bring that into the synthesis. And let us, where we can, bring them in where they will fit.” So our process of trial and error began and, at the end of 4 years, the material was cast in the form of a book known as Alcoholics Anonymous. And then our friends of the press came in and they began to say nice things about us. That was not too hard for them to do because by that time we had gotten hold of the idea of not fighting anything or anyone. We began to say, “Our only motive as an organization is to help the alcoholic. And to help him we’ve got to reach him. Therefore, we can’t collide with his prejudices. So we aren’t going to get mixed up with controversial questions, no matter what we, as individuals, think of them. We can’t get concerned with prohibition, or whether to drink or not to drink. We can’t get concerned with doctrine and dogma in a religious sense. We can’t get into politics, because that will arouse prejudice which might keep away alcoholics who will go off and die when they might have recovered.”
We began, then, to have a good press, because after all we were just a lot of very sick people trying to help those who wanted to be helped. And I am very happy to say that in all the years since, not a syllable of ridicule, or criticism, has ever been printed about us. For this we are very grateful.
That experience led us to examine some of the obscure phrases that we sometimes see in the Bible. It could not have been presented at first, but sooner or later in his second, third, or fourth year, the A.A. will be found reading his Bible quite as often – or more -as he will a standard psychological work. And you know, there we found a phrase that began to stick in the minds of some of us. It was this:
“Resist not evil.” Well, after all, what is one going to think? In this modern world, where everybody is fighting, here came someone saying, “Resist not evil.” What did that mean? Did it mean anything? Was there anything in that phrase for the AA’s?
Well we began to have some cases on which we could try out that principle. I remember one case, out of which some will get a kick, and I imagine some others here may be a little shocked, but I think there is a lesson in it, at least there was for us, a lesson in tolerance. One time, after A.A. had been going for 3 or 4 years, an alcoholic was brought into our house over in Brooklyn where we were holding a meeting. He is the type that some of us now call the blockbuster variety. He often tells the story himself. His name is Jimmy. Well, Jimmy came in and he was a man who had some very, very fixed points of view. As a class, we alcoholics are the worst possible people in this respect. I had many, many fixed points of view myself, but Jimmy eclipsed us all. Jimmy came into our little group – I guess there were then 30 or 40 of us meeting – and said, “I think you’ve got a pretty good idea here. This idea of straightening things out with other people is fine. Going over your own defects is all right. Working with other drunks, that’s swell. But I don’t like this God business.” He got very emphatic about it and we thought that he would quiet down or else he would get drunk. He did neither. Time went on and Jimmy did not quiet down; he began to tell the other people in the group, “You don’t need this God business. Look, I’m staying sober.” Finally, he got up in the meeting at our house, the first time he was invited to speak – he had then been around for a couple of months – and he went through his usual song and dance of the desirability of being honest, straightening things out with other people, etc. Then he said, “Damn this God business.” At that, people began to wince. I was deeply shocked, and we had a hurried meeting of the “elders” over in the corner. We said, “This fellow has got to be suppressed. We can’t have anyone ridiculing the very idea by which we live.”
We got hold of Jimmy and said, “Listen, you’ve got to stop this anti-God talk if you’re going to be around this section.” Jimmy was cocky and he said, “Is that so? Isn’t it a fact that you folks have been trying to write a book called Alcoholics Anonymous, and haven’t you got a typewritten introduction in that book, lying over there on that shelf, and didn’t we read it here about a month ago and agree to it?” And Jimmy went over and took down the introduction to Alcoholics Anonymous and read out of it: “The only requirement for membership in Alcoholics Anonymous is an honest desire to get over drinking.” Jimmy said, “Do you mean it or don’t you?” He rather had us there. He said, “I’ve been honest. Didn’t I get my wife back? Aren’t I paying my bills? And I’m helping other drunks every day.” There was nothing we could say. Then we began secretly to hope. Our intolerance caused us to hope that he would get drunk. Well, he confounded us; he did not get drunk, and louder and louder did he get with his anti-God talk. Then we used to console ourselves and say, “Well, after all, this is a very good practice in tolerance for us, trying to accommodate ourselves to Jimmy.” But we never did really get accommodated.
One day Jimmy got a job that took him out on the road, out from under the old A.A. tent, you might say. And somewhere out on the road his purely psychological system of staying dry broke wide open, and sure enough he got drunk. In those days, when an alcoholic got drunk, all the brethren would come running, because we were still very afraid for ourselves and no one knew who might be next. So there was great concern about the brother who got drunk. But in Jimmy’s case there was no concern at all. He lay in a little hotel over in Providence and he began to call up long distance. He wanted money, he wanted this, and he wanted that. After a while, Jimmy hitchhiked back to New York. He put up at the house of a friend of mine, where I was staying, and I came in late that night. The next morning, Jimmy came walking downstairs where my friend and I were consuming our morning gallon of coffee. Jimmy looked at us and said, “Oh, have you people had any meditation or prayer this morning?” We thought he was being very sarcastic. But no, he meant it. We could not get very much out of Jimmy about his experience, but it appeared that over in that little second-rate hotel he had nearly died from the worst seizure he had ever had, and something in him had given way. I think it is just what gave way in me. It was his prideful obstinacy. He had thought to himself, “Maybe these fellows have got something with their God-business.” His hand reached out, in the darkness, and touched something on his bureau. It was a Gideon Bible. Jimmy picked it up and he read from it. I do not know just what he read, and I have always had a queer reluctance to ask him. But Jimmy has not had a drink to this day, and that was about 5 years ago.
But there were other fruits of what little tolerance and understanding we did have. Not long ago I was in Philadelphia where we have a large and strong group. I was asked to speak, and the man who asked me was Jimmy, who was chairman of the meeting. About 400 people were there. I told this story about him and added: “Supposing that we had cast Jimmy out in the dark, supposing that our intolerance of his point of view had turned him away. Not only would Jimmy be dead, but how many of us would be together here tonight so happily secure?” So we in A.A. find that we have to carry tolerance of other people’s viewpoints to very great lengths. As someone well put it, “Honesty gets us sober but tolerance keeps us sober.
I would like to tell, in conclusion, one story about a man in a little southern community. You know, we used to think that perhaps A.A. was just for the big places; that in a small town the social ostracism of the alcoholic would be so great that they would be reluctant to get together as a group; that there would be so much unkind gossip that we sensitive folk just could not be brought together.
One day our central office in New York received a little letter, and it came from a narcotic addict who was just leaving the Government hospital down in Lexington. Speaking of intolerance, it is a strange fact that we alcoholics are very, very intolerant of people who take “dope,” and it is just as strange that they are very intolerant of us. I remember meeting one, one day, in the corridor of a hospital. I thought he was an alcoholic, so I stopped the man and asked him for a match. He drew himself up with great hauteur and said, “Get away from me you dammed alcoholic.” At any rate, here was a letter from a narcotic addict who explained that once upon a time he had been an alcoholic, but for 12 years had been a drug addict. He had got hold of the book Alcoholics Anonymous and thought the spirit of that book had got hold of him, and he wanted to go back to his own little southern town that was, Shelby, North Carolina, and start an A.A. group. We were very skeptical of the offer. The very idea of a narcotic addict starting an A.A. group, even if he had once been an alcoholic! And here he was going to try to start it in a little southern town in the midst of all this local pride and gossip.
We began to get letters from him and apparently he was doing all right. He was a medical doctor, by the way, and he told us modestly, as time went on, about getting a small crowd of alcoholics together and having his trials and tribulations. Mind you, we had never seen him all this time; he had just been writing. He said that his practice had come back somewhat. And so 3 years passed. We had a little pin on a map showing that there was an Alcoholics Anonymous group at Shelby, North Carolina. It happened that I was taking a trip south to visit one of our southern groups. By this time the movement had grown and I had gotten to be kind of a big shot, so I thought, and I wondered, “Should I stop off at Shelby? You know, after all, that’s kind of a small group.” It is a great thing that I did stop off at Shelby, as you will soon see. Down the station came a man, followed by two others. The two in back of him were alcoholics, all right, but one looked a little bit different. I saw, as he drew near, that his lips were badly mangled, and I realized that this was the drug addict, Dr. M. In the agony of his hangovers he had chewed his lips to pieces. Yes, it was our man, and he proved to be a wonderful person. He was really modest, and that is something you seldom see in an ex-alcoholic. He introduced me to the others, and we got into his car and went over to the town of Shelby. I soon found myself sitting at a table in one of those delightful southern ancestral homes. Here was the man s mother -and his wife. They had been married about 2 years and there was a new baby. The practice had begun to come back. Still, there was very little shoptalk at that meal; and there is no such thing as an A.A. meal without shoptalk. I said, “Indeed, this fellow is a very modest man, I never saw an alcoholic like him.” He spoke very little of his accomplishments for the group. And then came the meeting that night. Here, next to the barber shop in the hotel, on the most prominent corner in Shelby, was the A.A. meeting room, with “A.A.” looming big up over the door. I thought, “Well, this chap must be some persuader.”
I went inside and there were 40 alcoholics and their wives and friends. We had our meeting; I talked too much as I always do, and the meeting was over. I began to reflect that this was the largest Alcoholics Anonymous in all America in proportion to the size of the town. What a wonderful accomplishment! The next morning, my telephone rang in the hotel. A man was downstairs and he said, “I’d like to come up. There are some things you ought to know about Dr. M. who got the A.A. group together in this town.”
Up came this individual, and said, “You know, I too, was once an alcoholic but for 22 years I’ve been on dope. I used to meet our friend Dr. M. over in Lexington, and when he got out of there and came back here, I heard he’d beaten the dope game. So when I left, I started for Shelby, but on my way I got back on morphine again. He took me into his home and took me off it. Yes, I used to be a respectable citizen of this state, I helped organize a lot of banks here, but I’ve heard from my family only second-hand for many years. It’s my guess you don’t know what southern pride is, and you haven’t any idea what this man faced when he came back to this town to face the music. People wouldn’t speak to him for months. They’d say, “Why this fellow, the son of our leading doctor, goes away, studies medicine, comes back, and he’s a drunk, and after a while, he’s on the dope. The townspeople wouldn’t have much to do with him when he first came, and I’m ashamed to say that the local drunks wouldn’t either, because they said, we am’ t going to be sobered up by a dope addict. But you see, Dr. M. himself had once been an alcoholic, so that he could get that indispensable bond of identification across. Little by little, alcoholics began to rally around him.”
My visitor continued, “Well, that was the beginning. Intolerance, misunderstanding, gossip, scandal, failure, defeat, all those things faced our friend when he came into this town. And that was 3 years ago. Well, Bill, you’ve seen his mother, you’ve seen his wife, you’ve seen his baby, and you’ve seen the group. But he hasn’t told you that he now has the largest medical practice in this whole town, if not in the county. And he hasn’t told you hat he has been made head of our local hospital. And I know you don’t know this – every year in this town the citizens have a great meeting at which they cast a ballot, and last spring, at the annual casting of the ballot, the people of this town almost unanimously declared by their ballot that Dr. M. had been the towns most useful citizen during the 12 months gone by.” So I thought to myself, “So you were the big shot who planned to go straight past Shelby.” I looked at my visitor and said, “Indeed, What hath God wrought!”
Potts: Mr. W., is it possible for someone who hasn’t been drunk, or ever been an alcoholic, to do what an alcoholic has done? Have you found any possibility that laymen or preachers could begin to do such work? Is there anything in your experience that might lead to that possibility?
Lecturer: Yes, there is a great deal in our experience that leads to the idea that our friends of the nonalcoholic world can participate. While it’s true that the core of our process is the transmission of these things from one alcoholic to another, it is a fact that very often a minister or a doctor can lay the groundwork for our approach. Then, too, there is a class of people that we alcoholics flatter by calling them “dry” alcoholics. In other words, they’re neurotics of our description who don’t drink, and we recognize them as more or less kindred spirits; sometimes they approach our group and are well received. On the other hand, sometimes people who, from their life experience, just couldn’t get the pitch or couldn’t make the identification would be regarded by some of the groups as complete outsiders. You know, one of other faults is that of snobbishness. We AA’s have become extremely snobbish, strange as that may be. But it is true that this is a synthesis and we draw upon the resources of both medicine and religion. Of course, the doctor helps us on the physical side of the treatment. He can often prepare the groundwork with the potential by pointing out that he has the symptoms of a well-nigh fatal malady. The preacher, or the friend, would do well to emphasize the idea of sickness rather than of immorality. The alcoholic knows he’s a louse in most cases, even though he won’t admit it, and to be told so once more by someone who never took a glass of beer seems to annoy him greatly. That is not because the other fellow is wrong; we’re wrong, but we’re just built that way and it’s a matter of taking things as they are.
Stoneburner: What can ministers do to cooperate with A.A.?
Lecturer: Of course the approach to the alcoholic is everything. I think the preacher could do well if he does as we do. First find out all you can about the case, how the man reacts, whether he wants to get over his drinking or not. You see, it is very difficult to make any impressions upon a man who still wants to drink. At some point in their drinking career, most alcoholics get punished enough so that they want to stop, but then it’s far too late to do it alone. Sometimes, if the alcoholic can be impressed with the fact that he is a sick man, or a potentially sick man, then, in effect, you raise the bottom up to him instead of allowing him to drop down those extra hard years to reach it. I don’t know any substitute for sympathy and understanding, as much as the outsider can have. No preaching, no moralizing, but the emphasis on the idea that the alcoholic is a sick man.
In other words, the minister might first say to the alcoholic, “Well, all my life I’ve misunderstood you people, I’ve taken you people to be immoral by choice and perverse and weak, but now I realize that even if there have been such factors, they really no longer count, now you’re a sick man.” You might win the patient by not placing yourself up on a hilltop and looking down on him, but by getting down to some level of understanding that he gets, or partially gets. Then, if you can present this thing as a fatal and progressive malady, and you can present our group as a group of people who are not seeking to do anything against his will – we merely want to help if he wants to be helped – then sometimes you’ve laid the groundwork.
I think the clergyman can often do a great deal with the family. You see, we alcoholics are prone to talk too much about ourselves without sufficiently considering the collateral effects. For example, any family, wife and children, who have had to live with an alcoholic 10 or 15 years, are bound to be rather neurotic and distorted themselves. They just can’t help it. After all, when you expect the old gent to come home on a shutter every night, it’s wearing. Children get a very distorted point of view; so does the wife. Well, if they constantly hear it emphasized that this fellow is a terrible sinner, that he’s a rotter, that he’s in disgrace, and all that sort of thing, you’re not improving the condition of the family at all because, as they become persuaded of it, they get highly intolerant of the alcoholic and that merely generates more intolerance in him. Therefore, the gulf that must be bridged is widened, and that is why moralizing pushes people, who might have something to offer, further away from the alcoholic. You may say that it shouldn’t be so, but it’s one of those things that is so.
Robinson: Would local A.A. groups be interested in preventing the development of alcoholics by giving cooperation to local option movements or other programs to that end?
Lecturer: I don’t think so. That may be a very hard thing to explain. I’m sure that many people who are in the reform movement are very, very much disappointed with AA’s because they don’t seem to want to cooperate. Now I make haste to say right away that on this question of reform, this question of prohibition or moderation or what have you, there are just as many points of view among the AA’s and their families as there are among the next thousand people who walk by this place. Therefore, no MA. group can very well say, “We have a particular view about prohibition, or this or that degree of prohibition, or about any educational program that involves controversial issues.” You see we AA’s are of particular and unique use to other alcoholics, therefore we have to be very careful about anything that is going to get between them and us. In other words, we can’t do anything that is going to arouse prejudice. For example, if I were to make the statement here that I believe in prohibition, or that I don’t believe in prohibition, and either of those points of view were quoted publicly, I would inevitably arouse prejudice. If I said, “Well I don’t believe in prohibition and that’s my personal view,” then a great many good people who do believe in prohibition would get annoyed; they might go out and say to the alcoholic’s wife, ‘Well, I don’t like that crowd of AA’s because they don’t believe in prohibition and look what liquor has done to your husband.” So she doesn’t suggest A.A. to her husband and he eventually dies because we have been foolish enough to arouse prejudice in somebody’s mind.
Likewise, if we said, “Well, we believe in prohibition,” and that were quoted, every alcoholic, almost without exception, reading that in the newspapers, would say, “Why, that’s a bunch of reformers! And none of that for me.” He shouldn’t react that way, but he does. Since ours is a life and death job, you can understand why, as a group, we are very careful not to express any opinions on controversial questions. As a group we have no opinion on any kind of controversy regardless of the merit of either side, because if we show such an interest, as a group, then we cut down our own peculiar usefulness.
It isn’t that there aren’t bonds of sympathy between us and a great many points of view. It isn’t that individuals among us don’t have points of view. But I wouldn’t for the world, in a place like this, express my personal views about any controversial question lest my opinion be imputed publicly to the group, to A.A. Then we would be thrown into a controversy that could only prejudice our efforts and not help anybody very much. It isn’t a lack of understanding or lack of sympathy; it’s a matter of policy about which we have to be unusually careful.
Question: How many drug addicts are there in the A.A. and in the organization similar to A.A., which operates among drug addicts?
Lecturer: We have quite a number of drug addicts who were once alcoholics. So far, I don’t know of any case of pure drug addiction that we have been able to approach. In other words, we can no more approach a simon-pure addict than the outsider can usually approach us. We are in exactly the same position with them that the doctor and the clergyman have been in respect to the alcoholic. We just don’t talk that fellow’s language. He always looks at us and says, “Well, those alcoholics are the scum of the earth and besides, what do they know about addiction?” Now, however, since we have a good number of addicts who were once alcoholics, those addicts in their turn are making an effort, here and there, to transfer the thing over to the straight addict. In that way we hope the bridge is going to be crossed. There may be a case here and there that has been helped. But in all, I suppose, there may be around 50 cases of real morphine addiction in former alcoholics who have been helped by A.A. Of course we have a great many barbital users, but we don’t consider those people particularly difficult if they really want to do something about it, and particularly if it’s associated with liquor. They seem to get out of it after a while. But where you have morphine, or some of those derivatives, then it gets very tough. Then you have to have a “dope” talk to a “dope,” and I hope that we can find, some day, a bridge to the addict.
Rogers: How many members do you have in A.A.? How many A.A. groups are there?
Lecturer: I might have made that point, although, I suppose that the A.A. ‘s here would have advertised it from the housetops. We have, I think, about 15,000 members, and A.A. groups are in about 367 places. A.A. is showing a capacity to spread by way of literature and correspondence even outside of the United States. We have a very successful group now in Honolulu and until recently they had had no contacts with us except by mail.
Question: If an alcoholic comes to an A.A. meeting under the influence of alcohol, how do you treat him or handle him during the meeting itself?
Lecturer: Groups will run usually run amuck on that sort of question. At first we are likely to say that we’re going to be supermen and save every drunk in town. The fact is that a great many of them just don’t want to stop. They come, but they interfere very greatly with the meeting. Then, being still rather intolerant, the group will swing way over in the other direction and say, “No drunks around these meetings.” We get forcible with them and put them out of the meeting, saying, “You’re welcome here if your sober.” But the general rule in most places is that if a person comes for the first or second time and can sit quietly in the meeting, without creating an uproar, nobody bothers him. On the other hand, if he’s a chronic “slipper” and interferes with the meetings, we lead him out gently, or maybe not so gently, on the theory that one man cannot be permitted to hold up the recovery of others. The theory is “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
The Impact Of Alcoholism
Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Narcotics of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, United States Senate, ninety-first Congress, first session, on examination of the impact of alcoholism, Thursday, July 24, 1969.
The subcommittee met at 9:30 a.m., pursuant to call in room 4232, New Senate Office Building, Senator Harold E. Hughes (chairman of the Subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Senators Hughes, Yarborough, Williams, Javits, Dominick, and Bellmon.
* * * * * * * *
Senator Hughes – For the next witness there will be no television. There will be no pictures taken. The next witness is Bill W., Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Audio is fine. You may photograph the Senators or you may photograph Bill W. from the back of the head if you want to.
Bill, you may proceed with your statement as you desire.
STATEMENT OF BILL W., CO-FOUNDER OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS.
Mr. Bill W. – Mr. Chairman, Senators, we of AA, it is already apparent, are going to have reason for great gratitude on account of your invitation to put in an appearance here. For me this is an extremely moving and significant occasion. It may well mark the advent of the new era in this old business of alcoholism.
I think that the activities of this committee and what they may lead to may be a turning point historically. This is splashdown day for Apollo. The impossible is happening. Like my dear friend Marty [Marty Mann], who has just spoken to you, I share with her the opinion that in this field of alcoholism we are now seeing the beginning of the achievement of the impossible.
Because of my appearance here as an AA member, I have to limit myself pretty much to statements about AA. But you must remember that as time passes in these hearings a great many AA’s will be testifying as citizens, and they will be far more free to express opinions on the general field and their activities in it than I am.
So I take it that my mission here today will be to acquaint you with the resources that AA may reveal for treatment, for education and so on.
I shall start off by taking the dry part of my recital first: a few figures. Our national magazine, “The AA Grapevine,” makes a brief and simple statement as to what AA is: “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.”
“The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for membership. We are self-supporting through our own contributions.”
“AA is not allied with any sect denomination, politics, organization or institution, does not wish to engage in controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.”
Now, as a little more background for my presentation, let me present just a few figures. Our last census, that is to say, reports of our group sessions, shows that we have 15,000 AA groups throughout the world and an active membership of 285,000.
Besides the 285,000 there are hundreds of thousands — maybe 200,000, for all we know, 300,000 recovered AA’s on the sidelines who do not get caught up in the active statistics, people who have remained for the greater part sober, who are carrying AA attitudes and practices and philosophies into the community life.
So AA is much more in reality than a generator of mere sobriety, it is returning us to citizenship in the world.
Now, then, that breaks down these figures into something like this: groups in the United States, 9,000, active members, 148,000; groups in Canada, 1,500; members in Canada, 21,000; groups overseas, 3,300, membership, 62,000; internationalists, 344. We mean by that, people on ships, largely, who travel from port to port spreading the AA message.
We have 648 groups in hospitals, members in hospitals (and this means largely mental institutions), 18,500; and groups in prisons, 33,000. And lone members throughout the world, who correspond with the world headquarters, 522.
Those statistics are of interest, but they are scarcely inspiring, because they are not as yet connected with the flesh and blood of human experience. I think the best way of presenting some of that experience would be to relate to you certain fragments of AA history that have a particular bearing upon this occasion.
Oddly enough, and contrary to the information of most people, Alcoholics Anonymous, we see in retrospect, very definitely had its start in the offices of one of the founders of modern psychiatry. I refer to Carl Jung, who in the early 1930s received a patient from America, a well-known businessman. He had run the gamut of the cures of the time, and desperately wanted to stop and could get no help at all.
He came to Jung and stayed with him about a year. He came to love the great man. During this period the hidden springs of his motivation were revealed. He felt now with this new understanding, plus communication with this new and wonderful friend that he had really shed this strange illness of mind, body and spirit.
Leaving there, he was taken drunk, as we AA’s say, in a matter of a month, perhaps, and coming back, he said, “Carl, what does this all mean?” Then this man made the statement that I think led to the formation of AA. It took a great man to make it.
He said, “Rowland, up until recently I thought you might be one of those rare cases who could be aided and made to recover by the practice of my art. But like most who will pass through here, I must confess that my art can do nothing for you.”
“What,” said the patient, “Doctor, you are my port of last resort. Where shall I turn now? Is there no other recourse?”
The Doctor said, “Yes, there may be. There is the off chance. I am speaking to you of the possibility of a spiritual awakening, if you like, a conversion.”
“Oh,” said the patient “but I am a religious man. I used to be a vestryman in the Episcopal Church. I still have faith in God, but He has little in me, I should think.”
Jung said, “I mean something that goes deeper than that Rowland, not just a question of faith. I am talking about a transformation of spirit that can motivate you and set you free from this. Time after time alcoholics have recovered by these means. The lightning strikes here and there, and no one can say why or how. All I can suggest is that you expose yourself to some religious environment of your own choice.”
The patient went to England. He became associated with the group of that day in later years called “Moral Rearmament,” [the Oxford Groups] and to his great surprise he began to feel released from this hideous compulsion.
He returned to America. He had a place in Vermont. There he ran into a friend of mine about to be committed, a friend that we AA’s lovingly call Ebby. Ebby, at the time a wealthy man, had just run his car through the house of a farmer, into the kitchen, pushing in the wall, and when he stopped, out stepped a horrified lady from inside and he said, “How about a cup of coffee?”
This was the extent of his illness and he was about to be committed. The patient, Rowland, got hold of him, took him to New York, exposed him to the Oxford Groups, whose emphasis was upon admission of hopelessness, in a sense, on one’s unaided resources a human being could not go too far.
Another was self-survey. Another was a species of confession, and then there was restitution and belief in a Higher Power.
That movement was rather evangelical, but AA owes it a great debt in what to do and also in what not to do.
Then, thinking of me, and I was about at the end of my rope, my friend visited me. In the previous summer I had been in a drying-out emporium in New York City, and there my doctor, who was to make a crucial contribution to AA, had said to my wife, “Lois, I am afraid, my dear, that I can do nothing. I thought that he might be one of those rare instances in which I could help him stay sober, but I am afraid not. He is the victim of a compulsion to drink against his will, and, as much as he desires, that compulsion I don’t think can be broken; and this compulsion is coupled with what I call an allergy.
“It is a misnomer, but it is indicating that there is something wrong with this man physically. Therefore, the eternal dilemma has been this eternal compulsion to drink, to the point almost of lunacy, coupled with the physical allergy that guarantees insanity and death. I think you will have to lock him up.”
After that treatment I came home and a few months later this friend appeared, sat across the kitchen table where there was a big pitcher of gin and pineapple juice. I was a solitary drinker of about two or three bottles of bathtub gin a day. The year is 1934.
Enters this friend of mine that I had known to be a very hopeless case.
At once it struck me that he was in a state of release, this just was not another drunk on the wagon. Then he told me this story, how he had felt this relief, the moment he had gotten honest with himself and adhered to their simple program, he began to feel this release, how much more he had gotten through his friend, Rowland. He told me the story about him.
Finally I put the question to him. I said, “Ebby, you say you don’t want to drink, you are not drinking today. What does this mean?”
He said, “Well, I have got religion.” I said, “Well, what brand is it?” So he revealed to me his story. I was deeply impressed, really, because here was somebody that I knew had lived in this strange world of alcoholism, where I, too, was a denizen. So this transmission of the fatal nature of this malady in many cases struck me. I think it caused a great personal deflation and laid the ground for what was subsequently to happen.
My friend went off. I didn’t see him for a few days. In no waking hour could I forget the face across the kitchen table. Yet I gagged on this concept of a Higher Power, even in its lowest denominator.
So I finally decided I would go to the hospital, get detoxified. I appeared at the hospital. Dr. Silkworth began treatment. I announced that I had found something new, I thought, I wanted to get sobered up.
I could not have any emotional conversion. So after about 3 days detoxification, I found myself falling into a terrible depression. I felt trapped.
In other words, I was asking the impossible, to believe in a Higher Power, let alone cast my dependence on it on the one side, and yet my guide in science [Dr. Silkworth] was saying, “But medically you are pretty hopeless.”
Out of this eventuated a very sudden spiritual awakening in which I was released from this compulsion to drink, a compulsion on my mind morning, noon and night for several years. I was suddenly released from it.
Mine was a rather spectacular experience. But it is quite identical to what happens to any good AA. In other words, their experiences are apt to take a longer time and they are not so sensational, but we do get the transforming effect on motivation.
With the experience came this thought: Why can’t this be induced chain style? In other words, I can identify myself with another alcoholic through this kinship of suffering, then why can’t that inflate him and perhaps he will be motivated and one can talk to the other.
I came out of the hospital, began to feverishly work with alcoholics. We had a house full of them. I was so keyed up with the paranoid side with my spiritual awakening; I even thought I had a kind of divine appointment about all the alcoholics in the world.
There was 6 months of complete failure. Finally I went to Akron on a business trip to see if I could regain my fortunes. I was away from my friends. The business deal fell through. I had hardly carfare home and all of a sudden the old desire to drink started to come back. I was frightened.
Then I realized that in talking and trying to help other alcoholics, even though the cases had all been failures, this had a great deal to do with my staying sober. These were the elements of the process and through a strange set of circumstances I was led to a physicist and from there to the doctor in town who was to become my partner in this thing.
He, too, when the nature of his malady was revealed to him in medical terms, one drunk talking to another, achieved sobriety that he had long since thought impossible.
Shortly after that, in one of the Akron hospitals, No. 3 got sober, and an AA group, the first one really, came into existence in June 1935 in Akron, Ohio. Then there was a return to New York and a group started there. A few people in from Cleveland began to come to the group meetings in Akron.
We grew very, very slowly, trial and error all along the line. If it seemed to work, get with it, if it failed, discard it. That was our practice until about 4 years later, after hundreds of failures; we found that we had a hundred people sober. At that time, having retired from the Oxford Group, and yet having no name actually, we just called ourselves a nameless bunch of drunks trying to help each other get well.
At that time we began to think in terms of a book, which supported by case histories would portray our approach. The book is called “Alcoholics Anonymous” and it was published when we had a hundred members.
Up to this time we had been virtually a secret society. Then we realized that we would have to be publicized. So we were very reluctant about this, what kind of people would come in?
We were publicized first by Liberty magazine, and flooded by 6,700 inquiries into a post office box in New York. We gave these inquiries to a few of our traveling people out of the small-established groups. Then came an experience in mass production of sobriety, which I think is most relevant to any presentation here.
Up until the fall of 1939, 5 years after I had sobered up, we had thought that the presentation of our case to the other alcoholics was up to the founding fathers or the elder hierarchy or whatnot. We thought it to be a very slow business indeed.
The idea of a mass revival was very far from our minds. The Cleveland Plain Dealer decided to publish a series of articles about us. There was a chap doing the articles who himself was an alcoholic. The poor devil never recovered, but he could talk our language.
These articles were placed in a box on the editorial page every 3 or 4 days and a supporting editorial was written. Then our friends of the press and the communications media began this benign process of bringing us customers.
At this time the group in Cleveland numbered only about 20 people. They were suddenly confronted with hundreds of frantic telephone calls to hospitals and people with or without money, people who were hospitalized this week, next-week were going with an older member to see somebody in the hospital. This thing pyramided so that in the succeeding year of 1940 these 20 had pyramided themselves into what had turned out to be several hundred sound recoveries.
Now this is the final suggestion, that the resources of Alcoholics Anonymous for mass society have hardly been touched. This set of figures shows in the last
10 years Alcoholics Anonymous membership has pyramided at the rate of only 8 or 10 percent a year, when in the early days, in the first decade, increases
of 100 percent 500 percent 1,000 percent were very common. Therefore, we have a tremendous lot of people with whom to deal. This is partly due to the reluctance of the alcoholic himself.
Figures tell us that we have 5 million alcoholics in America. This means 5 million poor souls who are in all stages of this dissolution and in the early years scarcely one of these people can be brought to believe that he is actually beginning to be sick.
This rationalization can exist right through all sorts of evidence of sickness right down to the undertaker himself. It is this mass capability of the alcoholic to rationalize himself out of this predicament. This is one of the great obstacles to bringing alcoholics toward treatment. In fact this is the obstacle that all of the remarkable agencies we now have at work are running against, how do we get these people in?
It is a process of education, but what kind of education we simply don’t know. Another part of the resistance of Alcoholics Anonymous stems from the fact that it has a spiritual content and a great many of our professional friends are apt to believe Alcoholics Anonymous is for the religiously susceptible only.
Well, this is a very mistaken impression. At last year’s New York dinner, we were talking about this topic and it suddenly occurred to me that of the four speakers on the platform, only one of us four had any religious background whatever.
Why were they in AA? They were driven there because there was no other place to go, no other place to get well.
So these are the treatment resources.
How can the resources of experience which have to do with the other agencies and disciplines in the field be brought to this committee by our friends and by AA members who are also working in these areas? You have begun to surmise that in effect, we are coming out of the woodwork, we are in practically all of these efforts bringing the AA experience to them, making it available and that kind of experience can be made available by any members here in these committee hearings if they come here acting as citizens and recovered alcoholics [but not as AA members].
We have to do that as a protective thing for AA. Now we have great numbers of friends. Those, too, can be called upon and I notice that some are going to be available here. For instance here is Jack Norris, a nonalcoholic.
Many of you know him. He is chairman of our board of trustees. He is second in charge, or was until his retirement in the medical department of Eastman Kodak, the second industrial company to give the nod to AA and make use of the resources.
In Wilmington, for example, we have Dr. Glanto, the head of the medical department of the first company ever to make AA arrangements with AA. I think he would be quite happy to testify.
On our board we have Mr. Austin McCormick, one of the country’s great criminologists, and I think he could throw much light on the situation. We have AA members beyond count.
So you have that sort of resource available for treatment and for experience.
Well, I think I am presenting this overlong and perhaps you gentlemen would like to ask questions at this point.
Senator Hughes – Bill, I thank you for yours bring us up to date on the beginnings and where you are now. I would like to ask some pointed questions. No.1, I have never been in a prison institution, I have never been in mental hospital institution, where there was not an AA group in my years in public life, not only of the inmates but of people coming in from the outside who were conducting meetings in an effort to help these people recover. This is also true in the case of halfway houses, private treatment centers, and every public treatment center that I know of dealing with the alcoholic where there are Government programs sponsored by State, community, or county divisions. I take from your testimony that as a cofounder of AA you certainly believe that in any program this committee and this Congress might develop, that there would be a place and a willingness for AA members to work in recovery, education, and counseling of the ailing alcoholics, and prevention also?
Mr. Bill W. – I should think so. Of course, this is the pleasure of our friends. But certainly this experience is of great value and in respect of this communication one alcoholic is certainly of unique value.
Senator Hughes – I think what you indicated is what I expected. No. 1, we have available through Alcoholics Anonymous a resource of willing people whom you have indicated have the capabilities of multiplying not 100 percent, but 1,000 percent if they can get to the people.
Mr. Bill W. – If we can get to the people.
Senator Hughes – This is the essence of my question. Undoubtedly knowing the organization quite well myself, these people have dedicated themselves to doing the job of calling on alcoholics and assisting in any way they can in their recovery.
Mr. Bill W. – Yes. Of course, it ought to be observed at this point that the virtues of AA are not really earned virtues. It is a matter of do or die. Nothing is too good for the next sufferer. So our dedication is first based on the fact that our lives and fortunes have been saved and we want to share this with the next fellow, knowing that it is a part of the maintenance of our own recovery and life or death. So this is the source of the great dedication that you see among the AA.
Senator Javits – I would like to just join the Chair in what he has said and assure you, sir, from what I see here, we will do our utmost to utilize to the fullest these resources which you have so eloquently testified to.
Senator Hughes – Thank you very much, Senator Javits. Senator Yarborough?
Senator Yarborough – Mr. Bill W., I am astonished to learn that AA had its beginning in 1934 and 1935 and was very small until 1939. Because the escalation was so fast after that, so well known nationally now, that you have an idea this has gone on for generations.
Mr. Bill W. – When you consider the enormous ramifications of this disease, we have just scratched the surface. I think we should humbly remember this.
Senator Yarborough – The experience you personally described when this burden fell away from you, I have thought back in my reading, I know of only two other men who have had such a dramatic experience. One was Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus and the other was Sam Houston, the great national hero. Sam Houston, who once was called by the Indians, Big Drunk, became, while he was a U.S. Senator, a temperance lecturer all over the United States. Congratulations on what you have done for so many hundreds of thousands who are in your debt and the millions I believe who will be reached in the not distant future.
Senator Hughes – Bill, I thank you kindly for your willingness to come forward as a co-founder of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and express the basis of its founding, its willingness to cooperate, and the hope of people over the last few decades who have found their way through this. The Subcommittee and the Committee are indebted to you for your willingness to do this. I want to express also the Chair’s appreciation to the press for their cooperation in honoring tenets of your institution to retain the anonymity of your members.
Mr. Bill W. – I thank them, too, with you.
Senator Hughes – Thank you very much, Bill. The committee will recess until 1:30 p.m.
NOTE: Only four days before, the whole world had watched as Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldren had walked on the moon. Just a few years later Buzz Aldrin would participate with Senator Hughes and 50 other famous recovered alcoholics in “Operation Understanding” in Washington, D.C. They all identified themselves as recovered alcoholics in an effort to reduce stigma and increase public awareness that alcoholism is a treatable disease. This event gained extensive worldwide front-page newspaper, television and radio coverage.
(I am happy to make this testimony available. Bill assured the AA members who testified during the three days of hearings that it was perfectly permissible for them to testify “as citizens and recovered alcoholics” so long as they did not, in this public forum, reveal their membership in AA, which would have been a violation of the AA tradition. I was present at this hearing, at which both Bill Wilson and Marty Mann testified. I served on the Subcommittee professional staff from 1969 to 1980. )
(Note that Bill said the man who wrote the Cleveland Plain Dealer articles was an alcoholic who never recovered.)