I was graduated from high-school the World War was on
in full blast. I was too young for the army but old enough
to man a machine for the production of the means of wholesale
destruction. I became a machine-hand at high wages. Machinery
appealed to me anyway, because I had always wanted to
be a mechanical engineer. Keen to learn as many different
operations as possible, I insisted on being transferred
from one operation to another until I had a good practical
knowledge of all machines in a standard machine shop.
With that equipment I was ready to travel for broader
experience and in seven years had worked in the leading
industrial centers in the eastern states, supplementing
my shop work with night classes in marine engineering.
I had the good times
of the period but confined my drinking to weekends, with
an occasional party after work in the evenings. But I
was unsettled and dissatisfied, and in a sense disgusted
with going from job to job and achieving nothing more
than a weekly pay envelope. I wasn't particularly interested
in making a lot of money, but I wanted to be comfortable
and independent as soon as possible.
So I married at that
time, and for a while it seemed that I had found the solution
to my urge for moving around. Most people settle down
when they marry
I thought I'd have the same experience, that my wife and
I would chose a place where we could establish a home
and bring up a family. I had the dream of wearing carpet
slippers in a life of comparative ease by the time I was
forty. It didn't work out that way. After the newness
of being married had worn off a little the old wander
business got me again.
In 1924 1 brought
my wife to a growing city in the middle west where work
was always plentiful. I had been in and out of it several
times before and I could always get a job in the engineering
department of its largest industrial plant. I early acquired
the spirit of the organization which had a real reputation
for constructive education of its workers. It encouraged
ambition and aided latent talent 'to develop. I was keen
about my work and strove always to place myself in line
for promotion. I had a thorough knowledge of the mechanical
needs of the plant and when I was offered a job in the
purchasing department's mechanical section I took it.
We were now resident
in sort of a workers' paradise, a beautifully landscaped
district where employees were encouraged to buy homes
from the company. We had a boy about two years after I
started with the company and with his advent I began to
take marriage seriously. My boy was going to have the
best I could give him. He would never have to work through
the years as I had done. We had a very nice circle of
acquaintance where we lived, nice neighbors and my colleagues
in the engineering department and later in purchasing
were good people, many of them bent on getting ahead and
the good things of life while they climbed. We had nice
parties with very little drinking, just enough to give
a little Saturday night glow to things-never enough to
get beyond control.
Fateful and fatal
came the month of October in the year 1929. Work slowed
down. Reassuring statements from financial leaders maintained
our confidence that industry would soon be on an even
keel again. But the boat kept rocking. In our organization,
as in many others, the purchasing department found its
work lessened by executive order. Personnel was cut down.
Those who were left went around working furiously at whatever
there was to do, looking furtively at each other wondering
who would be next to go. I wondered if the long hours
of overtime with no pay would be recognized in the cutting
down program. I lay awake lots of nights just like any
other man who sees what he has built up threatened with
I was laid off. I
took it hard for I had been doing a good job and I thought
as a man often will, that it might have been somebody
else who should get the axe. Yet there was a sense of
relief. It had happened. And partly through resentment
and partly from a sense of freedom I went out and got
pretty well intoxicated. I stayed drunk for three days,
something very unusual for me, who had very seldom lost
a day's work from drinking.
My experience soon
helped me to a fairly important job in the engineering
department of another company. My work took me out of
town quite a bit, never at any great distance from home,
but frequently overnight.
I wouldn't have to report at the office for a week, but
I was always in touch by phone. In a way I was practically
my own boss and being away from office discipline I was
an easy victim to temptation. And temptation certainly
existed. I had a wide acquaintance among the vendors to
our company who liked me and were very friendly. At first
I turned down the countless offers I had to take a drink,
but it wasn't long before I was taking plenty.
I'd get back into
town after a trip, pretty well organized from my day's
imbibing. It was only a step from this daily drinking
to successive bouts with absence from my route. I would
phone and my chief couldn't tell from my voice whether
I had been drinking or not, but gradually learned of my
escapades and warned me of the consequences to myself
and my job.. Finally when my lapses impaired my efficiency
and some pressure was brought to bear on the chief, he
let me go. That was in 1932.
I found myself back
exactly where I had started when I came to town. I was
still a good mechanic and could always get a job as an
hourly rated machine operator. This seemed to be the only
thing which offered and once more I discarded the white
collar for the overalls and canvas gloves. I had spent
more than half a dozen good years and had got exactly
nowhere, so I did my first really serious drinking. I
was good for at least ten days or two weeks off every
two months I worked, getting drunk and then half-heartedly
sobering up. This went on for almost three years. My wife
did the best she could to help me at first, but eventually
gave up trying to do anything with me at all. I was thrown
into one hospital after another, got sobered up, discharged,
and ready for another bout. What money I had saved dwindled
and I turned everything I had into cash to keep on drinking.
In one hospital, a
Catholic Institution, one of the sisters had talked religion
to me and had brought a priest in to see me. Both were
sorry for me and assured me that I would find relief in
Mother Church. I wanted none of it. "If I couldn't stop
drinking of my own free will, I was certainly not going
to drag God into it," I thought.
During another hospital
stay a minister whom I liked and respected came to see
me. To me, he was just another non-alcoholic who was unable,
even by the added benefit and authority of the cloth,
to do anything for an alcoholic.
I sat down one day
to figure things out. I was no good to myself, my wife,
or my growing boy. My drinking had even affected him;
he was a nervous, irritable child, getting along badly
at school, making poor grades because the father he knew
was a sot and an unpredictable one. My insurance was sufficient
to take care of my wife and child for a fresh start by
themselves and I decided that I'd simply move out of the
world for good. I took a killing dose of bichloride of
They rushed me to
the hospital. The emergency physicians applied the immediate
remedies but shook their heads. There wasn't a chance,
they said. And for days it was touch and go. One day the
came in on his daily rounds. He had often seen me there
before for alcoholism.
Standing at my bedside
he showed more than professional interest, tried to buoy
me up with the desire to live. He asked me if I would
really like to quit drinking and have another try at living.
One clings to life no matter how miserable. I told him
I would and that I would try again. He said he was going
to send another doctor to see me, to help me.
This doctor came and
sat beside my bed. He tried to cheer me up about my future,
pointed out I was still a young man with the world to
lick and insisted that I could do it if I really wanted
to stop drinking. Without telling me what it was, he said
he had an answer to my problem and condition that really
worked. Then he told me very simply the story of his own
life, a life of generous tippling after professional hours
for more than three decades until he had lost almost everything
a man can lose, and how he had found and applied the remedy
with complete success. He felt sure I could do the same.
Day after day he called on me in the hospital and spent
hours talking to me.
He simply asked me
to make a practical application of beliefs I already held
theoretically but had forgotten all my life. I believed
in a God who ruled the universe. The doctor submitted
to me the idea of God as a father who would not willingly
let any of his children perish and suggested that most,
if not all of our troubles, come from being completely
out of touch with the idea of God, with God Himself. All
my life, he said, I had been doing things of' my own human
will as opposed to
will and that the only certain way for me to stop drinking
was to submit my will to God and let Him handle my difficulties.
I had never looked
on my situation in that way, had always felt myself very
remote indeed from a Supreme Being. "Doc," as I shall
call him hereinafter, was pretty positive that God's law
was the Law of Love and that all my resentful feelings
which I had fed and cultivated with liquor were the result
of either conscious or unconscious, it didn't matter which,
disobedience to that law. Was I willing to submit my will?
I said I would try to do so. While I was still at the
hospital his visits were supplemented by visits from a
young fellow who had been a heavy drinker for years but
had run into "Doc" and had tried his remedy.
At that time, the
ex-alcoholics drinkers in this town, who have now grown
to considerable proportions, numbered only Doc and two
other fellows. To help themselves and compare notes they
met once a week in a private house and talked things over.
As soon as I came from the hospital I went with them.
The meeting was without formality. Taking love as the
basic command I discovered that my faithful attempt to
practice a law of love led me to clear myself of certain
I went back to my
job. New men came and we were glad to visit them. I found
that new friends helped me to keep straight and the sight
of every new alcoholic in the hospital was a real object
lesson to me. I could see in them myself as I had been,
something I had never been able to picture before.
Now I come to the
hard part of my story. It would
great to say I progressed to a point of splendid fulfillment,
but it wouldn't be true. My later experience points a
moral derived from a hard and bitter lesson. I went along
peacefully for two years after God had helped me quit
drinking. And then something happened. I was enjoying
the friendship of understanding fellows and getting along
quite well in my work and in my small social circle. I
had largely won back the respect of my former friends
and the confidence of my employer. I was feeling fine-too
fine. Gradually I began to take the plan I was trying
to follow apart. After all, I asked myself, did I really
have to follow any plan at all to stay sober? Here I was,
dry for two years and getting along all right. It wouldn't
hurt if I just carried on and missed a meeting or two.
If not present in the flesh I'd be there in spirit, I
said in excuse, for I felt a little bit guilty about staying
And I began to neglect
my daily communication with God. Nothing happened-not
immediately at any rate. Then came the thought that I
could stand on my own feet now. When that thought came
to mind-that God might have been all very well for the
early days or months of my sobriety but I didn't need
Him now-I was a gone coon. I got clear away from the life
I had been attempting to lead. I was in real danger. It
was just a step from that kind of thinking to the idea
that my two years training in total abstinence was just
what I needed to be able to handle a glass of beer. I
began to taste. I became fatalistic about things and soon
was drinking deliberately knowing I'd get drunk, stay
drunk, and what would inevitably happen.
friends came to my aid. They tried to help me, but I didn't
want help. I was ashamed and preferred not to see them
come around. And they knew that as long as I didn't want
to quit, as long as I preferred my own will instead of
God's will, the remedy simply could not be applied. It
is a striking thought that God never forces anyone to
do His will, that His help is ever available but has to
be sought in all earnestness and humility.
This condition lasted
for months, during which time I had voluntarily entered
a private institution to get straightened out. On the
last occasion when I came out of the fog, I asked God
to help me again. Shamefaced as I was, I went back to
the fellowship. They made me welcome, offered me collectively
and individually all the help I might need. They treated
me as though nothing had happened. And I feel that it
is the most telling tribute to the efficacy of this remedy
that during my period of relapse I still knew this remedy
would work with me if I would let it, but I was too stubborn
to admit it.
That was long ago.
Depend upon it I stay mighty close to what has proven
to be good for me. I don't dare risk getting very far
away. And I have found that in simple faith I get results
by placing my life in God's hands every day, by asking
Him to keep me a sober man for 24 hours, and trying to
do His will. He has never let me down yet.
for more resources on Walter B.