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WOMEN SUFFER TOO
great opportunities, alcohol nearly ended
her life. Early member, she spread the word among
women in our pioneering period.
WAS I saying . . . From far away, as if in a delirium,
I had heard my own voice—calling someone "Dorothy,"
talking of shops, of jobs . . . the words came clearer
. . . this sound of my own voice frightened me as it
got closer . . . and suddenly, there I was, talking
of I knew not what, to someone I'd never seen before
this very moment. Abruptly I stopped speaking. Where
I'd waked up in
strange rooms before, fully dressed on a bed or a couch;
I'd waked up in my own room, in or on my own bed, not
knowing what hour or day it was, afraid to ask . . .
but this was different. This time I seemed to be already
awake, sitting upright in a big easy chair, in the middle
of an animated conversation with a perfectly strange
young woman, who didn't appear to think it strange.
She was chatting on, pleasantly and comfortably.
Terrified, I looked
around. I was in a large, dark, rather poorly furnished
room—the living room of a basement flat. Cold chills
started chasing up and down my spine; my teeth were
chattering; my hands were shaking so I tucked them under
to keep them from flying away. My fright was real enough,
account for these violent reactions. I knew what they
were, all right—a drink would fix them. It must have
been a long time since I had my last drink—but I didn't
dare ask this stranger for one. I must get out of here.
In any case I must get out of here before I let slip
my abysmal ignorance of how I came to be here, and she
realized that I was stark, staring mad. I was mad—I
The shakes grew
worse and I looked at my watch—six o'clock. It had been
one o'clock when I last remembered looking. I'd been
sitting comfortably in a restaurant with Rita, drinking
my sixth martini and hoping the waiter would forget
about the lunch order—at least long enough for me to
have a couple more. I'd only had two with her, but I'd
managed four in the fifteen minutes I'd waited for her,
and of course I'd had the usual uncounted swigs from
the bottle as I painfully got up and did my slow spasmodic
dressing. In fact I had been in very good shape at one
o'clock—feeling no pain. What could have happened?
That had been in the center of New York, on noisy 42nd
Street . . . this was obviously a quiet residential
section. Why had "Dorothy" brought me here?
Who was she? How had I met her? I had no answers, and
I dared not ask. She gave no sign of recognizing anything
wrong, but what had I been doing for those lost five
hours? My brained whirled. I might have done terrible
things, and I wouldn't even know it!
Somehow I got out
of there and walked five blocks past brownstone houses.
There wasn't a bar in sight, but I found the subway
station. The name on it was unfamiliar and I had to
ask the way to Grand Central. It took three-quarters
of an hour and two changes to
there—back to my starting point. I had been in the remote
reaches of Brooklyn.
That night I got
very drunk, which was usual, but I remembered everything,
which was very unusual. I remembered going through what
my sister assured me was my nightly procedure of trying
to find Willie Seabrook's name in the telephone book.
I remembered my loud resolution to find him and ask
him to help me get into that "Asylum" he had
written about. I remembered asserting that I was going
to do something about this, that I couldn't go
on . . . I remembered looking longingly at the window
as an easier solution, and shuddering at the memory
of that other window, three years before, and the six
agonizing months in a London hospital ward. I remembered
filling the Peroxide bottle in my medicine chest with
gin, in case my sister found the bottle I hid under
the mattress. And I remembered the creeping horror of
the interminable night, in which I slept for short spells
and woke dripping with cold sweat and shaken with utter
despair, to drink hastily from my bottle and mercifully
pass out again, "You're mad, you're mad, you're
mad!" pounded through my brain with each returning
ray of consciousness, and I drowned the refrain with
That went on for
two more months before I landed in a hospital and started
my slow fight back to normalcy. It had been going on
like that for over a year. I was thirty-two years old.
When I look back
on that last horrible year of constant drinking I wonder
how I survived it either physically or mentally. For
there were of course periods of clear realization of
what I had become,
by memories of what I had been, what I had expected
to be. And the contrast was pretty shattering. Sitting
in a Second Avenue bar, accepting drinks from anyone
who offered, after my small stake was gone; or sitting
at home alone, with the inevitable glass in my hand,
I would remember, and remembering, I would drink faster,
seeking speedy oblivion. It was hard to reconcile this
ghastly present with the simple facts of the past.
My family had money—I
had never known denial of any material desire. The best
boarding schools and a finishing school in Europe had
fitted me for the conventional role of debutante and
young matron. The times in which I grew up (the Prohibition
era immortalized by Scott Fitzgerald and John Held Jr.)
had taught me to be gay with the gayest; my own inner
urges led me to outdo them all. The year after coming
out, I married. So far, so good—all according to plan,
like thousands of others. But then the story became
my own. My husband was an alcoholic—I had only contempt
for those without my own amazing capacity—the outcome
was inevitable. My divorce coincided with my father's
bankruptcy, and I went to work, casting off all allegiances
and responsibilites to any other than myself. For me,
work was only a different means to the same end, to
be able to do exactly what I wanted to do.
For the next ten
years I did just that. For greater freedom and excitement
I went abroad to live. I had my own business, successful
enough for me to indulge most of my desires. I met all
the peple I wanted to meet; I saw all the places I wanted
to see; I did all the things I wanted to do—and I was
Headstrong and willful, I rushed from pleasure to pleasure,
and found the returns diminishing to the vanishing point.
Hangovers began to assume monstrous proportions and
the morning drink became an urgent necessity. "Blanks"
were more frequent, and I seldom knew how I'd got home.
When my friends suggested that I was drinking too much—they
were no longer my friends. I moved from group to group—then
from place to place—and went on drinking. With a creeping
insidiousness, drink had become more important than
anything else. It no longer gave me pleasure—it merely
dulled the pain—but I had to have it. I was bitterly
unhappy. No doubt I had been an exile too long—I should
go home to America. I did. And to my surprise, my drinking
When I entered
a sanitarium for prolonged and intensive psychiatric
treatment, I was convinced that I was having a serious
mental breakdown. I wanted help, and I tried to cooperate.
As the treatment progressed I began to get a picture
of myself, of the temperament that had caused me so
much trouble. I had been hypersensitive, shy, idealistic.
My inability to accept the harsh realities of life had
resulted in a disillusioned cynic, clothed in a protective
armor against the world's misunderstanding. That armor
had turned into prison walls, locking me in loneliness—and
fear. All I had left was an iron determination to live
my own life in spite of the alien world—and here I was,
an inwardly frightened, outwardly defiant woman, who
desperately needed a prop to keep going.
Alcohol was that
prop, and I didn't see how I could live without it.
When My doctor told me I should never touch a drink
again, I couldn't afford to believe
I had to persist in my attempts to get straightened
out enough to be able to use the drinks I needed, without
their turning on me. Besides, how could he understand?
He wasn't a drinking man, he didn't know what it was
to need a drink, nor what a drink could do for
one in a pinch. I wanted to live, not in a desert,
but in a normal world; and my idea of a normal world
was among people who drank—teetotallers were not included.
And I was sure that I couldn't be with people who drank,
without drinking. In that I was correct: I couldn't
be comfortable with any kind of people without
drinking. I never had been.
of my good intentions, in spite of my protected life
behind sanitarium walls, I several times got drunk,
and was astounded . . . and badly shaken.
That was the point
at which my doctor gave me the book "Alcoholics
Anonymous" to read. The first chapters were a revelation
to me. I wasn't the only person in the world who felt
and behaved like this! I wasn't mad or vicious—I was
a sick person. I was suffering from an actual disease
that had a name and symptoms like diabetes or cancer
or TB—and a disease was respectable, not a moral stigma!
But then I hit a snag. I couldn't stomach religion,
and I didn't like the mention of God or any of the other
capital letters. If that was the way out, it wasn't
for me. I was an intellectual and I needed an intellectual
answer, not an emotional one. I told my doctor so in
no uncertain terms. I wanted to learn to stand on my
own two feet, not to change one prop for another, and
an intangible and dubious one at that. And so on and
on, for several weeks, while I grudgingly plowed through
the offending book, and felt more and more hopeless
Then the miracle
happened—to me! It isn't always so sudden with
everyone, but I ran into a personal crisis which filled
me with a raging and righteous anger. And as I fumed
helplessly and planned to get good and drunk and show
them, my eye caught a sentence in the book lying
open on my bed: "We cannot live with anger."
The walls crumpled—and the light streamed in. I wasn't
trapped. I wasn't helpless. I was free, and I
didn't have to drink to "show them." This
wasn't "religion"—this was freedom! Freedom
from anger and fear, freedom to know happiness and love.
I went to a meeting
to see for myself this group of freaks or bums who had
done this thing. To go into a gathering of people was
the sort of thing that all my life, from the time I
left my private world of books and dreams to meet the
real world of people and parties and jobs, had left
me feeling an uncomfortable outsider, needing the warming
stimulus of drinks to join in. I went trembling into
a house in Brooklyn filled with strangers . . . and
I found I had come home at last, to my own kind. There
is another meaning for the Hebrew word that in the King
James version of the Bible is translated "salvation."
It is: "to come home." I had found my salvation.
I wasn't alone any more.
That was the beginning
of a new life, a fuller life, a happier life than I
had ever known or believed possible. I had found friends,
understanding friends who often knew what I was thinking
and feeling better than I knew myself, and didn't allow
me to retreat into
my prison of loneliness and fear over a fancied slight
or hurt. Talking things over with them, great floods of
enlightenment showed me myself as I really was and I was
like them. We all had hundreds of character traits, of
fears and phobias, likes and dislikes, in common. Suddenly
I could accept myself, faults and all, as I was—for weren't
we all like that? And, accepting, I felt a new inner comfort,
and the willingness and strength to do something about
the traits I couldn't live with.
It didn't stop there.
They knew what to do about those black abysses that yawned
ready to swallow me when I felt depressed, or nervous.
There was a concrete program, designed to secure the greatest
possible inner security for us long-time escapists. The
feeling of impending disaster that had haunted me for
years began to dissolve as I put into practice more and
more of the Twelve Steps. It worked!
An active member
of A.A. since 1939, I feel myself a useful member of the
human race at last. I have something to contribute to
humanity, since I am peculiarly qualified, as a fellow-sufferer,
to give aid and comfort to those who have stumbled and
fallen over this business of meeting life. I get my greatest
thrill of accomplishment from the knowledge that I have
played a part in the new happiness achieved by countless
others like myself. The fact that I can work again and
earn my living, is important, but secondary. I believe
that my once over-weening self-will has finally found
its proper place, for I can say many times daily, "Thy
will be done, not mine" . . . and mean it.