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THE EUROPEAN DRINKER
and wine were not the answer.
WAS born in Europe, in Alsace to be exact, shortly after
it had become German and practically grew up with "good
Rhine wine" of song and story. My parents had some vague
ideas of making a priest out of me and for some years
I attended the Franciscan school at Basle, Switzerland,
just across the border, about six miles from my home.
But, although I was a good Catholic, the monastic life
had little appeal for me.
Very early I became
apprenticed to harness-making and acquired considerable
knowledge of upholstering. My daily consumption of wine
was about a quart, but that was common where I lived.
Everybody drank wine. And it is true that there was
no great amount o f drunkenness. But I can remember,
in my teens, that there were a few characters who caused
the village heads to nod pityingly and sometimes in
anger as they paused to say, "That sot, Henri" and "Ce
pauvre Jules," who drank too much. They were undoubtedly
the alcoholics of our village.
was compulsory and I did my stretch with the class of
my age, goose-stepping in German barracks and taking
part in the Boxer Rebellion in China, my first time
at any great distance from home. In foreign parts many
a soldier who has been
abstemious at home learns to use new and potent drinks.
So I indulged with my comrades in everything the Far
East had to offer. I cannot say, however, that I acquired
any craving for hard liquor as a result. When I got
back to Germany I settled down to finish my apprenticeship,
drinking the wine of the country as usual.
Many friends of
my family had emigrated to America, so at twenty-four
I decided that the United States offered me the opportunity
I was never likely to find in my native land. I came
directly to a growing industrial city in the middle
west, where I have lived practically ever since. I was
warmly welcomed by friends of my youth who had preceded
me. For weeks after my arrival I was feted and entertained
in the already large colony of Alsatians in the city,
among the Germans in their saloons and clubs. I early
decided that the wine of America was very inferior stuff
and took up beer instead.
Fond of singing,
I joined a German singing society which had good club
headquarters. There I sat in the evenings, enjoying
with my friends our memories of the "old country," singing
the old songs we all knew, playing simple card games
for drinks and consuming great quantities of beer.
At that time I could
go into any saloon, have one or two beers, walk out
and forget about it. I had no desire whatever to sit
down at a table and stay a whole morning or afternoon
drinking. Certainly at that time I was one of those
who "can take it or leave it alone." There had never
been any drunkards in my family. I came of good stock,
of men and women who drank wine all their lives as a
beverage, and while
occasionally got drunk at special celebrations, they
were up and about their business the next day.
Having regard for the law of the land, I resigned myself
to the will of the national legislators and quit drinking
altogether, not because I had found it harmful, but
because I couldn't get what I was accustomed to drink.
You can all remember that in the first few months after
the change, a great many men, who had formerly been
used to a few beers every day or an occasional drink
of whiskey, simply quit all alcoholic drinks. For the
great majority of us, however, that condition didn't
last. We saw very early that Prohibition wasn't going
to work. It wasn't very long before home-brewing was
an institution and men began to search ferverishly for
old recipe books on wine-making.
But I hardly tasted
anything for two years and started in business for myself,
founding a mattress factory which is today an important
industrial enterprise in our city. I was doing very
well with that and general upholstering work, and there
was every indication that I would be financially independent
by the time I reached middle age. By this time I was
married and was paying for a home. Like most immigrants
I Wanted to be somebody and have something and I was
very happy and contented as I felt success crown my
efforts. I missed the old social times, of course, but
had no definite craving even for beer.
among my friends began to invite me to their homes.
I decided that if these fellows could make it I would
try it myself, and so I did. It wasn't very long until
I had developed a pretty
brew with uniformity and plenty of authority. I knew
the stuff I was making was a lot stronger than I had
been used to, but never suspected that steady drinking
of it might develop a taste for something even stronger
It wasn't long before
the bootlegger was an established institution in this,
as in other towns. I was doing well in business, and
in going around town I was frequently invited to have
a drink in a speakeasy. I condoned my domestic brewing
along with the bootleggers and their business. More
and more I formed the habit of doing some of my business
in the speakeasy, and after a time I did not need that
as an excuse. The "speaks" usually sold whiskey. Beer
was too bulky and it couldn't be kept in a jug under
the counter ready to be dumped when John Law came around.
I was now forming an entirely new drinking technique.
Before long I had a definite taste for hard liquor,
knew nausea and headaches I had never known before,
but as in the old days, I suffered them out. Gradually,
however, I'd suffer so much that I simply had to have
the morning-after drink.
I became a periodic
drinker. I was eased out of the business I had founded
and was reduced to doing general upholstery in a small
shop at the back of my house. My wife upbraided me often
and plenty when she saw that my "periodics" were gradually
losing me what business I could get. I began to bring
bottles in. I had them hidden away in the house and
all over my shop in careful concealment. I had all the
usual experiences of the alcoholic, for I was certainly
one by this time. Sometimes, after sobering up after
a bout of several weeks, I would righteously resolve
a great deal of determination, I would throw out full
pints—pour them out and smash the bottles—firmly resolved
never to take another drink of the stuff. I was going
to straighten up.
In four or five
days I would be hunting all over the place, at home
and in my workshop, for the bottles I had destroyed,
cursing myself for being a fool. My "periodics" became
more frequent until I reached the point where I wanted
to devote all my time to drinking, working as little
as possible, and then only when the necessity of my
family demanded it. As soon as I had satisfied that,
what I earned as an upholsterer went for liquor. I would
promise to have jobs done and never do them. My customers
lost confidence in me to the point where I retained
what business I had only because I was a well-trained
and reputedly fine craftsman. "Best in the business,
when he's sober," my customers would say, and I still
had a following who would give me work though they deplored
my habits, because they knew the job would be well done
when they eventually got it.
I had always been
a good Catholic, possibly not so devoted as I should
have been, but fairly regular in my attendance at services.
I had never doubted the existence of the Supreme Being,
but now I began to absent myself from my church where
I had formerly been a member of the choir. Unfortunately,
I had no desire to consult my priest about my drinking.
In fact I was scared to talk to him about it, for I
feared the kind of talk he would give me. Unlike many
other Catholics who frequently take pledges for definite
periods—a year, two years or for good, I never had any
desire to "take a pledge" before the priest. And yet,
at last that liquor really had me, I wanted to quit.
My wife wrote away for advertised cures for the liquor
habit and gave them to me in coffee. I even got them
myself and tried them. None of the various cures of
this kind were any good.
Then occured the
event that saved me. An alcoholic who was a doctor came
to see me. He didn't talk like a preacher at all. In
fact his language was perfectly suited to my understanding.
He had no desire to know anything, except whether I
was definite about my desire to quit drinking. I told
him with all the sincerity at my command that I did.
Even then he went into no great detail about how he
and a crowd of alcoholics, with whom he associated,
had mastered their difficulty. Instead he told me that
some of them wanted to talk to me and would be over
to see me.
This doctor had
imparted his knowledge to just a few other men at that
time—not more than four or five—they now number more
than seventy persons.* And, because as I have discovered
since, it is part of the "treatment" that these men
be sent to see and talk with alcoholics who want to
quit, he kept them busy. He had already imbued them
with his own spirit until they were ready and willing
at all times to go where sent, and as a doctor he well
knew that this mission and duty would strengthen them
as it later helped me. The visits from these men impressed
me at once. Where preaching and prayers had touched
me very little, I immediately desired further knowledge
of these men.
I could see they
were sober. The third man who came to see me had been
one of the greatest business-
Written in 1939.
his company had ever employed. From the top of the heap
in a few years he had skidded to becoming a shuffling
customer, still entering the better barrooms but welcomed
by neither mine host nor his patrons. His own business
was practically gone, he told me, when he discovered
"You've been trying
man's ways and they always fail," he told me. "You can't
win unless you try God's way."
I had never heard
of the remedy expressed in just this language. In a
few sentences he made God seem personal to me, explained
Him as a being who was interested in me, the alcoholic,
and that all I needed to do was to be willing to follow
His way; that as long as I followed it I would be able
to overcome my desire for liquor.
Well, there I was,
willing to try it, but I didn't know how, except in
a vague way. I knew somehow that it meant more than
just going to church and living a moral life. If that
was all, then I was a little doubtful that it was the
answer I was looking for.
He went on talking
and told me that he had found the plan has a basis of
love, and the practice of Christ's injunction, "Love
thy neighbor as thyself." Taking that as a foundation,
he reasoned that if a man followed that rule he could
not be selfish. I could see that. And he further said
that God could not accept me as a sincere follower of
His Divine Law unless I was ready to be thoroughly honest
That was perfectly
logical. My church taught that. I had always known that,
in theory. We talked, too, about personal morals. Every
man has his problem of this kind, but we didn't discuss
it very much. My visi-
well knew, that as I tried to follow God I would
get to studying these things out for myself.
day I gave my will to God and asked to be directed.
But I have never thought of that as something to
do and then forget about. I very early came to see
that there had to be a continual renewal of that
simple deal with God; that I had perpetually to
keep the bargain. So I began to pray; to place my
problems in God's hands.
For a long time
I kept on trying, in a pretty dumb way at first,
I know, but very earnestly. I didn't want to be
a fake. And I began putting in practice what I was
learning every day. It wasn't very long until my
doctor friend sent me to tell another alcoholic
what my experience had been. This duty together
with my weekly meetings with my fellow alcoholics,
and my daily
renewal of the contract I originally made with God,
have kept me sober when nothing else ever did.
I have been
sober for many years now. The first few months were
hard. Many things happened; business trials, little
worries, and feelings of general despondency came
near driving me to the bottle, but I made progress.
As I go along I seem to get strength daily to be
able to resist more easily. And when I get upset,
cross-grained and out of tune with my fellow man
I know that I am out of tune with God. Searching
where I have been at fault, it is not hard to discover
and get right again, for I have proven to myself
and to many others who know me that God can keep
a man sober if he will let Him.
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