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THE MAN WHO MASTERED FEAR
spent eighteen years in running away; and then
found he didn't have to run. So he started A.A. in
EIGHTEEN YEARS, from the age of twenty-one to thirty-nine,
fear governed my life. By the time I was thirty I had
found that alcohol dissolved fear. For a little while.
In the end I had two problems instead of one: Fear and
I came from a good
family. I believe the sociologists would call it "upper
middle class." By the time I was twenty-one I had
had six years of life in foreign countries, spoke three
languages fluently, and had attended college for two
years. A low ebb in the family fortunes necessitated
my going to work when I was twenty. I entered the business
world with every confidence that success lay ahead of
me. I had been brought up to believe this, and I had
shown during my 'teens considerable enterprise and imagination
about earning money. To the best of my recollection
I was completely free from any abnormal fears. Vacations
from school and from work, spelled "travel"
to me—and I traveled with gusto. During my first
year out of college I had endless dates, and went to
countless dances, balls and dinner parties.
Suddenly all this
changed. I underwent a shattering nervous breakdown.
Three months in bed. Three more months of being up and
around the house for brief periods and in bed the rest
of the time. Visits
from friends which lasted over fifteen minutes exhausted
me. A complete checkup at one of the best hospitals
revealed nothing. I heard for the first time an expression
which I was to grow to loathe: "There is nothing
organically wrong." Psychiatry might have helped,
but psychiatrists had not penetrated the middle west.
Spring came. I went
for my first walk. Half a block from my house, I tried
to turn the corner. Fear froze me in my tracks, but
the instant I turned back toward home this paralyzing
fear left me. This was the beginning of an unending
series of such experiences. I told our family doctor,
an understanding man who gave hours of his time trying
to help me, about this experience. He told me that it
was imperative that I walk around the entire block,
cost me what it might in mental agony. I carried out
his instructions. When I reached a point directly back
of our house, where I could have cut through a friend's
garden, I was almost overpowered by the desire to get
home, but I made the whole journey. Probably only a
few readers of this story will be able, from personal
experiences of their own, to understand the exhilaration
and sense of accomplishment which I felt after finishing
this seemingly simple assignment.
The details of the
long road back to something resembling normal living—the
first short streetcar ride, the purchase of a used bike
which enabled me to widen the narrow horizon of life,
the first trip downtown—I will not dwell on. I
got an easy, part-time job selling printing for a small
neighborhood printer. This widened the scope of my activities.
A year later I was able to buy a Model T roadster and
take a better
MAN WHO MASTERED FEAR
with a downtown printer. From this job and the next
one with another printer I was courteously dismissed.
I simply did not have the pep to do hard, "cold-turkey"
selling. I switched into real estate brokerage and property
management work. Almost simultaneously, I discovered
that cocktails in the late afternoon and highballs in
the evening relieved the many tensions of the day. This
happy combination of pleasant work and alcohol lasted
for five years. Of course, the latter ultimately killed
the former, but of this, more anon.
All this changed
when I was thirty years old. My parents died, both in
the same year, leaving me, a sheltered and somewhat
immature man, on my own. I moved into a "bachelor
hall." These men all drank on Saturday nights,
and enjoyed themselves. My pattern of drinking became
very different from theirs. I had bad nervous headaches,
particularly at the base of my neck. Liquor relieved
these. At last I discovered alcohol as a cure-all. I
joined their Saturday night parties and enjoyed myself
too. But—I also stayed up week nights after they
had retired and drank myself into bed. My thinking about
drinking had undergone a great change. Liquor had become
a crutch on the one hand and a means of retreat from
life on the other.
The ensuing nine
years were the Depression years, both nationally and
personally. With the bravery born of desperation, and
abetted by alcohol, I married a young and lovely girl.
Our marriage lasted four years. At least three of those
four years must have been a living hell for my wife,
because she had to watch the man she loved disintegrate
morally, mentally and
The birth of a baby boy did nothing toward staying the
downward spiral. When she finally took the baby and
left, I locked myself in the house and stayed drunk
for a month.
The next two years
were simply a long drawn out process of less and less
work and more and more whiskey. I ended up, homeless,
jobless, penniless and rudderless, as the problem guest
of a close friend whose family was out of town. Haunting
me through each day's stupor—and there were eighteen
or nineteen such days in this man's home—was the
thought: "Where do I go when his family comes home?"
When the day of their return was almost upon me, and
suicide was the only answer I had been able to think
of, I went into Ralph's room one evening and told him
the truth. He was a man of considerable means and he
might have done what many men would have done in such
a case. He might have handed me fifty dollars and said
that I ought to pull myself together and make a new
start. I have thanked God many times in the last sixteen
years that that was just what he did not do!
Instead, he got
dressed, took me out, bought me three or four double
shots and put me to bed. The next day he turned me over
to a couple who, although neither was an alcoholic,
knew Dr. Bob and were willing to drive me to Akron where
they would turn me over to his care. The only stipulation
they made was this: I had to make the decision myself.
What decision? The choice was limited. To go north into
the empty pine country and shoot myself, or to go south
in the faint hope that a bunch of strangers might help
me with my drinking problem. Well, suicide was a last
straw matter, and I had not drawn the last straw
MAN WHO MASTERED FEAR
So I was driven to Akron the very next day by these
Good Samaritans, and turned over to Dr. Bob and the
then tiny Akron Group.
Here, while in a
hospital bed, men with clear eyes, happy faces, and
a look of assurance and purposefulness about them, came
to see me and told me their stories. Some of these were
hard to believe, but it did not require a giant brain
to perceive that they had something I could use. How
could I get it? It was simple, they said, and went on
to explain to me in their own language the program of
recovery and daily living which we know today as the
Twelve Steps of A.A. Dr. Bob dwelt at length on how
prayer had given him release, time and time again, from
the nearly overpowering compulsion to take a drink.
He it was who convinced me, because his own conviction
was so real, that a Power greater than myself could
help me in the crises of life, and that the means of
communicating with this Power was simple prayer. Here
was a tall, rugged, highly educated Yankee talking in
a matter of course way about God and prayer. If he and
these other fellows could do it, so could I.
When I got out of
the hospital, I was invited to stay with Dr. Bob and
his dear wife, Anne. I was suddenly and uncontrollably
seized with the old, paralyzing panic. The hospital
had seemed so safe. Now I was in a strange house, in
a strange city, and fear gripped me. I shut myself in
my room, which began to go around in circles. Panic,
confusion and chaos were supreme. Out of this maelstrom
just two coherent thoughts came to the surface; one,
a drink would mean homelessness and death; two, I could
no longer relieve the pressure of fear by starting home,
as was once my
solution to this problem, because I no longer had a
home. Finally, and I shall never know how much later
it was, one clear thought came to me: Try prayer. You
can't lose, and maybe God will help you—just maybe,
mind you. Having no one else to turn to, I was willing
to give Him a chance, although with considerable doubt.
I got down on my knees for the first time in thirty
years. The prayer I said was simple. It went something
like this: "God, for eighteen years I have been
unable to handle this problem. Please let me turn it
over to you."
Immediately a great
feeling of peace descended upon me, intermingled with
a feeling of being suffused with a quiet strength. I
lay down on the bed and slept like a child. An hour
later I awoke to a new world. Nothing had changed
and yet everything had changed. The scales had
dropped from my eyes and I could see life in its proper
perspective. I had tried to be the center of my own
little world, whereas God was the center of a vast universe
of which I was perhaps an essential, but a very tiny,
It is well over
sixteen years since I came back to life. I have never
had a drink since. This alone is a miracle. It is, however,
only the first of a series of miracles which have followed
one another as a result of my trying to apply to my
daily life the principles embodied in our Twelve Steps.
I would like to sketch for you the highlights of these
sixteen years of a slow but steady and satisfying upward
Poor health and
a complete lack of money necessitated my remaining with
Dr. Bob and Anne for very close to a year. It would
be impossible for me to pass over this year without
mentioning my love for, and my
MAN WHO MASTERED FEAR
to these two wonderful people who are no longer with
us. They made me feel as if I were a part of their family,
and so did their children. The example which they and
Bill W., whose visits to Akron were fairly frequent,
set me of service to their fellow men imbued me with
a great desire to emulate them. Sometimes during that
year I rebelled inwardly at what seemed like lost time,
and at having to be a burden to these good people whose
means were limited. Long before I had any real opportunity
to give, I had to learn the equally important lesson
of receiving graciously.
During my first
few months in Akron I was quite sure that I never wanted
to see my home town again. Too many economic and social
problems would beset me there. I would make a fresh
start somewhere else. After six months of sobriety I
saw the picture in a different light: Detroit was the
place I had to return to, not only because I must face
the mess I had made there, but because it was there
that I could be of the most service to A.A. In the spring
of 1939, Bill stopped off in Akron on his way to Detroit
on business. I jumped at the suggestion that I accompany
him. We spent two days there together before he returned
to New York. Friends invited me to stay on for as long
as I cared to. I remained with them for three weeks,
using part of the time in making many amends, which
I had had no earlier opportunity of making.
The rest of my time
was devoted to A.A. spadework. I wanted "ripe"
prospects and I didn't feel that I would get very far
chasing individual drunks in and out of bars. So I spent
much of my time calling on the people who I felt would
logically come in contact
alcoholic cases, doctors, ministers, lawyers and the
personnel men in industry. I also talked A.A. to every
friend who would listen, at lunch, at dinner, on street
corners. A doctor tipped me off to my first prospect.
I landed him and shipped him by train to Akron, with
a pint of whiskey in his pocket to keep him from wanting
to get off the train in Toledo! Nothing has ever to
this day equaled the thrill of that first case.
Those three weeks
left me completely exhausted and I had to return to
Akron for three more months of rest. While there,
two or three more "cash customers" (as Dr.
Bob used to call them—probably because they
had so little cash) were shipped in to us from Detroit.
When I finally returned to Detroit to find work and
to learn to stand on my own feet, the ball was already
rolling, however slowly. But it took six more months
of work and disappointments before a group of three
men got together in my rooming house bedroom for their
first A.A. meeting.
It sounds simple,
but there were obstacles and doubts to overcome. I
well remember a session I had with myself soon after
I returned. It ran something like this: If I go around
shouting from the rooftops about my alcoholism, it
might very possibly prevent me from getting a good
job. But—supposing that just one man died
because I had, for selfish reasons, kept my mouth
shut? No. I was supposed to be doing God's will, not
mine. His road lay clear before me, and I'd better
quit rationalizing myself into any detours. I could
not expect to keep what I had gained unless I gave
was still on and jobs were scarce. My health was still
uncertain. So I created a job for
MAN WHO MASTERED FEAR
selling women's hosiery and men's made-to-order
shirts. This gave me the freedom to do A.A. work,
and to rest for periods of two or three days when
I became too exhausted to carry on. There was more
than one occasion when I got up in the morning with
just enough money for coffee and toast and the bus
fare to carry me to my first appointment. No sale—no
lunch. During that first year, however, I managed
to make both ends meet, and to avoid ever going
back to my old habit ends meet, and to avoid ever
going back to my old habit pattern of borrowing
money when I could not earn it. Here by itself was
a great step forward.
During the first
three months I carried on all these activities without
a car, depending entirely on buses and streetcars—I,
who had always to have a car at my immediate command.
I, who had never made a speech in my life and who
would have been frightened sick at the prospect,
stood up in front of Rotary groups in different
parts of the city and talked about Alcoholics Anonymous.
I, carried away with the desire to serve A.A., gave
what was probably one of the first radio broadcasts
about A.A., living through a case of mike fright
and feeling like a million dollars when it was all
over. I lived through a week of the fidgets because
I had agreed to address a group of alcoholic inmates
in one of our state mental hospitals. There was
the same reward—exhilaration at a mission
accomplished. Do I have to tell you who gained the
most out of all this?
Within a year
of my return to Detroit, A.A. was a definitely established
little group of about a dozen members and I too
was established in a modest but steady job handling
an independent dry-cleaning route of my own. I was
my own boss. It took five years of A.A. living,
and a substantial improvement in my
before I could take a full-time office job where
someone else was boss.
job brought me face to face with a problem which
I had sidestepped all my adult life, lack of training.
This time I did something about it. I enrolled
in a correspondence school which taught nothing
but accounting. With this specialized training,
and a liberal business education in the school
of hard knocks, I was able to set up shop some
two years later as an independent accountant.
Seven years of work in this field brought an opportunity
to affiliate myself actively with one of my clients,
a fellow A.A. We complement each other beautifully,
as he is a born salesman and my taste is for finance
and management. At long last I am doing the kind
of work I have always wanted to do, but never
had the patience and emotional stability to train
myself for. The A.A. program showed me the way
to come down to earth, start from the bottom and
work up. This represents another great change
for me. In the long ago past I used to start at
the top as president or treasurer and end up with
the sheriff breathing down my neck.
So much for
my business life. Obviously I have overcome fear
to a sufficient degree to think in terms of success
in business. With God's help I am able, for one
day at a time, to carry business responsibilities
which, not many years ago, I would not have dreamed
of assuming. But what about my social life? What
about those fears which once paralyzed me to the
point of my becoming a semi-hermit? What about
my fear of travel?
It would be
wonderful were I able to tell you that my confidence
in God and my application of the
MAN WHO MASTERED FEAR
Steps to my daily living have utterly banished
fear. But this would not be the truth. The
most accurate answer I can give you
is this: Fear has never again ruled my life
since that day in September, 1938, when I
found that a Power greater than myself could
not only restore me to sanity but could keep
me both sober and sane. Never in sixteen years
have I dodged anything because I was afraid
of it. I have faced life instead of running
away from it.
the things which used to stop me in my tracks
from fear still make me nervous in the anticipation
of their doing, but once I kick myself into
doing them nervousness disappears and I enjoy
myself. In recent years I have had the happy
combination of time and money to travel occasionally.
I am very apt to get into quite an uproar
for a day or two before starting, but I do
start, and once started, I have a swell time.
ever wanted a drink during these years? Only
once did I suffer from a nearly overpowering
compulsion to take a drink. Oddly enough,
the circumstances and surroundings were pleasant.
I was at a beautifully set dinner table. I
was in a perfectly happy frame of mind. I
had been in A.A. a year, and the last thing
in my mind was a drink. There was a glass
of sherry at my place. I was seized with an
almost uncontrollable desire to reach out
for it. I shut my eyes and asked for help.
In fifteen seconds or less, the feeling passed.
There have also been numerous times when I
have thought about taking a drink. Such thinking
usually began with thoughts of the pleasant
drinking of my youth. I learned early in my
A.A. life that I could not afford to fondle
such thoughts, as you might fondle a pet,
because this particular pet could
into a monster. Instead, I quickly substitute
one or another vivid scene from the nightmare
of my later drinking.
years ago I made a mess out of my one and
only marriage. It was therefore not extraordinary
that I should shy away from any serious thought
of marriage for a great many years after joining
A.A. Here was something requiring a greater
willingness to assume responsibility, and
a larger degree of cooperation and "give
and take" than even business requires
of one. However, I must have felt, deep down
inside myself, that living the selfish life
of a bachelor was only half living. By living
alone you can pretty much eliminate grief
from your life, but you also eliminate joy.
At any rate the last great step toward a well
rounded life still lay ahead of me. So six
months ago I acquired a ready made family
consisting of one charming wife, four grown
children to whom I am devoted, and three grandchildren.
Being an alcoholic, I couldn't dream of doing
anything by halves! My wife, a sister member
in A.A., had been a widow nine years and I
had been single eighteen years. The adjustments
in such a case are difficult and take time,
but we both feel that they are certainly worth
it. We are both depending upon God and our
use of the A.A. program to help us make a
success of this joint undertaking.
undoubtedly too soon for me to say how much
of a success I shall be as a husband in time
to come. I do feel, though, that the fact
that I finally grew up to a point where I
could even tackle such a job is the apex of
the story of a man who spent eighteen years
running away from life.
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