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THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM
worldly lady helped to develop A.A. in Chicago
and thus passed her keys to many.
LITTLE MORE than fifteen years ago, through a long and
calamitous series of shattering experiences, I found
myself being helplessly propelled toward total destruction.
I was without power to change the course my life had
taken. How I had arrived at this tragic impasse I could
not have explained to anyone. I was thirty-three years
old and my life was spent. I was caught in a cycle of
alcohol and sedation that was proving inescapable and
consciousness had become intolerable.
I was a product
of the post-war prohibition era of the roaring '20's.
That age of the flapper and the "It" girl,
speakeasies and the hip flask, the boyish bob and the
drugstore cowboy, John Held Jr. and F. Scott Fitzgerald,
all generously sprinkled with a patent pseudo-sophistication.
To be sure, this had been a dizzy and confused interval,
but most everyone else I knew had emerged from it with
both feet on the ground and a fair amount of adult maturity.
Nor could I blame
my dilemma on my childhood environment. I couldn't have
chosen more loving and conscientious parents. I was
given every advantage in a well ordered home. I had
the best schools, summer camps, resort vacations and
travel. Every reason-
THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM
able desire was possible of attainment for me. I was
strong and healthy and quite athletic.
I experienced some
of the pleasure of social drinking when I was sixteen.
I definitely liked it, everything about it, the taste,
the effects; and I realize now that a drink did something
for me or to me that was different from the way it affected
others. It wasn't long before any party without drinks
was a dud for me.
I was married at
twenty, had two children and was divorced at twenty-three.
My broken home and broken heart fanned my smoldering
self-pity into a fair-sized bonfire and this kept me
well supplied with reasons for having another drink,
and then another.
At twenty-five I
had developed an alcoholic problem. I began making the
rounds of the doctors in the hope that one of them might
find some cure for my accumulating ailments, preferably
something that could be removed surgically.
Of course the doctors
found nothing. Just an unstable woman, undisciplined,
poorly adjusted and filled with nameless fears. Most
of them prescribed sedatives and advised rest and moderation.
Between the ages
of twenty-five and thirty I tried everything. I moved
a thousand miles away from home to Chicago and a new
environment. I studied art; I desperately endeavored
to create an interest in many things, in a new place
among new people. Nothing worked. My drinking habits
increased in spite of my struggle for control. I tried
the beer diet, the wine diet, timing, measuring, and
spacing of drinks. I tried them mixed, unmixed, drinking
only when gay, only when depressed. And still by the
time I was thirty years old I was being pushed around
compulsion to drink that was completely beyond my control.
I couldn't stop drinking. I would hang on to sobriety
for short intervals, but always there would come the
tide of an overpowering necessity to drink
and, as I was engulfed in it, I felt such a sense of
panic that I really believed I would die if I didn't
get that drink inside.
Needless to say,
this was not pleasurable drinking. I had long since
given up any pretense of the "social" cocktail
hour. This was drinking in sheer desperation, alone
and locked behind my own door. Alone in the relative
safety of my home because I knew I dare not risk the
danger of blacking out in some public place or at the
wheel of a car. I could no longer gage my capacity and
it might be the second or the tenth drink that would
erase my consciousness.
The next three years
saw me in sanitariums, once in a ten day coma, from
which I very nearly did not recover, in and out of hospitals
or confined at home with day and night nurses. By now
I wanted to die, but had lost the courage even to take
my life. I was trapped, and for the life of me I did
not know how or why this had happened to me. And all
the while my fear fed a growing conviction that before
long it would be necessary for me to be put away in
some institution. People didn't behave this way outside
of an asylum. Heartsickness, shame, and fear, fear bordering
on panic, and no complete escape any longer except in
oblivion. Certainly now, anyone would have agreed that
only a miracle could prevent my final breakdown. But
how does one get a prescription for a miracle?
For about one year,
prior to this time, there was one doctor who had continued
to struggle with me. He
tried everything from having me attend daily mass at
six a.m. to performing the most menial labor for his
charity patients. Why he bothered with me as long as
he did I shall never know, for he knew there was no
answer for me in medicine and he, like all doctors of
his day, had been taught that the alcoholic was incurable
and should be ignored. Doctors were advised to attend
patients who could be benefited by medicine. With the
alcoholic, they could only give temporary relief and
in the last stages not even that. It was a waste of
the doctors' time and the patients' money. Nevertheless,
there were a few doctors who saw alcoholism as a disease
and felt that the alcoholic was a victim of something
over which he had no control. They had a hunch that
there must be an answer for these apparently hopeless
ones, somewhere. Fortunately for me, my doctor was one
of the enlightened.
And then, in the
spring of 1939, a very remarkable book was rolled off
a New York press with the title "Alcoholics Anonymous."
However, due to financial difficulties the whole printing
was, for a while, held up and the book received no publicity,
nor, of course, was it available in the stores, even
if one knew it existed. But somehow my good doctor heard
of this book and also he learned a little about the
people responsible for its publication. He sent to New
York for a copy, and after reading it he tucked it under
his arm and called on me. That call marked the turning
point in my life.
Until now, I had
never been told that I was an alcoholic. Few doctors
will tell a hopeless patient that there is no answer
for him or for her. But this day my doctor gave it to
me straight and said, "People like
are pretty well known to the medical profession. Every
doctor gets his quota of alcoholic patients. Some of
us struggle with these people because we know that they
are really very sick, but we also know that short of
some miracle, we are not going to help them except temporarily,
and that they will inevitably get worse and worse until
one of two things happens. Either they die of acute
alcoholism or they develop wet brains and have to be
put away permanently."
He further explained
that alcohol was no respecter of sex or background,
but that most of the alcoholics he had encountered had
better than average minds and abilities. He said the
alcoholic seemed to possess a native acuteness and usually
excelled in his field, regardless of environmental or
"We watch the
alcoholic performing in a position of responsibility
and we know that because he is drinking heavily and
daily he has cut his capacities by fifty per cent, and
still he seems able to do a satisfactory job. And we
wonder how much further this man could go if his alcoholic
problem could be removed and he could throw one hundred
per cent of his abilities into action. But, of course,"
he continued, "eventually the alcoholic loses all
of his capacities as his disease gets progressively
worse, and this is a tragedy that is painful to watch;
the disintegration of a sound mind and body."
Then he told me
there was a handful of people in Akron and New York
who had worked out a technique for arresting their alcoholism.
He asked me to read the book "Alcoholics Anonymous,"
and then he wanted me to talk with a man who was experiencing
success with his own arrestment. This man could tell
more. I stayed up all night reading that book. For me
it was a wonderful experience. It explained so much
I had not understood about myself and, best of all,
it promised recovery if I would do a few simple things
and be willing to have the desire to drink removed.
Here was hope. Maybe I could find my way out of this
agonizing existence. Perhaps I could find freedom and
peace and be able once again to call my soul my own.
The next day I received
a visit from Mr. T., a recovered alcoholic. I don't
know what sort of person I was expecting, but I was
very agreeably surprised to find Mr. T. a poised, intelligent,
well groomed and mannered gentleman. I was immediately
impressed with his graciousness and charm. He put me
at ease with his first few words. Looking at him it
was hard to believe he had ever been as I was then.
However, as he unfolded
his story for me, I could not help but believe him.
In describing his suffering, his fears, his many years
of groping for some answer to that which always seemed
to remain unanswerable, he could have been describing
me, and nothing short of experience and knowledge could
have afforded him that much insight! He had been dry
for two and a half years and had been maintaining his
contact with a group of recovered alcoholics in Akron.
Contact with this group was extremely important to him.
He told me that eventually he hoped such a group would
develop in the Chicago area, but that so far this had
not been started. He thought it would be helpful for
me to visit the Akron group and meet many like himself.
By this time, with
the doctor's explanation, the revelations contained
in the book, and the hope-inspiring
with Mr. T., I was ready and willing to go into the
interior of the African jungles, if that was what it
took, for me to find what these people had.
So I went to Akron,
and also to Cleveland, and I met more recovered alcoholics.
I saw in these people a quality of peace and serenity
that I knew I must have for myself. Not only were they
at peace with themselves, but they were getting a kick
out of life such as one seldom encounters, except in
the very young. They seemed to have all the ingredients
for successful living. Philosophy, faith, a sense of
humor (they could laugh at themselves), clear-cut objectives,
appreciation—and most especially appreciation
and sympathetic understanding for their fellow man.
Nothing in their lives took precedence over their response
to a call for help from some alcoholic in need. They
would travel miles and stay up all night with someone
they had never laid eyes on before and think nothing
of it. Far from expecting praise for their deeds, they
claimed the performance a privilege and insisted that
they invariably received more than they gave. Extraordinary
I didn't dare hope
I might find for myself all that these people had found,
but if I could acquire some small part of their intriguing
quality of living—and sobriety—that would
Shortly after I
returned to Chicago, my doctor, encouraged by the results
of my contact with A.A., sent us two more of his alcoholic
patients. By the latter part of September 1939, we had
a nucleus of six and held our first official group meeting.
I had a tough pull
back to normal good health. It has been so many years
since I had not relied on some
THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM
artificial crutch, either alcohol or sedatives.
Letting go of everything at once was both painful
and terrifying. I could never have accomplished
this alone. It took the help, understanding and
wonderful companionship that was given so freely
to me by my "ex-alkie" friends. This and
the program of recovery embodied in the Twelve Steps.
In learning to practice these steps in my daily
living I began to acquire faith and a philosophy
to live by. Whole new vistas were opened up for
me, new avenues of experience to be explored, and
life began to take on color and interest. In time,
I found myself looking forward to each new day with
A.A. is not
a plan for recovery that can be finished and done
with. It is a way of life, and the challenge contained
in its principles is great enough to keep any human
being striving for as long as he lives. We do not,
cannot, out-grow this plan. As arrested alcoholics,
we must have a program for living that allows for
limitless expansion. Keeping one foot in front of
the other is essential for maintaining our arrestment.
Others may idle in a retrogressive groove without
too much danger, but retrogression can spell death
for us. However, this isn't as rough as it sounds,
as we do become grateful for the necessity that
makes us toe the line, for we find that we are more
than compensated for a consistent effort by the
countless dividends we receive.
A complete change
takes place in our approach to life. Where we used
to run from responsibility, we find ourselves accepting
it with gratitude that we can successfully shoulder
it. Instead of wanting to escape some perplexing
problem, we experience a thrill of challenge in
the opportunity it affords for another ap-
of A.A. techniques, and we find ourselves tackling
it with surprising vigor.
The last fifteen
years of my life have been rich and meaningful.
I have had my share of problems, heartaches and
disappointments, because that is life, but also
I have known a great deal of joy, and a peace that
is the handmaiden of an inner freedom. I have a
wealth of friends and, with my A.A. friends, an
unusual quality of fellowship. For, to these people,
I am truly related. First, through mutual pain and
despair, and later through mutual objectives and
new-found faith and hope. And, as the years go by,
working together, sharing our experiences with one
another, and also sharing a mutual trust, understanding
and love—without strings, without obligation—we
acquire relationships that are unique and priceless.
There is no
more "aloneness," with that awful ache,
so deep in the heart of every alcoholic that nothing,
before, could ever reach it. That ache is gone and
never need return again.
Now there is
a sense of belonging, of being wanted and needed
and loved. In return for a bottle and a hangover,
we have been given the Keys of the Kingdom.
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