| print this
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN WORSE
was a looming cloud in this banker's bright
sky. With rare foresight he realized it could become
HOW CAN a person with a fine family, an attractive home,
an excellent position and high standing in an important
city become an alcoholic?
As I later found
out through Alcoholics Anonymous, alcohol is no respecter
of economic status, social and business standing or
I was raised like
the majority of American boys, coming from a family
of modest circumstances, attending public schools, having
the social life of a small Midwestern town, with part-time
work and some athletics. The ambition to succeed was
instilled in me by my Scandinavian parents who came
to this country where opportunities were so great. "Keep
busy; always have something constructive to do."
I did work of all kinds after school and during vacations,
trying to find that which would appeal most as a goal
for a life work. Then there was World War I to interrupt
my plans, and an education to be picked up after the
war. After that came marriage, getting started in business,
and a family. The story is not very different from that
of thousands of other young men in my generation. It
shows nothing or no one to blame for alcoholism.
MIGHT HAVE BEEN WORSE
The drive to get ahead, to succeed, kept me too busy
for many years to have any great experience with social
life. I would have begrudged the time or money for alcohol.
In fact I was afraid to try it for fear that I would
wind up like many examples I had seen of excessive drinking
in the Army during the Prohibition Era. I was intolerant
of people who drank, particularly those who drank to
an extent that interfered with on-the-job performance.
In time I became
an officer and director of one of the largest commercial
banks in the country. I achieved recognized and national
standing in my profession, as well as becoming a director
in many important institutions having to do with the
civic life of a large city. I had a family to be proud
of, actively sharing in the responsibilities of good
My drinking did
not start until after I was thirty-five, and a fairly
successful career had been established. But success
brought increased social activities and I realized that
many of my friends enjoyed a social drink with no apparent
harm to themselves or others. I disliked being different
so, ultimately, I began to join them occasionally.
At first it was
just that—an occasional drink. Then I looked forward
to the week-end of golf and the nineteenth hole. The
cocktail hour became a daily routine. Gradually the
quantity increased, the occasions for a drink came more
frequently; a hard day, worries and pressure, bad news,
good news—there were more and more reasons for
a drink. Why did I want increasingly greater quantities
of alcohol? It was frightening that drink was being
substituted for more and more of the
I really enjoyed doing. Golf, hunting and fishing were
now merely excuses to drink excessively.
I made promises
to myself, my family and friends—and broke them.
Short dry spells ended in heavy drinking. I tried to
hide my drinking by going places where I was unlikely
to see anyone I knew. Hangovers and remorse were always
The next steps
were bottle hiding, and excuses for trips in order to
drink without restraint. Cunning, baffling, powerful—the
gradual creeping up of the frequency and quantity of
alcohol, and what it does to a person is apparent to
everyone but the person involved.
When it became
noticeable to the point of comment, I devised ways of
sneaking drinks on the side. Rehearsals then became
a part of the pattern, stopping at bars on the way to
or from the place where drinks were to be served. Never
having enough, always craving more, the obsession for
alcohol gradually dominated all my activities, particularly
while traveling. Drink planning became more important
than any other plans.
I tried the wagon
on numerous occasions but I always felt unhappy and
abused. I tried psychiatry, but of course I gave the
psychiatrist no co-operation.
I was living in
constant fear that I would get caught while driving
a car, so I used taxis part of the time. Then I began
to have blackouts and that was a constant worry. To
wake up at home, not knowing how I got there, and to
realize I had driven my car, became torture. Not knowing
where I had been or how I got home was making me desperate.
It now became necessary
to have noon drinks; at
just two, then gradually more. My hours of work were
flexible so that returning to the office was not always
important. Then I became careless and returned sometimes
when I shouldn't have. This worried me. The last two
years of my drinking my entire personality changed to
a cynical, intolerant and arrogant person completely
different from my normal self. It was at this stage
of my life that resentments came in. Resenting anyone
and everyone who might interfere with my personal plans
and ways of doing things, I was full of self pity, especially
for any interference with my drinking.
I will never know
all the people I hurt, all the friends I abused, the
humiliation of my family, the worry of my business associates,
or how far reaching it was. I continued to be surprised
by the people I meet who say, "You haven't had
a drink for a long time, have you?" The surprise
to me is the fact that I didn't know that they knew
my drinking had gotten out of control. That is where
we are really fooled. We think we can drink to excess
without anyone knowing it. Everyone knows it. The only
one we are fooling is ourselves. We rationalize and
excuse our conduct beyond all reason.
We had always encouraged
our children to bring their friends home at any time,
but after a few experiences with a drunken father they
eliminated home as a place to entertain friends. At
the time this didn't mean much to me. I was too busy
devising excuses to be out with drinking pals.
It seemed to me
my wife was becoming more intolerant and narrow minded
all the time. Whenever we went out she appeared to go
out of her way to keep
from having more than one drink. What alcoholic can
be satisfied with one drink? After every cocktail party
or dinner she would say she couldn't understand how
I could get in such a drunken stupor on one drink. She
of course didn't realize how cunning an alcoholic can
be and the lengths to which he will go in finding ways
to satisfy the compulsion for more and more drinks after
having had the first one. Neither did I.
Finally our invitations
became fewer and fewer as friends had more experience
with my drinking pattern.
Two years before
I joined A.A. my wife took a long trip during which
she wrote me she just couldn't return unless I did something
about my drinking. It was a shock of course, but I promised
to stop and she returned. A year later, while we were
on a vacation trip she packed up to go home because
of my excessive drinking, and I talked her out of it
with the promise I would go on the wagon for at least
a year. I promised, but within two months, I began again.
The following spring
she left me one day without giving me any idea of where
she had gone, hoping this would bring me to my senses.
In a few days an attorney called on me and explained
that something would have to be done as she couldn't
face returning to me as I was. Again I promised to do
something about it. Broken promises, humiliation, hopelessness,
worry, anxiety—but still not enough.
There comes a time
when you don't want to live and are afraid to die. Some
crisis brings you to a point of making a decision to
do something about your drinking problem. Try anything.
Help which you
continually rejected, suggestions once turned aside
are finally accepted in desperation.
The final decision
came when my daughter, following a drunk which ruined
my wife's birthday, said, "It's Alcoholics Anonymous—or
else!" This suggestion had been made before on
a number of occasions, but like all alcoholics I wanted
to handle my problem my own way, which really meant
I didn't want anything to interfere with my drinking.
I was trying to find an easier, softer way. By now it
had become difficult to visualize a life without alcohol.
However, my low
had been reached. I realized I had been going down and
down. I was unhappy myself and I had brought unhappiness
to all who cared for me. Physically I couldn't take
it any more. Cold sweats, jumpy nerves and lack of sleep
were becoming intolerable. Mentally, the fears and tensions,
the complete change in attitude and outlook, bewildered
me. This was no way to live. The time for decision had
arrived, and it was a relief to say "Yes"
when my family said they would call Alcoholics Anonymous
for me. A relief, even though I dreaded it, feeling
that this was the end of everything.
Early the next
morning a man whose name I knew well, a lawyer, called
on me. Within thirty minutes I knew A.A. was the answer
for me. We visited most of that day and attended a meeting
that night. I don't know what I expected, but I most
certainly didn't visualize a group of people talking
about their drinking problems, making light of their
personal tragedies and at the same time enjoying themselves.
I heard a few stories of jails, sanitariums, broken
homes, and skid row, I wondered if I
was an alcoholic. After all, I hadn't started to drink
early in life, so I had some stability and maturity
to guide me for a while. My responsibilities had been
a restraining influence. I had had no brushes with the
law, though I should have had many. I had not yet lost
my job or family, even thought both were on the verge
of going. My financial standing had not been impaired.
Could I be an alcoholic
without some of the hair-raising experiences I had heard
of in the meetings? The answer came to me very simply
on the first step of the Twelve Steps of A.A. "We
admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our
lives had become unmanageable." This didn't say
we had to be in jail, ten, fifty, or one hundred times.
It didn't say I had to lose one, five or ten jobs. It
didn't say I had to lose my family. It didn't say I
had to finally live on skid row and drink bay rum, canned
heat or lemon extract. It did say, "admitted I
was powerless over alcohol; that my life had become
I was powerless over alcohol, and for me, my life had
become unmanageable. It wasn't how far I had gone, but
where I was headed. It was important to me to see what
alcohol had done to me and would continue to do if I
didn't have help.
At first it was a shock to realize I was an alcoholic,
but the realization that there was hope made it easier.
The baffling problem of getting drunk when I had every
intention of staying sober was simplified. It was a
great relief to know I didn't have to drink
I was told that
I must want sobriety for my own sake and I am convinced
this is true. There may be many reasons which bring
one to A.A. for the first
but the lasting one must be to want sobriety and the
A.A. way of living for oneself.
From the start
I liked everything about the A.A. program. I liked the
description of the alcoholic as a person who has found
that alcohol is interfering with his social or business
life. The allergy I could understand because I am allergic
to certain pollens. Some of my family are allergic to
certain foods. What could be more reasonable than that
some people, including myself, were allergic to alcohol?
that alcoholism was a disease of a two fold nature,
an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind,
cleared up a number of puzzling questions for me. The
allergy we could do nothing about. Somehow our bodies
had reached the point where we could no longer absorb
alcohol in our systems. The why is not important;
the fact is that one drink will set up a reaction
in our system which requires more; that one drink was
too much and one hundred drinks were not enough.
The obsession of
the mind was a little harder to understand and yet everyone
has obsessions of various kinds. The alcoholic has them
to an exaggerated degree. Over a period of time he has
built up self pity, resentments toward anyone or anything
that interferes with his drinking. Dishonest thinking,
prejudice, ego, antagonism toward anyone and everyone
who dares to cross him, vanity and a critical attitude
are character defects that gradually creep in and become
a part of his life. Living with fear and tension inevitably
results in wanting to ease that tension, which alcohol
seems to do temporarily. It took me some time to realize
that the Twelve Steps of A.A. were designed
help correct these defects of character and so help
remove the obsession to drink. The Twelve Steps, which
to me are a spiritual way of living, soon meant honest
thinking, not wishful thinking, open mindedness, a willingness
to try and a faith to accept. They meant patience, tolerance
and humility, and above all the belief that a Power
greater than myself could help. That Power I chose to
A willingness to
do whatever I was told to do simplified the program
for me. Study the A.A. book—don't just read it.
They told me to go to meetings, and I still do at every
available opportunity, whether I am at home or in some
other city. Attending meetings has never been a chore
to me. Nor have I attended them with a feeling of just
doing my duty. Meetings are both relaxing and refreshing
to me after a hard day. They said "Get active,"
so I helped whenever I could, and I still do.
experience" to me meant attending meetings, seeing
a group of people, all there for the purpose of helping
each other; hearing the Twelve Steps and the Twelve
Traditions read at a meeting, and hearing the Lord's
Prayer, which in an A.A. meeting has such great meaning—"Thy
will be done, not mine." A spiritual awakening
soon came to mean trying each day to be a little more
thoughtful, more considerate, a little more courteous
to those with whom I came in contact.
To most of us,
making amends will take the rest of our lives, but we
can start immediately. Just being sober will be making
amends to many we have hurt by our drunken actions.
Making amends is sometimes doing what we are capable
of doing but failed to do
of alcohol; carrying out community responsibilities
such as Community Funds, Red Cross, educational and
religious activities in proportion to our abilities
I was desperately
in earnest to follow through and understand what was
expected of me as a member of A.A. and to take each
Step of the Twelve as rapidly as possible. To me this
meant telling my associates that I had joined Alcoholics
Anonymous; that I didn't know what was expected of me
by A.A., but that whatever it was, it was the most important
thing in life for me; that sobriety meant more to me
than anything in this world. It was so important that
it must come ahead of anything.
There are many
short phrases and expressions in A.A. which make sound
sense. "First Things First": solving our immediate
problems before we try to solve all the others and get
muddled in our thinking and doing. "Easy Does It."
Relax a little. Try for inner contentment. No one individual
can carry all the burdens of the world. Everyone has
problems. Getting drunk won't solve them. "Twenty-four
hours a day." Today is the day. Doing our best,
living each day to the fullest is the art of living.
Yesterday is gone, and we don't know whether we will
be here tomorrow. If we do a good job of living today,
and if tomorrow comes for us, then the chances are we
will do a good job when it arrives—so why worry
The A.A. way of
life is the way we always should have tried to live.
"Grant us the serenity to accept the things we
cannot change, courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference." These thoughts
become part of our daily lives. They
not ideas of resignation but of the recognition of certain
basic facts of living.
The fact that A.A.
is a spiritual program didn't scare me or raise any prejudice
in my mind. I couldn't afford the luxury of prejudice.
I had tried my way and had failed.
When I joined A.A.
I did so for the sole purpose of getting sober and staying
sober. I didn't realize I would find so much more, but
a new and different outlook on life started opening up
almost immediately. Each day seems to be so much more
productive and satisfying. I get so much more enjoyment
out of living. I find an inner pleasure in simple things.
Living just for today is a pleasant adventure.
Above all, I am grateful
to A.A. for my sobriety, which means so much to my family,
friends and business associates, because God and A.A.
were able to do for me something I was unable to do for
for more resources on Chet R.