PROMOTED TO CHRONIC
career girl preferred solitary drinking, the
blackout kind, often hoping she'd stay that way for
keeps. But Providence had other ideas.
WASN'T ALWAYS an alcoholic.
In fact it has been only within the last fifteen years
that I changed from a fairly normal, controlled drinker
into an alcoholic. I don't mean that I went to bed one
night a normal drinker, and awoke the next morning an
It wasn't that simple.
I started drinking
socially and at parties and proms when I was about twenty
years old. I didn't like it particularly at first, but
I did like the effect I got from it. It made me feel
quite grown-up and mature, and I think another added
attraction was the fact that so far as my family was
concerned, it was forbidden, and it had a special attraction
for that reason. After a while I really did enjoy drinking
and what it did to me, and I became dependent upon it
for every occasion. Eventually the day came when I was
dependent upon it even when there wasn't any occasion.
When I didn't have anything else to do—a dull
evening at home—I'd sneak a few drinks upstairs
in my room, and that began to be a habit.
In 1939, I went
on my first week's bender of solitary drinking, locked
up in a hotel room, because my family
my coming marriage. I figured that perhaps if I went
ahead with that marriage, which I was sure was right
for me, that would be the answer to my drinking problem.
I thought I would be quite happy and never would I drink
too much again. So—I tried that.
(I think my first
feeling of fear came with my first week's solitary drinking,
locked up in that hotel room. The hotel management,
knowing that something was wrong, sent for a doctor.
The doctor, apparently realizing that one thing that
I certainly needed was sleep, left a bottle of sleeping
pills there and in my drunken state I took them all,
instead of the one or two he had prescribed. If it hadn't
been for an alert hotel maid, I might have died then.
From that time on, fear was with me because I realized
that not only would I not remember what happened
to me while I was drinking, but apparently I couldn't
control what happened. And there didn't seem
to be anything to do about it.)
Having passed over
the border line, the next five years were filled with
fear, failure and frustration. Tragedies during those
years that were caused by my drinking, such as the breaking
up of my marriage, the death of my child, other things—had
little restraining effect. In fact, sometimes they served
as good excuses to drink more, to forget. It was in
Washington D.C., that this transition took place, and
that the really bad part of alcoholism began happening.
The last Christmas
I spent in Washington, fourteen years ago, comes to
mind. Only a few days before Christmas I went to the
dentist for a periodic check-up. X-rays showed that
a couple of teeth had to come out. I hadn't been drinking
much about that time, for
had begun to realize that there was something abnormal
about my drinking, although as yet, I didn't realize
that it was so out of control. On the day set for the
extractions, on my way to the dentist's I felt a little
nervous, so I had a couple of drinks, and after the
teeth were out I was very nervous, so I had
a few more.
When I got home
my mouth was very painful, so I got an ice-bag and went
to bed. The next day the ice-bag and I were still in
bed—but we had a bottle too! My pattern of drinking
at that time had reached the point where once I really
started, I would retire to my bed and drink myself into
oblivion. The rest of that week is pretty hazy.
And so it went.
I remember vaguely violent quarrels with my husband,
his finding my liquor supply time and time again and
throwing it out. And then my waiting until I was sure
he was asleep, and stealing money from him to replenish
Then I remember
him coming into my room one night with a friend, and
telling me to get dressed—we were going away.
I fought and struggled,
but to no avail. I was taken out of the house and put
bodily into a waiting car with nothing on but a robe
and gown. We were on our way to New York, where he planned
to leave me with my sister. On the way I tried, and
I mean really tried, to throw myself out of the car.
Finally they stopped and bought me a bottle; they knew
so well that would keep me quiet.
We pulled up in
front of my sister's house just as dawn broke. There
was a long discussion between my husband, my sister
and her husband. It was ob-
even to me, in my drunken state, that I wasn't wanted.
My parents were due for the holidays that day, and she
didn't want them to find their drunken daughter there.
So we turned around and started back to Washington. I
was too weak and exhausted to even try to throw myself
out of the car. The trip back was completed in one of
those dead, awful silences.
My husband helped
me into the house, packed himself a bag, and gave me some
money. He said he didn't care what I did with the money,
but there was going to be no more until I was completely
sober. He said he was finally and completely through—that
he never wanted to see me again.
I was frightened—terribly
frightened, and in about three days I was sober. On the
day before Christmas I telephoned him and told him I was
sober and asked him to come home. He said he'd see. I
waited all the rest of that day and paced the floor all
At noon on Christmas
Day I called my family in New York, wished them a Merry
Christmas, and assured them everything was fine with me.
I almost broke down and cried when I talked with them
but I didn't. It was the one redeeming act of that Christmas.
Then in a couple of
hours, when there was still no word from my husband and
no sign of him, I had the feeling we alcoholics all know.
"What's the use? What's the sense in trying to do
the right thing?" There was that awful alcoholic
I went out to a restaurant,
found a booth way back in the rear, and started drinking.
All afternoon I sat there and drank and played Bing Crosby's
recording of "Silent Night" over and over again
on the juke box.
this day I can't hear that song without remembering that
awful Christmas of 1940.
What happened afterwards
I don't know. I completely blacked out. The next recollection
I have is of my husband coming into my room (I later found
out it was on New Year's Eve) accompanied by two policemen.
This time I didn't put up any fight because I knew why
they were there and where I was going, the psychopathic
ward of the City Hospital, where I had been once before.
Did that stop my drinking?
Temporarily, but not for long.
Things went from bad
to worse, and since I had finally and completely failed
at the job of being a wife and a mother, my marriage ended.
And then I went back home to live with my parents, and
the merry-go-round started again—only this time
I didn't have to worry about waking up behind bars in
a psychiatric ward.
Instead, I started
going to a nice private sanitarium which, after the first
visit, turned out to be more like a country club than
anything else. After the first two or three days you were
allowed the run of the place and it was a lot of fun.
Also, after the first visit I learned I could refuse to
sign myself in unless they gave me a glass of whiskey
in one hand and a glass of paraldehyde in the other. This
easy method of sobering up would last at least three days.
There were doctors
and psychiatrists there who tried to help me, but at that
point I wasn't having help from anyone. I didn't want
help. I had decided I was no good—never would be
any good, and the sooner I could drink myself out of this
life, the better.
visits to that sanitarium went on for nearly three years,
until in March of 1944, my father died and I was too drunk
to attend his funeral. At that point everyone decided
something drastic had to be done. They held consultations
and discussions, and finally decided to give me the "Conditioned
Reflex" treatment. I won't go into detail about that,
but I can assure you it's no fun.
The idea behind it
is that, having taken the treatment, your system is so
"conditioned" that the mere sight or smell or
taste of alcohol produces a violent reaction, and you
become ill. But it didn't condition this girl's thinking.
You may wonder why,
since I was having all this trouble, and was having to
seek the assistance of others, A.A. hadn't come into the
picture. Actually it had, way back in 1940.
The same doctor who
had sent me to the psycho had asked my husband, "Why
don't you send her to this Alcoholics Anonymous?"
My husband said, "What
At that time there
hadn't been any publicity such as we have now. Even the
Jack Alexander Saturday Evening Post article hadn't been
written, and there was only a tiny group of people in
So the doctor said,
"I really don't know too much about it, but they
tell me it is a bunch of drunks who get together..."
My husband interrupted,
"She's bad enough now without getting mixed up with
a bunch of drunks."
And so, in those following
years, whenever A.A. was mentioned I would have no part
of it. In my screwed up mind I kept thinking I could have
gone to A.A. way
there in 1940, and perhaps saved my marriage and home.
I even wanted to—but I wasn't allowed to, so I won't
in November of 1944, at long last I went to A.A.
And A.A. took this
wreck of a woman and brought her back to life.
Why did it work for
me when all other agencies had failed? Was it because
they told me in A.A. that I was an alcoholic?
No, I had known that.
Yes, I even knew I
was a "chronic alcoholic."
On one occasion when
I was serving time in my favorite drying-out place while
I was having a session with the psychiatrist, she left
my case history on her desk when she was called away from
the room. Sly and crafty, I thought now I'll find out
what they think of me here, what they "have on"
me, what I've said coming in here drunk. There at the
top of the folder was my name, age and address, and underneath
were the words, "Periodic Drinker." Only they
had been scratched out and over them was written, "Chronic
As an indication of
just how confused and mixed up I was, just as soon as
I could I left the office and hurried around to tell other
patients that I was getting better. I had been promoted
from a periodic drinker to a chronic alcoholic! I honestly
didn't know the difference. A.A. didn't teach me I was
an alcoholic; rather it taught me that because I was an
alcoholic my life had become unmanageable.
It seemed to me that
those A.A.'s to whom I talked knew all about me. It is
true that the doctors and
in the various institutions I attended knew too. But the
difference lay in the fact that the A.A.'s knew from their
own bitter experience.
In other words, the
kindest doctor in the whole world, and I had one such,
couldn't help me because I always felt, "You can't
know about me—you can't possibly know—you
don't even drink!"
But to another woman,
the first woman I met in A.A., I could talk. In all the
sanitariums and psycho wards I had never met a single
woman who said she was an alcoholic. They were always
there because of a nervous breakdown, or for a "rest
cure"—any reason except because of drinking.
(I've met some of these same women since in A.A.) But
by listening and talking to these A.A.'s—talking
to them as I had never talked to anyone in my whole life,
I saw that it was my life that was unmanageable—not
just my drinking. With their help I also saw that certainly,
because of some of the things I had done during the years,
I was bordering on insanity, and so, facing the record,
I tried to believe that a Power greater than I could and
would restore me to sanity.
The other of the Twelve
Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous seemed insurmountable to
me at first.
But the older members
in A.A. told me, "Easy does it." In the light
of subsequent events it became evident that I took their
advice far too literally, for, after some months of happy
sobriety I drank again. Had I tried honestly and sincerely
to practice the Twelve Steps I would have seen from my
continuous moral inventory that I was getting off the
beam—I would have found that there were some active
resentments in my life, a terrific amount of self-pity.
I would have found that once again I was sitting in the
driver's seat—I was running the show.
The Higher Power to
whom I had turned, and who had sustained me, had once
again been thrust into the background, while my emotions
were running my life and, as always, my emotions ran me
to the bottle.
It came about in this
When I first came
into A.A., the woman who was my sponsor was the first
woman I had ever met who admitted that she was an alcoholic.
And she was a charming, delightful, lovely person. She
gave me such hope and inspiration that I set her right
up on a pedestal. And so for three months this one woman
was my A.A. I went to meetings, I spent a lot of time
at the clubroom, but it was all centered in this one woman.
But she couldn't carry me forever. She realized that,
and the way I felt, and so for my own good she gradually
began to pull away. Of course, I had the sensitive, hurt
feelings of the alcoholic. I thought, "Oh well, these
people are just like all the people I've known all my
life. They build you up with a lot of false hopes and
promises, and rush you around here and there and then,
all of a sudden, it's gone." And when she broke a
luncheon date with me one Saturday, after I had been in
A.A. for about three months, I said, "I'll show her!
She can't do that to me!" And I got drunk.
Well, you know who
I showed. I showed myself. And I landed right smack back
in that sanitarium that I had gone to so often. While
I was there I realized that I had missed something. I
realized that I was trying to pin everything on an individual—not
the book or the group or the Higher Power, or anything
else. So I concentrated and studied the book during
that time, and I liked a lot of the things it said in
there. I remember particularly one sentence that seemed
to say, "This is for you." It read something
like this: "Faith without works is dead. Carry this
message to other alcoholics. You can help where no one
else can." Here was a book that said I could do something
that all these doctors and priests and ministers and psychiatrists
that I'd been going to for years couldn't do!
That was over seven
years ago, and thank God and A.A., I haven't had a drink
since. During these seven years a thing called the Twenty-four
Hour Program—a gadget I used to think was only a
snare to trap the newcomer—has come to mean much
to me, not only as regards my drinking but in the whole
pattern of my life.
I realize that all
I'm guaranteed in life is today. The poorest person has
no less and the wealthiest has no more—each of us
has but one day. What we do with it is our own business;
how we use it is up to us individually.
I feel that I have
been restored to health and sanity these past years not
through my own efforts nor as a result of anything I may
have done, but because I've come to believe—to really
believe—that alone I can do nothing. That my own
innate selfishness and stubbornness are the evils which,
if left unguarded, can drive me to alcohol.
I have come to believe
that my illness is spiritual as well as physical and mental,
and I know that for help in the spiritual sphere I have
to turn to a Higher Power.
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