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of series on Let's Be Friendly with our Friends
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., July 1957
was years ago and we were making our first contacts with
mental hospitals. One of them was a New Jersey institution
which had paroled two alcoholics who had found AA and had
stayed sober for six months. Both them had been classed
as hopeless. Despite AA's unusual methods, the hospital's
psychiatrists were not a little impressed.
the eager AA group nearby began to bombard the hospital
for visiting privileges. They wanted to bring the good news
to every alkie in the place, no delays allowed. The doctors
weren't so sure that this was the right idea.
were still rather cautious, as they had plenty of reason
said the AA committee, "why don't you doctors come
to a meeting?" Two of the psychiatrists allowed this
would be fine. They said they would go to New York's AA
group the following week.
that period I think we New Yorkers gathered in a parlor
at Steinway Hall. With much delight we had heard about the
proposed pilgrimage of the Jersey doctors. Meeting night
finally rolled around. But in the interval, my memory had
slipped a cog. I forgot all about those psychiatrists. Right
after our meeting opened, the beaming AA contingent from
Jersey entered the hall and slid into a back row. But even
this reminder failed to jog my memory. I certainly had no
reason to think that one of my life's worst embarrassments
-- and one of its best lessons -- was just around the corner.
meeting's first speaker told a fine story; both grim and
inspiring. You could have heard a pin drop. It was simply
up got Jack. He told how he'd been a rising figure in the
motion picture industry and had once earned the modest stipend
of $50,000 a year. Considering his vaunted abilities, Jack
had figured this to be only a starter. Then demon rum began
to cut him down. His worried studio produced a psychiatrist.
Grudgingly, Jack took some treatments. The results were
nil and more psychiatrist were tried. But Jack's ego, his
resentments, and his drinking all remained as colossal as
before. He worked himself down and finally out of motion
pictures -- not at all a surprising development. But here
he was in AA, sober for months.
it soon became apparent that psychiatrists were still among
Jack's pet grudges. He actually blamed them for his downfall.
Well knowing that two of them were in the room, he saw the
chance of a lifetime. Now he could dish it out and they
would have to sit there and take it!
Jack proceeded to do a job on psychiatry and all its works.
As a speaker he packed a huge wallop, and he had great talent
for a cynical humor that now suited his purpose exactly.
He tore his several psychiatrists apart, one by one. Then
he attacked the entire profession, their theories, and their
philosophies. He called them "fish worm diggers."
All the while he was screamingly funny. Though his talk
was nine-tenths fantasy and nonsense, it was nevertheless
a real piece of showmanship. The audience was convulsed
and I thought I'd never laughed so long or so much. Jack
finally sat down amid big applause.
the meeting, the Jersey AA contingent pushed toward the
platform. They looked both sick and sore, and they definitely
were. Mumbling weakly, their spokesman introduced our "honored
guests," the two psychiatrists!
felt an awful sinking sensation in the region of my solar
plexus. Just then Jack, obviously much pleased with himself,
walked up and genially slapped one of our gests on the back.
"Well, doctor," said he, "how did you like
'them apples' I just handed you!" This was the limit.
I could have died of mortification.
the two psychiatrists smilingly rolled with his punch. They
insisted that it had been a wonderfully helpful meeting.
After all, they declared, their profession ought to be able
to stand a little ribbing now and then. To them Jack's talk
had been good clean fun and very instructive.
was an amazing demonstration of friendship and understanding.
Under trying conditions these maligned gentlemen had turned
the other cheek. They had met Jack's tirade with courtesy,
kindness, good humor, and even gratitude. It was a lesson
in patience, tolerance, and Christian charity that I hope
I shall never forget.
quickly as possible, I angled the two doctors into a corner
and began my apologies. In fact I ate crow. Then one of
them looked at me and said, "Think nothing of it, Bill.
As you surely see, some alcoholics are more maladjusted
than others. We understand that perfectly!"
a month, this very exceptional doctor opened his hospital
to AA visitors and a group began to form within the walls.
Ever since that time the psychiatric profession has continued
to hold up AA's hands. And I venture to say that it is often
their understanding and tolerance, rather than ours, which
has brought about this happy state of affairs.
more examples: In 1949, the American Psychiatric Association
asked me to read a paper on AA before their annual meeting.
Going further, the psychiatrists published that paper in
their official journal and permitted AA to reprint my material
in pamphlet form for public consumption. This on generous
act has since brought our Fellowship untold benefit. Only
recently a survey was made in Los Angeles to determine how
the psychiatrist in that city and county felt about AA.
I'm told that they feel fine; 99 percent of them are for
course this little story has its exaggerations. Great numbers
of AAs are today very friendly to psychiatry, and no doubt
equally great numbers of psychiatrists who know nothing
about us or who have seen only AA failures are still against
us. But this is beside the point. The point that I am trying
to make is that we AAs should try to be uniformly friendly
under all conditions.
what became of my old friend Jack? Well, Jack, just couldn't
make it, though he tried hard. He died three years ago of
real friendliness was something which Jack never came to
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., July 1957
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