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bookstalls currently offer two books, each by a celebrity
who made a the difficult, trying escape from the black swamp
that is alcoholism. There are tens, even hundreds of thousands
of such stories of despair and, finally, triumph, which
will never see print. But in them all there is one basic
sameness, despite the differences in the social and financial
classification of the individuals. They all had to hit bottom.
a celebrity gets more attention if he has been before the
public for years. But there are many other celebrities who,
in the broad sense, do not get attention, nor do they wish
it. The business tycoon, the professional gambler, the contractor,
the crack salesman, the ladies-wear buyer...men and women
who hit bottom as alcoholics and had the bounce to come
one who found the foraging rather bleak in that black swamp
and who managed some six years ago to recognize the bottom
and accept the lift of A.A., and who is a winner as of today
(we of A.A. go it one day at a time, I wish to talk about
that hitting bottom. There is a general feeling in A.A.
that if the alcoholic hasn't hit bottom, his chances of
survival and, later, winning back a place in society, are
practically nil. So what is "bottom?"
Many think that skid row is bottom, and it is, to some.
To others, skid row is a place of residence, occupied by
men who would rather live in skid row than elsewhere. It
is geared to their thinking.
row would revolt others; yet these others have their own
bottom in life, and I have heard a middle-aged son of a
great banker say, after a splendid comeback in A.A., "I
was never on skid row; I brought skid row to my apartment!"
group of A.A. members has its meetings, open and closed.
Members speak. They discuss their problems. And they usually
bring out their "low," their "bottom"
in the drinking career.
One member said, "I owe a good deal to A.A. I now have
two suits, a job, an apartment; when I awake I know what
day it is, what happened last night. And only a little while
back I was doing life in prison on the installment plan."
So he was. In Los Angeles, twenty days in jail for being
drunk. In Tucson, forty-five days in jail. In the next town
two weeks. Wherever he went, he got alcohol, whether cheap
wine or the more costly whiskey, or just plain rubbing alcohol,
if broke. And he always landed back in jail. This went on
He got to thinking: "I have killed no one, but I am
serving a life sentence." His low was unpleasant, but
he was lucky. Somewhere he read about Alcoholics Anonymous
and he asked for help. He got , it turned out, that help
which amounted to an unconditional pardon.
last post was that of radio executive, before I went to
A.A. And in the Philadelphia A.A. club, where I first became
associated with members of the fraternity, I was approached
by a man walking gracefully into the twilight of life, his
hair white, his steps firm, his eyes as young as a boy's.
He was a celebrity. He was the head of a big manufacturing
concern. He told me his low.
skid row was a room in one of the city's finest clubs. Days
on end and weeks on end he remained in that club, speaking
only to his chauffeur, who came with mail, and to the houseman,
who came with bourbon. Bourbon by the bottle.
a banker arrived. There was a discussion of notes that were
due, of the company president whose desk had been empty
so long. And then the glove was flung to the floor: "Give
me your stock or pay the note by 3 p.m.," said the
Well, you do not have that kind of money around if you have
taken residence in the black swamp; so the manufacturer
got his stock together and gave it to the banker. And then
he called A.A. He had hit his bottom.
He got his stock back. His firm is secure now. My friend
summers in Maine and winters in Florida, but, wherever he
is, he keeps in touch with A.A., and today he will tell
new, flustered, insecure members his story of hitting bottom.
It helps tremendously.
who told me his low was another highly successful businessman.
He still had a fine home and a going business when he came
into A.A. And a skid row in his rumpus room in the basement
of his suburban home.
He drank alone, in bars alone, at home alone. There was
nothing social about his drinking. It was guzzling.
So he kept his favourite whiskey in his basement rumpus
room. And one day his wife went downstairs and found him
there, fogged up, shaking, bewildered. There was a finger
of whiskey left in his last bottle. He was sitting on the
floor. He had been there for hours.
wife took in the situation, inquired how he was doing, and
he complained that he would soon be in terrible shape, because
he did not feel up to going out for more liquor and he was
running desperately low.
wife went back upstairs. Presently, in half an hour or so,
she was back. She had a case of whiskey. She placed it beside
him and said, "There.. .drink yourself to death."
friend says it sounded like a command, and it cut through
the fog in his brain and told him something. It told him
he'd hit bottom. His basement floor was as hard a bed as
skid row concrete.
did not drink that case of whiskey. It's been better than
seven years since he's had a drink. Now he spends a good
deal of his time helping out at the club where he learned
about living happily with sobriety, and where he told me
about hitting bottom and recognizing it.
course there are less spectacular bottoms. The laborer who
slept for years in boxcars, wound up in the Salvation Army's
place at Roxborough, Pennsylvania, talked with visiting
A.A.'s and later got a job and stuck around. Ten or more
years, that's been, and today this man who lived in boxcars
has a wife and children, is a personality in A.A. and his
is, too, the former head of a public utility. Now ten, eleven
years in A.A., he will sit at a table in the A.A. club,
have coffee and tell you that his son - in banking - changed
his name legally and that was a low.
same son, years later, heard of his father's late-in-life
change for the better and called on him with a Christmas
present. There is the suspicion he called as much in curiosity
as for any other reason, but he remained for days.
they correspond and that's a good deal.
who has been around in the A.A. fraternity gets to know
the weaknesses of many men. The hitting bottom is the next-to-last
phase of an illness. For that's all it is: social drinkers
enjoy a drink and more power, more fun to them! But, for
a small percentage of us, alcohol brings on a disease.
will it be cured, but it can be arrested and, so long as
it is arrested, there is no need to "hit bottom."
American Mercury, October 1954)