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Towns, owner of Towns' Hospital where Bill Wilson had sobered
up, tried to get publicity for A.A. and finally succeeded.
He had known Morris Markey, a well-known feature writer,
for years. Markey was intrigued by what Towns told him of
A.A., and approached Fulton Oursler, then editor of "Liberty,"
a popular magazine that had a religious orientation.
saw the possibilities at once and said, "Morris, you've
got an assignment. Bring that story in here, and we will
print it in September." (Oursler later wrote a number
of successful books on religion. He became a good friend
of Bill's and served as a trustee of the Alcoholic Foundation.)
September 1939, when the "Liberty" piece hit the
newsstands, Bill thought it was a bit lurid, and that the
title, "Alcoholics and God," would scare off some
prospects. Perhaps it did, but "Liberty" received
800 urgent pleas for help, which were promptly turned over
to Bill Wilson who turned them over to Ruth Hock for a response.
"She wrote fine personal letters to every one of them,"
wrote Bill, "enclosing a leaflet which described the
response was wonderful. Several hundred books sold at once
at full retail price of $3.50. Even more importantly, we
struck up a correspondence with alcoholics, their friends,
and their families all over the country."
Dr. Bob read the story he was elated. "You never saw
such an elated person in your life," said Ernie G.
the second (there were two Ernie G's). "We all were,"
said Ernie's wife, Ruth. Anne smith said, "You know,
it looks like we might be getting a little bit respectable."
It was AA's first successful piece of national publicity.
The stories in the Cleveland Plain Dealer followed shortly
result of the article was that A.A. was started in Philadelphia.
George S. of Philadelphia, one of the first "loners"
had sobered up after reading the article." When the
issue of Liberty first arrived, George was in bed drinking
whiskey for his depression and taking laudanum for his colitis.
The Markey piece hit George so hard that he went ex-grog
and ex-laudanum instantly.
wrote to New York, his name was given to Jim Burwell (see
"The Vicious Cycle" in the Big Book), who was
a traveling salesman, "and that's how A.A. started
in the City of Brotherly Love," wrote Bill. Jim and
George gathered others to them, and the first A.A. meeting
in Philadelphia was held in George's home. Chicago also
reported getting several new prospects as a result of the
wrote to Dr. Bob, "We are growing at an alarming rate,
although I have no further fear of large numbers."
A few weeks later he wrote Dr. Bob that "the press
of newcomers and inquiries was so great that we have to
swing more to the take-it-or-leave-it attitude, which, curiously
enough, produces better results than trying to be all things
at all times at all places to all men."
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. Bill W., by Francis Hartigan.
Bill W., by Robert Thomsen. The Language of the Heart, Bill
W.'s Grapevine Writings. Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers.)
by Morris Markey
there hope for habitual drunkards?
A cure that borders on the miraculous--and it works!
twenty-five or thirty cents we buy a glass of fluid which
is pleasant to the taste, and which contains within its
small measure a store of warmth and good-fellowship and
stimulation, of release from momentary cares and anxieties.
That would be a drink of whisky, of course -- whisky, which
is one of Nature's most generous gifts to man, and at the
same time one of his most elusive problems. It is a problem
because, like many of his greatest benefits, man does not
quite know how to control it. Many experiments have been
made, the most spectacular being the queer nightmare of
prohibition, which left such deep scars upon the morals
and the manners of our nation. Millions of dollars have
been spent by philanthropists and crusaders to spread the
doctrine of temperance. In our time the most responsible
of the distillers are urging us to use their wares sensibly,
to a certain limited number of our countrymen neither prohibition
nor wise admonishments have any meaning, because they are
helpless when it comes to obeying them. I speak of the true
alcoholics, and before going any further I had best explain
what that term means.
a medical definition of the term, I quote an eminent doctor
who, has spent twenty-five years treating such people in
a highly regarded private hospital: "We believe . .
. that the action of alcohol in chronic alcoholics is a
manifestation of an allergy-that the phenomenon of craving
is limited to this class and never occurs in the average
temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely
use alcohol in any form at all."
are, he goes on, touched with physical and mental quirks
that prevent them from controlling their own actions. They
suffer from what some doctors call a "compulsion neurosis."
They know liquor is bad for them but periodically; they
are driven by a violent and totally uncontrollable desire
for a drink. And after that first drink, the deluge.
these people are genuinely sick. The liquor habit with them
is not a vice. It is a specific illness of body and mind,
and should be treated as such.
far the most successful cure is that used by the hospital
whose head doctor I have quoted. There is nothing secret
about it. It has the endorsement of the medical profession.
It is, fundamentally, a process of dehydration: of removing
harmful toxins from all parts of the body faster than Nature
could accomplish it. Within five or six days -- two weeks
at the maximum -- the patient's body is utterly free from
alcoholic poisons. Which means that the physical craving
is completely cured, because the body cries out for alcohol
only when alcohol is already there. The patient has no feeling
of revulsion toward whisky. He simply is not interested
in it. He has recovered. But wait. How permanent is his
doctor says this: " Though the aggregate of full recoveries
through physical and psychiatric effort its considerable,
we doctors must admit that we have made little impression
upon the problem as a whole. For there are many types which
do not respond to the psychological approach.
do not believe that true alcoholism is entirely a matter
of individual mental control. I have had many men who had,
for example, worked for a period of months on some business
deal that was to be settled on a certain date.... For reasons
they could not afterward explain, they took a drink a day
or two prior to the date . . . and the important engagement
was not even kept. These men were not drinking to escape.
They were drinking to overcome a craving beyond their mental
classification of alcoholics is most difficult. There are,
of course, the psychopaths who are emotionally unstable....
They are over remorseful and make many resolutions -- but
never a decision.
is the type who is unwilling to admit that he cannot take
a drink just like the rest of the boys. He does tricks with
his drinking -- changing his brand, or drinking only after
meals or changing his companions. None of this helps him
strengthen his control and be like other people. Then there
are types entirely normal in every respect except in the
effect which alcohol has upon them . . .
these, and many others, have one symptom in common: They
cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon
of craving.... The only relief we have to suggest is complete
abstinence from alcohol.
are these unfortunate people really capable, mentally, of
abstaining completely? Their bodies may be cured of craving.
Can their minds be cured? Can they be rid of the deadly
physicians the general opinion seems to be that chronic
alcoholics are doomed. But wait! Within the last four years,
evidence has appeared which has startled hard-boiled medical
men by proving that the compulsion neurosis can be entirely
eliminated. Perhaps you are one of those cynical people
who will turn away when I say that the root of this new
discovery is religion. But be patient for a moment. About
three years ago a man appeared at the hospital in New York
of which our doctor is head physician. It was his third
"cure." Since his first visit he had lost his
job, his friends, his health, and his self-respect. He was
now living on the earnings of his wife.
had tried every method he could find to cure his disease:
had read all the great philosophers and psychologists. He
had tried religion but he simply could not accept it. It
would not seem real and personal to him.
went through the cure as usual and came out of it in very
low spirits. He was lying in bed, emptied of vitality and
thought, when suddenly, a strange and totally unexpected
thrill went through his body and mind. He called out for
the doctor. When the doctor came in, the man looked up at
him and grinned.
doc," he said, "my troubles are all over. I've
you're the last man . . ."
I know all that. But I've got it. And I know I'm cured of
this drinking business for good." He talked with great
intensity for a while and then said, " Listen, doc.
I've got to see some other patient -- one that is about
to be dismissed."
doctor demurred. It all sounded a trifle fanatical. But
finally he consented. And thus was born the movement which
is now flourishing with almost sensational success as Alcoholics
is how it works:
member of the group -- which is to say every person who
has been saved -- is under obligation to carry on the work,
to save other men.
indeed, is a fundamental part of his own mental cure. He
gains strength and confidence by active work with other
finds his subject among acquaintances, at a "cure"
institution or perhaps by making inquiry of a preacher,
a priest, or a doctor. He begins his talk with his new acquaintance
by telling him the true nature of his disease and how remote
are his chances for permanent cure.
he has convinced the man that he is a true alcoholic and
must never drink again, he continues:
had better admit that this thing is beyond your own control.
You've tried to solve it by yourself, and you have failed.
All right. Why not put the whole thing into the hands of
though the man might be an atheist or agnostic, he will
almost always admit that there is some sort of force operating
in the world-some cosmic power weaving a design. And his
new friend will say:
don't care what you call this Somebody Else. We call it
God. But whatever you want to call it, you had better put
yourself into its hands. Just admit you're licked, and say,
`Here I am, Somebody Else. Take care of this thing for me.'"
new subject will generally consent to attend one of the
weekly meetings of the movement.
will find twenty-five or thirty ex-drunks gathered in somebody's
home for a pleasant evening. There are no sermons. The talk
is gay or serious as the mood strikes. The new candidate
cannot avoid saying to himself, "These birds are ex-drunks.
And look at them! They must have something. It sounds kind
of screwy, but whatever it is I wish to heaven I could get
or another of the members keeps working on him from day
to day. And presently the miracle. But let me give you an
example: I sat down in a quiet room with Mr. B., a stockily
built man of fifty with a rather stern, intelligent face.
tell you what happened a year ago." He said, "I
was completely washed up. Financially I was all right, because
my money is in a trust fund. But I was a drunken bum of
the worst sort. My family was almost crazy with my incessant
took the cure in New York." (At the hospital we have
I came out of it, the doctor suggested I go to one of these
meetings the boys were holding. I just laughed. My father
was an atheist and had taught me to be one. But the doctor
kept saying it wouldn't do me any harm, and I went.
sat around listening to the jabber. It didn't register with
me at all. I went home. But the next week I found myself
drawn to the meeting. And again they worked on me while
I shook my head. I said, 'It seems O.K. with you; boys,
but I don't even know your language. Count me out.'
said the Lord's Prayer, and the meeting broke up. I walked
three blocks to the subway station. Just as I was about
to go down the stairs-bang!" He snapped fingers hard.
"It happened! I don't like that word miracle, but that's
all I can call it. The lights in the street seemed to flare
up. My feet seemed to leave the pavement. A kind of shiver
went over me, and I burst out crying.
went back to the house where we had met, and rang the bell,
and Bill let me in. We talked until two o'clock in the morning.
I haven't touched a drop since, and I've set four other
fellows on the same road."
doctor, a nonreligious man himself, was at first utterly
astonished at the results that began to appear among his
patients. But then he put his knowledge of psychiatry and
psychology to work. These men were experiencing a psychic
change. Their so-called "compulsion neurosis"
was being altered -- transferred from liquor to something
else. Their psychological necessity to drink was being changed
to a psychological necessity to rescue their fellow victims
from the plight that made themselves so miserable. It is
not a new idea. It is a powerful and effective working out
of an old idea. We all know that the alcoholic has an urge
to share his troubles. Psychoanalysts use this urge. They
say to the alcoholic, in basic terms: "You can't lick
this problem yourself. Give me the problem -- transfer the
whole thing to me and let me take the whole responsibility."
the psychoanalyst, being of human clay, is not often a big
enough man for that job. The patient simply cannot generate
enough confidence in him. But the patient can have enough
confidence in God -- once he has gone through the mystical
experience of recognizing God. And upon that principle the
Alcoholic Foundation rests. The medical profession, in general,
accepts the principle as sound.
Anonymous" have consolidated their activities in an
organization called the Alcoholic Foundation. It is a nonprofit-making
enterprise. Nobody connected with it is paid a penny. It
is not a crusading movement. It condemns neither liquor
nor the liquor industry. Its whole concern is with the rescue
of allergic alcoholics, the small proportion of the population
who must be cured or perish. It preaches no particular religion
and has no dogma, no rules. Every man conceives God according
to his own lights.
have grown up in other cities. The affairs of the Foundation
are managed by three members of the movement and four prominent
business and professional men, not alcoholics, who volunteered
Foundation has lately published a book, called Alcoholics
Anonymous. And if alcoholism is a problem in your family
or among your friends, I heartily recommend that you get
hold of a copy. It may very well help you to guide a sick
man -- an allergic alcoholic -- on the way to health and
Liberty, September 30, 1939)