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I WAS A DRUNK
by An Alcoholic
told to J.J. Dingman
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF RECLAMATION BY CO-OPERATION,
THE STORY OF A PRACTICAL FELLOWSHIP, ALCOHOLICS
years ago I awoke late one day in the psychopathic ward
of Toronto General Hospital. I was 39 years old, completely
broke, out of a job. I was despised by my formed friends,
shunned by my family. I was a "rubby dub" who
the night before had socked a cop and been tossed into a
cell. When the jail doctor found me still in a fog the next
morning, I was hospitalized. I was, politely, a confirmed
alcoholic, colloquially, a "drunken bum."
I had drank myself out of a $10,000 a year business I had
inherited from my father when I was 33. I had served three
terms for drunk driving before hitting "skid road."
My wife and daughter had left me after standing by me for
many miserable years. When he had fired me, my last employer
had conceded that I was a good worker, when sober, but said
my periods of sobriety were too short. I had no hope that
anyone else would hire me.
I am a respected citizen in another community, earning a
good salary. My family is with me again, and happy, and
I have excellent prospects of living cheerfully to a useful
old age. Not only have I cured myself but I have helped
many other alcoholics back to permanent sobriety.
Alcoholics Anonymous is responsible for the change.
10 year old organization of 18,000 men and women in 425
groups in several score United States and Canadian communities
proves anew every day that the age of miracles is not past.
BY a combination of common sense, applied psychology, co-operative
effort and practical Christianity, Alcoholics Anonymous
has transformed 18,000 hopeless drunkards into happy, useful
citizens. Its members practice one of the greatest examples
of mass therapy in the history of mankind. And their numbers
multiply daily. Canada now has organized groups of Alcoholics
Anonymous in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, London,
Windsor, Vancouver and Victoria. Canadian A.A.'s (that's
what we call ourselves) number in hundreds, where five years
ago there were none.
Medicine, the Church and the state have struggled with the
problem of alcoholism for thousands of years. Medicine can't
cure an alcoholic. The church can seldom reform a drunkard.
The state can't legislate him back to sanity. But Alcoholics
Anonymous cures 75% of all alcoholics exposed to it. Two
per cent was the best ever attained by any other combination
own introduction to A.A. was entirely unexpected. On release
from hospital, my last remaining friend staked me to the
railroad fare to another city, where in wartime I easily
got another job. The armed services would have no part of
me. I had "signed the pledge again." "I'd
never take another drink so long as I lived. But the same
gruesome pattern began repeating. I got drunk for one night,
then for two days, then for a week on end. This went on
with briefer periods of sobriety and longer periods of drunkenness.
I lost that job, got another, and met a fellow to whom I
took an instinctive liking. He saw me at lunch one day when
I had made it to work, although every muscle and nerve in
my body twitched in the agony of a hang-over. He noticed
my shaking hands.
you like to stop drinking?" he asked, casually. "I
want to more than anything else in the world," I replied,
"But I've tried everything, and nothing works."
suffered from your illness for ten years," he replied.
"I believe I can show you a way out."
I went to my first A.A. meeting. I was amazed to find cheerful,
animated, well-groomed men and women in a clublike atmosphere.
I listened to a visiting speaker tell simply his spectacular
story of release from alcohol by following the TWELVE STEPS
as laid down in the A.A. program.
I was introduced to many people and many of them told me
briefly how they had successfully come back. There was something
immeasurably consoling in realizing that I was a sick man
and not a bad man; that I had a disease, not a vice; that
I suffered from an allergy just as another man has an allergy
to strawberries. I was comforted most of all because here
was proof that there was a cure. If others could do it,
first requisite of an A.A. member, I had - I honestly wanted
to stop drinking. This time there was no pledge to sign,
no swearing off for life. A man who had once begged dimes
for beer and is today a prosperous merchant said; "You've
signed the pledge a dozen times. We all have. This time
just take it easy. Just say; "I won't take a drink
today. I won't drink for twenty-four hours." Then say
the same thing again tomorrow. Its easier not to drink for
a day than to quit for a life. Easy does it, one step at
a time. Sobriety is new to you, drink's an old habit. So
just don't drink tonight and then don't drink tomorrow."
second step for A.A. members, he told me, was "to believe
that a power greater than ourselves would restore us to
sanity, and to decide to turn our will and our lives over
to the care of God as we understood Him." The words
as we understood Him are vitally important. Most men recognize
that there is a power greater than themselves, though definitions
differ. I was a nominal Christian, having been baptized
a Presbyterian. MY counselor, himself a Roman Catholic,
suggested that I pray quietly by myself, for strength to
keep sober for the next 24 hours. Observing my hesitation,
he said; "It doesn't matter to whom you pray. I pray
to God; you suit yourself. But when you get up in the morning,
say within yourself, to whatever greater power you recognize:
"Please keep me from drinking today." and when
you go to bed at night, say "Thank you, but be sincere
and mean it."
was relieved that I didn't have to be "saved"
or hit a revival-meeting sawdust trail in order to get into
A.A. I never liked that sort of thing. But I could take
the prescription offered, as plenty had done before me.
I found A.A. non-sectarian, its members including Protestants,
Roman Catholics, Jews and agnostics. I was also glad to
find that A.A. is not even faintly a prohibition or temperance
group. It is not a "gold cure," and there are
no pills, no doctors, no clergymen. This knowledge made
embarking on the Twelve Step program less formidable an
undertaking. I decided to try it.
Operating on the 24-hour plan I totally abstained for three
weeks, though it wasn't easy. Then came a bad break in the
office, and in my bitterness I fell back on the timeworn
technique - get blind drunk and achieve oblivion. I had
to drink again the next day and the third day I couldn't
get out of my room. I was in the drunkard's uniform - dressing
gown, pyjamas, and no slippers - and could hardly lift my
head from the pillow when my friend called for me to go
to an A.A. meeting. But he didn't seem either shocked or
disappointed, merely remarking, "your not the first
to have a relapse, and it isn't necessarily serious."
He went out to a drugstore for some high potency Vitamin
B1, brought me food, and chatted cheerfully. I felt better
before he left, and the next day was able to go to work.
This wasn't the last time I was tempted, but it was the
last time I fell. Over and over, when the craving came back,
I felt like giving my right arm for a drink. Often my A.A.
friend would appear unbidden, almost intuitively, at my
elbow, suggesting a movie, a ball game or some bridge. With
him behind me I could fight back the urge to drink. For
a long while I didn't go to movies alone because seeing
anyone on the screen sip a cocktail set up an almost unendurable
man literally saved my life, but the whole A.A. group helped.
This treatment was a form of mass therapy, and this is,
to me, the foundation of A.A.'s success. Let me tell you
what I mean by the term.
At meetings I met a man who had been reduced to drinking
the alcohol he had drained from car radiators, tell how
he bounced back to a prosperous place in his city's business
life. I heard a physician tell how he drank himself out
of a $20,000 a year practice and had been quite literally
yanked out of the gutter by A.A., to fight his way back
to sobriety and success. I listened to a workman tell how
he had been in and out of jails for 10 years and now held
a priority job in a war plant.
these men had admitted publicly that they were alcoholics,
that they could never hope to control their drinking and
therefore must totally abstain. The very admission and subsequent
discussion, helped us all tremendously. We faced facts we
had evaded all our lives. Having been helped by the Twelve
Step program, these A.A.' s helped others. For it is the
basis of our program that only an alcoholic can understand
an alcoholic and help him. The doctor prescribes a hypo
in the arm, but he doesn't have the disease. The clergyman
probably never drank anything stronger than Aunt Maud's
elderberry wine. The wife says, "Think of your family,"
failing to understand that the alcoholic does think of his
family, with the bittersweet remorse. The state says, passing
periodic prohibition laws, "Thou shalt not drink,"
but alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike reply, "Nuts."
the recovered alcoholic says to the shaking, despondent
wreck just emerging from the fog after a frightful bender;
"I know just how you feel because I have been there
myself. Not just once or a few times. I've had those shakes,
those chills and fevers, those sweats, that terrible, awful
remorse, that horrible feeling of aloneness, that vicious
craving for another drink, that desperation that makes me
a liar and a thief and a beggar to get another shot. I've
had these not once, but hundreds of times in the past 10
or 15 years. I know what it's all about."
not just another drunken bum. You're not just another moral
outcast. You're just a sick man with a disease as malignant,
but more easily diagnosed and cured, than cancer. I think
I have the cure for you if you honestly want to stop drinking."
The sanitarium treatment for alcoholism, which does not
always succeed, is not available for many but the well to
do. Many a discharged patient will get drunk on his way
home from a three-week hospitalization only for the attainment
of temporary sobriety. After that the first step is to take
the patient to an A.A. meeting. There he gets the full impact
of the mass therapeutic treatment.
who understand this disease explain that it's an allergy
not a vice. This theory is comparatively new, and it explains
why some people can drink safely and some can't, just as
some are unmoved by ragweed and others are reduced to agonies
with hay fever when exposed to the plant. It also explains
why when a man is once an alcoholic he is always an alcoholic.
Like the diabetic sufferer who takes insulin, the alcoholic
can only hope to arrest his disease. He can stop drinking
but he will still be an alcoholic when he dies. All this
is explained by sympathetic fellow sufferers, who tell what
they and other have accomplished.
patient must say, privately and to at least one other person:
"I just can't take it."
addition to sharing an allergy, the symptom of which is
unnatural craving, alcoholics usually have certain personality
traits in common. We are often emotionally immature and
burdened by an inferiority complex. The A.A. program helps
in this field, too, and the third step requires a frank
discussion of problems, and restitution to those who have
been wronged. But the past is held to be water over the
dam - just take a moral inventory, do the best you can to
fix things up, and then go on being sober the rest of your
life. I, for instance had always been a "worrier,"
and often worry literally drove me to drink. But since being
in A.A. I have been honest with myself and have stopped
The majority of A.A. groups meet two or three times a week.
There is one public meeting, to which all comers are invited,
always addressed by a recovered alcoholic who tells his
case history. In the Detroit-Windsor area, for instance,
where there are 12 A.A. groups, a joint public meeting is
held monthly, attended by some 400 alcoholics. That is an
inspiring spectacle. Annually, in both cities, A.A. stages
public banquets where the cocktail is tomato juice, and
the liquor is demitasse coffee. Windsor, the strongest of
the Canadian units, has benefited enormously by association
with the able, active A.A.’s in the great Detroit
A.A. has two other types of meetings - the clinical session
for A.A.'s only and the social evening. In the clinic the
boys take their hair down, tell of their drinking careers
and try to analyze what made them drink, and by exchanging
experiences help each other permanently ride the water wagon.
There is the Saturday night bridge or poker session, when
a dozen or more alcoholics rotate around each other's homes.
For many of them it's the first time they've ever played
poker sober. These activities offer an antidote to loneliness,
which has driven many an alcoholic man to the nearest bar.
patient exposed to this experience in mass treatment is
cured in 75 out of 100 starts. Just being together in one
large room a group of prosperous, cheerful men and women
who once were "hopeless drunkards" has a tremendous
psychological effect on the newcomer and old-timer alike.
I went through the A.A. program of admission, of acknowledging
a power greater than myself, of taking inventory of my weaknesses
and making restitution to those I had injured. But it was
in the Twelfth Step - in helping others like myself - that
I found the greatest satisfaction and a guarantee of permanent
sobriety. A couple of months after I had been in A.A., I
got another fellow to join. I thereby wrote myself an insurance
policy, I paid the premium by helping myself and others.
I drew the dividend of permanent sobriety. For once a man
has induced others to join A.A., he'll never be likely to
fall again himself. Pride, if nothing else will be his mainstay,
for never can he let these men see him drunk. Of course
A.A. has backsliders, but those who do slip off the water
wagon climb on again with an agility they never thought
believable before. It just isn't done to let down the fellow
who helped you when everyone else, and all else, had failed.
had a fellow who had been the "town drunk" for
15 years. Skeptics said, "if you can cure him you can
cure anybody." This chap slept in used car lots, bummed
dimes on the street, was in and out of jails, and drank
everything from leftover beer to shaving lotion. Everytime
he got out of jail he was plastered again as soon as he
had the money. Yet he really wanted to quit. When he first
approached me I was frankly apprehensive. But when we had
exposed him to our program, fed and decently clothed him,
and got him a job, he was a new man. He hasn't had a drink
for 14 months. He's our most spectacular cure and one of
our most helpful members.
was a lawyer, a man prominent in public life who had been
hospitalized in the "best places" a dozen times.
But always he found himself back in the same spot - holed
up in a hotel room, the living likeness of "The Unhappy
Drinker" who wants to stop but can't. He did his drinking
on a different level of society than the "town drunk"
but he was making an even better job of wrecking himself
mentally and physically. He was also tossing a promising
career into the ash can. He didn't know I A.A. existed in
this city, but he had read of the international organization
and wrote to the New York Office of Alcoholic Foundation
Inc., and his letter was sent on to me. He hasn't had a
drink for 15 months.
I was at an A.A. meeting one night when a man 60 odd years
old, and very, very high indeed, stumbled in. He was belligerent
and abusive. He'd located the local A.A. group, and he wanted
help, but he had to drink himself a little courage to come
to see us. We found he had once been a power in the Labor
movement, a highly paid union organizer, now reduced to
washing dishes in a "greasy spoon." He has totally
abstained for 12 months and now has a good job compatible
with his intelligence and education.
I want to make it clear that A.A. never pesters a man to
join. Ninety-nine per cent of the people who join our own
group have asked for help. We must first be assured that
a man wants to stop drinking before we'll move. If he doesn't
want to stop more than anything else in the world then he's
not ready for A.A. and unless he's ripe we'd be wasting
our time, and might even prejudice him against us. If an
alcoholic comes into A.A., attends a few meetings and then
drops out, we never go after him. We wait until he's taken
another real nose dive, and then we'll comb the bars and
joints to drag him back to sanity. That may sound a bit
brutal, but we have found that it is best to get a man when
he is full of remorse after crawling out of the stupor of
a bat, than to try to work on him when he's cold sober and
falsely believes he has liquor licked.
Let me make it very clear that Alcoholics Anonymous is for
alcoholics only. We want no part of the social drinker,
or the man or woman who occasionally ties one on at a party.
We define the alcoholic as one who is "powerless over
alcohol." Any "morning after" drinker is
either an alcoholic or a potential alcoholic. This is the
type who'll take a drink when he doesn't want to, when he
knows that taking that drink may wreck his future economically.
The recovered alcoholic wants to cure others like himself,
but he does not want to interfere with the drinking habits
of those who enjoy their liquor and forget about it. We
don't want to close any bars or cut liquor rations. We recognize
that for most people drinking is an enjoyable, harmless
social pastime, one that adds a good deal to the gaiety
of nations. But we also recognize that it is not for us.
A.A. will almost guarantee a cure based on total abstinence,
but as yet to turn out a safe social drinker. Many of us
firmly established in A.A. serve liquor to others in our
homes and clubs, tippling ourselves on fruit juice and cokes.
But that is not sound practice for new recruits, on the
principle that its foolish to stick one's head into the
lion's mouth. He is wise to avoid temptation.
After I had been in A.A. a while the man who 10 years ago
founded the movement spoke one night in a nearby city and
I went to hear him. A charming, intelligent man, an able
executive and fluent speaker, he could earn $80,000 a year
today, yet he devotes his life to A.A., running the international
organization from New York for barely enough to keep him
going. Let's call him arbitrarily and to preserve the principle
of anonymity, Davis.
Davis, a New York stockbroker who had a rich and varied
drinking career, found himself one day in Akron, Ohio. He
was alone, knew not a soul in the city, and was almost stone-broke,
and he badly wanted a drink. But he knew that if he took
one he would walk the same old path again to torture and
eventual hospitalization. Davis had become intensely interested
in the problem of alcoholism while paying a visit to a New
York detoxicating hospital where he had been a patient.
In his Akron hotel lobby Davis looked at a Church directory
opposite the bar, impulsively he called a clergyman, although
he did not know him, and through the minister he met an
Akron physician who was really an advanced alcoholic. The
doctor and the broker became friends, and tried to hold
each other up on the water wagon. But the doctor fell off.
It was on June 10, 1935, that the physician took his last
drink. It was a drink given to him by Davis, to pull him
out of a hangover. These two became the first A.A. group.
In a year and a half they had effected only 10 cures. By
the early part of 1939 the number had grown to 100. It was
at that time that Alcoholics Anonymous - the A.A. bible
- was published. This is a remarkable work, with a preface
by the founder, and case histories of a dozen spectacular
cures. A.A.'s call it the "Big Book." It is such
a powerful piece of simple writing that cures have been
effected by one reading of it, and nothing else. It is procurable
from any A.A. group or by writing to the head office, Box
459, Grand Central Annex Post Office, New York City.
Since then, groups have been almost self-starting in Cleveland,
Detroit, Toledo, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Philadelphia,
Pittsburgh, Toronto, Washington, Montreal, Chicago and some
50 other cities and towns in the United States and Canada.
Everywhere they are endorsed by clergymen, doctors and social
About five years ago the movement gained a foothold in Canada.
Toronto is the oldest and Windsor is the second oldest group.
RESPECTER OF RANK
has Alcoholics Anonymous got to offer Canada and Canadians?
A.A. offers to thousands of Canadian drunks and to borderline
cases and potential alcoholics restoration to a happy and
gainful place in society, painlessly and without cost. All
they have to do is want to be cured. A.A. is really a co-operative,
and alcoholics can band themselves together in a co- operative
just as can the grain growers of Western Canada or the farmers
of Ontario. A.A. welcomes everybody who wants to slay the
dragon that has made his life hell-extrovert and introvert,
beggarman and thief, lawyer and office worker, banker and
day laborer, rich, poor and the suffering white-collarman,
society lady and the truck driver.
For one thing, A.A. has taught its members that alcohol
is no respecter of rank or birth or worldly position. I
know the head of a war plant who's making money so fast
he can't count it. I know a chap who works for this man
for forty cents an hour, when he works. They are both alcoholics.
One is a well educated, intelligent man, with a charming
wife and family. The other is a poor chap who never had
a chance to acquire an education, or the capacity to absorb
it. They both suffer from the disease of alcoholism, just
as they might in other circumstances have tuberculosis.
A.A. can, and does, help both these extreme types and all
the run-of-the-mill humanity in between.
A.A. groups offer very practical assistance too. Our reputation
has grown to be respected by employers and by agencies of
the state. We feed and cloth some down-and-outers we think
deserving, and get them jobs. Six moths ago a large firm
wrote me asking if we had in our group a personnel man,
for they believed an ex-alcoholic could, by his greater
understanding of man and his frailties, handle men better
than most other types. The other day I met the head of that
firm on the street.
know that ex-drunk you sent me?" he enquired.
" I recalled, "What's the matter? Did he get drunk
no!" he snorted, "Send me half-a-dozen more like
was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.
a big bruiser of a chap, one of those "fighting drunks,"
was up in court on the old fighting the cops charge. But
instead of sending him to jail this time, the magistrate
paroled him to me when I was able to tell the court that
the man had been in A.A. for six months and had had but
this one brief relapse. I staked my own and the reputation
of A.A. on that fellow, and I know I'll win.
A.A. is for potential alcoholics, too, for the smart operator
who's intelligent enough to see where he's heading before
he actually musses his trousers in the gutter. We have had
more than a dozen of that type join us in the last month.
answer the inevitable "wise guy,” who sees a
racket in all human endeavors let me point out that the
modest organization maintained by A.A. is financed through
the voluntary contributions of recovered alcoholics. There
are no dues or fees. At our meeting we contribute to the
"kitty" the price of one drink or one bottle,
depending on how flush we are at the moment. No newcomer
pays a nickel. Each of the groups is completely autonomous.
The Alcoholic Foundation Inc., New York, is the central
clearinghouse for information and advice, and helps each
individual unit. But no group owes money of allegiance to
New York. Each can help pay the New York rent or not, as
it seems fit. Many don’t, but most do.
other night at our local meeting, a King's Counsel, just
in two months said, "I don't know why I drank. I don't
really care. I know that I'm not drinking now. I'm not yet
sure how this program works, or why, but I know that it
does. That's enough for me right now."
brilliant lawyer is but one of hundreds of Canadians who
have been restored to sanity and usefulness. That is what
Alcoholics Anonymous offers to Canada and Canadians - sane
and sober men and women, who once were drunkards, contributing
of their best to the nation in wartime and peace.
Macleans, May 15, 1945)