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"Maybe I Can Do It Too"
McGoldrick cured himself of alcoholism –and is now
curing others for New York. At last, a city deals intelligently
with this problem.
by Helen Worden
days in the workhouse." The magistrate studied the
man before him. "You don't belong in prison, but there's
nowhere else to put you."
Picked up as a drunk in a Bowery doorway, the 54-year-old
prisoner, with twitching hands and sunken eyes testifying
to a prolonged jag, was about to pay his ninth visit to
Riker's Island, New York City's penitentiary. In another
month he would be turned loose to drink again.
was the way New York disposed of the alcoholic last year.
Today it is different. Officially listed as a sick man,
not a criminal, he is paroled in the custody of Edward McGoldrick,
director of the city's new Alcoholic Therapy Bureau. An
attempt will be made to rehabilitate him by analyzing and
treating the mental quirk which creates a craving for drink.
McGoldrick, 39, tall, lean, likable, will tell you frankly
that he is an alcoholic himself, that for 15 years straight
he was periodically in and out of sanitariums. Son of a
state supreme court justice, he was a lawyer with a sizable
practice when drinking began to dog him. Determined to find
out the reason, he became a pupil of Dr. Menas Gregory,
then the dynamic head of Bellevue Hospital's psychiatric
knew I had begun to drink to overcome shyness," McGoldrick
explained. "By talking with me patiently and understandingly,
Dr. Gregory brought that fear out into the open. Immediately
it ceased to exist. Thereafter, because I wanted to be cured,
my progress was steady - although I had to pass through
the usual symptoms of recovery: shame, resentment and just
plain jitters. I was occasionally tempted, also, to exhibit
that terrific ego with which so many fellow sufferers cover
up their feelings of inferiority.
one who understands from experience the hell these men go
through can successfully head a bureau like this. Remember,
I am - not was - an alcoholic."
believes alcoholics must never forget they are allergic
to alcohol, just as some people are allergic to strawberries
or fish. "Once an alcoholic always an alcoholic;"
and if they remember that, they are less likely to indulge
in casual experimenting after they feel they have the craving
While working on his own cure, McGoldrick helped also with
Dr. Gregory's more stubborn cases. To his amazement, he
began having success - largely because he discovered that
the real secret of alcohol therapy lies in heart-to- heart
personal contact. "When I work with alcoholics,"
he says, "my own example carries conviction and is
part of the treatment."
a broader "clinical" training he went later to
the Bowery, where he spent months with drunks and derelicts.
Dressed like one of them, he slept in flophouses, ate mission
handouts, exchanged confidences with those not too befogged
in 1943 McGoldrick decided to give up his law practice and
devote all of his time to helping alcoholics. When Mayor
Fiorello LaGuardia offered him the post of Assistant Corporation
Counsel - an honor many a lawyer would covet - he turned
it down. Then he explained his newborn project to the Mayor
and found an eager listener. When he left City Hall, he
was New York's first alcoholic therapist. The Mayor had
promised to back him unofficially for one year. The Alcoholic
Therapy Bureau has now been given official status and operates
under the Department of Welfare.
are not altogether altruistic about this," the Mayor
said to me. "Don't forget that 80 percent of the cases
in the magistrates' courts are alcoholics. This means a
terrific cost to New York."
As the most fertile field in which to stalk the city's alcoholics,
McGoldrick picked the municipal lodging-house for the Bureau's
headquarters. The entire top floor was turned over to him
and he begged chairs and desks from the city's warehouse.
In May 1943, with a staff of two Department of Welfare workers,
McGoldrick chose from city prisons, hospitals and courtrooms
100 human derelicts whose drinking pattern covered 15 to
44 years of chronic alcoholism, one of them with a record
of 83 arrests. They came from all walks of life. All were
accorded the same treatment. Among them were doctors, lawyers,
engineers, reporters, actors, salesmen.
Twenty-five of the original human wrecks whom McGoldrick
picked up fell by the wayside. But the remaining 75 are
now solidly on their feet. Omitting, as not typical, the
cases of 25 who started their reformation in the penitentiary,
the records show that 36 percent of these salvaged derelicts
never took a drink after McGoldrick picked them up, while
22 percent had one relapse and 42 percent had two relapses
before winning their victory. All have jobs.
main steps in McGoldrick's cure are: restoration of faith,
removal of fear, encouragement, renewal of social contacts
and responsibility. Restitution should also be undertaken
at the earliest possible moment; even though it be in tiny
amounts, the alcoholic should start repaying those to whom
he in debt. Let's see how these principles are applied:
now 53 and long an alcoholic, had been working 14 years
for a large corporation when his employer met him staggering
in, and fired him on the spot. Then he took up drinking
seriously. His heartbroken wife and daughter pleaded, threatened
and finally walked out. Debts piled up. His friends crossed
the street when they saw him coming.
McGoldrick's suggestion, Bob was put in the general ward
- not in the alcoholic division - of Bellevue Hospital until
he got over the shakes. Then McGoldrick visited him daily,
encouraged him to "talk it out." Like all drunks
when they start sobering up, Bob was living in his past,
full of his own degradation and shame.
this stage, criticism of an alcoholic's drinking only fixes
the picture more firmly in his mind. He must be taken away
from the past.
object is to focus his attention on a healthy, happy future,"
McGoldrick explains. "One o f the greatest blocks to
reformation is fear of failure. In every victim's subconscious
mind lurks the memory of some failure - either in school,
society, love or business. He fears that in making another
attempt he may fail again. As soon as he believes that fate
is working with, not against, him he has taken the first
step toward restored self-respect. But you can't preach
religion to him. If he wants God, it helps, but it's up
After Bob was sobered up, the Bureau helped him find a job
- one which he could do well without too much effort, one
in which he would not fail with the subsequent feeling of
having lost his grip.
this stage there is an upsurge of self-respect and the patient's
moral inventory begins," says McGoldrick. "Alcoholics
are -usually trying to escape from something. Once they
have faced it, they have nothing to run away from. I know.
I found this out myself -and Bob found it out. He's been
going strong ever since."
a former saloon owner whom McGoldrick had salvaged, talked
freely of his past and present.
haven't fallen off the wagon in nine months," Tom said.
"I couldn't drink again. Not because of myself alone,
but because of others. I'm coaxing four alcoholics along
now. One is my brother. They might all go down without me."
clear brown eyes were serene. "I don't have to fight
myself when I pass a ginmill today. I never felt that way
before. I'm staying sober because I want to. When you see
an alcoholic like McGoldrick on his feet you think, 'Maybe
I can to it too."'
I asked McGoldrick if an alcoholic's family could cure him.
He shook his head. "Only under the most exceptional
circumstances," he said. "The relatives of an
alcoholic suffer a special brand of humiliation, both before
the public and in their own hearts. If, however, they have
enough love and perseverance; if, instead of condemning
him, they encourage him to analyze his drinking as he might
analyze a disease, if they can make him realize how much
they are depending on him; and if, above all, they are there
when he needs reassuring, there's a chance of a miracle.
But if the average alcoholic's family had the patience,
compassion and realism to do this successfully, they probably
would have saved their black sheep long ago."
the early stages of their cure the men seldom go outside
the Bureau building without being accompanied by McGoldrick
or one of the other cured alcoholics. Later, when he is
on his own, if a man feels an impulse to drink he puts in
a telephone SOS to McGoldrick or else rushes back to him.
Seldom does McGoldrick fail to talk the man out of his desire.
After one or more of these crises the patient usually finds
himself able to handle temptation under his own power.
I asked McGoldrick if he thought one year was long enough
to prove his case. "One month is enough if the alcoholic
wants to be cured," he said. "I known so-called
reformed drunkards who, activated by fear or some other
negative reason, had been on the wagon three to four years
yet they were still far from being cured. You can look at
my men and know they are not going to drink again - not
because they are afraid to but because they don't want to.
The cure comes from within, and it doesn't take a year to
prove it's working."
The growth of the Bureau has made a separate building necessary
and McGoldrick is just opening a three-story, 20-room frame
house opposite the cool green of Bronx Bark. It looks like
a private home or club. The ground floor has been converted
into offices, dining room and kitchen. On the second floor
are sleeping quarters - 20 beds - and a large siting room,
with radio, books and newspapers. There's a lecture room
on the third floor.
have no doctor, no medication and no injections," McGoldrick
says. "We want to keep away from the institutional
atmosphere. The men will make their beds and help around
the house. Our only paid employees will be the cook and
the building custodian.
will be no attempt to cure alcoholics wholesale," says
McGoldrick. "They can't be cured that way. Our system
is more like the endless chain. One will cure four others,
and these four will do likewise, until the city has an army
of sincere alcoholic workers whose only recompense lies
in seeing others get back on their feet."
Asked how other communities, interested in establishing
alcoholic therapy bureaus, could find suitable directors
for similar organizations, McGoldrick answered, "Alcoholics
Anonymous is a ten- year-old organization with 12,000 members
and 50 branches scattered throughout the United States.
All the members - and I'm one - are reformed drunkards.
It has no dues, fees or officers, and its principles consist
of 12 rules of living developed from the Ten Commandments.*
Among the men in A.A. are many of the leader type. Since
it takes an alcoholic to reform an alcoholic, I believe
that's where other communities will find directors
postcard sent to P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Annex, New
York 17, N.Y., will bring further information about this
Reader’s Digest, November 1944)