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Jack Alexander Article
Saturday Evening Post
March 1, 1941
MEN sat around the bed of an alcoholic patient in the psychopathic
ward of Philadelphia General Hospital one afternoon a few
weeks ago. The man in the bed, who was a complete stranger
to them, had the drawn and slightly stupid look the inebriates
get while being defogged after a bender. The only thing
that was noteworthy about the callers, except for the obvious
contrast between their well-groomed appearances and that
of the patient, was the fact that each had been through
the defogging process many times himself. They were members
of Alcoholics Anonymous, a band of ex-problem drinkers who
make an avocation of helping other alcoholics to beat the
man in the bed was a mechanic. His visitors had been educated
at Princeton, Yale and Pennsylvania and were, by occupation,
a salesman, a lawyer and a publicity man. Less than a year
before, one had been in shackles in the same ward. One of
his companions had been what is known among alcoholics as
a sanitarium commuter. He had moved from place to place,
bedeviling the staffs of the country's leading institutions
for the treatment of alcoholics. The other had spent twenty
years of life, all outside institution walls, making life
miserable for himself, and his family and his employers,
as well as sundry well-meaning relatives who had had the
temerity to intervene.
air of the ward was thick with the aroma of paraldehyde,
an unpleasant cocktail smelling like a mixture of alcohol
and ether which hospitals sometimes use to taper off the
paralyzed drinker and soothe his squirming nerves. The visitors
seemed oblivious of this and of the depressing atmosphere
of psychopathic wards. They smoked and talked with the patient
for twenty minutes or so, then left their personal cards
and departed. If the man in the bed felt that he would like
to see one of them again, they told him, he had only to
put in a telephone call.
MADE it plain that if he actually wanted to stop drinking,
they would leave their work or get up in the middle of the
night to hurry to where he was. If he did not choose to
call, that would be the end of it. The members of Alcoholics
Anonymous do not pursue or coddle a malingering prospect,
and they know the strange tricks of the alcoholic as a reformed
swindler knows the art of bamboozling.
lies much of the unique strength of a movement, which in
the past six years, has brought recovery to around 2,000
men and women, a large percentage of whom had been considered
medically hopeless. Doctors and clergymen, working separately
or together, have always managed to salvage a few cases.
In isolated instances, drinkers have found their own methods
of quitting. But the inroads into alcoholism have been negligible,
and it remains one of the great, unsolved public-health
nature touch and suspicious, the alcoholic likes to be left
alone to work out his puzzle, and he has a convenient way
of ignoring the tragedy which he inflicts meanwhile upon
those who are close to him. He holds desperately to a conviction
that, although he has not been able to handle alcohol in
the past, he will ultimately succeed in becoming a controlled
drinker. One of medicine's queerest animals, he is, as often
as not, an acutely intelligent person. He fences with professional
men and relative who attempt to aid him and he gets a perverse
satisfaction out of tripping them up in argument.
IS no specious excuse for drinking which the troubleshooters
of Alcoholics Anonymous have not heard or used themselves.
When one of their prospects hands them a rationalization
for getting soused, they match it with a half a dozen out
of their own experience. This upsets him a little, and he
gets defensive. He looks at their neat clothing and smoothly
shaved faces and charges them with being goody-goodies who
don't know what it is to struggle with drink. They reply
by relating their own stories: the double Scotches and brandies
before breakfast; the vague feeling of discomfort which
precedes a drinking bout; the awakening from a spree without
being able to account for the actions of several days and
the haunting fear that possibly they had run down someone
with their automobiles.
tell of the eight-ounce bottles of gin hidden behind pictures
and in caches from cellar to attic; of spending whole days
in motion-picture houses to stave off the temptation to
drink; of sneaking out of the office for quickies during
the day. They talk of losing jobs and stealing money from
their wives' purses; of putting pepper into whiskey to give
it a tang; of tippling on bitters and sedative tablets,
or on mouthwash or hair tonic; of getting into the habit
of camping outside the neighborhood tavern ten minutes before
opening time. They describe a hand so jittery that it could
not lift a pony to the lips without spilling the contents;
drinking liquor from a beer stein because it can be steadied
with two hands, although at the risk of chipping a front
tooth; tying an end of a towel about a glass, looping the
towel around the back of the neck, and drawing the free
end with the other hand; hands so shaky they feel as if
they were about to snap off and fly into space; sitting
on hands for hours to keep them from doing this.
and other bits of drinking lore usually manage to convince
the alcoholic that he is talking to blood brothers. A bridge
of confidence is thereby erected, spanning a gap, which
has baffled the physician, the minister, the priest, or
the hapless relatives. Over this connection, the troubleshooters
convey, bit by bit, the details of a program for living
which has worked for them and which, they feel, can work
for any other alcoholic. They concede as out of their orbit
only those who are psychotic or who are already suffering
from the physical impairment known as wet brain. At the
same time, they see to it that the prospect gets whatever
medical attention is needed.
DOCTORS and staffs of institutions throughout the country
now suggest Alcoholics Anonymous to their drinking patients.
In some towns, the courts and probation officers cooperate
with the local group. In a few city psychopathic divisions,
the workers of Alcoholics Anonymous are accorded the same
visiting privileges as staff members. Philadelphia General
is one of these. Dr. John F. Stouffer, the chief psychiatrist,
says: "the alcoholics we get here are mostly those who cannot
afford private treatment, and this is by far the greatest
thing we have ever been able to offer them. Even among those
who occasionally land back in here again, we observe a profound
change in personality. You would hardly recognize them".
Illinois Medical Journal, in an editorial last December,
went further than D. Stouffer, in stating: "It is indeed
a miracle when a person who for years has been more of less
constantly under the influence of alcohol and in whom his
friends have lost all confidence, will sit up all night
with a drunk and at stated intervals administer a small
amount of liquor in accordance with a doctor's order without
taking a drop himself."
is a reference to a common aspect of the Arabian Nights
adventures to which Alcoholics Anonymous workers dedicate
themselves. Often it involves sitting upon, as well as up
with, the intoxicated person, as the impulse to jump out
a window seems to be an attractive one to many alcoholics
when in their cups. Only an alcoholic can squat on another
alcoholic's chest for hours with the proper combination
of discipline and sympathy.
a recent trip around the East and Middle West, I met and
talked with scores of A.A.s, as they call themselves, and
found them to be unusually calm tolerant people. Somehow,
they seemed better integrated than the average group of
nonalcoholic individuals. Their transformation from cop
fighters, canned-heat drinkers, and, in some instances,
wife beaters, was startling. On one of the most influential
newspapers in the country, I found that the city editor,
the assistant city editor, and a nationally known reporter
were A.A.s, and strong in the confidence of their publisher.
ANOTHER city, I heard a judge parole a drunken driver to
an A.A. member. The latter, during his drinking days, had
smashed several cars and had had his own operator's license
suspended. The judge knew him and was glad to trust him.
A brilliant executive of an advertising firm disclosed that
two years ago he had been panhandling and sleeping in a
doorway under an elevated structure. He had a favorite doorway,
which he shared with other vagrants, and every few weeks
he goes back and pays them a visit just to assure himself
he isn't dreaming.
Akron, as in other manufacturing centers, the groups include
a heavy element of manual workers. In the Cleveland Athletic
Club, I had luncheon with five lawyers, an accountant, an
engineer, three salesmen, an insurance man, a buyer, a bartender,
a chain-store manager, a manager of an independent store,
and a manufacturer's representative. They were members of
a central committee, which coordinates the work of nine
neighborhood groups. Cleveland, with more than 450 members,
is the biggest of the A.A. centers. The next largest are
located in Chicago, Akron, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington
and New York. All told, there are groups in about fifty
cities and towns.
DISCUSSING their work, the A.A.s spoke of their drunk rescuing
as "insurance" for themselves. Experience within the group
has shown, they said, that once a recovered drinker slows
up in this work he is likely to go back to drinking himself.
There is, they agreed, no such thing as an ex-alcoholic.
If one is an alcoholic - that is, a person who is unable
to drink normally - one remains an alcoholic until he dies,
just as a diabetic remains a diabetic. The best he can hope
for is to become an arrested case, with drunk saving as
his insulin. At least, the A.A.s say so, and medical opinion
tends to support them. All but a few said that they had
lost all desire for alcohol. Most serve liquor in their
homes when friends drop in, and they still go to bars with
companions who drink. A.A.s tipple on soft drinks and coffee.
a sales manager, acts as bartender at his company's annual
jamboree in Atlantic City and spends his nights tucking
the celebrators into their beds. Only a few of those who
recover fail to lose the felling that at any minute they
may thoughtlessly take one drink and skyrocket off on a
disastrous binge. An A.A. who is a clerk in an Eastern city
hasn't had a snifter in three and a half years, but says
that he still has to walk fast past saloons to circumvent
the old impulse; but he is an exception. The only hangover
from the wild days that plagues the A.A. is a recurrent
nightmare. In the dream, he finds himself off on a rousing
whooper-dooper, frantically trying to conceal his condition
from the community. Even this symptom disappears shortly,
in most cases. Surprisingly, the rate of employment among
these people, who formerly drank themselves out of job after
job, is said to be around ninety percent.
effectiveness with non-psychotic drinkers who sincerely
want to quit is claimed by the workers of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The program will not work, they add, with those who only
"want to want to quit", or who want to quit because they
are afraid of losing their families or their jobs. The effective
desire, the state, must be based upon enlightened self-interest;
the applicant must want to get away from liquor to head
off incarceration or premature death. He must be fed up
with the stark social loneliness, which engulfs the uncontrolled
drinker, and he must want to put some order into his bungled
it is impossible to disqualify all borderline applicants,
the working percentage of recovery falls below the 100-percent
mark. According to A.A. estimation, fifty percent of the
alcoholics taken in hand recover immediately; twenty-five
percent get well after suffering a relapse or two; and the
rest remain doubtful. This rate of success is exceptionally
high. Statistics on traditional medical and religious cures
are lacking, but it has been informally estimated that they
are no more than two or three percent effective on run-of-the-mine
it is too early to state that Alcoholics Anonymous is the
definitive answer to alcoholism, its brief record is impressive,
and it is receiving hopeful support. John D. Rockefeller,
Jr. helped defray the expense of getting it started and
has gone out of his way to get other prominent men interested.
GIFT was a small one, in deference to the insistence of
the originators that the movement be kept on a voluntary,
non paid basis. There are no salaried organizers, no dues,
no officers, and no central control. Locally, the rents
of assemble halls are met by passing the hat at meetings.
In small communities, no collections are taken, as the gatherings
are held in private homes. A small office in downtown New
York acts merely as a clearinghouse for information. There
is no name on the door, and mail is received anonymously
through a post-office box. The only income, which is money
received from the sale of a book describing the work, is
handled by the Alcoholic Foundation, a board composed of
three alcoholics and four non-alcoholics.
Chicago, twenty-five doctors work hand in hand with Alcoholics
Anonymous, contributing their services and referring their
own alcoholic patients to the group, which now numbers around
200. The same cooperation exists in Cleveland and to a lesser
degree in other centers. A physician, Dr. W. D. Silkworth,
of New York City, gave the movement its first encouragement.
However, many doctors remain skeptical. Dr. Foster Kennedy,
an eminent New York neurologist, probably had these in mind
when he stated at a meeting a year ago: "The aim of those
concerned in this effort against alcoholism is high; their
success has been considerable; and I believe medical men
of goodwill should aid."
active help of two medical men of goodwill, Drs. A. Wiese
Hammer and C. Dudley Saul, has assisted greatly in making
the Philadelphia unit one of the more effective of the younger
groups. The movement there had its beginning in an offhand
way in February 1940, when a businessman who was an A.A.
convert was transferred to Philadelphia from New York. Fearful
of backsliding for lack of rescue work, the newcomer rounded
up three local barflies and started to work on them. He
got them dry, and the quartet began ferreting out other
cases. By last December fifteenth, ninety-nine alcoholics
had joined up. Of these, eighty-six were now total abstainers
- thirty-nine from one to three months, seventeen from three
to six months, and twenty-five from six to ten months. Five
who had joined the unit after having belonged in other cities
had been nondrinkers from one to three years.
the end of the time scale, Akron, which cradled the movement,
holds the intramural record for sustained abstinence. According
to a recent checkup, two members have been riding the A.A.
wagon for five and a half years, one for five years, three
for four and a half years, one for the same period with
one skid, three for three and a half year, seven for three
years, three for three years with one skid each, one for
two and a half years, and thirteen for two years. Previously,
most of the Akronites and Philadephians had been unable
to stay away from liquor for longer than a few weeks.
the Middle West, the work has been almost exclusively among
persons who have not arrived at the institutional stage.
The New York group, which has a similar nucleus, makes a
sideline specialty of committed cases and has achieved striking
results. In the summer of 1939, the group began working
on the alcoholics confined in Rockland State Hospital, at
Orangeburg, a vast mental sanitarium, which get the hopeless
alcoholic backwash of the big population centers. With the
encouragement of Dr. R. E. Baisdell, the medical superintendent,
a unit was formed within the wall, and meetings were held
in the recreation hall. New York A.A.s went to Orangeburg
to give talks, and on Sunday evenings, the patients were
brought in state-owned buses to a clubhouse which the Manhattan
group rents on the West Side.
July first, eleven months later, records kept at the hospital
showed that of fifty-four patients released to Alcoholics
Anonymous, seventeen had had no relapse and fourteen others
had had only one. Of the rest, nine had gone back to drinking
in their home communities, twelve had returned to the hospital
and two had not been traced. Dr. Baisdell has written favorably
about the work to the State Department of Mental Hygiene,
and he praised it officially in his last annual report.
better results were obtained in two public institutions
in New Jersey, Greystone Park and Overbrook, which attract
patients of better economic and social background, than
Rockland, because of their nearness to prosperous suburban
villages. Of seven patients released from the Greystone
Park institution in two years, five have abstained for periods
of one to two years, according to A.A. records. Eight of
ten released from Overbrook have abstained for about the
same length of time. The others have had from one to several
SOME people become alcoholics is a question on which authorities
disagree. Few think that anyone is "born an alcoholic".
One may be born, they say, with a hereditary predisposition
to alcoholism, just as one may be born with a vulnerability
to tuberculosis. The rest seems to depend upon environment
and experience, although one theory has it that some people
are allergic to alcohol, as hay fever sufferers are to pollens.
Only one note is found to be common to all alcoholics -
emotional immaturity. Closely related to this is an observation
that an unusually large number of alcoholics start out in
life as an only child, as a younger child, as the only boy
in a family of girls or the only girl in a family of boys.
Many have records of childhood precocity and were what are
known as spoiled children.
the situation is complicated by an off-center home atmosphere
in which one parent is unduly cruel, the other overindulgent.
Any combination of these factors, plus a divorce or two,
tends to produce neurotic children who are poorly equipped
emotionally to face the ordinary realities of adult life.
In seeking escapes, one may immerse himself in his business,
working twelve to fifteen hours a day, or in what he thinks
is a pleasant escape in drink. It bolsters his opinion of
himself and temporarily wipes away any feeling of social
inferiority, which he may have. Light drinking leads to
heavy drinking. Friend and family are alienated and employers
become disgusted. The drinker smolders with resentment and
wallows in self-pity. He indulges in childish rationalizations
to justify his drinking: He has been working hard and he
deserves to relax; his throat hurts from an old tonsillectomy
and a drink would ease the pain: he has a headache; his
wife does not understand him; his nerves are jumpy; everybody
is against him; and son and on. He unconsciously becomes
a chronic excuse-maker for himself.
the time he is drinking, he tells himself and those who
butt into his affairs the he can really become a controlled
drinker if he wants to. To demonstrate his strength of will,
he goes for weeks without taking a drop. He makes a point
of calling at his favorite bar at a certain time each day
and ostentatiously sipping milk or a carbonated beverage,
not realizing that he is indulging in juvenile exhibitionism.
Falsely encouraged, he shifts to a routine of one beer a
day and that is the beginning of the end once more. Beer
leads inevitably to more beer and then to hard liquor. Hard
liquor leads to another first-rate bender. Oddly, the trigger,
which sets off the explosion, is as apt to be a stroke of
business success as it is to be a run of bad luck. An alcoholic
can stand neither prosperity nor adversity.
VICTIM is puzzled on coming out of the alcoholic fog. Without
his being aware of any change, a habit has gradually become
an obsession. After a while, he no longer needs rationalization
to justify the fatal first drink. All he knows is that he
feels swamped by uneasiness or elation, and before he realizes
what is happening, he is standing at a bar with an empty
whisky pony in front of him and a stimulating sensation
in his throat. By some peculiar quirk of his mind, he has
been able to draw a curtain over the memory of the intense
pain and remorse caused by preceding stem-winders. After
many experiences of this kind, the alcoholic begins to realize
that he does not understand himself; he wonders whether
his power of will, though strong in other fields, isn't
defenseless against alcohol. He may go on trying to defeat
his obsession and wind up in a sanitarium. He may give up
the fight as hopeless and try to kill himself. Or he may
seek outside help.
he applies to Alcoholics Anonymous, he is first brought
around to admit that alcohol has him whipped and that his
life has become unmanageable. Having achieved this state
of intellectual humility he is given a dose of religion
in the broadest sense. He is asked to believe in a Power
that is greater than himself, or at least to keep an open
mind on that subject while he goes on with the rest the
rest of the program. Any concept of the Higher Power is
acceptable. A skeptic or agnostic may choose to think of
his Inner Self, the miracle of growth, a tree, man's wonderment
at the physical universe, the structure of the atom, or
mere mathematical infinity. Whatever form is visualized,
the neophyte is taught that he must rely upon it and, in
his own way, to pray to the Power for strength.
next makes a sort moral inventory of himself with the private
aid of another person - one of his A.A. sponsors, a priest,
a minister a psychiatrist, or anyone else he fancies. If
it gives him any relief, he may get up at a meeting and
recite his misdeed, but he is not required to do so. He
restores what he may have stolen while intoxicated and arranges
to pay off old debts and to make good on rubber checks;
he makes amends to persons he has abused and in general,
cleans up his past as well as he is able to. It is not uncommon
for his sponsors to lend him money to help out in the early
catharsis is regarded as important because of the compulsion,
which a feeling of guilt exerts in the alcoholic obsession.
As nothing tends to push an alcoholic toward the bottle
more than personal resentments, the pupil also makes out
a list of his grudges and resolves not to be stirred by
them. At this point, he is ready to start working on other,
active alcoholics. By the process of extroversion, which
the work entails, he is able to think less of his own troubles.
more drinkers he succeeds in swinging into Alcoholics Anonymous,
the greater his responsibility to the group becomes. He
can't get drunk now without injuring the people who have
proved themselves his best friends. He is beginning to grow
up emotionally and to quit being a leaner. If raised in
an Orthodox Church, he usually, but not always, becomes
a regular communicant again.
WITH the making over of the alcoholic goes the process of
adjusting his family to his new way of living. The wife
or husband of an alcoholic, and the children, too, frequently
become neurotics from being exposed to drinking excesses
over a period of years. Reeducation of the family is an
essential part of a follow-up program, which has been devised.
Anonymous, which is synthesis of old ideas rather than a
new discovery, owes its existence to the collaboration of
a New York stockbroker and an Akron physician. Both alcoholics,
they met for the first time a little less than six years
ago. In thirty-five years of periodic drinking, Dr. Armstrong,
to give the physician a fictitious name, had drunk himself
out of most of his practice. Armstrong had tried everything,
including the Oxford Group, and had shown no improvement.
On Mother's Day 1935, he staggered home, in typical drunk
fashion, lugging an expensive potted plant, which he placed
in his wife's lap. The he went upstairs and passed out.
that moment, nervously pacing the lobby of an Akron hotel,
was the broker from New York, whom we shall arbitrarily
call Griffith. Griffith was in a jam. In an attempt to obtain
control of a company and rebuild his financial fences, he
had come out to Akron and engaged in a fight for proxies.
He had lost the fight. His hotel bill was unpaid. He was
almost flat broke. Griffith wanted a drink.
his career in Wall Street, Griffith had turned some sizable
deals and had prospered, but, through ill-timed drinking
bouts, had lost out on his main chances. Five months before
coming to Akron, he had gone on the water wagon through
the ministration of the Oxford Group in New York. Fascinated
by the problem of alcoholism, he had many times gone back
as a visitor to a Central Park West detoxicating hospital,
where he had been a patient, and talked to the inmates.
He effected no recoveries, but found that by working on
other alcoholics he could stave off his own craving.
stranger in Akron, Griffith knew no alcoholics with whom
he could wrestle. A church directory, which hung in the
lobby opposite the bar, gave him an idea. He telephone on
of the clergymen listed and through him got in touch with
a member of the local Oxford Group. This person was a friend
of Dr. Armstrong's and was able to introduce the physician
and the broker at dinner. In this manner, Dr. Armstrong
became Griffith's first real disciple. He was a shaky one
at first. After a few weeks of abstinence, he went east
to a medical convention and came home in a liquid state.
Griffith, who had stayed in Akron to iron out some legal
tangles arising from the proxy battle, talked him back to
sobriety. That was on June 10, 1935. The nips the physician
took from a bottle proffered by Griffith on that day were
the last drinks he ever took.
lawsuits dragged on, holding him over in Akron for six months.
He moved his baggage to the Armstrong home, and together
the pair struggled with other alcoholics. Before Griffith
went back to New York, two more Akron converts had been
obtained. Meanwhile, both Griffith and Dr. Armstrong had
withdrawn from the Oxford Group, because they felt that
its aggressive evangelism and some of its other methods
were hindrances in working with alcoholics. They put their
own technique on a strict take-it-or-leave-it basis and
kept it there.
was slow. After Griffith had returned East, Dr. Armstrong
and his wife, a Wellesley graduate, converted their home
into a free refuge for alcoholics and an experimental laboratory
for the study of the guest's behavior. One of the guest,
who unknown to his hosts, was a manic-depressive as well
as an alcoholic, ran wild one night with a kitchen knife.
He was overcome before he stabbed anyone. After a year and
a half, a total of ten persons had responded to the program
and were abstaining. What was left of the family savings
had gone into the work. The physician's new sobriety caused
a revival in his practice, but not enough of one to carry
the extra expense. The Armstrongs, nevertheless, carried
on, on borrowed money. Griffith, who had a Spartan wife,
too, turned his Brooklyn home into a duplicate of Akron
mTnage. Mrs. Griffith, a member of an old Brooklyn family,
took a job in a department store and in her spare time played
nurse to inebriates. The Griffiths also borrowed, and Griffith
managed to make odd bits of money around the brokerage houses.
By the spring of 1939, The Armstrongs and the Griffiths
had between them cozened about one hundred alcoholics into
A BOOK, which they published at that time, the recovered
drinkers described the cure program and related their personal
stories. The title was Alcoholics Anonymous. It was adopted
as a name for the movement itself, which up to then had
none. As the book got into circulation, the movement spread
rapidly. Today, Dr. Armstrong is still struggling to patch
up his practice. The going is hard. He is in debt because
of his contributions to the movement and the time he devotes
gratis to alcoholics. Being a pivotal man in the group,
he is unable to turn down the requests for help, which flood
is even deeper in the hole. For the past two years, he and
his wife have had no home in the ordinary sense of the word.
In a manner reminiscent of the primitive Christians, they
have moved about, finding shelter in the home of A.A. colleagues
and sometimes wearing borrowed clothing.
got something started, both the prime movers want to retire
to the fringe of their movement and spend more time getting
back on their feet financially. They feel that the way the
thing is set up, it is virtually self-operating and self-multiplying.
Because of the absence of figureheads and the fact that
there is no formal body of belief to promote, they have
no fears that Alcoholics Anonymous will degenerate into
self-starting nature of the movement is apparent from letters
in the files of the New York office. Many persons have written
in saying that they stopped drinking as soon as they read
the book, and made their homes meeting places for small
local chapters. Even a fairly large unit, in Little Rock,
got started in this way. An Akron civil engineer and his
wife, in gratitude for his cure four years ago, have been
steadily taking alcoholics into their home. Out of thirty-five
such wards, thirty-one have recovered.
PILGRIMS from Cleveland caught the idea in Akron and returned
home to start a group of their own. From Cleveland, by various
means, the movement has spread to Chicago, Detroit, St.
Louis, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Atlanta, San Francisco,
Evansville, and other cities. An alcoholic Cleveland newspaperman
with a surgically collapsed lung moved to Houston for his
health. He got a job on a Houston paper, and through a series
of articles, which he wrote for it, started an A.A. unit,
which now has thirty-five members. One Houston member has
moved to Miami and is now laboring to snare some of the
more eminent winter-colony lushes. A Cleveland traveling
salesman is responsible for starting small units in many
different parts of the county. Fewer than half of the A.A.
members has ever seen Griffith or Dr. Armstrong.
an outsider who is mystified, as most of us are, by the
antics of problem-drinking friends, the results, which have
been achieved, are amazing. This is especially true of the
more virulent cases, a few of which are herewith sketched
under names that are not their own.
Martin was a product of the F. Scott Fitzgerald era. Born
of wealthy parents in a Western City, she went to Eastern
boarding schools and "finished" in France. After making
her debut, she married. Sara spent her nights drinking and
dancing until daylight. She was known as a girl who could
carry a lot of liquor. Her husband had a weak stomach, and
she became disgusted with him. They were quickly divorced.
After her father's fortune had been erased in 1929, Sara
got a job in New York and supported herself. In 1932, seeking
adventure, she went to Paris to live and set up a business
of her own, which was successful. She continued to drink
heavily and stayed drunk longer than usual. After a spree
in 1933, she was informed that she had tried to throw herself
out a window. During another bout, she did jump or fall
- she doesn't remember which - out of a first-floor window.
She landed face first on the sidewalk and was laid up for
fix months of bone setting, dental work, and plastic surgery.
1936, Sara Martin decided that if she changed her environment
by returning to the United States, she would be able to
drink normally. This childish faith in geographical change
is a classic delusion, which all alcoholics get at one time,
or another. She was drunk all the way home on the boat.
New York frightened her and she drank to escape it. Her
money ran out and she borrowed from friends. When the friends
cut her, she hung around Third Avenue bars, cadging drinks
from strangers. Up to this point she had diagnosed her trouble
as a nervous breakdown. Not until she had committed herself
to several sanitariums did she realize, through reading,
that she was an alcoholic. On advice of a staff doctor,
she got in touch with an Alcoholics Anonymous group. Today,
she has another good job and spends many of her nights sitting
on hysterical women drinkers to prevent them from diving
out of windows. In here late thirties, Sarah Martin is an
attractively serene woman. The Paris surgeons did handsomely
is a shipping clerk in a factory. Injured in an elevator
mishap in 1927, he was furloughed with pay by a company,
which was thankful that he did not sue for damages. Having
nothing to do during a long convalescence, Watkins loafed
in speakeasies. Formerly a moderate drinker, he started
to go on drunks lasting several months. His furniture went
for debt, and his wife fled, taking their three children.
In eleven years, Watkins was arrested twelve times and served
eight workhouse sentences. Once, in an attack of delirium
tremens, he circulated a rumor among the prisoners that
the county was poisoning the food in order to reduce the
workhouse population and save expenses. A mess-hall riot
resulted. In another fit of D.T.'s, during which he thought
the man in the cell above was trying to pour hot lead on
him, Watkins slashed his own wrists and throat with a razor
blade. While recuperating in an outside hospital, with eighty-six
stitches, he swore never to drink again. He was drunk before
the final bandages were removed. Two years ago, a former
drinking companion got him to Alcoholics Anonymous, and
he hasn't touched liquor since. His wife and children have
returned, and the home has new furniture. Back at work,
Watkins has paid off the major part of $2,000 in debts and
petty alcoholic thefts and has his eye on a new automobile.
TWENTY-TWO, Tracy, a precocious son of well-to-do parents,
was credit manager for an investment-banking firm whose
name has become a symbol of the money-mad twenties. After
the firm's collapse during the stock market crash, he went
into advertising and worked up to a post, which paid him
$23,000 a year. On the day his son was born, Tracy was fired.
Instead of appearing in Boston to close a big advertising
contract, he had gone on a spree and had wound up in Chicago,
losing out on the contract. Always a heavy drinker, Tracy
became a bum. He tippled on Canned Heat and hair tonic and
begged from cops, who are always easy touches for amounts
up to a dime. On one sleety night, Tracy sold his shoes
to buy a drink, putting on a pair of rubbers he had found
in a doorway and stuffing them with paper to keep his feet
started committing himself to sanitariums, more to get in
out of the cold than anything else. In one institution,
a physician got him interested in the A.A. program. As part
of it, Tracy, a Catholic made a general confession and returned
to the church, which he had long since abandoned. He skidded
back to alcohol a few times, but after a relapse in February
1939, Tracy took no more drinks. He has since then beat
his way up again to $18,000 a year in advertising.
Hugo would have delighted in Brewster, a heavy-thewed adventurer
who took life the hard way. Brewster was a lumberjack; cowhand,
and wartime aviator. During the postwar era, he took up
flask toting and was soon doing a Cook's tour of the sanitariums.
In one of them, after hearing about shock cures, he bribed
the Negro attendant in the morgue, with gifts of cigarettes,
to permit him to drop in each afternoon and meditate over
a cadaver. The plan worked well until one day he cam upon
a dead man who, by a freak facial contortion, wore what
looked like a grin. Brewster met up with the A.A.s in December
1938, and after achieving abstinence, got a sales job, which
involved much walking. Meanwhile, he had go cataracts on
both eyes. One was removed, giving him distance sight with
the aid of thick-lens spectacles. He used the other eye
for close-up vision, keeping it dilated with an eye-drop
solution in order to avoid being run down in traffic. The
he developed a swollen, or milk, leg. With these disabilities,
Brewster tramped the streets for six months before he caught
up with his drawing account. Today, at fifty, still hampered
by is physical handicaps, he is making his calls and earning
around $400 a month.
THE Brewsters, the Martins, the Watkinses, the Tracys, and
the other reformed alcoholics, congenial company is now
available wherever they happen to be. In the larger cities,
A.A.s meet one another daily at lunch in favored restaurants.
The Cleveland groups give big parties on New Year's and
other holidays, at which gallons of coffee and soft drinks
are consumed. Chicago holds open house on Friday, Saturday
and Sunday - alternating, on the North, West, and South
Sides - so that no lonesome A.A. need revert to liquor over
the weekend for lack of companionship. Some play cribbage
or bridge, the winner of each hand contributing to a kitty
for paying of entertainment expenses. The others listen
to the radio, dance, eat, or just talk. All alcoholics,
drunk or sober, like to gab. They are among the most society-loving
people in the world, which may help to explain why they
go to be alcoholics in the first place.
The Saturday Evening Post
March 1, 1941