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by Gordon Best
7 p.m. on January 19 last, eight men sat down to dinner
in Little Denmark a small restaurant on Bay Street in Toronto.
Other diners noticed nothing extraordinary about these men.
They included a lawyer, doctor, insurance man, flier and
there was something unusual about this group, each man was
a confessed alcoholic. The dinner meeting was help for the
purpose of founding the first Canadian branch of Alcoholics
Anonymous, an organization which has over 200 branches or
"clubs" in the states with over 8,000 members.
there is anything less anonymous than the average alcoholic
we would like to know it. But the reason for anonymity of
members of Alcoholics Anonymous appears to stem from the
delusion of every alcoholic that very few people know that
he drinks to excess. He would not be induced to join a club
that flamboyantly proclaimed itself to be a band of alcoholic
for fear of the effect this might have upon his business
connections if he has any left.
Anonymous are ex- alcoholics who ally themselves for mutual
support in remaining "ex's" and to aid helpless
alcoholics who desire their aid, to overcome their uncontrolled
In no sense a temperance society, crusaders against liquor
or backers of anti-alcohol campaigns. Alcoholics Anonymous
have nothing to offer the controlled drinker nor the slightest
desire to influence these to abandon their drinking.
Prominent doctors and psychiatrists state that while there
are many kinds of alcoholics, they all have one symptom
in common; an allergy to liquor which after the first drink
or two, places the overcoming of desire for additional drinks
entirely beyond their mental control. This does not mean
that in every instance, the alcoholic, having taken the
first drink is going to end up in drunken stupefaction,
but that, having taken the first drink he cannot control
the length of time he continues drinking. It might be ten
minutes or ten days.
Many doctors believe that the alcoholic craving is limited
to this class. These allergic types can never safely take
even one drink. At a party, the alcoholic, no matter how
good his abstemious intentions is not at ease until he gets
hold of one of those drinks, drinks he sees his friends
taking with impunity and then he is off to the races.
Many alcoholics, look at the one's you know, are keen and
competent with strong wills and sound judgement in other
spheres. But parallel with their ordinary sound reasoning
will be so insanely trivial excuse for taking the first
drink. And their allergy to drink, once they take the first
one, entirely eliminates their will power, responsibility
and standards of value. This allergy is a disease. Condemnation,
haranguing and arguing had so far failed to cure any known
disease. Treatment of an alcoholic along these lines by
relatives, holier-than-thou or controlled drinkers who do
not understand the alcoholic's problem, not only fails to
help him but in many cases sets up a resentment, probably
due to his sense of frustration in his own attempts, which
frequently leads to additional indulgence.
there is one kind of person to whom an alcoholic, with a
desire to stop, usually will listen to, another alcoholic.
The other speaks his language, he has been through the mill.
of Alcoholics Anonymous are thus in a highly strategic position
to help the alcoholic who desperately wants to stop drinking,
but has found after many futile efforts on his own part,
that he is unable to do so. They help him with non-moral,
straight, practical advice. Their system works. Many of
the worst cases, men who have been in and out of hospitals
and institutions for alcoholics for years have proven them
successful. Thousands of so called hopeless cases have been
Alcoholics Anonymous is not an organization in the strict
sense of the word. Rather it is composed of autonomous groups
in various cities and towns, over two hundred at this writing.
There are no dues or fees of any kind. There is no alliance
with any religion or creed. The passkey to become a member
is the recognition and admission on the part of the prospective
member that he is an alcoholic and possession of an honest
desire to stop drinking.
the club in Toronto, which has about 100 members, there
are branches of Alcoholics Anonymous operating in Victoria
and Montreal. As in the states, each club is autonomous.
Additional clubs are now in the process of formation in
Winnipeg, London, Hamilton and Ottawa.
Alcoholics Anonymous appear to have developed a form of
applied psychology somewhat similar to the theme expounded
in Lloyd Douglas' "Magnificent Obsession." To
a degree, their good deeds are anonymous, but instead of
operating singly they have adopted the convoy system. An
explanation of this appears in a brochure entitled "Impressions
it became manifest to us that as a part of our regeneration,
assistance to other alcoholics who sincerely wished to be
rid of their affliction was necessary. We have found group
association to be of inestimable assistance. Only the alcoholic
can understand and sympathize with the other alcoholic's
problem. Especially in the beginning do we lean heavily
on each other.“
the most emotionally satisfying part of our program is the
aid which we have been able to give to others. Much of this
program is not easy for all. But the feeling of elation
each of us has enjoyed in the knowledge that we, and in
most cases only we alcoholics, can aid other alcoholics
is deeply gratifying. Everyone of us who has had the experience
of assisting a fellow alcoholic in the solution of his problem
has been definitely strengthened in the conquest of his
own problem. The gratitude and satisfaction of seeing wives
reconciled, families reunited, self-respect restored is
an experience transcending in satisfaction most every other
experience in our lives."
Toronto branch holds a dinner each Tuesday night and to
one of these was a guest. I went a couple of weeks ago.
Informal conversation before and after dinner, while largely
on the topic of drinking was anything but clinical or academic.
Indeed, a considerable amount of it consisted of humorous
stories about the antics of current alcoholics whom some
of the members had been trying to help. Extreme tolerance
and understanding was the highlight of these. In fact, several
of the members in telling these stories, would compare similar
capers of their own in the days when they were drinking,
to those of some who they are today trying to help. This
attitude was very impressive, the antithesis of that of
the professional reformer and is, no doubt, one of the keynotes
to the success of the organization.
Saturday Night, November 27, 1943)