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By THEODORE ENGLISH
Year’s resolutions, sanitariums and so-called
cures are no help to many who are afflicted with the
drink habit. One plan has really worked for over 700
people, and more are being helped by it every day.
publication, names are taboo, but it is impossible to tell
the story of how Alcoholics Anonymous has cured 700 alcoholics
without mentioning Bill…
is a former alcoholic who learned to drink during the World
War. When he came back he was successful in business –
except he drank too much. Gradually liquor became a necessity.
"Bath-tub gin, two bottles a day, and often three got
to be routine," he says. "A tumbler full of gin
followed by a half dozen bottles of beer would be required
if I were to eat any breakfast." He tried suicide,
washed down the sedatives doctors gave him with more gin,
and was pronounced hopeless by sanitariums.
then on Armistice Day in 1934 as he sat drinking in his
kitchen, he had a visit from a former alcoholic companion,
who was sober. Bill couldn’t understand.
what’s this all about?" he asked. "Are you
really on the wagon?"
got religion," his friend answered, refusing a drink.
And then he told his story.
had been taken to court and was about to be committed to
an asylum, but two men had gotten him off by promising to
help him stop drinking. They had given him a few simple
principles to follow and he had been sober ever since. Bill
could stop drinking if he asked God to help him. He did
and hasn’t taken a drink since.
described his miraculous recovery to other alcoholics; it
worked with them too, and they organized Alcoholics Anonymous
to pass the word along to other drinkers. The cure is not
medical, but spiritual, yet it pays allegiance to no church
or sect. The alcoholic simply puts his faith in some power
greater than himself, and asks it to help free him from
an overpowering habit. It makes no difference what a man
calls this power or how he conceives of it so long as he
believes in it. Most alcoholics recognize it as God, but
atheists and agnostics have been cured too. Bill has outlined
the cure in twelve specific steps, which contain four major
Alcoholics must accept their inability to drink like normal
people. They must become absolute abstainers.
But alcoholics can become abstainers only when they have
asked for divine assistance.
Then they must patch up the friendships and placate the
enemies selfish drinking has made. Anger and resentment
are almost as great enemies as alcohol.
And to make the cure permanent, the alcoholic must pass
the word along to others, for "faith without works
ANONYMOUS is anonymous because it is a handicap to be known
as a former alcoholic, and because its members make helping
others an avocation. They are interested only in helping
others. They do not condemn drinking as an institution,
and they admire those who can drink moderately. As alcoholics
is a medical-not a moral problem. It is a form of sickness
which baffles medicine and religion; exhortation and "will
power" are also useless. Alcoholics are not bums, but
able, intelligent people who are apparently normal in everything
but their drinking. They have such a constant craving for
liquor that knowledge of its effect upon their health and
happiness makes no lasting impression. They know that the
first drink is poisonous, for it leads to another and another.
But there is always an insanely trivial excuse for beginning
the savage routine with the first-just one this time. Alcoholics
frequently drink themselves into unconsciousness. When they
come to, they must calm their jitters "with a little
hair off the dog that bit them"; this nip makes them
feel like having another, and so it goes.
live in a little world of their own-just themselves and
the bottle. They lose their jobs and their friends when
they drink, and they drink when they have no job or friends.
Alcoholic addiction develops insidiously from small beginnings.
Most alcoholics have been "social drinkers," but
the situations which apparently created a desire for more
and more liquor are as varied as the cases. Men have begun
drinking heavily when they failed-and when they succeeded.
became acquainted with the ‘hilarious life’
just when I was beginning to settle down," one ex-alcoholic
writes in the book published by charter members of Alcoholics
Anonymous. "My wife became pregnant and the doctor
recommended the use of beer. Somehow or other, I must have
misunderstood the doctor’s instructions, for I not
only made the beer for my wife, I also drank it for her.
discovered that a little shot of liquor now and then between
beers put me in a whacky mood much quicker than having to
down several quarts of beer to obtain the same results.
I soon learned that beer made a very good wash for whiskey.
Yes sir, the old boiler-maker and his helper. The last day
of my drinking career, I drank twenty-two of them between
10 and 12 A.M."
two years I had ten different jobs ranging from newspaper
copy desk and rewrite to traffic director for an oil field
equipment company. I was good for at least ten days or two
weeks of every two months I worked, getting drunk and then
half-heartedly sobering up.
eight months my daily routine was steady drinking. Even
after slumping into bed late at night in a semi-stupor,
I would get up at all hours and drive to some all-night
spot where I could get what I wanted. All my troubles seemed
to be piling up on me and liquor was the only refuge I knew.
holding good positions, making better than average income
for over ten years, I was in debt, had no clothes to speak
of, no money, no friends, and no one tolerating me but my
alcoholic makes resolutions: he will not drink before noon,
he will drink only beer, he will drink whiskey only with
milk, he will take just one drink, he will lay off altogether.
Instead he often sells all his possessions, including his
clothes, for liquor. Church and friends can do next to nothing
with him-and doctors can do little more. One man had been
to a sanitarium one hundred times, and several others began
drinking again in ambulances on the way home from "cures."
remember one doctor," a former alcoholic writes, "who
thought a course of seventy-two injections, three a week,
after two weeks in a private hospital, would supply the
deficiency in my system that would enable me to stop drinking.
The night after the seventy-second injection I was paralyzed
ARE no qualifications for membership in Alcoholics Anonymous
except a genuine desire to get well. For this reason, the
most promising recruits are alcoholics of long standing.
On the edge of collapse, they are ready to try anything.
People who have been cured find the best insurance-and sometimes
the only way to avoid a "slip"-is to help some
one else. Members introduce friends, but more often they
call upon strangers.
member, tempted to have the fatal "one" on a lonesome
week-end, forgot all about it when he called upon a minister
who sent him to talk to several members of his congregation.
The Alcoholics have volunteered their services to doctors,
clergymen, endeavor societies, and State institutions. Every
Sunday, the State sends twenty alcoholic patients down from
Rockland State Hospital to a meeting in New York City.
Anonymous has no dues or officers, and the membership expands
like a chain-letter. In five years it has grown to over
700. There are large groups in New York, Cleveland and Akron.
Smaller ones have been started in Los Angeles, San Francisco,
Chicago, Washington and Houston.
growth of the Houston group is an example of how members
have enlisted half the alcoholics they have encountered
and cured two-thirds of them through patience and sympathetic
assistance. The man who started it is Larry….About
six months ago Larry was in Cleveland, where he had spent
three weeks trying to taper off a friend by drinking with
him. The friend finally went to a sanitarium, where Larry
visited him and met several members of the Cleveland Alcoholics
Anonymous. A few days later when Larry was getting thoroughly
drunk in his hotel room, he had a visit from an unfamiliar
member of the Cleveland group. Larry wasn’t interested.
He wasn’t an alcoholic; he just needed a little self-control.
So they went to a bar. The Alcoholic drank coffee and bought
Larry whiskey until he passed out.
next evening when Larry was further gone than ever, he had
another call from his new friend. Again they went to a bar
where the friend finally persuaded Larry to go to a sanitarium,
and drove him fifty miles in a blizzard to one endorsed
by Alcoholics Anonymous. After eight hours of talk, the
friend left at 4 A.M. Larry had taken his last drink. For
a week, members of Alcoholics Anonymous visited him every
day and on the fourth he accepted their program of recovery.
he was discharged, his new friends lent him fare to Houston,
where he got a newspaper job. Three weeks later he began
a series of articles about Alcoholics Anonymous. The first
one had hardly gotten into print when he received a call
for assistance. He answered them all and began forming a
new group. So far twenty people have been weaned and as
many more introduced to the Alcoholic’s program. His
newspaper has printed editorials about the work, and Larry
has traveled hundreds of miles speaking before church and
Alcoholics Anonymous has an established group, all members
meet regularly to discuss their experiences and encourage
each other. There is fraternity, and there are reunions
every week. "Reunion" is the only way to describe
one of the New York meetings I attended a few weeks ago.
was held in a large studio of an uptown concert hall. About
130 people – men and women of all ages and creeds
– were present. Three alcoholics shook hands and introduced
themselves to every one who came in. Every one looked comfortably
prosperous – and extremely happy. All have gone through
the same experience and are glad to explain it to strangers,
for they know that only absolute frankness will satisfy
the growing curiosity of churches and the medical profession.
told me something about the organization and how it has
grown. Keeping in touch with the various groups takes all
his time now. The other men I talked to were quite frank
about their experiences. One of them had just come from
an uptown hotel, where he had been urging a prospect to
go to a hospital. Another had been a member about a year.
"I prayed the Lord to help me stop drinking,"
he said. "And then I asked him to bring me some more
customers, and He did that, too."
had nineteen jobs in sixteen years," a third man told
me. "The last time I took a drink was at a Christmas
party at the office. I’d been going pretty good, so
I thought I’d have just one. That was on December
23 and I woke up on January 14."
meeting itself consisted simply of talks by five ex-alcoholics.
Each of them described how his faith in a power greater
than himself had eliminated his desire for alcohol and brought
renewed health, a job, friends, and resistance to temptation.
All of the talks were brief, informal, and sincere. And
in all of them was a repetitious theme; these people had
not only given up alcohol, but they had also found new and
happier lives – aspirations to work for and accomplishments
to be proud of.
chairman, an attractive woman of thirty, put it this way.
"I first thought that alcohol was the only thing the
matter with me. And then faith struck me between the eyes.
I have learned more about faith in the three months since
my one slip than during the eleven months before when I
didn’t touch a drop. All alcoholics are abnormal –
not enough to be insane, but abnormal for them. We are all
extremists. My greatest ambition now is to be a normal human
meeting lasted about an hour and a half. The stories told
by the speakers were familiar and encouraging because they
renewed confidence in a faith that has worked, does work,
and will work with thousands of other alcoholics. "I
am looking forward to the day," the chairman said,
"when we will be able to hitch-hike across the country
and stop at an Alcoholic house every night.
Scribner’s Commentator, January 1941)