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DECEMBER 6, 1941
DRINKERS AID THE POOR DRUNKS
DANIEL M. O'CONNELL
goes back far in human chronicles, probably to the sad exodus
from the Garden of Eden. Materialistic evolutionists who
jauntily throw around millions of years have not cast any
light on this particular phase of man's leap into "civilization."
The first certain historical narrative deals with the patriarch,
Noe. The plain description is typical of many men and women
today: "noe, a husbandman, began to till the ground,
and planted a vineyard, and drinking of the wine was made
drunk." While Cham was whispering the unfortunate incident
to others, Sem and Japhet immediately assisted Noe. In gratitude
the two were blessed by Noe. The patriarch himself must
have learned his lesson, for he lived "in the whole
nine hundred and fifty years." It is doubtful that
any moral guilt can be attributed to Noe. While his inebriety
is the first, alas, it is not the last recorded in the spotted
record of God's gift of alcohol to man.
there have always been sympathetic and helpful Sems and
Japhets to care for unfortunate Noes. The latest to have
their good deeds proclaimed to the American nation are called,
strangely enough, Alcoholics Anonymous. They believe, what
ancient and very modern history points out, that the virtue
of temperance does not abide in such whirlwinds as Manichaean
or Prohibitionist movements.
fact, as this Review, especially in the writing of Father
Blakely, pointed out frequently and forcibly in the days
of prohibition, such a hurricane of reform was certain to
leave in its path almost irreparable damage. At this safe
period of calm retrospection, one may conservatively say
that the greatest harm done to the holy cause of temperance
(it is a cardinal virtue) in the United States since its
European foundations, was the imposition of national prohibition.
It is unsafe to say which phase or result of prohibition
was directly or indirectly the most harmful. One dire result
was that instructions on the virtue of temperance in drinking
became too rare.
to return to Former Alcoholics Now Anonymous. They have
been cured of excessive drinking through the use of their
will, aided by various other helps, particularly by systematic
efforts of others, formerly inebriates. Sympathetic help
is their outstanding characteristic. The movement, however,
is not confined to the services of former alcoholics. It
welcomes and fully recognizes the help of medicine and religion.
Thus we are told by Genevieve Parkhurst in an enlightening
article, "Laymen and Alcoholics" (Harper's, September,
1941), that doctors who once, in their own words, looked
on the movement as composed of "dangerous meddlers
in a dangerous province" now welcome the help given
by the group of Alcoholics Anonymous. Further, the Research
Council on Problems of Alcohol was told recently that I1physicians
in general are admitting that the lay healers are doing
remarkable work." The speaker, Dr. Merrill Moore, Associate
in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, later developed his
rather startling statement:
know that if we are going to make any real advance we must
tap every source of knowledge and healing there is....Not
only lay therapists, but lawyers, clergymen, and social
workers are successfully helping and treating the alcoholic....This
means treating someone who is emotionally sick or hurt or
down or sometimes weak. Certainly physicians have no corner
on it. There is no magic to it. And no royal road."
full paraphrase of the above might place together simultaneously
and succinctly 1) sympathy, 2) medical science, 3) the Grace
of God. The Supernatural, we know, builds on the natural,
and many lay students of inebriety have long thought that
its psychological as well as biological sides have not been
Anonymous stress the psychological element involved. With
them sympathy is the fundamental approach. Doubtless they
know from experience the value of this virtue, whose generic
nature is after all that of charity. A kindly mode of expression
is most important. Human nature objects to any show of paternalism
in charity; but to fraternalism in good deeds, there is
always a ready response. The St. Vincent de Paul Society
has followed this human technique in accomplishing its noble
patient, as well as a penitent, appreciates anonymity when
his self-revelation involves deep humiliation. But his will
power is thus strengthened, and without it, there can be
no diametrical change of life. Statistics might be called
negative in the following more generic enunciation by Genevieve
Parkhurst: "Nor is there any record of a reformed drunkard
who was ever able to drink moderately without going the
whole way down hill again." The view is confirmed in
the practice of Catholic Temperance Societies and, I believe,
in the advice given by Catholic priests in the confessional.
Alcoholics Anonymous have not printed any Manual of Instructions,
and I guess are not likely to do so, the approach of the
individual member is something as follows.
has been told of or knows a person who lacks self-control
in drinking. The latter is sought out, preferably in his
favorite place of over-indulgence. A casual conversation
is begun. Quickly it leads to the subject of intemperance,
with the A.A. freely admitting that he had been a victim
of inebriety, but through his own determination has overcome
the malady, not the first time, likely, but the fifth or
essential point of the cure is total abstinence: "To
take a few drinks without getting drunk does not work, according
to the principles of the A.A.'s. After establishing a sympathetic
approach to the individual's peculiar personality, the A.A.
works to secure a doctor's checkup and the establishment
of regular meals, physical exercise and employment, if this
last is lacking. "If he can be kept healthy in body
and contented in mind, he has a far better chance of complete
recovery than in an environment where he is constantly on
the defensive" concludes Genevieve Parkhurst.
slaves of drink, now they free others" was the sub-title
of Jack Alexander's article on Alcoholics Anonymous in the
Saturday Evening Post. The following brief excerpts are
band of ex-problem drinkers who make an avocation of helping
other alcoholics to beat the liquor habit .... They (the
A.A.'s) would leave their work or get up in the middle of
the night to hurry where he was....In the past six years
(the A.A.Is) have brought recovery to around 2,000 men and
women, a large percentage of whom had been considered medically
helpless .... Alcoholism....remains one of the great unsolved
public-health enigmas .... The alcoholic likes to be left
alone to work out his puzzle."
of the honesty of the movement in addition to its anonymity
is its forthright admission of being no "cure-all"
nostrum. But it has been the occasion for certain human
beings to retrieve their native dignity.
have not found any physical requirements for the work of
Alcoholics Anonymous. There may be some to judge from the
following taken from an editorial in the sober (no pun intended)
Illinois Medical Journal, December, 1940.
is indeed a miracle when a person who for years has been
more or less constantly under the influence of alcohol and
in whom his friends have lost all confidence, will sit up
all night with a 'drunk1 and at stated intervals will administer
a small amount of liquor in accordance with a doctors order
without taking a drop himself."
as Mr. Alexander puts it: "Only an alcoholic can squat
on another alcoholics chest for hours with the proper combination
of discipline and sympathy!"
from these not essential feats, is there any reason why
Catholics should not be interestedly active in the cause
of Temperance, a supernatural virtue? A certain amount of
success seems assured from a natural point of view. But
prevention should be first. I have ventured the opinion
that there is less effort in this than in pre-prohibition
days. Surely there is not less need. Secondly, we must deal
with the great problem of cure. Here Mr. Alexander's statement
in his article is encouraging: "One-hundred-per-cent
effectiveness with non psychotic drinkers who sincerely
want to quit is claimed by the workers of A.A." Further,
"A.A.... is a synthesis of old ideas rather than a
virtue of Temperance, of self-denial, is not a new idea.
Does it need more American Catholic Action for a neglected
But let us learn from prohibition kindness, not violence;
the Good Shepherd, not the Pharisee, is needed.