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Vol. 45: 8-9+, November, 1950
WAS A DRUNKARD
A Catholic member looks at Alcoholics Anonymous.
years ago I was a drunkard. Then some erstwhile drinking
companions became members of Alcoholics Anonymous and shortly
thereafter invited me to join. I haven't had a drink since.
has been a decided improvement in my knowledge and observance
I am a newspaperman, I get to meet a great many people.
Some priersts and laymen, hearing of my drinking days, have
aloud on occasion about the effect of Alcoholics Anonymous
on my life.
Their questions might be summed up somewhat like this: "Why
able to help you? Couldn't you have got the same help from
question is an unfair one. It seems to pose the Catholic
Church and Alcoholics Anonymous as rival systems in the
alcoholism. That, obviously, is not only unfair but nonsense.
thinking might go a step further and suggest that Alcoholics
is a kind of religion. And that, indeed, would be double-distilled
nonsense. But dangerous nonsense. Because it might lead
alcoholic to refuse to enter A.A. in the mistaken belief
that in his
quest for sobriety he might endanger his salvation.
my experience in A.A., I can say in all honesty: I am a
better Catholic because I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I am a
better A.A. because I am striving daily to be a better Catholic.
Anonymous is just more than fifteen years old. There
came a belief to a New York investment consultant that,
with the help
of God, he could cease drinking. The belief came as he lay
alcoholic hospital. And through what psychologists describe
ecstatic religious experience - something akin to what happened
Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road.
New Yorker ceased to drink. Though he strove earnestly,
won no converts. Some six months later, he was in Akron
on a business
trip. Always in his work with other alcoholics, he thought
that he was
conferring a favor on them, that he was helping them for
That Saturday afternoon in Akron, he realized he must talk
alcoholic; that if he didn't find an alcoholic and talk
to him that he
would get drunk. There followed a providential meeting with
alcoholic surgeon of that city and the founding of Alcoholics
Anonymous. But the experience of that Saturday afternoon,
the need for
an alcoholic to talk with another alcoholic, has been of
the very warp
and woof of the A.A. code. So it is that when we A.A.'s
another alcoholic, when we strive to show him the road to
are doing it no only out of our gratitude to God but for
selfish reason that this helps us to keep ourselves sober.
definitely, it is not done as a favor to the other alcoholic,
the spirit of evangelism or reform.
is an important point. A man can't become overly
self-righteous, he can't develop the reformer complex when
he is doing is primarily for himself. It is one of the things
differentiate A.A. from many a temperance movement of the
thing is that we stick to our own knitting. We don't
engage in controversy. We have no official position, for
anything. We operate under the naive belief that what God
wants us to
do, for the most part, is to keep sober ourselves and to
alcoholics get sober and stay sober.
member's attitude toward Prohibition, toward liquor, is
own. I continue to serve drinks on occasion in my home to
non-alcoholic guests. My Irish relatives would object strenuously
I to change. And well they might. I'd object, too, if I
were a guest
in a diabetic's home and he forbade me the use of sugar.
- a Disease
brings us to the question of alcoholism. Following the
general belief in the medical profession, we in A.A. look
alcoholism as a disease, a symptom of a disease or something
nature of an allergy.
is not done with any intent to evade or disclaim our own
moral responsibility in the matter. The Twelve Steps of
Program, printed elsewhere in this article, are a direct
denial of any
emphasize the point of disease or allergy to help the
alcoholic hold out his alcoholism at arm's length and examine
want him to look upon it with rational objectivity. e want
consider it as he would consider a heart ailment, hypertension
disease. To separate it from himself. We as alcoholics know
alcoholic has an obsession that his drinking problem is
himself, that he is the only one in the world who is so
he drinks because he has to, that other drunkards drink
because they want to.
go to see a prospective member of A.A. We tell him of our
drinking experiences - the things we did, the thoughts we
futile attempts at seeking to control our drinking. We tell
him of the
black despair and the bitter remorse we suffered.
know that at first he'll listen to us with doubt, with
suspicion, with the belief, perhaps, that these clear-eyed
just a couple of reformers, busybodies who mean well but
don't know the score.
as we tell about ourselves, the alcoholic knows that we
about alcoholics. He has been a stranger in an alien land
he hears his native tongue. And often he takes the conversation
from us. He has found someone who understands and he wants
to pour out
the thoughts that have been bottled up - no pun intended
- within him.
And often, within minutes, he is confiding to us things
that his wife,
his relatives, his friends have never been told.
recall a woman whose husband came into A.A. Half indignantly,
she remarked: "For years I begged John to quit drinking,
for his own sake, for
my sake, for the sake of the children. And he wouldn't do
a thing. Now
along comes a couple of strangers and John quits drinking
- just like
error, apart from the fact that she should have been thanking
God for John's sobriety, was in thinking of the A.A.'s as
John knew otherwise.
tell the prospect not to quarrel with the word "alcoholic"
that an alcoholic is simply an uncontrolled drinker. Alcohol
something to us, we say, that it does not do to the ordinary
When we start to drink, chances are that if nothing drastic
interferes, we'll keep on drinking until we are drunk.
"The More You
who are not alcoholic have sat down with a bag of peanuts
a bowl of popcorn and started to nibble away. Each bite
you took, led
to another. That "the more you eat, the more you wantu
multiplied by a million (I am being slightly conservative)
you some idea as to the desire set up in an alcoholic by
another obsession we must combat. The practicing
alcoholic suffers from the delusion that somehow, somewhere,
some day - maybe "the next time" - he is going
to drink in a controlled manner.
This despite his record, this despite the thousand and one
his attempts to be a normal drinker.
have to hammer home to the man we are calling on that once
alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Never in the history of
Anonymous, with its hundred thousand members, never in the
medicine or psychiatry (so far as we know) has a man ever
been able to
drink in a controlled manner once he has passed the line
separates the uncontrolled drinker, the alcoholic, from
we say out of our experience, can such a man hope to drink
in a controlled fashion. So we point out that it isn't the
drink that gets us into trouble - it's the first one.
are all one drink from being drunkards, we A.A.'s.
man that I have heard of set out to become an alcoholic.
drank for the reasons other people drink - for sociability,
festive spirit, to accentuate a mood. His predisposition
did the rest.
a Texas physician, a member of A.A., who says:
"Alcoholism is like the seven year itch. It's no disgrace
to get it.
But its a disgrace to keep it."
brings to mind some of the remarks that relatives of
alcoholics have been making these many generations:
don't you just have a couple of drinks like your Uncle Gus?
Why don't you exercise your will power?"
only time an alcoholic can exercise his will power is before
the first drink, a thing most non-alcoholics do not understand.
first drink shatters the alcoholic's will power. The reason
perhaps, is that alcohol is not a stimulant, as so many
believe. It is a narcotic, a depressant, a drug, and the
particularly and peculiarly sensitive to its effects.
first effort with the new man is to seek to bring him to
conviction that he is an alcoholic, that being an alcoholic
never drink without drunkenness and ruin. We have seen alcoholics,
after periods of sobriety up to ten and twelve years, make
experiment of trying to drink normally. We have seen the
is why "the pledge," as given in the Catholic
ordinarily protects the drinker only for the duration of
and rarely has lasting results. A period of sobriety adds
an alcoholic's ability to control his drinking. That's from
says our prospect, "so I'm an alcoholic, so I can't
drink again. Now what do I do?"
The Twelve Steps
we tell him about the rule of life in the Twelve Steps of
the Recovery Program of Alcoholics Anonymous. These, translated
into Catholic terms, are what A.A. demands of a man.
must admit he is an alcoholic.
must seek to live in all things in accordance with the will
must make a thorough examination of conscience plus an analysis
of his character.
must make a general confession.
must seek with the help of God to rid himself of his sins,
his shortcomings, his character defects.
must make amends to those he has harmed, except where to
do so would bring another greater harm.
must continue to examine his conscience regularly and when
wrong "promptly admit it."
must seek "through prayer and meditation" to come
closer to God, "praying only for knowledge of His will
for us and the power to carry that out."
must, following a spiritual awakening, try to carry this
message to other alcoholics and to practice these principles
in all his affairs.
a priest, someone schooled in Theology, might out of his
learning have devised some such set of exercises. You will
they are in accord with principles for the devout life,
ancient in the
Catholic Church: Contrition, a turning to God, seeking to
ourselves of the things that keep us from God and then doing
things that will bring us closer to God.
no. The Twelve Steps were devised by men who had little
religious background. They had been exposed but briefly
to Dr. Frank
Buchmanls Oxford Group movement. We think it beautifully
a spiritual program so sound should be thought of by men
theologian, Catholic or otherwise, might well regard as
ignoramuses, theological tyros.
similarity between the Recovery Program and the first week
St. Ignatius' Exercises has been remarked by more than one
of the greatest gifts of A.A. over and above sobriety is
24 hour idea. When a man becomes an A.A., he makes no promises,
no documents, takes no pledges that naver again will he
is asked to quit drinking just for today.
may seem a childish device - this 24 hour idea. But it
works. First thing in the morning I ask God to help me not
today. When night comes, I thank God for His help in keeping
alcohol that day.
the days pass, one at a time, without alcohol. The days
weeks. The weeks are now months. We have been dry just a
day at a time
but now we have been dry for months.
mind is clearer. Hope, long dead, lives again. Faith, once
submerged in alcohol, begins to rise. And charity. It is
an old saying
among us that A.A. is charity in action - not merely something
believed, but something lived.
Us This Day"
begin to live all of our lives within the compass of 24
"Give us this day our daily bread" takes on a
new meaning. We close
the door on the pastr leaving it to God's mercy. We refuse
ourselves into the future, leaving that to God's providence.
concentrate on living in the here and now to the fullest.
writer refers to the Sacrament of the Present Moment. I
knew just what
he meant. So would any Catholic A.A.
new man coming into A.A. is told of the necessity of asking
for His help.
Catholic might protest that he had prayed. We say to him,
of our own experience, that his prayers had been like this:
prayed only to get out of trouble and the moment the jam
over, he lost fervor. Or he prayed for what we alcoholics
impossible - that he is able to drink "like a gentleman."
Or he prayed
with his lips and did nothing to merit the help of God.
must pray, but he must also seek to do the Will of God.
scientists, looking at A.A.'s amazing success, speaks
learnedly of group therapy. We Catholics know that God seeks
His wonders through natural means. When He does otherwise,
it is a
miracle. It is an axiom of biology that every living thing
adapt itself to its environment. So the novice finds himself
alcoholics who understand him because they have come to
themselves. They give freely of their experience, their
their time and of themselves.
is the misguided belief among some that A.A.'s sit around
bragging about their drinking days, about the amounts they
or that they sit about mourning the days that were, as a
man now poor
might recall the days of his wealth, or a man now old, the
days of his
do talk a bit about our drinking careers. We do it to
illustrate a point or to raise a laugh. We laugh easily
in A.A. We
laugh frequently. It's easy to laugh when a man is happy.
for the most part, our conversations, our bull sessions,
meetings are concerned with God and the things of God. We
steps of the program - how best to do them. What living
the Will of God actually requires. What's the best way to
and develop humility? How to rid yourself of resentments,
angers, fears, doubts, suspicions?
a Catholic has achieved a reputation among the non-Catholic
brethren of being a minor Thomas Aquinas by reciting to
them the words
of the Baltimore catechism.
Catholic isn't long in A.A. before a fellow Catholic, older
the movement, invites him to a Catholic lecture, a day of
recollection, a week-end retreat. The new man finds that
many of the
Catholics are weekly communicants, that no few of them have
routine of Mass and Communion.
learns, too, that not always were these Catholics thus.
learns that this one, prior to A.A., had been a careless,
Catholic. He learns that that one, prior to A.A., had been
the Sacraments for nineteen years.
sage has said: "Character is right thinking become
But it is easier to live yourself unto right thinking than
it is to
think yourself into right living."
is the principle that a man becomes Christlike by seeking
always to do the Christlike thing. It is a principle used
much in the
formation of apostles in Catholic Action.
it is a principle, it operates in A.A. as elsewhere. The
essence of the A.A. program is in the step wherein a man
turn his will and his life over to the care of God.
man seeking to do the Will of God must seek to do the good
thing, the honest thing, the pure thing, the unselfish thing,
loving thing, the Christlike thing.
little by little, he becomes good, he becomes unselfish,
follows in Christ's steps.
Catholics in A.A. come eventually to these thoughts: We
A.A. to remind us of the necessity of sobriety, to keep
against the things that might end our sobriety. We know
we can't stay
sober without the help of God. We can best get that help
Church and the Sacraments. The more we tend toward God,
grateful we become for His help. We begin to look upon our
in terms of Francis Thompson's "Hound of Heaven."
It occurs to us that
had we not been alcoholics, had we not, reluctant and unwilling,
turned to God for help, our Catholicism might never have
tremendous force that it is in our lives today. To know,
to love and
to serve God might have remained a half-remembered phrase
catechism. We have learned, as Augustine did, that there
can be no
rest until we rest in God.
do not obtrude our Catholicism upon our fellow A.A.'s. We,
they, are scrupulous about keeping discussions on non-denominational
basis. A man says: "This is my view," or "This
is what I believe." He
does not say: "This is what the Catholic Church teaches,"
Methodist church insists that-"
are Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Jewsr
believers and non-believers in A.A. There is a sizeable
agnostics, a few members who insist they are Atheists. They,
A.A. have a right to their opinions, a right to express
They see nothing anomalous, these doubters, in membership
in a group
which is basically God-centered. After all, Faith is a gift.
eventually come to believe in God, but others remain doubting
The why of this I do not understand. It has taken me a long
many a suffered scar to learn that God knows what He is
doing. I have
ceased to question Him.
by and large, are the most tolerant of people.
Because of what we have suffered, there is a kinship among
transcends color and creed. It is good for us Catholics
with our non-Catholic brethren. We learn to be so grateful
Sacraments. We learn to be so grateful for Our Lady's intercession.
- there are some notable exceptions - we Catholics are
better informed about God and the things of the spirit.
Catholic's concepts are clearer and he can express them
therefore. So considerable Catholic thinking has entered
Which is understandable because of its essential agreement
A.A. with Catholic principles.
like to share our days of recollection, our retreats with
non-Catholic brethren. We like to recommend books on the
proofs of the
existence of God, "The Imitation of Christ," other
spiritual books. We
know these things will help the fellow who is having difficulty
the spiritual phases of the program. And SO, on occasion,
Atheist becomes a Catholic, a whilom doubting Thomas embraces
Faith. And we have known Protestants after a Catholic retreat
return to the church of their youth.
you have a friend a relative who needs this help to stop
drinking. First thing to do for him (or her - about 15 per
cent of our
members are women) is to pray. Then suggest A.A. to them.
Or if you
lack the opportunity or courage, ask his parish priest or
suggest A.A. Impress upon the alcoholic that there are no
fees, no dues, no officers, only the simple spiritual rules
it clear to him that if he doesn't want A.A., A.A. doesn't
want him. If, after he hears our story, what we have to
offer, he does
not want A.A., we'll leave him alone until the day he does
The only investment we ask of him is a half hour of his
don't forget your prayer.
Alcoholics Anonymous groups are listed in local telephone
books. If one is not listed in your community, information
as to the
nearest group may be obtained by writing the Alcoholic Foundation,
P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Annex, New York 17, N.Y.