RUM, RADIO, AND REBELLION
This man faced the last-ditch when his wife’s voice
from 1300 miles away sent him to A.A.
“YOU AN ALCOHOLIC! I don’t believe it.”
“Sure, I’ve seen you tight several times, but you’re no alcoholic!”
“You kidding—you an alcoholic?”
Many times have I heard the above expressions since I have been in A.A., and many times I have had to reply “Definitely I am an alcoholic, and while it may be hard for you to believe, it is not hard for me, for I have learned many things about alcohol and myself that would, perhaps, be difficult for you to understand.”
As these words are written at fifty-three years of age, with over nine years in A.A. behind me, with all its wonderful teachings, I haven’t the slightest doubt about being an alcoholic.
I have always considered myself one of the lucky members of our fraternity. Lucky because my excessive drinking never got me in jail, or hospitalized, nor did it ever cost me a job. As a matter of fact, when I came into Alcoholics Anonymous I was close to being at the peak of my career. I certainly was, as far as my living standard was concerned. However, what I had gained materially on the credit side of my ledger,
I have since learned was more than offset on the debit side by egotism, resentment and dishonesty.
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the only child of a prominent dentist, and a very proud mother. They were neither poor nor wealthy, but far better off than the average couple. I had every advantage a child could have, private schools (several of them), dancing schools, two colleges, coon skin coats, automobiles, a listing in the social register and all the rest. All of which could turn out but one thing—a very popular, but spoiled, brat.
In the various schools I attended, it was always a case of just getting by. Too many outside activities to do much studying. I was active and did well, however, in school publications, dramatics (which came in handy during my drinking career), and Greek letter societies. I had no trouble at all in being elected to the two drinking societies at my college.
I had run away from school to join the army in World War I, but missed it by one day since the Armistice was signed the very day I landed in Atlanta to sign up with Uncle Sam. As usual, I ran out of money, and, as usual, I wired my father for funds to come home. He answered by wiring that I could stay there until I learned enough to get home. It was a terrible blow at the time and I thought he was pretty much of a heel, but of course it was the finest thing he could have done for me under the circumstances. It took me a year to make it home. I went to work in Birmingham for a newspaper at fifteen dollars a week. Prohibition came along, and with it my first taste of moonshine. I didn’t particularly like it, but I loved the effects, and managed for the next twenty-five years
to drink anything and everything, either handed to me or purchased, at the slightest excuse.
When I did make it home in 1920, I re-entered school and caught up with my class in a few short months—I actually did a year’s work in three months, proving much to the disgust of my dad that I could do it when I wanted to.
All I can remember about the Roaring Twenties is that I drank a great deal, though I was having a grand time, managed to get to Europe for a few weeks, was very proud of the dozens of speak-easy cards entitling me to an entrée in the better joints between Cleveland and New York, took on a wife, and built a home in a fashionable suburb of Cleveland.
High living, a great many fair weather friends, the 1929 stock market crash, and a couple of years of Depression, soon relieved me one by one of my worldly goods, including my wife. In this I was greatly aided and abetted by one John Barleycorn. Like all alcoholics endeavoring to run away from themselves and their environment, I decided to go to New York. This was at the height of the Depression and the end of Prohibition. Neither of these circumstances was very helpful to my type, since I had not learned to face realities.
The next few years in New York can be described in a very few words. Drinking—and more drinking. I got behind in my rent, but never in my drinking. Looking back, it is surprising to me now that I managed to keep working and have enough money to squander at the various spots in the big city. By this time I had become associated with the fast growing and fascinating business of broadcasting. I was work-
ing for a Chicago firm that represented several large radio stations. It was my job to sell time on these stations to advertising agencies in New York. It was also my job to entertain the owners of these stations when they came East on business—or the pretense of business. This phase was right down my alley; I had my master’s degree in the art of making “whoopee.”
I was living in a small room on West 53rd Street right off Fifth Avenue, when I met a young lady who eventually was responsible for altering my entire way of living. She was studying fashion design, was living in the same rooming house, and was from my home town of Cleveland. I made little headway in my first few meetings with her. She was intent on her studies, and kept her distance. By persistence and salesmanship I managed to see more and more of my new friend, and because of her sympathetic nature she tolerated my company. Her influence and companionship managed to lessen my drinking to some degree. After several months of acquaintance I asked her to marry me, but was politely refused. I asked this question weekly for the next couple of years.
In January 1938, I had the opportunity to go to northern Vermont to manage a small daytime radio station that was up against it financially, and was about to fold its antenna. The challenge intrigued me; also it was another opportunity to run away from myself and the “fast life of the big city.” Once again I asked my girl to marry me and join me in this new venture. At this time, however, she had an opportunity to go to Salt Lake City on a new project for the government, but she did promise me that if I would curtail my drinking and buckle down to hard
work she would give serious consideration to my latest proposal and maybe join me at a later date when I got settled. With new hope in my heart and new resolutions I set off for Vermont.
My work kept me busy the first few months on the new job. It was strictly a one man operation and I knew I had to tend to my knitting to make a go of it. Furthermore, I knew that I was looked upon as a city slicker from New York, and I had to be pretty cautious among small town, conservative Yankees. One of the things I needed badly was business for the station. New programming was beginning to build an audience, but sponsors were pretty scarce. I got around this by joining the local Rotary Club, and through this association with the business men of the community my little station began to grow. It also was the beginning of another cycle in my drinking. It started when I joined a few of the men for cocktails before the noonday Rotary luncheon. Before long I was at the luncheon meetings an hour before the others, that old and familiar trademark of every alcoholic. Since the radio station was getting on its feet, it didn’t require so many nights of evening work, and that permitted leisure time for drinking. After all—wasn’t I entitled to it? I sure had been working awfully hard of late. It wasn’t long before I became a five o’clock alcoholic. During this time I faithfully was writing my girl in Utah. Of course I kept her posted on how well the station was doing and wrote convincing letters of how well I was doing with the liquor problem. My salesmanship was still good, for in the fall of 1938 she called me from Salt Lake and finally agreed to take me
on for better or for worse. We were married in Montreal in November.
Proud of my little station and of my new bride I settled down to a happy married life. It was to be short lived, for on the day before Christmas I completely disillusioned my wife and ruined our first Christmas by coming home from the Rotary lunch dead drunk. It was the first of many such experiences that became the only cause of harsh words, tears and heartaches in an otherwise truly beautiful marriage.
In 1940 another good opportunity came up and we moved to Pittsburgh where I was to manage two radio stations under the same ownership. My business reputation had reached from Vermont to Pennsylvania, but, thank goodness, my drinking reputation had not. Once again I was back in big time operations, and along with them, big shot complexes. It didn’t take long for me to fall in with a fast crowd who had their lunch in the men’s bar of a leading hotel. I graduated there from a five o’clock alcoholic to a noon-day one. By hook or crook I usually managed to sober up before I reached home, but always “terribly tired” from a “hard day’s work,” and just having to have one or two before dinner. My wonderful wife did everything to play along with me. She was tolerant beyond all belief. I did everything to make her an alcoholic too. She tried reasoning with me, endeavored to work out various drinking schedules, in fact all the tricks were practiced faithfully for a short time somewhere along my shaky road to unhappiness. The inevitable always happened. I would follow certain drinking schedules or diets faithfully for a few days, and then somewhere along the line would over-train and upset
the applecart. On more than one occasion my wife would threaten to leave me. Time after time, I would beg forgiveness on bended knees, with tears rolling down my cheeks, and promise I would never again drink too much. And deep in my heart I really meant what I said because I loved her more than anything else in the world, yes—even more than liquor. It was hard for her to believe in my love by my actions. Even I couldn’t understand it, because I did love her so. How could I continually break my promises? Soon I was to discover the answer.
In the very early spring of 1944, my frustrated wife couldn’t take it any longer. After another of my “never again episodes” she packed up and left for her parents’ home in Florida. Her parting words were “I am not leaving you because I don’t love you; it’s because I do love you. I can’t bear to be here when you lose the respect of others, and above all—when you lose your own self respect.”
For a few weeks I toed the line. I was going to prove to her that liquor wasn’t necessary in my life, and above all that I still loved her more than anything else in the world and that I wanted her back. This routine was short lived too. I began hitting the bottle again, and with it self-pity, resentment, loneliness and remorse set in deeply. Why should this happen to me—hadn’t I provided a good home—wasn’t I making a good living—didn’t I just get a substantial raise that had put me in the upper bracket class? Sure I still loved her, but hang it all, she was unreasonable! I had given her everything a wife could ask for. The more I thought like this the more I drank to submerge my sorrows. One Saturday noon I staggered home
with every intention of showing her. I would end it all, and then, by George, she’d be sorry!
I entered the house, opened a new bottle of whiskey and sat down to drink myself into the right frame of mind to get in my car, start the motor and close the garage door behind me. A few hours later I came out of a complete stupor in our living room with a flash of sanity. Looking directly at me was a large oil painting of my wife, and her very words seemed to shout at me—”I am not leaving you because I don’t love you; it’s because I do love you. I can’t bear to be here when you lose the respect of others, and above all—when you lose your own self respect.” This was about ten p.m., and the time here is important.
It had happened to me and I had to do something about it. Thank God that in spite of my heavy drinking my mind was clear enough to make a decision then and there. I had read and heard a little about A.A. and so, groping for the phone book, I found the A.A. number and with hope in my heart eagerly telephoned. I heard a lovely voice, and a sympathetic ear listened to my plea. I was told that someone would call on me shortly, to sit tight and not take another drink. Sure enough in a couple of hours two men were at my door and for the first time I heard some facts about liquor and my problem that sounded sensible to me. They told me their stories, which were much more rugged than mine—yet what they said made sense, and the way they put it was easy for me to understand, with an understanding I had never had before. I promised my two sponsors that I would attend their meeting the next Tuesday evening. I kept away from liquor and eagerly waited.
My first meeting gave me a great deal of hope and lots of willing ears for my tale of woe and for my questions. After a few meetings I decided to drive to Florida unannounced to see my wife and tell her about my new found friends and association. I was certainly a complete surprise when I arrived on the wings of a tropical hurricane there wasn’t much she could do but let me in. That night she too had new hope because I had made sure she would know what I was doing about my drinking by packing every bit of A.A. literature I could put my hands on right on top so she couldn’t help but see it when she opened my bag.
I stayed on in Florida for three weeks, enjoying our reunion, a new found health and a deeper love than I had ever experienced before. We came back to Pittsburgh as happy as a bride and groom. We attended meetings together, and mutually enjoyed our new found friends. In September of this same year I went to New York alone. I thought this was a good time to experiment with liquor. Of course, it didn’t work. I tried a few drinks my last night in the city before coming home. Luck was with me, for I made my train, but I arrived home the next morning with a new kind of hangover. I had done something terrible! I had not only let my wife down but also a lot of other wonderful people who had helped me. Of course, more than anything else I had let myself down, but I didn’t realize how much then—as I do now. I didn’t say a word to anyone about my lapse. I went back to my group meetings, but not whole-heartedly, and I often skipped them with the excuse that I was too tired. It was worrying my wife a little,
but she had the good sense not to take me to task about it or goad me into going. I got through the holidays all right until New Year’s Day. We had some people in, and I was making drinks in the kitchen, when I suddenly decided to hoist the bottle for a quick one. I had just raised the bottle to my lips when my wife opened the door and froze me completely in my tracks with “Happy New Year, dear.” I didn’t take the drink. I was scared—would she leave me again? Later I told her I had not taken the drink and that I was all right. When our meeting night came around the next evening, I went—”for her sake” I told her. I said I was okay, but if it would make her feel better I would go “as tired as I was after the strenuous holidays.” She told me not to bother going “for her sake”; she told me in a nice way that it didn’t make any difference to her—and that really scared me—so I went.
A lucky break, at least some will call it lucky, was in store for me at my group that night. Attending his fourth or fifth meeting was an old friend I had not seen for twenty years. He was full of his new found life of happiness and sobriety. His enthusiasm and keen interest in A.A. fired my spirits again. I attended my weekly meetings with regularity, re-read the Big Book, attended other group meetings, gave leads when asked to and did some Twelve Step work whenever I was called upon to do so. In other words, I began contributing, and so, naturally, I began to get something more. A whole new world of happiness and love began to unfold before my eyes, a truly new way of living.
One night at the dinner table my wife said that tonight was my first birthday in A.A., and that the
group would have the usual ice cream and cake for the “one year man.” Now I was on the spot. I had never told a soul about my lapse in New York. For the next couple of hours a terrible battle went on between the good gremlins and the bad ones, one faction urging me to tell the truth, the other telling me to sit tight and say nothing. I had no trouble making the right decision when I saw my wife open her purse at the meeting that night and deposit a cute little angel in the middle of my birthday cake. When I was called upon for a few words I had to tell my friends that I wasn’t one year old in A.A. that evening but only a “nine month baby.” With that utterance I again made a wonderful discovery. I had thrown off a big lie that had been burdening me down for months. What a wonderful new feeling, what a wonderful relief!
I could end my story here, but for the new man I would like to add a few words. You’ll read and hear a great deal about the spiritual part of our program. I haven’t written anything about that part of my story, but I believe in a Greater Power which I call God and I ask for His wisdom and guidance daily. My first spiritual experience in A.A. came quite early to me. You will recall that I said the time that I got the idea out of a clear sky to call A.A. on a certain night was at about ten. While I was in Florida trying to convince my wife with all the A.A. literature that she should come back to me, she went over to her desk and picked up a clipping she had taken from the St. Petersburg Times about A.A. It was the first she had heard or read about it and she said she had considered sending it to me or trying to have someone in Pitts-
burgh send it to me so I wouldn’t know where it came from. However, knowing me, she thought it was a foolish idea, that I wouldn’t be interested. But for some reason—she just didn’t know why—she just had to hold onto that clipping, with its thin hope. She said she cut this clipping from the paper at about ten on the same night, and at the same time as I called A.A. in Pittsburgh—some 1300 miles away.
To the new man I would also like to say that this program is not for sissies for, in my humble opinion, it takes a man to make the grade. It is not too difficult nor too easy to grasp. I have had many more reasons to drink since I have been in A.A. than I had in all the years of my drinking. I’ve had more problems but, thank God, I have had the teachings of A.A. with which to face them. And, believe me, I thank God that I found out about A.A. before I had to beat my brains out—before I had been hospitalized, jailed or lost a job. When I hear the more rugged stories of the alcoholics who became sicker than I did with this affliction, I humbly thank God for showing me “the handwriting on the wall.”
In meeting me casually, I don’t think my strong belief in “The Man Upstairs” shows, but I have no other explanation for the many good things that have happened to me since I have been in A.A.—they came to me from a Greater Power. These words may be difficult for you to understand now, but be patient and you’ll know what I mean.
If I were asked what in my opinion was the most important factor in being successful in this program, besides following the Twelve Steps, I would say
Honesty. And the most important person to be honest with is Yourself. If there is something in my story that rings a bell with you, then do something—now! I repeat, I am one of the fortunate members of A.A.—a lucky guy who is very grateful.