FEAR OF FEAR
This lady was cautious. She decided she wouldn’t
let herself go in her drinking. And she would never,
never take that morning drink!
I DIDN’T THINK I was an alcoholic. I thought my problem was that I had been married to a drunk for twenty-seven years. And when my husband found A.A., I came to the second meeting with him. I thought it was wonderful, simply marvelous, for him. But not for me. Then I went to another meeting, and I still thought it was wonderful—for him, but not for me.
It was a hot summer night in 1949, down in the Greenwich Village Group, and there was a little porch out there in the old meeting place on Sullivan Street, and after the meeting I went out on the steps for some air. In the doorway stood a lovely young girl who said, “Are you one of us souses, too?” I said, “Oh, goodness, no! My husband is. He’s in there.” She told me her name, and I said, “I know you from somewhere.” It turned out that she had been in high school with my daughter. I said, “Eileen, are you one of those people?” And she said, “Oh, yes. I’m in this.”
As we walked back through the hall I, for the first time in my life, said to another human being, “I’m having trouble with my drinking, too.” She took me by the hand and introduced me to the girl that I’m
very proud to call my sponsor. This girl and her husband are both in A.A., and she said to me, “Oh, but you’re not the alcoholic; it’s your husband.” I said, “Yes.” She said, “How long have you been married?” I said, “Twenty-seven years.” She said, “Twenty-seven years to an alcoholic! How did you ever stand it?” I thought, now here’s a nice, sympathetic soul! This is for me. I said, “Well, I stood it to keep the home together, and for the children’s sake.” She said, “Yes, I know. You’re just a martyr, aren’t you?” I walked away from that girl grinding my teeth and cursing under my breath. Fortunately, I didn’t say a word to George on the way home. But that night I tried to go to sleep. And I thought, “You’re some martyr, Jane! Let’s look at the record.” And when I looked at it, I knew I was just as much a drunk as George was, if not worse. I nudged George next morning, and I said, “I’m in,” and he said, “Oh, I knew you’d make it.”
I started drinking nearly thirty years ago—right after I was married. My first drinking spree was on corn liquor and I was allergic to it, believe me. I was deathly sick every time I took a drink. But we had to do a lot of entertaining, my husband liked to have a good time; I was very young; and I wanted to have a good time too. The only way I knew to do it was to drink right along with him.
I got into terrific trouble with my drinking. I was afraid, and I had made my mind up that I would never get drunk, so I was watchful and careful. We had a small child, and I loved her dearly, so that held me back quite a bit in my drinking career. Even so, every time I drank, I seemed to get in trouble. I al-
ways wanted to drink too much, so I was watchful, always watchful, counting my drinks. If we were invited to a formal party and I knew they were only going to have one or two drinks, I wouldn’t have any. I was being very cagey, because I knew that if I did take one or two, I might want to take five or six or seven or eight.
I did stay fairly good for a few years. But I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t ever let myself go in my drinking. As my son, our second child, came along, and as he became school age and was away at school most of the time, something happened. I really started drinking with a bang.
I never went to a hospital. I never lost a job. I was never in jail. And, unlike many others, I never took a drink in the morning. I needed a drink, but I was afraid to take a morning drink, because I didn’t want to be a drunk. I became a drunk anyway, but I was scared to death to take that morning drink. I was accused of it many times when I went to play bridge in the afternoon, but I really never did take a morning drink. I was still woozy from the night before.
I should have lost my husband, and I think that only the fact that he was an alcoholic too kept us together. No one else could have stayed with me. Many women who have reached the stage that I had reached in my drinking have lost husbands, children, homes, everything they hold dear. I have been very fortunate in many ways. The important thing I lost was my own self-respect. I could feel fear coming into my life. I couldn’t face people. I couldn’t look them straight in the eyes, although I was always a self-
possessed, brazen sort of person. I’d brazen anything out. I lied like a trooper to get out of many scrapes.
But I felt a fear coming into my life, and I couldn’t cope with it. I got so that I hid quite a bit of the time, wouldn’t answer the phone, and stayed by myself as much as I could. I noticed that I was avoiding all my social friends except for my bridge. I couldn’t keep up with any of my other friends, and I wouldn’t go to anyone’s house unless I knew they drank as heavily as I did. I never knew it was the first drink that did it. I thought I was losing my mind when I realized that I couldn’t stop drinking. That frightened me terribly.
George tried many times to go on the wagon. If I had been sincere in what I thought I wanted more than anything else in life—a sober husband and a happy, contented home—I would have gone on the wagon with him. I did try, for a day or two, but something always would come up that would throw me. It would be a little thing; the rugs being crooked, or any silly little thing that I’d think was wrong, and off I’d go, drinking. And sneaking my drinks. I had bottles hidden all over the apartment. I didn’t think my children knew about it, but I found out they did. It’s surprising, how we think we fool everybody in our drinking.
I reached a stage where I couldn’t go into my apartment without a drink. It didn’t bother me any more whether George was drinking or not. I had to have liquor. Sometimes I would lie on the bathroom floor, deathly sick, praying I would die, and praying to God as I always had prayed to Him when I was drinking: “Dear God, get me out of this one and I’ll never do it again.” And then I’d say, “God, don’t pay any at-
tention to me. You know I’ll do it tomorrow, the very same thing.”
I used to make excuses to try and get George off the wagon. I’d get so fed up with drinking all alone and bearing the burden of guilt all by myself, that I’d egg him on to drink, to get started again. And then I’d fight with him because he had started! And the whole merry-go-round would be on again. And he, poor dear, didn’t know what was going on. He used to wonder, when he’d spot one of my bottles around the house, just how he could have overlooked that particular bottle. I myself didn’t know all the places I had them hidden.
We have only been in A.A. a few years, but now we’re trying to make up for lost time. Twenty-seven years of confusion is what my early married life was. Now the picture has changed completely. We have faith in each other, trust in each other, and understanding. A.A. has given us that. It has taught me so many things. It has changed my thinking entirely, about everything I do. I can’t afford resentments against anyone, because they are the build-up of another drunk. I must live and let live. And “Think”—that one important word means so much to me. My life was always act and re-act. I never stopped to think. I just didn’t give a whoop about myself or anyone else.
I try to live our program as it has been outlined to me, one day at a time. I try to live today so that tomorrow I won’t be ashamed when I wake up in the morning. In the old days I hated to wake up and look back at what last night was like. I never could face it the next morning. And unless I had some rosy picture of what was going to happen that day, I wouldn’t
even feel like getting up in the morning at all. It really wasn’t living. Now I feel so very grateful not only for my sobriety, which I try to maintain day by day, but I’m grateful also for the ability to help other people. I never thought I could be useful to anyone except my husband and my children and perhaps a few friends. But A.A. has shown me that I can help other alcoholics.
Many of my neighbors devoted time to volunteer work during the war. There was one girl especially, and I’d watch her from my window every morning, leaving faithfully to go to the hospital in the neighborhood. I said to her one day when I met her on the street, “What sort of volunteer work do you do?” She told me; it was simple; I could have done it very easily. She said, “Why don’t you do it too?” I said, “I’d love to.” She said, “Suppose I put your name down as a volunteer. We need them so badly even if you can only give one day, or perhaps two days?” But then I thought, well, now wait, how will I feel next Tuesday? How will I feel next Friday, if I make it a Friday? How will I feel next Saturday morning? I never knew. I was afraid to set even one day. I could never be sure I’d have a clear head and hands that were willing to do some work. So I never did any volunteer work. And I felt depleted, whipped. I had the time, I certainly had the capability, but I never did a thing.
I am trying now, each day, to make up for all those selfish, thoughtless, foolish things I did in my drinking days. I hope that I never forget to be grateful.