Dr. Earle M., San Francisco Bay Area, CA.
(p. 393 in 2nd edition, p. 345 in 3rd edition, p. 301 in the 4th edition.)
They Stopped in Time
“Psychiatrist and surgeon, he had lost his way until he realized that God, not he, was the Great Healer.”
Earle had his last day of drinking and using drugs on June 15, 1953. An A.A. friend, Harry, took him to his first meeting the following week, the Tuesday Night Mill Valley A.A. group, which met in Wesley Hall at the Methodist Church. There were only five people there, all men: a butcher, a carpenter, a baker, and his friend Harry H, a mechanic/inventor. He loved A.A. from the start, and though he has been critical of the program at times, his devotion has remained constant.
Described in his story heading as a psychiatrist and surgeon, he was qualified in many fields. During his long career, he has been a prominent professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and an outstanding clinician at the University of California at San Francisco. He was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and of the International College of Surgeons, a diplomat of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, board-certified psychiatrist, vice-president of the American Association of Marital and Family Therapists, and a lecturer on human sexuality.
He was raised in San Francisco, but was born on August 3, 1911, in Omaha, Nebraska, and lived there until he was ten. His parents were alcoholics. In Omaha they lived on the wrong side of the tracks, and he wore hand-me-down clothes from relatives. He was ashamed of this, and could not begin to accept it until years later. He revealed none of this in his story. Instead he talked about how successful he had been in virtually everything he had done. He said he lost nothing that most alcoholics lose, and described his skid row as the skid row of success.
But in 1989 he wrote an autobiography by the same title, which reveals much more of his story.
During his first year in A.A. he went to New York and met Bill W. They became very close and talked frequently both on the phone and in person. He frequently visited Bill at his home, Stepping Stones. He called Bill one of his sponsors, and said there was hardly a topic they did not discuss in detail. He took a Fifth Step with Bill. And Bill often talked over his depressions with Earle.
In a search for serenity Earle studied and practiced many forms of religion: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and ancestor worship.
He has long been a strong advocate for the cross-addiction theory, and predicted that over time we would see the evolution of Addictions Anonymous.
When he was sober about ten years, Earle developed resentments against newcomers and began a group in San Francisco for oldtimers. It was called The Forum. He wrote a credo for it designed of ten steps for chemically dependent people. He felt that addiction represents a single disease with many open doors leading to it: alcohol, opiates, amphetamines, cocaine, etc. Most of the Forum members were also devoted A.A. members.
He also established a new kind of A.A. group, which used confrontational techniques. Some A.A. members disliked it intensely, while others seemed to gain a great deal from it.
Many alcoholics make geographic changes when they are drinking. But Earle seems to have made his after achieving sobriety. He has lived in many places, both in this country and abroad, traveled around the world three times, and attended A.A. everywhere he went. He also married several times.
In 1968 he divorced his first wife, Mary, whom he had married in 1940. She once told him she had great respect for him as a doctor, but none as a human being. He admitted that he’d had affairs during the marriage, even after joining A.A. His relationship with their only child, Jane, who was a very successful opera singer, was strained, but he gave her an opportunity to air her feelings in his book. She wrote that when she received the gold medallion at the International Tchaikovsky Voice Competition in Moscow in 1966, a high honor, her father did not attend. Some people told her that it was not easy for him to see her become such a success — to be so in the public eye. She added that their paths were still separate, but she did not ever totally close a door because he WAS her father.
In the 1960s he was experimenting with encounter and sensitivity awareness groups, which were then in vogue. At one of the encounter marathons he met his second wife, Katie, and within a year they were married and soon moved to Lake Tahoe. They lived separately except for two brief periods, and after a few years were divorced.
Later he accepted a job with the U.S. State Department at the University of Saigon Medical School, in Korea. He spent five years there, after which he returned to San Francisco, hoping to rekindle his marriage to Katie.
In September 1975 he moved to Hazard, Kentucky, to work at the Hazard Appalachian Regional Hospital. There he met his third wife, Freda, thirty years younger than he was. Freda came from a truly humble background. She was the daughter of a miner who had died of black lung disease. She and her six brothers were raised in a typical two-room coal miner’s house in Hazard. During his relationship with her and her family he was able to put to rest some ghosts concerning his Nebraska background. This wonderful family helped him to re-evaluate his memories of Omaha.
In 1978 his feet began again to itch again. He accepted short-term job in Napal. When he was offered a long-term assignment Freda and his stepsons did not want to leave Kentucky. Disappointed, he returned to Kentucky, and obtained work as a gynecologist in a family planning clinic, and also lectured to medical students on human sexuality at the University of Louisville Medical School. When he moved again, this time to Kirkland, Washington, Freda again refused to leave Kentucky. They were divorced soon after. They remained friendly and talked to one another on the phone about twice a year.
From all his travels, he always seemed to return to the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1980 he accepted a position as medical director of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. There he met his fourth wife, Mickey. She was a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute. He described her as a vibrant, open, honest, direct woman without pretense, non-threatening, sexually on fire, lacking in prejudice, and tolerant about all aspects of life — including human sexuality. She was already an Al-Anon member when they met, having been married to an alcoholic. She also made contributions in the field of alcoholism and recovery at Merritt Peralta Chemical Dependence Recovery Hospital in Oakland, California. They married and remained together until her death in 2000. His book is dedicated to her.
I talked to Earle on July 27, 2001. He told me he still gets to an A.A. meeting almost every day. His eyesight is not too good, but otherwise he is full of vim and vigor. From his voice, I would have taken him for a man of 40. He missed the A.A. International Convention last year because of Mickey’s ill health, but he hopes to attend the one in 2005.