HOW IT STARTED AND GAINED SPEED
The idea to Help Serious Alcoholics Originated In East;
Launched by Man Who Was “Incurable”
(Third of Six Articles)
“I see he’s back again.” said the orderly to the nurse as Mr. X for the umpteenth time turned up in the alcoholic division of a hospital in a larger Eastern city.
He was a regular customer. But this time he came to grips with himself on an idea brought by a friend. More ideas came later. He examined and re-examined them. Already he had given himself up to the fate of an incurable alcoholic, in he had nothing to turn to more effective than he had found hitherto.
When hospital care had knocked the booze out of his brain and nerves, he immediately began to put his ideas into practice. They worked. He stayed sober.
“Later,” said the head of the hospital, “he requested the privilege of being allowed to tell his story to other patients here, and with some misgiving, we consented.
“The cases we have followed through have been most interesting; in fact, many are amazing.
“The unselfishness of these men as we have come to know them, the entire absence of profit motive, and their community spirit, is indeed inspiring to one who has labored long and wearily in this alcoholic field.
Five Years Old
Thus was Alcoholics Anonymous born about five years ago, out of one victim’s desperation. Growing very slowly at first, actually from man to man, centers of information about it now are springing up in widely scattered areas throughout the country.
In the doctor’s comment, you have the principal reason for the idea’s thus coming to nation-wide attention.
When a man makes a spectacular come-back–a right-about-face after having made an ass of himself for years–people ask questions. They may be skeptical at first, but secretly they are astonished and curious.
Furthermore, the man thus set upon his feet cannot help being a kind of missionary. But a missionary with what a difference! What missionary to the savage was ever a savage? But the messenger of Alcoholics Anonymous knows from his own checkered experience all the tricks, all the curves in the road, all the answers to the alcoholic’s self-delusions.
That’s the thing that sold me, finally. These “rummies” knew their onions. They weren’t mealy-mouthed. They didn’t lecture. When they talked to me, still unconvinced, their faces, their “lingo,” their gestures, their whole bearing, bespoke the onetime experienced toper.
They were offering, not theory but fact. They acted as though they had a sure thing. They merely wanted me to know about it, what it had done for them.
Take It or Leave It
Go back now to four years ago. A man pacing the lobby of a hotel in a strange city, He is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Something has gone wrong with his business trip. Not only has he failed, but he wonders how he is going to pay his hotel bill. The deal that fell through has stirred up a bitter feeling in him.
He has only been sober a few months. As he feels the temptation of the inviting bar at the end of the lobby, he realizes his predicament.
Should he join the gay crowd? Find release, scrape an acquaintance, avoid a lonesome weekend?
Here he runs square up against one of the basic rules of the fellowship. When tempted, it says, if possible work with another alcoholic.
With music and gay chatter in his ears, he turns and seeks the lobby church directory. At random he selects the name of a minister and telephones him. His talk leads him to a former able and respected resident who is on the rocks from excessive drinking.
How this man was reclaimed, how these two salvaged two others, how in 18 months the number grew to 10, and how one couple became so interested that they dedicated their home to the work, is an absorbing story related in the book, “Alcoholics Anonymous,” published by the fellowship.
Of this, more later; for the book, and the “Alcoholic Foundation,” have been other notable steps in making the message available to all.
The only requirement for membership is an honest willingness to do anything to quit drinking.
No Fees, No Dues
There are no fees, no dues. You need not buy the book if an alcoholic cured by, and experienced in, the technique of Alcoholics Anonymous will clearly give you an idea.
Buttressing the personal work of one alcoholic with another, informal meetings are arranged in each center as soon as a small group can be formed.
I never saw anything like them. Here centers the social life of the group. Happiness, gaiety, good fellowship abound. After the brief session devoted to the problems of alcoholics, and the words of advice and encouragement and the interchange of experiences, there may be a poker game or several tables of bridge.
These birds don’t turn sissy when they quit drinking. They get back their real vitality. And the majority are clever, able, once successful people. You see many businessmen, doctors, lawyers, star salesmen, contractors, insurance men, brokers, merchants, as well as the man whose field is more limited.
These gatherings present the vivid contrast of happy faces and the strained, hungry faces of “prospects” hearing about this for the first time.
The members take away with them a glow they never got out of the best bottle they ever tipped. And it’s there in the morning–a hangover of relief, freedom, of strength to hit the new day’s work and worry right on the button.
The prospects take away at least the first thrill of wonder and of hope. Is it strange that the group grows?
Ministers like Dr. Dilworth Lupton, a widely known pastor of First Unitarian Church in Cleveland, O., have personally investigated and then devoted a whole sermon to the subject.
Newspapers like The Houston Press have offered space.
Physicians, nurses, psychiatrists, who have had personal experience with alcoholics made well by this method, give it to other patients.
And alcoholics grab off prospects wherever they spy them, sometimes right off the bar. Their telephones, when they ceased to be anonymous, may ring at any hour of the night telling of someone in a desperate plight. They go. The movement spreads.
So far, in two weeks I have been in Houston, I have yet to find one person who heard me talk even most casually about this, who hasn’t said, either, “Say, that sounds like something”; or, more often, “I know a man who needs it bad. Here’s his name.”
Alcoholics Anonymous is the most infectious idea I ever caught. I am quite likely to give it to anyone I come in contact with, for I take no precautions.
My own experience well illustrates how the movement spreads.
Before I left Cleveland to come to Houston, for three weeks I had been trying to straighten out a friend who was soused to the gills, chiefly by drinking with him and trying to taper him off, and either walking him home so he wouldn’t break his neck, or pouring him into a taxi.
He wound up in a liquor cure institution. I visited him. By that time, Alcoholics Anonymous had got hold of him.
He told me about them. By accident or design–I never knew which–I met two of them at his bedside one morning.
This friend took to this thing and went to town. It had me thinking because he had been in terrible shape. He wasn’t far out of the port of the last call.
Problem of Control
It wasn’t long afterward when, “well in the bag,” I received a visit at my hotel from Alcoholics Anonymous. I had never even heard of him.
No soap. No dice. Like the good doctor mentioned at the beginning of this article, I wasn’t interested.
My problem was merely one of control. I wasn’t an alcoholic (so I thought). How did he get that way–telling me I was?
When the bottle in my room was empty, he suggested that we adjourn to the bar. We did. He drank coffee, bought whisky for me.
Next morning all I could clearly remember was that this perfect stranger spent time and money on me to get me to quit drinking, and I didn’t know why. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. So when he telephoned the next evening asking if he could come over, I said, “Yes.”
By the time he got there, I was even further “overseas” than at the time of his first visit. He urged patiently that I should go to a hospital, rest up, eat again like a human being, and think the thing out.
The man had inhuman patience. He said he did this because he liked to and because it helped him to stay sober. This was in a cafe.
“Nuts,” I said.
But through a zero blizzard that night I finally let him drive me 50 miles to a sanitarium approved by Alcoholics Anonymous, and at 4 a. m., as he left me, after having talked with me for eight hours without once doing the pleading act, he saw me take my last drink.
And I mean last.
For a week, sometimes as many as half a dozen members of Alcoholics Anonymous visited me in the sanitarium every day. I regained my poise. The fourth day I swallowed my pride and admitted that although I might in all other things have equal omnipotence with God Himself, in regard to drink I was licked before I started.
I began practicing the technique immediately. Then occurred the change, to me still amazing.
Now then, when I decided to live in Houston, how could I help spilling some of this stuff down here, where nobody seems to know about it?
Wouldn’t I be a heel if I kept such a priceless thing to myself?
Did you ever hear “Freely ye have received, freely give?”