(p. 445 in 2nd edition.)
“These were only beginning when he hit Bellevue for the thirty-fifth time. He still had the State hospital ahead of him; and even after A.A., a heartbreaking test of his new-found faith.”
Joe joined A.A. in April of 1939, but slipped in November 1939 and returned in February 1940.
Joe had been to Bellevue’s alcoholic ward thirty-five times. He thought that should qualify him for A.A. because “they don’t take you in the Bellevue alcoholic ward for sinus trouble.” His first trip to Bellevue was at the age of seventeen, and he was called an alcoholic at eighteen or nineteen. He was in jail perhaps sixty-five or seventy-five times.
He got married in 1926, thinking he would be able to stop drinking, and fathered three children. After eleven years his wife decided to leave with the children, but his sister intervened and suggested that she pay for him to be treated by a psychiatrist. He agreed because he had begun hallucinating. But he did not cooperate with the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist suggested he go back to Bellevue.
They put him in the mental hospital, but he found he could get alcohol there too. His ten-year-old son tried to support the family by shining shoes. A doctor suggested he sign himself out and try to support his family. But he couldn’t hold a job and he couldn’t stop drinking.
He went from one job to another, until no one would hire him any more. He would go to his son and tell him his mother had sent him to get the money, and the son never refused him.
Eventually he was arrested for a very serious crime that he didn’t remember committing, and could have been sent to Sing Sing for fifteen years. But he was sentenced to the State hospital again.
It was there, in early 1939, that a doctor called him into his office to meet Bill W. and five other A.A.s who were trying to get A.A. into the hospital. Some time later he went to his first meeting in South Orange, New Jersey.
For seven months his wife accompanied him to the meetings. The first time he went alone, he didn’t stay until the end, but instead got drunk. Three months later he was back in the State Hospital. He knew that A.A. had not failed him. He had failed A.A. He had not been honest with himself or with anybody else. So he saw a priest at the hospital and took a very thorough fifth step.
For nearly a year he couldn’t get a job so he spent many hours at the A.A. clubhouse on 24th Street.
His wife got pregnant again. It was a very dangerous pregnancy and when she was delivering the baby he thought she was dying and went to a bar. In the bar he decided to try prayer. He walked out of the bar after having only a ginger ale and went to the clubhouse. About one in the morning he got a telegram from the hospital. He had a daughter and she was fine. He thanked God that he hadn’t had a drink.
It took him seventeen months to get a job. He didn’t like the job he got and was going to give it another week and if no other job came along get drunk. Before that week was up, two men he had worked for a long time before showed up at his house and offered him a job. They had heard he was in A.A. and doing all right. He said good news travels fast in A.A.
But tragedy lay ahead. The son who had been shining shoes at the age of ten, on his sixteenth birthday was in a trolley car accident only two blocks from home. He regained consciousness once in the thirteen hours Joe was with him. He seemed to be trying to tell his father “I’m losing this battle, dad, but don’t let this throw you.”
Joe was going to go on a suicide drunk, and if that didn’t work jump out a window. But before he could do that his phone rang. It was an A.A. member in Ohio. He had heard the news and called to tell him not to drink over it. Another called from Connecticut. Others called, and while he was still answering calls an A.A. friend walked in and stayed with him that night. The next morning the undertaker came to take him to the hospital morgue to identify his son. His A.A. friend went with him, and the undertaker was also in A.A.
“Well, when that slab was pulled out for me to identify my son’s body, if I didn’t have A.A. on my right and A.A. on my left I wouldn’t be alive today.”
So his length of sobriety wasn’t handed to him on a silver platter. But he was sober over eleven years when he wrote his story, “thanks to the good people of A.A., and last but not least by the Grace of God.