(p. 317 in 2nd edition, p. 356 in 3rd editions.)
They Stopped in Time
“This man faced the last ditch when his wife’s voice from 1,300 miles away sent him to A.A.”
One source said of Pete that his original date of sobriety was June 1944, but he slipped briefly in September of 1944. However, in an update of his story, which was printed in the A.A. Grapevine in January 1969, he says that he came into A.A. in 1945.
Pete was fifty-three years of age when he wrote his story, with over nine years of A.A. behind him.
He was born in Cleveland, Ohio (or perhaps, Cleveland, Tennessee), the only child of a prominent dentist, and a very proud mother. He had every advantage: private schools, dancing schools, two colleges, coon skin coats, automobiles, a listing in the social register. All this resulted in a very popular but spoiled brat.
He ran away from school to join the army in World War I, but the Armistice was signed the very day he arrived in Atlanta to sign up. (Pete wrote an update of his story for the January 1969 issue of the A.A. Grapevine, which indicated he was then living in Cleveland, Tennessee. Tennessee is much closer to Atlanta than Cleveland, Ohio. Perhaps he returned to his hometown when he retired, which would mean that the reference to Cleveland, Ohio, in the Big Book is inaccurate.)
He ran out of money and wired his father for funds to come home, but his father wired back saying he could stay there until he earned enough to get home. It took him a year.
He went to work in Birmingham for a newspaper at fifteen dollars a week. During Prohibition he had his first taste of moonshine. For the next twenty-five years he drank anything and everything at the slightest excuse.
When he made it home in 1920, he re-entered school and did a year’s work in three months, proving that he could do it when he wanted to.
During the roaring ’20s, he drank a great deal and thought he was having a grand time. He got to Europe for a few weeks, had cards entitling him to an entrée in the better joints between Cleveland and New York, got married, and built a home in a fashionable suburb of Cleveland. This high living ended with the 1929 stock market crash. In a couple of years he lost his worldly goods, and his wife left him.
He then made a geographic cure – to New York. He began working in the broadcasting business. He worked for a Chicago firm that represented several large radio stations. It was his job to sell time on these stations to advertising agencies in New York.
Then he met a woman he wanted to marry, but she refused him at first. He persisted. In January 1938 he took a job managing a small radio station in Vermont, and again proposed to the girl. She was then working in Salt Lake City, but said, if he would curtail his drinking she would consider marrying him. They were married in Montreal in November 1938. But on their first Christmas he came home drunk.
In 1940 they moved to Pittsburgh where he managed two radio stations under the same ownership. His wife tried everything she could to help him, but by early spring of 1944, his drinking had become so troublesome that she left him and moved to her parents’ home in Florida. She told him she was not leaving because she didn’t love him, but because she did love him and could not bear to be there when he lost the respect of others and, above all, of his own self respect.
Full of self-pity he staggered home one day determined to kill himself. “Then, by George, she’d be sorry!” But he passed out, and when he woke, looking straight at him was a large oil painting of his wife, and he remembered her words: “I’m not leaving you because I don’t love you, but because I love you.” This was about ten p.m. (He pointed out that the hour is important.)
He called AA. After a few meetings he drove to Florida unannounced and showed his wife the A.A. literature he had brought with him to convince her that he was trying to change. She returned with him to Pittsburgh.
In September he went to New York alone and got drunk. It was a one-day drunk and he didn’t tell anyone. He began skipping meetings. On New Year’s Day he almost took a drink, but did not. It frightened him and he started going back to meetings. He met an old friend new in AA, and full of enthusiasm. This fired his spirits again, and he started really working the program. Then, when the group was celebrating his one years of sobriety, he told the truth. It had only been nine months since his last drink. He had thrown off the big lie that had been burdening him for months. “What a wonderful relief.”
His first spiritual experience came early. While in Florida trying to convince his wife that he was serious about A.A., she picked up a clipping from the St. Petersburg Times about A.A. She had considered sending it to him. She cut out that clipping at about ten o’clock on the same night, and at the same time as he called A.A. in Pittsburgh, some 1300 miles away.
In his 1969 update of his story, Pete said that when he came to A.A. he believed in God, but that was about the limit of his spiritual qualifications. He was in the program about three years before he found comfort and deep satisfaction in prayer. Insight came gradually through the voices of oldtimers.
When he and his wife moved to a new neighborhood in Pittsburgh, several ministers called on them asking them to visit their churches. It was embarrassing to his wife when the ministers groped around to find out just what their religion was. One young minister came quickly to the point by asking his wife what religion her husband followed. Without hesitancy she said, Alcoholics Anonymous. The minister replied that he knew of no better one. Pete went on to say that A.A. is not a religion, but certainly is a spiritual program.
He expressed dismay that responsibility to our group, to A.A. as a whole, and especially to General Services is a subject dwelt upon far too lightly by many of our members. He said it distresses him particularly when older members gradually drop out of the picture. We need their good experience, and they should be grateful enough to carry on the message as their responsibility to the future of Alcoholics Anonymous and, in many instances, to their very own sobriety. He hated to meet members who consider that they have graduated from A.A. They are missing so much! Pete knows now that sobriety is not a destination, but an endless journey, and he hastened to add, a very beautiful journey. (This update was written from Cleveland, Tennessee.)