by Louis Azrael
“I’m a drunkard,” said the middle-aged, dignified gentleman who has a responsible place in a big business organization. Then he corrected himself. “At least, I was until recently.
In that correction lies a fascinating story. He told me part of it and, as a result, I attended a few nights ago, one of the weekly meeting of “Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Except for myself, every other man in the room (and some of the women) knew pink elephant from purple giraffes, knew roaring sprees and jittery hangovers from personal experience. Most of them had, at one time or another, taken ineffectual “cures.” The business or professional careers of many had been ruined or seriously injured by drink.
Also present at the meeting were the wives, and in one case, the mother, of some of the men.
You’d never have suspected anything like that, to look at the gathering. There were no ragged, bleary-eyed bums. There were serious, friendly, well-dressed, alert looking people. Some of them bore names which are well known in Baltimore.
And they merely talked. A young man arose and, to my astonishment, I recognized him as one who when I first knew him, was one of the outstanding members of a Johns Hopkins University graduating class.
In simple, straightforward language, he told how his mother and his wife (both of whom were present) had used every device they knew to break his addiction to alcohol; how his business career had been ruined, and how he had come across “Alcoholics Anonymous.” He hasn’t had a drink in four months. He is re-establishing his business successfully.
He talked with none of the evangelical fervor of a revivalist. He indulged in no mock heroics. He talked like a friendly person who knew something which could be helpful to others.
Some of the others, with whom I spoke later, had been off liquor for a year or more. The chief speaker of the evening was a New York broker named William G. W., who founded “Alcoholics Anonymous” six years ago. He too spoke in the same fashion.
What is their secret? It is, as they explained it to me, amazingly simple; amazingly sensible. Six years ago several souses reached the depths of alcoholic degradation. Sanitariums hadn’t helped them. Psychiatrists hadn’t helped them. So, in a sober period. they decided to help each other.
One of the things that psychiatrists usually recommend to drunkards is to find some hobby; to get some new interest which will occupy their minds and energies. Well, these men adopted a new interest. They became interested in helping drunkards.
It was a hobby with a special fascination for them. They knew, better than any other persons could, how much they accomplished for those they helped. Because they knew the problems, the mental tricks, the rationalizations that drunkards use, they were able to give help which others couldn’t give.
Furthermore, they could appeal to drunkards where doctors, physicians or clergymen couldn’t. After they sat around with a drunkard for a while, exchanged stories about sprees and jamborees, about efforts to stop drinking, etc, there was a mutuality of interest which other types of persons couldn’t achieve.
And the important thing is that whether these men helped the other drunkards or not, they were helping themselves. They had because of what they were trying to do, an incentive to stay sober. And their minds, and their spare time, were taken up with an activity which was overpoweringly interesting and important to them.
From that group, “Alcoholics Anonymous” developed until it now includes about 1,500 persons in about twenty cities. The Baltimore group is only a few months old.
The plan is much more elaborate then I have indicated. Through experience, they have worked out a definite technique. They try to have men, when seeking to rid themselves of alcoholic habits place reliance in a Superior Being though it doesn’t matter what they call Him or how they approach Him. They try to teach victims to be honest with themselves and with others. In fact, Wilson and some others have written a long book about their experiences and solutions.
They get together every week just to be sociable and to talk things out. Any one of them knows that, when the craving for drink assails him, he can phone a member of the group, who will be glad to come to him immediately and try to help him.
There are no dues. There are no officers.
What I saw when I attended the meeting was merely a group of persons who had been through, or were still going through, a horrible experience and were trying to help each other.
And they’re succeeding. At least two thirds of those who have joined them, they told me, no longer take a drink.