Daily Readings May 21, 2020

 

 

“Defiance”

“As psychiatrists have often observed, defiance is the outstanding characteristic of many an alcoholic. So it’s not strange that lots of us have had our day at defying God Himself. Sometimes it’s because God has not delivered us the good things of life which we specified, as a greedy child makes an impossible list for Santa Claus. More often, though, we had met up with some major calamity, and to our way of thinking lost out because God deserted us. The girl we wanted to marry had other notions; we prayed God that she’d change her mind, but she didn’t. We prayed for healthy children, and were presented with sick ones, or none at all. We prayed for promotions at business, and none came. Loved ones, upon who we heartily depended, were taken from us by so-called acts of God. Then we became drunkards, and asked God to stop that. But nothing happened. This was the unkindest cut of all. ‘Damn this faith business!’ we said.

“When we encountered A.A., the fallacy of our defiance was revealed. At no time had we asked what God’s will was for us; instead we had been telling Him what it ought to be. No man, we saw, could believe in God and defy Him, too. Belief meant reliance, not defiance. In A.A. we saw the fruits of this belief: men and women spared from alcohol’s final catastrophe. We saw them meet and transcend their other pains and trials. We saw them calmly accept impossible situations, seeking neither to run nor to recriminate. This was not only faith; it was faith that worked under all conditions. We soon concluded that whatever price in humility we must pay, we would pay.”

Reprinted from the book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,” page 31, with permission of A.A. World Services, Inc.
Copyright © 1952, 1953, 1981 by The A.A. Grapevine, Inc. and Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing (now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.)

 

*~*^Daily Reflections^*~*

A LIST OF BLESSINGS

One exercise that I practice is to try for a full inventory of my blessings…
—As Bill Sees It, p. 37

What did I have to be grateful for? I shut myself up and started listing the blessings for which I was in no way responsible, beginning with having been born of sound mind and body. I went through seventy-four years of living right up to the present moment. The list ran to two pages, and took two hours to compile; I included health, family, money, A.A.—the whole gamut.

Every day in my prayers, I ask God to help me remember my list, and to be grateful for it throughout the day. When I remember my gratitude list, it’s very hard to conclude that God is picking on me.

Reprinted from the book “Daily Reflections,” page 150, with permission of A.A. World Services, Inc.
Copyright © 1990 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

 

*~*^As Bill Sees It^*~*

Whose Inventory?

We do not relate intimate experiences of another member unless we are sure he would approve. We find it better, when possible, to stick to our own stories. A man may criticize or laugh at himself and it will affect others favorably, but criticism or ridicule aimed at someone else often produces the contrary effect.

« « «   » » »

A continous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real desire to learn and grow by this means are necessities for us. We alcoholics have learned this the hard way. More experienced people, of course, in all times and places have practiced unsparing self-survey and criticism.

1. Alcoholics Anonymous, P. 125
2. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, P. 88
Reprinted from the book “As Bill Sees It,” page 161, with permission of A.A. World Services, Inc.
Copyright © 1967 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

 

*~*^Big Book Quote^*~*

Although financial recovery is on the way for many of us, we found we could not place money first. For us, material well-being always followed spiritual progress; it never preceded.

Reprinted from the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” page 127, with permission of A.A. World Services, Inc.
Copyright © 1939, 1955, 1976, 2001 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

 

 

The Jack Alexander Article About A.A.

 

 

Alcoholics Anonymous

Jack Alexander introduced Alcoholics Anonymous to a national stage when this article was published on March 1, 1941.

Jack Alexander

Three men sat around the bed of an alcoholic patient in the psychopathic ward of Philadelphia General Hospital one afternoon a few weeks ago. The man in the bed, who was a complete stranger to them, had the drawn and slightly stupid look that inebriates get while being defogged after a bender. The only thing that was noteworthy about the callers, except for the obvious contrast between their well-groomed appearances and that of the Patient, was the fact that each had been through the defogging process many times himself. They were members of Alcoholics Anonymous, a band of ex-problem drinkers who make an avocation of helping other alcoholics to beat the liquor habit.

The man in the bed was a mechanic. His visitors had been educated at Princeton, Yale and Pennsylvania and were, by occupation, a salesman, a lawyer and a publicity man. Less than a year before, one had been in shackles in the same ward. One of his Companions had been what is known among alcoholics as a sanitarium commuter. He had moved from place to place, bedeviling the staffs of the country’s leading institutions for the treatment of alcoholics. The other had spent twenty years of life, all outside institution walls, making life miserable for himself, his family and his employers, as well as sundry well-meaning relatives who had had the temerity to intervene.

The air of the ward was thick with the aroma of paraldehyde, an unpleasant cocktail smelling like a mixture of alcohol and ether, which hospitals sometimes use to taper off the paralyzed drinker and soothe his squirming nerves. The visitors seemed oblivious of this and of the depressing atmosphere that clings to even the nicest of psychopathic wards. They smoked and talked with the patient for twenty minutes or so, then left their personal cards and departed. If the man in the bed felt that he would like to see one of them again, they told him, he had only to put in a telephone call.

They made it plain that if he actually wanted to stop drinking, they would leave their work or get up in the middle of the night to hurry to where he was. If he did not choose to call, that would be the end of it. The members of Alcoholics Anonymous do not pursue or coddle a malingering prospect and they know the strange tricks of the alcoholic as a reformed swindler knows the art of bamboozling.

Herein lies much of the unique strength of a movement which, in the past six years, has brought recovery to around 2,000 men and women, a large percentage of whom had been considered medically hopeless. Doctors and clergymen, working separately or together, have always managed to salvage a few cases. In isolated instances, drinkers have found their own methods of quitting. But the inroads into alcoholism have been negligible and it remains one of the great unsolved public-health enigmas.

By nature touchy and suspicious, the alcoholic likes to be left alone to work out his puzzle, and he has a convenient way of ignoring the tragedy which he inflicts meanwhile upon those who are close to him. He holds desperately to a conviction that, although he has not been able to handle alcohol in the past, he will ultimately succeed in becoming a controlled drinker. One of medicine’s queerest animals, he is, as often as not, an acutely intelligent person. He fences with professional men and relatives who attempt to aid him and he gets a perverse satisfaction out of tripping them up in argument.

There is no specious excuse for drinking which the trouble shooters of Alcoholics Anonymous have not heard or used themselves. When one of their prospects hands them a rationalization for getting soused, they match it with half a dozen out of their own experiences. This upsets him a little and he gets defensive. He looks at their neat clothing and smoothly shaved faces and charges them with being goody-goodies who don’t know what it is to struggle with drink. They reply by relating their own stories — the double Scotches and brandies before breakfast; the vague feeling of discomfort which precedes a drinking bout; the awakening from a spree without being able to account for the actions of several days and the haunting fear that possibly they had run down someone with their automobiles.

They tell of the eight-ounce bottles of gin hidden behind pictures and in caches from cellar to attic; of spending whole days in motion-picture houses to stave off the temptation to drink; of sneaking out of the office for quickies during the day. They talk of losing jobs and stealing money from their wives’ purses; of putting pepper into whisky to give it a tang; of tippling on bitters and sedative tablets, or on mouthwash or hair tonic; of getting into the habit of camping outside the neighborhood tavern ten minutes before opening time. They describe a hand so jittery that it could not lift a pony to the lips without spilling the contents; of drinking liquor from a beer stein because it can be steadied with two hands, although at the risk of chipping a front tooth; of tying an end of a towel about a glass, looping the towel around the back of the neck and drawing the free end with the other hand, pulley fashion, to advance the glass to the mouth; of hands so shaky they feel as if they were about to snap off and fly into space; of sitting on hands for hours to keep them from doing this.

These and other bits of drinking lore usually manage to convince the alcoholic that he is talking to blood brothers. A bridge of confidence is thereby erected, spanning a gap that has baffled the physician, the minister, the priest or the hapless relatives. Over this connection, the troubleshooters convey, bit by bit, the details of a program for living which has worked for them and which, they feel, can work for any other alcoholic. They concede as out of their orbit only those who are psychotic or who are already suffering from the physical impairment known as wet brain. At the same time they see to it that the prospect gets whatever medical attention is needed.

Many doctors and staffs of institutions throughout the country now suggest Alcoholics Anonymous to their drinking patients. In some towns the courts and probation officers co-operate with the local group. In a few city psychopathic divisions the workers of Alcoholics Anonymous are accorded the same visiting privileges as staff members. Philadelphia General is one of these. Dr. John F. Stouffer, the chief psychiatrist, says: “The alcoholics we get here are mostly those who cannot afford private treatment, and this is by far the greatest thing we have ever been able to offer them. Even among those who occasionally land back in here again we observe a profound change in personality. You would hardly recognize them.”

The Illinois Medical Journal, in an editorial last December, went farther than Doctor Stouffer, in stating: “It is indeed a miracle when a person who for years has been more or less constantly under the influence of alcohol and in whom his friends have lost all confidence, will sit up all night with a ‘drunk’ and at stated intervals administer a small amount of liquor in accordance with a doctor’s order without taking a drop himself.”

This is a reference to a common aspect of the Arabian Nights’ adventures to which Alcoholics Anonymous workers dedicate themselves. Often it involves sitting upon, as well as up with, the intoxicated person, as the impulse to jump out a window seems to be an attractive one to many alcoholics when in their cups. Only an alcoholic can squat on another alcoholic’s chest for hours with the proper combination of discipline and sympathy.

During a recent trip around the East and Middle West I met and talked with scores of AAs, as they call themselves, and found them to be unusually calm, tolerant people. Somehow they seemed better integrated than the average group of nonalcoholic individuals. Their transformation from cop fighters, canned-heat drinkers and, in some instances, wife beaters, was startling. On one of the most influential newspapers in the country I found that the city editor, the assistant city editor and a nationally known reporter were AAs, and strong in the confidence of their publisher.

In another city I heard a judge parole a drunken driver to an AA member. The latter, during his drinking days, had smashed several cars and had had his own operator’s license suspended. The judge knew him and was glad to trust him. A brilliant executive of an advertising firm disclosed that two years ago he had been panhandling and sleeping in a doorway under an elevated structure. He had a favorite doorway, which he shared with other vagrants, and every few weeks he goes back and pays them a visit just to assure himself he isn’t dreaming.

In Akron, as in other manufacturing centers, the groups include a heavy element of manual workers. In the Cleveland Athletic Club I had luncheon with five lawyers, an accountant, an engineer, three salesmen, an insurance man, a buyer, a bartender, a chain-store manager, a manager of an independent store and a manufacturer’s representative. They were members of a central committee which coordinates the work of nine neighborhood groups. Cleveland, with more than 450 members, is the biggest of the AA centers. The next largest are located in Chicago, Akron, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington and New York. All told, there are groups in about 50 cities and towns.

Self-Insurance Against Demon Rum

In discussing their work, the AAs spoke of their drunk-rescuing as “insurance” for themselves. Experience within the group has shown, they said, that once a recovered drinker slows up in this work he is likely to go back to drinking, himself. There is, they agreed, no such thing as an ex-alcoholic. If one is an alcoholic — that is, a person who is unable to drink normally — one remains an alcoholic until he dies, just as a diabetic remains a diabetic. The best he can hope for is to become an arrested case, with drunk-saving as his insulin. At least, the AAs say so, and medical opinion tends to support them. All but a few said that they had lost all desire for alcohol. Most serve liquor in their homes when friends drop in and they still go to bars with companions who drink. The AAs tipple on soft drinks and coffee.

One, a sales manager, acts as bartender at his company’s annual jamboree in Atlantic City and spends his nights tucking the celebrators into their beds. Only a few of those who recover fail to lose the feeling that at any minute they may thoughtlessly take one drink and skyrocket off on a disastrous binge. An AA who is a clerk in an Eastern city hasn’t had a snifter in three and a half years, but says that he still has to walk fast past saloons to circumvent the old impulse; but he is an exception. The only hangover from the wild days that plagues the AA is a recurrent nightmare. In the dream, he finds himself off on a rousing whooper-dooper, frantically trying to conceal his condition from the community. Even this symptom disappears shortly, in most cases. Surprisingly, the rate of employment among these people, who formerly drank themselves out of job after job, is said to be around 90 per cent.

One-hundred-percent effectiveness with non-psychotic drinkers who sincerely want to quit is claimed by the workers of Alcoholics Anonymous. The program will not work, they add, with those who only “want to want to quit,” or who want to quit because they are afraid of losing their families or their jobs. The effective desire, they state, must be based upon enlightened self-interest; the applicant must want to get away from liquor to head off incarceration or premature death. He must be fed up with the stark social loneliness which engulfs the uncontrolled drinker and he must want to put some order into his bungled life.

As it is impossible to disqualify all borderline applicants, the working percentage of recovery falls below the 100 percent mark. According to AA estimation, 50 percent of the alcoholics taken in hand recover almost immediately; 25 percent get well after suffering a relapse or two, and the rest remain doubtful. This rate of success is exceptionally high. Statistics on traditional medical and religious cures are lacking, but it has been informally estimated that they are no more than 2 or 3 percent effective on run-of-the-mine cases.

Although it is too early to state that Alcoholics Anonymous is the definitive answer to alcoholism, its brief record is impressive and it is receiving hopeful support. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., helped defray the expense of getting it started and has gone out of his way to get other prominent men interested.

Rockefeller’s gift was a small one, in deference to the insistence of the originators that the movement be kept on a voluntary, nonpaid basis. There are no salaried organizers, no dues, no officers and no central control. Locally, the rents of assembly halls are met by passing the hat at meetings. In small communities no collections are taken, as the gatherings are held in private homes. A small office in downtown New York acts merely as a clearinghouse for information. There is no name on the door and mail is received anonymously through Box 658, Church Street Annex post office. The only income, which is money received from the sale of a book describing the work, is handled by The Alcoholic Foundation, a board composed of three alcoholics and four non-alcoholics.

In Chicago 25 doctors work hand in hand with Alcoholics Anonymous, contributing their services and referring their own alcoholic patients to the group, which now numbers around 200. The same co-operation exists in Cleveland and to a lesser degree in other centers. A physician, Dr. W. D. Silkworth, of New York City, gave the movement its first encouragement. However, many doctors remain skeptical. Dr. Foster Kennedy, an eminent New York neurologist, probably had these in mind when he stated at a meeting a year ago: “The aim of those concerned in this effort against alcoholism is high, their success has been considerable and I believe medical men of good will should aid.”

The active help of two medical men of good will, Drs. A. Wiese Hammer and C. Dudley Saul, has assisted greatly in making the Philadelphia unit one of the more effective of the younger groups. The movement there had its beginning in an offhand way in February, 1940, when a businessman who was an AA convert was transferred to Philadelphia from New York. Fearful of backsliding for lack of rescue work, the newcomer rounded up three local bar flies and started to work on them. He got them dry and the quartet began ferreting out other cases. By last December 15, 99 alcoholics had joined up. Of these, 86 were now total abstainers — 39 from one to three months, 17 from three to six months, and 25 from six to ten months. Five who had joined the unit after having belonged in other cities had been nondrinkers from one to three years.

At the other end of the time scale, Akron, which cradled the movement, holds the intramural record for sustained abstinence. According to a recent check-up, two members have been riding the AA wagon for five and a half years, one for five years, three for four and a half years, one for the same period with one skid, three for three and a half years, seven for three years, three for three years with one skid each, one for two and a half years and thirteen for two years. Previously, most of the Akronites and Philadelphians had been unable to stay away from liquor for longer than a few weeks.

In the Middle West the work has been almost exclusively among persons who have not arrived at the institutional stage. The New York group, which has a similar nucleus, makes a sideline specialty of committed cases and has achieved striking results. In the summer of 1939 the group began working on the alcoholics confined in Rockland State Hospital, at Orangeburg, a vast mental sanitarium which gets the hopeless alcoholic backwash of the big population centers. With the encouragement of Dr. R. E. Blaisdell, the medical superintendent, a unit was formed within the walls and meetings were held in the recreation hall. New York AAs went to Orangeburg to give talks and on Sunday evenings the patients were brought in state-owned busses to a clubhouse which the Manhattan group rents on the West Side.

Last July first, eleven months later, records kept at the hospital showed that of 54 patients released to Alcoholics Anonymous, seventeen had had no relapse and 14 others had had only one. Of the rest, nine had gone back to drinking in their home communities, twelve had returned to the hospital and two had not been traced. Doctor Blaisdell has written favorably about the work to the State Department of Mental Hygiene and he praised it officially in his last annual report.

Even better results were obtained in two public institutions in New Jersey,

Greystone Park and Overbrook, which attract patients of better economic and social background than Rockland, because of their nearness to prosperous suburban villages. Of seven patients released from the Greystone Park institution in two years, five have abstained for periods of one to two years, according to AA records. Eight of ten released from Overbrook have abstained for about the same length of time. The others have had from one to several relapses.

Why some people become alcoholics is a question on which authorities disagree. Few think that anyone is “born an alcoholic.” One may be born, they say, with a hereditary predisposition to alcoholism, just as one may be born with a vulnerability to tuberculosis. The rest seems to depend upon environment and experience, although one theory has it that some people are allergic to alcohol, as hay-fever sufferers are to pollens. Only one note is found to be common to all alcoholics—emotional immaturity. Closely related to this is an observation that an unusually large number of alcoholics start out in life as an only child, as a youngest child, as the only boy in a family of girls or the only girl in a family of boys. Many have records of childhood precocity and were what are known as spoiled children.

Frequently the situation is complicated by an off-center home atmosphere in which one parent is unduly cruel, the other overindulgent. Any combination of these factors, plus a divorce or two, tends to produce neurotic children who are poorly equipped emotionally to face the ordinary realities of adult life. In seeking escapes, one may immerse himself in his business, working twelve to fifteen hours a day, or in sports or in some artistic sideline. Another finds what he thinks is a pleasant escape in drink. It bolsters his opinion of himself and temporarily wipes away any feeling of social inferiority which he may have. Light drinking leads to heavy drinking. Friends and family are alienated and employers become disgusted. The drinker smolders with resentment and wallows in self-pity. He indulges in childish rationalizations to justify his drinking—he has been working hard and he deserves to relax, his throat hurts from an old tonsillectomy and a drink would ease the pain, he has a headache, his wife does not understand him, his nerves are jumpy, everybody is against him, and so on and on. He unconsciously becomes a chronic excuse maker for himself.

All the time he is drinking he tells himself, and those who butt into his affairs, that he can really become a controlled drinker if he wants to. To demonstrate his strength of will, he goes for weeks without taking a drop. He makes a point of calling at his favorite bar at a certain time each day and ostentatiously sipping milk or a carbonated beverage, not realizing that he is indulging in juvenile exhibitionism. Falsely encouraged, he shifts to a routine of one beer a day, and that is the beginning of the end once more. Beer leads inevitably to more beer and then to hard liquor. Hard liquor leads to another first-rate bender. Oddly, the trigger which sets off the explosion is as apt to he a stroke of business success as it is to be a run of bad luck. An alcoholic can stand neither prosperity nor adversity.

Curing by Catharsis

The victim is puzzled on coming out of the alcoholic fog. Without his being aware of any change, a habit had gradually become an obsession. After a while, he no longer needs his rationalizations to justify the fatal first drink. All he knows is that he feels swamped by uneasiness or elation, and before he realizes what is happening he is standing at a bar with an empty whisky pony in front of him and a stimulating sensation in his throat. By some peculiar quirk of his mind, he has been able to draw a curtain over the memory of the intense pain and remorse caused by preceding stem-winders. After many experiences of this kind, the alcoholic begins to realize that he does not understand himself; he wonders whether his power of will, though strong in other fields, isn’t defenseless against alcohol. He may go on trying to defeat his obsession and wind up in a sanitarium. He may give up the fight as hopeless and try to kill himself. Or he may seek outside help.

If he applies to Alcoholics Anonymous, he is first brought around to admit that alcohol has him whipped and that his life has become unmanageable. Having achieved this state of intellectual humility, he is given a dose of religion in its broadest sense. He is asked to believe in a Power that is greater than himself, or at least to keep an open mind on that subject while he goes on with the rest of the program. Any concept of the higher Power is acceptable. A skeptic or agnostic may choose to think of his Inner Self, the miracle of growth, a tree, man’s wonderment at the physical universe, the structure of the atom or mere mathematical infinity. Whatever form is visualized, the neophyte is taught that he must rely upon it and, in his own way, to pray to the Power for strength.

He next makes a sort of moral inventory of himself with the private aid of another person — one of his AA sponsors, a priest, a minister, a psychiatrist, or anyone else he fancies. If it gives him any relief, he may get up at a meeting and recite his misdeeds, but he is not required to do so. He restores what he may have stolen while intoxicated and arranges to pay off old debts and to make good on rubber checks; he makes amends to persons he has abused and, in general, cleans up his past as well as he is able to. It is not uncommon for his sponsors to lend him money to help out in the early stages.

This catharsis is regarded as important because of the compulsion, which a feeling of guilt exerts in the alcoholic obsession. As nothing tends to push an alcoholic toward the bottle more than personal resentments, the pupil also makes out a list of his grudges and resolves not to be stirred by them. At this point he is ready to start working on other active alcoholics. By the process of extroversion, which the work entails, he is enabled to think less of his own troubles.

The more drinkers he succeeds in swinging into Alcoholics Anonymous, the greater his responsibility to the group becomes. He can’t get drunk now without injuring the people who have proved themselves his best friends. He is beginning to grow up emotionally and to quit being a leaner. If raised in an orthodox church he usually, but not always, becomes a regular communicant again.

Simultaneously with the making over of the alcoholic goes the process of adjusting his family to his new way of living. The wife or husband of an alcoholic, and the children, too, frequently become neurotics from being exposed to drinking excesses over a period of years. Re-education of the family is an essential part of a follow-up program, which has been devised.

Alcoholics Anonymous, which is a synthesis of old ideas rather than a new discovery, owes its existence to the collaboration of a New York stockbroker and an Akron physician. Both alcoholics, they met for the first time a little less than six years ago. In 35 years of periodic drinking, Doctor Armstrong, to give the physician a fictitious name, had drunk himself out of most of his practice. Armstrong had tried everything, including the Oxford Group, and had shown no improvement. On Mother’s Day, 1935, he staggered home, in typical drunk fashion, lugging an expensive potted plant, which he placed in his wife’s lap. Then he went upstairs and passed out.

At that moment, nervously pacing the lobby of an Akron hotel, was the broker from New York, whom we shall arbitrarily call Griffith. Griffith was in a jam. In an attempt to obtain control of a company and rebuild his financial fences, he had come out to Akron and engaged in a fight for proxies. He had lost the fight. His hotel bill was unpaid. He was almost flat broke. Griffith wanted a drink.

During his career in Wall Street, Griffith had turned some sizable deals and had prospered, but, through ill-timed drinking bouts, had lost out on his main chances. Five months before coming to Akron he had gone on the water wagon, through the ministrations of the Oxford Group in New York. Fascinated by the problem of alcoholism, he had many times gone back as a visitor to a Central Park West detoxicating hospital, where he had been a patient, and talked to the inmates. He effected no recoveries, but found that by working on other alcoholics he could stave off his own craving.

A Doctor for a Patient

A stranger in Akron, Griffith knew no alcoholics with whom he could wrestle. A church directory, which hung in the lobby opposite the bar, gave him an idea. He telephoned one of the clergymen listed and through him got in touch with a member of the local Oxford Group. This person was a friend of Doctor Armstrong’s and was able to introduce the physician and the broker at dinner. In this manner Doctor Armstrong became Griffith’s first real disciple. He was a shaky one, at first. After a few weeks of abstinence, he went East to a medical convention and came home in a liquid state. Griffith, who had stayed in Akron to iron out some legal tangles arising from the proxy battle, talked him back to sobriety. That was on June 10, 1935. The nips the physician took from a bottle proffered by Griffith on that day were the last drinks he ever took.

Griffith’s lawsuits dragged on, holding him over in Akron for six months. He moved his baggage to the Armstrong home, and together the pair struggled with other alcoholics. Before Griffith went back to New York, two more Akron converts had been obtained. Meanwhile, both Griffith and Doctor Armstrong had withdrawn from the Oxford Group, because they felt that its aggressive evangelism and some of its other methods were hindrances in working with alcoholics. They put their own technique on a strict take-it-or-leave-it basis and kept it there.

Progress was slow. After Griffith had returned East, Doctor Armstrong and his wife, a Wellesley graduate, converted their home into a free refuge for alcoholics and an experimental laboratory for the study of the guests’ behavior. One of the guests, who, unknown to his hosts, was a manic depressive as well as an alcoholic, ran wild one night with a kitchen knife. He was overcome before he had stabbed anyone. After a year and a half, a total of ten persons had responded to the program and were abstaining. What was left of the family savings had gone into the work. The physician’s new sobriety caused a revival in his practice, but not enough of one to carry the extra expense. The Armstrongs, nevertheless, carried on, on borrowed money. Griffith, who had a Spartan wife, too, turned his Brooklyn home into a duplicate of the Akron ménage. Mrs. Griffith, a member of an old Brooklyn family, took a job in a department store and in her spare time played nurse to inebriates. The Griffiths also borrowed, and Griffith managed to make odd bits of money around the brokerage houses. By the spring of 1939 the Armstrongs and the Griffiths had between them cozened about one hundred alcoholics into sobriety.

In a book which they published at that time the recovered drinkers described the cure program and related their personal stories. The title was Alcoholics Anonymous. It was adopted as a name for the movement itself, which up to then had none. As the book got into circulation, the movement spread rapidly.

Today, Doctor Armstrong is still struggling to patch up his practice. The going is hard. He is in debt because of his contributions to the movement and the time he devotes gratis to alcoholics. Being a pivotal man in the group, he is unable to turn down the requests for help which flood his office.

Griffith is even deeper in the hole. For the past two years he and his wife have had no home in the ordinary sense of the word. In a manner reminiscent of the primitive Christians they have moved about, finding shelter in the homes of AA colleagues and sometimes wearing borrowed clothing.

A Self-Starting Movement

Having got something started, both the prime movers want to retire to the fringe of their movement and spend more time getting back on their feet financially. They feel that the way the thing is set up it is virtually self-operating and self-multiplying. Because of the absence of figureheads and the fact that there is no formal body of belief to promote, they have no fear that Alcoholics Anonymous will degenerate into a cult.

The self-starting nature of the movement is apparent from letters in the files of the New York office. Many persons have written in saying that they stopped drinking as soon as they read the book, and made their homes meeting places for small local chapters. Even a fairly large unit, in Little Rock, got started in this way. An Akron civil engineer and his wife, in gratitude for his cure four years ago, have been steadily taking alcoholics into their home. Out of thirty-five such wards, thirty-one have recovered.

Twenty pilgrims from Cleveland caught the idea in Akron and returned home to start a group of their own. From Cleveland, by various means, the movement has spread to Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Atlanta, San Francisco, Evansville and other cities. An alcoholic Cleveland newspaperman with a surgically collapsed lung moved to Houston for his health. He got a job on a Houston paper and through a series of articles which he wrote for it started an AA unit which now has thirty-five members. One Houston member has moved to Miami and is now laboring to snare some of the more eminent winter colony lushes. A Cleveland traveling salesman is responsible for starting small units in many different parts of the country. Fewer than half of the AA members have ever seen Griffith or Doctor Armstrong.

To an outsider who is mystified, as most of us are, by the antics of problem drinking friends, the results which have been achieved are amazing. This is especially true of the more virulent cases, a few of which are herewith sketched under names that are not their own.

Sarah Martin was a product of the F. Scott Fitzgerald era. Born of wealthy parents in a Western city, she went to Eastern boarding schools and “finished” in France. After making her debut, she married. Sarah spent her nights drinking and dancing until daylight. She was known as a girl who could carry a lot of liquor. Her husband had a weak stomach and she became disgusted with him. They were quickly divorced. After her father’s fortune had been erased in 1929, Sarah got a job in New York and supported herself. In 1932, seeking adventure, she went to Paris to live and set up a business of her own, which was successful. She continued to drink heavily and stayed drunk longer than usual. After a spree in 1933 she was informed that she had tried to throw herself out a window. During another bout she did jump, or fall—she doesn’t remember which—out of a first-floor window. She landed face first on the sidewalk and was laid up for six months of bone setting, dental work and plastic surgery.

In 1936 Sarah Martin decided that if she changed her environment by returning to the United States, she would be able to drink normally. This childish faith in geographical change is a classic delusion which all alcoholics get at one time or another. She was drunk all the way home on the boat. New York frightened her and she drank to escape it. Her money ran out and she borrowed from friends. When the friends cut her, she hung around Third Avenue bars cadging drinks from strangers. Up to this point, she had diagnosed her trouble as a nervous breakdown. Not until she had committed herself to several sanitariums did she realize, through reading, that she was an alcoholic. On advice of a staff doctor, she got in touch with an Alcoholics Anonymous group. Today she has another good job and spends many of her nights sitting on hysterical women drinkers to prevent them from diving out of windows. In her late thirties, Sarah Martin is an attractively serene woman. The Paris surgeons did handsomely by her.

Watkins is a shipping clerk in a factory. Injured in an elevator mishap in 1927, he was furloughed with pay by a company that was thankful that he did not sue for damages. Having nothing to do during a long convalescence, Watkins loafed in speak-easies. Formerly a moderate drinker, he started to go on drunks lasting several months. His furniture went for debt and his wife fled, taking their three children. In eleven years, Watkins was arrested twelve times and served eight workhouse sentences. Once, in an attack of delirium tremens, he circulated a rumor among the prisoners that the county was poisoning the food in order to reduce the workhouse population and save expenses. A mess-hall riot resulted. In another fit of DTs, during which he thought the man in the cell above was trying to pour hot lead on him, Watkins slashed his own wrists and throat with a razor blade. While recuperating in an outside hospital, with eighty-six stitches, he swore never to drink again. He was drunk before the final bandages were removed. Two years ago a former drinking companion got him into Alcoholics Anonymous and he hasn’t touched liquor since. His wife and children have returned and the home has new furniture. Back at work, Watkins has paid off the major part of $2000 in debts and petty alcoholic thefts and has his eye on a new automobile.

At twenty-two, Tracy, a precocious son of well-to-do parents, was credit manager for an investment-banking firm whose name has become a symbol of the money-mad 20’s. After the firm’s collapse during the stock-market crash, he went into advertising and worked up to a post which paid him $23,000 a year. On the day his son was born Tracy was fired. Instead of appearing in Boston to close a big advertising contract, he had gone on a spree and had wound up in Chicago, losing out on the contract. Always a heavy drinker, Tracy became a bum. He tippled on canned heat and hair tonic and begged from cops, who are always easy touches for amounts up to a dime. On one sleety night Tracy sold his shoes to buy a drink, putting on a pair of rubbers he had found in a doorway and stuffing them with paper to keep his feet warm.

The Convivial AAs

He started committing himself to sanitariums, more to get in out of the cold than anything else. In one institution, a physician got him interested in the AA program. As part of it, Tracy, a Catholic, made a general confession and returned to the church, which he had long since abandoned. He skidded back to alcohol a few times, but after a relapse in February, 1939, Tracy took no more drinks. He has since then beat his way up again to $18,000 a year in advertising.

Victor Hugo would have delighted in Brewster, an adventurer who took life the hard way. Brewster was a lumberjack, cow hand and wartime aviator. During the postwar era he took up flask-toting and was soon doing a Cook’s tour of the sanitariums. In one of them, after hearing about shock cures, he bribed the Negro attendant in the morgue, with gifts of cigarettes, to permit him to drop in each afternoon and meditate over a cadaver. The plan worked well until one day he came upon a dead man who, by a freak of facial contortion, wore what looked like a grin. Brewster met up with the AAs in December, 1938, and after achieving abstinence got a sales job which involved much walking. Meanwhile, he had got cataracts on both eyes. One was removed, giving him distance sight with the aid of thick-lens spectacles. He used the other eye for close-up vision, keeping it dilated with an eye-drop solution in order to avoid being run down in traffic. Then he developed a swollen, or milk, leg. With these disabilities, Brewster tramped the streets for six months before he caught up with his drawing account. Today, at fifty, and still hampered by his physical handicaps, he is making his calls and is earning around $400 a month.

For the Brewsters, the Martins, the Watkinses, the Tracys and the other reformed alcoholics, congenial company is now available wherever they happen to be. In the larger cities AAs meet one another daily at lunch in favored restaurants. The Cleveland groups give big parties on New Year’s and other holidays, at which gallons of coffee and soft drinks are consumed. Chicago holds open house on Friday, Saturday and Sunday—alternately, on the North, West and South Sides—so that no lonesome AA need revert to liquor over the weekend for lack of companionship. Some play cribbage or bridge, the winner of each hand contributing to a kitty for paying off entertainment expenses. The others listen to the radio, dance, eat or just talk. All alcoholics, drunk or sober, like to gab. They are among the most society-loving people in the world, which may help to explain why they got to be alcoholics in the first place.

“Alcoholics Anonymous” by Jack Alexander, The Saturday Evening Post, March 1, 1941

 

 

Your Disease

 

 

 

 

Your Disease

 

Hello…just in case you forgot me…I am your disease…

I hate meetings…I hate Higher Powers…I hate anyone who has a program. To all who come in contact with me, I wish you death and I wish you suffering.

Allow me to introduce myself, I am the disease of alcoholism. I am cunning, baffling, and powerful. That’s me. I have killed millions and I am pleased.

I love to catch you with the element of surprise. I love pretending I am your friend and lover. I have given you comfort, haven’t I? Wasn’t I there for you when you were lonely? When you wanted to die, didn’t you call on me?

I was there. I love to make you hurt. I love to make you cry. Better yet, I love to make you so numb you can neither hurt nor cry.

When you can’t feel anything at all, this is true gratification. All that I ask from you is long term suffering. I’ve been there for you always. When things were going right in your life, you invited me. You said you didn’t deserve these things, and I was only one who would agree with you. Together we were able to destroy all the good things in your life. People don’t take me seriously. They take strokes seriously, heart attacks, even diabetes, they take seriously. Fools. Without my help these things would not be possible. I am such a hated disease, and yet I do not come uninvited. You choose to have me. So many have chosen me over reality and peace.

More than you hate me, I hate all of you who have a 12 Step program. Your program, your meetings, your Higher Power. All these things weaken me, and I can’t function in the manner I am accustomed to. Now I must lie here quietly. You don’t see me but I am growing bigger than ever. When you only exist, I may live. When you live I may only exist. But I am here.

And until we meet again, if we meet again, I wish you death and suffering.

 

 

 

 

Interview With the Author of “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict”

 

 

 

 

Interview With the Author of “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict”

Dr. Paul’s story, “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict” is published in the Third Edition of the Big Book; his remarks on acceptance, which appear on pages 449 and 450, have been helpful to many AA members over the years. This interview was conducted by telephone to Dr. Paul’s home in California.

 

How did you come to write the story that’s in the Big Book?

The editor of the Grapevine—a woman named Paula C.—was also the chairperson of the committee to review the stories. She wrote to tell me that the magazine was going to use an article I’d written on why doctors shouldn’t prescribe pills for alcoholics. So she knew my writing a little bit and she asked me if I had a dual problem and would I be willing to write an article about it for consideration in the Big Book. My reaction to that was the same as my reaction when it was suggested I come to AA—I thought it was one of the dumbest ideas I’d ever heard and I ignored her letter. Later on she called and asked for the article, and I lied and said I hadn’t had time to write it. She extended the deadline and called me a second time. I had a gal working in the office with me who was in the program, and she thought it would be nice to have typed a story that might end up in the Big Book, so she said to me, “You write it, I’ll type it, and we’ll send it in.” So that’s what we did. But by that time they had done another printing of the Second Edition, and I thought, Fine, that means they won’t use it. But Paula said she liked it and the Grapevine published it with the title “Bronzed Mocassins” and an illustration of a pair of bronze mocassins. Eventually it was put in the Big Book, but the title was changed, and my guess is that they wanted to show that an alcoholic could be a professional and be an addict, but that wouldn’t make him not an alcoholic. It worked well but maybe it overshot the mark, and now one of the most uncomfortable things for me is when people run up to me at a meeting and tell me how glad they are the story is in the book. They say they’ve been fighting with their home group because their home group won’t let them talk about drugs. So they show their group the story and they say, “By God, now you’ll have to let me talk about drugs.” And I really hate to see the story as a divisive thing. I don’t think we came to AA to fight each other.

Is there anything you regret having written in your story?

Well, I must say I’m really surprised at the number of people who come up to me and ask me confidentially if what they’ve heard on the very best authority—usually from their sponsor—is true: that there are things in my story I want to change, or that I regret having written it, or that I want to take it out because it says so much about drugs, or that I’ve completely changed my mind that AA is the answer or even that acceptance is the answer. I’ve also heard—on the best authority!—that I’ve died or gotten drunk or on pills. The latest one was that my wife Max died and that I got so depressed I got drunk. So, is there anything I’d like to change? No. I believe what I said more now than when I wrote it.

Do you think that your story might help those who are dually addicted?

I think it does. I think the story makes clear the truth that an alcoholic can also be an addict, and indeed that an alcoholic has a constitutional right to have as many problems as he wants! But I also think that if you’re not an alcoholic, being an addict doesn’t make you one. The way I see it, an alcoholic is a person who can’t drink and who can’t use drugs, and an addict is a person who can’t use drugs and can’t drink. But that doesn’t mean that every AA meeting has to be open to a discussion of drugs if it doesn’t want to. Every meeting has the right to say it doesn’t want drugs discussed. People who want to discuss drugs have other places where they can go to talk about that. And AA is very open to giving the Steps and Traditions to other groups who want to use them. I know this from my own experience, because I wrote to the General Service Office and got permission to start Pills Anonymous and Chemical Dependency Anonymous. I did that when I was working in the field of chemical dependency. We started groups but I didn’t go to them because I get everything I need from AA. I don’t have any trouble staying away from talking about drugs, and I never introduce myself as an alcoholic/addict.

I’m annoyed—or maybe irritated is a better word—by the people who keep insisting that AA should broaden to include drugs and addictions other than alcohol. In fact I hear it said that AA should change its name to Addicts Anonymous. I find that a very narrow-minded view based on people’s personal opinions and not on good sense. History tells us that the Washingtonians spread themselves so thin they evaporated. Jim B. says the greatest thing that ever happened in AA was the publication of the Big Book, because it put in writing what the program was and made it available all over the world. So wherever you go it’s the same program. I don’t see how you could change the program unless you changed the book and I can’t see that happening.

It’s a question of singleness of purpose?

That singleness of purpose thing is so significant. It seems to be working; why would we change it? I can’t think of any change that would be an improvement.

Nowadays drunks seem to come to meetings already dried out, but that wasn’t always the case.

No, it wasn’t. You don’t get Twelfth Step calls as dramatic as they used to be. Now I find that if you’re called upon to make a Twelfth Step call, it’ll be on somebody who is in the hospital. You find out when they’re available and not in some other kind of meeting, and make an appointment. But this might change as the number of treatment programs begins to fade out.

I used to make “cold turkey” calls, where the alcoholic hadn’t asked for help. One time I went to see this guy who was described to me as a big husky fellow. He was holed up in a motel. I found out from the manager of the motel that he was on the second floor, and as I was walking up the outside stairs to get to his place, I thought to myself, if this guy comes charging out the door, he could easily throw me over the stair railing and I’d end up on the concrete. So I thought, well, the good news is I’d probably be one of AA’s first martyrs. Then I thought, yeah, but I’d be an anonymous martyr. I made the call anyhow, and he got sober for a while.

In your Big Book story, you say that acceptance is the key to everything. I wonder if you’ve ever had a problem accepting what life hands you.

I think today that my job really is to enjoy life whether I like it or not. I don’t like everything I have to accept. In fact, if everything was to my specifications and desires there would be no problem with acceptance. It’s accepting things I don’t like that is difficult. It’s accepting when I’m not getting my own way. Yes, I find it very difficult at times.

Anything specific?

Nothing major, though it sometimes seems major that I have to accept living with my wife Max and her ways of doing things! She is an entirely different person than I am. She likes clutter, I like things orderly. She thinks randomly and I like structured thinking. We’re very, very different. We never should have gotten married! Last December we were married fifty-five years.

I guess she knows your thoughts on this matter.

Ad nauseum.

You’re still going to meetings?

I’d say five or six a week.

Do you and Max go to meetings together?

Max isn’t in AA, she’s in Al-Anon and she’s still very active in it. But I go to Al-Anon too, and that helps a great deal, and Max comes to open AA meetings with me and that helps too. It’s kind of like Elsa C. used to say: when two people have their individual programs, it’s like railroad tracks, two separate and parallel rails, but with all those meetings holding them together.

Do you think you’d still be married if you hadn’t gone to meetings all these years?

I’m sure we wouldn’t. I initially thought that the Serenity Prayer said I’d have to change the things I couldn’t accept. So I thought, well, we can’t get along so it’s time to change the marriage. I used to go around looking for old-timers who would agree with me and say that’s what the Serenity Prayer meant. But Max and I finally made a commitment to the marriage and stopped talking about divorce and started working our programs. In fact we tend to sponsor each other, which is a dangerous thing to do, but we help each other see when we need more meetings, or need to work a certain Step or something like that.

Do you have, or did you have, a sponsor?

Early on I was talking to a friend of mine, Jack N., who was sober a couple of months longer than I was. Jack and his wife and Max and I used to go to AA speaker meetings together. I was telling him how my home group was nagging at me because I didn’t have a sponsor, and on the spur of the moment I said, “Why don’t you be my sponsor?” and on the spur of the moment he said to me, “I’ll be your sponsor if you’ll be my sponsor.” And I said, “I don’t know if they’ll allow that.” But we decided to try it and it worked out. He calls me ’cause I’m his sponsor and I call him ’cause he’s my sponsor so I guess we call each other twice as often. We’re still sponsoring each other. That’s been going on for twenty-seven years. He moved to L. A. but we stay in touch, mostly by phone.

Is there a tool or a slogan or a Step that is particularly useful to you right now?

Pretty much every morning, before I get out of bed, I say the Serenity Prayer, the Third Step Prayer, and the Seventh Step Prayer. Then Max and I repeat those prayers along with other prayers and meditations at breakfast. And I say those three prayers repeatedly throughout the day.

I grew up thinking that I had to perfect my personality, then I got into AA, and AA said, no, that isn’t the way we do it: only God can remove our defects. I was amazed to find that I couldn’t be a better person simply by trying harder!

What I’ve done with a number of problems—like fear and depression and insomnia—is to treat them as defects of character, because they certainly affect my personality adversely. With depression, I’ve never taken any antidepressants. Instead, with any defect I want to get rid of, I become willing to have it removed, then I ask God to remove it, then I act like he has. Now, I know God has a loophole that says he’ll remove it unless it’s useful to you or to my fellows. So I tell him I’d like my defect removed completely, but he can sleep on it, and in the morning he can give me the amount he wants me to have, and I’ll accept it as a gift from him. I’ll take whatever he gives me. I’ve never done that when he hasn’t removed a great deal of my defect, but I’ve never done it when he has permanently and totally removed any defect. But the result is that I no longer fight myself for having it.

That’s a helpful way of seeing things. It makes defects into a gift.

That’s right. And it’s the Rule Sixty-two business [see Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 149]. It’s like Father Terry always says, “Be friendly with your defects.” In fact some poet said, “Hug your demon, otherwise it’ll bite you in the ass.” Poets can talk like that.

Has your sponsoring changed over the years?

I do a lot more stuff by telephone. When I’m speaking at a meeting, if I think of it, I give out my home phone number. So I get a lot of phone calls from all over the country. People ask me if I’m willing to help them as a sponsor and I tell them, well, you call me every day for thirty days, or maybe sixty or ninety or whatever, and then they call me every day, and we get to know each other, and during that time we find out what it’s like to be relating to each other. It’s kind of a probationary period. Then if they still want me to be their sponsor, we’ll go ahead and if they don’t, we move on and there’s no loss. And this gets them accustomed to calling, so when they have a problem, they don’t have to analyze it at great depth and decide if it’s bad enough that they should bother me with a phone call. I haven’t personally been doing each Step individually with people as much, but I’ve redone all the Steps myself on an average of every five years. And every time I’ve done that, my sobriety has stepped up to a new plateau, just like the first time I did them.

Sometimes people call me ’cause they’re feeling in a funk, their sponsor has moved away or died, or they’ve moved away from their sponsor, or the meetings don’t mean much anymore. They aren’t getting anything out of AA. And because of my relationship with pills, I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say they’ve got—what do you call it?—a “chemical imbalance.” They’re seeing a counselor who says, “Yeah, you’re depressed,” and the counselor wants to start them on an antidepressant. My suggestion is, if you want to do something like that and you haven’t done the Steps in a number of years, do the Steps first. And repeatedly people will do that and decide they don’t need the pills.

When you speak at out-of-state AA meetings, does Max go with you?

I don’t go unless she goes.

Why not?

Because I decided I didn’t come to AA to become a traveling salesman and be away from home. So we go where it’s a big enough event that they can take us both. And what’s really more fun is if it’s a mixed event where Max can speak, especially if she gets to speak first. She likes that. She likes to say that I say that she tells a perverted version of my drinking story. Then she points out that I was the one who was drinking and she was the one who was sober.

There are many more young people in the Fellowship now. Do you think young people have special problems because they’re getting sober at such an early age?

People always say they’re so glad to see the young people come in, and I agree, but I’m glad to see the old people come in too. I like to see anybody get sober. It’s hard to say whether your pain is greater than my pain or mine’s greater than yours. I’m sure that young people have problems, but we all have problems—gays have problems, people who are addicted to other drugs have problems, single people have problems. I can’t think of anything more of a problem than being a woman alcoholic trying to get sober, married to a practicing alcoholic male, and with a handful of kids. That must be as about as big a problem as you can get. Everybody has special problems.

I’ve said it often and I haven’t had any reason to change my mind: the way I see it, I’ve never had a problem and nobody will ever come to me with a problem such that there won’t be an answer in the Steps. That gives me a great deal of confidence. I think the program—the Steps—covers everything conceivable.

I’m getting way off from what you asked me. I can’t give short answers. I often tell people that the more I know about something, the shorter the answer, but when I don’t know, I just make up stuff.

Did you find it helpful at some point to become familiar with the Traditions?

I find the Steps easier to understand than the Traditions and the Traditions easier to understand than the Concepts. In fact, I find the long form of the Traditions considerably easier to understand than the short form, and I find that the long form is much more specific on the idea that AA is for alcoholics and not for just anybody who wants to come in. A lot of people like that phrase “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” and people interpret that to mean that if you’re willing to not drink, you can call yourself an alcoholic and a member of AA. That’s not at all what it says. I think it means that if you’re an alcoholic with a desire to stop drinking, that’s the only requirement for membership.

How many years have you been sober now?

Twenty-seven.

Twenty-seven years of meetings. Have you seen any changes in the way the meetings are conducted?

All I see is that there are more meetings and bigger meetings and more variety of meetings. I just love to see AA grow. I enjoy meetings. I’ve been to meetings in Singapore and Hong Kong and Japan, but I think the most interesting was when Chuck C. and Al D. and I were vacationing in the Cayman Islands and we couldn’t find any meetings. We were twelfth-stepping alcoholics there and decided we all needed a meeting, so we went to the local newspaper and got some publicity. Then we had a public information meeting, then we got a regular meeting started. As far as I know, that meeting is still going.

So you haven’t gotten bored by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Well, I thought about that some years back. Why is it that so many people aren’t around any more? Where do they go? It seems to me that most of the people who leave AA leave because of boredom. I made up my mind I wasn’t going to get bored, and one of the things I do when I get bored, if I can’t think of anything else to do, is to start a new meeting. I’ve probably started fifteen or twenty. The most recent one was last November. I got a couple of friends together and we started a “joy of sobriety” meeting—it’s a one-hour topic discussion meeting and it has to be a topic out of the Big Book and it has to be on the program and how you enjoy living the program. It’s fast-moving and we just have a lot of fun. It’s a great antidote for depression.

What’s the most important thing you’ve gotten from AA?

This whole thing is so much more than just sobriety. To be sober and continue the life I had before—that would have driven me back to drink. One of the things I really like about AA is that we all have a sense of direction, plus a roadmap telling us precisely how to get there. I like that. All I want out of AA is more and more and more until I’m gone.

—DR. PAUL

Copyright © The AA Grapevine, Inc. (July, 1995). Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 

 

Two Days We Should Not Worry

 

 

Two Days We Should Not Worry
Author Unknown

 

There are two days in every week about which we should not worry, two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

One of these days is Yesterday with all its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains.

Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.

We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday is gone forever.

The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow with all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and its poor performance; Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control.

Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet to be born.

This leaves only one day, Today. Any person can fight the battle of just one day. It is when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down.

It is not the experience of Today that drives a person mad, it is the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring.

Let us, therefore, Live but one day at a time.

 

 

Gossip

 

 

Gossip

Observation of this particular weakness of the human flesh, male or female, leads one to the discovery that gossip arises directly and unmistakably from a feeling of inferiority. The gossip actually feels inferior either to the person he’s gossiping about or to people in general. The psychologists have undoubtedly known this fact a long time, but it’s good to discover it for oneself, for both its comfort and its curative effects.

After one has learned this particular truth he will realize that it is a sign of weakness in himself and that others will recognize it as such in him.

The whisper monger is working the old fallacy of trying to elevate himself by tearing down someone else; or of trying to pull others down to his level because he can’t rise to theirs.

Whether the dealer in dirt is male or female makes little difference. There is actually little to choose between them and neither makes a pretty sound. Certainly neither is practicing A.A.

But there is a cure. Every gossiper needs a listener. Gossip must have a transmission belt for it to do any damage. It cannot travel on its own power.

Wouldn’t gossip wither at its source if there was no one to listen to it?

As long as there is even one gossip in A.A. there will be too many. But, their number could be reduced effectively and quickly if no one would stop to listen to them. Their whisperings would do no damage if no one would pass along anything they have to say.

Even though a gossip is usually fascinated with his own words he would soon tire of them if he found that he was whispering to himself. Then what he was saying would cause no unhappiness because there would be none to hear and pass it along.

Perhaps then the remedy is not to indict the gossip. After all, his behavior is one symptom of a diseased mind and a sick soul, and he would not be gossiping about anyone for any reason if he had been able to comprehend even the barest rudiments of the A.A. philosophy. Obviously, he doesn’t know what A.A. is, no matter how many meetings he may be attending, or speeches he’s giving, or committees he’s participating in, or how much he goes about giving lip service to A.A. No one can put the real meaning of A.A. into words with the same tongue that’s gossiping.

The gossip is sick. And like anyone with a contagious disease he should be quarantined. This is a simple process. Just don’t listen to him. That not only will help to spare the victims of gossip; it will also help the gossip to recover from his disease.

There is a specific cure for the gossip. There also is a cure for all of the personality ills that afflict many of us. A.A. offers both the diagnosis and the treatment—that is, the principles and the philosophy and the way of life which embody the spirit rather than the mechanics of A.A. By seeking to live this way of life and apply the principles, the necessary corrective process is put into operation. The more successfully and completely one can live the principles the nearer he will come to correcting his character defects.

So why not focus attention on the means of correction and the goal we all seek? The song may be worn out but it’s still good philosophy to “accentuate the positive.” This calls for concentration on the mental images of what we want to be and what we can be. The one who concentrates consistently enough will correct his defects because no one really wants to be a gossip, a spoiled brat, a bossy run-it-all or any of the other types of bores, nuisances and menaces.

— T.Y.
Greenich Village, New York

AA Grapevine
December 1946
Vol. 3 No. 7

Copyright © by The A.A. Grapevine, Inc.

 

 

Thank You, Dr. Paul

 

 

Thank You, Dr. Paul

She found direction and strength in the words of another alcoholic

I attended my very first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting when I was just 19 years old. My friend, who was only 19 herself, took me to a meeting in San Juan Capistrano, California. I didn’t know when I walked into the meeting that it was led by Dr. Paul, writer of the Big Book story, “Acceptance Was the Answer,” formerly titled “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict.”

At that meeting, I was extremely nervous and did not yet believe I was an alcoholic. I thought that I just had a drug problem, which I tried to explain to the group. After the meeting, Dr. Paul came up to me, handed me a Big Book and said, “Why don’t you read, ‘Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict,’ and come back next week?” I thought, Who is this guy? I don’t even drink that much.

However, the truth was that when I wasn’t doing drugs, I drank. If I had one beer, I would drink it really fast to get the effect. When I drank, I also did drugs. I realized that alcohol always caused me to get into trouble. Therefore it was a problem, even though I liked the effect alcohol gave me, just like drugs.

So I returned the next week. I told Dr. Paul that I believed I was an alcoholic. He welcomed me to the group and told me to keep coming back. He never told me who he was. After that meeting, my friend told me who Dr. Paul was. We attended the meeting for the next few months.

By the time I was 26, I had been sober for a while. I was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis and the doctor gave me a prescription for painkillers. I became addicted for several months. Once again I found myself going back to Dr. Paul’s story. In it he writes, “Today I feel I have used up my right to chemical peace of mind.” Even though I hadn’t had a drink in many years, I had abused a chemical. So I felt I needed to restart my recovery date. I am now coming up on two years sober, God willing.

I like where Dr. Paul states in his story, “I can’t say, ‘Thy will be done,’ and take a pill. I can’t say, ‘I’m powerless over alcohol, but solid alcohol is OK.’ I can’t say, ‘God could restore me to sanity, but until he does, I’ll control myself—with pills.’ Giving up alcohol alone was not enough for me; I’ve had to give up all mood- and mind-affecting chemicals in order to stay sober and comfortable.”

For myself, coming into this program at such a young age, it was hard to understand this. I was always looking for the easier, softer way. But the only way to make it in this program for a woman like me is to have a sponsor, study the Big Book, go to meetings, pray and work with other alcoholics.

Being of service is so important to me. Service always gets me out of self-pity. I also do a gratitude list each and every day. If I’m having a down day, then I pick up the phone and reach out to someone else and ask them how they are doing. I do not talk about myself; I just listen to them. This works every time. Thank you AA for my sobriety. And thank you Dr. Paul for what you taught me in so few words.

—Heather B.
Yankton, South Dakota, USA

Copyright © The AA Grapevine, Inc. (September, 2017). Reprinted with permission.

 

 

The Strange Obsession, By Bill W.

 

 

 

The Strange Obsession

By Bill W.

 

It was a hot night in the midsummer of 1934. I found myself at a noted address in Central Park West, New York City. It was in Charlie Towns Hospital for drying out alcoholics.

Sobering and sweltering out a fearful hangover I laid abed in an upstairs room. Downstairs the doctor looked across his desk at my wife Lois.

She was saying, “Doctor, why can’t Bill stop drinking? He always had great willpower. Yet here he is, facing ruin again, and still he can’t stop. The more he struggles, the worse he gets. I am scared, heartbroken and confused. I know he is, too. He’d do anything — anything at all to stop. Tell me, Doctor, why can’t he?”

Lois was asking the same terrible question that uncounted women had asked before. Her’s was a riddle quite as old as man’s first discovery that alcohol could be made from grapes and grains.

Again she said, “Please tell me the truth doctor. Why can’t Bill stop?”

In his long experience with serious drinkers the good doctor had faced that terrible heartbreaker a thousand times. By nature compassionate, he never failed to wince whenever a distraught wife, husband or friend of a sufferer had profounded anew the burdened riddle of alcoholism. Bill’s dilemma had interested and moved him deeply. How could he now bring himself to tell Lois the truth?

The benign little doctor’s face turned grave as he began to speak. “When Bill first came to this hospital three years ago, I felt that he might be one of those rare cases who might recover. I hoped that when he better understood himself and the nature of his illness, he might win out. In spite of his several severe relapses since then, I have gone on hoping. For, as you say, he desperately wants to quit and his will to do so is very great. But now I’m discouraged. I’m afraid he’s going to be like nearly all the other alcoholics who come my way.”

“Well Doctor,” cried Lois, “just what do you mean by that. Won’t he ever get better?”

Gently, the Doctor went on, “Mrs. W.,” said he, “As you already understand, your husband is a sick man. But I’ve never told you just how sick an alcoholic can be, nor have I ever explained this illness to you as I understand it from my long observation. I think the time is here to tell you more about his illness and how really serious his condition now is. There are a lot of theories about the underlying causes of compulsive drinking like Bill’s. Of these we can take our pick. But there are some solid facts, too, which no one who has watched many alcoholics could well dispute.

“Fact one is that innumerable alcoholic men and women really want to control their destructive drinking and then find, to their dismay, that they cannot. They cannot moderate their drinking as other people do. Nor, even when faced with the most terrible consequences, can they stop altogether, no matter how desperate their plight. Never do the excuses they make for their sprees justify their pattern of continuous self-destruction. Their behavior becomes completely illogical and irrational — it really verges on insanity. And even when they well understand all this, they go on as before. Where alcohol is concerned, their minds no longer rule their emotions.

“A new spree can be started upon the slightest of excuses or rationalizations. Sometimes the provocations seem great, but it’s always very small when the certain destructive results are considered. When for example life gives the average man a heavy bump, he doesn’t seize a hammer and beat himself into insensibility. Yet, in effect, that’s what the sick alcoholic does, over and over. All reason, all incentive, even the greatest desire to stop, seems to be swamped when the craving for alcohol takes hold.

“Therefore the biggest fact about alcoholism is its obsessional nature. It is one of the most subtle yet most powerful compulsions known. Once it’s grip is firm, the chance for recovery is diminished. How to help the alcoholic to expel his obsession is the problem. But we doctors have had little success: I’ve seldom helped even one case in a hundred.

“Nor is the drinkers obsession the whole story: alcoholism is a physical malady too. In nearly all cases the bodies of problem drinkers become painfully sensitive to alcohol. In the early stages of their malady some alcoholics can drink quantities of liquor without serious physical reaction. But continued excesses finally cause them to lose that ability; they seem to get allergic to the stuff; so much so that hangovers produce great physical agony and sometimes delirium tremens or convulsions too often followed by brain damage and mental deterioration than can be permanent.”

Again she asked, “Doctor, what can we do?”

So he had to tell her that I would have to be locked up or go mad and die. That it would all end with heart failure during delirium tremons, or that I would develop a wet brain, perhaps within a year. That soon I would have to be given over to an asylum or an undertaker.

« « « » » »

Bill again relapsed. The afternoon of December 11th, 1934, at the age of 39, Bill Wilson staggered up the steps and through the doors of Charles R. Towns Hospital, 293 Central Park West, NY, NY for the last time as an inebriated drunk, waving his last bottle of beer at Dr. “Silky” Silkworth as he was met in the hall. He had been there two times previously to dry out. Bill was admitted at 2:10 pm, and so began the history of Alcoholics Anonymous in Sobriety. From that moment Bill never took another drink of alcohol.

“Alcoholism is an obsession of the mind that condemns one to drink and an allergy of the body that condemns one to die.” — Dr. Wm. D. Silkworth

 

 

 

Doctor Calls “Slip” More Normal Than Alcoholic

 

 

 

 

Doctor Calls “Slip” More Normal Than Alcoholic

 

The mystery of slips is not so deep as may appear. While it does seem odd that an alcoholic who has restored himself to a dignified place among his fellow-men, and continued dry for years, should suddenly throw all his happiness overboard and find himself again in mortal peril of drowning in liquor—often the reason is very simple.

People are inclined to say: “There is something peculiar about alcoholics. They may seem to be well, yet at any moment they may turn back to their old ways. You can never be sure!”

This is largely twaddle. The alcoholic is a sick person. Under the techniques of Alcoholics Anonymous he gets well, that is to say, his disease is arrested. There is nothing unpredictable about him any more than there is anything weird about a person who has arrested diabetes.

Let’s get it clear, once and for all, that alcoholics are human beings just like other human beings—then we can safeguard ourselves intelligently against most of the slips.

Both in professional and lay circles, there is a tendency to label everything that an alcoholic may do as “alcoholic behavior.” The truth is, it is simply human nature!

It is very wrong to consider many of the personality traits observed in liquor addicts as peculiar to the alcoholic. Emotional and mental quirks are classified as symptoms of alcoholism merely because alcoholics have them—yet those same quirks can be found among nonalcoholics, too. Actually they are symptoms of mankind!

Of course, the alcoholic himself tends to think of himself as different; someone special, with unique tendencies and reactions. Many psychiatrists, doctors and therapists carry the same idea to extremes in their analyses and treatment of alcoholics. Sometimes they make a complicated mystery of a condition which is found in all human beings, whether they drink whiskey or buttermilk.

To be sure, alcoholism like every other disease does manifest itself in some unique ways. It does have a number of baffling peculiarities which differ from all other diseases. At the same time, many of the symptoms and much of the behavior of alcoholism are closely paralleled and even duplicated in other diseases.

The alcoholic “slip,” as it is known in Alcoholics Anonymous, furnishes a perfect example of how human nature can be mistaken for alcoholic behavior.

The “slip” is a relapse! It is a relapse that occurs after the alcoholic has stopped drinking and started on the A.A. program of recovery. “Slips” usually occur in the early stages of the alcoholic’s A.A. indoctrination, before he has had time to learn enough of the A.A. technique and A.A. philosophy to give him solid footing. But “slips” may also occur after an alcoholic has been a member of A.A. for many months, or even several years, and it is in this kind, above all, that one finds a marked similarity between the alcoholic’s behavior and “normal” victims of other diseases.

No one is startled by the fact that relapses are not uncommon among arrested tubercular patients. But here is a startling fact—the cause is often the same as the cause which leads to “slips” for the alcoholic. It happens this way:

When a tubercular patient recovers sufficiently to be released from the sanitarium, the doctor gives him careful directions for the way he is to live when he gets home. He must be in bed every night by, say, 8 o’clock. He must drink plenty of milk. He must refrain from smoking. He must obey other stringent rules.

For the first several months, perhaps for several years the patient follows directions. But as his strength increases and he feels fully recovered, he becomes slack. There may come the night when he decides he can stay up until 10 p.m. When he does this, nothing untoward happens. The next day he still feels good. He does it again. Soon he is disregarding the directions given him when he left the sanitarium. Eventually he has a relapse!

The same tragedy can be found in cardiac cases. After the heart attack, the patient is put on a strict rest schedule. Frightened, he naturally follows directions obediently for a long time. He, too, goes to bed early, avoids exercise such as walking up stairs, quits smoking and leads a Spartan life. Eventually, though, there comes a day after he has been feeling good for months, or several years, when he feels he has regained his strength and has also recovered from his fright. If the elevator is out of repair one day, he walks up the three flights of stairs. Or, he decides to go to a party—or do just a little smoking—or take a cocktail or two. If no serious after-effects follow the first departure from the rigorous schedule prescribed he may try it again, until he suffers a relapse.

In both cardiac and the tubercular cases, the acts which led to the relapses were preceded by wrong thinking. The patient in each case rationalized himself out of a sense of his own perilous reality. He deliberately turned away from this knowledge of the fact he had been the victim of a serious disease. He grew overconfident. He decided he didn’t have to follow directions.

Now that is precisely what happens with the alcoholic—the arrested alcoholic, or the alcoholic in A.A.—who has a “slip.” Obviously he decides again to take a drink sometime before he actually takes it. He starts thinking wrong before he actually embarks on the course that leads to a “slip.”

There is no more reason to charge the “slip” to alcoholic behavior than there is to lay a tubercular relapse to tubercular behavior or a second heart attack to cardiac behavior.

The alcoholic “slip” is not a symptom of a psychotic condition. There’s nothing “screwy” about it at all. The patient simply didn’t follow directions.

And that’s human nature! It’s life! It’s happening all the time, not merely among alcoholics but among all kinds of people.

The preventative is plain. The patient must have full knowledge of his condition, keep in mind the facts of his case and the nature of his disease and follow directions.

For the alcoholic, A.A. offers the directions. A vital factor, or ingredient, of the preventative, especially for the alcoholic, is sustained emotion. The alcoholic who learns some of the technique or the mechanics of A.A. but misses the philosophy or the spirit may get tired of following directions—not because he is alcoholic but because he is human. Rules and regulations irk almost anyone, because they are restraining, prohibitive, negative. The philosophy of A.A., however, is positive and provides ample sustained emotion—a sustained desire to follow directions voluntarily.

In any event, the psychology of the alcoholic is not as different as some people try to make it. The disease has certain physical differences, yes, and the alcoholic has problems peculiar to him, perhaps, in that he has been put on the defensive and consequently has developed nervous frustrations. But, in many instances, there is no more reason to be talking about “the alcoholic mind” than there is to try to describe something called “the cardiac mind” or “the t.b. mind.”

I think we’ll help the alcoholic more if we can first recognize that he is primarily a human being—afflicted with human nature!

— Dr. William Duncan Silkworth

Copyright © The AA Grapevine, Inc. (January, 1947). Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Silkworth contributed the two letters included in “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book.