. . . listless . . . semicomatose . . . I lay on my
bed in a famous hospital for alcoholics. Death or worse
had been my sentence.
What was the difference?
What difference did anything make? Why think of those
things which were gone-why worry about the results
of my drunken escapades? What the hell were the odds
if my wife had discovered the mistress situation?
Two swell boys . . . sure . . . but what difference
would a corpse or an asylum imprisoned father make
to them? . . . thoughts stop whirling in my head .
. . that's the worst of this sobering-up process .
. . the old think tank is geared in high-high . .
. what do I mean high-high . . . where did that come
from . . . oh yes, that first Cadillac I had, it had
four speeds . . . had a high-high gear . . . insane
asylum . . . how that bus could scamper . . . yes
. . . even then liquor probably poisoned me. What
had the little doctor said this morning . . . thoughts
hesitate a moment . . . stop your mad turning . .
. what was I thinking about . . . oh yes, the doctor.
This morning I
reminded Doc this was my tenth visit. I had spent
a couple of thousand dollars on these trips and those
I had financed for the plastered play girls who also
couldn't sober up. Jackie was a honey until she got
plastered and then she was a hellion. Wonder what
gutter she's in now. Where was I? Oh . . . I asked
doctor to tell me the truth. He owed it to me for the
amount of money I had spent. He faltered. Said I'd been
drunk that's all. God! Didn't I know that?
But Doc, you're evading.
Tell me honestly what is the matter with me. I'll be all
right did you say? But Doc, you've said that before. You
said once that if I stopped for a year I would be over
the habit and would never drink again. I didn't drink
for over a year, but I did start to drink again.
Tell me what is the
matter with me. I'm an alcoholic? Ha ha and ho ho! As
if I didn't know that! But aside from your fancy name
for a plain drunk, tell me why I drink. You say a true
alcoholic is something different from a plain drunk? What
do you mean . . . let me have it cold . . . brief and
with no trimmings.
An alcoholic is a
person who has an allergy to alcohol? Is poisoned by it?
One drink does something to the chemical make-up of the
body? That drink affects the nerves and in a certain number
of hours another drink is medically demanded? And so the
vicious cycle is started? An ever smaller amount of time
between drinks to stop those screaming, twitching, invisible
wires called nerves?
I know that history
Doc . . . how the spiral tightens . . . a drink . . .
unconscious . . . awake . . . drink . . . unconscious
. . . poured into the hospital . . . suffer the agonies
of hell . . . the shakes . . . thoughts running wild .
. . brain unleashed . . . engine without a governor. But
hell Doc, I don't want to drink! I've got one of the stubbornest
will powers known in business. I stick at things. I get
them done. I've stuck
the wagon for months. And not been bothered by it . .
. and then suddenly, incomprehensibly, an empty glass
in my hand and another spiral started. How did the Doc
explain that one?
He couldn't. That
was one of the mysteries of true alcoholism. A famous
medical foundation had spent a fortune trying to segregate
the reasons for the alcoholic as compared to the plain
hard, heavy drinker. Had tried to find the cause. And
all they had been able to determine as a fact was that
practically all of the alcohol in every drink taken by
the alcoholic went to the fluid in which the brain floated.
Why a man every started when he knew those things was
one of the things that could not be fathomed. Only the
damn fool public believed it a matter of weak will power.
Fear . . . ostracism . . . loss of family . . . loss of
position . . . the gutter . . . nothing stopped the alcoholic.
Doc! What do you mean-nothing!
What! An incurable disease? Doc, you' re kidding me! You're
trying to scare me into stopping! What's that you say?
You wish you were? What are those tears in your eyes Doc?
What's that? Forty years you've spent at this alcoholic
business and you have yet to see a true alcoholic cured?
Your life defeated and wasted? Oh, come, come Doc . .
. what would some of us do without you? If even to only
sober up. But Doc . . . let's have it. What is going to
be my history from here on out? Some vital organ will
stop or the mad house with a wet brain? How soon? Within
two years? But, Doc, I've got to do something about it!
I'll see doctors . . . I'll go to sanitariums. Surely
the medical pro-
knows something about it. So little, you say? But why?
Messy. Yes, I'll admit there is nothing messier than
an alcoholic drunk.
What's that Doc?
You know a couple of fellows that were steady customers
here that haven't been drunk for about ten months? You
say they claim they are cured? And they make an avocation
of passing it on to others? What have they got? You
don't know . . . and you don't believe they are cured
. . . well why tell me about it? A fine fellow you say,
plenty of money, and you're sure it isn't a racket .
. . just wants to be helpful . . . call him up for me
will you, Doc?
How Doc had hated
to tell me. Thoughts stop knocking at my door. Why can't
I get drunk like other people, get up next morning,
toss my head a couple of times and go to work? Why do
I have to shake so I can't hold the razor? Why does
every little muscle inside me have to feel like a crawling
worm? Why do even my vocal cords quiver so words are
gibberish until I've had a big drink? Poison! Of course!
But how could anyone understand such a necessity for
a drink that it has to be loaded with pepper to keep
it from bouncing? Can any mortal understand such secret
shame in having to have a drink as to make a person
keep the bottles hidden all over the house. The morning
drink . . . shame and necessity . . . weakness . . .
remorse. But what do the family know about it? What
do doctors know about it? Little Doc was right, they
know nothing. They just say "Be strong"-"Don't take
that drink"-"Suffer it through."
What the hell do
they know about suffering? Not
Not a belly ache-oh yes, your guts get so sore that
you cannot place your hands on them . . . oh sure, every
time you go you twist and writhe in pain. What the hell
does any non-alcoholic know about suffering? Thoughts
. . . stop this mad merry-go-round. And worst of all
this mental suffering-the hating yourself-the feeling
of absurd, irrational weakness-the unworthiness. Out
that window! Use the gun in the drawer! What about poison?
Go out in a garage and start the car. Yeah, that's the
way out . . . but then people'll say "He was plastered."
I can't leave that story behind. That's worse than cowardly.
Isn't there some
one who understands? Thoughts . . . please, oh please,
stop . . . I'm going nuts . . . or am I nuts now? Never
. . . never again will I take another drink, not even
a glass of beer . . . even that starts it. Never . .
. never . . . never again . . . and yet I've said that
a dozen times and inexplicably I've found an empty glass
in my hand and the whole story repeated.
My Lord, the tragedy
that sprang out of her eyes when I came home with a
breath on me . . . and fear. The smiles wiped off the
kids' faces. Terror stalking through the house. Yes
. . . that changed it from a home into a house. Not
drunk yet, but they knew what was coming. Mr. Hyde was
And so I'm going
to die. Or a wet brain. What was it that fellow said
who was here this afternoon? Damn fool thought . . .
get out of my mind. Now I know I'm going nuts. And science
knows nothing about it. And psychiatrists. I've spent
plenty on them. Thoughts,
away! No . . . I don't want to think about what that
fellow said this afternoon.
He's trying . .
. idealistic as hell . . . nice fellow, too. Oh, why
do I have to suffer with this revolving brain? Why can't
I sleep? What was it he said? Oh yes, came in and told
about his terrific drunks, his trips up here, this same
thing I'm going through. Yes, he's an alcoholic all
right. And then he told me he knew he was cured. Told
me he was peaceful . . . (I'll never know peace again)
. . . that he didn't carry constant fear around with
him. Happy because he felt free. But it's screwy. He
said so himself. But he did get my confidence when he
started to tell what he had gone through. It was so
exactly like my case. He knows what this torture is.
He raised my hopes so high; it looked as though he had
something. I don't know, I guess I was so sold that
I expected him to spring some kind of a pill and I asked
him desperately what it was.
And he said "God."
And I laughed.
A ball bat across
my face would have been no greater shock. I was so high
with hope and expectation. How can a man be so heartless?
He said that it sounded screwy but it worked, at least
it had with him . . . said he was not a religionist
. . . in fact didn't go to church much . . . my ears
came up at that . . . his unconventionality attracted
me . . . said that some approaches to religion were
screwy . . . talked about how the simplest truth in
the world had been often all balled up by complicating
it . . . that attracted me . . . get out of my mind
. . . what a fine religious bird I'd
. . . imagine the glee of the gang at me getting religion
. . . phooey . . . thoughts, please slow down . . . why
don't they give me something to go to sleep . . . lie
down in green pastures . . . the guy's nuts . . . forget
And so it's the mad
house for me . . . glad mother is dead, she won't have
to suffer that . . . if I'm going nuts maybe it'd be better
to be crazy the way he is . . . at least the kids wouldn't
have the insane father whisper to carry through life .
. . life's cruel . . . the puny-minded, curtain hiding
gossips . . . "didn't you know his father was committed
for insanity?" What a sly label that would be to hang
on those boys . . . damn the gossiping, reputation-shredding,
busybodies who put their noses into other people's business.
He'd laid in this
same dump . . . suffered . . . gone through hell . . .
made up his mind to get well . . . studied alcoholism
. . . Jung . . . Blank Medical Foundation . . . asylums
. . . Hopkins . . . many said incurable disease . . .
impossible . . . nearly all known cures had been through
religion . . . revolted him . . . made a study of religion
. . . more he studied the more it was bunk to him . .
. not understandable . . . self-hypnotism . . . and then
the thought hit him that people had it all twisted up.
They were trying to pour everyone into moulds, put a tag
on them, tell them what they had to do and how they had
to do it, for the salvation of their own souls. When as
a matter of fact people were through worrying about their
souls, they wanted action right here and now. A lot of
built up around the simplest and most beautiful ideas
in the world.
And how did he put
the idea . . . bunk . . . bunk . . . why in hell am I
still thinking about him . . . in hell . . . that's good
. . . I am in hell. He said: "I came to the conclusion
that there is SOMETHING. I know not what It is, but It
is bigger than I. If I will acknowledge It, if I will
humble myself, if I will give in and bow in submission
to that SOMETHING and then try to lead a life as fully
in accord with my idea of good as possible, I will be
in tune." And later the word good contracted in his mind
But mister, I can't
see any guy with long white whiskers up there just waiting
for me to make a plea . . . and what did he answer . .
. said I was trying to complicate it . . . why did I insist
on making It human . . . all I had to do was believe in
some power greater than myself and knuckle down to It
. . . and I said maybe, but tell me mister why are you
wasting your time up here? Don't hand me any bunk about
it being more blessed to give than to receive . . . asked
him what this thing cost and he laughed. He said it wasn't
a waste of time . . . in doping it out he had thought
of something somebody had said. A person never knew a
lesson until he tried to pass it on to someone else. And
that he had found out every time he tried to pass this
on It became more vivid to him. So if we wanted to get
hard boiled about it, he owed me, I didn't owe him. That's
a new slant . . . the guy's crazy as a loon . . . get
away from him brain . . . picture me going around telling
how to run their lives . . . if I could only go to sleep
. . . that sedative doesn't seem to take hold.
He could visualize
a great fellowship of us . . . quietly passing this from
alcoholic to alcoholic . . . nothing organized . . . not
ministers . . . not missionaries . . . what a story .
. . thought we'd have to do it to get well . . . some
kind of a miracle had happened in his life . . . common
sense guy at that . . . his plan does fire the imagination.
Told him it sounded
like self hypnotism to me and he said what of it . . .
didn't care if it was yogi-sim, self-hypnotism, or anything
else . . . four of them were well. But it's so damn hypocritical
. . . I get beat every other way and then I turn around
and lay it in God's lap . . . damned if I ever would turn
to God . . . what a low-down, cowardly, despicable trick
that would be . . . don't believe in God anyway . . .
just a lot of hooey to keep the masses in subjugation
. . . world's worst inquisitions have been practiced in
His name . . . and he said . . . do I have to turn into
an inquisitionist . . . if I don't knuckle down, I die
. . . why the low-down missionary . . . what a bastardly
screw to put on a person . . . a witch burner, that's
what he is . . . the hell with him and all his damn theories
. . . witch burner.
Sleep, please come
to my door . . . that last was the eight hundred and eighty-fifth
sheep over the fence . . . guess I'll put in some black
ones . . . sheep . . . shepherds . . . wise men . . .
what was that story . . . hell there I go back on that
same line . . . told him I couldn't understand and I couldn't
couldn't understand. He said he supposed then that I didn't
use electricity. No one actually understood where it came
from or what it was. Nuts to him. He's got too many answers.
What did he think the nub of the whole thing was? Subjugate
self to some power above . . . ask for help . . . mean
it . . . try to pass it on. Asked him what he was going
to name this? Said it would be fatal to give it any kind
of a tag . . . to have any sort of formality.
I'm going nuts . .
. tried to get him into an argument about miracles . .
. about Immaculate Conception . . . about stars leading
three wise men . . . Jonah and the whale. He wanted to
know what difference those things made . . . he didn't
even bother his head about them . . . if he did, he would
get tight again. So I asked him what he thought about
the Bible. Said he read it, and used those things he understood.
He didn't take the Bible literally as an instruction book,
for there was no nonsense you could not make out of it
Thought I had him
when I asked about the past sins I had committed. Guess
I've done everything in the book . . . I supposed I would
have to adopt the attitude that all was forgiven . . .
here I am pure and clean as the driven snow . . . or else
I was to go through life flogging myself mentally . .
. bah. But he had the answer for that one too. Said he
couldn't call back the hellish things he had done, but
he figured life might be a ledger page. If he did a little
good here and there, maybe the score would be evened up
some day. On the other hand, if he continued as he had
been going there
be nothing but debit items on the sheet. Kind of common
This is ridiculous
. . . have I lost all power of logic . . . would I fall
for all that religious line . . . let's see if I can't
get to thinking straight . . . that's it . . . I'm trying
to do too much thinking . . . just calm myself . . . quietly
. . . quiet now . . . relax every muscle . . . start at
the toes and move up . . . insane . . . wet brain . .
. those boys . . . what a mess my life is . . . mistress
. . . how I hate her . . . ah . . . I know what's the
matter . . . that fellow gave me an emotional upset .
. . I'll list every reason I couldn't accept his way of
thinking. After laughing at this religious stuff all these
years I'd be a hypocrite. That's one. Second, if there
was a God, why all this suffering? Wait a minute, he said
that was one of the troubles, we tried to give God some
form. Make It just a Power that will help. Third, it sounds
like the Salvation Army. Told him that and he said he
was not going around singing on any street corners but
nevertheless the Salvation Army did a great work. Simply,
if he heard of a guy suffering the torments, he told him
his story and belief.
There I go thinking
again . . . just started to get calmed down . . . sleep
. . . boys . . . insane . . . death . . . mistress . .
. life all messed up . . . business. Now listen, take
hold . . . what am I going to do? NEVER . . . that's final
and in caps. Never . . . that's net no discount. Never
. . . never . . . and my mind is made up. NEVER am I going
to be such a cowardly low down dog as to acknowledge God.
The two faced, gossiping Babbitts can go around with
sanctimonious mouthings, their miserable worshipping,
their Bible quotations, their holier-than-thou attitudes,
their nicey-nice, Sunday-worshipping, Monday-robbing actions,
but never will they find me acknowledging God. Let me
laugh . . . I'd like to shriek with insane glee . . .
my mind's made up . . . insane, there it is again.
this floor is cold on my knees . . . why are the tears
running like a river down my cheeks . . . God, have mercy
on my soul!