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HE SOLD HIMSELF SHORT
he found that there was a Higher Power which
had more faith in him than he had in himself. Thus,
A.A. was born in Chicago.
GREW up in a small town outside Akron, Ohio, where the
life was typical of any average small town. I was very
much interested in athletics, and because of this and
parental influence, I didn't drink or smoke in either
grade or high school.
All of this changed
when I went to college. I had to adapt to new associations
and associates, and it seemed to be the smart thing
to drink and smoke. I confined drinking to weekends,
and drank normally in college and for several years
After I left school,
I went to work in Akron, living at home with my parents.
Home life was again a restraining influence. When I
drank, I hid it from my folks out of respect for their
feelings. This continued until I was twenty-seven. Then
I started traveling, with the United States and Canada
as my territory, and with so much freedom and with an
unlimited expense account, I was soon drinking every
night and kidding myself that it was all part of the
job. I know now that sixty per cent of the time I drank
alone without benefit of customers.
In 1930, I moved
to Chicago. Shortly thereafter, aided by the Depression,
I found that I had a great
deal of spare time and that a little drink in the morning
helped. By 1932, I was going on two or three day benders.
That same year, my wife became fed up with my drinking
around the house and called my dad in Akron to come
and pick me up. She asked him to do something about
me because she couldn't. She was thoroughly disgusted.
This was the beginning
of five years of bouncing back and forth between my
home in Chicago and Akron to sober up. It was a period
of binges coming closer and closer together and being
of longer duration. Once dad came all the way to Florida
to sober me up, after a hotel manager called him and
said that if he wanted to see me alive he better get
there fast. My wife could not understand why I would
sober up for dad but not for her. They went into a huddle
and dad explained that he simply took my pants, shoes
and money away, so that I could get no liquor and had
to sober up.
One time my wife
decided to try this too. After finding every bottle
that I had hidden around the apartment, she took away
my pants, my shoes, my money and my keys, threw them
under the bed in the back bedroom and slip-locked our
door. By one a.m. I was desperate. I found some wool
stockings, some white flannels that had shrunk to my
knees, and an old jacket. I jimmied the front door so
that I could get back in, and walked out. I was hit
by an icy blast. It was February with snow and ice on
the ground and I had a four block walk to the nearest
cab stand, but I made it. On my ride to the nearest
bar, I sold the driver on how misunderstood I was by
my wife and what an unreasonable person she was. By
the time we
SOLD HIMSELF SHORT
the bar, he was willing to buy me a quart with his own
money. Then when we got back to the apartment, he was
willing to wait two or three days until I got my health
back to be paid off for the liquor and fare. I was a
good salesman. My wife could not understand the next
morning why I was drunker than the night before when
she took my bottles.
After a particularly
bad Christmas and New Year's holiday, dad picked me
up again early in January, 1937, to go through the usual
sobering up routine. This consisted of walking the floor
for three or four days and nights until I could take
nourishment. This time he had a suggestion to offer.
He waited until I was completely sober and the day before
I was to head back for Chicago, he told me of a small
group of men in Akron who apparently had the same problem
that I had but were doing something about it. He said
they were sober, happy and had their self-respect back
as well as the respect of their neighbors. He mentioned
two of them that I had known through the years and suggested
that I talk with them. But I had my health back and
besides, I reasoned, they were much worse than I would
ever be. Why, even a year ago, I had seen Howard, an
ex-doctor, mooching a dime for a drink. I could not
possibly be that bad. I would at least have asked for
a quarter! So I told dad that I would lick it on my
own, that I would drink nothing for a month and after
that only beer.
Several months later
dad was back in Chicago to pick me up again, but this
time my attitude was entirely different. I could not
wait to tell him that I wanted help, that if these men
in Akron had anything
wanted it, and would do anything to get it. I was completely
licked by alcohol.
I can still remember
very distinctly getting into Akron at eleven p.m. and
routing this same Howard out of bed to do something
about me. He spent two hours with me that night telling
me his story. He said he had finally learned that drinking
was a fatal illness made up of an allergy plus an obsession,
and once the drinking had passed from habit to obsession,
we were completely hopeless, and could look forward
only to spending the balance of our lives in mental
institutions or to death.
He laid great stress
on the progression of his attitude toward life and people,
and most of his attitudes had been very similar to mine.
I thought at times that he was telling my story! I had
thought that I was completely different from other people,
that I was beginning to become a little balmy, even
to the point of withdrawing more and more from society
and wanting to be alone with my bottle.
Here was a man with
essentially the same outlook on life, except that he
had done something about it. He was happy, getting a
kick out of life and people, and beginning to get his
medical practice back again. As I look back on that
first evening I realize that I began to hope, then,
for the first time; and I felt that if he could regain
these things, perhaps it would be possible for me too.
The next afternoon
and evening, two other men visited me and each told
me his story and the things that they were doing to
try to recover from this tragic illness. They had that
certain something that seemed to glow, a peace and a
serenity combined with happi-
In the next two or three days the balance of this handful
of men contacted me, encouraged me, and told me how
they were trying to live this program of recovery and
the fun they were having doing it.
Then and then only,
after a thorough indoctrination by eight or nine individuals,
was I allowed to attend my first meeting. This first
meeting was held in the living room of a home and was
led by Bill D., the first man that Bill W. and Dr. Bob
had worked with successfully.
The meeting consisted
of perhaps eight or nine alcoholics and seven or eight
wives. It was different from the meetings now held.
The big A.A. book had not been written and there was
no literature except various religious pamphlets. The
program was carried on entirely by word of mouth.
The meeting lasted
an hour and closed with the Lord's Prayer. After it
was closed we all retired to the kitchen and had coffee
and doughnuts and more discussion until the small hours
of the morning.
I was terribly impressed
by this meeting and the quality of happiness these men
displayed, despite their lack of material means. In
this small group, during the Depression, there was no
one who was not hard up.
I stayed in Akron
two or three weeks on my initial trip trying to absorb
as much of the program and philosophy as possible. I
spent a great deal of time with Dr. Bob, whenever he
had the time to spare, and in the homes of two or three
other people, trying to see how the family lived the
program. Every evening we would meet at the home of
one of the members and have coffee and doughnuts and
spend a social evening.
The day before I
was due to go back to Chicago, a
and Dr. Bob's afternoon off, he had me down to the office
and we spent three or four hours formally going through
the Six-Step program as it was at that time. The six
1. Complete deflation.
2. Dependence and
guidance from a Higher Power.
3. Moral inventory.
6. Continued work
with other alcoholics.
Dr. Bob led me through
all of these steps. At the moral inventory, he brought
up some of my bad personality traits or character defects,
such as selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness,
intolerance, ill-temper, sarcasm and resentments. We
went over these at great length and then he finally
asked me if I wanted these defects of character removed.
When I said yes, we both knelt at his desk and prayed,
each of us asking to have these defects taken away.
This picture is
still vivid. If I live to be a hundred, it will always
stand out in my mind. It was very impressive and I wish
that every A.A. could have the benefit of this type
of sponsorship today. Dr. Bob always emphasized the
religious angle very strongly, and I think it helped.
I know it helped me. Dr. Bob then led me through the
restitution step, in which I made a list of all of the
persons I had harmed, and worked out ways and means
of slowly making restitution.
I made several decisions
at that time. One of them was that I would try to get
a group started in Chicago; the second was that I would
have to return to Akron to attend meetings at least
every two months until I
get a group started in Chicago; third, I decided I must
place this program above everything else, even my family,
because if I did not maintain my sobriety I would lose
my family anyway. If I did not maintain my sobriety,
I would not have a job. If I did not maintain my sobriety,
I would have no friends left. I had few enough at that
The next day I went
back to Chicago and started a vigorous campaign among
my so-called friends or drinking companions. Their answer
was always the same: If they should need it at any time
they would surely get in touch with me. I went to a
minister and a doctor that I still knew and they, in
turn, asked me how long I had been sober. When I told
them six weeks, they were polite and said that they
would contact me in case they had anyone with an alcoholic
Needless to say,
it was a year or more before they did contact me. On
my trips back to Akron to get my spirits recharged and
to work with other alcoholics, I would ask Dr. Bob about
this delay and wonder just what was wrong with me. He
would invariably reply, "When you are right and
the time is right, Providence will provide. You must
always be willing and continue to make contacts."
A few months after
I made my original trip to Akron I was feeling pretty
cocky, and I didn't think my wife was treating me with
proper respect, now that I was an outstanding citizen.
So I set out to get drunk deliberately, just to teach
her what she was missing. A week later, I had to get
an old friend from Akron to spend two days sobering
me up. That was my lesson, that one could not take the
moral inventory and
file it away; that the alcoholic has to continue to
take inventory every day if he expects to get well
and stay well. That was my only slip. It taught me
a valuable lesson. In the summer of 1938, almost a
year from the time I made my original contact with
Akron, the man for whom I was working and who knew
about the program, approached me and asked if I could
do anything about one of his salesmen who was drinking
very heavily. I went to the sanitarium where this
chap was incarcerated and found to my surprise that
he was interested. He had been wanting to do something
about his drinking for a long time, but did not know
how. I spent several days with him, but I did not
feel adequate to pass the program on to him alone.
So I suggested that he take a trip to Akron for a
couple of weeks, which he did, living with one of
the A.A. families there. When he returned, we had
practically daily meetings from that time on.
A few months later
one of the men who had been in touch with the group
in Akron came to Chicago to live, and then there were
three of us who continued to have informal meetings
In the spring
of 1939, the Big Book was printed, and we had two
inquiries from the New York office because of a fifteen-minute
radio talk that was made. Neither one of the two was
interested for himself, one being a mother who wanted
to do something for her son. I suggested to her that
she should see the son's minister or doctor, and that
perhaps he would recommend the A.A. program.
The doctor, a
young man, immediately took fire with the idea, and
while he did not convince the son, he turned over
two prospects who were anxious for
SOLD HIMSELF SHORT
program. The three of us did not feel up to the
job, and after a few meetings we convinced the prospects
that they too should go to Akron where they could
see an older group in action.
In the meantime,
another doctor in Evanston became convinced that
the program had possibilities, and turned over a
woman to us to do something about. The girl was
full of enthusiasm and she made the trip to Akron
too. Immediately on her return we began to have
formal meetings once a week, in the autumn of 1939,
and we have continued to do this and to expand ever
it is accorded to a few of us to watch something
fine grow from a tiny kernel into something of gigantic
goodness. Such has been my privilege, both nationally
and in my home city. From a mere handful in Akron
we have spread throughout the world. From a single
member in the Chicago area, commuting to Akron we
now exceed six thousand.
These last eighteen
years have been the happiest of my life, trite though
that statement may seem. Fifteen of those years
I would not have enjoyed had I continued drinking.
Doctors told me before I stopped that I had only
three years at the outside to live.
part of my life has had a purpose, not in great
things accomplished but in daily living. Courage
to face each day has replaced the fears and uncertainties
of earlier years. Acceptance of things as they are
has replaced the old impatient champing at the bit
to conquer the world. I have stopped tilting at
windmills, and instead have tried to accomplish
the little daily tasks, unimportant in themselves,
but tasks that are an integral part of living fully.
derision, contempt and pity were once shown me,
I now enjoy the respect of many people. Where
once I had casual acquaintances, all of whom were
fair weather friends, I now have a host of friends
who accept me for what I am. And over my A.A.
years I have made many real, honest, sincere friendships
that I shall always cherish.
as a modestly successful man. My stock of material
goods isn't great. But I have a fortune in friendships,
courage, self assurance and honest appraisal of
my own abilities. Above all, I have gained the
greatest thing accorded to any man, the love and
understanding of a gracious God, who has lifted
me from the alcoholic scrap-heap to a position
of trust where I have been able to reap the rich
rewards that come from showing a little love for
others and from serving them as I can.
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