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Was The Only Part Of Him That Was Soluble To Alcohol.
HOW WAS I to Know that I was an alcoholic? No one ever
told me that I was or even hinted that I had passed
the point of no return.
Some years ago
my thinking was that alcoholics just did not live in
my world. Yes, I had seen them on my infrequent visits
to the seamy side of town. I had been panhandled by
them in almost every city in Canada. In my estimation
an alcoholic was a down-and-out, a badly dressed bum
who much preferred drinking to working.
If I had been asked
I would have said that I did not even know an alcoholic.
As for being one, it was the very farthest thing from
my mind. I would have bitterly resented any such suggestion.
Besides, I thought that any alcoholic was a misfit with
a mental quirk of some kind. It was my opinion that
they were all introverts and on tests I had twice been
classified as an extrovert.
Certainly I did
not know that alcoholism was an illness. Furthermore,
I had no idea that it was a progressive illness.
I come from a family
of five children and I had a very happy childhood in
a small Canadian town . Both my mother and father were
religious, without over emphasizing it. In due time,
I went through grade
high school and entered college as a little better than
The First War had
broken out before I got around to taking my first drink.
I joined the Army fairly early in that war.
Oddly enough, I
drank very little while in the service for the very
good reason that every time I took a drink something
disagreeable happened to me. My first drink was scotch
undiluted. It put me temporarily out of business through
strangulation. The second drink made me sick at my stomach.
After the third trial I went to sleep in the summer
sun and was painfully sunburned. In France I gave away
my rum ration far more often than I drank it.
With the War half
over I was sent back to Canada for my discharge from
wounds and shock. During the period of waiting for my
final papers, along with friends, I spent a good deal
of time in a neighboring speakeasy enjoying a few social
Out of the Army,
my drinking dropped away to a drink or two on very special
occasions, two or three times a year. So it went for
the next ten years, no pattern, no problem.
Toward the end
of the twenties the company by which I was employed
went through a merger. I was given a more responsible
position which entailed a great deal of traveling from
Coast to Coast. I found that a few drinks with agreeable
companions, in sleeping cars or hotels, helped while
away the time. Frankly, I preferred the company of those
who took a drink or two to those who did not.
For the next few
years I had a lot of fun with alcohol. I liked the taste
of it; I liked the effect of it.
conducted myself properly and no harm came of it. Without
realizing it, I came to look forward to several drinks
before dinner and then to some during the evening. I
gradually developed into a heavy drinker with the result
that I didn't feel so well in the mornings.
I would like to
make it clear at this point that neither business pressure
nor added responsibility had anything to do with my
drinking. I had the capacity for handling business without
any fear of criticism. I enjoyed the companionship of
drinking friends, but I began to notice that there was
this difference between us; they were still satisfied
with one or two drinks, but alcohol was having a different
effect on me. My system seemed to need more alcohol
than theirs. In retrospect, my only conclusion is that
at that time I was becoming more physically sensitive
to and losing my tolerance for alcohol.
But obviously my
illness was progressing because it wasn't very long
until I started experiencing blackouts. There were times
when I would lose my car. At this distance it seems
funny, but in those days it was a serious business.
With some serious drinking in mind, I would take great
care to park my car in some inconspicuous place, some
distance from where I intended to do this drinking.
After several hours, I would return only to find that
it wasn't there. At least it wasn't where I thought
I had left it. Then I would start walking up blocks
one way and down blocks the other way until I would
finally locate it, usually in an entirely different
direction than where I was sure I had parked it. On
those occasions, I would always end up with a feeling
of remorse not far removed from a loathing of myself
and the condition I was in. And, of course, I
always terribly afraid of being seen by someone who
I wasn't long until
travelling even by train became a hazard. I could somehow
manage to catch a train, but all too often it was not
the train which I intended to catch. Sometimes it would
be going in the wrong direction, and I would end up
in a town or city where I had no intention of being
and, therefore, had no business to transact.
also meant that I couldn't clearly remember all of what
had transpired the night before, and then it was only
a short step to not being able to remember any of it.
This became very embarrassing to me. I began to avoid
discussing the happenings of the night before. In fact,
I no longer wanted to talk about my drinking. I took
to drinking alone.
Up to this point,
my rise in the business world had been steady. I had
become vice-president of the Canadian end of a large
company known the world over. Now I found myself delaying
making decisions, putting off appointments because my
eyes were blood-shot and I didn't feel so well. It was
difficult for me to concentrate and even to follow closely
a business conversation.
Time and time again
I went on the wagon; I said I was through with drink,
and at the time actually meant what I said. The end
result was always the same. Sooner or later, I started
in all over again and binges came closer and closer
From time to time
friends and relatives spoke to me about my drinking.
My wife and family asked me to control it, to pull myself
together, to use my will power, to drink like a gentleman.
I made dozens of
and at the time of making them, I sincerely meant to
keep every one. I became two different people, one person
when I was sober and an entirely different one when
I was drinking.
I discovered the
morning drink and soon it took two, three or four to
straighten me out. I had the shakes so badly that shaving
became a task that I feared and dreaded because my hand
was so unsteady. I discovered that the shakes came only
when I allowed the alcoholic content of my system to
drop too low. All too often when I brought it up with
some stiff jolts, I went into a blackout. Striking an
even balance seemed beyond my power.
I will never forget
the first time I became conscious of that over-powering
compulsion. No matter what happened—I simply had to
have a drink. This compulsion soon became part of my
One Monday morning
when the compulsion was on me, I met an old drinking
friend. Our meeting was generally the signal for a bender
of some proportions. I always thought that he was the
one who should watch his drinking habits—not me. On
this particular morning, he was clear-eyed and sober,
truly a minor miracle for Monday. He looked well and
he looked happy. He said he felt fine and that he had
stopped drinking. I asked him whether he had got religion.
He said no, but that he had joined A.A. That was the
first time I had ever heard of such an organization.
Since he couldn't produce a drink, I went on my way
and forgot about it.
From this time
on, my drinking progressed rapidly. My family life deteriorated.
My friends no longer wanted to drink with me. Business
trips always be-
benders. One bender ended by starting another. I discovered
that the conscience was the only part of a human being
that was soluble in alcohol. I lied about my drinking.
I lied about everything else—even things that didn't
matter. I thought that everyone was watching me.
The company for
which I worked told me politely but firmly that, unless
I controlled my drinking, we would have to part. I promised
to do better and mend my ways. I was drunk within the
hour. Two months later I appeared drunk at a meeting
and the next day I was on my own.
I promptly went
on the wagon, got another good position and stayed sober
for a year. Although this new position offered many
opportunities, I did not take advantage of them. I'm
sure that this was because I found out that being on
the wagon was the most miserable of all existences.
I was moody and irritable. My mind was never at rest.
I imagined all sorts of things. I worried about the
past and I could see no hope for the future. On occasions,
I attended parties where there was some drinking and
good natured fun. I hated every minute of it because
I just could not join in with this fun. I sat morosely
by myself, wondering how soon the endless evening would
be over. In short, I was just plain sorry for myself.
After several evenings like this, I did everything I
could to avoid social engagements and felt more lonely
than ever before. I had lost the art of being friendly.
The people I had liked best irritated me most.
At the end of the
year I fell off the wagon, promising myself that I would
stop after just a drink or two. Within two weeks I was
drinking harder than I ever
before. The only way I knew to drive away remorse was
to drink more and more.
After nine months
of mental suffering and physical torture, I sat at home
one night alone with a bottle beside me. I had been
drinking hard all day, but no matter how much I drank
the shakes did not even diminish. My mind was clear,
but the bottle on which I depended did not do anything
for me. My way of life passed before me as on a screen.
I saw how I had slipped and how rapidly I was deteriorating.
The cure of the bottle on which I had grown to depend
no longer worked. I broke out in a cold sweat. I was
without hope. I could not stop drinking. The ceiling
came down. The walls pressed in. The floor came up.
I could think of no answer. There seemed no way out.
Was it too late?
There just wasn't
any use of taking another drink; even that didn't help.
Then across my mind came the picture of my drinking
friend whom I had met three years before—clear-eyed
and sober. Then and there I decided to try A.A. I put
the bottle away.
Next morning, I
made my first contact with A.A. I was asked some questions,
one of which was, "Do you turn to lower companionship
and inferior environment while drinking?" Ashamed,
I felt as if they had been reading my mail. This, and
other questions, convinced me that here were people
who understood my problem.
One thing my A.A
friend said to me that morning was, "Today could
be the most important day in your life." It was
and still is, for nothing but good has come to me through
After admitting and accepting the fact that I was powerless
over alcohol, my first great feeling of relief was that
I was no longer alone. I was in a fellowship of people
who had the same problem that I had; indeed, most of them
had been very much worse off than I.
Having enjoyed good
companionship for many years, my loneliness near the end
of my drinking had become a real hell to me, but this
new fellowship of understanding people gave me new life
and new strength. I now realize that an alcoholic cannot
get along alone, any more than anyone else can. I, like
all men, was a social being who desperately needed fellowship
and acceptance. These I found in A.A. where hands were
reached out to me. I was not condemned. On the contrary,
I was greatly encouraged by these people who spoke my
language and, what was so important, offered me hope.
When I became a member
of A.A., I immediately went to the president of the company
for which I worked and told him about it. His hearty handshake
and unmistakable look of approval were all that passed
between us. That was enough. I knew I was on my way up
again—as long as I remembered to stay away from the first
As sober days passed
into sober weeks, I was soon back in the confidence of
men who once again respected my judgment in business.
I no longer had any fear of interviews with fellow executives
because my eyes were clear and my hand was steady. My
home life improved and today is happier than ever before.
Certainly, I still have my ups and downs in my new life
without alcohol, but during my years in A.A., I have
been and am continually learning to accept the things
I cannot change, being given courage to change the things
I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
How has all this
happened to me? I have already mentioned how important
was this new-found fellowship, but I am sure there is
more to it than that alone. Right from the start of
my attending A.A. meetings, I heard various speakers
give all credit to a Power greater than themselves.
One morning as I was walking to work, from seemingly
nowhere at all, there came a thought that there was
a possibility that I might never drink again. I have
had no desire to drink since that time. It was certainly
nothing that I myself could have done that brought this
new-found peace. There was only one answer. This Power
greater than myself had, as to so many others, restored
me to sanity.
Finally, let me
say that I am sure that I could not have in the past
seven years, nor can I in the future, enjoy my happy
and contented sobriety unless I try to share it with
others. Therefore, my earnest hope in relating my experience
here is that it will help someone, anyone with a drinking
problem, but particularly that person who may still
be hanging on to his job or business, or may still be
holding his home together.
It has often occurred
to me that, if I had been a baseball player and had
lost an arm, I would soon have reconciled myself to
the fact that I could no longer play baseball. Similarly,
with the great help of this fellowship, I have reconciled
myself to the fact
I can no longer handle alcohol even to the extent of taking
a single drink.
A.A. has given me
a happy and contented way of living, and I am very deeply
grateful to the founders and early members of A.A. who
plotted the course and who kept the faith.
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