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and surgeon, he had lost his way until
he realized that God, not he, was the Great Healer.
I AM A PHYSICIAN, licensed to practice in a western
state. I am also an alcoholic. In two ways I may be
a little different from other alcoholics. First, we
all hear at A.A. meetings about those who have lost
everything, those who have been in jail, those who have
been in prison, those who have lost their families,
those who have lost their income. I never lost any of
it. I never was on skid row. I made more money the last
year of my drinking than I ever made before in my whole
life. My wife never hinted that she would leave me.
Everything that I touched from grammar school on was
successful. I was president of my grammar school student
body. I was president of all my classes in high school
and in my last year I was president of that student
body. I was president of each class in the University,
and president of that student body. I was voted the
man most likely to succeed. The same thing occurred
in medical school. I belong to more medical societies
and honor societies than men ten to twenty years my
Mine was the skid
row of success. The physical skid row in any city is
miserable. The skid row of success is just as miserable.
The second way
in which, perhaps, I differ from
other alcoholics is this; many alcoholics state that
they didn't particularly like the taste of alcohol,
but that they liked the effect. I loved alcohol! I used
to like to get it on my fingers so I could lick them
and get another taste. I had a lot of fun drinking.
I enjoyed it immensely. And then one ill-defined day,
one day that I can't recall, I stepped across the line
that alcoholics know so well, and from that day on drinking
was miserable. When a few drinks made me feel good before
I went over that line, those same drinks now made me
wretched. In an attempt to get over that feeling, there
was a quick onslaught of a greater number of drinks,
and then all was lost. Alcohol failed to serve the purpose.
On the last day
I was drinking I went up to see a friend who had had
a good deal of trouble with alcohol, and whose wife
had left him a number of times. He had come back, however,
and he was on this program. In my stupid way I went
up to see him with the idea in the back of my mind that
I would investigate Alcoholics Anonymous from a medical
standpoint. Deep in my heart was the feeling that maybe
I could get some help here. This friend gave me a pamphlet,
and I took it home and had my wife read it to me. There
were two sentences in it that struck me. One said, "Don't
feel that you are a martyr because you stopped drinking,"
and this hit me between the eyes. The second one said,
"Don't feel that you stop drinking for anyone other
than yourself," and this hit me between the eyes.
After my wife had read this to me, I said to her, as
I had said many times in desperation, "I have got
to do something." She's a good-natured soul and
said, "I wouldn't worry about it; probably
will happen." And then we went up the side of a
hill where we have a little barbecue area to make the
fire for the barbecue, and on the way up, I thought
to myself—I'll go back down to the kitchen and
refill this drink. And just then something did happen.
The thought came
to me— This is the last one! I was well into the
second fifth by this time. And as that thought came
to me, it was as though someone had reached down and
taken a heavy overcoat off my shoulders, for that was
the last one.
About two days
later I was called by a friend of mine from Nevada City—he's
a brother of my wife's closest friend. He said, "Earl?"
and I said, "Yes." He said, "I'm an alcoholic,
what do I do?" And I gave him some idea of what
you do, and so I made my first Twelfth Step call before
I ever came into the program. The satisfaction I got
from giving him a little of what I had read in those
pamphlets far surpassed any feeling that I had ever
had before in helping patients.
So I decided that
I would go to my first meeting. I was introduced as
a psychiatrist. (I belong to the American Psychiatric
Society, but I don't practice psychiatry as such. I
am a surgeon.)
As someone in A.A.
said to me once upon a time, there is nothing worse
than a confused psychiatrist.
I will never forget
the first meeting that I attended. There were five people
present, including myself. At one end of the table sat
our community butcher. At the other side of the table
sat one of the carpenters in our community, and at the
further end of the table sat the man who ran the bakery,
while on one side sat my friend who was a mechanic.
I recall, as I walked into
meeting, saying to myself, "Here I am, a Fellow
of the American College of Surgeons, a Fellow of the
International College of Surgeons, a diplomat of one
of the great specialty boards in these United States,
a member of the American Psychiatric Society, and I
have to go to the butcher, the baker and the carpenter
to help make a man out of me!"
happened to me. This was such a new thought that I got
all sorts of books on Higher Powers, and I put a Bible
by my bedside, and I put a Bible in my car. It is still
there. And I put a Bible in my locker at the hospital.
And I put a Bible in my desk. And I put a Big Book by
my night stand, and I put a "Twelve Steps and Twelve
Traditions" in my locker at the hospital, and I
got books by Emmet Fox, and I got books by God-knows-who,
and I got to reading all these things. And the first
thing you know I was lifted right out of the A.A. group,
and I floated higher, and higher, and even higher, until
I was way up on a pink cloud which is known as Pink
Seven, and I felt miserable again. So I thought to myself,
I might just as well be drunk as feel like this.
I went to Clark,
the community butcher, and I said, "Clark, what
is the matter with me? I don't feel right. I have been
on this program for three months and I feel terrible."
And he said, "Earl, why don't you come on over
and let me talk to you for a minute." So he got
me a cup of coffee, and a piece of cake, and sat me
down and said, "Why, there's nothing wrong with
you. You've been sober for three months, been working
hard. You've been doing all right." But then he
said, "Let me say something to you. We have here
in this community an organization which helps people,
this organization is known as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Why don't you join it?" I said, "What do you
think I've been doing?" "Well," he said,
"you've been sober, but you've been floating way
up on a cloud somewhere. Why don't you go home and get
the Big Book and open it at page seventy and see what
it says?" So I did. I got the Big Book and I read
it, and this is what it said: "Rarely have we seen
a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path."
The word "thoroughly" rang a bell. And then
it went on to say: "Half measures availed us nothing.
We stood at the turning point." And the last sentence
was "We asked His protection and care with complete
abandon"; "Half measures availed us nothing";
"Thoroughly follow our path"; "Completely
give oneself to this simple program"—rang
in my swelled head.
In 1935, as a physician,
I went into psychoanalysis to get relief. I spent five
and a half years in psychoanalysis and proceeded to
become a drunk. I don't mean that in any sense as a
derogatory statement about psychotherapy; it's a very
great tool, not too potent, but a great tool. I would
do it again.
I tried every gimmick
that there was to get some peace of mind, but it was
not until I was brought to my alcoholic knees, when
I was brought to a group in my own community with the
butcher, the baker, the carpenter and the mechanic,
who were able to give me the Twelve Steps, that I was
finally given some semblance of an answer to the last
half of the First Step. So, after taking the first half
of the First Step, and very gingerly admitting myself
to Alcoholics Anonymous, something happened. And then
I thought to
"Imagine an alcoholic admitting anything!"
But I made my admission just the same.
The Third Step
said: "Made a decision to turn our will and our
lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."
Now they asked us to make a decision! We've got to turn
the whole business over to some joker we can't even
see! And this chokes the alcoholic. Here he is powerless,
unmanageable, in the grip of something bigger than he
is, and he's got to turn the whole business over to
someone else! It fills the alcoholic with rage. We are
great people. We can handle anything. And so one gets
to thinking to oneself, "Who is this God? Who is
this fellow we are supposed to turn everything over
to? What can He do for us that we can't do for ourselves?"
Well, I don't know who He is, but I've got my own idea.
For myself, I have
an absolute proof of the existence of God. I was sitting
in my office one time after I had operated on a woman.
It was a long four or five hour operation, a large surgical
procedure, and she was on her ninth or tenth post-operative
day. She was doing fine, she was up and around, and
that day her husband phoned me and said, "Doctor,
thanks very much for curing my wife," and I thanked
him for his felicitations, and he hung up. And then
I scratched my head, and said to myself, "What
a fantastic thing for a man to say, that I cured his
wife. Here I am down at my office behind my desk and
there she is out at the hospital. I am not even there,
and if I was there the only thing I could do would be
to give her moral support, and yet he thanks me for
curing his wife." I thought to myself—what
is curing that woman? Yes, I put in those stitches.
The Great Boss had given me
and surgical talent, and He has loaned it to me to use
for the rest of my life. It doesn't belong to me. He
has loaned it to me and I did my job, but that ended
nine days ago. What healed those tissues, those tissues
that I closed, what healed them? I didn't. This to me
is the proof of the existence of a Somethingness greater
than I am. I couldn't practice medicine without the
Great Physician. All I do in a very simple way, is to
help Him cure my patients.
Shortly after I
was starting to work on the program I realized that
I was not a good father; I wasn't a good husband, but,
oh, I was a good provider. I never robbed my family
of anything. I gave them everything, except the greatest
thing in the world, and that is peace of mind. So I
went to my wife and asked her, wasn't there something
that she and I could do to somehow get together, and
she turned on her heel and looked me squarely in the
eye, and said, "You don't care anything about my
problem," and I could have smacked her, but I said
to myself, "Grab on to your serenity!"
She left, and I
sat down and crossed my hands, and looked up and said,
"For God's sake, help me." And then a silly,
simple thought came to me. I didn't know anything about
being a father; I don't know how to come home and work
week-ends like other husbands; I don't know how to entertain
my family. But I remembered that every night after dinner
my wife would get up and do the dishes. Well, I could
do the dishes. So I went to her and said, "There's
only one thing I want in my whole life, and I don't
want any commendation; I don't want any credit; I don't
want anything from you or Janey for the rest of your
one thing; and that is, the opportunity to do anything
you want always, and I would like to start off by doing
the dishes." And now I am doing the darn dishes
Doctors have been
notoriously unsuccessful in helping alcoholics. They
have contributed fantastic amounts of time and work
to our problem, but they aren't able, it seems, to arrest
either your alcoholism or mine.
And the clergy
have tried hard to help us, but we haven't been helped.
And the psychiatrist has had thousands of couches, and
has put you and me on them many, many times, but he
hasn't helped us very much, though he has tried hard;
and we owe the clergy and the doctor and the psychiatrist
a deep debt of gratitude, but they haven't helped our
alcoholism, except in a rare few instances. But—Alcoholics
Anonymous has helped.
What is this power
that A.A. possesses? This curative power? I don't know
what it is. I suppose the doctor might say, "This
is psychosomatic medicine." I suppose the psychiatrist
might say, "This is benevolent interpersonal relations."
I suppose others would say, "This is group psychotherapy."
To me it is God.
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