I was 21, I was taken suddenly and violently ill and was
ill for seven years. As a result of this illness I was
left with a poorish nervous system and a curious phobia.
As this has a large place in my story, I will try to explain
it clearly. After I had been ill some months, I grew strong
enough to get out of doors a little each day, but found
I couldn't get farther than the nearest corner without
becoming totally panic stricken. As soon as I turned back
home the panic would vanish. I gradually overcame this
particular phase of the trouble by setting myself longer
distances to walk each day. Similarly I learned later
to take short street car rides, then longer ones, and
so forth, until I appeared to be doing most of the things
other people do daily. But the things I did not have to
do each day, or at least frequently, remained unconquered
and a source of great but secret embarrassment to me.
So I went on for years,
planning always to sidestep the things I was afraid of,
but concealing my fear from everyone. Those years of illness
were not all total invalidism. I made a good living part
of the time, but was continually falling down and having
to get up and start over again. The whole process gave
me a licked feeling, especially when, towards the end
of my twenties, I had to give up the presidency of a small
company which was just turning the corner to real success.
after this I was successfully operated on and became
a physically well man. But the surgeon did not remove
the phobia, that remained with me.
During the period
of my illness I was not especially interested in liquor.
I was not a teetotaler, but I was just a "social drinker."
However, when I was about thirty, my mother died. I
went to pieces as I had become very dependent on my
parents through my illness. When I began to get on my
feet again I discovered that whiskey was a fine relief
from the terrific nervous headaches I had developed.
Long after the headaches were gone, however, I kept
discovering other difficulties for which whiskey was
a grand cure. During the ensuing ten years I once, by
sheer will power, remained dry for five weeks.
I had many business
opportunities during those ten years which, although
I tried to keep them in my grasp, slipped through my
fingers. A lovely wife came and went. She tried her
best and our baby's birth put me on my mettle for all
of six months, but after that, worse and more of it.
When my wife finally took the baby and left, did I square
my shoulders and go to work to prove to her and to the
world that I was a man? I did not. I stayed drunk for
a solid month.
The next two years
were simply a drawn-out process of less and less work
and more and more liquor. They ended eventually at the
home of a very dear friend whose family were out of
town. I had been politely but firmly kicked out of the
house where I had been boarding, and although I seemed
to be able to find
to buy drinks with, I couldn't find enough to pay advance
room rent anywhere.
One night, sure
my number was up, I chucked my "pride" and told this
friend a good deal of my situation. He was a man of
considerable means and he might have done what many
men would have in such a case. He might have handed
me fifty dollars and said that I ought to pull myself
together and make a new start. I have thanked God more
than once that that was just what he did not do.
Instead, he took
me out, bought me three more drinks, put me to bed and
yanked me bodily out of town the next noon to a city
200 miles away and into the arms of one of the most
extraordinary bunch of men in the United States. Here,
while in the hospital, men with clear eyes and happy
faces came to see me and told me the story of their
lives. Some of them were hard to believe, but it didn't
take a lot of brain work to see they had something I
could use. And it was so simple. The sum and substance
of it seemed to be that if I would turn to God, it was
very probable that He could do a better job with my
life than I had.
When I got out of
the hospital, I was invited to stay in the home of one
of the fellows. Here I found myself suddenly and uncontrollably
seized with the old panic. I was in a strange house,
in a strange city, and fear gripped me. I shut myself
up in my room. I couldn't sit down, I couldn't stand
up, I couldn't lie down, couldn't leave because I had
nowhere to go and no money to take me. Any attempt at
reasoning accomplished nothing.
in this maelstrom I grasped at a straw. Maybe God would
help me-just maybe, mind you. I was willing to give
Him a chance, but with considerable doubt. I got down
on my knees-something I hadn't done in thirty years.
I asked Him if He would let me hand over all these fears
and this panic to Him. I lay down on the bed and went
to sleep like a baby. An hour later I awoke to a new
world. I could scarcely credit my senses, but that terrible
phobia which had wrecked my life for eighteen years,
was gone. Utterly gone. And in its place was a power
and fearlessness which is a bit hard to get accustomed
All that happened
nearly eight years ago. In those six months a new life
has opened before me. It isn't that I have been cured
of an ordinarily incurable disease. I have found a joy
in living that has nothing to do with money or material
success. I know that incomparable happiness that comes
from helping some other fellow get straightened out.
Don't get me wrong. We are not a bunch of angels. None
of us has any notion of becoming such. But we know that
we can never go completely back to old ways because
we are traveling upward through service to others and
in trying to be honest, decent, and loving toward the
world, instead of sliding and slipping around in a life
of drinking, cheating, lying and doing what we like.
Archie's story was renamed "The Man Who Mastered
Fear" in later editions.)
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