by Gurdon Simmons
smartly groomed woman, show -ing no self-consciousness
before her audience of several hundred, launched into
a graphic recital of her recovery from chronic alcoholism.
The doctors, she said, had pronounced her case hopeless.
to “take a drink or leave it alone,” she was
suffering from an allergy, she said emphatically, for
which medicine had no cure. The consequence of the “insidious
first drink” was years of anguished alcoholic slavery,
followed by almost incredible spiritual release. A power
greater than herself had redeemed her.
speakers testified similarly. Without embarrassment, they
spoke of themselves as former jail-birds, ex-sots, and
inmates of asylums. All had achieved too momentous a triumph
over thirst to be squeamish in their revelations.
occasion was a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, probably
the most amazing movement of its kind in modern times.
Anonymous has more than 10,000 members. There are 250
branches in 45 States, Honolulu, Canada and Australia.
The membership includes cops, clergymen and clerks; stage
stars and storekeepers; artists, writers and advertising
experts; sailors and statesmen; diplomats and druggists;
housewives and working women; salesmen and social celebrities;
brokers and ball players; fliers and fighters; doctors,
dancers and dentists; businessmen, bankers and barbers;
lawyers and laborers.
of the groups, with a bare handful of members in small
communities, hold meetings in members’ homes. Others
have fully equipped clubrooms, financed by “passing
the hat” for donations when funds are needed.
are not solemn affairs for these reclaimed drinkers whose
superior intelligence, as innumerable surveys disclose,
made them easy prey for alcohol. They are pleasant gatherings
of men and women of sharp wit and a keen sense of fun.
They laugh easily in relating the inevitable humorous
episodes that befell confirmed topers who “kept
bottles tucked everywhere about the house for emergency
nips, even behind living room radios.”
Alcoholics Anonymous is still far from impressive, considering
the field. The nation’s 44,000,000 persons who use
alcoholic beverages include 2,500,000 termed “intemperate,”
and a “chronic alcoholic” fringe of 600,000.
Considering the comparative recency of the group’s
origin, it is the nucleus of a force which may eventually
set 600,000 addicts free.
Anonymous was pioneered less than ten years ago by a once
wealthy stockbroker who had been ruined by rum, a friendly,
gangling man, now known to thousands of reclaimed drinkers
as “Bill.” At the end of 1934 he found himself
homeless and penniless, deserted by all but his family.
was my master. Ahead loomed asylum or cemetery,”
said Bill. Strangely enough, that admission proved an
astounding ally, and started him on the road to recovery,
for simultaneously he recognized the need of help from
a power greater than himself. Bill turned to God.
comes to most men gradually,” wrote Bill later in
his memoirs, Alcoholics Anonymous, a history of the movement.
“But his impact on me was sudden and profound.”
experience was so startling that Bill promptly visioned
“hallucinations” and rushed to his doctor
for a sanity test. The physician was equally mystified
but urged Bill to “hang on to it. Anything is better
than the way you were.” The same doctor, Bill reports,
has since seen many men who have had similar experiences.
He knows they are real.
of alcohol’s mastery over the victim, and recognition
of need for spiritual aid, regardless of the individual’s
personal concept of God, are the first steps in reclaiming
a chronic alcoholic, in the Alcoholics Anonymous “twelve
steps” to recovery. Correspondingly important is
“helping others similarly afflicted,” as Bill
average alcoholic is a bankrupt idealist,” Bill
wrote. “He has been frustrated in reaching
for something high and has fallen back on liquor to forget
about it. Reforming someone else, making a man useful
again, suits his idealism. He won’t drop back into
his old habits.”
had occasion to test his axiom during the early stages
of his own come-back campaign. While on an important business
mission in Akron, Ohio, he found himself almost succumbing
to an impulse to take “just one
drink.” A single drink, experience warned, would
undo the good accomplished by months of abstinence. Bill
set out to find another alcoholic.
led him to a prominent Akron physician who was losing
a lucrative practice through unrestrained drinking. Bill
found him in the throes of a periodic bender and related
his own lurid record. The doctor was responsive. They
worked together; each helped the other. Bill’s desire
for “one drink” passed, and Alcoholics Anonymous
had its second member. The movement was on.
progress was slow. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous are
neither evangelists nor crusaders. They do not solicit
“salvagees” or thrust themselves on likely
candidates for redemption. They have nothing against drink
because of their own unfortunate allergy. Many, as a matter
of fact, maintain well-stocked “bars” for
their guests who can drink in moderation.
over a period of many months following the meeting of
Bill and the drinking doctor in Akron, Alcoholics Anonymous
comprised the few men and women who came in personal contact
with one of them.
the disciples, in turn, spread their influence, and membership
expanded. Eventually, Bill penned his memoirs, and reviews
of the book accelerated interest in the movement. Many
Alcoholics Anonymous testify to recovery induced by merely
book Alcoholics Anonymous itself.
in March, 1941, an inspiring tribute to Alcoholics Anonymous
by Jack Alexander appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.
Membership skyrocketed. Now, three years later, inquiries
occasionally dribble in, in response to The Post piece.
Anonymous is unique, not only because of its phenomenal
job of saving human beings from alcoholic misery, but
also because it is not a formally “founded”
organization. Bill began it as a one-man reclamation project
to save himself. From there, it just grew. Bill now devotes
virtually all of his time to the cause, but Alcoholics
Anonymous continues without constitution, charter, by-laws
movement is still in its infancy, but its influence spreads
rapidly, even invading the prisons. In California’s
San Quentin some time ago, a group of inmates who had
held alcoholism responsible for their incarceration obtained
permission from the warden to organize a unit. Soon, other
alert penologists were following San Quentin’s lead.
the Alcoholics Anonymous thoroughly understand their allergy
which makes the first drink “fatal,” they
refer to their redemption as “recovery”’
and not “cure.” A “cure” pre-supposes
ability to drink again.
in itself follows no predictable course or period. For
some men and women it is joyously sudden and lasting.
Others find it a slower, harder path, beset by discouraging
lapses. But it is a tribute to the sincerity and determination
of these men and women that the majority eventually come
out on top.
chief stumbling blocks to a chronic alcoholic’s
recovery, it is said, are the victim’s reluctance
to admit that “liquor is boss,” and corresponding
reluctance to ask for spiritual aid. Invariably, an alcoholic
employs every possible subterfuge of self-deception before
admitting that “booze cannot be beaten without help
of one greater than myself.” Finally, after making
the admission, many balk at the thought of religion as
the price of release.
as the Alcoholics Anonymous themselves show, no one has
to get religion in the accepted sense to be freed from
the bottle. The sufferer who calls on God to help him
applies his own personal conception of who or what the
Deity is. It certainly cannot be hard to take, judging
by the serenely happy men and women comprising the 10,000
former alcoholics who now lead normal, useful lives through
the aid of a power greater than themselves.
Box 658, Church Street Annex, New York 7, N. Y.,”
through which flows an ever widening stream of inquiries
from alcoholics or their despairing families and friends,
is the only public contact with Alcoholics Anonymous.
These touching inquiries receive swift, sympathetic response.
P.O. Box 658 is an anonymous address that many must bless.
Read, February 1944)