| print this
I’m an Alcoholic Who Quit Drinking
Rotarian wins the battle of liquor aided by an
ally named ‘A.A.’ and a weapon called psychology.
am an alcoholic, but I haven't had a drink in more than
Contradictory, not at all. With me, alcoholism is a disease
- like diabetes, for example. Once a man contracts diabetes,
he and his affliction are as inseparable as Siamese twins,
but he can arrest his disease by taking insulin.
Its the same with alcoholism. Once you have it, you carry
it to the grave. There's no such thing as an ex-alcoholic,
but an alcoholic can stop drinking. Just as diabetics get
their help from insulin, so nondrinking alcoholics find
theirs in lending a helping hand to their drinking brothers.
That's why I'm telling my story.
Believe me, I'm qualified. For 40 years I was a drinking
fool. In the beginning it was simply a mischievous drink
as a smart high school kid; at the end I was draining two
quarts of whisky a day.
It is estimated that about 5 percent of the people who drink
are alcoholics, and for them there's no moderation. Once
they take a drink, they crave more and more. With them it's
a case of either total abstinence or uncontrolled drunkenness.
Among the other 95 per cent are the cocktail drinkers –and
those who at times get ingloriously drunk. But at no point
in this drinking scale does liquor become the obsession
it is to the alcoholic 5 percent.
Whet an alcoholic's appetite and he can no more resist liquor
than a steel filing can retreat from the field of a powerful
electromagnet. The switch that turns on the irresistible
power is that first drink.
the first fatal swallow may sound like a simple trick, but
it's almost too high a hurdle to clear without a boost.
There is a serious science devoted to the study and treatment
of alcoholism, and it is manifested in such institutions
as the School of Alcoholic Studies at Yale University and
in numerous high- grade sanatoria and hospitals offering
what the layman calls "the cure." But a growing
number of pathological drunks get a flying start on the
road to regeneration through Alcoholics Anonymous - "A.A.,"
as members of the organization refer to it.
been born in a home where temperance was actively preached
and practiced, I grew up with the conviction that I would
never touch liquor. I couldn't foresee high school, however,
where I was catcher on the baseball team and left end on
the football squad. My buddies were gay and carefree and
considered "a couple of rounds" after a game quite
manly. At first it was only a few beers; later we began
mixing in a slug of whisky.
By the time I finished high school and went to work as a
department store clerk I was a steady drinker. Before I
ever reached 30, I became a travelling salesman, drinking
with my customers and feeling that it made us chummy - that
orders came easier. I drank at meals, at clubs, at banquets,
in trains, in private homes - everywhere, in fact, except
at home, where my wife would not permit liquor.
By a stroke of good fortune I was able to open my own department
store in a medium-sized city. It prospered in spite of the
fact that I was drifting from bad to worse. I cached supplies
of whisky all over the store so I could get a "hooker"
without running back to my office. I hid some in the advertising
department, some in the receiving room, and more behind
stocks on different floors. I was drinking as often as most
people smoke cigarettes. If I didn't have a "snort"
every hour or so, I'd get nervous and irritable.
At home our social life disintegrated. Not being able to
depend on me, my wife stopped planning functions at home
and gracefully rejected all invitations elsewhere. That
made me feel I wasn't appreciated, that I was grossly misunderstood
- a frustration that plunged me further and further into
When the economic depression of the '30s descended, it seemed
that all the forces in the world were conspiring against
me. As business slumped, I worried, and the more I worried,
the more I relied on drink. Every failure to stimulate sales
had to be erased from my mind by alcohol.
daily intake mounted to two quarts and more. I was hitting
the bottle continuously, but I thought I was clever enough
to conceal this fact from my employees, friends, and fellow
Rotarians. Apparently I wasn’t, though, because one
day, February 8, 1942 - I'll never forget it - a prominent
attorney and fellow Rotarian came to see me.
over to the soda fountain and have a cup of coffee with
me," he invited. I masked the shiver of revulsion that
raced through me at the suggestion, but to be sociable I
want you to come over to my house tonight and meet some
friends of mine," he said. "I think we can help
I stiffened. "Now look here," I snapped. "I
don't need anybody's help, and I'll thank you to keep your
nose out of my business."
smiled indulgently. "You know, that's exactly what
I said when I was invited to meeting a group of Alcoholics
mean you're an A.A.?" I asked.
the whole bunch at the house tonight will be. We've all
had experiences like yours - and we've all, at some point,
decided to quit making life so miserable for ourselves and
everybody else. Why not come over and meet the boys and
let them tell you about it? It can't do any harm and you're
under no obligation to us. What do you say?"
I was staring into my coffee. My mind was whirring. It was
true that I had vaguely realized my health couldn't forever
withstand the abuse I was heaping on it, and many times
when I thought of how unfair I was toward my wife, I caught
myself feeling remorseful. And my business - it was skidding,
almost out of control.
I forced a laugh as I turned to the attorney and with a
feigned indifference said: "Yeah, sure, I'll come,
if you insist. What can I lose?"
night an amazing chain of events began. I went to that meeting
breathing skepticism, disbelief, defiance. Like most alcoholics
I nourished an inner feeling of exclusiveness, a kind of
self-pitying smugness based on the false premise that my
case was different, that no one else ever suffered the torments
and disturbing influences that drove me to drink. But that
group of seven A.A.'s made me feel as feeble as the winner
of a booby prize at the Liars Club. They could match - and
surpass - every drinking bout I ever had. Every reason I
had advanced for drinking, they, too, had experienced. Then
they offered others I never thought of.
As they talked I felt my defense crumbling. I began to recognize
the sham of my previous rationalization. MY skepticism faded
into acceptance; my disbelief turned to credence; my defiance
melted into admiration. I thought: "If they could swear
off, so can I.”
So when they told me that the only prerequisite for joining
Alcoholics Anonymous was a sincere admission that alcohol
had me whipped so completely my life had become unmanageable,
I readily made that admission.
The very articulation of this truth seemed to sweep a great
network of cobwebs out of my brain. Merely stating this
fact, about which I had long tried to delude myself, was
like opening a window in my mind and letting in a refreshing
gust of clean, invigorating air. For the first time in years
I sensed a gratifying relaxation course through my body.
involuntarily I accepted an invitation to join A.A. I was
made a member on the spot, and my new friends told me more
about the way the organization works. I vowed, as I had
vowed before, to quit drinking. But this time the circumstances
differed. I had already achieved a state of intellectual
humility and I had, in these A.A.'s, living proof that abstinence
was possible. Moreover, I was too proud to let myself fail
where they had succeeded - and I knew I could lean on them
for help if I weakened.
I fought to release myself from the grip of the obsession
that enslaved me, I formed a clear picture of what was happening
and what had happened to me during those 40 years of drinking.
I was like a small boy passing a cemetery at night. Leaves
rustle. His eyes pop and his hair stands on end. The wind
shrieks eerily through the shrubs and he breaks into a run.
The moving shadow of a swaying bush behind a tomb looks
like a sinister zombie. The boy's feet sprout wings and
he races frantically on. An owl hoots and he grows panicky
trying to coax a few extra miles an hour out of his flying
rustling leaves, shrieking wind, moving shadows, and hooting
owls had been business and social problems, feeling of inferiority,
frustrations, worries over personal as well as business
matters. To escape each new fear-inducing stimulus I gulped
stronger and ever stronger draughts of liquor.
Now, I could see, I was imposing a sound, sensible procedure
over this subconscious fear motivation. I had analyzed this
40-year flight from fear and knew the reasons for it. Bolstered
by this knowledge, I could say convincingly to myself: "I
am afraid no longer. I will stop running and take a deliberate
step forward, then another and another. I will quiet this
fluttering heart, stop perspiring, and walk out of this
alcoholic cemetery with dignity."
the way it was. Looking back over my shoulder today and
analyzing my salvage, I find that what happened after I
joined Alcoholics Anonymous became a story of four parts.
Here is the way it developed:
Part I: I admitted to myself my bondage to liquor and my
inability to manage my life. This psychological broom swept
the dust of deceit and delusion from my mind, preparing
it for a readjustment. In a religious sense this was the
act of repentance.
II: According to A.A. formula, I made a moral inventory
of myself and acknowledged my shortcomings and faults to
at least one other person. The pious will recognize this
as an application of the principle of public confession.
To the psychologist it amounts to bringing social influence
to bear. Thus, having unfurled his faults publicly, the
candidate's conduct will reap either social approval or
censure. And being a vain creature, man strains mightily
Part III: A.A. built a foundation of confidence and hope
under me by showing me that the liquor habit could be conquered,
for every member of this organization was persistent proof
that others had won out. That victory was forged by a combination
of my own will and outside help, both human and divine.
Help was always forthcoming from other A.A.'s themselves,
of course. This is one of the strongest pillars in the A.A.
structure. Whenever a man feels himself slipping, he calls
another member for help.
Part IV: This is the crux of the whole program. The first
three parts set the stage; in Part IV the act begins. "Act"
is the word, for the principle upon which A.A. works is
that the alcoholic must do more than want to quit drinking.
He must do something - right now! I am told that this is
the practical application of the James -Lange psychological
theory, which states that in the formation of habit, one
first articulates a desire and then immediately translates
that mental intention into physical action. By constantly
reinforcing the mental impulse with physical activity, the
individual establishes new behavior patterns.
All right, but what does one do? Well, it doesn't matter
very much. It might take the form of going for a walk, of
taking a drink - of water - or even reducing the number
of drinks taken each day. As a follow-up of the Part II
moral inventory, action can be taken to make amends to injured
people whenever possible. If you've mistreated your wife,
you might bring her some flowers or candy; if, when drinking,
you've habitually growled at the neighbors, you might stop
and say a kind word; if you've gone into debt, you might
pay off these obligations - and so on.
then, after you've won your victory, you have the never-
ending opportunity of helping new members, which enables
you continuously to reinforce your desire to stop drinking
by doing something for another alcoholic. Only one who has
himself been through the same experience can administer
the proper mixture of sympathy and discipline to pull a
patient through trying hours.
Phenomenal though its record is, A.A. does not guarantee
to cure an alcoholic's predilection for liquor. About half
recover immediately and another 25 percent make it after
a relapse or two. Since 1934, when it was founded by a New
York broker and an Akron, Ohio, physician, about 25,000
alcoholics have become members of A.A. They are banded together
in nearly 900 groups in the United States, Canada, Australia,
and New Zealand.
Just to clear up a few points often misunderstood, I'd like
to emphasize that we are not prohibitionists. Our sole object
is to remove the temptation of that first drink from those
who cannot take just one or two and stop there. Many of
us actually serve liquor in our homes; yet when we ourselves
raise our glasses in toast, ours are filled with soft instead
of hard drinks. Another thing: we are not reformers; we
undertake to help only those alcoholics who apply for assistance.
hundreds of case examples citing how A.A. has helped alcoholics
are doubtless familiar to Rotarians, some of whom may have
gone through the same experiences, so I shall not add others
I have witnessed. But I can truthfully report that my own
life has changed completely. My wife and I have reestablished
our social contacts and again I am a respected member of
a growing circle of friends. My business has improved 662/3
percent, employee moral is higher than ever, and we enjoy
a credit rating the business never before attained. And
the opportunity of serving my fellow alcoholics by helping
them over the rough spots as I was helped has given me a
new purpose in life.
of Alcoholics Anonymous are in New York. Readers desiring
information about this organization should write to The
Alcoholic Foundation, P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Annex,
New York 17, New York, U.S.A.
The Rotarian, September 1946)