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Robertson, author of the forthcoming A.A.: Inside Alcoholics
Anonymous, is a journalist and reformed Alcoholic. A New
York Times reporter for more than 30 years, she won the
Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for a personal account of her nearly
fatal struggle with toxic-shock syndrome.
ONE DRINK AWAY FROM A DRUNK’
would I be without Alcoholics Anonymous? I would be dead.
I entered A.A. in 1975. I haven't had a drink in 12 years.
But it took me years to get well, and I had a turbulent
recovery, including hospitalization for a nervous breakdown.
The most courageous act of my life was not to recover from
toxic shock; it was to admit that I was a drunk and to do
something about it.
The world is full of functioning alcoholics, and I was one
of them. I didn't drink on the job for the longest time.
I never lost my job through drinking. I didn't ruin my career.
I would have done all of these things had I gone on long
For me, it was a conversation with one person who told me
I had to stop, who was not himself an alcoholic but whose
father had died an active alcoholic. It was the combination
of this man's gentleness and the fact that he was a doctor
- but that really wasn't the important thing. It was that
he had suffered through alcoholism. And somehow, what he
had to say to me started me on the road back.
I began drinking alcoholically when I was 33, which was
about the time I married my second husband, Stanley Levey.
I was controlled for the 10 years of our marriage before
his death by the fact that he was a moderate drinker, the
fact that he loved me. I was careful about my drinking.
After he died, very traumatically, all controls were off,
and I began drinking suicidally and did so from 1971, when
Stan died, almost through 1975, when I went to Smithers
(an intensive alcoholism-treatment center in New York City)
and then immediately thereafter joined A.A.
drank very heavily at night. My friends at work didn't know
this. I thought I'd kept the secret. But when I called up
from Smithers joyfully telling everybody I'm an alcoholic,
it was the worst- kept secret in the world. My mother had
known, all my close friends had known and my stepson had
know, alcoholics drink for every reason they can possibly
find. Your life is structured around alcohol. I used to
look forward to lunch all the time because there I could
have a couple of martinis and a beer. That's pretty pathetic,
isn't it? I always wanted to go to restaurants where drinks
were served. I didn't want to go to coffee shops. It's very,
There's a dramatic difference between the way women alcoholics
drink and the way men alcoholics drink, which has a lot
to do with the way society views women who drink heavily.
Women alcoholics generally are hidden alcoholics. It is
much less socially acceptable for women to go to bars, to
be drunk and disorderly publicly, so very often women drink
at home. They often drink alone. Betty Ford is a classic
debt of gratitude
don't judge people in A.A. People don't check up on you.
They do not care what you did out there when you were drunk.
All they care about is helping you now that you're trying
to get sober. That's something that's very hard for outsiders
to understand, how extremely flexible A.A. is. If I feel
in a crisis now, I’ll go to meetings. I still go fairly
regularly, but not as much as I did when I was in a terrible
state. At most, I would go to A.A. meetings perhaps five
times a week. Now, I go to about one a week, sometimes one
every two weeks.
very hard, if your life has been saved by an organization
- with your help, of course - not to feel deeply grateful
you are a member of a family that includes an alcoholic,
don't protect him or her. Don't call the boss to say, "Fred
is sick today and can't come to the office." Don't
pour the liquor down the sink. Don't rant and rave. Don't-threaten,
unless you mean it, that "I'm leaving you."
have to detach yourself from the person who is an alcoholic
and find your own life, because the alcoholic wraps his
arms around the bottle - and the family wraps its arms around
the alcoholic, and all of their lives become distorted.
Their lives are dedicated to the principle that they have
to keep this secret and they have to protect their drunk
and nobody must know.
What you can do is save your own life. One of the best ways
to find help is in Al-Anon, for the families of alcoholics,
to know that you're not alone. They teach you to have a
life of your own.
best question to ask yourself or ask about someone you love:
Is drinking distorting any part of my life - my working
life, my social life, my family life? If it is, then you've
got problems. Also, if you are secretly worried about your
drinking, chances are you have reason to be worried. All
alcoholics are, in their own souls, worried about their
drinking. They may deny it; it is a disease of denial. Some
people would rather be crazy than be called a drunk. It's
something that people are ashamed of. There's a terrible
stigma involved in saying: "I am a drunk. That's what
I am. I'm a successful, charming, effective drunk that's
sober, and I'm one drink away from a drunk."
with Beth Brophy
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, November 30, 1987)