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Barleycorns Victims Seek Strength In Unity
Baltimore Sunday Sun, February 16, 1941
by Harrison Johnston
story of "Alcoholics Anonymous," which now includes
a Baltimore group, is the story, in the words of one of
its members, of a "bunch of drunks trying to help one
another stop drinking.
may sound like the scenario for a Mack Sennett comedy, but
it isn't. For members of "Alcoholics Anonymous,"
and thousands like them, escape from under the thumb of
alcohol is the most important and difficult of life's problems.
And medicine, while it has finally come to recognize alcoholism
as a disease rather than a moral delinquency, has yet to
devise a permanent cure, or even an effective preventive.
year, for example, almost seventeen per cent of the total
first admissions to Maryland hospitals were because of alcoholism.
Every year some 56,000 persons are added to the vast number
of chronic alcoholics in the United States, variously estimated
as high as 900,000. Every year in this country fifteen of
every 100,000 persons dies while confined in institutions
because of chronic alcoholism. Medicine has so far been
hard put to lower these figures; at best its "cures,"
in the opinion of most informed specialists, are merely
periodic "refreshers" which enable a man to keep
Group Comes In
failure on the part of medicine has become the starting
point for "Alcoholics Anonymous," a sort of psycho-religious
movement with faith in divine assistance and the practice
of public confession and group contact between continuing
and reformed delinquentsin this case, continuing and
reformed (or "dry") alcoholics.
Anonymous" meet regularly as a group twice a weekonce
in a semi-formal "business" meeting, once in a
completely informal and spontaneous social gatheringwithout
benefit of alcohol. They base their hopes of success on
a mystical belief in aid from without themselves (all else
having failed), from God, "as we understand Him,"
and on constant association with other alcoholics who can
understand and help them and whom they in turn can understand
and try to help. They may thereby draw upon the companionship
of other alcoholics, men and women like themselves with
whom they alone are psychologically able to discuss their
difficulties, and try to lose themselves in the rehabilitation
of others even less controlled than they, a proven form
of uplift characteristic of all group organizations, the
church itself not least among them.
out this mixture, without any recourse whatsoever to medicine,
"Alcoholics Anonymous" claims complete successwith
no relapseswith about fifty per cent of its members
(always supposing them to be sincere in their efforts to
stop; and eventual successafter occasional relapseswith
an additional twenty-five per cent.
by New Yorker
Anonymous" was founded five years ago by a New York
broker who had lost two fortunes largely because of alcoholism.
After money and medicine failed to effect a "cure,"
the financier, a widely read man, thought to seek aid from
the omnipotent, whatever or whoever that might be, and formulated
twelve "suggested steps" for the turning over
of the alcoholics' problem to God. These still serve the
"Alcoholics Anonymous" as a Sort of creed. With
a handful of other alcoholics he then established in New
York the first group of "Alcoholics Anonymous."
the publication shortly afterward of a book of case histories
of alcoholics, also called "Alcoholics Anonymous,"
on which a mid-Western physician collaborated with the New
York broker, the movement began to spread. Today it includes
some 2,000 members and fifty groups, located as far south
as Texas, as far west as San Francisco. Growth in the mid-West,
under the motivation of the collaborating physician, has
been especially rapid and the Cleveland group is the largest
in the country. The New York group, which might logically
be expected to be the largest. is kept down by existence
of surrounding, smaller groups, in the Oranges and on Long
In Baltimore Group
Baltimore group was founded only eight months ago, in June,
1940, and now numbers about forty members, of whom five
are women. It may be contacted through Box 155 at the Baltimore
Post Office. Most of its members are married, most of them
are middle-aged. One is a youngster of 22. On the whole,
they are a well-groomed, not un-prosperous looking lot,
few of whom display noticeable scars of battle.
founding fathers of the Baltimore group were three, one
of whom shortly fell by the way. One of the founders and
one of the men who have joined since had been "dry"
for fairly long-periods prior to entering "Alcoholics
Anonymous"; all of the others came in as very active
alcoholics, as they themselves are the first to admit.
all of them, of course, here or elsewhere, are sincere.
As one doctor who has worked very closely and enthusiastically
with the local group points out, there are some false-faces
among them. The groups in two distant cities, for example,
were originally founded by a sharper who hoped to chisel
his way to a small fortune and a woman neurotic who simply
desired to bask in the reflected publicity.
all of them have been able to walk the extremely narrow
and difficult path laid out for them without an occasional
false step. but as far as the members themselves know (and
they know pretty well by virtue of constant individual and
family contacts) slips have been relatively few. Over the
Christmas holidays only three of the then thirty-five members
succumbed to the old lure. Since June only four members
altogether, two men and two women are known to have slipped,
and some of them only once.
the case of the Baltimore group, of course, such a record
is discounted by the fact that most of its members have
belonged only four or five months or less, a period guaranteed,
for example, by most of the profession al "cures."
At the same time, the members feel they can take legitimate
pride in their record over the Christmas and New Year's
holidays. New Year's Eve, incidentally, most of them spent
in a group at a member's house in Mount Washington with
intoxicants nowhere to be found. And they say they enjoyed
come to "Alcoholics Anonymous" in a number of
different ways. A few are sent by their ministers, others
are brought in by friends and old drinking companions who
are already members. A number have been referred by several
doctors interested in the movement, including the head of
one of the professional "cures" and Dr. George
H. Preston, of the State Health Department, with whom Alcoholics
Anonymous has an informal working agreement. He recommends
alcoholics to them and they in turn are privileged to send
alcoholics to one of the State hospitals to have them "defogged,"
their systems cleared of alcohol.
have come directly from the State institutions at Cambridge
and Spring Grove. One was in jail for striking his father
with a bottle. His wife asked the "Alcoholics Anonymous"
to go see him. Another, a girl, was tricked into attending
her first meeting by being told she was going on a blind
Jobs A Problem
alcoholics join "Alcoholics Anonymous" they are
frequently out of a job. Getting them back to work is one
of the first, end most important, things the group attempts
to do. Today, "early every member has a job, Some ten
of them have obtained them directly as the result of efforts
of other members. Four of these are doing clerical work
at national defense establishments, one at a salary of over
$300 a month. Another, the young man who was in jail when
"Alcoholics Anonymous" first contacted him, is
doing steel work.
the others, a number have improved upon positions to which
they were barely able to hold on heretofore. One has had
two step-ups; another who went to the office every day expecting
to be fired has had a raise and offers of four other positions
in three weeks, and has gained twenty pounds in the process.
Another has got back his old jobthat of a whisky salesmanand
it isn't bothering him, at least not much.
''formal" Wednesday evening meetings are held in the
clubroom of an uptown hotel. There are no dues, no initiation
fees. A hat is passed at each meeting and each member contributes
as he can afford; new members often out of a job and broke,
some times can afford nothing and that's just the way "Alcoholics
Anonymous" want it to be. The organization of groups
throughout the country is a loose one. The foundation in
New York is financed by a small endowment and the sale of
meetings are formal only to the extent of having a chairmanchosen
by rotation each weekand a permanent secretary. Otherwise
their atmosphere is one of pleasant. almost light-hearted
fellowship. Wives, husbands, friends, even interested strangers
are welcome, for despite !he name "Anonymous"
one of the basic principles of the movement is that its
members have nothing to hide. Admission of their difficulties
is a first requisite. Some of the Baltimore group even objected
to having the accompanying photograph taken from the rearfor
fear it might encourage people to believe they were afraid
to have their identity known.
could be farther from the truth. Except and quite naturally,
among the very new members, there is no embarrassment. At
each meeting several members tell the group, and whoever
else may be present, about their difficulties with alcohol
and what "Alcoholics Anonymous" is meaning for
them. This, of course, is a sort of spiritual catharsis
and is basic in the psycho-religious idea upon which the
movement is based.
is no softening of terminology, no shelter behind pleasant
euphemisms. One member describes the group as "not
bad looking for a bunch of drunks," and as a matter
of fact they are not. Such words and phrases as "bender,"
"debauch, ""in the gutter' '"gin mill"
and "horrible drunk" sprinkle their talks and
conversation. Sometimes one almost feels they are carrying
this sort of thing to an extreme.
of the Baltimore group's unsolved problems is what to do
with alcoholics who wander in from out of town. Other cities
with larger and older groups have clubhouses for just this
purpose, or arrangements with such organizations as the
Salvation Army. The Baltimore group hopes to be able, eventually,
to do the same.
Anonymous" are not prohibitionists. They simply admit
an allergy. For those who can control their drinking, they
think it is all right. But for themselves and others like