1 thru 15
Date: Sat Mar 30, 2002 7:03am
Subject: CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1939 - Article
|| The Elrick
B. Davis Articles
From The Cleveland Plain Dealer
October - November 1939
These articles appeared in the main Cleveland newspaper, the Plain
Dealer, just five months after the first A.A. group was formed in
Cleveland. The articles resulted in hundreds of calls for help from
suffering alcoholics who reached out for the hope that the fledgling
Alcoholics Anonymous offered.
The thirteen reliable members of the Cleveland group handled as many
as 500 calls (ref 1) in the first month following the appearance of
Davis' articles. The following year Cleveland could boast 20
to 30 groups with hundreds of members
1. Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, New York, A.A. World Services,
Inc., 1980, pp 206-207.
2. 'Pass It On,' New York, A.A. World Services, Inc., 1984, pp 224-225.
Reprinted from the October 21, 1939, Cleveland Plain Dealer with permission.
Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
Much has been written about Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization
doing major work in reclaiming the habitual drinker. This is the first
of a series describing the work the group is doing in Cleveland.
By now it is a rare Clevelander who does not know, or know of, at
least one man or woman of high talent whose drinking had become a
public scandal, and who suddenly has straightened out "over night,"
as the saying goes, the liquor habit licked. Men who have lost $15,000
a year jobs have them back again. Drunks who have taken every "cure"
available to the most lavish purse, only to take
them over again with equally spectacular lack of success, suddenly
have become total abstainers, apparently without anything to account
for their reform. Yet something must account for the seeming miracle.
Alcoholics Anonymous has reached the town.
Every Thursday evening at the home of some ex-drunk in Cleveland,
40 or 50 former hopeless rummies meet for a social evening during
which they buck each other up. Nearly every Saturday evening they
and their families have a party -- just as gay as any other party
held that evening despite the fact that there is nothing alcoholic
to drink. From time to time they have a picnic, where everyone has
a roaring good time without the aid of even one bottle of beer. Yet
men and women who, until recently, had scarcely been sober a day for
years, and members of their families who all that time had been emotionally
distraught, social and economic victims of another's addiction.
These ex-rummies, as they call themselves, suddenly salvaged from
the most socially noisome of fates, are the members of the Cleveland
Fellowship of an informal society called "Alcoholics Anonymous." Who
they are cannot be told, because the name means exactly what it says.
But any incurable alcoholic who
really wants to be cured will find the members of the Cleveland chapter
eager to help.
The society maintains a "blind" address: The Alcoholic Foundation,
Box 657, Church Street Annex Postoffice, New York City. Inquiries
made there are forwarded to a Cleveland banker, who is head of the
local Fellowship, or to a former big league ball player who is recruiting
officer of the Akron fellowship, which meets Wednesday evenings in
a mansion loaned for the purpose by a non-alcoholic supporter of the
The basic point about Alcoholics Anonymous is that it is a fellowship
of "cured" alcoholics. And that both old-line medicine and modern
psychiatry had agreed on the one point that no alcoholic could be
cured. Repeat the astounding fact: These are cured.
They have cured each other.
They have done it by adopting, with each other's aid, what they call
"a spiritual way of life."
"Incurable" alcoholism is not a moral vice. It is a disease. No dipsomaniac
drinks because he wants to. He drinks because he can't help drinking.
He will drink when he had rather die than take a drink. That is why
so many alcoholics die as suicides. He will get drunk on the way home
from the hospital or sanitarium that has just discharged him as "cured."
He will get drunk at the wake of a friend who died of drink. He will
swear off for a year, and suddenly find himself half-seas over, well
into another "bust." He will get drunk at the gates of
an insane asylum where he has just visited an old friend, hopeless
victim of "wet brain."
These are the alcoholics that "Alcoholics Anonymous" cures. Cure is
impossible until the victim is convinced that nothing that he or a
"cure" hospital can do, can help. He must know that his disease is
fatal. He must be convinced that he is hopelessly sick of body, and
of mind, and of soul. He must be eager to accept help from any source
-- even God.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a simple explanation for an alcoholic's physical
disease. It was provided them by the head of one of New York City's
oldest and most famous "cure" sanitariums. The alcoholic is allergic
to alcohol. One drink sets up a poisonous craving that only more of
the poison can assuage. That is
why after the first drink the alcoholic cannot stop.
They have a psychiatric theory equally simple and convincing. Only
an alcoholic can understand another alcoholic's mental processes and
state. And they have an equally simple, if unorthodox, conception
Date: Sat Mar 30, 2002 11:56am
Subject: CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1939 - Article
from the October 23, 1939, Cleveland Plain Dealer with permission.
Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
In a previous installment, Mr. Davis outlined the plan of Alcoholics
Anonymous, an organization of former drinkers who have found a solution
to liquor in association for mutual aid. This is the second of a series.
There is no blinking the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous, the amazing
society of ex-drunks who have cured each other of an incurable disease,
is religious. Its members have cured each other frankly with
the help of God. Every cured member of the Cleveland Fellowship of
the society, like every cured member of the other chapters now established
in Akron, New York, and elsewhere in the
country, is cured with the admission that he submitted his plight
wholeheartedly to a Power Greater than Himself.
He has admitted his conviction that science cannot cure him, that
he cannot control his pathological craving for alcohol himself, and
that he cannot be cured by the prayers, threats, or pleas of his family,
employers, or friends. His cure is a religious experience. He had
to have God's aid. He had to submit to a spiritual housecleaning.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a completely informal society, wholly latitudinarian
in every respect but one. It prescribes a simple spiritual discipline,
which must be followed rigidly every day. The discipline is fully
explained in a book published by the society.
That is what makes the notion of the cure hard for the usual alcoholic
to take, at first glance, no matter how complete his despair. He wants
to join no cult. He has lost faith, if he ever had it, in the power
of religion to help him. But each of the cures accomplished by Alcoholics
Anonymous is a spiritual awakening. The ex-drunk has adopted what
the society calls "a spiritual way of life."
How, then, does Alcoholics Anonymous differ from the other great religious
movements which have changed social history in America? Wherein does
the yielding to God that saves a member of this society from his fatal
disease, differ from that which brought the Great Awakening that Jonathan
Edwards preached, or the New Light revival of a century ago, or the
flowering of Christian
Science, or the campmeeting evangelism of the old Kentucky-Ohio frontier,
or the Oxford Group successes nowadays?
Every member of Alcoholics Anonymous may define God to suit himself.
God to him may be the Christian God defined by the Thomism of the
Roman Catholic Church. Or the stern Father of the Calvinist. Or the
Great Manitou of the American Indian. Or the Implicit Good assumed
in the logical morality of Confucius. Or Allah, or Buddha, or the
Jehovah of the Jews. Or Christ the Scientist. Or no more than the
Kindly Spirit implicitly assumed in the "atheism"
of a Col. Robert Ingersoll.
If the alcoholic who comes to the fellowship for help believes in
God, in the specific way of any religion or sect, the job of cure
is easier. But if all that the pathological drunk can do is to say,
with honesty, in his heart: "Supreme Something, I am done for without
more-than-human help," that is enough for Alcoholics Anonymous to
work on. The noble prayers, the great literatures, and the time-proved
disciplines of the established religions are a great help. But
as far as the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is concerned, a pathological
drunk can call God "It" if he wants to, and is willing to accept Its
aid. If he'll do that, he can be cured.
Poll of "incurable" alcoholics who now, cured, are members of the
Cleveland Fellowship of the society, shows that this has made literally
life-saving religious experience possible to men and women who, otherwise,
could not have accepted spiritual help. Poll shows also that collectively
their religious experience has covered every variety known to religious
psychology. Some have had an experience as blindingly bright as that
which struck down Saul on the road to Damascus. Some are not even
yet intellectually convinced except to the degree that they see that
living their lives on a spiritual basis has cured them of a fatal
disease. Drunk for years because they couldn't help it, now it never
occurs to them to want a drink. Whatever accounts for that, they are
willing to call
"God." Some find more help in formal religion than do others. A good
many of the Akron chapter find help in the practices of the Oxford
Group. The Cleveland chapter includes a number of Catholics and several
Jews, and at least one man to whom "God" is "Nature." Some practice
family devotions. Some simply cogitate
about "It" in the silence of their minds. But that the Great Healer
cured them with only the help of their fellow ex-drunks, they all
Date: Sat Mar 30, 2002 2:54pm
Subject: CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1939 - Article
from the October 24, 1939, Cleveland Plain Dealer with permission.
Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
In two previous articles, Mr. Davis told of Alcoholics Anonymous,
organization of former drinkers, banded to overcome their craving
for liquor and to help others to forego the habit. This is the third
of a series.
The ex-drunks cured of their medically incurable alcoholism by membership
in Alcoholic Anonymous, know that the way to keep themselves from
backsliding is to find another pathological alcoholic to help. Or
to start a new man toward cure. That is the way that the Akron
chapter of the society, and from that, the Cleveland
fellowship was begun.
One of the earliest of the cured rummies had talked a New York securities
analyst into taking a chance that he was really through with liquor.
He was commissioned to do a stock promotion chore in Akron. If he
should succeed, his economic troubles also would be cured. Years of
alcoholism had left him bankrupt as well as a physical and social
wreck before Alcoholics Anonymous had saved him.
His Akron project failed. Here he was on a Saturday afternoon in a
strange hotel in a town where he did not know a soul, business hopes
blasted, and with scarcely money enough to get him back to New York
with a report that would leave him without the last job he knew of
for him in the world. If ever disappointment deserved drowning, that
seemed the time. A bunch of happy folk were being gay at the bar.
At the other end of the lobby the Akron church directory was framed
in glass. He looked up the name of a clergyman. The cleric told
him of a woman who was worried about a physician who was a nightly
solitary drunk. The doctor had been trying to break himself of alcoholism
for twenty years. He had tried all of the dodges: Never anything but
light wines or beer; never a drink alone; never a
drink before his work was done; a certain few number of drinks and
then stop; never drink in a strange place; never drink in a familiar
place; never mix the drinks; always mix the drinks; never drink before
eating; drink only while eating; drink and then eat heavily to stop
the craving - and all of the rest.
Every alcoholic knows all of the dodges. Every alcoholic has tried
them all. That is why an uncured alcoholic thinks someone must
have been following him around to learn his private self-invented
devices, when a member of Alcoholics Anonymous talks to him. Time
comes when any alcoholic has tried them all, and found that none of
The doctor had just taken his first evening drink when the rubber
baron's wife telephoned to ask him to come to her house to meet a
friend from New York. He dared not, his wife would not, offend her
by refusing. He agreed to go on his wife's promise that they would
leave after 15 minutes. His evening jitters were pretty bad.
He met the New Yorker at 5 o'clock. They talked until 11:15. After
that he stayed "dry" for three weeks. Then he went to a convention
in Atlantic City. That was a bender. The cured New Yorker was at his
bedside when he came to. That was June 10, 1935. The doctor hasn't
had a drink since. Every Akron and Cleveland cure by Alcoholics Anonymous
is a result.
The point the society illustrates by that bit of history is that only
alcoholic can talk turkey to an alcoholic. The doctor knew all of
the "medicine" of his disease. He knew all of the psychiatry. One
of his patients had "taken the cure" 72 times. Now he is cured, by
fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous. Orthodox science left the
physician licked. He also knew all of the excuses, as well as the
dodges, and the deep and fatal shame that makes a true alcoholic sure
at last that he can't win. Alcoholic death or the bughouse will
get him in time.
The cured member of Alcoholics Anonymous likes to catch a prospective
member when he is at the bottom of the depths. When he wakes up of
a morning with his first clear thought regret that he is not dead
before he hears where he has been and what he has done. When he whispers
to himself: "Am I crazy?" and the only answer he can think of is:
"Yes." Even when the bright-eyed green
snakes are crawling up his arms.
Then the pathological drinker is willing to talk. Even eager to talk
someone who really understands, from experience, what he means when
he says: "I can't understand myself."
Date: Sat Mar 30, 2002 4:14pm
Subject: CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1939 - Article
from the October 25, 1939, Cleveland Plain Dealer with permission.
Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
In three previous articles, Mr. Davis has told of Alcoholics Anonymous,
an organization of former drinkers banded to break the liquor habit
and to save others from over drinking. This is the fourth of a series.
What gets the pathological drinker who finally has reached such state
that he is willing to listen to a cured rummy member of Alcoholics
Anonymous, is that the retrieved alcoholic not only understands what
only another alcoholic can understand, but a great deal that the unreformed
drunk thinks no one else could
know because he has never told anyone, and his difficulties or escapades
must be private to his own history.
Fact is the history of all alcoholics is the same; some have been
addicts longer than others, and some have painted brighter red patches
around the town -- that is all. What they have heard in the "cure"
hospitals they have frequented, or from the psychoanalysts they have
consulted, or the physicians who have tapered them
off one bender or another at home, has convinced them that alcoholism
is a disease. But they are sure (a) that their version of the disease
differs from everyone else's and (b) that in them it hasn't reached
the incurable stage anyway.
Head of the "cure" told them: "If you ever take another drink, you'll
be back." Psychoanalyst said "Psychologically, you have never been
weaned. Your subconscious is still trying to get even with your mother
for some forgotten slight." Family or hotel physician said "If you
don't quit drinking, you'll die."
Lawyers, ministers, business partners and employers, parents and wives,
also are professionally dedicated to listening to confidences and
accepting confessions without undue complaint. But the clergyman may
say: "Your drinking is a sin." And partner or employer: "You'll
have to quit this monkey business or get
out." And wife or parent: "This drinking is breaking my heart."
And everyone: "Why don't you exercise some will power and straighten
up and be a man."
"But," the alcoholic whispers in his heart. "No one but I can know
that I must drink to kill suffering too great to stand."
He presents his excuses to the retrieved alcoholic who has come to
talk. Can't sleep without liquor. Worry. Business troubles. Debt.
Alimentary pains. Overwork. Nerves too high strung. Grief. Disappointment.
Deep dark phobic fears. Fatigue. Family difficulties. Loneliness.
The catalog has got no farther than that when the member of Alcoholics
Anonymous begins rattling off an additional list.
"Hogwash," he says. "Don't try those alibis on me. I have used them
And then he tells his own alcoholic history, certainly as bad, perhaps
far worse than the uncured rummy's. They match experiences. Before
he knows it the prospect for cure has told his new friend things he
had never admitted even to himself. A rough and ready psychiatry,
that, but it works, as the cured members of the Cleveland Chapter
of Alcoholics Anonymous all are restored to
society to testify. And that is the reason for the fellowship's weekly
gatherings. They are testimonial meetings. The members meet to find
new victims to cure, and to buck each other up. For years their social
and emotional life has all been elbow-bending. Now they provide each
other a richer society to replace the old. Hence, the fellowship's
family parties and picnics.
Never for a moment do they forget that a practicing alcoholic is a
very sick person. Never for a moment can they forget that even medical
men who know the nature of the disease are apt to feel that failure
to recover is a proof of moral perversity in the patient. If a man
is dying of cancer, no one says: "Why doesn't he exercise some will
power and kill that cancer off." If he is coughing his lungs
out with tuberculosis, no one says: "Buck up and quit coughing; be
a man." They may say to the first: "Submit to surgery before it is
too late;" to the second: "Take a cure before you are dead."
Retrieved alcoholics talk in that fashion to their uncured fellows.
They say: "You are a very sick man. Physically sick -- you have an
allergy to alcohol. We can put you in a hospital that will sweat that
poison out. Mentally sick. We know how to cure that. And spiritually
"To cure your spiritual illness you will have to admit God. Name your
own God, or define Him to suit yourself. But if you are really willing
to 'do anything' to get well, and if it is really true -- and we know
it is -- that you drink when you don't want to and that you don't
know why you get drunk, you'll have to quit lying to yourself
and adopt a spiritual way of life. Are you ready to accept help?"
And the miracle is that, for alcoholics brought to agreement by pure
desperation, so simple a scheme works.
Cleveland alone has 50 alcoholics, all former notorious drunks, now
members of Alcoholics Anonymous to prove it. None is a fanatic prohibitionist.
None has a quarrel with liquor legitimately used by people physically,
nervously, and spiritually equipped to use it. They simply know that
alcoholics can't drink and live, and that their "incurable" disease
has been conquered.
Date: Sat Mar 30, 2002 4:29pm
Subject: CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1939 - Article
from the October 26, 1939, Cleveland Plain Dealer with permission.
Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
In previous installments, Mr. Davis has told of Alcoholics Anonymous,
an informal society of drinking men who have joined together to beat
the liquor habit This is the last of five articles.
It is hard for the skeptical to believe that no one yet has found
a way to muscle into Alcoholics Anonymous, the informal society of
ex-drunks that exists only to cure each other, and make a money-making
scheme of it. Or that someone will not. The complete informality of
the society seems to be what has saved it from
that. Members pay no dues. The society has no paid staff. Parties
are "Dutch." Meetings are held at the homes of members who have houses
large enough for such gatherings, or in homes of persons who may not
be alcoholics but are sympathetic with the movement.
Usually a drunk needs hospitalization at the time that he is caught
to cure. He is required to pay for that himself. Doubtless he hasn't
the money. But probably his family has. Or his employer will advance
the money to save him, against his future pay. Or cured members of
the society will help him arrange credit, if he has a glimmer of credit
left. Or old friends will help.
At the moment members of the Cleveland Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous
are searching the slum lodging houses to find a man, once eminent
in the city's professional life. A medical friend of his better days
called them in to find him. This friend will pay the hospital bill
necessary to return this victim of an "incurable" craving for drink
to physical health, if the society will take him on.
The society has published a book, called "Alcoholics Anonymous," which
it sells at $3.50. It may be ordered from an anonymous address, Works
Publishing Co., Box 657, Church Street Annex Postoffice, New York
City; or bought from the Cleveland Fellowship of the society. There
is no money profit for anyone in that book.
It recites the history of the society and lays down its principles
Last half is case histories of representative cures out of the first
hundred alcoholics cured by membership in the society. It was written
and compiled by the New York member who brought the society to Ohio.
He raised the money on his personal credit to have the book published.
He would like to see those creditors repaid. It is a 400-page book,
for which any regular publisher would charge the same price.
Copies bought from local Fellowships net the local chapters a dollar
The Rev. Dr. Dilworth Lupton, pastor of the First Unitarian Church
of Cleveland, found in a religious journal an enthusiastic review
of the book by the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, and sent it to the
president of the local Fellowship. It has been similarly noted in
some medical journals.
To handle the money that comes in for the book, and occasional gifts
from persons interested in helping ex-drunks to cure other "incurable"
drunks, the Alcoholics Foundation has been established, with a board
of seven directors.
Three of these are members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Four are not alcoholics,
but New Yorkers of standing interested in humane movements. Two of
them happen also to be associated with the Rockefeller Foundation,
but that does not associate the two foundations in any way.
First problem of the Cleveland Fellowship was to find a hospital willing
to take a drunk in and give him the medical attention first necessary
to any cure. Two reasons made that hard. Hospitals do not like to
have alcoholics as patients; they are nuisances. And the society requires
that as soon as a drunk has been medicated into such shape that he
can see visitors, members of the society
must be permitted to see him at any time. That has been arranged.
The local society would like to have a kitty of $100 to post with
the hospital as evidence of good faith. But if it gets it, it will
only be from voluntary contributions of members.
Meantime the members, having financed their own cures, spend enormous
amounts of time and not a little money in helping new members. Psychiatrists
say that if an alcoholic is to be cured, he needs a hobby. His old
hobby had been only alcohol. Hobby of Alcoholics Anonymous is curing
each other. Telephone calls,
postage and stationery, gasoline bills, mount up for each individual.
And hospitality to new members. A rule of the society is that each
member's latch string is always out to any other member who needs
talk or quiet, which may include a bed or a meal, at any time.
Date: Sat Mar 30, 2002 5:04pm
Subject: CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1939 - Article
from the November 2, 1939, Cleveland Plain Dealer with permission.
A NOTED DIVINE REVIEWS "ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS"
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
In a recent series, Mr. Davis told of Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization
of former drinkers banded together to beat the liquor habit. This
is the first of two final articles on the subject.
When 100 members of Alcoholics Anonymous, the extraordinary fellowship
of men and women who have cured themselves of "incurable" alcoholism
by curing each other and adopting a "spiritual way of life," had established
their cures to the satisfaction of their physicians, families, employers
and psychotherapists, they
published a book.
It is a 400-page volume of which half is a history of the movement
and a description of its methods, and the other half a collection
of 30 case histories designed to show what a wide variety of persons
the fellowship has cured. It is called "Alcoholics Anonymous," and
may be bought for $3.50 from the Works Publishing Co., Box 657, Church
Street Annex Postoffice, New York.
The name of the publisher is that adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous
for its only publishing venture. The address is "blind" because the
name "Alcoholics Anonymous" means exactly what it says. ..
Among the first reviews of the book to see print was that written
by the Rev. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick for the Religious Digest. That
review so attracted at least one well-known Cleveland minister that
he obtained a copy of the book, got in touch with the Cleveland chapter
of the society, and plans to preach a sermon about the movement.
Dr. Fosdick is himself the author of seventeen books. His review of
"Alcoholics Anonymous" follows:
"This extraordinary book deserves the careful attention of anyone
interested in the problem of alcoholism. Whether as victims, friends
of victims, physicians, clergymen, psychiatrists or social workers
there are many such, and this book will give them, as no other treatise
known to this reviewer will, an inside view of the problem which the
alcoholic faces. Gothic cathedral windows are not the sole things
which can be truly seen only from within. Alcoholism is another. All
outside views are clouded and unsure. Only one who has been an alcoholic
and has escaped the thraldom can interpret the experience.
"This book represents the pooled experience of 100 men and women who
have been victims of alcoholism-and who have won their freedom and
recovered their sanity and self-control. Their stories are detailed
and circumstantial, packed with human interest. In America today the
disease of alcoholism is increasing. Liquor
has been an easy escape from depression. As an English officer in
India, reproved for his excessive drinking, lifted his glass and said,
"This is the swiftest road out of India," so many Americans have been
using hard liquor as a means of flight from their troubles until to
their dismay they discover that, free to begin, they are not free
to stop. One hundred men and women, in this volume, report their experience
of enslavement and then of liberation.
"The book is not in the least sensational. It is notable for its sanity,
restraint and freedom from over-emphasis and fanaticism.
"The group sponsoring this book began with two or three ex-alcoholics,
who discovered one another through kindred experience. From this a
movement started; ex-alcoholics working for alcoholics, without fanfare
or advertisement, and the movement has spread from one city to another.
"The core of their whole procedure is religious. They are convinced
that for the helpless alcoholic there is only one way out-the expulsion
of his obsession by a Power Greater Than Himself. Let it be said at
once that there is nothing partisan or sectarian about this religious
experience. Agnostics and atheists, along with Catholics, Jews and
Protestants, tell their story of discovering the Power
Greater than themselves. 'Who are you to say that there is no God,'
one atheist in the group heard a voice say when, hospitalized for
alcoholism, he faced the utter hopelessness of his condition. Nowhere
is the tolerance and open-mindedness of the book more evident than
in its treatment of this central matter on which the
cure of all these men and women has depended. They are not partisans
of any particular form of organized religion, although they strongly
recommend that some religious fellowship be found by their participants.
By religion they mean an experience which they personally know and
which has saved them from their slavery, when psychiatry and medicine
had failed. They agree that each man must have his own way of conceiving
God, but of God Himself they are utterly sure, and their stories of
victory in consequence are a notable addition to William James' 'Varieties
of Religious Experience.'"
Date: Sat Mar 30, 2002 5:21pm
Subject: CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1939 - Article
from the November 4, 1939, Cleveland Plain Dealer with permission.
A PHYSICIAN LOOKS UPON ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
By ELRICK B. DAVIS
The first appraisal in a scientific journal of Alcoholics Anonymous,
former drunkards who cure themselves by curing each other with the
help of religious experience, was published in the July issue of the
journal Lancet. It was "A New Approach to Psychotherapy [in] Chronic
Alcoholism" by W. D. Silkworth, M.D. physician in charge, Charles
B. Town's Hospital, New York City. A drunkard during
a moment of [deep] depression had the spontaneous "religious experience"
which started his cure. This was the seed from which came Alcoholics
Anonymous. Dr. Silkworth was at first skeptical. He is no longer.
Excerpts from his paper follow:
"The beginning and subsequent development of a new approach to the
problem of permanent recovery for the chronic alcoholic has already
produced remarkable results and promises much for the future. This
statement is based upon four years of close observation. The principal
answer is: Each ex-alcoholic has had and is able to maintain, a vital
spiritual or 'religious' experience, accompanied by marked changes
of personality. There is a radical change in outlook, attitude and
habits of thought. In nearly all cases, these are evident within a
few months, often less.
"The conscious search of these ex-alcoholics for the right answer
has enabled them to find an approach effectual in something more than
half of all cases. This is truly remarkable when it is remembered
that most of them were undoubtedly beyond the reach of other remedial
"Considering the presence of the religious factor, one might expect
to find unhealthy emotionalism and prejudice. On the contrary, there
is an instant readiness to discard old methods for new which produce
better results. It was early found that usually the weakest approach
to an alcoholic is directly through his family or friends, especially
if the patient is drinking heavily. Ex-alcoholics
frequently insist a physician take the patient in hand, placing him
in a hospital when possible. If proper hospitalization and medical
care is not carried out, this patient faces the danger of delirium
tremens, 'wet brain' or other complications. After a few days' stay,
the physician brings up the question of permanent sobriety. If the
patient is interested, he tactfully introduces a member of the group.
By this time the prospect has self-control, can think straight, and
the approach can be made casually. More than half the fellowship have
been so treated. The group is unanimous in its belief that hospitalization
is desirable, even imperative, in most cases...
"An effort is made for frank discussion with the patient, leading
to self-understanding. He must make the necessary readjustment to
his environment. Cooperation and confidence must be secured. The objectives
are to bring about extroversion and provide someone to whom he can
transfer his dilemma. This group is now attaining this because of
the following reasons:
"1 -- Because of their alcoholic experiences and successful recoveries
they secure a high degree of confidence from their prospects.
"2 -- Because of this initial confidence, identical experiences, and
the fact that the discussion is pitched on moral and religious grounds,
the patient tells his story and makes his self-appraisal with extreme
thoroughness and honesty. He stops living alone and finds himself
within reach of a fellowship with whom he can discuss his problems
as they arise.
"3 -- Because of the ex-alcoholic brotherhood, the patient too, is
able to save other alcoholics from destruction. At one and the same
time, the patient acquires an ideal, a hobby, a strenuous avocation,
and a social life which he enjoys among other ex-alcoholics and their
families. These factors make powerfully for his extroversion.
"4-- Because of objects aplenty in whom he can vest his confidence,
the patient can turn to the individuals to whom he first gave his
confidence, the ex-alcoholic group as a whole, or to the Deity."
Date: Mon Apr 1, 2002 4:47pm
Subject: LIBERTY MAGAZINE, September 1939
Towns, owner of Towns' Hospital where Bill Wilson had sobered up,
tried to get publicity for A.A. and finally succeeded. He had known
Markey, a well-known feature writer, for years. Markey was intrigued
Towns told him of A.A., and approached Fulton Oursler, then editor
LIBERTY a popular magazine which had a religious orientation. Oursler
saw the possibilities at once and said "Morris, you've got an assignment.
Bring that story in here, and we will print it in September."
(Oursler later wrote a number of successful books on religion.
He became a
good friend of Bill Wilson's and served as a trustee of the Alcoholic
In September, when the LIBERTY piece hit the newsstands, Bill thought
it was a bit lurid, and that the title, "Alcoholics and God," would
scare off some prospects. Perhaps it did, but LIBERTY received 800
urgent pleas for help, which were promptly turned over to Bill Wilson
who turned them over to his secretary, Ruth Hock, for a response.
"She wrote fine personal letters to every one of them," wrote Bill,
"enclosing a leaflet which described the A.A. book. The response was
wonderful. Several hundred books sold at once at full retail price
of $3.50. Even more importantly, we struck up a correspondence with
alcoholics, their friends, and their families all over the country."
When Dr. Bob read the story he was elated. "You never saw such an
person in your life," said Ernie G. the second (there were two Ernie
G's) "We all were," said Ernie's wife, Ruth. Anne Smith said
"You know, it looks like we might be getting a little bit respectable."
It was A.A.'s first successful piece of national publicity. The stories
in the Cleveland Plain Dealer followed shortly hereafter. (See
posts 1 through 7.)
One result of the article was that A.A. was started in Philadelphia.
George S. of
Philadelphia, one of the first "loners" had sobered up after reading
article. "When the issue of LIBERTY first arrived, George was in bed
drinking whiskey for his depression and taking laudanum for his colitis.
The Markey piece hit George so hard that he went ex-grog and ex-laudanum
instantly." He wrote to New York, his name was given to Jim Burwell
(see "The Vicious Cycle" in the Big Book), who was a traveling salesman,
"and that's how A.A. started in the City of Brotherly Love," wrote
Jim and George gathered others to them, and the first A.A. meeting
Philadelphia was held in George's home.
Chicago also reported getting several new prospects as a result of
Bill wrote to Dr. Bob "We are growing at an alarming rate, although
I have no
further fear of large numbers." A few weeks later he wrote Dr.
Bob that "the press of newcomers and inquiries was so great that we
have to swing more
to the take-it-or-leave-it attitude, which, curiously enough, produces
better results than trying to be all things at all times at all places
to all men."
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age.
Bill W., by Francis Hartigan.
Bill W., by Robert Thomsen.
The Language of the Heart, Bill W.'s Grapevine Writings.
Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers.
Here is the text of a Liberty Magazine article which appeared in the
September 1939 issue.
Alcoholics and God
Is there hope for habitual drunkards?
A cure that borders on the miraculous -- and it works!
For twenty-five or thirty cents we buy a glass of fluid which is pleasant
to the taste, and which contains within its small measure a store
of warmth and good-fellowship and stimulation, of release from momentary
cares and anxieties. That would be a drink of whisky, of course --
whisky, which is one of Nature's most generous gifts to man, and at
the same time one of his most elusive problems. It is a problem because,
like many of his greatest benefits, man does not quite know how to
control it. Many experiments have been made, the most spectacular
being the queer nightmare of prohibition, which left such deep scars
upon the morals and the manners of our nation. Millions of dollars
have been spent by philanthropists and crusaders to spread the doctrine
of temperance. In our time the most responsible of the distillers
are urging us to use their wares sensibly, without excess.
But to a certain limited number of our countrymen neither prohibition
nor wise admonishments have any meaning, because they are helpless
when it comes
to obeying them. I speak of the true alcoholics, and before going
any further I had best explain what that term means.
For a medical definition of the term, I quote an eminent doctor who,
has spent twenty-five years treating such people in a highly regarded
private hospital: "We believe . . . that the action of alcohol in
chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy-that the phenomenon
of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average
temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol
in any form at all."
They are, he goes on, touched with physical and mental quirks which
them from controlling their own actions. They suffer from what some
doctors call a "compulsion neurosis." They know liquor is bad for
them but periodically, they are driven by a violent and totally uncontrollable
desire for a drink. And after that first drink, the deluge.
Now these people are genuinely sick. The liquor habit with them is
not a vice. It is a specific illness of body and mind, and should
be treated as such.
By far the most successful cure is that used by the hospital whose
head doctor I have quoted. There is nothing secret about it. It has
the endorsement of the medical profession. It is, fundamentally, a
process of dehydration: of removing harmful toxins from all parts
of the body faster than Nature could accomplish it. Within five or
six days -- two weeks at the maximum -- the patient's body is utterly
free from alcoholic poisons. Which means that the physical craving
is completely cured, because the body cries out for alcohol only when
alcohol is already there. The patient has no feeling of revulsion
toward whisky. He simply is not interested in it. He has recovered.
But wait. How permanent is his recovery?
Our doctor says this: "Though the aggregate of full recoveries through
physical and psychiatric effort its considerable, we doctors must
admit that we have made little impression upon the problem as a whole.
For there are many types which do not respond to the psychological
"I do not believe that true alcoholism is entirely a matter of individual
mental control. I have had many men who had, for example, worked for
a period of months on some business deal which was to be settled on
a certain date. For reasons they could not afterward explain,
they took a drink a day or two prior to the date . . . and the important
engagement was not even kept. These men were not drinking to escape.
They were drinking to overcome a craving beyond their mental control.
"The classification of alcoholics is most difficult. There are, of
course, the psychopaths who are emotionally unstable.... They are
make many resolutions -- but never a decision.
"There is the type who is unwilling to admit that he cannot take a
drink just like the rest of the boys. He does tricks with his drinking
-- changing his brand, or drinking only after meals or changing his
companions. None of this helps him strengthen his control and be like
other people. Then there are types entirely normal in every respect
except in the effect which alcohol has upon them . . .
"All these, and many others, have one symptom in common: They cannot
drinking without developing the phenomenon of craving.... The only
have to suggest is complete abstinence from alcohol.
"But are these unfortunate people really capable, mentally, of abstaining
completely? Their bodies may be cured of craving. Can their minds
Can they be rid of the deadly compulsion neurosis?"
Among physicians the general opinion seems to be that chronic alcoholics
doomed. But wait!
Within the last four years, evidence has appeared which has startled
hard-boiled medical men by proving that the compulsion neurosis can
be entirely eliminated. Perhaps you are one of those cynical people
who will turn away when I say that the root of this new discovery
is religion. But be patient for a moment. About three years ago a
man appeared at the hospital in New York of which our doctor is head
physician. It was his third "cure."
Since his first visit he had lost his job, his friends, his health,
and his self-respect. He was now living on the earnings of his wife.
He had tried every method he could find to cure his disease: had read
all the great philosophers and psychologists. He had tried religion
but he simply could not accept it. It would not seem real and personal
He went through the cure as usual and came out of it in very low spirits.
He was lying in bed, emptied of vitality and thought, when suddenly,
a strange and totally unexpected thrill went through his body and
mind. He called out for the doctor. When the doctor came in, the man
looked up at him and grinned.
"Well, doc," he said, "my troubles are all over. I've got religion."
"Why, you're the last man . . ."
"Sure, I know all that. But I've got it. And I know I'm cured of this
drinking business for good." He talked with great intensity for a
while and then said, "Listen, doc. I've got to see some other patient
-- one that is about to be dismissed."
The doctor demurred. It all sounded a trifle fanatical. But finally
he consented. And thus was born the movement which is now flourishing
with almost sensational success as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Here is how it works:
Every member of the group -- which is to say every person who has
-- is under obligation to carry on the work, to save other men.
That, indeed, is a fundamental part of his own mental cure. He gains
strength and confidence by active work with other victims.
He finds his subject among acquaintances, at a "cure" institution
by making inquiry of a preacher, a priest, or a doctor. He begins
with his new acquaintance by telling him the true nature of his disease
how remote are his chances for permanent cure.
When he has convinced the man that he is a true alcoholic and must
drink again, he continues:
"You had better admit that this thing is beyond your own control.
You've tried to solve it by yourself, and you have failed. All right.
Why not put the whole thing into the hands of Somebody Else?"
Even though the man might be an atheist or agnostic, he will almost
always admit that there is some sort of force operating in the world-some
cosmic power weaving a design. And his new friend will say:
"I don't care what you call this Somebody Else. We call it God. But
whatever you want to call it, you had better put yourself into its
hands. Just admit you're licked, and say, 'Here I am, Somebody
Else. Take care of this thing for me.'"
The new subject will generally consent to attend one of the weekly
of the movement.
He will find twenty-five or thirty ex-drunks gathered in somebody's
home for a pleasant evening. There are no sermons. The talk is gay
or serious as the
mood strikes. The new candidate cannot avoid saying to himself, "These
are ex-drunks. And look at them! They must have something. It sounds
of screwy, but whatever it is I wish to heaven I could get it too."
One or another of the members keeps working on him from day to day.
presently the miracle. But let me give you an example: I sat down
in a quiet
room with Mr. B., a stockily built man of fifty with a rather stern,
"I'll tell you what happened a year ago." He said, "I was completely
up. Financially I was all right, because my money is in a trust fund.
was a drunken bum of the worst sort. My family was almost crazy with
"I took the cure in New York." (At the hospital we have mentioned.)
"When I came out of it, the doctor suggested I go to one of these
meetings the boys were holding. I just laughed. My father was an atheist
and had taught me to be one. But the doctor kept saying it wouldn't
do me any harm, and I went.
"I sat around listening to the jabber. It didn't register with me
at all. I went home. But the next week I found myself drawn to the
meeting. And again they worked on me while I shook my head. I said,
'It seems O.K. with you, boys, but I don't even know your language.
Count me out.'
"Somebody said the Lord's Prayer, and the meeting broke up. I walked
blocks to the subway station. Just as I was about to go down the stairs-bang!"
He snapped fingers hard. "It happened! I don't like that word miracle,
but that's all I can call it. The lights in the street seemed to flare
up. My feet seemed to leave the pavement. A kind of shiver went over
me, and I burst out crying.
"I went back to the house where we had met, and rang the bell, and
Bill let me in. We talked until two o'clock in the morning. I haven't
touched a drop since, and I've set four other fellows on the same
The doctor, a nonreligious man himself, was at first utterly astonished
at the results that began to appear among his patients. But then he
put his knowledge of psychiatry and psychology to work. These men
were experiencing a psychic change. Their so-called "compulsion neurosis"
was being altered -- transferred from liquor to something else. Their
psychological necessity to drink was being changed to a psychological
necessity to rescue their fellow victims from the plight that made
themselves so miserable. It is not a new idea. It is a powerful and
effective working out of an old idea. We all know that the alcoholic
has an urge to share his troubles. Psychoanalysts use this urge. They
say to the alcoholic, in basic terms: "You can't lick this problem
yourself. Give me the problem -- transfer the whole thing to me and
let me take the whole responsibility."
But the psychoanalyst, being of human clay, is not often a big enough
that job. The patient simply cannot generate enough confidence in
him. But the patient can have enough confidence in God -- once he
has gone through the mystical experience of recognizing God. And upon
that principle the Alcoholic Foundation rests. The medical profession,
in general, accepts the principle as sound.
"Alcoholics Anonymous" have consolidated their activities in an organization
called the Alcoholic Foundation. It is a nonprofit-making enterprise.
Nobody connected with it is paid a penny. It is not a crusading movement.
It condemns neither liquor nor the liquor industry. Its whole concern
is with the rescue of allergic alcoholics, the small proportion of
the population who must be cured or perish. It preaches no particular
religion and has no dogma, no rules. Every man conceives God according
to his own lights.
Groups have grown up in other cities. The affairs of the Foundation
managed by three members of the movement and four prominent business
professional men, not alcoholics, who volunteered their services.
The Foundation has lately published a book, called Alcoholics Anonymous.
if alcoholism is a problem in your family or among your friends, I
heartily recommend that you get hold of a copy. It may very well help
you to guide a
sick man -- an allergic alcoholic -- on the way to health and contentment.
Date: Tue Apr 2, 2002 11:00am
Subject: Saturday Evening Post Article March
1941, How It Came About
|| In March
1941, a feature article entitled "Alcoholics Anonymous" appeared in
the "Saturday Evening Post." This is how it came about.
Jim Burwell ("The Vicious Cycle" in the Big Book) had just moved to
Philadelphia and was trying to get a local bookstore to carry the
Big Book. The bookstore's manager was uninterested, but the
conversation was overheard by a woman named Helen Hammer.
She spoke up and said she had sent the book to her alcoholic nephew
in Los Angeles, who had sobered up instantly and had stayed that way
for some three months. But the store manager remained unimpressed.
When Mrs. Hammer heard of Jim's attempt to start a group in Philadelphia,
she introduced him to her husband, Dr. A. Weise Hammer.
Dr. Hammer was a friend of Judge Curtis Bok, the owner of the Saturday
Evening Post. He persuaded Bok to do a story on A.A. Bok urged
his editors to assigned Jack Alexander, an experienced, even cynical
reporter, to do a feature story.
Alexander was chosen because he had a reputation for being "hard nosed."
He had just completed a major story exposing the New jersey rackets
and prided himself on his cynicism.
Alexander had many doubts about doing a story on a bunch of ex-drunks.
In a story he wrote for the A.A. Grapevine in May 1945 ("Was My Leg
Being Pulled?") he said: "All I knew of alcoholism at the time was
that, like most other nonalcoholics, I had had my hand bitten (and
my nose punched) on numerous occasions by alcoholic pals to whom I
had extended a hand -- unwisely, it always seemed afterward.
Anyway, I had an understandable skepticism about the whole business."
But he spent a week with Bill Wilson and other AA members in New York.
gave him the most exhaustive briefing on Alcoholics Anonymous any
ever had," according to Bill. "First he met our Trustees and New York
and then we towed him all over the country."
One of the people he interviewed in New York was Marty Mann, the first
to achieve lasting sobriety in AA. (See "Women Suffer Too" in the
Big Book.) She is called "Sara Martin" in the story, and she is disguised
further by changing her time in London to time in Paris. But Sarah
Martin is without doubt, Marty Mann. When the story came out Marty
said "it was the most exciting thing that had ever happened, because
we wanted publicity so badly. We wanted somebody to know about us."
Alexander felt the week was a success from one standpoint. "I knew
I had the
makings of a readable report," he wrote, "but, unfortunately, I didn't
believe in it and told Bill so." But Bill convinced him that
he should visit other cities to visit groups, and interview and get
to know other members.
Bill, Dr. Bob and elders of the groups at Akron, New York, Cleveland,
Philadelphia, and Chicago spent uncounted hours with him. But
when he reached his own home town of St. Louis, he met a number of
his own friends who were now A.A. members, and the last remnants of
skepticism vanished. "Once rollicking rumpots, they were now
sober. It didn't seem possible, but there it was," he wrote.
When Alexander "could feel A.A. in the very marrow of his bones,"
to write the story that rocked drunks and their families all over
"Came then the deluge," Bill wrote. Six thousand frantic appeals from
alcoholics and their families hit the New York office, PO Box 658.
Bill and Ruth Hock, AA's first secretary, pawed at random through
the mass of letters, laughing and crying by turns. But it was clear
they couldn't handle the mail by themselves, and form letters wouldn't
be enough. Each letter had to have an understanding personal
Fortunately, they had anticipated this problem and Lois Wilson, in
anticipation of the story bringing a strong response, had been organizing
anyone who could type into squads, and scheduling those who could
not type to answer the telephones in preparation for the expected
But even so, the response exceeded anyone's wildest expectations.
days, meeting attendance doubled. Within weeks, newcomers were being
out on Twelve Step calls to other alcoholics. Ruth Hock and Bobbie
along with Lois and her volunteers, worked day and night for five
weeks to answer all the mail.
The chain reaction Bill had envisioned when he was still a patient
Hospital had become a fact, and nothing would stop it. A.A. was now
established as an American institution.
Bill realized that he must, for the first time, ask the groups for
assistance. It was determined that if each group gave $1 a year per
member, they would eventually have enough money to pay the New York
office's expenses and rely no further upon outside charity or insufficient
book sales. Most groups were happy to contribute to pay the
expense of the New York office, and most continue to do so today.
Thus the tradition of self-support had a firm beginning.
The magazine's decision to do a feature story on A.A. would have been
for editors all across the country to find A.A. newsworthy, but the
story didn't stop with merely reporting on AA. It endorsed its effectiveness.
It is hard for us today to imagine the enormous excitement that this
article generated among A.A. members. By 1950, AA membership
was approaching a hundred thousand and there were thirty-five hundred
In April of that year the Saturday Evening Post featured another article
Alexander entitled the "Drunkards Best Friend."
In 1953 Alexander became a member of the Alcoholic Foundation's board
trustees. He wrote articles for the A.A. Grapevine and helped Bill
Steps and Twelve Traditions." He was truly a great friend of
Bill's and of A.A.
AA has World Services has reprinted the article regularly in pamphlet
at first under its original title, and now as "The Jack Alexander
"How well we love that Jack" wrote Bill in 1951. "We should
all be grateful to Jack Alexander, one of AA's earliest friends from
The Jack Alexander articles follow in the net posts.
"Bill W." by Robert Thomsen
"Bill W." by Francis Hartigan.
"Pass It On."
"The Language of the Heart, Bill W.'s Grapevine Writings."
"Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers."
"Best of the Grapevine, Volume II."
Date: Tue Apr 2, 2002 11:28am
Subject: The Saturday Evening Post, March
1941 -- Part 1
|| This is
the Jack Alexander article from the March 1941 issue of The Saturday
THREE MEN sat around the bed of an alcoholic patient in the psychopathic
of Philadelphia General Hospital one afternoon a few weeks ago. The
the bed, who was a complete stranger to them, had the drawn and slightly
stupid look the inebriates get while being defogged after a bender.
The only thing that was noteworthy about the callers, except for the
obvious contrast between their well-groomed appearances and that of
the patient, was the fact that each had been through the defogging
process many times himself. They were members of Alcoholics Anonymous,
a band of ex-problem drinkers who make an avocation of helping other
alcoholics to beat the liquor habit.
The man in the bed was a mechanic. His visitors had been educated
at Princeton, Yale and Pennsylvania and were, by occupation, a salesman,
lawyer and a publicity man. Less than a year before, one had been
in shackles in the same ward. One of his companions had been what
is known among alcoholics as a sanitarium commuter. He had moved from
place to place, bedeviling the staffs of the country's leading institutions
for the treatment of alcoholics. The other had spent twenty years
of life, all outside institution walls, making life miserable for
himself, and his family and his employers, as well as sundry well-meaning
relatives who had had the temerity to intervene.
The air of the ward was thick with the aroma of paraldehyde, an unpleasant
cocktail smelling like a mixture of alcohol and ether which hospitals
sometimes use to taper off the paralyzed drinker and soothe his squirming
nerves. The visitors seemed oblivious of this and of the depressing
atmosphere of psychopathic wards. They smoked and talked with the
patient for twenty minutes or so, then left their personal cards and
departed. If the man in the bed felt that he would like to see one
of them again, they told him, he had only to put in a telephone call.
THEY MADE it plain that if he actually wanted to stop drinking, they
leave their work or get up in the middle of the night to hurry to
where he was. If he did not choose to call, that would be the end
of it. The members of Alcoholics Anonymous do not pursue or coddle
a malingering prospect, and they know the strange tricks of the alcoholic
as a reformed swindler knows the art of bamboozling.
Herein lies much of the unique strength of a movement, which in the
years, has brought recovery to around 2,000 men and women, a large
percentage of whom had been considered medically hopeless. Doctors
and clergymen, working separately or together, have always managed
to salvage a few cases. In isolated instances, drinkers have found
their own methods of quitting. But the inroads into alcoholism have
been negligible, and it remains one of the great, unsolved public-health
By nature touchy and suspicious, the alcoholic likes to be left alone
out his puzzle, and he has a convenient way of ignoring the tragedy
inflicts meanwhile upon those who are close to him. He holds desperately
a conviction that, although he has not been able to handle alcohol
in the past, he will ultimately succeed in becoming a controlled drinker.
One of medicine's queerest animals, he is, as often as not, an acutely
intelligent person. He fences with professional men and relatives
who attempt to aid him and he gets a perverse satisfaction out of
tripping them up in argument.
THERE IS no specious excuse for drinking which the troubleshooters
of Alcoholics Anonymous have not heard or used themselves. When one
prospects hands them a rationalization for getting soused, they match
a half a dozen out of their own experience. This upsets him a little,
and he gets defensive. He looks at their neat clothing and smoothly
shaved faces and charges them with being goody-goodies who don't know
what it is to struggle with drink. They reply by relating their own
stories: the double Scotches and brandies before breakfast; the vague
feeling of discomfort which precedes a drinking bout; the awakening
from a spree without being able to account for the actions of several
days and the haunting fear that possibly they had run down someone
with their automobiles.
They tell of the eight-ounce bottles of gin hidden behind pictures
caches from cellar to attic; of spending whole days in motion-picture
houses to stave off the temptation to drink; of sneaking out of the
office for quickies during the day. They talk of losing jobs and stealing
money from their wives' purses; of putting pepper into whiskey to
give it a tang; of tippling on bitters and sedative tablets, or on
mouthwash or hair tonic; of getting into the habit of camping outside
the neighborhood tavern ten minutes before opening time. They describe
a hand so jittery that it could not lift a pony to the lips without
spilling the contents; drinking liquor from a beer stein because it
can be steadied with two hands, although at the risk of chipping a
front tooth; tying an end of a towel about a glass, looping the towel
around the back of the neck, and drawing the free end with the other
hand; hands so shaky they feel as if they were about to snap off and
fly into space; sitting on hands for hours to keep them from doing
These and other bits of drinking lore usually manage to convince the
alcoholic that he is talking to blood brothers. A bridge of confidence
is thereby erected, spanning a gap, which has baffled the physician,
the minister, the priest, or the hapless relatives. Over this connection,
the troubleshooters convey, bit by bit, the details of a program for
living which has worked for them and which, they feel, can work for
any other alcoholic. They concede as out of their orbit only those
who are psychotic or who are already suffering from the physical impairment
known as wet brain. At the same time, they see to it that the prospect
gets whatever medical attention is needed.
MANY DOCTORS and staffs of institutions throughout the country now
Alcoholics Anonymous to their drinking patients. In some towns, the
and probation officers cooperate with the local group. In a few city
psychopathic divisions, the workers of Alcoholics Anonymous are accorded
the same visiting privileges as staff members. Philadelphia General
is one of these. Dr. John F. Stouffer, the chief psychiatrist, says:
"the alcoholics we get here are mostly those who cannot afford private
treatment, and this is by far the greatest thing we have ever been
able to offer them. Even among those who occasionally land back in
here again, we observe a profound change in personality. You would
hardly recognize them."
The Illinois Medical Journal, in an editorial last December, went
further than D. Stouffer, in stating: "It is indeed a miracle when
a person who for years has been more of less constantly under the
influence of alcohol and in whom his friends have lost all confidence,
will sit up all night with a drunk and at stated intervals administer
a small amount of liquor in accordance with a doctor's order without
taking a drop himself."
This is a reference to a common aspect of the Arabian Nights adventures
which Alcoholics Anonymous workers dedicate themselves. Often it involves
sitting upon, as well as up with, the intoxicated person, as the impulse
jump out a window seems to be an attractive one to many alcoholics
their cups. Only an alcoholic can squat on another alcoholic's chest
for hours with the proper combination of discipline and sympathy.
During a recent trip around the East and Middle West, I met and talked
scores of A.A.s, as they call themselves, and found them to be unusually
tolerant people. Somehow, they seemed better integrated than the average
group of nonalcoholic individuals. Their transformation from cop fighters,
canned-heat drinkers, and, in some instances, wife beaters, was startling.
On one of the most influential newspapers in the country, I found
that the city editor, the assistant city editor, and a nationally
known reporter were A.A.s, and strong in the confidence of their publisher.
IN ANOTHER city, I heard a judge parole a drunken driver to an A.A.
The latter, during his drinking days, had smashed several cars and
his own operator's license suspended. The judge knew him and was glad
trust him. A brilliant executive of an advertising firm disclosed
that two years ago he had been panhandling and sleeping in a doorway
under an elevated
structure. He had a favorite doorway, which he shared with other vagrants,
and every few weeks he goes back and pays them a visit just to assure
himself he isn't dreaming.
In Akron, as in other manufacturing centers, the groups include a
element of manual workers. In the Cleveland Athletic Club, I had luncheon
with five lawyers, an accountant, an engineer, three salesmen, an
insurance man, a buyer, a bartender, a chain-store manager, a manager
of an independent store, and a manufacturer's representative. They
were members of a central committee, which coordinates the work of
nine neighborhood groups. Cleveland, with more than 450 members, is
the biggest of the A.A. centers. The next largest are located in Chicago,
Akron, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington and New
York. All told, there are groups in about fifty cities and towns.
IN DISCUSSING their work, the A.A.s spoke of their drunk rescuing
as "insurance" for themselves. Experience within the group has
said, that once a recovered drinker slows up in this work he is likely
to go back to drinking himself. There is, they agreed, no such thing
as an ex-alcoholic. If one is an alcoholic -- that is, a person who
is unable to drink normally -- one remains an alcoholic until he dies,
just as a diabetic remains a diabetic. The best he can hope for is
to become an arrested case, with drunk saving as his insulin. At least,
the A.A.s say so, and medical opinion tends to support them. All but
a few said that they had lost all desire for alcohol. Most serve liquor
in their homes when friends drop in, and they still go to bars with
companions who drink. A.A.s tipple on soft drinks and coffee.
One, a sales manager, acts as bartender at his company's annual jamboree
Atlantic City and spends his nights tucking the celebrators into their
Only a few of those who recover fail to lose the felling that at any
minute they may thoughtlessly take one drink and skyrocket off on
a disastrous binge. An A.A. who is a clerk in an Eastern city hasn't
had a snifter in three and a half years, but says that he still has
to walk fast past saloons to circumvent the old impulse; but he is
an exception. The only hangover from the wild days that plagues the
A.A. is a recurrent nightmare. In the dream, he finds himself off
on a rousing whooper-dooper, frantically trying to conceal his condition
from the community. Even this symptom disappears shortly, in most
cases. Surprisingly, the rate of employment among these people, who
formerly drank themselves out of job after job, is said to be around
One-hundred-percent effectiveness with non-psychotic drinkers who
want to quit is claimed by the workers of Alcoholics Anonymous. The
will not work, they add, with those who only "want to want to quit,"
want to quit because they are afraid of losing their families or their
jobs. The effective desire, the state, must be based upon enlightened
self-interest; the applicant must want to get away from liquor to
head off incarceration or premature death. He must be fed up with
the stark social loneliness, which engulfs the uncontrolled drinker,
and he must want to put some order into his bungled life.
As it is impossible to disqualify all borderline applicants, the working
percentage of recovery falls below the 100-percent mark. According
to A.A.'s estimation, fifty percent of the alcoholics taken in hand
recover immediately; twenty-five percent get well after suffering
a relapse or two; and the rest remain doubtful. This rate of success
is exceptionally high. Statistics on traditional medical and
religious cures are lacking, but it has been informally estimated
that they are no more than two or three percent effective on run-of-the-mill
Although it is too early to state that Alcoholics Anonymous is the
answer to alcoholism, its brief record is impressive, and it is receiving
hopeful support. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. helped defray the expense
of getting it started and has gone out of his way to get other prominent
Date: Tue Apr 2, 2002 0:05pm
Subject: The Saturday Evening Post, March
1941 -- Part 2
GIFT was a small one, in deference to the insistence of the
originators that the movement be kept on a voluntary, non paid basis.
There are no salaried organizers, no dues, no officers, and no central
control. Locally, the rents of assemble halls are met by passing the
hat at meetings. In small communities, no collections are taken, as
the gatherings are held in private homes. A small office in downtown
New York acts merely as a clearinghouse for information. There is
no name on the door, and mail is received anonymously through a post-office
box. The only income, which is money received from the sale of a book
describing the work, is handled by the Alcoholic Foundation, a board
composed of three alcoholics and four non-alcoholics.
In Chicago, twenty-five doctors work hand in hand with Alcoholics
contributing their services and referring their own alcoholic patients
group, which now numbers around 200. The same cooperation exists in
Cleveland and to a lesser degree in other centers. A physician, Dr.
W. D. Silkworth, of New York City, gave the movement its first encouragement.
However, many doctors remain skeptical. Dr. Foster Kennedy, an eminent
New York neurologist, probably had these in mind when he stated at
a meeting a year ago: "The aim of those concerned in this effort against
alcoholism is high; their success has been considerable; and I believe
medical men of goodwill should aid."
The active help of two medical men of goodwill, Drs. A. Wiese Hammer
Dudley Saul, has assisted greatly in making the Philadelphia unit
one of the more effective of the younger groups. The movement there
had its beginning
in an offhand way in February 1940, when a businessman who was an
convert was transferred to Philadelphia from New York. Fearful
of backsliding for lack of rescue work, the newcomer rounded up three
local barflies and started to work on them. He got them dry, and the
quartet began ferreting out other cases. By last December fifteenth,
ninety-nine alcoholics had joined up. Of these, eighty-six were now
total abstainers -- thirty-nine from one to three months, seventeen
from three to six months, and twenty-five from six to ten months.
Five who had joined the unit after having belonged in other cities
had been nondrinkers from one to three years.
At the end of the time scale, Akron, which cradled the movement, holds
intramural record for sustained abstinence. According to a recent
two members have been riding the A.A. wagon for five and a half years,
for five years, three for four and a half years, one for the same
period with one skid, three for three and a half year, seven for three
years, three for three years with one skid each, one for two and a
half years, and thirteen for two years. Previously, most of the Akronites
and Philadephians had been unable to stay away from liquor for longer
than a few weeks.
In the Middle West, the work has been almost exclusively among persons
have not arrived at the institutional stage. The New York group, which
similar nucleus, takes a sideline specialty of committed cases and
achieved striking results. In the summer of 1939, the group began
working on the alcoholics confined in Rockland State Hospital, at
Orangeburg, a vast mental sanitarium, which get the hopeless alcoholic
backwash of the big population centers. With the encouragement of
Dr. R. E. Baisdell, the medical superintendent, a unit was formed
within the wall, and meetings were held in the recreation hall. New
York A.A.s went to Orangeburg to give talks, and on Sunday evenings,
the patients were brought in state-owned buses to a clubhouse which
the Manhattan group rents on the West Side.
Last July first, eleven months later, records kept at the hospital
showed that of fifty-four patients released to Alcoholics Anonymous,
seventeen had had no relapse and fourteen others had had only one.
Of the rest, nine had gone back to drinking in their home communities,
twelve had returned to the hospital and two had not been traced. Dr.
Baisdell has written favorably about the work to the State Department
of Mental Hygiene, and he praised it officially in his last annual
Even better results were obtained in two public institutions in New
Greystone Park and Overbrook, which attract patients of better economic
social background, than Rockland, because of their nearness to prosperous
suburban villages. Of seven patients released from the Greystone Park
institution in two years, five have abstained for periods of one to
two years, according to A.A. records. Eight of ten released from Overbrook
have abstained for about the same length of time. The others have
had from one to several relapses.
WHY SOME people become alcoholics is a question on which authorities
disagree. Few think that anyone is "born an alcoholic." One may be
they say, with a hereditary predisposition to alcoholism, just as
one may be
born with a vulnerability to tuberculosis. The rest seems to depend
upon environment and experience, although one theory has it that some
allergic to alcohol, as hay fever sufferers are to pollens. Only one
note is found to be common to all alcoholics - emotional immaturity.
Closely related to this is an observation that an unusually large
number of alcoholics start out in life as an only child, as a younger
child, as the only boy in a family of girls or the only girl in a
family of boys. Many have records of childhood precocity and were
what are known as spoiled children.
Frequently, the situation is complicated by an off-center home atmosphere
which one parent is unduly cruel, the other overindulgent. Any combination
of these factors, plus a divorce or two, tends to produce neurotic
children who are poorly equipped emotionally to face the ordinary
realities of adult life. In seeking escapes, one may immerse himself
in his business, working twelve to fifteen hours a day, or in what
he thinks is a pleasant escape in drink. It bolsters his opinion of
himself and temporarily wipes away any feeling of social inferiority,
which he may have. Light drinking leads to heavy drinking. Friend
and family are alienated and employers become disgusted. The drinker
smolders with resentment and wallows in self-pity. He indulges
in childish rationalizations to justify his drinking: He has been
working hard and he deserves to relax; his throat hurts from an old
tonsillectomy and a drink would ease the pain: he has a headache;
his wife does not understand him; his nerves are jumpy; everybody
is against him; and so on and on. He unconsciously becomes a chronic
excuse-maker for himself.
All the time he is drinking, he tells himself and those who butt into
his affairs that he can really become a controlled drinker if he wants
to. To demonstrate his strength of will, he goes for weeks without
taking a drop. He makes a point of calling at his favorite bar at
a certain time each day and ostentatiously sipping milk or a carbonated
beverage, not realizing that he is indulging in juvenile exhibitionism.
Falsely encouraged, he shifts to a routine of one beer a day and that
is the beginning of the end once more. Beer leads inevitably
to more beer and then to hard liquor. Hard liquor leads to another
first-rate bender. Oddly, the trigger, which sets off the explosion,
is as apt to be a stroke of business success as it is to be a run
of bad luck. An alcoholic can stand neither prosperity nor adversity.
THE VICTIM is puzzled on coming out of the alcoholic fog. Without
aware of any change, a habit has gradually become an obsession. After
a while, he no longer needs rationalization to justify the fatal first
drink. All he knows is that he feels swamped by uneasiness or
elation, and before he realizes what is happening, he is standing
at a bar with an empty whisky pony in front of him and a stimulating
sensation in his throat. By some peculiar quirk of his mind, he has
been able to draw a curtain over the memory of the intense pain and
remorse caused by preceding stem-winders. After many experiences
of this kind, the alcoholic begins to realize that he does not understand
himself; he wonders whether his power of will, though strong in other
fields, isn't defenseless against alcohol. He may go on trying to
defeat his obsession and wind up in a sanitarium. He may give up the
fight as hopeless and try to kill himself. Or he may seek outside
If he applies to Alcoholics Anonymous, he is first brought around
that alcohol has him whipped and that his life has become unmanageable.
Having achieved this state of intellectual humility he is given a
dose of religion in the broadest sense. He is asked to believe in
a Power that is greater than himself, or at least to keep an open
mind on that subject while he goes on with the rest the rest of the
program. Any concept of the Higher Power is acceptable. A skeptic
or agnostic may choose to think of his Inner Self, the miracle of
growth, a tree, man's wonderment at the physical universe, the structure
of the atom, or mere mathematical infinity. Whatever form is visualized,
the neophyte is taught that he must rely upon it and, in his own way,
to pray to the Power for strength.
He next makes a short moral inventory of himself with the private
another person -- one of his A.A. sponsors, a priest, a minister a
psychiatrist, or anyone else he fancies. If it gives him any relief,
he may get up at a meeting and recite his misdeed, but he is not required
to do so. He restores what he may have stolen while intoxicated and
arranges to pay off old debts and to make good on rubber checks; he
makes amends to persons he has abused and in general, cleans up his
past as well as he is able to. It is not uncommon for his sponsors
to lend him money to help out in the early stages.
This catharsis is regarded as important because of the compulsion,
feeling of guilt exerts in the alcoholic obsession. As nothing tends
to push an alcoholic toward the bottle more than personal resentments,
the pupil also makes out a list of his grudges and resolves not to
be stirred by them. At this point, he is ready to start working on
other, active alcoholics. By the process of extroversion, which the
work entails, he is able to think less of his own troubles.
The more drinkers he succeeds in swinging into Alcoholics Anonymous,
greater his responsibility to the group becomes. He can't get drunk
without injuring the people who have proved themselves his best friends.
He is beginning to grow up emotionally and to quit being a leaner.
If raised in an Orthodox Church, he usually, but not always, becomes
a regular communicant
SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH the making over of the alcoholic goes the process
adjusting his family to his new way of living. The wife or husband
of an alcoholic, and the children, too, frequently become neurotics
from being exposed to drinking excesses over a period of years. Reeducation
of the family is an essential part of a follow-up program, which has
Alcoholics Anonymous, which is synthesis of old ideas rather than
a new discovery, owes its existence to the collaboration of a New
and an Akron physician. Both alcoholics, they met for the first time
a little less than six years ago. In thirty-five years of periodic
drinking, Dr. Armstrong, to give the physician a fictitious name,
had drunk himself out of most of his practice. Armstrong had tried
everything, including the Oxford Group, and had shown no improvement.
On Mother's Day 1935, he staggered home, in typical drunk fashion,
lugging an expensive potted plant, which he placed in his wife's lap.
The he went upstairs and passed out.
At that moment, nervously pacing the lobby of an Akron hotel, was
from New York, whom we shall arbitrarily call Griffith. Griffith was
jam. In an attempt to obtain control of a company and rebuild his
fences, he had come out to Akron and engaged in a fight for proxies.
lost the fight. His hotel bill was unpaid. He was almost flat broke.
Griffith wanted a drink.
During his career in Wall Street, Griffith had turned some sizable
had prospered, but, through ill-timed drinking bouts, had lost out
on his main chances. Five months before coming to Akron, he had gone
on the water
wagon through the ministration of the Oxford Group in New York. Fascinated
by the problem of alcoholism, he had many times gone back as a visitor
to a Central Park West detoxicating hospital, where he had been a
patient, and talked to the inmates. He effected no recoveries, but
found that by working on other alcoholics he could stave off his own
A stranger in Akron, Griffith knew no alcoholics with whom he could
wrestle. A church directory, which hung in the lobby opposite
the bar, gave him an idea. He telephoned one of the clergymen listed
and through him got in touch with a member of the local Oxford Group.
This person was a friend of Dr. Armstrong's and was able to introduce
the physician and the broker at dinner. In this manner, Dr. Armstrong
became Griffith's first real disciple. He was a shaky one at first.
After a few weeks of abstinence, he went east to a medical convention
and came home in a liquid state. Griffith, who had stayed in Akron
to iron out some legal tangles arising from the proxy battle, talked
him back to sobriety. That was on June 10, 1935. The nips the physician
took from a bottle proffered by Griffith on that day were the last
drinks he ever took.
GRIFFITH'S lawsuits dragged on, holding him over in Akron for six
moved his baggage to the Armstrong home, and together the pair struggled
other alcoholics. Before Griffith went back to New York, two more
Akron converts had been obtained. Meanwhile, both Griffith and Dr.
Armstrong had withdrawn from the Oxford Group, because they felt that
its aggressive evangelism and some of its other methods were hindrances
in working with alcoholics. They put their own technique on a strict
take-it-or-leave-it basis and kept it there.
Progress was slow. After Griffith had returned East, Dr. Armstrong
wife, a Wellesley graduate, converted their home into a free refuge
for alcoholics and an experimental laboratory for the study of the
guest's behavior. One of the guest, who unknown to his hosts, was
a manic-depressive as well as an alcoholic, ran wild one night with
a kitchen knife. He was overcome before he stabbed anyone. After a
year and a half, a total of ten persons had responded to the program
and were abstaining. What was left of the family savings had gone
into the work. The physician's new sobriety caused a revival in his
practice, but not enough of one to carry the extra expense. The Armstrongs,
nevertheless, carried on, on borrowed money.
Griffith, who had a Spartan wife, too, turned his Brooklyn home into
a duplicate of Akron ménage. Mrs. Griffith, a member of an old Brooklyn
family, took a job in a department store and in her spare time played
nurse to inebriates. The Griffiths also borrowed, and Griffith managed
to make odd bits of money around the brokerage houses. By the spring
of 1939, the Armstrongs and the Griffiths had between them cozened
about one hundred alcoholics into sobriety.
IN A BOOK, which they published at that time, the recovered drinkers
described the cure program and related their personal stories. The
title was Alcoholics Anonymous. It was adopted as a name for the movement
itself, which up to then had none. As the book got into circulation,
the movement spread rapidly. Today, Dr. Armstrong is still struggling
to patch up his practice. The going is hard. He is in debt because
of his contributions to the movement and the time he devotes gratis
to alcoholics. Being a pivotal man in the group, he is unable to turn
down the requests for help, which flood his office.
Griffith is even deeper in the hole. For the past two years, he and
have had no home in the ordinary sense of the word. In a manner reminiscent
of the primitive Christians, they have moved about, finding shelter
in the home of A.A. colleagues and sometimes wearing borrowed clothing.
Having got something started, both the prime movers want to retire
to the fringe of their movement and spend more time getting back on
their feet financially. They feel that the way the thing is set up,
it is virtually self-operating and self-multiplying. Because of the
absence of figureheads and the fact that there is no formal body of
belief to promote, they have no fears that Alcoholics Anonymous will
degenerate into a cult.
The self-starting nature of the movement is apparent from letters
in the files of the New York office. Many persons have written in
saying that they stopped drinking as soon as they read the book, and
made their homes meeting places for small local chapters. Even a fairly
large unit, in Little Rock, got started in this way. An Akron civil
engineer and his wife, in gratitude for his cure four years ago, have
been steadily taking alcoholics into their home. Out of thirty-five
such wards, thirty-one have recovered.
TWENTY PILGRIMS from Cleveland caught the idea in Akron and returned
home to start a group of their own. From Cleveland, by various means,
has spread to Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Indianapolis,
Atlanta, San Francisco, Evansville, and other cities. An alcoholic
Cleveland newspaperman with a surgically collapsed lung moved to Houston
for his health. He got a job on a Houston paper, and through a series
of articles, which he wrote for it, started an A.A. unit, which now
has thirty-five members. One Houston member has moved to Miami and
is now laboring to snare some of the more eminent winter-colony lushes.
A Cleveland traveling salesman is responsible for starting small units
in many different parts of the county. Fewer than half of the A.A.
members has ever seen Griffith or Dr. Armstrong.
To an outsider who is mystified, as most of us are, by the antics
of problem-drinking friends, the results, which have been achieved,
are amazing. This is especially true of the more virulent cases, a
few of which are herewith sketched under names that are not their
Sara Martin was a product of the F. Scott Fitzgerald era. Born of
wealthy parents in a Western City, she went to Eastern boarding schools
and "finished" in France. After making her debut, she married. Sara
spent her nights drinking and dancing until daylight. She was known
as a girl who could carry a lot of liquor. Her husband had a weak
stomach, and she became disgusted with him. They were quickly divorced.
After her father's fortune had been erased in 1929, Sara got a job
in New York and supported herself. In 1932, seeking adventure, she
went to Paris to live and set up a business of her own, which was
successful. She continued to drink heavily and stayed drunk longer
than usual. After a spree in 1933, she was informed that she had tried
to throw herself out a window. During another bout, she did jump or
fall -- she doesn't remember which -- out of a
first-floor window. She landed face first on the sidewalk and was
laid up for six months of bone setting, dental work, and plastic surgery.
In 1936, Sara Martin decided that if she changed her environment by
to the United States, she would be able to drink normally. This childish
faith in geographical change is a classic delusion, which all alcoholics
get at one time, or another. She was drunk all the way home on the
boat. New York frightened her and she drank to escape it. Her money
ran out and she borrowed from friends. When the friends cut her, she
hung around Third Avenue bars, cadging drinks from strangers. Up to
this point she had diagnosed her trouble as a nervous breakdown. Not
until she had committed herself to several sanitariums did she realize,
through reading, that she was an alcoholic. On advice of a staff doctor,
she got in touch with an Alcoholics Anonymous group. Today, she has
another good job and spends many of her nights sitting on hysterical
women drinkers to prevent them from diving out of windows. In her
late thirties, Sarah Martin is an
attractively serene woman. The Paris surgeons did handsomely by her.
Watkins is a shipping clerk in a factory. Injured in an elevator mishap
in 1927, he was furloughed with pay by a company, which was thankful
that he did not sue for damages. Having nothing to do during a long
convalescence, Watkins loafed in speakeasies. Formerly a moderate
drinker, he started to go on drunks lasting several months. His furniture
went for debt, and his wife fled, taking their three children. In
eleven years, Watkins was arrested twelve times and served eight workhouse
sentences. Once, in an attack of delirium tremens, he circulated a
rumor among the prisoners that the county was poisoning the food in
order to reduce the workhouse population and save expenses. A mess-hall
riot resulted. In
another fit of D.T.'s, during which he thought the man in the cell
above was trying to pour hot lead on him, Watkins slashed his own
wrists and throat with a razor blade. While recuperating in an outside
hospital, with eighty-six stitches, he swore never to drink again.
He was drunk before the final bandages were removed. Two years ago,
a former drinking companion got him to Alcoholics Anonymous, and he
hasn't touched liquor since. His wife and children have returned,
and the home has new furniture. Back at work, Watkins has paid off
the major part of $2,000 in debts and petty alcoholic thefts and has
his eye on a new automobile.
AT TWENTY-TWO, Tracy, a precocious son of well-to-do parents, was
manager for an investment-banking firm whose name has become a symbol
of the money-mad twenties. After the firm's collapse during the stock
he went into advertising and worked up to a post, which paid him $23,000
a year. On the day his son was born, Tracy was fired. Instead of appearing
in Boston to close a big advertising contract, he had gone on a spree
and had wound up in Chicago, losing out on the contract. Always a
heavy drinker, Tracy became a bum. He tippled on Canned Heat and hair
tonic and begged from cops, who are always easy touches for amounts
up to a dime. On one sleety night, Tracy sold his shoes to buy a drink,
putting on a pair of rubbers he had found in a doorway and stuffing
them with paper to keep his feet warm.
He started committing himself to sanitariums, more to get in out of
than anything else. In one institution, a physician got him interested
in the A.A. program. As part of it, Tracy, a Catholic made a general
confession and returned to the church, which he had long since abandoned.
He skidded back to alcohol a few times, but after a relapse in February
1939, Tracy took no more drinks. He has since then beat his way up
again to $18,000 a year in advertising.
Victor Hugo would have delighted in Brewster, a heavy-thewed adventurer
took life the hard way. Brewster was a lumberjack; cowhand, and wartime
aviator. During the postwar era, he took up flask toting and was soon
doing a Cook's tour of the sanitariums. In one of them, after hearing
about shock cures, he bribed the Negro attendant in the morgue, with
gifts of cigarettes, to permit him to drop in each afternoon and meditate
over a cadaver. The plan worked well until one day he came upon a
dead man who, by a freak facial contortion, wore what looked like
a grin. Brewster met up with the A.A.s in December 1938, and after
achieving abstinence, got a sales job, which involved much walking.
Meanwhile, he had got cataracts on both eyes. One was removed, giving
him distance sight with the aid of thick-lens spectacles. He used
the other eye for close-up vision, keeping it dilated with an eye-drop
solution in order to avoid being run down in traffic. The he developed
a swollen, or milk, leg. With these disabilities, Brewster tramped
the streets for six months before he caught up with his drawing account.
Today, at fifty, still hampered by his physical handicaps, he is making
his calls and earning around $400 a month.
FOR THE Brewsters, the Martins, the Watkinses, the Tracys, and the
other reformed alcoholics, congenial company is now available wherever
to be. In the larger cities, A.A.s meet one another daily at lunch
in favored restaurants. The Cleveland groups give big parties on New
Year's and other holidays, at which gallons of coffee and soft drinks
are consumed. Chicago holds open house on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
-- alternating, on the North, West, and South Sides -- so that no
lonesome A.A. need revert to liquor over the weekend for lack of companionship.
Some play cribbage or bridge, the winner of each hand contributing
to a kitty for paying of entertainment expenses. The others listen
to the radio, dance, eat, or just talk. All alcoholics, drunk or sober,
like to gab. They are among the most society-loving people in the
world, which may help to explain why they got to be alcoholics in
the first place.
Date: Tue Apr 2, 2002 0:41pm
Subject: The Saturday Evening Post, April
1950 -- Part 1
is Jack Alexander's second story. It was published in April
of 1950, when A.A. was just shy of 15 years old.
The Drunkard's Best Friend
By Jack Alexander
Nine years ago the Post reported on the then-obscure group known as
Since that time these self-rehabilitated men -- and women -- have
an astonishing number of America's heaviest drinkers.
This is how they do it.
When a farmer in Aroostook County, Maine, announces that he is going
a cake, he is speaking figuratively. What he means is that he is bored
the loneliness of Aroostook's vast reaches, with the county's most
famous product, potatoes, and with life in general; and that, to relieve
his boredom, he is going on a vanilla-extract bender. In order to
buy liquor he might have to drive as much as a hundred miles over
drifted or rutted roads, to reach a town uninhibited by local option.
He tipples on vanilla, which is rich in alcohol, because it is easily
and legally obtainable, in quantity, at the nearest grocery store.
Grocers in local-option towns ordinarily do a thriving vanilla business
with alcoholically inclined agrarians, but of late the strange society
known as Alcoholics Anonymous has taken root in Aroostook and a disturbing
effect on the vanilla turnover has been observed. "You wouldn't
believe it, Ned," one storekeeper lamented to a drummer on a gray
day last November, " but my vanilla sales is almost down to normal."
The impact of Alcoholics Anonymous upon a community is not always
striking, but it is doing quite well at its self-appointed task, which,
as almost everyone knows by now, is that of helping confirmed drunks
to quit drinking. The help is provided solely by alcoholics who, through
adhering to a specified program of living, have managed to arrest
their own disastrous drinking habits. (A. A. members never call themselves
ex-alcoholics, regardless of the length of their sobriety, the theory
being that they are ineradicably alcoholics by temperament, and are
therefore always vulnerable to a relapse.)
During the past few years Alcoholics Anonymous has extended its influence
overseas, and one of its more dedicated workers is the honorable secretary
the Dublin group. A Sandhurst graduate and a veteran of twenty-six
the British Army, he is still remembered in some portions of the Middle
for his inspired work with the bottle. Now an abstainer, he lives
off his major's pension and the profits of a small retail business.
Like all faithful members of A.A., he spends much of his spare time
in shepherding other lushes toward total abstinence, lest he revert
to the pot himself.
The honorable secretary is a man of few spoken words, but he carries
large correspondence within the fraternity. His letters, which are
their eloquent understatement, are prized by fellow A.A.'s in this
country and are passed around a meetings. One of his more fascinating
communiques, received here in October, described a missionary trip
to Cork, in company with another A.A. gentleman. The purpose of the
trip was to bring the glad tidings of freedom to any Corkonians who
might happen to be besotted and unshriven, and to stimulate the local
group, which was showing small promise.
This was the honorable secretary's chronological report:
8 P.M. The chairman and myself sat alone.
8:05 One lady arrived, a nonalcoholic.
8:15 One man arrived.
8:20 A County Cork member arrived to say he couldn't stay, as his
just developed measles.
8:25 The lone lady departed.
8:30 Two more men arrived.
8:40 One more man arrived, and I decided to make a start.
8:45 The first man arrival stated that he had to go out and have a
8:50 He came back.
8:55 Three more arrived.
9:10 Another lady, propped up by a companion, arrived, gazed glassily
collected some literature and departed unsteadily.
9:30 The chairman and I had finished speaking.
9:45 We reluctantly said good night to the new members, who seemed
In summing up, the secretary said: "A night of horror at first, developing
quite well. I think they have good prospects, once the thing is launched."
To a skeptic, the honorable secretary's happy prognosis in the face
discouragement may sound foolishly hopeful. To those already within
fraternity and familiar with the sluggardly and chaotic character
of A.A. Iocal-group growth in its early stages, he was merely voicing
justifiable optimism. For some years after its inception, in 1935,
the Alcoholics Anonymous movement itself made slow progress. As the
work of salvaging other drunks is essential to maintaining the sobriety
of the already-salvaged brethren, the earnest handful of early salvagees
spent some worrisome months. Hundreds of thousands of topers were
prowling about in full alcoholic cry, but few would pause long enough
Six years after it all began, when this magazine first examined the
encouraging phenomenon (Post, March 1, 1941), the band could count
members, by scraping hard, and some of these were still giving off
residual fumes. In the nine years which have intervened since that
report, the small
phenomenon has become a relatively large one.
Today its listed membership exceeds 90,000. Just how many of these
substantial sobriety records is a matter of conjecture, as the movement,
which has no control at the top and is constantly ridden by maverick
tendencies, operates in a four-alarm-fire atmosphere, and no one has
the time to check up. A reasonable guess would be that about two-thirds
have been sober for anywhere from six months to fifteen years, and
that the rest have stretched out their periods of sobriety between
twisters to the point where they are at least able to keep their jobs.
The intake of shaky-fingered newcomers, now at its highest in A.A.
history, is running at the rate of around 20,000 a year. The number
that will stick is, again, a matter of conjecture. If experience repeats,
according to A.A. old-timers, about one half will stay sober from
the start, and one-fourth will achieve sobriety after a few skids;
the other one-fourth will remain problem drinkers. A problem drinker,
by definition, is one who takes a drink for some compulsive reason
he cannot identify and, having taken it, is unable to stop until he
is drunk and acting like a lunatic. How Many of the Four Million
IT is tempting to become oversanguine about the success of Alcoholics
Anonymous to date. Ninety-thousand persons, roaring drunk or roaring
are but a drop in the human puddle, and they represent only a generous
dip out of the human alcoholic puddle.
According to varying estimates, between 750,000 and 1,000,000 problem
drinkers are still on the loose in the United States alone. Their
numbers will inevitably be swelled in future years by recruits from
the ranks of between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 Americans who, by medical
standards, drink too much for their own good. Some of these millions
will taper off or quit when they reach the age at which the miseries
of a hang-over seem too great a price to pay for an evening of artificially
induced elation; but some will slosh over into the compulsive-drinker
The origins of alcoholism, which is now being widely treated as a
major public-health problem, are as mysterious as those of cancer.
They are perhaps even harder to pin down, because they involve psychic
as well as physical elements. Currently, the physical aspect is being
investigated by universities and hospitals, and by publicly and privately
financed foundations. Some large business and industrial firms, concerned
about educed productivity and absenteeism, are providing medical and
psychiatric aid to alcoholic employees. The firms' physicians are
also digging into the alcoholic puzzle.
The most plausible tentative explanation that any of these investigative
efforts has come up with is that alcoholism is a sickness resembling
that caused by various allergies.
Psychiatry has its own approach to the problem; it is successful in
small percentage of cases. Clergymen, using a spiritual appeal, and
relatives of alcoholics, using everything from moral suasion to a
in the jaw, manage to persuade a few chronics to become unchronic.
one school of institutional treatment, which insists that alcoholism
is solely the result of "twisted thinking" and aims at unraveling
the mental quirks. But the Alcoholics Anonymous approach --
which leans on medicine, uses a few
elementary principles of psychiatry and employs a strong spiritual
is the only one which has done anything resembling a mop-up job. Whatever
one's attitude toward A.A. may be, and a lot of people are annoyed
by its sometimes ludicrous strivings and its dead-pan thumping of
the sobriety tub,
one can scarcely ignore its palpable results. To anyone who has ever
drunk or who has had to endure the alcoholic cruelties of a drunk
-- and that
would embrace a large portion of the human family -- 90,000 alcoholics
reconverted into working citizens represent a massive dose of pure
human terms, the achievements of Alcoholics Anonymous stand out as
one of the
few encouraging developments of a rather grim and destructive half
Drunks are prolific of excuses for their excessive drinking, and the
most frequent alibi is that no one really understands what a struggle
they have. With more than 3000 A.A. groups at work in the United States,
and every member a veteran of the struggle, this excuse is beginning
to lose its validity, if it ever had any validity. In most cities
of any size the fraternity has a telephone listed in its own name.
A nickel call will bring a volunteer worker who won't talk down to
a drunk, as the average nonalcoholic has a way of doing but will talk
convincingly in the jargon of
the drunk. The worker won't do any urging; he will describe the Alcoholics
Anonymous program in abbreviated form and depart. The drunk is invited
telephone again if he is serious about wanting to become sober. Or
on his own initiative or in tow of a relative, may drop in at the
A.A office, where he will receive the same nonevangelistic treatment.
In the larger cities the offices do a rushing trade, especially after
week ends or legal holidays. Many small-town
and village groups maintain clubrooms over the bank or feed store;
Canadian town the A.A.'s share quarters with a handbook operator,
using it by
night after the bookie has gone home. Some of these groups carry a
classified advertisement in the daily or weekly newspaper. If they
small amount of inquiry will disclose the meeting place of the nearest
a local doctor, or clergyman, or policeman will know.
To some extent, the same easy availability obtains in the twenty-six
countries where A.A. has gained a foothold. This is especially true
nations of the British Commonwealth, particularly Canada, Australia
Zealand, which together list more A.A. members than the whole movement
boast nine years ago; and of the Scandinavian countries, where membership
At a recent A.A. banquet in Oslo, Norway, 400 members celebrated their
deliverance, drinking nothing stronger than water. Throughout Scandinavia
the members bolster the program by using Antibuse, the new European
drug. This practice is deplored by some A.A. members as showing a
lack of faith in the standard A.A. program, but, of course, nothing
is done, or can be done, about it, since the program is free to anyone
who thinks he needs it and he may adapt it in any way that suits him.
More often than not, though, disregard of the standard admonitions
backfires. A bibulous Scottish baronet found this out when,
returning from London, where he caught the spark from a local group,
he set out ambitiously to dry up Edinburgh, a hard-drinking town.
But he tried it by remote control, so to speak, hiring a visiting
American A.A. to do the heavy work. This violated the principle that
the arrested drunk must do drunk-rescuing work himself in order to
remain sober. Besides, the Scottish drunks wouldn't listen to a hired
foreign pleader. In no time at all, and without getting a convert,
the baronet and his hireling were swacked to the eyeballs and crying
on each other's shoulders. After the American had gone home, the baronet
stiffened up, abandoned the traditions of his class and started all
over again, cruising the gutters himself, visiting drunks in their
homes and in hospitals and prisons. Edinburgh is now in the win column,
and there are also groups in Glasgow, Dundee, Perth and Campbeltown,
all offshoots of Edinburgh.
Alcoholism on a large scale seems to be most common in highly complex
tend to breed the basic neuroses of which uncontrolled drinking is
one outward expression. A man in a more primitive setting, bound closely
to earthy tasks and the constant battle with Nature, is apt to treat
his frustrations by ignoring them or by working them off.
Alcoholics Anonymous has nevertheless caught on in some out-of-the-way
places. A liquor salesman for a British firm, who was seduced by his
own merchandise, started a group in Cape Town, South Africa, which
now has ninety
members. There are also groups in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein,
Durban and East London, and in Salisbury and Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia.
The group at Anchorage, Alaska, which started in a blizzard, has a
dozen members, including one slightly puzzled Eskimo, and there are
small groups in Palmer and Ketchikan. There is a small group in the
leper colony at Molokai, nurtured by A.A.'s from Honolulu, who fly
there occasionally and conduct meetings.
The figures perhaps give too rosy a picture of the turbulent little
world of Alcoholics Anonymous. Most of the members of any standing
seem to be
exceptionally happy people, with more serenity of manner than most
nonalcoholics are able to muster these jittery days; it is difficult
to believe that they ever lived in the drunk's bewitched world.
But some are still vaguely unhappy, though sober, and feel as if they
walking a tight wire. Treasurers occasionally disappear with a group's
and wind up, boiled, in another town. After this had happened a few
groups were advised to keep the kitty low, and the practice now is
any appreciable surplus on a cake-and-coffee festival or a picnic.
This advice does not always work out; last year the members of a fresh
and vigorous French-Canadian unit in Northern Maine, taking the advice
to heart, debated so violently about how to spend their fifty-four
dollars that all hands were drunk within twenty-four hours. It is
difficult at first for the recruit to achieve serenity.
As most groups are mixtures of men and women, a certain number of
unconventional love affairs occur. More than one group has been thrown
a maelstrom of gossip and disorder by a determined lady whose alcoholism
complicated by an aggressive romantic instinct. Such complications
more frequent than they are at the average country club; they merely
stand out more baldly, and do more harm, in an emotionally explosive
Special A.A. groups in sixty-six prisons around the nation are constantly
trickling out graduates into the civilian groups. The ex-convicts
are welcomed and are, for some reason, usually models of good behavior.
A sanitarium or mental-hospital background causes no more stir in
an A.A. group than a string of college degrees would at the University
Club; the majority of A.A.'s are alumni of anywhere from one to fifty
such institutions. Thus Alcoholics Anonymous is something of a Grand
The ability of the arrested drunk to talk the active drunk's language
convincingly is the one revolutionary aspect of the A.A. technique,
and it does much to explain why the approach so often succeeds after
others have failed. The rest of the technique is a synthesis of already
existing ideas, some of which are centuries old. Once a community
of language and experience has been established, it acts as a bridge
over which the rest of the A.A. message can be conveyed, provided
the subject is receptive.
Across the bridge and inside the active alcoholic's mind lies an exquisitely
tortured microcosm, and a steady member of Alcoholics Anonymous gets
shudder every time he looks into it again. It is a rat-cage world,
by an alcohol flame, and within it lives, or dances, a peculiarly
touchy, defiant and grandiose personality.
is a sage saying in A.A. that "an alcoholic is just like a normal
person, only more so." He is egotistical, childish, resentful and
intolerant to an exaggerated degree. How he gets that way is endlessly
debated, but a certain rough pattern is discernible in most cases.
Many of those who ultimately become alcoholics start off as an only
child, or as the youngest child in a family, or as a child with too
solicitous a mother, or a father with an oversevere concept of discipline.
When such a child begins getting his lumps from society, his ego begins
to swell disproportionately -- either from too easy triumphs or, as
a compensation, from being rebuffed in his attempts to win the approval
of his contemporaries.
He develops an intense power drive, a feverish struggle to gain acceptance
himself at his own evaluation. A few of the power-drive boys meet
with enough frustrations to send them into problem drinking while
still in college or even while in high school. More often, on entering
adult life, the prospective alcoholic is outwardly just about like
anyone else his age, except that he is probably a little more cocky
and aggressive, a little more hipped on the exhibitionistic charm
routine, a little more plausible. He becomes a social drinker -- that
is, one who can stop after a few cocktails and enjoy the experience.
Date: Tue Apr 2, 2002 1:21pm
Subject: The Saturday Evening Post, April
1950 -- Part 2
2 of Jack Alexander's story in the Saturday Evening Post, April 1950:
But at some place along the line his power drive meets up with an
cannot surmount -- someone he loves refuses to love him, someone whose
admiration he covets rejects him, some business or professional ambition
thwarted. Or he may encounter a whole series of rebuffs. The turning
point may come quickly or it may be delayed for as long as forty or
fifty years. He begins to take his drinks in gulps, and before he
realizes it he is off on a reeler. He loses jobs through drunkenness,
embarrasses his family and alienates his friends. His world begins
to shrink. He encounters the horrors of the "black-out," the dawn
experience of being unable to remember what he did the night before
-- how many checks he wrote and how large they were, whom he insulted,
where he parked his car, whether or not he ran down someone on the
way home. In the alcoholic world a nice distinction is made between
the "black-out" and the simple "pass-out," the latter being the relatively
innocuous act of falling asleep from taking too much liquor. He jumps
nervously whenever the doorbell or telephone rings, fearing that it
may be a saloonkeeper with a rubber check, or a damage-suit lawyer,
or the police.
He is frustrated and fearful, but is only vaguely conscious that his
will, which is strong in most crises, fails him where liquor is concerned,
although this is apparent to anyone who knows him. He nurses a vision
of sobriety and
tries all kind of self-rationing systems, none of which works for
long. The great paradox of his personality is that in the midst of
his troubles, his already oversize ego tends to expand; failure goes
to his head. He continues, as the old saying has it, to rage through
life calling for the headwaiter. In his dreams he is likely to see
himself alone on a high mountain, masterfully surveying the world
below. This dream, or some variant of it, will come to him whether
he is sleeping in his own bed, or in a twenty-five-dollar-a-day hotel
suite, or on a park bench, or in a
If he applies to Alcoholics Anonymous for help, he has taken an important
step toward arresting his drink habit; he has at least admitted that
alcohol has whipped him. This in itself is an act of humility, and
his life thereafter must be a continuing effort to acquire more of
this ancient virtue. Should he need hospitalization, his new friends
will see that he gets it, if a local hospital will take him. Understandably,
many hospitals are reluctant to accept alcoholic patients, because
so many of them are disorderly. With this sad fact in mind, the society
has persuaded several hospitals to set up separate alcoholic corridors
and is helping to supervise the patients through supplying volunteer
To the satisfaction of all concerned including the hospital managements,
which find the supervised corridors peaceful, more than 10,000 patients
gone through five-day rebuilding courses. The hospitals involved in
this successful experiment are: St. Thomas' (Catholic) in Akron, St.
(Episcopal) in Brooklyn and Knickerbocker (nonsectarian) In Manhattan.
They have set a pattern which the society would like to see adopted
numerous hospitals which now accept alcoholics on a more restricted
basis. Early in the game the newcomer is subjected to a merciful
but thorough deflating of his ego. It is brought home to him forcefully
that if he continues his uncontrolled drinking -- the only kind he
is capable of -- he will die prematurely, or go insane from brain
impairment, or both. He is encouraged to apologize to persons he has
injured through his drunken behavior; this is a further step in the
ego-deflation process and is often as painful to the recipient of
the apology as it is to the neophyte A.A. He is further instructed
that unless he will acknowledge the existence of a power greater than
himself and continually ask this power for help, his campaign for
sobriety will probably fail. This is the much-discussed spiritual
element in Alcoholics Anonymous. Most members refer to this power
some agnostic members prefer to call it Nature, or the Cosmic Power,
some other label. In any case, it is the key of the A.A. program,
and it must be taken not on a basis of mere acceptance or acknowledgment,
but of complete
This surrender is described by a psychiatrist, Dr. Harry M. Tiebout,
of Greenwich, Connecticut, as a "conversion" experience, "a psychological
in which there is a major shift in personality manifestation." He
adds: "The changes which take place in the conversion process may
be summed up by
saying that the person who has achieved the positive frame of mind
his tense, aggressive, demanding, conscience-ridden self which feels
and at odds with the world, and has become, instead, a relaxed, natural,
realistic individual who can dwell in the world on a live-and-let-live
The personality change wrought surrender is far from complete, at
first. Elated by a few weeks of sobriety, the new member
often enters what is known as the "Chautauqua phase" -- he is always
making speeches at business meetings on what is wrong with the society
and how these defects can be remedied. Senior members let him talk
himself out of this stage of behavior; if that doesn't work, he may
break away and form a group of his own. If he does this, he gradually
becomes a quiet veteran himself and other Chautauqua-phase boys either
oust him from leadership of his own group or break away themselves
and form a new group. By this and other processes of fission the movement
spreads. It can stand a lot of outstanding foolishness and still grow.
as such, are too individualistic to be organized, and there is no
command in Alcoholics Anonymous to excommunicate, fine or otherwise
However, services -- such as publishing meeting bulletins, distributing
literature, arranging for hospitalization, and so on -- are organized
in the larger centers. The local offices, which are operated and financed
by the groups thereabouts, are autonomous.
They are governed by representatives elected by the neighborhood groups
rotating body called the Inter-group. There are no dues; all local
expenses are met by a simple passing of the hat at group meetings.
A certain body of operational traditions has grown up over the years,
and charged with maintaining them -- by exhortation only -- is something
called the Alcoholic Foundation, which has offices at 415 Lexington
Avenue New York City. For a foundation it acts queerly about money;
much of its time is consumed in turning down proffered donations and
bequests. One tradition is that A.A. must be kept poor, as money represents
power and the society prefers to avoid the temptations which power
brings. As a check on the foundation itself, the list of trustees
is weighted against the alcoholics by eight to seven.
The nonalcoholic members are two doctors, a sociologist, a magazine
newspaper editor, a penologist, an international lawyer and a retired
Preserving the principle of anonymity is one of the more touchy tasks
Members are not supposed to be anonymous among their friends or business
acquaintances, but they are when appearing before the public -- in
on radio or television, for example -- as members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
This limited anonymity is considered important to the welfare of the
movement, primarily because it encourages members to subordinate their
personalities to the principles of A.A. There is also the danger that
if a member becomes publicized as a salvaged alcoholic he may stage
a spectacular skid and injure the prestige of the society. Actually,
anonymity has been breached only a few dozen times since the movement
began, which isn't a bad showing, considering the exhibitionistic
nature of the average alcoholic.
By one of the many paradoxes which have characterized its growth,
Anonymous absorbed the "keep it poor" principle from one of the world's
wealthiest men, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The society was formed in
1935 after a fortuitous meeting in Akron between a Wall Street broker
and an Akron surgeon, both alcoholics of long standing. The broker,
who was in Akron on a business mission, had kept sober for several
months by jawing drunks -- unsuccessfully -- but his business mission
had fallen through and he was aching for a drink. The surgeon, at
the time they got together, was quite blotto. Together, over a period
of a few weeks, they kept sober and worked out the basic A.A. technique.
By 1937, when they had about fifty converts, they began thinking,
as all new A.A.'s will, of tremendous plans -- for vast new alcoholic
hospitals, squadrons of paid field workers and the literature of mercy
pouring off immense presses. Being completely broke themselves, and
being promoters at heart, as most alcoholics are, they set their sights
on the Rockefeller jack pot.
Rockefeller sent an emissary to Akron to look into the phenomenon
there, and, receiving a favorable report, granted an audience to a
of eager-eyed alcoholics. He listened to their personal sagas of resurrection
from the gutter and was deeply moved; in fact, he was ready to agree
that the A.A.'s had John Barleycorn by the throat. The visitors relaxed
and visualized millions dropping into the till. Then the man with
the big money bags punctured the vision. He said that too much money
might be the ruination of any great moral movement and that he didn't
want to be a party to ruining this one. However, he did make a small
contribution -- small for Rockefeller -- to tide it over for a few
years, and he got some of his friends to contribute a few thousand
When the Rockefeller money ran out, A.A. was self-supporting, and
remained so ever since.
Although A.A. remains in essence what it has always been, many changes
come along in late years. For one thing, the average age of members
has dropped from about forty-seven to thirty-five. The society is
no longer, as it was originally, merely a haven for the "last gaspers."
Because of widespread publicity about alcoholism, alcoholics are discovering
earlier what their trouble is.
As A.A. has achieved wider social acceptance, more women are coming
ever before. Around the country they average 15 per cent of total
in New York, where social considerations never did count for much,
are 30 per cent women.
The unmarried woman alcoholic is slow to join, as she generally gets
more coddling and protection from her family than a man does; she
is what is known
in alcoholic circles as a "bedroom drinker." The married-woman alcoholic
a tougher row to hoe. The wife of an alcoholic, for temperamental
and economic reasons, will ordinarily stick by her erring husband
to the bitter end. The husband of an alcoholic wife, on the other
hand, is usually less tolerant; a few years of suffering are enough
to drive him to the divorce court, with the children in tow. Thus
the divorced-woman A.A. is a special problem, and her progress in
sobriety depends heavily upon the kindliness shown her by the other
A.A. women. For divorcees, and for other women who may be timid about
speaking out in mixed meetings, special female auxiliary groups have
been formed in some communities. They work out better than a cynic
Another development is the growth of the sponsor system. A new member
sponsor immediately, and it is the function of the sponsor to accompany
him to meetings, to see that he gets all the help he needs and to
be on call at any time for emergencies. As an emergency usually amounts
only to an onset of that old feeling for a bottle, it is customarily
resolved by a telephone conversation, although it may involve an after-midnight
trip to Ernie's gin mill, whither the neophyte has been shanghaied
by a couple of unregenerate old drinking companions. As the membership
of A.A. cuts through all social, occupational and economic classes,
it is possible to match the sponsor with the sponsored, and this seems
to speed up the arrestive process.
During the past decade or so, the society, whose original growth was
cities, has strongly infiltrated the grass-roots country. Its arrival
in this sector was delayed largely because of the greater stigma which
attaches to alcoholism in the small town. Because of this stigma and
the effect it has on his business, professional or social standing,
the small-town alcoholic, reveling in his delusion that nobody knows
about his drinking -- when actually it is the gossip of Main Street
-- takes frequent "vacations" or "business trips" if he can afford
it. He or she -- the banker, the storekeeper, the lawyer, the madam
president of the garden club, sometimes even the clergyman -- is actually
headed for a receptive hospital or clinic in the nearest large city,
where no one will recognize him.
The pattern of small-town growth begins when the questing small-towner
out the big-city A.A. outfit and its message catches on with him.
To his surprise, he finds that half a dozen drinkers in towns near
his own have also been to the fount. On returning to his home, he
gets in touch with them and they form an intertown group; or there
may be enough drinkers in his own town to begin a group. Though there
is a stigma even to getting sober in small towns, it is less virulent
than the souse stigma, and word of the movement spreads throughout
the county and into adjoining counties. The churches and newspapers
take it up and beat the drum for it; relatives of drunks, and doctors
who find themselves unable to help their alcoholic patients, gladly
unload the problem cases on A.A., and A.A. is glad to get them. The
usual intrafellowship quarrel over who is going to run the
thing inevitably develops and there are factional splits, but the
splits help to
spread the movement, too, and all the big quarrels soon become little
and then disappear.
Nowhere is Alcoholics Anonymous carried on with more enthusiasm than
Angeles. Unlike most localities, which try to keep separate group
membership, for easier handling, Los Angeles likes the theatrical
mass-meeting setting, with 1000 or more present. The Los Angeles A.A.'s
carry their membership as if it were a social cachet and go strongly
for square dances of their own. Jewelry bearing the A.A. monogram,
though frowned upon elsewhere, is popular on the Coast. After three
months of certified sobriety a member receives a bronze pin, after
one year he is entitled to have a ruby chip inserted in the pin and,
after three years, a diamond chip. Rings bearing the A.A. letters
are widely worn, as well as similarly
embellished compacts, watch fobs and pocket pieces.
Texas takes A.A. with enthusiasm too. In the ranch sector, members
fly hundreds of miles to attend A.A. square dances and barbecues,
bringing their families. In metropolitan areas such as Dallas-Fort
Worth -- there are upwards of a dozen oil-millionaire members here
-- fancy club quarters have been established in old mansions and the
brethren and their families rejoice, dance and drink coffee and soda
pop amid expensive furnishings. One Southwestern group recently got
its governor to release a life-termer from the state penitentiary
for a week end, so that he could be the guest of honor of the group.
"We had a large open meeting," a local member wrote a friend elsewhere
in the country, "and many state and county officials attended in order
to hear what Herman (the lifer) had to tell about A.A. within the
walls. They were deeply impressed and very interested. The next night
I gave a lawn party and buffet supper in Herman's honor, with about
fifty A.A.'s present. This was the first occasion of this kind in
the state and to our knowledge the first in the United States."
Some A.A.'s believe that this group carried the joy business too far.
think that each section of the country ought to manifest spirit in
its own way; anyway, that is the way it usually works out.
The Midwest is businesslike and serious. In the Deep South the A.A.'s
certain amount of Bible reading and hymn singing. The Northwest and
the upper Pacific Coast help support their gathering places with the
proceeds from slot machines. New York, a catchall for screwballs and
semiscrewballs from all over, is pious about gambling, and won't have
it around the place.
New England is temperate in its approach, and its spirit is characterized
the remark of one Yankee who, writing a fellow A.A. about a lake cottage
had just bought, said, "The serenity hangs in great gobs from the
The serene mind is what A.A.'s the world over are driving toward,
and an epigrammatic expression of their goal is embodied in a quotation
members carry on cards in their wallets and plaster up on the walls
meeting rooms: "God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot
courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
Originally thought in Alcoholics Anonymous to have been written by
St. Francis of Assisi, it turned out, on recent research, to have
been the work of another eminent nonalcoholic, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr,
of Union Theological Seminary. Doctor Niebuhr was amused on being
told of the use to which his prayer was being put. Asked if it was
original with him, he said he thought it was, but added, "Of course
it may have been spooking around for centuries."
Alcoholics Anonymous seized upon it in 1940, after it had been used
quotation in the New York Herald Tribune. The fellowship was late
in catching up with it; and it will probably spook around a good deal
longer before the rest of the world catches up with it.
The Saturday Evening Post
Date: Wed Apr 3, 2002 2:53pm
Subject: Rollie Hemsley
first case of an anonymity break at the national level occurred in
Ralston Burdett "Rollie" Hemsley was born June 24, 1907, in Syracuse,
Ohio. His debut as a catcher was April 13, 1928. He was
the catcher for the Cleveland Indians, and had just caught a no-hit
game pitched by Bob Feller when publicity about his alcoholism hit
the papers. Rollie had been sober for about a year at that time.
It was big news, not only in Cleveland and Ohio, but in the sports
sections of newspapers throughout the country.
Rollie had once been called "Rollicking Rollie," during his drinking
days. He had set fire to a car, raised hell on trains, caught
a ball dropped from Cleveland's Terminal Tower when drunk (and did
it again sober), and was on the way out of the big leagues when he
finally received help.
Dr. Bob called John R. in April 1939 and said: You're the only one
around here who knows anything about baseball. Do you know a
player named Rollie Hemsley?
John replied: "Yes, sure I do. He's a catcher for the Cleveland
Dr. Bob said: "Well, someone brought him down here, and
we've got him over at the hospital. You come up and talk to
They had put him in the hospital under a false name which reportedly
made a sportswriter at the Beacon-Journal very angry that Dr. Bob
wouldn't reveal it. When Rollie was released from the hospital
he joined the Oxford Group in Akron. When the Akron A.A.s left
the Oxford Group, Rollie stayed with the Oxford Group for a time,
but then joined the A.A. group in Cleveland.
So when the story of his alcoholism broke in 1940, credit for his
recovery was given to the Oxford Group. Then Rollie broke his
silence for the first time, and gave the credit for his sobriety to
Alcoholics Anonymous. This caused some concern among AA's, but
Rollie could hardly be blamed, and the story of his recovery in A.A.
brought many new recruits.
The first story about A.A. that appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer
(see Message 1) spoke "a former big league ball player who is recruiting
explained the difference between the Oxford Group and A.A. like this:
"You know, if someone gave me tips about baseball and I found out
he never played, I wouldn't pay much attention to him. It's
the same thing with alcohol."
In the Dr. Bob collection at Brown University is a 1948 Cleveland
Indians World Series baseball, signed by player and A.A. member Rollie
Hemsley and his teammates.
Rollie died July 31, 1972, in Washington, DC.
Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers.
A.A. Comes of Age.
Date: Wed Apr 3, 2002 5:23pm
Subject: A LETTER FROM BILL RE THE LORD'S
|| April 14,
Am right sorry for my delay in answering. Lois and I were a
long time out of the country and this was followed by an attack of
the marathon type of flu that has been around here in New York.
We are okay now, however, but I did want to explain my delay.
Now about the business of adding the Lord's Prayer to each A.A. meeting.
This practice probably came from the Oxford Groups who were influential
in the early days of A.A. You have probably noted in AA. Comes of
Age what the connection of these people in A.A. really was. I think
saying the Lord's Prayer was a custom of theirs following the close
of each meeting. Therefore it quite easily got shifted into a general
custom among us.
Of course there will always be those who seem to be offended by the
introduction of any prayer whatever into an ordinary A.A. gathering.
Also, it is sometimes complained that the Lord's Prayer is a Christian
Nevertheless this Prayer is of such widespread use and recognition
that the arguments of its Christian origin seems to be a little farfetched.
It is also true that most A.A.s believe in some kind of God and that
communication and strength is obtainable through His grace. Since
this is the general consensus it seems only right that at least the
Serenity Prayer and the Lord's Prayer be used in connection with our
meetings. It does not seem necessary to defer to the feelings of our
agnostic and atheist newcomers to the extent of completely hiding
our light under a bushel.
However, around here, the leader of the meeting usually asks those
to join him in the Lord's Prayer who feel that they would care to
do so. The worst that happens to the objectors is that they have to
listen to it. This is doubtless a salutary exercise in tolerance
at their stage of progress.
So that's the sum of the Lord's Prayer business as I recall it. Your
letter made me wonder in just what connection you raise the question.
Meanwhile, please know just how much Lois and I treasure the friendship
of you both. May Providence let our paths presently cross one
of these days.
From the A.A. Archives in New York