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Lets Ask Bill W.

Question & Answer # 5 | Q&A index

When you first sobered up how did you approach alcoholics and did you change that approach?

Answer
I took off to cure alcoholics wholesale. It was twinjet propulsion; difficulties meant nothing. The vast conceit of my project never occurred to me. I pressed my assault for six months; my home was filled with alcoholics. Harangues with scores produced not the slightest result. None of them got it. Disappointingly, my friend of the kitchen table, who was sicker than I realized, took little interest in other alcoholics. This fact may have caused his endless backslides later on. For I had found that working with alcoholics had a huge bearing on my own sobriety. But why wouldn't any of my new prospects sober up?

Slowly the bugs came to light. Like a religious crank, I was obsessed with the idea that everybody must have a "spiritual experience" just like mine. I'd forgotten that there were many varieties. So my brother alcoholics just stared incredulously or kidded me about my "hot flash." This had spoiled the potent identification so easy to get with them. I had turned evangelist. Clearly the deal had to be streamlined. What came to me in six minutes might require six months in others. It was to be learned that words are things, that one must be prudent. It was also certain that something ailed the deflationary technique. It definitely lacked wallop. Reasoning that the alcoholic's "hex" or compulsion must issue from some deep level, it followed that ego deflation must also go deep or else there couldn't be any fundamental release. Apparently religious practice would not touch the alcoholic until his underlying situation was made ready. Fortunately, all the tools were right at hand. You doctors supplied them.

The emphasis was shifted from "sin" to "sickness" - the "fatal malady," alcoholism. We quoted doctors that alcoholism was more lethal than cancer; that it consisted of an obsession of the mind coupled to increasing body sensitivity. These were our twin ogres of madness and death. We leaned heavily on Dr. Jung's statement of how hopeless the condition could be and then poured that devastating dose into every drunk within range. To modern man science is omnipotent; it is a god. Hence if science could pass a death sentence on a drunk, and we placed that verdict on our alcoholic transmission, it might shatter him completely. Perhaps he would then turn to the God of the theologian, there being no place else to go. Whatever the truth in this device, it certainly had practical merit. Immediately our whole atmosphere changed. Things began to look up. (Amer. J. Psychiat., Vol.106, 1949)

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