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fever ran high in the New England town to which we new,
young officers from Plattsburg were assigned, and we
were flattered when the first citizens took us to their
homes, making us feel heroic. Here was love, applause,
war; moments sublime with intervals hilarious. I was
part of life at last, and in the midst of the excitement
I discovered liquor. I forgot the strong warnings and
the prejudices of my people concerning drink. In time
we sailed "Over There." I was very lonely and again
turned to alcohol.
landed in England. I visited Winchester Cathedral. Much
moved, I wandered outside. My attention was caught by
a doggerel on an old tombstone:
lies a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his death
Drinking cold small beer.
A good soldier is ne'er forgot
Whether he dieth by musket
Or by pot."
warning-which I failed to heed.
Twenty-two, and a
vertern of foreign wars, I went home at last. I fancied
myself a leader, for had not the men of my battery given
me a special token of appreciation? My talent for leadership,
I imagined, would place me at the head of vast enterprises
which I would manage with the utmost assurance.
took a night law course, and obtained employment as
an investigator for a surety company. The drive for
success was on. I'd prove to the world I was important.
My work took me about Wall Street and little by little
I became interested in the market. Many people lost
money-but some became very rich. Why not I? I studied
economics and business as well as law. Potential alcoholic
that I was, I nearly failed my law course. At one of
the finals I was too drunk to think or write. Though
my drinking was not yet continuous, it disturbed my
wife. We had long talks when I would still her forebodings
by telling her that men of genius conceived their best
projects when drunk; that the most majestic construction
of philosophic thought were so deprived.
By the time I had
completed the course, I knew the law was not for me.
The inviting maelstrom of Wall Street had me in its
grip. Business and financial leaders were my heroes.
Out of this alloy of drink and speculation, I commenced
to forge the weapon that one day would turn in its flight
like a boomerang and all but cut me to ribbons. Living
modestly, my wife and I saved $1,000. It went into certain
securities, then cheap and rather unpopular. I rightly
imagined that they would some day have a great rise.
I failed to persuade my broker friends to send me out
looking over factories and managements, but my wife
and I decided to go anyway. I had developed a theory
that most people lost money in stocks through ignorance
of markets. I discovered many more reasons later on.
We gave up our positions
and off we roared on a motorcycle, the sidecar stuffed
with tent, blankets, a change of clothes, and three
huge volumes of a finan-
reference service. Our friends thought a lunacy commission
should be appointed. Perhaps they were right. I had
had some success at speculation, so we had little money,
but we once worked on a farm for a month to avoid drawing
on our small capital. That was the last honest manual
labor on my part for many a day. We covered the whole
eastern United States in a year. At the end of it, my
reports to Wall Street procured me a position there
and the use of a large expence account. The exercise
of an option brought in more money, leaving us with
a profit of several thousand dollars for that year.
For the next few
years fortune threw money and applause my way. I had
arrived. My judgment and ideas were followed by many
to the tune of paper millions. The great boom of the
late twenties was seething and swelling. Drink was taking
an important and exhilarating part in my life. There
was loud talk in the jazz places uptown. Everyone spent
in thousands and chattered in millions. Scoffers could
scoff and be damned. I made a host of fair-weather friends.
My drinking assumed
more serious proportions, continuing all day and almost
every night. The remonstrances of my friends terminated
in a row and I became a lone wolf. There were many unhappy
scenes in our sumptuous apartment. There had been no
real infidelity, for loyalty to my wife, helped at times
by extreme drunkenness, kept me out of those scrapes.
In 1929 I contracted
golf fever. We went at once to the country, my wife
to applaud while I started out to overtake Walter Hagen.
Liquor caught up with me much faster than I came up
behind Walter. I began to be jittery in the morning.
Golf permitted drinking
day and every night. It was fun to carom around the
exclusive course which had inspired such awe in me as
a lad. I acquired the impeccable coat of tan one sees
upon the well-to-do. The local banker watched me whirl
fat checks in and out of his till with amused skepticism.
Abruptly in October
1929 hell broke loose on the New York stock exchange.
After one of those days of inferno, I wobbled from a
hotel bar to a brokerage office. It was eight o'clock-five
hours after the market closed. The ticker still clattered.
I was staring at an inch of the tape which bore the
inscription XYZ-32. It had been 52 that morning. I was
finished and so were many friends. The papers reported
men jumping to death from the towers of High Finance.
That disgusted me. I would not jump. I went back to
the bar. My friends had dropped several million since
ten o'clock-so what? Tomorrow was another day. As I
drank, the old fierce determination to win came back.
Next morning I telephoned
a friend in Montreal. He had plenty of money left and
thought I had better go to Canada. By the following
spring we were living in our accustomed style. I felt
like Napoleon returning from Elba. No St. Helena for
me! But drinking caught up with me again and my generous
friend had to let me go. This time we stayed broke.
We went to live
with my wife's parents. I found a job; then lost it
as a result of a brawl with a taxi driver. Mercifully,
no one could guess that I was to have no real employment
for five years, or hardly draw a sober breath. My wife
began to work in a department store, coming home exhausted
to find me drunk.
became an unwelcome hanger-on at brokerage places.
Liquor ceased to
be a luxury; it became a necessity. "Bathtub" gin, two
bottles a day, and often three, got to be routine. Sometimes
a small deal would net a few hundred dollars, and I
would pay my bills at the bars and delicatessens. This
went on endlessly, and I began to waken very early in
the morning shaking violently. A tumbler full of gin
followed by half a dozen bottles of beer would be required
if I were to eat any breakfast. Nevertheless, I still
thought I could control the situation, and there were
periods of sobriety which renewed my wife's hope.
got worse. The house was taken over by the mortgage
holder, my mother-in-law died, my wife and father-in-law
Then I got a promising
business opportunity. Stocks were at the low point of
1932, and I had somehow formed a group to buy. I was
to share generously in the profits. Then I went on a
prodigious bender, and that chance vanished.
I woke up. This
had to be stopped. I saw I could not take so much as
one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had
written lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily
observed that this time I meant business. And so I did.
I came home drunk. There had been no fight. Where had
been my high resolve? I simply didn't know. It hadn't
even come to mind. Someone had pushed a drink my way,
and I had taken it. Was I crazy? I began to wonder,
for such an appalling lack of perspective seemed near
being just that.
Renewing my resolve,
I tried again. Some time
and confidence began to be replaced by cocksureness.
I could laugh at the gin mills. Now I had what it takes!
One day I walked into a cafe to telephone. In no time
I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened.
As the whisky rose to my head I told myself I would
manage better next time, but I might as well get good
and drunk then. And I did.
The remorse, horror
and hopelessness of the next morning are unforgettable.
The courage to do battle was not there. My brain raced
uncontrollably and there was a terrible sence of impending
calamity. I hardly dared cross the street, lest I collapse
and be run down by an early morning truck, for it was
scarcely daylight. An all night place supplied me with
a dozen glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled
at last. A morning paper had told me the market had
gone to hell again. Well, so had I. The market would
recover, but I wouldn't. That was a hard thought. Should
I kill myself? No-not now. Then a mental fog settled
down. Gin would fix that. So two bottles, and-oblivion.
The mind and body
are marvelous mechanisms, for mine endured this agony
two more years. Sometimes I stole from my wife's slender
purse when the morning terror and madness were on me.
Again I swayed dizzily before an open window, or the
medicine cabinet where there was poison, cursing myself
for a weakling. There were flights from city to country
and back, as my wife and I sought escape. Then came
the night when the physical and mental torture was so
hellish I feared I woul burst through my window, sash
and all. Somehow I managed to drag my mattress to a
lower floor, lest I suddenly leap. A doctor came with
heavy sedative. Next day found me drinking both gin
and sedative. This combination soon landed me on the
rocks. People feared for my sanity. So did I. I could
eat little or nothing when drinking, and I was forty
pounds under weight.
is a physician, and through his kindness and that of
my mother I was placed in a nationally-known hospital
for the mental and physical rehabilitation of alcoholics.
Under the so-called belladonna treatment my brain cleared.
Hydrotherapy and mild exercise helped much. Best of
all, I met a kind doctor who explained that though certainly
selfish and foolish, I had been seriously ill, bodily
It relieved me somewhat
to learn that in alcoholics the will is amazingly weakened
when it comes to combating liquor, though it often remains
strong in other respects. My incredible behavior in
the face of a desperate desire to stop was explained.
Understanding myself now, I fared forth in high hope.
For three or four months the goose hung high. I went
to town regularly and even made a little money. Surely
this was the answer-self-knowledge.
But it was not,
for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The
curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off
like a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital.
This was the finish, the curtain, it seemed to me. My
weary and despairing wife was informed that it would
all end with heart failure during delirium tremens,
or I would soon have to give me over to the undertaker
or the asylum.
They did not need
to tell me. I knew, and almost welcomed the idea. It
was a devastating blow to my
I, who had thought so well of myself and my abilities,
of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was cornered at
last. Now I was to plunge into the dark, joining that
endless procession of sots who had gone on before. I
thought of my poor wife. There had been much happiness
after all. What would I not give to make amends. But
that was over now.
No words can tell
of the loneliness and despair I found in that bitter
morass of self-pity. Quicksand stretched around me in
all directions. I had met my match. I had been overwhelmed.
Alcohol was my master.
Trembling, I stepped
from the hospital a broken man. Fear sobered me for
a bit. Then came the insidious insanity of that first
drink, and on Armistice Day 1934, I was off again. Everyone
became resigned to the certainty that I would have to
be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable
end. How dark it is before the dawn! In reality that
was the beginning of my last debauch. I was soon to
be catapulted into what I like to call the forth dimension
of existence. I was to know happiness, peace, and usefulness
as time passes.
Near the end of
that bleak November, I sat drinking in my kitchen. With
a certain satisfaction I reflected there was enough
gin concealed about the house to carry me through that
night and the next day. My wife was at work. I wondered
whether I dared hide a full bottle of gin near the head
of our bed. I would need it before daylight.
My musing was interrupted
by the telephone. The cheery voice of an old school
friend asked if he might
over. HE WAS SOBER. It was years since I could remember
his coming to New York in that condition. I was amazed.
Rumor had it that he had been committed for alcoholic
insanity. I wondered how he had escaped. Of course he
would have dinner, and then I could drink openly with
him. Unmindful of his welfare, I thought only of recapturing
the spirit of other days. There was that time we had
chartered an airplane to complete a jag! His coming
was an oasis in this dreary desert of futility. The
very thing-an oasis! Drinkers are like that.
The door opened
and he stood there, fresh-skinned and glowing. There
was something about his eyes. He was inexplicably different.
What had happened?
I pushed a drink
across the table. He refused it. Disappointed but curious,
I wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn't himself.
"Come, what's all
this about?" I queried.
He looked straight
at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said, "I've got religion."
I was aghast. So
that was it-last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now,
I suspected, a little cracked about religion. He had
that starry-eyed look. Yes, the old boy was on fire
all right. But bless his heart, let him rant! Besides,
my gin would last longer than his preaching.
But he did no ranting.
In a matter of fact way he told how two men appeared
in court, persuading the judge to suspend his commitment.
They had told of a simple religious idea and a practical
program of action. That was two months ago and the result
was self-evident. It worked!
He had come to pass
his experience along to me-if
cared to have it. I was shocked, but interested. Certainly
I was interested. I had to be, for I was hopeless.
He talked for hours.
Childhood memories rose before me. I could almost hear
the sound of the preacher's voice as I sat, on still
Sundays, way over there on the hillside; there was that
proffered temperance pledge I never signed; my grandfather's
good natured contempt of some church folk and their
doings; his insistence that the spheres really had their
music; but his denial of the preacher's right to tell
him how he must listen; his fearlessness as he spoke
of these things just before he died; these recollections
welled up from the past. They made me swallow hard.
That war-time day
in old Winchester Cathedral came back again.
I had always believed
in a power greater than myself. I had often pondered
these things. I was not an atheist. Few people really
are, for that means blind faith in the strange proposition
that this universe originated in a cipher and aimlessly
rushes nowhere. My intellectual heroes, the chemists,
the astronomers, even the evolutionists, suggested vast
laws and forces at work. Despite contrary indications,
I had little doubt that a mighty purpose and rhythm
underlay all. How could there be so much of precise
and immutable law, and no intelligence? I simply had
to believe in a Spirit of the Universe, who knew neither
time nor limitation. But that was as far as I had gone.
and the worlds religions, I parted right there. When
they talked of a God personal to me, who was love, superhuman
strength and direction, I became irritated and my mind
snapped shut against such a theory.
Christ I conceded the certainty of a great man, not
to closely followed by those who claimed Him. His moral
teaching-most excellent. For myself, I had adopted those
parts which seemed convenient and not too difficult;
the rest I disregarded.
The wars which had
been fought, the burnings and chicanery that religious
dispute had facilitated, made me sick. I honestly doubted
whether, on balance, the religions of mankind had done
any good. Judging from what I had seen in Europe and
since, the power of God in human affairs was negligible,
the Brotherhood of Man a grim jest. If there was a Devil,
he seemed the Boss of the Universal, and he certainly
But my friend sat
before me, and he made the point blank declaration that
God had done for him what he could not do for himself.
His human will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him
incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like myself,
he had admitted complete defeat. Then he had, in effect,
been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap
heap to a level of life better than the best he had
Had this power originated
in him? Obviously it had not. There had been no more
power in him than there was in me at that minute; and
this was none at all.
That floored me.
It began to look as though religious people were right
after all. Here was something at work in a human heart
which had done the impossible. My ideas about miracles
were drastically revised right then. Never mind the
musty past; here sat a miracle directly across the kitchen
table. He shouted great tidings.
I saw that my friend
was much more than inwardly
He was on a different footing. His roots grasped a new
Despite the living
example of my friend there remained in me the vestiges
of my old prejudice. The word God still aroused a certain
antipathy. When the thought expressed that there might
be a God personal to me this feeling was intensified.
I didn't like the idea. I could go for such conceptions
as Creative Intelligence, Universal Mind or Spirit of
Nature but I resisted the thought of a Czar of the Heavens,
however loving His sway might be. I have since talked
with scores of men who felt the same way.
My friend suggested
what then seemed a novel idea. He said, "Why don't
you choose your own conception of God?"
That statement hit
me hard. It melted the icy intellectual mountain in
whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I
stood in the sunlight at last.
It was only a
matter of being willing to believe in a power greater
than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make
my beginning. I saw that growth could start from
that point. Upon a foundation of complete willingness
I might build what I saw in my friend. Would I have
it? Of course I would!
Thus was I convinced
that God is concerned with us humans when we want Him
enough. At long last I saw, I felt, I believed. Scales
of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world
came into view.
The real significance
of my experience in the Cathedral burst upon me. For
a brief moment, I had needed and wanted God. There had
been a humble willingness to have Him with me-and He
came. But soon the sense of His presence had been blotted
clamors, mostly those within myself. And so it had been
ever since. How blind I had been.
At the hospital
I was separated from alcohol for the last time. Treatment
seemed wise, for I showed signs of delirium tremens.
There I humbly offered
myself to God, as I then understood Him, to do with
me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His
care and direction. I admitted for the first time that
of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost.
I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have
my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch.
I have not had a drink since.
My schoolmate visited
me, and I fully acquainted him with my problems and
deficiencies. We made a list of people i had hurt or
toward whom I felt resentment. I expressed my entire
willingness to approach these individuals, admitting
my wrong. Never was I to be critical of them. I was
to right all such matters to the utmost of my ability.
I was to test my
thinking by the new God-consciousness within. Common
sense would thus become uncommon sense. I was to sit
quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and
strength to meet my problems as He would have me. Never
was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore
on my usefulness to others. Then only might I expect
to receive. But that would be in great measure.
My friend promised
when these things were done I would enter upon a new
relationship with my Creator; that I would have the
elements of a way of living which answered all my problems.
Belief in the power of God, plus enough willingness,
honesty and humility
establish and maintain the new order of things, were
the essential requirements.
Simple, but not
easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of
self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the
Father of Light who presides over us all.
These were revolutionary
and drastic proposals, but the moment i fully accepted
them, the effect was electric. There was a sense of
victory, followed by such a peace and serenity as I
had ever known. There was utter confidence. I felt lifted
up, as though the great clean wind of a mountain top
blew through and through. God comes to most men gradually,
but His impact on me was sudden and profound.
For a moment I was
alarmed, and called my friend, the doctor, to ask if
I were still sane. He listened in wonder as I talked.
Finally he shook
his head saying, "Something has happened to you I don't
understand. But you had better hang on to it. Anything
is better than the way you were." The good doctor now
sees many men who have such experiences. He knows that
they are real.
While I lay in the
hospital the thought came that there were thousands
of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what
had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some
of them. They in turn might work with others.
My friend had emphasized
the absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles
in all my affairs. Particularly was it imperative to
work with others as he had worked with me. Faith without
works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for
the alcoholic! For if an alcoholic failed to perfect
and enlarge his
life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he
could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead.
If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and
if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be
dead indeed. With us it is just like that.
My wife and I abandoned
ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other
alcoholics to a solution of their problems. It was fortunate,
for my old business associates remained skeptical for
a year and a half, during which I found little work.
I was not to well at the time, and was plagued by waves
of self-pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove
me back to drink, but I soon found that when all other
measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save
the day. Many times I have gone to my old hospital in
despair. On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly
lifted up and set on my feet. It is a design for living
that works in rough going.
We commenced to
make many fast friends and a fellowship has grown up
among us of which it is a wonderful thing to feel a
part. The joy of living we really have, even under pressure
and difficulty. I have seen hundreds of families set
their feet in the path that really goes somewhere; have
seen the most impossible domestic situations righted;
feuds and bitterness of all sorts wiped out. I have
seen men come out of asylums and resume a vital place
in the lives of their families and communities. Business
and professional men have regained their standing. There
is scarcely any form of trouble and misery which has
not been overcome among us. In one western city and
its environs there are one thousand of us and our families.
We meet frequently so that newcomers may find the fellowship
seek. At these informal gatherings one may often see
from 50 to 200 persons. We are growing in numbers and
An alcoholic in
his cups is an unlovely creature. Our struggles with
them are variously strenuous, comic, and tragic. One
poor chap committed suicide in my home. He could not,
or would not, see our way of life.
There is, however,
a vast amount of fun about it all. I suppose some would
be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But
just underneath there is deadly earnestness. Faith has
to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or
Most of us feel
we need look no further for Utopia. We have it with
us right here and now. Each day my friend's simple talk
in our kitchen multiplies itself in a widening circle
of peace on earth and good will to men.
W., co-founder of A.A.,
died January 24,1971.
In 1993, A.A. is composed of approximately 96,000 groups.
for chapter 1 of the pre-1939 Original Manuscript.