WAS born in Europe, in Alsace to be exact, shortly after
it had become German and practically grew up with "good
Rhine wine" of song and story. My parents had some vague
ideas of making a priest out of me and for some years
I attended the Franciscan school at Basle, Switzerland,
just across the border, about six miles from my home.
But, although I was a good Catholic, the monastic life
had little appeal for me.
Very early I became
apprenticed to harness-making and acquired considerable
knowledge of upholstering. My daily consumption of wine
was about a quart, but that was common where I lived.
Everybody drank wine. And it is true that there was no
great amount o f drunkenness. But I can remember, in my
teens, that there were a few characters who caused the
village heads to nod pityingly and sometimes in anger
as they paused to say, "That sot, Henri" and "Ce pauvre
Jules," who drank too much. They were undoubtedly the
alcoholics of our village.
Military service was
compulsory and I did my stretch with the class of my age,
goose-stepping in German barracks and taking part in the
Boxer Rebellion in China, my first time at any great distance
from home. In foreign parts many a soldier who has been
abstemious at home learns to use new and potent drinks.
So I indulged with my comrades in everything the Far East
I cannot say, however, that I acquired any craving for
hard liquor as a result. When I got back to Germany I
settled down to finish my apprenticeship, drinking the
wine of the country as usual.
Many friends of my
family had emigrated to America, so at 24 I decided that
the United States offered me the opportunity I was never
likely to find in my native land. I came directly to a
growing industrial city in the middle west, where I have
lived practically ever since. I was warmly welcomed by
friends of my youth who had preceded me. For weeks after
my arrival I was feted and entertained in the already
large colony of Alsatians in the city, among the Germans
in their saloons and clubs. I early decided that the wine
of America was very inferior stuff and took up beer instead.
I soon found work
at my trade in harness-making. It was still an age of
horses. But I discovered that harness and saddle-making
in America was different from anything I had known. Every
man in the shop was a specialist and instead of having
a variety of jobs
to do every day, I was compelled to sit all day long at
a bench doing the same thing endlessly. I found it very
monotonous and, wanting a change, I found it when I got
work as an upholsterer in a large furniture store.
Fond of singing, I
joined a German singing society which had good club headquarters.
There I sat in the evenings, enjoying with my friends
our memories of the "old country," singing the old songs
we all knew, playing simple card games for drinks and
consuming great quantities of beer.
At that time I could
go into any saloon, have one or
beers, walk out and forget about it. I had no desire whatever
to sit down at a table and stay a whole morning or afternoon
drinking. Certainly at that time I was one of those who
"can take it or leave it alone." There had never been
any drunkards in my family. I came of good stock, of men
and women who drank wine all their lives as a beverage,
and while they occasionally got drunk at special celebrations,
they were up and about their business the next day.
Having regard for the law of the land, I resigned myself
to the will of the national legislators and quit drinking
altogether, not because I had found it harmful, but because
I couldn't get what I was accustomed to drink. You can
all remember that in the first few months after the change,
a great many men, who had formerly been used to a few
beers every day or an occasional drink of whiskey, simply
quit all alcoholic drinks. For the great majority of us,
however, that condition didn't last. We saw very early
that prohibition wasn't going to work. It wasn't very
long before home-brewing was an institution and men began
to search ferverishly for old recipe books on wine-making.
But I hardly tasted
anything for two years and started in business for myself,
founding a mattress factory which is today an important
industrial enterprise in our city. I was doing very well
with that and general upholstering work, and there was
every indication that I would be financially independent
by the time I reached middle age. By this time I was married
and was paying for a home. Like most immigrants I Wanted
to be some-
and have something and I was very happy and contented
as I felt success crown my efforts. I missed the old social
times, of course, but had no definite craving even for
among my friends began to invite me to their homes. I
decided that if these fellows could make it I would try
it myself and so I did. It wasn't very long until I had
developed a pretty good brew with uniformity and plenty
of authority. I knew the stuff I was making was a lot
stronger than I had been used to, but never suspected
that steady drinking of it might develop a taste for something
It wasn't long before
the bootlegger was an established institution in this,
as in other towns. I was doing well in business and in
going around town I was frequently invited to have a drink
in a speakeasy. I condoned my domestic brewing and the
bootleggers and their business. More and more I formed
the habit of doing some of my business in the speakeasy
and after a time did not need that as an excuse. The "speaks"
usually sold whiskey. Beer was too bulky and it couldn't
be kept in a jug under the counter ready to be dumped
when John Law would come around. I was now forming an
entirely new drinking technique. Before long I had a definite
taste for hard liquor, knew nausea and headaches I had
never known before, but as in the old days, I suffered
them out. Gradually, however, I'd suffer so much that
I simply had to have the morning-after drink.
I became what is called
a periodical drinker. I was eased out of the business
I had founded and was reduced
doing general upholstery in a small shop at the back of
my house. My wife upbraided me often and plenty when she
saw that my "periodicals" were gradually losing me what
business I could get. I began to bring bottles in. I had
them hidden away in the house and all over my shop in
careful concealment. I had all the usual experiences of
the alcoholic for I was certainly one by this time. Sometimes,
after sobering up after a bout of several weeks, I would
righteously resolve to quit. With a great deal of determination,
I would throw out full pints—pour them out and smash the
bottles—firmly resolved never to take another drink of
the stuff. I was going to straighten up.
In four or five days
I would be hunting all over the place, at home and in
my workshop for the bottles I had destroyed, cursing myself
for being a damned fool. My "periodicals" became more
frequent until I reached the point where I wanted to devote
all my time to drinking, working as little as possible
and then only when the necessity of my family demanded
it. As soon as I had satisfied that, what I earned as
an upholsterer went for liquor. I would promise to have
jobs done and never do them. My customers lost confidence
in me to the point where I retained what business I had
only because I was a well-trained and reputedly fine craftsman.
"Best in the business, when he's sober," my customers
would say and I still had a following who would give me
work tho ugh they deplored my habits because they knew
the job would be well done when they eventually got it.
I had always been
a good Catholic, possibly not so devoted as I should have
been, but fairly regular in my
at services. I had never doubted the existence of the
Supreme Being but now I began to absent myself from my
church where I had formerly been a member of the choir.
Unfortunately, I had no desire to consult my priest about
my drinking. In fact I was scared to talk to him about
it, for I feared the kind of talk he would give me. Unlike
many other Catholics who frequently take pledges for de
finite periods—a year, two years or for good, I never
had any desire to "take a pledge" before the priest. And
yet, realizing at last that liquor really had me, I wanted
to quit. My wife wrote away for advertised cures for the
liquor habit and gave them to me in coffee. I even got
them myself and tried them. None of the various cures
of this kind were any good.
My experiences differ
very little from the experiences of other alcoholics but
if ever a man was firmly in the grip of a power that could
lead only to ruin and disgrace, I was that man.
I had the usual array
of friends who tried to stop me in my drinking career.
I can hear them yet. Kindly for the most part, yet blind
and almost wholly without understanding, they had the
approach that every alcoholic knows:
"Can't you be a man?"
"You can cut it out."
"You've got a good
wife; you could have the best business in town. What's
the matter with you anyway?"
Every alcoholic has
heard those familiar phrases from well-meaning friends.
And they were my friends, too. In their way they did what
they could, helped me at
times to get on my feet after a particularly bad time,
aided me in unraveling my tangled business affairs, suggested
this and suggested that. They all wanted to help me. But
none of them knew how. Not one of them had the answer
My wife got talking
to a local merchant one day. He was known as a deeply
religious man. He was undoubtedly a fundamentalist with
strong leanings toward evangelistic preaching. He knew
me and something of my reputation. My wife asked him to
help her if he could. So he came to see me, bringing a
friend along. He found me drunk and in bed. This man had
never been an alcoholic and his approach to me was the
familiar one of the emotional seeker after souls. Well,
there I was, lying in an alcoholic stupor with occasional
flashes of emotional self-pity, in pretty much the same
condition as the drunk who plunges to the sawdust at the
appeal of a religious orator.
Good, honest and sincere
man, he prayed at my bedside and I promised to go to church
with him to hear an evangelist. He didn't wait for me
to come to his office, he came after me. I heard the evangelist
but was not impressed. The service was entirely foreign
to what I had been accustomed to in my religious observance
since childhood. I have no doubt of the preacher's sincerity
and seek not at all to belittle his work, but I was unaffected.
So I got no answer.
There are alcoholics
who have been without any consciousness of God all their
lives; there are some who are actual haters of the idea
of a Supreme Being; there are others, like myself, who
have never given up a belief in
Almighty, but who have always felt that God is far off.
And that's the way I felt. I had a closer sense of God
during the mass at church, a feeling of His presence,
but in everyday life He seemed to be at a distance from
me and more as a righteous judge, than an all-wise, pitying
Father to the human race.
Then occurred the
event that saved me. An alcoholic came to see me who is
a doctor. He didn't talk like a preacher at all. In fact
his language was perfectly suited to my understanding.
He had no desire to know anything except whether I was
definite about my desire to quit drinking. I told him
with all the sincerity at my command that I did. Even
then he went into no great detail about how he and a crowd
of alcoholics, with whom he associated, had mastered their
difficulty. Instead he told me that some of them wanted
to talk to me and would be over to see me.
This doctor had imparted
his knowledge to just a few other men at that time—not
more than four or five—they now number more than seventy
persons. And, because as I have discovered since, it is
part of the "treatment" that these men be sent to see
and talk with alcoholics who want to quit, he kept them
busy. He had already imbued them with his own spirit until
they were ready and willing at all times to go where sent,
and as a doctor he well knew that this mission and duty
would strengthen them as it later helped me. The visits
from these men impressed me at once. Where preaching and
prayers had touched me very little, I was immediately
impressed with desire for further knowledge of these men.
must be something to it," I said to myself. "Why would
these busy men take the time to come to see me? They understand
my problem. Like me, they've tried this remedy and that
remedy but never found one that worked. But whatever it
is they are using now, it seems to keep them sober."
Certainly I could
see they were sober. The third man who came to see me
had been one of the greatest business-getters his company
had ever employed. From the top of the heap in a few years
he had skidded to becoming a shuffling customer, still
entering the better barrooms but welcomed by neither mine
host nor his patrons. His own business was practically
gone, he told me, when he discovered the answer.
"You've been trying
man's ways and they always fail," he told me. "You can't
win unless you try God's way."
I had never heard
of the remedy expressed in just this language. In a few
sentences he made God seem personal to me, explained Him
as a being who was interested in me, the alcoholic, and
that all I needed to do was to be willing to follow His
way for me; that as long as I followed it I would be able
to overcome my desire for liquor.
Well, there I was,
willing to try it, but I didn't know how, except in a
vague way. I knew somehow that it meant more than just
going to church and living a moral life. If that was all,
then I was a little doubtful that it was the answer I
was looking for.
He went on talking
and told me that he had found the plan has a basis of
love and the practice of Christ's
"Love thy neighbor as thyself." Taking that as a foundation,
he reasoned that if a man followed that rule he could
not be selfish. I could see that. And he further said
that God could not accept me as a sincere follower of
His Divine Law unless I was ready to be thoroughly honest
That was perfectly
logical. My church taught that. I had always known that
in theory. We talked, too, about personal morals. Every
man has his problem of this kind but we didn't discuss
it very much. My visitor well knew, that as I tried to
follow God I would get to studying these things out for
We talked things over
a long time. I saw readily that I couldn't afford to quibble.
I already believed in God, had always done so. Was ready
to give my will to Him. That's what it came to.
That day I gave my
will to God and asked to be directed. But I have never
thought of that as something to do and then forget about.
I very early came to see that there had to be a continual
renewal of that simple deal with God; that I had perpetually
to keep the bargain. So I began to pray; to place my problems
in God's hands.
For a long time I
kept on trying, in a pretty dumb way at first, I know,
but very earnestly. I didn't want to be a fake. And I
began putting in practice what I was learning every day.
It wasn't very long until my doctor friend sent me to
tell another alcoholic what my experience had been. This
duty together with my weekly meetings with my fellow alcoholics
renewal of the contract I originally made with God have
kept me sober when nothing else ever did.
I have been sober
for many years now. The first few months were hard. Many
things happened; business trials, little worries, and
feelings of general despondency came near driving me to
the bottle, but I made progress. As I go along I seem
to get strength daily to be able to resist more easily.
And when I get upset, cross-grained and out of tune with
my fellow man I know that I am out of tune with God. Searching
where I have been at fault, it is not hard to discover
and get right again, for I have proven to myself and to
many others who know me that God can keep a man sober
if he will let Him.
Being a Catholic,
it is natural that I should attend my own church which
I do regularly. I partake of its sacraments which have
a new and deeper meaning to me now. I realize what it
is to be in the presence of God right in my own home and
I realize it deeply when I am at church. For when a man
is truly trying to do God's will, instead of his own,
he is very conscious of being in the presence of God always,
wherever he may be.
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