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THE CAREER OFFICER
British officer, this Irishman—that is, until brandy
"retired" him. But this proved only a temporary
back. He survived to become a mainstay of A.A. in
AM AN Irishman and I was forty-nine when I joined A.A.
I belonged to one of the Irish families who, more or
less traditionally, sent their boys to the British armies.
I had a very happy
upbringing at home. When I look back, I can't see anything
that would have predisposed me towards being either
a neurotic or a drunk. I went to a very good public
school run by Jesuits. I got along well there. I was
going to be sent to the Indian Civil Service, which,
in those days, meant that people thought you had a certain
amount of brains. I was very fond of music. I was one
of the star singers in the choir and one of the leading
violins in the orchestra. I liked games. There was nothing
in my school life that I can look back on which was
responsible for anything that happened afterwards.
Then I had a year
in Germany at school—that was, incidentally, when
I got drunk for the first time. But that was just a
mistake. I went out and drank some German wine and it
went to my head. When I came back, I told the priest,
the Chaplain of the place, exactly what I thought of
him and he didn't like it. He
to the Headmaster and the Headmaster was going to expel
me. But I pointed out to him that as I was the first
British boy who had been to the school, it wouldn't
be a very good advertisement for him, so I got over
that all right. The term was nearly over and we parted
on fairly friendly terms.
I had two years
at Dublin University, and then in 1916, I got a nomination
for Sandhurst, the British Military College. The war
was on and it was a fairly short course, about eight
months. Up to that time, drinking didn't really mean
anything to me at all. In fact, I couldn't have told
you the difference between sherry and brandy. But as
soon as I got out on my own in France, I started drinking.
At first, like everybody else, I could keep control
when I drank, but if I did start to drink, even in those
days, I was always one of the last to leave the party.
When the war was
over, we had about a year in Germany, occupying the
place. When I came home to ordinary garrison life in
England, I found that I was drinking rather more than
most people of my age. It didn't worry me very much,
because at that time I could shut off for a couple of
months without taking a drink or even wanting one, and
without feeling that I was giving anything up. I should
say there was less drinking in the Army than I thought
at that time. Lots of the older people had taken to
drinking quite a good deal more during the war, but
the younger generation was, I think, about the same.
In my own generation I stuck out, I can see that now,
as being a very much heavier drinker than the average
man. But as long as you did your work and didn't disgrace
socially acceptable and nobody really intruded on your
private life very much.
I was still very
fit and good at games.
Then I went over
again to Germany for four years on an occupation job.
I got a job by myself which suited me down to the ground,
because there was nobody really to interfere with what
I did, one way or the other, and I usually had my nerves
in good trim when anybody was coming around to inspect.
The gradual result was that I was drifting into making
drinking one of the more important parts of my life.
I was alone by myself in that job and for a long time.
Then I was sent
out to India and from then on drinking just increased
and increased, and I started having two or three day
spells instead of just the ordinary concentrated one
day. This was about 1926.
India lent itself
to drinking then, if you were disposed to drink, because
you lived in bungalows; you didn't live all together
as you do at home in an Officer's Mess. We had a minor
campaign or two and that helped distract attention from
my drinking. By and large, I got through. I was still
very good at games. I was up to international standards
in one particular game, and that again covered quite
a lot of my sins. Then a change in management took place
in the regiment and the new O.C. didn't like me very
much and I didn't like him, and he started to lie in
wait for me. He didn't have to lie in wait very long,
but fortunately by that time, I had acquired friends
upstairs and they covered me for quite a time.
The Abyssinian war
broke out just as things were going very badly for me,
and I went off to Egypt on a job there. Strangely enough,
right through to the
of my twenty-six years in the Army, I was still being
offered very good and important jobs in spite of the
fact that my superiors must have known that I wasn't
thoroughly reliable. However, I kept that job in Egypt
and Palestine for about two years, and then I changed
over to the other battalion in my regiment. They weren't
quite so up-to-date on my history and I got away with
about four years with them. Then I had about six months
on a small island in command of the troops there. I
left because I had a contretemps with the Governor.
I went to a dinner he gave one night, rather drunk.
I buttonholed him after dinner and gave him a few tips
on how to run his colony better and the result of that
was about a fortnight or so later I was shipped back
to my regiment. But on the other hand, I was terribly
fortunate because that should have been a court martial
offense and I should have been out on my ear. I was
lucky again. I had three or four very uncomfortable
months with my regiment then on the Suez Canal. The
Commanding Officer only spoke to me when he wanted to
tell me exactly who I was and what I was and how little
I counted in the scheme of things and how glad he would
be if I went away. Even at that, he spoke quite often.
Then Hitler's war
broke out, and again, I was given a really important
job on the Suez Canal, dealing with military shipping.
I lasted at that for four months, chiefly on alcohol,
because I never seemed to find any time to eat. At the
end of that time, they shipped me back to my regiment
again. I think the Commanding Officer was rather tired
of this particular chicken coming back to roost so often
because he very soon wrote in to the medical authorities
to tell them that they had
get me into hospital, to be thoroughly examined for
drinking. They brought me in and of course, they hadn't
very much trouble in finding that I was an alcoholic.
But that didn't mean anything to me. I didn't know what
an alcoholic was. I was down in the Sudan by this time.
They kept me in hospital for two months, and then they
sent me up to Egypt, a three days journey. They sent
me up with an attendant, and the attendant and I both
arrived at the Egyptian Hospital rather the worse for
wear. I was there for another couple of months and then,
after a few more adventures in the East, I was shipped
About three months
after that, my record reached home and I got a letter
telling me I was retired from the Army, they put it
very kindly, on medical grounds. But I knew that they
knew what the medical grounds were, and that they had
put a big black mark against my name. I was never to
be allowed back. I had two or three feelings about that.
In part, it was a feeling of intense shame at having
to leave the Army during the war, but mostly it was
resentment that this kind of thing should happen to
me for, strange as it may seem, up to then I still thought
I could control drinking. I thought, well, now that
I've been put out for drinking, I'll just show them
that they were completely wrong, so I went off on the
biggest bout I had been on up to then, involving about
a fortnight's blackout.
I was a civilian
now. I was in a world that I knew nothing at all about,
and I felt intensely afraid. I put myself into a home.
I stayed there just long enough to work up a real good
resentment against the doctor in charge, who I didn't
think was doing anything at all except collecting fees,
and I left there fully deter-
that I'd never put myself in the power of medical people
I stopped off just
to have one drink to see if it tasted the same on the
way back to London, and that night I was carried back
to bed again. So I decided I'd go back and live in Ireland
to try the geography cure.
When I arrived back
in Dublin, I had no friends left. Everybody I had known
in the old days had gone. This was in 1941. I had no
work to do and I was at an age where it seemed too late
to start anything new. In any case, I made myself believe
that, so I just drifted about, existing on my retired
pay, drinking, and living at home.
That went on for
about six years. Things were getting worse and worse.
I went to hospitals, I went to retreats and doctors,
and finally my mother asked me to go and see a specialist
of her own choosing. I talked to him for quite a long
time and at the end, he said, "Well, you're not
quite mad enough to be shut up for good yet, but you
soon will be if you live long enough." That put
a scare in me for about a fortnight. I was terribly
afraid that I was actually going mad, if I hadn't gone
I couldn't understand
myself. I was intensely unhappy the whole time, but
I didn't seem to be able to do anything about it, and
the worst part to me was the realization that all this
was going to happen again and again until I died. I
couldn't see that there was any way out of it, and I
got absolutely despairing. My only hope was to try and
get through what was left of life as best I could, but
I could never visualize doing that without drinking.
The thought of stopping drinking just never occurred
I say, this specialist put a scare in me for about a
fortnight or three weeks, then I started my last bout,
which went on and off for about three months. Finally,
my mother came and said she had kept me at home for
six years because she thought she could help me, but
that now she had come to the conclusion that I wasn't
even worth trying to help. I was to pack and go and
get out of their lives for good. That was on the 28th
of April, 1947. That morning was the first time I really
realized where I'd got to in my life. I couldn't think
of anything at all to do. It was no use talking of putting
myself into a home, a hospital, or of going to see a
doctor again, or of going to see a priest or anyone
else. I had played all that out long ago. She really
meant business this time. This was the only time in
my life that I'd ever known my mother to be almost pitiless,
but she couldn't be blamed for that.
Just as I was wondering
what on earth I could do—I was too drunk even
to pack a handkerchief—the memory of an A.A. write-up
that I had seen in the Evening Mail flashed across my
mind—and I thought to myself, this is something
I haven't tried yet. So I did manage to get myself down
to an A.A. meeting that night. Providentially, this
was a Monday night when the Dublin Group met in those
days, and my family agreed that if A.A. could do anything
for me at all, that I'd be allowed to stay on at home
on probation. But if I came back in the usual state,
then I'd have to go off for good the next day.
Having made that bargain, I immediately began to feel
I'd been trapped into it and I went out and had some
drinks—four glasses of gin, I remember. I was
Benzedrine and paraldehyde quite impartially during
the day then, and by the time I arrived at my first
A.A. meeting, I was pretty drunk and certainly doped
up to the eyes and completely jittery. I had been
using paraldehyde more or less like ordinary drink
for the last six years though, occasionally, I'd bounce
back to Phenobarbital and things like that.
When I arrived
at The Country Shop, which was a restaurant where
they met in Dublin, I found about thirty-five or forty
people in the room. It was their open night meeting,
but of course I thought they were all alcoholics;
I couldn't imagine why anybody else would want to
go there, and my first reaction was, well, I've come
to something that's not for me. People seemed to be
carefully dressed, too happy, too normal. My mind
was too screwy to be able to understand much of what
was being said. But I did understand this eventually,
that these people had been through a lot of drinking
experiences just as I had, and had managed to make
a job of it. What struck me most was that they all
seemed to be quite pleased with having made a job
of it and having stopped drinking. That gave me my
first bit of hope. I thought that if these kind of
ordinary people can do it, a man of my brains ought
to find it much more easy, and I joined. I suppose
I had reached my spiritual gutter that night, but
I have never had what you could call a real urge to
Since I joined
on that April night, A.A. has done more for me than
just stop me from drinking; it has brought me back
to life again. It has made me understand that I must
be one of my world, that I cannot exist in any happiness
as a rebel by myself. It has
me that I can best keep my sobriety by sharing it out
with others; that I must bring that sobriety
to others who need it, in my own interest. It continues
to try to teach me the real charity, the charity that
gives time and good will and service, and not just money.
It has shown me, through the tragic stories of so many
other alcoholics, the utter futility of self pity. It
has taught me that success and failure are never final,
and that neither count for very much in the final assessment
of any man who has done his best. It has brought me
back to a realization of my Maker and my duties to Him.
It has made me very happy.
My mother lived
on for five years after I joined A.A., the last two
in complete blindness. Not least of my debts to A.A.
is the knowledge that in that time when she wanted me
most, I was there—and that I wasn't drunk.