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DIGEST, Vol. 7(9): 54-59, July, 1943
THEY HAVE THE SOLUTION
Alcoholics Anonymous members
of Alcoholics Anonymous, are average americans. We are people
who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a
fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is
indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a
great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck, when
camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel
from steerage to captain's table.
competent psychiatrists have sometimes found it impossible
to persuade an alcoholic to discuss his situation without
reserve. Strangely enough, we are usually more unapproachable
to wives, parents and intimate friends than to doctors.
the ex-alcoholic who has found our solution, who is properly
armed with facts about himself, can generally win the entire
confidence of another alcoholic in a few hours. Until such
an understanding is reached, little or nothing can be accomplished.
the man who is making the approach has had the same difficulty,
that he obviously knows what he is talking about, that his
whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that he is a
man with a real answer, that he has no attitude of holier
than thou, nothing whatever except the sincere desire to
be helpful; that there are no fees to pay, no axes to grind,
no people to please, no lectures to be endured - these are
the conditions we found most effective.
drinkers have little trouble in giving up liquor entirely
if they have a good reason. They can take it or leave it
we have a certain type of hard drinker. He may have the
habit badly enough to gradually impair him physically and
mentally. It may cause him to die a few years before his
time. If a sufficiently strong reason - ill health, falling
in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor
- becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate,
although he may find it difficult or troublesome and may
even need medical attention.
what about the real alcoholic? He may start off as a moderate
drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker;
but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose
all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to
is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his
lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, tragic things
while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He
is seldom mildly intoxicated. He is always more or less
insanely drunk. His disposition while drinking resembles
his normal nature but little. He may be one of the finest
fellows in the world. Yet let him drink for a day, and he
frequently becomes disgustingly, and even dangerously, antisocial.
He has a positive genius for getting tight at exactly the
wrong moment, particularly when some important decision
must be made or engagement kept. He is often perfectly sensibly
and well balanced concerning everything except liquor, but
in that respect is incredibly dishonest and selfish. He
often possesses special abilities, skills, and aptitudes,
and has a promising career ahead of him. He uses his gifts
to build up a bright outlook for his family and himself,
then pulls the structure down on his head by a senseless
series of sprees. He is the fellow who goes to bed so intoxicated
he ought to sleep the clock around. Yet, early next morning
he searches madly for the bottle he misplaced the night
before. If he can afford it, he may have liquor concealed
all over his house to be certain no one gets his entire
supply from him. As matters grow worse, he begins to use
a combination of high-powered sedative and liquor to quiet
his nerves so he can get to work. Then comes the day when
he simply cannot make it and gets drunk all over again.
Perhaps he goes to a doctor, who gives him morphine or some
sedative with which to taper off. Then he begins to appear
at hospitals and sanitariums.
idea that somehow, some day he will control and enjoy his
liquor drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal
drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing.
Many pursue it through the gates of insanity and death.
of Alcoholics Anonymous have learned that we had to fully
concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics.
This is the first step in recovery: the delusion that we
are like other people has to be smashed.
alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to
control our drinking. We know that no real drinking ever
recovered control. All of us felt at times that we were
regaining control, but such intervals, usually brief, were
inevitably followed by still less control, which led in
time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. We
are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in
the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable
period we get worse, never better.
are like men who have lost their legs; they never grow new
ones. Neither does there appear to be any treatment which
will make alcoholics of our kind become like other men.
We have tried every imaginable remedy. In some instances
there have been brief recovery, followed always by still
worse relapse. Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism
agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker
bout of an alcoholic. Science may one day accomplish this,
but it has not done so yet.
all we can say, many who are real alcoholics are not going
to believe they are in that class. By every form of self-deception
and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves exceptions
to the rule, therefore non-alcoholic. If anyone who is showing
inability to control his drinking can do the right-about-face
and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him. Heaven
knows, we have tried hard enough and long enough to drink
like other people!
are some of the methods we have tried: drinking beer only,
limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never
drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having
it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking
only at parties, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to
resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking
a trip, swearing off forever (with and without solemn oath),
taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books,
going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary
commitment to asylums - we could increase the list ad infinitum.
one who is unable to drink moderately, the question is how
to stop altogether - assuming, of course, he desires to
stop. Whether such a person can quit on a non spiritual
basis, depends upon the extent to which he has already lost
the power to choose whether he will drink or not. Many of
us felt that we had plenty of character. There was a tremendous
urge to cease forever. Yet we found it impossible. This
is the baffling feature of alcoholism as we know it: this
utter inability to leave it alone, no matter how great the
necessity or the wish.
there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel
with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely
trivial excuse for taking that first drink. Our sound reasoning
failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out. The
next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and
sincerity, how it could have happened.
some circumstances we have gone out deliberately to get
drunk, feeling ourselves justified by nervousness, anger,
worry, depression, jealousy or the like. But even in this
type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification
for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what
always happened. We now see that when we began to drink
deliberately, instead of casually, there was little serious
or effective thought during the period of premeditation
of what the terrific consequences might be.
behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect
to the first drink, as that of an individual with a passion,
say, for jaywalking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in
front of fast moving vehicles. He enjoys himself a few years
in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would
label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck
then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times
in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal,
to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time gets
a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital
a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he
has decided to stop jaywalking for good, but in a few weeks
he breaks both legs.
through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by
his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the
streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his
wife gets a divorce, he is held up to ridicule. He tries
every known means to get the jaywalking idea out of his
head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his
ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire
engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy,
may think our illustration is too ridiculous. But is it?
We, who have been through the wringer, must admit that,
if we substituted alcoholism for jaywalking, the illustration
would fit us exactly. However intelligent we may have been
in other respects, where alcohol has been involved, we have
been strangely insane. This is strong language; but isn't
of you are thinking: "Yes, what you tell us is true,
but it doesn't fully apply. We admit we have some of these
symptoms, but we have not gone to the extremes you fellows
did, nor are we likely to, for we understand ourselves so
well after what you have told us that such things cannot
happen again. We have not lost everything in life through
drinking and we certainly do not intend to."
may be true of certain nonalcoholics who, though drinking
foolishly and heavily at present, are able to stop or moderate,
because their brains and bodies have not been damaged as
ours were. But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly
an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking
on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish
to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic
readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.
Let us take another illustration.
is a partner in a well-known accounting firm. His income
is good, he has a fine home, is happily married and the
father of promising children of college age. He has so attractive
a personality that he makes friends with everyone. If ever
there was a successful business man, it is Fred. To all
appearances he is a stable, well-balanced individual. Yet,
he is an alcoholic. We first saw Fred about a year ago in
a hospital where he had gone to recover from a bad case
of jitters. It was his first experience of this kind, and
he was much ashamed of it. Far from admitting he was an
alcoholic, he told himself he came to the hospital to rest
his nerves. The doctor intimated strongly that he might
be worse than he realized. For a few days he was depressed
about his condition. He made up his mind to quit drinking
altogether. It never occurred to him that perhaps he could
not do so, in spite of his character and standing. Fred
would not believe himself an alcoholic, much less accept
a spiritual remedy for his problem. We told him what we
knew about alcoholism. He was interested, and conceded that
he had some of the symptoms, but he was a long way from
admitting that he could do nothing about it himself. He
was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the
knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest
of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it.
heard no more of Fred for a while. One day we were told
that he was back in the hospital. This time he was quite
shaky. He soon indicated he was anxious to see us. The story
he told us is most instructive for here was a chap absolutely
convinced he had to stop drinking, who had no excuse for
drinking, and who exhibited splendid judgement and determination
in all his other concerns, yet he was flat on his back.
him tell you about it: "I was much impressed with what
you fellows had to say about alcoholism, but I frankly did
not believe it would be possible for me to drink again.
I somewhat appreciated your ideas about the subtle insanity
which precedes the first drink, but I was confident it could
not happen to me after what I had learned. I reasoned I
was not so far advanced as most of you fellows, that I had
been usually successful in licking my other personal problems,
that I would therefore be successful where you men had failed.
I felt I had every right to be self-confident, that it would
be only a matter of exercising my will power and keeping
this frame of mind, I went about my business and for a time
all was well. I had no trouble refusing drinks, and began
to wonder if I had not been making too hard work of a simple
matter. One day I went to Washington to present some accounting
evidence to a government bureau. I had been out of town
before this particular dry spell, so there was nothing new
about that. Physically, I felt excellent. Neither did I
have any pressing problems or worries. My business came
off well, I was pleased and knew my partners would be, too.
went to my hotel and leisurely dressed for dinner. As I
crossed the threshold of the dining room, the thought came
to mind it would be nice to have a couple of cocktails with
dinner. That was all. Nothing more. I ordered a cocktail
and my meal. Then I ordered another cocktail. After dinner
I decided to take a walk. When I returned to the hotel it
struck me that a highball would be fine before going to
bed, so I stepped into the bar and had one. I remember having
several more that night and plenty the next morning. I have
a shadowy recollection of being in an airplane bound for
New York, of finding a friendly taxicab driver at the landing
field instead of my wife. The driver escorted me about for
several days. I know little of where I went, or what I said
and did. Then came the hospital with unbearable mental and
soon as I regained my ability to think, I went carefully
over that evening in Washington. Not only had I been off
guard, but I had made no fight whatever against that first
drink. This time I had not thought of the consequences at
all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly as though the
cocktails were ginger ale. I now remember what my alcoholic
friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an
alcoholic mind, the time and place would come: I would drink
again. They had said that though I did raise a defense,
it would one day give way before some trivial reason for
having a drink. Well, just that did happen, and more. What
I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all.
I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I
saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in
those mental blank spots.
of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous came to see me. They
grinned, which I didn't like so much, and then asked me
if I thought myself alcoholic and if I were really licked
this time. I had to concede both propositions. They piled
on me heaps of evidence to the effect that an alcoholic
mentality, such as I had exhibited in Washington, was a
hopeless condition. They cited cases out of their own experience
by the dozen. This process snuffed out the last flicker
of conviction that I could do the job myself.
they outlined the spiritual answer and program of action
which one hundred of them had followed successfully. Though
I had only nominally connected with religion, their propositions
were not, intellectually, hard to follow. But the program
of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic.
It meant I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions
out of the window. That was not easy. But the moment I made
up my mind to go through with the process, I had the feeling
that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it
proved to be.
as important was the discovery that spiritual principles
would solve all my problems. I have since been brought into
a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hoper
more useful than the life I lived before."
story speaks for itself. We hope it strikes home to thousands
like him. He had felt only the first nip of the wringer.
Most alcoholics have to be pretty badly mangled before they
really begin to solve their problems.
doctors and psychiatrists agree with our conclusions. One
of these men, staff member of a world-renowned hospital,
recently made this statement to some of us, "What you
say about the general hopelessness of the average alcoholic's
plight is, in my opinion, correct. As to two of you men,
whose stories I have heard, there is no doubt in my mind
that you were 100% hopeless, apart from divine help. Though
not a religious person, I have profound respect for the
spiritual approach in such cases as yours. For most cases
there is virtually no other solution."
more: the alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental
defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases,
neither he nor any other human being can provide such a
defense. His defense must come from a higher Power.