husband [Clarence S.] was 34 and an alcoholic.
Other people drank normally. My husband
just got drunk.
was eternally on the defensive. I couldn't
read. I couldn't listen to good music.
I couldn't enjoy anything.
tried to appear busy. I tried to avoid
crowds. Put us at a patty and either Joe
[a fictitious name] would get drunk and
pass out, which was preferable, or he'd
start pawing the women, which was humiliating.
felt as if I was 200 years old. All 200
years were weighing me down when a friend
of ours--this was 12 years ago, and A.A.
hadn't gained much reputation--persuaded
Joe to attend a meeting of alcoholics
myself I said between gritted teeth "I'll
be hanged if I want to associate with
a bunch of drunks and their broken-down,
that first meeting.
had lived on the surface for years. I
could show a surface kindliness, but I
was bitter and resentful inside.
meeting was in somebody's home. I halted
on the threshold that first evening, hesitant,
fearful, not knowing what might be ahead.
I doubted the whole occasion. This was
Joe's affair. If it would bring about
his sobriety, OK--but it was not for me.
I felt I didn't need it.
I rather enjoyed the hard shell I had
built around myself. No one could hurt
me any further. I had been shamed and
ostracized and pitied. I was proof against
then this greeting. "Come in, my
was Anne Smith. As gracious, as friendly,
as charming as any woman I had ever met
she had pitied me I would have fled in
anger and disgrace. She was wise enough
to know that. She understood. She knew
that most wives of alcoholics feel fear.
But you couldn't be afraid with Anne.
love of Anne's changed things.
me it was like the miracle coming to Paul
on the road to Damascus.
night when I reached home I got down on
my knees and prayed. I wanted to be different.
My parents had always been normally religious.
I had never been anything other than religious.
But this was different.
anything of a memorial tribute is printed
about Anne I hope it emphasizes this big
point: She didn't want glorification for
glory's sake. She would have hoped only
to tell other wives how to carry on.
knew how to handle the wife of an alcoholic.
She knew the days and nights full of despair,
the poverty-stricken effort to keep up
appearances, the unsatisfactory blending
of shabbiness and pride.
after time I saw her melt some other person's
proud woman, a hard-shelled woman walked
in belligerently. She had her speech all
prepared: "Well, Mrs. Smith,"
she began belligerently.
me Anne, my dear."
love cracked the proud one, won her over.
was a good listener. She knew the therapy
of getting things off your chest.
might have grown into an old story. But
not with her. Every meeting with a newcomer
was a fresh experience. She greeted strangers
and listened for their names. Next time
she'd be able to call them by name,
those early days there were no women alcoholics
in the group. They were just wives-- those
who still had wives.
W. emphasizes that in those early days--1935,
1936, 1937-- we few people were clinging
together, like a little group of persons
saved from a shipwreck.
those early days most of us didn't have
telephones. We were handed a little address
book. We were told "All our homes
are open to you. Drop in any time."
a time Joe and I dropped in on Dr. Bob
and Anne for a potluck meal. We might
have bread and milk for supper. We might
have corned beef hash for Sunday. There
were no apologies. Everybody was honest
and genuine. We gave potluck dinners as
we were all too poor to furnish much food,
Those were the days when with many people
at the table we might have 11 kinds of
potato salad, because we were all too
poor to buy wieners. Everyone brought
food. I wonder if A.A.'s today appreciate
how pitifully poor most of us were in
those struggling days.
makes me sick to attend some A.A. groups
today I've visited A.A.'s from Ohio to
California --and see the wives sitting
together, in a clique. They don't step
out and meet the new ones.
never forgot the newcomers. She knew the
wives need hospitalization as much as
the man. The alcoholic gets lots of attention—the
man's sponsor takes care of that. The
other wives should look after the newcomer
when many A.A.'s are back on their feet
again and are fairly prosperous I am struck
with the fact that at Christmas parties
many A.A. women are gayly dressed. But
the poor ones, the new ones, still too
deep in debt to be nicely dressed, and
with nothing to be gay about, they hang
around the edges, feeling cold and lonely
Smith hated to wear a new dress. I remember
one party we were all going to. I had
my first new dress, the first bought since
my husband had stayed sober long enough
to hold down a decent job. I asked Anne
which dress she was going to wear, because
I knew she had two new ones.
answered, "I hate to wear a new dress.
So many people will be there who can't
afford a new one. I hate to embarrass
was a bigness of heart, this continual
thinking of others besides herself, that
enabled Anne to shape a formless group
into what was presently to become A.A.
hope we never lose sight of Anne's use
of religion in building her own life and
rebuilding the lives of the fearful wrecks
who looked to her for guidance and strength
I hope we never forget her humility, her
courage, her cheerfulness, her unsparing
use of herself.
made me realize that all my years of misery
have been of some account, because I have
been able to translate them into usefulness;
into helpfulness for other people.
have known women who, for instance, lost
sons in the war, and ever since they live
in the past, constantly bemoaning their
loss and curdling every life they come
in contact with. Why don't these lonesome
and heartbroken women go and visit sick
boys in the veterans's hospitals and try
to bring a little cheer into the world?
didn't harm other people because she had
suffered. Rather, her life was rich because
she was able to help people.
never stopped living. She went on to reach
out and touch other lives.
think of her every time I hear that familiar
but little understood verse: "He
that loseth his life shall save it."
Anne lost herself in her work for A.A.
Thereby she gained a new and bigger life.
Cleveland minister in writing about A.A.
summed up in this sentence "Freedom
is the ability to get outside yourself
and lose yourself in the thought and activities
of others." That's what Anne
© Dick B.