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12 STEPS FOR ALCOHOLICS
by Richard Lake
aside labels, mottoes and crutches, let’s search for
meaning in behavior instead of the bottle.
who call yourself "alcoholics" or "problem
drinkers" are among the least understood people in
the world. In spite of extensive publicity and ardent organizations
in your behalf, you aren't getting the breaks from science
or modern methods of treatment. You are the victims of a
label, "alcoholism," which you and your well wishers
have hung around your necks.
being brutally frank, at the risk of offending you. In my
estimation there's no hope for alcoholics. I mean that when
you think of yourself as an "alcoholic" and not
as a person among others, you shut yourself off from the
rest of the people. You and I can't to one another on common
grounds. And I think it is as much your fault as it is the
fault of me and the rest of us who have hung the label on
you. You have used the label to keep away from people.
But I don't believe there is any such thing as an alcoholic,
or any such thing as alcoholism. I think we can get together
as people, and there is as much hope for you as the rest
of us. I'm saying to you, and to your friends and families:
"You deserve better, and you can do better. You need
not live in that lonely realm called alcoholism. You can
come back into the world and live with people.
trying to teach you through Twelve Steps, an approach that
should ring a bell with many of you.
Your problem is the way you feel about other people,
and the way they feel about you. In years past I've
put it this way: "You don't know how to get along with
people." And you come right back: "Why I get along
fine- except when I'm drinking." That still doesn't
account for how you feel. I've learned over a period of
ten years with thousands of you that how you feel is the
last thing you are going to struggle with. When a feeling
starts hurting in you, or even before it starts hurting,
you grab a drink. Drinking doesn't do away with the feeling
- may even make it worse. Drinking fixes things so you can't
do anything about facing up to that feeling, study or master
get along fine with people as long as you can have things
the way you want them. You always want to talk to me alone.
You are marvellously clever at impressing me with just what
you want me to know - and hiding all the rest. After I learned
this, I quit seeing you in private. I put you drinking people
together. I want you to learn from one another. You need
each other as desperately as do any other disturbed and
Here's the catch, though. When you're all together and all
alcoholics, you still do not learn anything from one another.
You talk about alcohol. With all sincerity and with the
most genuine feeling, you tell about your harrowing experiences,
your personal ruin, your fight to conquer the habit of drinking,
your slips and so on. Granting your sincerity and bitter
reality of your experiences, this sort of trading stories
does not teach any of you anything new about your feelings
toward one another.
Somewhere in all these amazing and impressive stories should
lie the answer to the "drinking problem." I have
heard you express this wish many thousands of times: "Some
one of you guys has got the answer to my problem."
the answer would be there, and just as certainly you would
discover it - if drinking were your problem. The fact that
you cannot find the answer to your problem by listening
to the experience of other drinkers should show you that
drinking is not your problem.
But a grim logic continues to prove that a person cannot
learn anything unless he is personally involved in his own
learning. Listening to other people's experiences and talking
about a common problem does not get you sufficiently involved
on a personal basis. When I bring you into groups with other
sick and disturbed people, I tell you. "Leave your
bottle outside." When you try to bring your bottle
(the discussion of alcoholism) in with you, the group soon
tells you to throw it out. With this sort of atmosphere,
you have a chance to leave your label to one side, to get
out of that lonely world of alcoholism, and to have firsthand
face-to-face experiences with others who are just as sick
as you are, but who have no fancy label to help them feel
more alone than they are already.
2. People are more important to you than alcohol.
If people were not so extremely important, you would not
have to put alcohol between yourself and them. Thousands
of you have told me, "Well, I guess I got started drinking
when I was first going to dances - sort of to get over being
bashful." Or, "I didn't have any friends except
those I could find in a bar." Or, "I never thought
I had anything to talk about until I had a few drinks in
no such thing as the "alcoholic" personality.
There are as many different kinds of alcoholics as there
are different kinds of people. But all of you "different"
people have one thing in common - you don't know what to
do with the feelings you have about others.
Again I'm remembering how many of you have told me, "I
get along just fine." I believe you. You get along
just fine until one of your tender spots is threatened.
You can't stand your wife's critical attitude. Your mother
is interfering with your life. A promotion is coming along
which means you will have to take more responsibility. Before
any of these tender spots is hurt, you have a, drink in
you to protect it. After a few drinks - or a hundred - matters
are different. The alcohol has become an insulation between
you and the people whose attitudes and feelings make you
uneasy. You don't have to feel their feelings.
why I won't let you tell me that your problem is drinking.
Your problem is and always has been people.
3. Your habit of drinking is your way of dealing with
people. Many of you tell me, with an air of triumph,
"I was born an alcoholic!" You'd like to believe
that. You haven't reasoned it out because once you grab
hold of this excuse, you don't have to. If you were born
an alcoholic, there's nothing you can do about it, so no
one can blame you for being what you cannot help.
You weren't born an alcoholic. Alcoholism may run in families,
but it isn't inherited. You learn from your parents and
relatives and their friends. They don't know how to live
with people either. They get sore, blow up, fight, scream,
get hurt feelings. They drink so they won't have to feel
what people feel. They set the example of dodging each other's
feelings. You learn from their example. You see no one who
knows how to express feelings, explore them and understand
them, so you never get a chance to learn that.
When you talk with me, you tell me the truth, frequently
without realizing it. I wish you could hear yourselves telling
me these truths. "I had a quarrel with my wife."
"My husband left me alone too much with the children
- wouldn't take me out." "My husband wanted me
to drink along with him." "She wouldn't talk with
me." "I was stumped whenever I tried to talk with
her." "My mother wouldn't let me make any decisions
for myself." "My dad told me if I drank, he'd
beat me." And so you drank.
4. Your way of living is a method you have learned.
You've told me, "I sure do want to stay with this till
I have it licked. Do you think it should take longer than
let's see - how long have you been an alcoholic?"
five - ten - 20 years."
why do you think you can lick it in a few weeks?"
those shots they give. It's just a matter of me developing
some will power anyway, isn't it?"
you take a dig at yourself. "I've got plenty of will
power. I've stayed drunk when it took real smart planning
and some doing to get that next fifth. If I'd spent a tenth
of the will power on being a good human being that I've
put on being a drunk, I'd be sitting pretty today. Maybe
what I ought to develop is some won't power."
enough and beautifully stated. This sort of self- examination
is what psychiatrists call good insight into your problem.
But knowing all this didn't help you did it? You went right
downtown and got yourself another fifth. You didn't stay
told me how you were cured by taking pills that would make
sick if you drank liquor. You took the pills for a while,
and you enjoyed being sober. But somehow, after enough weeks
went by, you couldn't resist testing out whether a drink
or two of whisky would really make you sick or kill you.
The first shot made you dreadfully sick. But you'd been
sick before. Many a morning after a big drunk you had to
hold the glass with both hands to get the stuff down your
throat. And then you'd vomit up several drinks before one
would stay down. When one whisky stayed down, you were off
again. Same way with these pills. You kept tossing the whisky
down, and after a while some of it stayed, and then you
didn't care anymore.
Drinking is a way of living that you learned very, very
If you learned drinking that well you can learn another
method. I think that you have been selling yourself
short. You don't like me for including you in the "mentally
sick" people. And you don't like me for taking away
your ready-made excuses. But I don't think you need your
crutches - that you were born an alcoholic, that you are
allergic to alcohol, that you are always "just one
drink from a drink," and that you must depend on fear
to keep you straight.
have other crutches too, just as I have, but I think the
one that weakens you most is the simple label "alcoholic"
that you have allowed to be hung around your neck and which
you wear proudly. An alcoholic isn't people. He can't be
expected to deal with people. He must deal with alcohol.
you stay in this blind alley, there's no hope for you.
But I feel there's a great deal of hope. You have learned
drinking as a way of life in the face of the most heart-rending
difficulties. Loss of job, family, self-respect, love, health
- none of these losses has deterred you from being a successful
alcoholic hermit. Let's see how we can put some of this
great learning ability to work for you.
Every day you have a choice. This is just the opposite
of what you tell me. You tell me that every day you have
to remember that you are still an alcoholic. You have no
choice. You have to go on as you have in the past, resisting
alcohol, living in fear of the consequences, believing that
you were born this way and can't change believing that alcohol
is your only concern.
every day you have a choice between continuing to practice
your present method of living and beginning to learn another
method. You’ve told me yourself that when you go on
day after day tensely resisting the desire to drink, you're
actually on a "dry" drunk. And you tell me that
a dry drunk ends up as a wet drunk.
What I mean is that living every day in holy fear of alcohol,
organizing your whole life around resistance to alcohol,
continues for you that same life of the hermit you achieved
Your life as a dry alcoholic is the same as your life as
a wet alcoholic. You are practicing the same methods of
living with people.
know that you tell me you are doing differently. You are
making more friends, meeting a "better" class
of people, taking up hobbies and recreations, staying out
of bars, spending more time with your family and so on.
If you are, that's good. Those of you who do this, and in
doing it practice being "just folks" among other
folks, are learning something new. You are beginning to
learn to be people, and to quit being "alcoholics."
you and I and the statistics know that most of you are not
doing much differently. In mingling with people you still
insist on being treated as an alcoholic. Most of you are
not learning another method.
“What do you mean by another method?”
I mean a different method of dealing with people. You say
that you are going to do things differently. You are going
to hunt up another class of friends, people who don't hang
out in bars. You are going to stay home more with your family.
But with these new friends, are you going to feel any different?
What has happened to this in you that can't take criticism?
Or this way of feeling bashful when there are a lot of people
around? Or this getting sore when you have to take orders?
How about standing adversity, when the bills pile up and
the kids are sick? On the other hand, how about standing
prosperity, say, when you get a raise or a promotion, or
somebody thinks you're wonderful?
At such points as those you had to have a drink. With different
people and different hobbies, you will still run into criticism
and praise and embarrassment and all the matters that used
to throw you. People will still be pretty much the same,
and they will still be face to face with you. You haven't
changed - yet.
To deal with people differently you have to learn more
about them. You won't do this by reading a book or
taking a course. You won't do it by reading this article
unless you get good and sore at me. If you do that, you
may realize that I care about you. I think you are people,
not alcoholics. Of course, I could be wrong. After all,
what do I know about you?
have told me that only another alcoholic can understand
you or understand your alcoholism. I agree. But then I don't
think of you as an alcoholic anyway, and I don't believe
there is any such thing as alcoholism. We're right back
where we started. With you as a "person," it takes
another "person" to understand you. It doesn't
matter whether there are only the two of us involved or
a dozen, or four million. We pull up a chair, or we meet
in a hall, or we take a walk. But this time let's do something
9. In order to learn more about people, you have to
give them a chance to learn more about you. It's no
accident that you who call yourselves alcoholics are poorly
understood. If anyone tries to get close to you, to understand
you, to get inside your hurts and your excuses - that scares
you. Like as not you have several drinks in you before you
have a chance to think much about whether it would really
hurt you to have someone know your sore spots.
should by now know where you stand with me. I think you're
people, not something special called "alcoholics."
I think you're sick people, mentally sick and emotionally
crippled. I think that in general you are superior people
who don't know how to do anything with your superiority
except hide out from the give-and-take of human living.
I think you kid yourself a mile a minute with your talk
about living one day at a time, one drunk from a drunk,
born an alcoholic and allergic to alcohol.
Last but not least, I think that you insult that God who
is the Father of all of us when you lay the burden of your
alcoholism on His shoulders. God helps those who help themselves
- remember? He didn't get you into drinking, and He doesn't
have to get you out. When you're about to decide there's
nothing you can do about your drinking, think that over.
Now if you can take this kind of straight talk from me,
we're off to a good start. Maybe you can see now that you
make me angry and hurt - you who are a big slice of our
best people, who won't help the rest of us in our common
job of living with and understanding one another, but who
crawl off into a bottle. Maybe you can see that I'm a lot
like you. I'm uneasy about people and easily hurt by them.
I'm easily misunderstood by people and find people hard
to understand. It just so happens that drinking alcohol
is no problem with me. Can you see by now that that doesn't
make any important difference?
It will take some suffering, this business of exposing yourself
to the feelings of others and letting them see yours straight
across the board. It will take a lot of patience before
it begins to pay off. But then, learning how to be as good
a drunk as you have been took a lot of practice, too.
10. You and I can learn together what neither can learn
separately. There are good factual reasons why I don't
believe there's any such thing as "alcoholism."
For one thing, the physiologists still haven't discovered
a specific physical reason for your craving for alcohol.
For another thing, there has never been discovered a specific
physiological cure. Many remedies help, but always in conjunction
with some emotional or social condition. Finally, no one
has ever cut you open and found in you anxiety or fear or
jealousy, feeling of inferiority - you name the feeling
- none of them exist in you. Neither do they exist in me.
You can sit and think about me all day without learning
anything about me. Same with me about you. But when we get
together, some relationship comes into being between us.
We have an equal chance to learn what it is.
is merely common-sense talk. It's another way of expressing
the ancient wisdom that actions speak louder than words,
that what a man does is more important than what he says
he is going to do.
I may say to myself, "I like Joe. I shouldn't get upset
when he speaks out so frankly." Meanwhile you may be
saying to yourself, "Dick's just a shy fellow. I shouldn't
keep telling him he's afraid of me."
we get together and have it out, you know that I'm afraid
of you because you keep hitting my sore spots, and I know
that you know that I don't really like you no matter how
I try to convince myself. But we have a chance now to be
friends on a realistic basis.
11. The important things we have to learn about one
another are matters of “emotional truth.”
I don't care how you look, how many times you've been married,
how much time you spent in jail, how much you drank or what
your childhood was like. What counts is how you and I can
get along together. This is what you don’t try out.
When we don't get along too well, you grab a drink before
you even have time to figure out why. The truth about what
can be important between you and me never can be put in
factual terms. It may change from day to day, week to week,
year to year. It should change, because you and I change.
That's why our job of learning about one another is a continual
job. We'll never find out all there is to know.
Emotional truths come up between us whenever we take
a good look at one another. All I'm asking of you is
that we start taking those close looks, and keep on taking
them. First thing you tell me is that you don't know how.
Sure you don't. But if you even start asking yourself the
question, "How am I going to get closer to people?"
you're on your way to finding out. No one can answer that
question for you. But if you want the answer badly enough,
you'll find it. Anywhere but in a bottle.
You always ask me indignantly, "Well, do you think
I can be a social drinker?" And I answer, " I
don't give a hang whether you drink or not, so long as your
working on this job of understanding people through first-hand
dealing with them." Then you say, "But one drink
will ruin me."
Now don't give me that guff. You've ruined yourself before
you ever take that first drink, and you know it. You've
decided you can't face up to the job of trying to live more
honestly with people. Some where deep inside you, you've
decided that. Then you take the drink, dive off the deep
end, and blame it on the drink.
With real tears in your eyes, you say, "I just can't
do it. I'm too far gone. I can't do any different. Isn't
there any hope for me?"
I wish that you could believe that these are real tears
in my eyes, too. But they are tears of anger. And I'm telling
you, "You can do differently. There sure is hope for
you. Right up to the day they nail the lid down, it's not
too late. But you've used that excuse for so long to get
sympathy - and you've always gotten it. People like me are
to blame because we've always given you sympathy -and pills
and crutches - and let you blaspheme your God by claiming
it was up to Him. Well, I know enough at last to refuse
to fall for your tears. Get to work and try to learn something.
It won't be any harder for you than it will be to continue
to live the way you've been living!"
And still I know that you have questions and more questions.
"Shall I continue with A.A.? What about these pills
I've been taking?" "Do I need psychiatry?"
"You sound interesting - will you see me an hour a
I'll turn you to the company of other people who need the
same things you need. How people feel about you, and how
you feel about them. Remember? This is where you came in.
We live in a great nation, and there are a lot of us. We
need A.A., pills, psychiatry, God and one another. Whatever
you do, try to do something for yourself. Try to live as
deeply and meaningfully with your fellow humans beings as
it is possible for you to live. Once we get deep into that
kind of living, we get all we need from one another, and
that is where God is with us.
Today’s Health, November I957)