Chapter 3 More About Alcoholism (pp. 30 43)


1 Chapter 3 MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM have been unwilling to admit we ost of us M were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Ther efore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death. We learned that we had to fully concede to our in- nermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or pr esently may be, has to be smashed. e alcoholics ar e men and women who have lost W the ability to control our drinking. We know that no ever recovers control. All of us felt at real alcoholic times that we were regaining control, but such inter- vals—usually brief—were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incompre- hensible demoralization. W e ar e convinced to a man e in the grip of a pr ogr es - that alcoholics of our type ar sive illness. Over any considerable period we get worse, never better . W e ar e like men who have lost their legs; they never grow new ones. Neither does there appear to be any kind of treatment which will make alcoholics of 30

2 31 MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM our kind like other men. We have tried every imagina- ble remedy. In some instances there has been brief recovery, followed always by a still worse relapse. Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic. Science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn’t done so yet. Despite 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 nonalcoholic. 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! Here are some of the methods we have tried: Drink- ing beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the mor ning, drink - ing only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, 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 a solemn oath), taking more physical exer eading inspirational books, going cise, r to health far ms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums—we could incr ease the list ad infinitum. We do not like to pronounce any individual as alco- holic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it

3 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS 32 more than once. It will not take long for you to de- cide, if you are honest with yourself about it. It may be worth a bad case of jitters if you get a full knowl- edge of your condition. Though there is no way of proving it, we believe that early in our drinking careers most of us could have stopped drinking. But the difficulty is that few alcoholics have enough desire to stop while there is yet time. We have heard of a few instances where people, who showed definite signs of alcoholism, were able to stop for a long period because of an overpow- e to do so. Here is one. ering desir man of thirty was doing a great deal of spree A drinking. He was very nervous in the morning after these bouts and quieted himself with more liquor. He was ambitious to succeed in business, but saw that he would get nowhere if he drank at all. Once he started, he had no control whatever. He made up his mind that until he had been successful in business and had retired, he would not touch another drop. An excep- tional man, he remained bone dry for twenty-five ed at the age of fi years and r ve, after a suc- etir fty-fi eer cessful and happy business car . Then he fell vic- y alcoholic has tim to a belief which practically ever —that his long period of sobriety and self-discipline had qualified him to drink as other men. Out came his carpet slippers and a bottle. In two months he was in a hospital, puzzled and humiliated. He tried to r egulate his drinking for a while, making several trips the hospital meantime. Then, gathering all his to forces, he attempted to stop altogether and found he could not. Ever y means of solving his pr oblem which

4 33 MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM money could buy was at his disposal. Every attempt failed. Though a robust man at retirement, he went to pieces quickly and was dead within four years. This case contains a powerful lesson. Most of us have believed that if we remained sober for a long stretch, we could thereafter drink normally. But here is a man who at fifty-five years found he was just where he had left off at thirty. We have seen the truth demonstrated again and again: “Once an alcoholic, al- ways an alcoholic.’’ Commencing to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as ever. If we are planning to stop drinking, there must be no r eservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday we will be immune to alcohol. Young people may be encouraged by this man’s ex- perience to think that they can stop, as he did, on e doubt if many of them can . W their own will power do it, because none will r eally want to stop, and har dly one of them, because of the peculiar mental twist al - ready acquired, will find he can win out. Several of owd, men of thir our cr ty or less, had been drinking only a few years, but they found themselves as help- less as those who had been drinking twenty years. To be gravely affected, one does not necessarily have to drink a long time nor take the quantities some of us have. This is particularly true of women. Potential female alcoholics often tur n into the r eal thing and ar ecall in a few years. e gone beyond r tain drinkers, who would be greatly insulted if Cer called alcoholics, are astonished at their inability to stop. We, who are familiar with the symptoms, see large numbers of potential alcoholics among young

5 34 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS people everywhere. But try and get them to see it! * As we look back, we feel we had gone on drinking many years beyond the point where we could quit on our will power. If anyone questions whether he has entered this dangerous area, let him try leaving liquor alone for one year. If he is a real alcoholic and very far advanced, there is scant chance of success. In the early days of our drinking we occasionally remained sober for a year or more, becoming serious drinkers again later. Though you may be able to stop for a con- siderable period, you may yet be a potential alcoholic. We think few, to whom this book will appeal, can stay y anything like a year. Some will be drunk the day dr after making their resolutions; most of them within a few weeks. For those who are unable to drink moderately the question is how to stop altogether . We are assuming, of course, that the r eader desir es to stop. Whether such a person can quit upon a nonspiritual basis de- pends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not. e . Ther Many of us felt that we had plenty of character emendous urge to cease forever. Yet we found was a tr fl ing featur it impossible. This is the baf e of alcoholism as we know it—this utter inability to leave it alone, no matter how great the necessity or the wish. mine, to How then shall we help our r eaders deter their own satisfaction, whether they are one of us? The experiment of quitting for a period of time will be helpful, but we think we can r ender an even greater service to alcoholic sufferers and perhaps to the medi- * True when this book was first published. But a 2003 U.S./Canada membership sur- vey showed about one-fifth of A.A.’s were thirty and under.

6 35 MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM cal fraternity. So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for ob- viously this is the crux of the problem. What sort of thinking dominates an alcoholic who repeats time after time the desperate experiment of the fi rst drink? Friends who have reasoned with him after a spree which has brought him to the point of divorce or bankruptcy are mystified when he walks directly into a saloon. Why does he? Of what is he thinking? Our first example is a friend we shall call Jim. This man has a charming wife and family. He inherited a lucrative automobile agency. He had a commendable World War record. He is a good salesman. Every- body likes him. He is an intelligent man, normal so far as we can see, except for a nervous disposition. He did no drinking until he was thirty-five. In a few years he became so violent when intoxicated that he had to be committed. On leaving the asylum he came into con - tact with us. W e told him what we knew of alcoholism and the answer we had found. He made a beginning. His family was re-assembled, and he began to work as a salesman for the business he had lost through drink- ing. All went well for a time, but he failed to enlarge o his conster - nation, he found him his spiritual life. T self dr unk half a dozen times in rapid succession. On - each of these occasions we worked with him, r eview ing carefully what had happened. He agreed he was a real alcoholic and in a serious condition. He knew he faced another trip to the asylum if he kept on. Moreover, he would lose his family for whom he had a deep affection.

7 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS 36 Yet he got drunk again. We asked him to tell us exactly how it happened. This is his story: “I came to work on Tuesday morning. I remember I felt irritated that I had to be a salesman for a concern I once owned. I had a few words with the boss, but nothing serious. Then I decided to drive into the country and see one of my prospects for a car. On the way I felt hungry so I stopped at a roadside place where they have a bar. I had no intention of drinking. I just thought I would get a sandwich. I also had the notion that I might find a customer for a car at this place, which was familiar for I had been going to it for years. I had eaten there many times during the months I was ed a sandwich sober . I sat down at a table and or der and a glass of milk. Still no thought of drinking. I ed another sandwich and decided to have der or another glass of milk. “Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn’t hur t me on a full stomach. I ordered a whiskey and poured it into the milk. I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach. The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into mor e milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another .’ ’ Thus started one more journey to the asylum for eat of commitment, the loss of Jim. Her e was the thr family and position, to say nothing of that intense mental and physical suffering which drinking always He had much knowledge about himself caused him. as an alcoholic. Y et all r easons for not drinking wer e

8 37 MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM easily pushed aside in favor of the foolish idea that he could take whiskey if only he mixed it with milk! Whatever the precise definition of the word may be, we call this plain insanity. How can such a lack of proportion, of the ability to think straight, be called anything else? You may think this an extreme case. To us it is not far-fetched, for this kind of thinking has been charac- teristic of every single one of us. We have sometimes reflected more than Jim did upon the consequences. But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink. Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out. Next day we would ask our- selves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened. In some circumstances we have gone out deliber- ately to get dr unk, feeling ourselves justified by nervousness, anger, worry, depression, jealousy or the like. But even in this type of beginning we ar e 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 emeditation of what thought during the period of pr rifi c consequences might be. the ter and incompr ehensible Our behavior is as absur d with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill ont of fast-moving vehicles. He out of skipping in fr enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warn- ings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish

9 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS 38 chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succes- sion. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hos- pital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs. On through the years this conduct continues, accom- panied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no ce and he is held up longer work, his wife gets a divor to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay- walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he e engine, which comes out he races in fr r ont of a fi breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he? You may think our illustration is too ridiculous. But is it? We, who have been through the wringer, have to admit if we substituted alcoholism for jay-walking, . However intelli the illustration would fi t us exactly - espects, wher - gent we may have been in other r e alco hol has been involved, we have been strangely insane. It’s strong language—but isn’t it true? Some of you are thinking: “Yes, what you tell us is t fully apply . W e admit we have ue, but it doesn’ tr some of these symptoms, but we have not gone to the extr emes 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 ever ything in life thr ough drinking and we

10 39 MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM certainly do not intend to. Thanks for the informa- tion.’’ That may be true of certain nonalcoholic people who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at the present time, 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 absolutely unable to stop hardly an exception, will be This is a point drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been re- vealed to us out of bitter experience. Let us take another illustration. Fred is 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 col- lege age. He has so attractive a personality that he makes friends with everyone. If ever there was a successful business man, it is Fr ed. T o all appearance he is a stable, well balanced individual. Yet, he is rst saw Fr ed about a year ago in a alcoholic. W e fi 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 r ves. The doctor intimated est his ner str ongly that he might be worse than he r ealized. For a few days he was depr essed 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. Fr ed would not believe himself an alcoholic, much less accept a spiritual remedy for his problem. We told him what

11 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS 40 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 ac- quired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self- knowledge would fix it. We 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 is most instructive, for here was a chap absolutely convinced he had to stop - drinking, who had no excuse for drinking, who exhib ited splendid judgment and determination in all his other concerns, yet was flat on his back nevertheless. Let him tell you about it: “I was much impressed with what you fellows said about alcoholism, and I frankly did not believe it would be possible for me to drink again. I rather 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 ned. I r had lear easoned I was not so far advanced as most of you fellows, that I had been usually successful oblems, and that I in licking my other personal pr would therefore be successful where you men failed. I felt I had every right to be self-confident, that it would be only a matter of exer cising my will power and keeping on guard. “In this frame of mind, I went about my business ouble r efusing and for a time all was well. I had no tr 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

12 41 MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM a government bureau. I had been out of town before during this particular dry spell, so there was nothing new about that. Physically, I felt fine. Neither did I have any pressing problems or worries. My business came off well, I was pleased and knew my partners fect day, not a would be too. It was the end of a per cloud on the horizon. “I went to my hotel and leisurely dressed for dinner. As I crossed the threshold of the dining room, the thought came to mind that it would be nice to have a couple of cocktails with dinner. That was all. Nothing I ordered a cocktail and my meal. Then I or- more. dered another cocktail. After dinner I decided to take a walk. When I returned to the hotel it struck me 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 next morning. I have a shadowy recollection of being in an airplane bound for New Y ork, and of fi nding a friendly taxicab driver at the landing field instead of my wife. The driver escor ted 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 physical suffering. “As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went Not only efully over that evening in W car ashington. had I been of f guar d, I had made no fight whatever against the fi rst drink. This time I had not thought of I had commenced to drink as the consequences at all. carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I ed what my alcoholic friends had told now r emember me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come—I would drink

13 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS 42 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, for 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 strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow. “Two 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 evi- dence to the effect that an alcoholic mentality, such as ashington, was a hopeless condi- I had exhibited in W tion. 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. “Then they outlined the spiritual answer and pro- gram of action which a hundr ed of them had followed successfully . Though I had been only a nominal oposals wer e not, intellectually , chur chman, their pr hard to swallow. But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant I would have to thr ow 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 e curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was r - lieved, as in fact it proved to be. “Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual principles would solve all my problems. I have since

14 43 MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM been brought into a way of living infinitely more satis- fying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.’’ Fred’s 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 commence to solve their problems. Many doctors and psychiatrists agree with our con- clusions. 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 hopeless- ness 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 hopeless, apar t fr 100 - % om divine help. Had you of fered yourselves as patients at this hospital, I would not have taken you, if I had been able to avoid it. People like you are too heartbreaking. 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.’’ Once mor e: The alcoholic at cer tain times has no ef fective mental defense against the fi rst drink. Ex- e cases, neither he nor any other cept in a few rar human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.

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