Miracles at Work for Alcoholics
What is the secret of the success of Alcoholics Anonymous? A famous writer gives you his answer
By Arthur Hopkins
In Tagoreís Memories he tells of walking along a country road with his mother when he was a small child. They passed a grotesque drunkard. The boy laughed. The mother said: "Donít laugh. He, too, is on his way to God."
I had read and heard of the work being done by Alcoholics Anonymous. I vaguely knew that the helpful service was being offered by former victims of alcohol who had found a way out.
Marcie, a friend of mine, told me of having lunch with a bank executive friend and was startled when the strong man told him, with no concealment, that he had been an alcoholic and had come close to wrecking his career. He was one of the workers in the Alcoholics Anonymous movement and asked Marcie if he would like to attend a monthly meeting of the workers. Marcie, having a lively interest in human service, accepted and later asked me if I would like to go along. Thus I shall always be indebted to Marcie for a strongly revealing and rewarding experience.
The prologue had a pleasant but conventional aspect. The host had us to dinner at the Yale Club. He was an athletic, beaming man who showed no marks of gutter bruises. He spoke of three ladies joining us for the evening. Presently they came-three gracious and cultured women, probably in the thirties. It looked more and more like a patronizing expedition of the Upper Ten to the Lower Five.
Soon the conversation revealed that the ladies, also free of telltale ravages, had likewise taken a pounding from John Barleycorn, but had managed to come up for the final count with John left sprawling and were now prepared to step back into the ring to second anyone who was ready to give John a battle.
Before the entrťe the slumming aspect had disappeared. Here were the privileged seeking the privilege of helping their own, and their own were alcoholics.
More revealing than their willingness to discuss openly with strangers their alcoholic ordeal, was the complete absence of any desire to conceal what others would think shameful. This unusual freedom from the personal, I was later to learn at the meeting, is one of the key causes of the great success of the movement.
On entering the hall where there were several hundred men and women, mostly graduate alcoholics and aspirants, I looked for the derelicts and defeated and found none. There was gaiety and loud laughter, which had suffered nothing from the absence of libations.
A little man, with considerable dental jubilation, called the meeting to order. After a sullen, disapproving phonograph was prodded into action the assembly sang the national anthem.
The little man then unwrapped his gleaming teeth from the package of his lips and asked how many had remained abstinent for three months or longer. A number raised their hands. The teeth gleamed.
Then the little man told his experience in his lifeís battle with alcohol. There was nothing sad, self-pitying or exhibitionist about his recital. It was rather the report of a persistent and hopeless experiment.
The one thing that he always knew after painful recovery from a devastating bout was that when he got in shape he would know how to handle liquor like sane people. Liquor wasnít going to lick him. No, sir! His cure began on the day he was taken to the AA house and became convinced that he was an alcoholic and the seductive opponent would best him every time. It was a fight in which there was no compromise, a fight where the decision was already in. He was talked to by people who knew his whole experience. They had lived the scenario from beginning to end.
The little man, with AA guidance, gained his freedom and then became a worker himself. He found he gained new strength by helping others.
"I never need to take an inventory of myself," he said. "I see myself in every one I try to help. There it is looking right at me, all my liabilities and my assets. I was never a religious man. Of course, I believed in God, I suppose, but I never thought he could do anything about me. Now I know that I never could have come through without Him. I had to have Godís help. I kept asking for it and got it." Shade of Tagoreís mother.
There was a good deal of laughter through the little manís talk. It was the comedy of identical experience. His hearers understood perfectly.
He then introduced a real estate operator from New Rochelle. Like the little man he opened his talk by saying: "I am an alcoholic." It was a recital of years of trying hopelessly to become a moderate drinker. There was obviously an element of pride involved. He could never admit to himself that alcohol was his master. As soon as he got into shape he would show alcohol how it ought to be handled. He must be a good businessman because he managed to survive for years with banks continuing to trust him.
"Finally," he said, "I wasnít invited to leave my home as some here have put it. I was kicked out. I put a cot in the back of the office. I used to lie down about twelve at night so I could wake up before three and knock over a couple before the bar closed. Then I was awake at eight to be in time for the bar opening up.
He tried cures. He tried will power, but always ended up seeing himself in the bar mirror. He found AA. He knew for the first time that he was an alcoholic and could never beat it. It was the end of alcohol or the end of him. New challenge and new pride were awakened.
"Of course when I got off the stuff I began looking at myself to try and find out what was wrong with me. It must have been more than appetite. Then I discovered one of my troubles was intolerance. I couldnít bear to be crossed by anyone. If, in putting through a deal, I thought someone was trying to pull something I got mad and told them to go to hell, and, of course, I was so mad I had to have a drink and then I was off again-once for five weeks in a hospital with a fractured hip.
"One time, after I had been going fine, I blew up again, tore up the contract, threw it on the floor. There was four hundred bucks in it for me, but to hell with it. Nobody was going to make a monkey out of me. I stormed out of the place, but this time I didnít go to a bar. I thought it over and wondered how I could straighten myself out.
I always hated to apologize to anyone-knowing Iíd been wrong only made it harder. But finally I had to get square with myself, so I called the fellow up. I said to him: ĎIím sorry about that blow-up. Iím an alcoholic and sometimes I lose my head. I donít want you to think I care about the money. Thatís not why Iím calling you. I want you to forgive me.í The man said: ĎYou know, Iíve been trying to figure out why I blew up. Come on over and letís straighten it out.í We did. My fee wasnít due for thirty days, but he gave me the check then. In the old days it would have ended that way. Iíd have tied the bag on good.
"Soon after AA got hold of me my wife came to me and said: ĎWhy donít you come home?í I said: ĎDo you mean it?í ĎOf course, come on.í
"When I got home, I said: ĎI donít suppose I could get a drink around here.í My wife said: ĎSure.í She brought me a bottle of beer. The next day I had a bottle of beer. That night I slept for the first time without drugs. I slept because I was at peace.
"They tell us around here we can call it anything we like-God, Divine Power or-well, I call it God. I never believed much, but I know that without God Iím nothing. That time I blew up I knew I wasnít going to drink because I had asked God that morning to help me." Shade of Tagoreís mother.
I am an alcoholic," began the next speaker. He looked like a football coach. He was a merchant from New Jersey. His drinking began young and industriously in the West. As a traveling man he found it convenient to have supplies constantly at hand by carrying three or four spares in his bag.
His experience was much as the others-releases and relapses, treatments, sanitariums, lost money, lost business, lost home, lost family.
"In one hospital there was a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the closet. I drank it to within one inch of the bottom, then turned on my face. When the nurse came in I asked her to rub my back as I was in such pain. She found the nearly empty bottle, refilled it and rubbed my back. When she had gone I helped myself from the refill. Later she told me I had been drinking refuse. Doctors and nurses had washed their hands in it. Wounds had been cleaned with it.
"After AA I got my family back and am in business again. I then tried helping others, but I didnít have much success until I finally realized that I was looking down on them. Now I know that I am only made strong by what I can give others. I need them as much as they need me. Like the others I wasn't religious, but I now say boldly and reverently it was God and only God. Without Him I was helpless." Shade of Tagoreís mother.
For a time, the writer was disturbed by people who had obviously been freed saying emphatically: "I am an alcoholic." It seemed a false and harmful affirmation.
Thinking back on what the traveling man had said about his feeling of superiority once he had progressed beyond the other victims, it occurred to me that a professed alcoholic might easily be more helpful than one who thinks of himself only as a former alcoholic. Maybe it is better to stay right in the lodge with the others with never a suggestion of superiority. Perhaps negative affirmations for the purpose of closer brotherhood have a positive effect with no injury to the affirmer.
And now the little chairman got up to introduce a product of his own helpfulness.
One day a telephone call had come from the AA office for him to go to a Long Island address from which a call for help had come. It was for a woman, so the little man made sure first that her husband was at home. He called and the good work was begun. And now, with pride, he presented her.
She was Mary, a darling woman in her late twenties, with shining face, scoffing eyes and the wide, warm smile of Erin. She looked at the microphone and laughed. "When I used to see one of those things I thought I was Lily Pons."
So Mary was off to a great howl. She told the list of almost identical steps of disintegration. She had two children. Her husband had helped her try everything-sessions with priests, promises, pledges, treatments.
"But I hid bottles all over the house, even on the roof. Once when I needed it real bad the bottle on the roof was gone. Maybe some poor devil needed it worse than I did, but it was hard to see it that way at the time.
"I went to Sanitarium, too." The place had been mentioned twice before and each time had raised a great laugh. "And, of course, like the others I tried a psychiatrist. After he talked for some time I asked him if he drank. He said that if he took two drinks it made him sick to his stomach. He couldnít take two drinks without losing his stomach and there he was trying to tell me how to handle liquor."
Perhaps Mary there touched one of the cardinal reasons for the success of the AA movement. Their applicants soon learn that they have nothing to explain. They are talking to experts who have gone all the way down the road, have lain in every pitfall and tried every false exit. They cannot be shocked or deceived.
"Finally," said Mary, "I landed in that lovely resort on the river, Bellevue, and what I saw there in two days left nothing but the bottle.
"At last my husband gave up. He said there was nothing for us but a divorce. When we were in court someone asked us why we didnít try AA. So we telephoned, and the little man came. They asked me to the house on Twenty-fourth Street. I went and as soon as I was in the place I knew this was it. They talked to me some about God. I was raised in a convent school and that wasnít hard to take. Well, it worked. Thereís nothing more to say except that five weeks ago I had a baby." There were applause and cheers for Mary.
"When I came out of the ether the doctor said to me: ĎNever lose your sense of humor, Mary. When you were still under you said: "Whatís all this talk about no atheists in foxholes? I guess you wonít find any in delivery rooms, either."í From what my husband tells me you wonít find any in the corridor."
Mary was a joyful benediction. She filled the place with a sense of blessing. I doubt if there were any atheists there either.
The words of a sainted woman spoken nearly a hundred years ago had come true. Drunkards, with the help of fellow victims, had found God. Whatever the pain to themselves and their loved ones the journey was worth it. Perhaps in no other way would they have found God. It seemed to one present that God was nearer in that hall than He had ever been before, that the God long accepted by the head had moved into the heart and only there can Godís banners truly fly.
Source: Your Life©, November 1944