My return from the Half-World of Alcoholism
A letter to Alcoholics Anonymous saved the author's
A year ago I was a hopeless alcoholic. I tried to stop
drinking, but the harder I tried the more I drank. I drank to get drunk.
I drank to stay
Alcoholics Anonymous jerked me back to reality.
I had only a vague knowledge of Alcoholics Anonymous but I did
manage to part the haze in my head long enough to remember that the
headquarters were in New York City. I wrote them, pleading on the envelope:
"New York Postmaster:
Please find these people for me. I am a veteran of World
Wars I and II. I
That started AA's letters. I was remotely located beyond
personal contact with the organization or any of its branches. The letters
came in an
unbroken flow, often daily, most of them by air mail. They
were written interms I could understand, and pulled no punches.
I did not believe in excuses and make none, but there were
for my drinking. I had been honorably discharged from the
Marine Corps and was working at night. My daughter worked during the day.
My son, who was with the Army Air Force in China, dropped out of contract for
wife was gravely ill and we had no one to help. Caught in
a grind that kept me exhausted, I drank for energy. Liquor became a crutch
upon which I leaned
more and more heavily.
After my wife died I set about drinking continually for escape.
night a car ran over me and I was left lying on the highway.
After weeks in the hospital I could finally walk by using a
cane. I set out
to hunt a drink. Drinking with head injuries made walking
difficult -- at
hundred-yard intervals the world dissolved. There was no
falling; the deck simply rushed up and hit me. There must
have been a dozen
such falls before a minister found me spattered with blood and
head laid open.
There wasn't much I missed in the misadventures of advanced
tried to re-enlist but could not make the grade because of
Frustrated, I became involved in street fights and frequently
woke up in a
jail cell, writhing in the excruciating pain of alcoholic
neuritis. Under the
usual treatment accorded drunks -- such as 30 hours' solitary
alcoholism thrives. All I thought about was getting a
drink to blot out the
humiliation of the experience.
One night I went to the kitchen to seek a hidden bottle. Mistaking
cellar door for the cupboard, I fell down the stairway. Hours
returned to consciousness and saw our three cats silhouetted
against the open
door of the furnace, watching me. I felt ashamed. Their
gaze was more effective than the rebuke of any person.
Crisis impending now. The doctor did not have to say,
"it's killing you." I
knew it. I cut down on liquor one day, only to drink
harder the next. I
existed in a gray half-world. Somewhere in the depths of
my mind there
stirred a remote recollection of Alcoholic Anonymous. Grasping
straw, I wrote that first letter.
When the reply came from AA, it was brief but reassuring: "AA
will work if
you want it to work." That threw a lot of
responsibility right back in my
lap. The letter continued: "The requirement for
membership in Alcoholics
Anonymous is simply the sincere desire to stop drinking, and you
seem to have that. We will do all possible to help you,
and of course there
is absolutely no charge." Wishing me luck, they asked
me to write again. I
One point from the booklets the organization sent me proved to
be the key to
the whole plan: "Get up in the morning determined
that you will not have a
drink throughout the day. Don't say you will never drink.
yourself with this day." It made sense.
Days went by and I was standing fast. But there was more
here than a state
of mind, and that is where my doctor came in. He used
sedatives and thiamin
hydrochloride (B1) to steady my nerves and help my appetite.
Still, a tiger stalked me -- bitter memories of the past, that
would remove. AA with its usual discernment, asked me to
think this over:
"God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot
change, courage to
change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
That impressed me
From there on a message would arrive each day, with something
"When 'the feeling' torments you, eat sweets. It's
good medicine. Alcoholics
are used to great quantities of sugar in their systems, and when
drinking you cut off that supply."
The battle was not won immediately. I had two slips.
But AA and the doctor
agreed that a slip is not uncommon at the start, and that gave
They pointed out that it may be precipitated by any emotional
cries; so I
learned to avoid both controversy and excitement. Overconfidence
discovered, is dangerous, and AA wrote that I might never be
nearer my first
drink than when I felt absolutely certain that I had won the
Recently I stumbled upon one of the bottles I had hidden around
the house. I
put it away hastily. Fascination drew me back to it.
I swished the liquor
around, held it up to the light, smelled it. I wondered if
it would be
possible to take one drink, and imagined myself pouring a
tumbler half full
of the liquor, filling it up with water and sipping it slowly to
fragrance and satisfying sharpness. I grew taut as a
But then the mailman came with a long AA letter. At the
end was this amazing
"Some AAs after the pressure has been lifted, think: 'Well,
maybe now I could
take just a drink or two and stop there.' If you ever come
to this stage,
before you take that first drink just sit down and remember!
Remember! One drink is too much, a thousand not
I shuddered to think how close I had been to disaster, and was
the chance guidance which had brought that particular message at
Letters always were expertly timed, always bright and frequently
Not long ago after several bad days, I was frightened and I
wrote AA. The
answer was, "In the first place, will you please calm down!
By the time I
finish reading one of the letters you write when you're excited,
material myself for a padded cell."
Another time I was wavering on the edge, and AA sensed it.
delivery air mail arrived: "Don't talk too negatively
about this thing
taking more than you've got. I thought the Marines never
That one snapped me back, for I'm proud to have been a Marine.
The letters brought results where all else had failed, because
AA talked my
language: they too were alkies. Kindly argument by my son
formerly had made me ashamed and angry with myself, but then,
unable to find
a way out, I would drink harder in a desperate attempt to forget
it all. Acquaintances and friends had urged me to swear off, to "be
a man." They
seemed unable to grasp the fact that alcoholism is a disease,
that there is
no more reason to censure an alcoholic than there is to berate a
breaking a leg or having cardiac trouble.
The technique of AA, I discovered, was not to push, or even to
lead, but to
walk with you and offer you something you need -- if you want to
There was no argument, no controversy. There was no
concern, either, about
temperance interests; they are not reformers. Neither are
with race or creed. They do, however, feel it highly
important that you have
some belief in a power greater than yourself, because this fact
of belief, or
something to lean on, makes the fight easier.
"What the hell is the use of all this?" I asked
in one of my letters.
"You'll eventually get the answer to that," AA
replied. You have got a lot
of years left. Why not make them worth while? There
are other people like
yourself you can help, and there is nothing like helping others
in order to
One day I began thinking about a trip to New York. My AA
encouraged me. People in the AA office were as curious to
see me as I was to
In our conversations the office people told me that I will
always be an
alcoholic. Most persons eventually lose the desire to
drink and are not
tempted in the presence of liquor. But I am one of those
unfortunate few who
are constantly in danger. I cannot look at liquor, smell
it, even think
about it. It sets that inner, involuntary compulsion
astir. If I were to
slip now, I feel certain I could not fight this battle over
again. Drink to
me means death.
AA national headquarters have records to prove that 50 percent
of those who
come to AA with a sincere desire to stop drinking do so
25 percent stop after one or two slips, and of the remaining 25
fail entirely, some fail to keep in touch with the organization,
eventually resume contact and stay dry. Two types cannot
be helped by AA:
halfhearted persons who merely toy with the idea of becoming
those with brain lesions or psychoses.
The New York companionship strengthened my shield and I was
given a keener insight into the importance of the spiritual approach. I
am not a religious
man, but in the course of my return from the half-world of
alcoholism I had
begun to perceive the intervention of some outside force working
behalf. This came to me slowly, during long solitary walks
in the country.
I began to feel that life must have some design, so I tried to
whatever may be back of all this.
The change which AA helps a man accomplish is close to the
experience of conversion. Indeed, it is the same if it is
genuine and lasts.
I see now that most failures result from lack of
acceptance of some power
greater than oneself. I have found added encouragement not
everyone in AA but my friends. Once one recovers a
toward life, self-confidence and a belief in the future, the
alcoholism can be conquered. I believe -- and my friends
assure me -- that I
have done it.
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