Still current 12 step
"clearcut directions" of precisely
how they recovered from a
seemingly hopeless condition.
Also called the Big Book &
Basic Text, the 1st edition was printed
to Forwards of editions : 2
to Chapters -
* Doctors Opinion
* Bills Story
* More about Alcoholism
is a Solution *We Agnostics
* How It Works
* Into Action
Working With Others *
pages 104 thru 164 (separate webpage) To Wives
* The Family Afterward
* To Employers
* A Vision for You
Forward 1st Edition
This is the Foreword as it appeared in the first
printing of the first edition in 1939.
We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than
one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of
mind and body. To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the
main purpose of this book. For them, we hope these pages will prove so
convincing that no further authentication will be necessary. We think this
account of our experiences will help everyone to better understand the
alcoholic. Many do not comprehend that the alcoholic is a very sick person. And
besides, we are sure that our way of living has its advantages for all.
It is important that we remain anonymous because we
are too few, at present to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals
which may result from this publication. Being mostly business or professional
folk, we could not well carry on our occupations in such an event. We would like
it understood that our alcoholic work is an avocation.
When writing or speaking publicly about alcoholism,
we urge each of our Fellowship to omit his personal name, designating himself
instead as "a member of Alcoholics Anonymous."
Very earnestly we ask the press also, to observe this
request, for otherwise we shall be greatly handicapped. We are not an
organization in the conventional sense of the word. There are no fees or dues
whatsoever. The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop
drinking. We are not allied with any particular faith, sect or denomination, nor
do we oppose anyone. We simply wish to be helpful to those who are
We shall be interested to hear from those who are
getting results from this book, particularly form those who have commenced work
with other alcoholics. We should like to be helpful to such cases. Inquiry by
scientific, medical, and religious societies will be welcomed.
Forward to the Second Edition
Figures given in this foreword describe the
Fellowship as it was in 1955.
Since the original Foreword to this
book was written in 1939, a wholesale miracle has taken place. Our earliest
printing voiced the hope "that every alcoholic who journeys will find the
Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous at his destination. Already," continues the
early text, "twos and threes and fives of us have sprung up in other
Sixteen years have elapsed between our first printing
of this book and the presentation of 1955 of our second edition. In that brief
space, Alcoholics Anonymous has mushroomed into nearly 6,000 groups whose
membership is far above 150,000 recovered alcoholics. Groups are to be found in
each of the United States and all of the provinces of Canada. A.A. has
flourishing communities in the British Isles, the Scandinavian countries, South
Africa, South America, Mexico, Alaska, Australia and Hawaii. All told, promising
beginnings have been made in some 50 foreign countries and U.S. possessions.
Some are just now taking shape in Asia. Many of our friends encourage us by
saying that this is but a beginning, only the augury of a much larger future
The spark that was to flare into the first A.A. group
was struck at Akron, Ohio in June 1935, during a talk between a New York
stockbroker and an Akron physician. Six months earlier, the broker had been
relieved of his drink obsession by a sudden spiritual experience, following a
meeting with an alcoholic friend who had been in contact with the Oxford Groups
of that day. He had also been greatly helped by the late Dr. William D.
Silkworth, a New York specialist in alcoholism who is now accounted no less than
a medical saint by A.A. members, and whose story of the early days of our
Society appears in the next pages. From this doctor, the broker had learned the
grave nature of alcoholism. Though he could not accept all the tenets of the
Oxford Groups, he was convinced of the need for moral inventory, confession of
personality defects, restitution to those harmed, helpfulness to others, and the
necessity of belief in and dependence upon God.
Prior to his journey to Akron, the broker had worked
hard with many alcoholics on the theory that only an alcoholic could help an
alcoholic, but he had succeeded only in keeping sober himself. The broker had
gone to Akron on a business venture which had collapsed, leaving him greatly in
fear that he might start drinking again. He suddenly realized that in order to
save himself he must carry his message to another alcoholic. That alcoholic
turned out to be the Akron physician.
This physician had repeatedly tried spiritual means
to resolve his alcoholic dilemma but had failed. But when the broker gave him
Dr. Silkworth's description of alcoholism and its hopelessness, the physician
began to pursue the spiritual remedy for his malady with a willingness he had
never before been able to muster. He sobered, never to drink again up to the
moment of his death in 1950. This seemed to prove that one alcoholic could
affect another as no nonalcoholic could. It also indicated that strenuous work,
one alcoholic with another, was vital to permanent recovery.
Hence the two men set to work almost frantically upon
alcoholics arriving in the ward of the Akron City Hospital. Their very first
case, a desperate one, recovered immediately and became A.A. number three. He
never had another drink. This work at Akron continued through the summer of
1935. There were many failures, but there was an occasional heartening success.
When the broker returned to New York in the fall of 1935, the first A.A. group
had actually been formed, though no one realized it at the time.
A second small group promptly took shape at New York,
to be followed in 1937 with the start of a third at Cleveland. Besides these,
there were scattered alcoholics who had picked up the basic ideas in Akron or
New York who were trying to form groups in other cities. By late 1937, the
number of members having substantial sobriety time behind them was sufficient to
convince the membership that a new light had entered the dark world of the
It was now time, the struggling groups thought, to
place their message and unique experience before the world. This determination
bore fruit in the spring of 1939 by the publication of this volume. The
membership had then reached about 100 men and women. The fledgling society,
which had been nameless, now began to be called Alcoholics Anonymous, from the
title of its own book. The flying-blind period ended and A.A. entered a new
phase of its pioneering time.
With the appearance of the new book a great deal
began to happen. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the noted clergyman, reviewed it
with approval. In the fall of 1939 Fulton Oursler, the editor of LIBERTY,
printed a piece in his magazine, called "Alcoholics and God." This brought a
rush of 800 frantic inquiries into the little New York office which meanwhile
had been established. Each inquiry was painstakingly answered; pamphlets and
books were sent out. Businessmen, traveling out of existing groups, were
referred to these prospective newcomers. New groups started up and it was found,
to the astonishment of everyone, that A.A.'s message could be transmitted in the
mail as well as by word of mouth. By the end of 1939 it was estimated that 800
alcoholics were on their way to recovery.
In the spring of 1940, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave
a dinner for many of his friends to which he invited A.A. members to tell their
stories. News of this got on the world wires; inquiries poured in again and many
people went to the bookstores to get the book "Alcoholics Anonymous." By March
1941 the membership had shot up to 2,000. Then Jack Alexander wrote a feature
article in the Saturday Evening Post and placed such a compelling picture of
A.A. before the general public that alcoholics in need of help really deluged
us. By the close of 1941, A.A. numbered 8,000 members. The mushrooming process
was in full swing, A.A. had become a national institution.
Our Society then entered a fearsome and exciting
adolescent period. The test that it faced was this: Could these large numbers of
erstwhile erratic alcoholics successfully meet and work together? Would there be
quarrels over membership, leadership and money? Would there be strivings for
power and prestige? Would there be schisms which would split A.A. apart? Soon
A.A. was beset by these very problems on every side and in every group. But out
of this frightening and at first disrupting experience the conviction grew that
A.A.'s had to hang together or die separately. We had to unify our Fellowship or
pass off the scene.
As we discovered the principles by which the
individual alcoholic could live, so we had to evolve principles by which the
A.A. groups and A.A. as a whole could survive and function effectively. It was
thought that no alcoholic man or woman could be excluded from our Society; that
our leaders might serve but not govern; that each group was to be autonomous and
there was to be no fees or dues; our expenses were to be met by our own
voluntary contributions. There was to be the least possible organization, even
in our service centers. Our public relations were to be based upon attraction
rather than promotion. It was decided that all members ought to be anonymous at
the level of press, radio, TV and films. And in no circumstances should we give
endorsements, make alliances, or enter public controversies.
This was the substance of A.A.'s Twelve Traditions,
which are stated in full on page 564 of this book. Though none of these
principles had the force of rules or laws, they had become so widely accepted by
1950 that they were confirmed by our first International Conference held at
Cleveland. Today the remarkable unity of A.A. is one of the greatest assets that
our Society has.
While the internal difficulties of our adolescent
period were being ironed out, public acceptance of A.A. grew by leaps and
bounds. For this there were two principal reasons: the large numbers of
recoveries, and reunited homes.
Another reason for the wide acceptance of A.A. was
the ministration of friends -- friends in medicine, religion, and the press,
together with innumerable others who became our able and persistent advocates.
Without such support, A.A. could have made only the slowest progress. Some of
the recommendations of A.A.'s early medical and religious friends will be found
further on in this book.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization.
Neither does A.A. take any particular medical point of view, though we cooperate
widely with the men of medicine as well as with the men of religion. Alcohol
being no respecter of persons, we are an accurate cross section of America, and
in distant lands, the same democratic evening-up process is now going on. By
personal religious affiliation, we include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus,
and a sprinkling of Moslems and Buddhists. More than fifteen percent of us are
At present, our membership is pyramiding at the rate
of about twenty percent a year. So far, upon the total problem of actual
potential alcoholics in the world, we have made only a scratch. In all
probability, we shall never be able to touch more than a fair fraction of the
alcohol problem in all its ramifications. Upon therapy for the alcoholic
himself, we surely have no monopoly. Yet it is our great hope that all those who
have as yet found no answer may begin to find one in the pages of this book and
will presently join us on the highroad to a new freedom.
Forward to the Third Edition
By March 1976, when this edition went to the printer,
the total worldwide membership of Alcoholics Anonymous was conservatively
estimated at more than 1,000,000, with almost 28,000 groups meeting in over 90
Surveys of groups in the United States and Canada
indicate that A.A. is reaching out, not only to more and more people, but to a
wider and wider range. Women now make up more than one-fourth of the membership;
among newer members, the proportion is nearly one-third. Seven percent of the
A.A.'s surveyed are less than thirty years of age -- among them, many in their
The basic principles of the A.A. program, it appears,
hold good for individuals with many different lifestyles, just as the program
has brought recovery to those of many different nationalities. The Twelve Steps
that summarize the program may be called los Douze Etapes in another, but they
trace exactly the same path to recovery that was blazed by the earliest members
of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In spite of the great increase in the size and the
span of this Fellowship, at its core it remains simple and personal. Each day,
somewhere in the world, recovery begins when one alcoholic talks with another
alcoholic, sharing experience, strength, and hope.
The Doctor's Opinion
WE OF Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the reader
will be interested in the medical estimate of the plan of recovery described in
this book. Convincing testimony must surely come from medical men who have had
experience with the sufferings of our members and have witnessed our return to
health. A well known doctor, chief physician at a nationally prominent hospital
specializing in alcoholic and drug addiction, gave Alcoholics Anonymous this
To Whom It May Concern:
I have specialized in the treatment of alcoholism
for many years.
In late 1934 I attended a patient who, though he
had been a competent business man of good earning capacity, was an alcoholic
of a type I had come to regard as hopeless.
In the course of his third treatment he acquired
certain ideas concerning a possible means of recovery. As part of his
rehabilitation he commenced to present his conceptions to other alcoholics,
impressing upon them that they must do likewise with still others. This has
become the basis of a rapidly growing fellowship of these men and their
families. This man and over one hundred others appear to have recovered.
I personally know scores of cases who were of the
type with whom other methods had failed completely.
These facts appear to be of extreme medical
importance; because of the extraordinary possibilities of rapid growth
inherent in this group they may mark a new epoch in the annals of alcoholism.
These men may well have a remedy for thousands of such situations.
You may rely absolutely on
anything they say about themselves.
Very truly yours,
(Signed) - - - - - M.D.
The physician who, at our request, gave
us this letter, has been kind enough to enlarge upon his views in another
statement which follows. In this statement he confirms what we who have suffered
alcoholic torture must believe-that the body of the alcoholic is quite as
abnormal as his mind. It did not satisfy us to be told that we could not control
our drinking just because we were maladjusted to life, that we were in full
flight from reality, or were outright mental defectives. These things were true
to some extent, in fact, to a considerable extent with some of us. But we are
sure that our bodies were sickened as well. In our belief, any picture of the
alcoholic which leaves out this physical factor is incomplete.
The doctor's theory that we have an allergy to
alcohol interests us. As laymen, our opinion as to its soundness may, of course,
mean little. But as ex-problem drinkers, we can say that his explanation makes
good sense. It explains many things for which we cannot otherwise account.
Though we work out our solution on the spiritual as
well as an altruistic plane, we favor hospitalization for the alcoholic who is
very jittery or befogged. More often than not, it is imperative that a man's
brain be cleared before he is approached, as he has then a better chance of
understanding and accepting what we have to offer.
The doctor writes:
The subject presented in this book seems to me
to be of paramount importance to those afflicted with alcoholic addiction.
I say this after many years' experience as
Medical Director of one of the oldest hospitals in the country treating
alcoholic and drug addiction.
There was, therefore, a sense of real
satisfaction when I was asked to contribute a few words on a subject which
is covered in such masterly detail in these pages.
We doctors have realized for a long time that
some form of moral psychology was of urgent importance to alcoholics, but
its application presented difficulties beyond our conception. What with our
ultra-modern standards, our scientific approach to everything, we are
perhaps not well equipped to apply the powers of good that lie outside our
Many years ago one of the leading contributors
to this book came under our care in this hospital and while here he
acquired some ideas which he put into practical application at once.
Later, he requested the privilege of being
allowed to tell his story to other patients here and with some misgiving,
we consented. The cases we have followed through have been most
interesting; in fact, many of them are amazing. The unselfishness of these
men as we have come to know them, the entire absence of profit motive, and
their community spirit, is indeed inspiring to one who has labored long and
wearily in this alcoholic field. They believe in themselves, and still
more in the Power which pulls chronic alcoholics back from the gates of
Of course an alcoholic ought to be freed from
his physical craving for liquor, and this often requires a definite
hospital procedure, before psychological measures can be of maximum
We believe, and so suggested a few years ago,
that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation
of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and
never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can
never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the
habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their
self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up
on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.
Frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices. The
message which can interest and hold these alcoholic people must have depth
and weight. In nearly all cases, their ideals must be grounded in a power
greater than themselves, if they are to re-create their lives.
If any feel that as psychiatrists directing a
hospital for alcoholics we appear somewhat sentimental, let them stand with
us a while on the firing line, see the tragedies, the despairing wives, the
little children; let the solving of these problems become a part of their
daily work, and even of their sleeping moments, and the most cyni cal will
not wonder that we have accepted and encouraged this movement. We feel,
after many years of experience, that we have found nothing which has
contributed more to the rehabilitation of these men than the altruistic
movement now growing up among them.
Men and women drink essentially because they
like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that,
while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate
the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only
normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can
again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by
taking a few drinks-drinks which they see others taking with impunity.
After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the
phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of
a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again.
This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an
entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery.
On the other hand-and strange as this may seem
to those who do not understand-once a psychic change has occurred, the very
same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of
ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire
for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few
Men have cried out to me in sincere and
despairing appeal: "Doctor, I cannot go on like this! I have everything to
live for! I must stop, but I cannot! You must help me!"
Faced with this problem, if a doctor is honest
with himself, he must sometimes feel his own inadequacy. Although he gives
all that is in him, it often is not enough. One feels that something more
than human power is needed to produce the essential psychic change. Though
the aggregate of recoveries resulting from psychiatric effort is
considerable, we physicians must admit we have made little impression upon
the problem as a whole. Many types do not respond to the ordinary
I do not hold with those who believe that
alcoholism is entirely a problem of mental control. I have had many men who
had, for example, worked a period of months on some problem or business
deal which was to be settled on a certain date, favorably to them. They
took a drink a day or so prior to the date, and then the phenomenon of
craving at once became paramount to all other interests so that the
important appointment was not met. These men were not drinking to escape;
they were drinking to overcome a craving beyond their mental control.
There are many situations which arise out of the
phenomenon of craving which cause men to make the supreme sacrifice rather
than continue to fight.
The classification of alcoholics seems most
difficult, and in much detail is outside the scope of this book. There are,
of course, the psychopaths who are emotionally unstable. We are all
familiar with this type. They are always "going on the wagon for keeps."
They are over-remorseful and make many resolutions, but never a decision.
There is the type of man who is unwilling to
admit that he cannot take a drink. He plans various ways of drinking. He
changes his brand or his environment. There is the type who always believes
that after being entirely free from alcohol for a period of time he can
take a drink without danger. There is the manic-depressive type, who is,
perhaps, the least understood by his friends, and about whom a whole
chapter could be written.
Then there are types entirely normal in every
respect except in the effect alcohol has upon them. They are often able,
intelligent, friendly people.
All these, and many others, have one symptom in
common: they cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon of
craving. This phenomenon, as we have suggested, may be the manifestation of
an allergy which differentiates these people, and sets them apart as a
distinct entity. It has never been, by any treatment with which we are
familiar, permanently eradicated. The only relief we have to suggest is
This immediately precipitates us into a seething
caldron of debate. Much has been written pro and con, but among physicians,
the general opinion seems to be that most chronic alcoholics are doomed.
What is the solution? Perhaps I can best answer
this by relating one of my experiences.
About one year prior to this experience a man
was brought in to be treated for chronic alcoholism. He had but partially
recovered from a gastric hemorrhage and seemed to be a case of pathological
mental deterioration. He had lost everything worth while in life and was
only living, one might say, to drink. He frankly admitted and believed that
for him there was no hope. Following the elimination of alcohol, there
was found to be no permanent brain injury. He accepted the plan outlined in
this book. One year later he called to see me, and I experienced a very
strange sensation. I knew the man by name, and partly recognized his
features, but there all resemblance ended. From a trembling, despairing,
nervous wreck, had emerged a man brimming over with self-reliance and
contentment. I talked with him for some time, but was not able to bring
myself to feel that I had known him before. To me he was a stranger, and so
he left me. A long time has passed with no return to alcohol.
When I need a mental uplift, I often think of
another case brought in by a physician prominent in New York City. The
patient had made his own diagnosis, and deciding his situation hopeless,
had hidden in a deserted barn determined to die. He was rescued by a
searching party, and, in desperate condition, brought to me. Following his
physical rehabilitation, he had a talk with me in which he frankly stated
he thought the treatment a waste of effort, unless I could assure him,
which no one ever had, that in the future he would have the "will power"
to resist the impulse to drink.
His alcoholic problem was so complex, and his
depression so great, that we felt his only hope would be through what we
then called "moral psychology," and we doubted if even that would have any
However, he did become "sold" on the ideas
contained in this book. He has not had a drink for a great many years. I
see him now and then and he is as fine a specimen of manhood as one could
wish to meet.
I earnestly advise every alcoholic to read this
book through, and though perhaps he came to scoff, he may remain to pray.
War fever ran high in the New England town to which
we new, young officers from Plattsburg were assigned, and we were flattered when
the first citizens took us to their homes, making us feel heroic. Here was love,
applause, war; moments sublime with intervals hilarious. I was part of life at
last, and in the midst of the excitement I discovered liquor. I forgot the
strong warnings and the prejudices of my people concerning drink. In time we
sailed for "Over There." I was very lonely and again turned to alcohol.
We landed in England. I visited Winchester Cathedral.
Much moved, I wandered outside. My attention was caught by a doggerel on an old
"Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his death
Drinking cold small beer.
A good soldier is ne'er forgot
Whether he dieth by musket
Ominous warning which I failed to heed.
Twenty-two, and a veteran of foreign wars, I went
home at last. I fancied myself a leader, for had not the men of my battery given
me a special token of appreciation? My talent for leadership, I imagined, could
place me at the head of vast enterprises which I would manage with the utmost
assurance. I took a night law course, and obtained employment as investigator
for a surety company. The drive for success was on. I'd prove to the world I
was important. My work took me about Wall Street and little by little I became
interested in the market. Many people lost money but some became very rich. Why
not I? I studied economics and business as well as law. Potential alcoholic that
I was, I nearly failed my law course. At one of the finals I was too drunk to
think or write. Though my drinking was not yet continuous, it disturbed my wife.
We had long talks when I would still her forebodings by telling her that men of
genius conceived their best projects when drunk; that the most majestic
constructions philosophic thought were so derived.
By the time I had completed the course, I knew the
law was not for me. The inviting maelstrom of Wall Street had me in its grip.
Business and financial leaders were my heroes. Out of this ally of drink and
speculation, I commenced to forge the weapon that one day would turn in its
flight like a boomerang and all but cut me to ribbons. Living modestly, my wife
and I saved $1,000. It went into certain securities, then cheap and rather
unpopular. I rightly imagined that they would some day have a great rise. I
failed to persuade my broker friends to send me out looking over factories and
managements, but my wife and I decided to go anyway. I had developed a theory
that most people lost money in stocks through ignorance of markets. I discovered
many more reasons later on.
We gave up our positions and off we roared on a
motorcycle, the sidecar stuffed with tent, blankets, a change of clothes, and
three huge volumes of a financial reference service. Our friends thought a
lunacy commission should be appointed. Perhaps they were right. I had had some
success at speculation, so we had a little money, but we once worked on a farm
for a month to avoid drawing on our small capital. That was the last honest
manual labor on my part for many a day. We covered the whole eastern United
States in a year. At the end of it, my reports to Wall Street procured me a
position there and the use of a large expense account. The exercise of an option
brought in more money, leaving us with a profit of several thousand dollars for
For the next few years fortune threw money and
applause my way. I had arrived. My judgment and ideas were followed by many to
the tune of paper millions. The great boom of the late twenties was seething and
swelling. Drink was taking an important and exhilarating part in my life. There
was loud talk in the jazz places uptown. Everyone spent in thousands and
chattered in millions. Scoffers could scoff and be damned. I made a host of
My drinking assumed more serious proportions,
continuing all day and almost every night. The remonstrances of my friends
terminated in a row and I became a lone wolf. There were many unhappy scenes in
our sumptuous apartment. There had been no real infidelity, for loyalty to my
wife, helped at times by extreme drunkenness, kept me out of those scrapes.
In 1929 I contracted golf fever. We went at once to
the country, my wife to applaud while I started out to overtake Walter Hagen.
Liquor caught up with me much faster than I came up behind Walter. I began to be
jittery in the morning. Golf permitted drinking every day and every night. It
was fun to carom around the exclusive course which had inspired such awe in me
as a lad. I acquired the impeccable coat of tan one sees upon the well-to- do.
The local banker watched me whirl fat checks in and out of his till with amused
Abruptly in October 1929 hell broke loose on the New
York stock exchange. After one of those days of inferno, I wobbled from a hotel
bar to a brokerage office. It was eight o'clock five hours after the market
closed. The ticker still clattered. I was staring at an inch of the tape which
bore the inscription XYZ-32. It had been 52 that morning. I was finished and so
were many friends. The papers reported men jumping to death from the towers of
High Finance. That disgusted me. I would not jump. I went back to the bar. My
friends had dropped several million since ten o'clock so what? Tomorrow was
another day. As I drank, the old fierce determination to win came back.
Next morning I telephoned a friend in Montreál. He
had plenty of money left and thought I had better go to Canada. By the following
spring we were living in our accustomed style. I felt like Napoleon returning
from Elba. No St. Helena for me! But drinking caught up with me again and my
generous friend had to let me go. This time we stayed broke.
We went to live with my wife's parents. I found a
job; then lost it as the result of a brawl with a taxi driver. Mercifully, no
one could guess that I was to have no real employment for five years, or hardly
draw a sober breath. My wife began to work in a department store, coming home
exhausted to find me drunk. I became an unwelcome hanger-on at brokerage
Liquor ceased to be a luxury; it became a necessity.
"Bathtub" gin, two bottles a day, and often three, got to be routine. Sometimes
a small deal would net a few hundred dollars, and I would pay my bills at the
bars and delicatessens. This went on endlessly, and I began to waken very early
in the morning shaking violently. A tumbler full of gin followed by half a dozen
bottles of beer would be required if I were to eat any breakfast. Nevertheless,
I still thought I could control the situation, and there were periods of
sobriety which renewed my wife's hope.
Gradually things got worse. The house was taken over
by the mortgage holder, my mother-in-law died, my wife and father-in-law became
Then I got a promising business opportunity. Stocks
were at the low point of 1932, and I had somehow formed a group to buy. I was to
share generously in the profits. Then I went on a prodigious bender, and that
I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not
take so much as one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had written
lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant
business. And so I did.
Shortly afterward I came home drunk. There had been
no fight. Where had been my high resolve? I simply didn't know. It hadn't even
come to mind. Someone had pushed a drink my way, and I had taken it. Was I
crazy? I began to wonder, for such an appalling lack of perspective seemed near
being just that.
Renewing my resolve, I tried again. Some time passed,
and confidence began to be replaced by cocksureness. I could laugh at the gin
mills. Now I had what it takes! One day I walked into a cafe to telephone. In no
time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened. As the whisky rose
to my head I told myself I would manage better next time, but I might as well
get good and drunk then. And I did.
The remorse, horror and hopelessness of the next
morning are unforgettable. The courage to do battle was not there. My brain
raced uncontrollably and there was a terrible sense of impending calamity. I
hardly dared cross the street, lest I collapse and be run down by an early
morning truck, for it was scarcely daylight. An all night place supplied me with
a dozen glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled at last. A morning
paper told me the market had gone to hell again. Well, so had I. The market
would recover, but I wouldn't. That was a hard thought. Should I kill myself? No
not now. Then a mental fog settled down. Gin would fix that. So two bottles, and
The mind and body are marvelous mechanisms, for mine
endured this agony two more years. Sometimes I stole from my wife's slender
purse when the morning terror and madness were on me. Again I swayed dizzily
before an open window, or the medicine cabinet where there was poison, cursing
myself for a weakling. There were flights from city to country and back, as my
wife and I sought escape. Then came the night when the physical and mental
torture was so hellish I feared I would burst through my window, sash and all.
Somehow I managed to drag my mattress to a lower floor, lest I suddenly leap. A
doctor came with a heavy sedative. Next day found me drinking both gin and
sedative. This combination soon landed me on the rocks. People feared for my
sanity. So did I. I could eat little or nothing when drinking, and I was forty
pounds under weight.
My brother-in-law is a physician, and through his
kindness and that of my mother I was placed in a nationally-known hospital for
the mental and physical rehabilitation of alcoholics. Under the so-called
belladonna treatment my brain cleared. Hydrotherapy and mild exercise helped
much. Best of all, I met a kind doctor who explained that though certainly
selfish and foolish, I had been seriously ill, bodily and mentally.
It relieved me somewhat to learn that in alcoholics
the will is amazingly weakened when it comes to combating liquor, though if
often remains strong in other respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a
desperate desire to stop was explained. Understanding myself now, I fared forth
in high hope. For three or four months the goose hung high. I went to town
regularly and even made a little money. Surely this was the answer self-
But it was not, for the frightful day came when I
drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like
a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital. This was the finish, the
curtain, it seemed to me. My weary and despairing wife was informed that it
would all end with heart failure during delirium tremens, or I would develop a
wet brain, perhaps within a year. We would soon have to give me over to the
undertaker of the asylum.
They did not need to tell me. I knew, and almost
welcomed the idea. It was a devastating blow to my pride. I, who had thought so
well of myself and my abilities, of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was
cornered at last. Now I was to plunge into the dark, joining that endless
procession of sots who had gone on before. I thought of my poor wife. There had
been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends. But that
was over now.
No words can tell of the loneliness and despair I
found in that bitter morass of self-pity. Quicksand stretched around me in all
directions. I had met my match. I had been overwhelmed. Alcohol was my
Trembling, I stepped from the hospital a broken man.
Fear sobered me for a bit. Then came the insidious insanity of that first drink,
and on Armistice Day 1934, I was off again. Everyone became resigned to the
certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a
miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn! In reality that was the beginning
of my last debauch. I was soon to be catapulted into what I like to call the
fourth dimension of existence. I was to know happiness, peace, and usefulness,
in a way of life that is incredibly more wonderful as time passes.
Near the end of that bleak November, I sat drinking
in my kitchen. With a certain satisfaction I reflected there was enough gin
concealed about the house to carry me through that night and the next day. My
wife was at work. I wondered whether I dared hide a full bottle of gin near the
head of our bed. I would need it before daylight.
My musing was interrupted by the telephone. The
cheery voice of an old school friend asked if he might come over. He was
sober. It was years since I could remember his coming to New York in that
condition. I was amazed. Rumor had it that he had been committed for alcoholic
insanity. I wondered how he had escaped. Of course he would have dinner, and
then I could drink openly with him. Unmindful of his welfare, I thought only of
recapturing the spirit of other days. There was that time we had chartered an
airplane to complete a jag! His coming was an oasis in this dreary desert of
futility. The very thing an oasis! Drinkers are like that.
The door opened and he stood there, fresh-skinned and
glowing. There was something about his eyes. He was inexplicably different. What
I pushed a drink across the table. He refused it.
Disappointed but curious, I wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn't
"Come, what's all this about? I queried.
He looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he
said, "I've got religion."
I was aghast. So that was it last summer an alcoholic
crackpot; now, I suspected, a little cracked about religion. He had that
starry-eyed look. Yes, the old boy was on fire all right. But bless his heart,
let him rant! Besides, my gin would last longer than his preaching.
But he did no ranting. In a matter of fact way he
told how two men had appeared in court, persuading the judge to suspend his
commitment. They had told of a simple religious idea and a practical program of
action. That was two months ago and the result was self-evident. It worked!
He had come to pass his experience along to me if I
cared to have it. I was shocked, but interested. Certainly I was interested. I
had to be, for I was hopeless.
He talked for hours. Childhood memories rose before
me. I could almost hear the sound of the preacher's voice as I sat, on still
Sundays, way over there on the hillside; there was that proffered temperance
pledge I never signed; my grandfather's good natured contempt of some church
fold and their doings; his insistence that the spheres really had their music;
but his denial of the preacher's right to tell him how he must listen; his
fearlessness as he spoke of these things just before he died; these
recollections welled up from the past. They made me swallow hard.
That war-time day in old Winchester Cathedral came
I had always believed in a Power greater that myself.
I had often pondered these things. I was not an atheist. Few people really are,
for that means blind faith in the strange proposition that this universe
originated in a cipher and aimlessly rushes nowhere. My intellectual heroes, the
chemists, the astronomers, even the evolutionist, suggested vast laws and forces
at work. Despite contrary indications, I had little doubt that a might purpose
and rhythm underlay all. How could there be so much of precise and immutable
law, and no intelligence? I simply had to believe in a Spirit of the Universe,
who knew neither time nor limitation. But that was as far as I had gone.
With ministers, and the world's religions, I parted
right there. When they talked of a God personal to me, who was love, superhuman
strength and direction, I became irritated and my mind snapped shut against such
a theory. To Christ I conceded the certainty of a great man, not too closely
followed by those who claimed Him. His moral teaching-most excellent. For
myself, I had adopted those parts which seemed convenient and not too difficult;
the rest I disregarded.
The wars which had been fought, the burnings and
chicanery that religious dispute had facilitated, made me sick. I honestly
doubted whether, on balance, the religions of mankind had done any good. Judging
from what I had seen in Europe and since, the power of God in human affairs was
negligible, the Brotherhood of Man a grim jest. If there was a Devil, he seemed
the Boss Universal, and he certainly had me.
But my friend sat before me, and he made the
pointblank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for
himself. His human will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him incurable.
Society was about to lock him up. Like myself, he had admitted complete defeat.
Then he had, in effect, been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap
heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known!
Had this power originated in him? Obviously it had
not. There had been no more power in him than there was in me at that minute;
and this was none at all.
That floored me. It began to look as though religious
people were right after all. Here was something at work in a human heart which
had done the impossible. My ideas about miracles were drastically revised right
then. Never mind the musty past; here sat a miracle directly across the kitchen
table. He shouted great tidings.
I saw that my friend was much more than inwardly
reorganized. He was on different footing. His roots grasped a new soil.
Despite the living example of my friend there
remained in me the vestiges of my old prejudice. The word God still aroused a
certain antipathy. When the thought was expressed that there might be a God
personal to me this feeling was intensified. I didn't like the idea. I could go
for such conceptions as Creative Intelligence, Universal Mind or Spirit of
Nature but I resisted the thought of a Czar of the Heavens, however loving His
sway might be. I have since talked with scores of men who felt the same way.
My friend suggested what then seemed a novel idea. He
said, "Why don't you choose your own conception of God?"
That statement hit me hard. It melted the icy
intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I
stood in the sunlight at last.
It was only a matter of being willing to believe
in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my
beginning. I saw that growth could start from that point. Upon a foundation
of complete willingness I might build what I saw in my friend. Would I have it?
Of course I would!
Thus was I convinced that God is concerned with us
humans when we want Him enough. At long last I saw, I felt, I believed. Scales
of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view.
The real significance of my experience in the
Cathedral burst upon me. For a brief moment, I had needed and wanted God. There
had been a humble willingness to have Him with me-and He came. But soon the
sense of His presence had been blotted out by worldly clamors, mostly those
within myself. And so it had been ever since. How blind I had been.
At the hospital I was separated from alcohol for the
last time. Treatment seemed wise, for I showed signs of delirium tremens.
There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then I
understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under
His care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself I was
nothing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins and became
willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch. I have not
had a drink since.
My schoolmate visited me, and I fully acquainted him
with my problems and deficiencies. We made a list of people I had hurt or toward
whom I felt resentment. I expressed my entire willingness to approach these
individuals, admitting my wrong. Never was I to be critical of them. I was to
right all such matters to the utmost of my ability.
I was to test my thinking by the new
God-consciousness within. Common sense would thus become uncommon sense. I was
to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my
problems as He would have me. Never was I to pray for myself, except as my
requests bore on my usefulness to others. Then only might I expect to receive.
But that would be in great measure.
My friend promised when these things were done I
would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the
elements of a way of living which answered all my problems. Belief in the power
of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish and maintain
the new order of things, were the essential requirements. Simple, but not easy;
a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn
in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all. These were
revolutionary and drastic proposals, but the moment I fully accepted them, the
effect was electric. There was a sense of victory, followed by such a peace and
serenity as I had never know. There was utter confidence. I felt lifted up, as
though the great clean wind of a mountain top blew through and through. God
comes to most men gradually, but His impact on me was sudden and profound. For a
moment I was alarmed, and called my friend, the doctor, to ask if I were still
sane. He listened in wonder as I talked. Finally he shook his head saying,
"Something has happened to you I don't understand. But you had better hang on to
it. Anything is better than the way you were." The good doctor now sees many men
who have such experiences. He knows that they are real. While I lay in the
hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who
might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help
some of them. They in turn might work with others. My friend had emphasized the
absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles in all my affairs.
Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me.
Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the
alcoholic! For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life
through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain
trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink again,
and if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us
it is just like that. to
My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to
the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems. It was
fortunate, for my old business associates remained skeptical for a year and a
half, during which I found little work. I was not too well at the time, and was
plagued by waves of self-pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove me
back to drink, but I soon found that when all other measure failed, work with
another alcoholic would save the day. Many times I have gone to my old hospital
in despair. On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly lifted up and set on
my feet. It is a design for living that works in rough going.
We commenced to make many fast friends and a
fellowship has grown up among us of which it is a wonderful thing to feel a
part. The joy of living we really have, even under pressure and difficulty. I
have seen hundreds of families set their feet in the path that really goes
somewhere; have seen the most impossible domestic situations righted; feuds and
bitterness of all sorts wiped out. I have seen men come out of asylums and
resume a vital place in the lives of their families and communities. Business
and professional men have regained their standing. There is scarcely any form of
trouble and misery which has not been overcome among us. In one western city and
its environs there are one thousand of us and our families. We meet frequently
so that newcomers may find the fellowship they seek. At these informal
gatherings one may often see from 50 to 200 persons. We are growing in numbers
An alcoholic in his cups is an unlovely creature. Our
struggles with them are variously strenuous, comic, and tragic. One poor chap
committed suicide in my home. He could not, or would not see our way of
There is, however, a vast amount of fun about it all.
I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just
underneath there is deadly earnestness. Faith has to work twenty-four hours a
day in and through us, or we perish.
Most of us feel we need look no further for Utopia.
We have it with us right here and now. Each day my friend's simple talk in our
kitchen multiplies itself in a widening circle of peace on earth and good will
Bill W. co-founder of A.A., died January,
* In 1982, A.A. is composed of more than
There Is A Solution
We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, know thousands of men
and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill. Nearly all have recovered.
They have solved the drink problem.
We are average Americans. All sections of this
country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political,
economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would
not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an
understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a
great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness
and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain's table. Unlike the
feelings of the ship's passengers, however, our joy in escape from disaster does
not subside as we go our individual ways. The feeling of having shared in a
common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in
itself would never have held us together as we are now joined.
The tremendous fact for every one of us is that we
have discovered a common solution. We have a way out on which we can absolutely
agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action. This is
the great news this book carries to those who suffer from alcoholism. An illness
of this sort and we have come to believe it an illness involves those about us
in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for
him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with
it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all
whose lives touch the sufferer's. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment,
financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of
blameless children, sad wives and parents anyone can increase the list.
We hope this volume will inform and comfort those who
are, or who may be affected. There are many.
Highly competent psychiatrists who have dealt with us
have found it sometimes impossible to persuade an alcoholic to discuss his
situation without reserve. Strangely enough, wives, parents and intimate friends
usually find us even more unapproachable than do the psychiatrist and the
But the ex-problem drinker who has found this
solution, who is properly armed with facts about himself, can generally win the
entire confidence of another alcoholic in a few hours. Until such an
understanding is reached, little or nothing can be accomplished.
That the man who is making the approach has had the
same difficulty, that he obviously knows what he is talking about, that his
whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that he is a man with a real answer,
that he has no attitude of Holier Than Thou, nothing whatever except the sincere
desire to be helpful; that there are no fees to pay, no axes to grind, no people
to please, no lectures to be endured these are the conditions we have found most
effective. After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again.
None of us makes a sole vocation of this work, nor do
we think its effectiveness would be increased if we did. We feel that
elimination of our drinking is but a beginning. A much more important
demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes,
occupations and affairs. All of us spend much of our spare time in the sort of
effort which we are going to describe. A few are fortunate enough to be so
situated that they can give nearly all their time to the work.
If we keep on the way we are going there is little
doubt that much good will result, but the surface of the problem would hardly be
scratched. Those of us who live in large cities are overcome by the reflection
that close by hundreds are dropping into oblivion every day. Many could recover
if they had the opportunity we have enjoyed. How then shall we present that
which has been so freely given us?
We have concluded to publish an anonymous volume
setting forth the problem as we see it. We shall bring to the task our combined
experience and knowledge. This should suggest a useful program for anyone
concerned with a drinking problem.
Of necessity there will have to be discussion of
matters medical, psychiatric, social, and religious. We are aware that these
matters are from their very nature, controversial. Nothing would please us so
much as to write a book which would contain no basis for contention or argument.
We shall do our utmost to achieve that ideal. Most of us sense that real
tolerance of other people's shortcomings and viewpoints and a respect for their
opinions are attitudes which make us more useful to others. Our very lives, as
ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may
help meet their needs.
You may already have asked yourself why it is that
all of us became so very ill from drinking. Doubtless you are curious to
discover how and why, in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have
recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body. If you are an alcoholic
who wants to get over it, you may already be asking What do I have to do?"
It is the purpose of this book to answer such
questions specifically. We shall tell you what we have done. Before going into a
detailed discussion, it may be well to summarize some points as we see them.
How many time people have said to us: "I can take it
or leave it alone. Why can't he?" "Why don't you drink like a gentleman or
quit?" "That fellow can't handle his liquor." "Why don't you try beer and wine?"
"Lay off the hard stuff." "His will power must be weak." "He could stop if he
wanted to." "She's such a sweet girl, I should think he'd stop for her sake."
"The doctor told him that if he ever drank again it would kill him, but there he
is all lit up again."
Now these are commonplace observations on drinkers
which we hear all the time. Back of them is a world of ignorance and
misunderstanding. We see that these expressions refer to people whose reactions
are very different from ours.
Moderate drinkers have little trouble in giving up
liquor entirely if they have good reason for it. They can take it or leave it
Then we have a certain type of hard drinker. He may
have the habit badly enough to gradually impair him physically and mentally. It
may cause him to die a few years before his time. If a sufficiently strong
reason ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a
doctor becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate, although he may
find it difficult and troublesome and may even need medical attention.
But what about the real alcoholic? He may start off
as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker; but
at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose all control of his liquor
consumption, once he starts to drink.
Here is a fellow who has been puzzling you,
especially in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, tragic things
while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is seldom mildly
intoxicated. He is always more or less insanely drunk. His disposition while
drinking resembles his normal nature but little. He may be one of the finest
fellows in the world. Yet let him drink for a day, and he frequently becomes
disgustingly, and even dangerously anti-social. He has a positive genius for
getting tight at exactly the wrong moment, particularly when some important
decision must be made or engagement kept. He is often perfectly sensible and
well balanced concerning everything except liquor, but in that respect he is
incredibly dishonest and selfish. He often possesses special abilities, skills,
and aptitudes, and has a promising career ahead of him. He uses his gifts to
build up a bright outlook for his family and himself, and then pulls the
structure down on his head by a senseless series of sprees. He is the fellow who
goes to bed so intoxicated he ought to sleep the clock around. Yet early next
morning he searches madly for the bottle he misplace the night before. If he can
afford it, he may have liquor concealed all over his house to be certain no one
gets his entire supply away from him to throw down the wastepipe. As matters
grow worse, he begins to use a combination of high-powered sedative and liquor
to quiet his nerves so he can go to work. Then comes the day when he simply
cannot make it and gets drunk all over again. Perhaps he goes to a doctor who
gives him morphine or some sedative with which to taper off. Then he begins to
appear at hospitals and sanitariums.
This is by no means a comprehensive picture of the
true alcoholic, as our behavior patterns vary. But this description should
identify him roughly.
Why does he behave like this? If hundreds of
experiences have shown him that one drink means another debacle with all its
attendant suffering and humiliation, why is it he takes that one drink? Why
can't he stay on the water wagon? What has become of the common sense and will
power that he still sometimes displays with respect to other matters?
Perhaps there never will be a full answer to these
questions. Opinions vary considerably as to why the alcoholic reacts differently
from normal people. We are not sure why, once a certain point is reached, little
can be done for him. We cannot answer the riddle.
We know that while the alcoholic keeps away from
drink, as he may do for months or years, he reacts much like other men. We are
equally positive that once he takes any alcohol whatever into his system,
something happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually
impossible for him to stop. The experience of any alcoholic will abundantly
These observations would be academic and pointless if
our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in
motion. Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather
than in his body. If you ask him why he started on that last bender, the chances
are he will offer you any one of a hundred alibis. Sometimes these excuses have
a certain plausibility, but none of them really makes sense in the light of the
havoc an alcoholic's drinking bout creates. They sound like the philosophy of
the man who, having a headache, beats himself on the head with a hammer so that
he can't feel the ache. If you draw this fallacious reasoning to the attention
of an alcoholic, he will laugh it off, or become irritated and refuse to
Once in a while he may tell the truth. And the truth,
strange to say, is usually that he has no more idea why he took that first drink
than you have. Some drinkers have excuses with which they are satisfied part of
the time. But in their hearts they really do not know why they do it. Once this
malady has a real hold, they are a baffled lot. There is the obsession that
somehow, someday, they will beat the game. But they often suspect they are down
for the count.
How true this is, few realize. In a vague way their
families and friends sense that these drinkers are abnormal, but everybody
hopefully awaits the day when the sufferer will rouse himself from his lethargy
and assert his power of will.
The tragic truth is that if the man be a real
alcoholic, the happy day may not arrive. He has lost control. At a certain point
in the drinking of every alcoholic, he passes into a state where the most
powerful desire to stop drinking is of absolutely no avail. This tragic
situation has already arrived in practically every case long before it is
The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet
obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so called will power
becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into
our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and
humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the
The almost certain consequences that follow taking
even a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter us. If these thoughts
occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that
this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete
failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot
The alcoholic may say to himself in the most casual
way, "It won't burn me this time, so here's how!" Or perhaps he doesn't think at
all. How often have some of us begun to drink in this nonchalant way, and after
the third or fourth, pounded on the bar and said to ourselves, "For God's sake,
how did I ever get started again?" Only to have that thought supplanted by
"Well, I'll stop with the sixth drink." Or "What's the use anyhow?"
When this sort of thinking is fully established in an
individual with alcoholic tendencies, he has probably placed himself beyond
human aid, and unless locked up, may die or to permanently insane. These stark
and ugly facts have been confirmed by legions of alcohoholics throughout
history. But for the grace of God, there would have been thousands more
convincing demonstrations. So many want to stop but cannot.
There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the
self- searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which
the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really
worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of
life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in
whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up
the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at out feet. We have found much of heaven
and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had
not even dreamed.
The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That
we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences* which have revolutionized
our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God's universe.
The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator
has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He
has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by
If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we
believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where
life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which
there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go
on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable
situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help. This we
did because we honestly wanted to, and were willing to make the effort.
A certain American business man had ability, good
sense, and high character. For years he had floundered from one sanitarium to
another. He had consulted the best known American psychiatrists. Then he had
gone to Europe, placing himself in the care of a celebrated physician (the
psychiatrist, Dr. Jung) who prescribed for him. Though experience had made him
skeptical, he finished his treatment with unusual confidence. His physical and
mental condition were unusually good. Above all, he believed he had acquired
such a profound knowledge of the inner workings of his mind and its hidden
springs that relapse was unthinkable. Nevertheless, he was drunk in a short
time. More baffling still, he could give himself no satisfactory explanation for
So he returned to this doctor, whom he admired, and
asked him point-blank why he could not recover. He wished above all things to
regain self-control. He seemed quite rational and well- balanced with respect to
other problems. Yet he had no control whatever over alcohol. Why was this?
He begged the doctor to tell him the whole truth, and
he got it. In the doctor's judgment he was utterly hopeless; he could never
regain his position in society and he would have to place himself under lock and
key or hire a bodyguard if he expected to live long. That was a great
But this man still lives, and is a free man. He does
not need a bodyguard nor is he confined. He can go anywhere on this earth where
other from men may go without disaster, provided he remains willing to maintain
a certain simple attitude.
Some of our alcoholic readers may think they can do
without spiritual help. Let us tell you the rest of the conversation our friend
had with his doctor.
The doctor said: "You have the mind of a chronic
alcoholic. I have never seen one single case recover, where that state of mind
existed to the extent that it does in you." Our friend felt as though the gates
of hell had closed on him with a clang.
He said to the doctor, "Is there no exception?"
"Yes," replied the doctor, "there is. Exceptions to
cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once
in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To
me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge
emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which
were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one
side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate
them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement
within you. With many individuals the methods which I employed are successful,
but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description."*
Upon hearing this, our friend was somewhat relieved,
for he reflected that, after all, he was a good church member. This hope,
however, was destroyed by the doctor's telling him that while his religious
convictions were very good, in his case they did not spell the necessary vital
spiritual experience. Here was the terrible dilemma in which our friend found
himself when he had the extraordinary experience, which as we have already told
you, made him a free man.
We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the
desperation of drowning men. What seemed at first a flimsy reed, has proved to
be the loving and powerful hand of God. A new life has been given us or, if you
prefer, "a design for living" that really works.
The distinguished American psychologist, William
James, in his book "Varieties of Religious Experience," indicates a multitude of
ways in which men have discovered God. We have no desire to convince anyone that
there is only one way by which faith can be acquired. If what we have learned
and felt and seen means anything at all, it means that all of us, whatever our
race, creed, or color are the children of a living Creator with whom we may form
a relationship upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are willing
and honest enough to try. Those having religious affiliations will find here
nothing disturbing to their beliefs or ceremonies. There is no friction among us
over such matters.
We think it no concern of ours what religious bodies
our members identify themselves with as individuals. this should be an entirely
personal affair which each one decides for himself in the light of past
associations, or his present choice. Not all of join religious bodies, but most
of us favor such memberships.
In the following chapter, there appears an
explanation of alcoholism, as we understand it, then a chapter addressed to the
agnostic. Many who once were in this class are now among our members.
Surprisingly enough, we find such convictions no great obstacle to a spiritual
Further on, clear-cut directions are given showing
how we recovered. These are followed by three dozen personal experiences.
Each individual, in the personal stories, describes
in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his
relationship with God. These give a fair cross section of our membership and a
clear-cut idea of what has actually happened in their lives.
We hope no one will consider these self-revealing
accounts in bad taste. Our hope is that many alcoholic men and women,
desperately in need, will see these pages, and we believe that it is only by
fully disclosing ourselves and our problems that they will be persuaded to say,
"Yes, I am one of them too; I must have this thing."
Most of us have been unwilling to admit we
were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally
different from his fellows. Therefore, 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
innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery.
The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be
We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the
ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers
control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such
intervals usually brief were inevitably followed by still less control, which
led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. We are convinced to
a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over
any considerable period we get worse, never better.
We are 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 our kind like other men. We have tried every imaginable
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 a 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: Drinking
beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking
in the morning, drinking 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 exercise, reading inspirational books, going
to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums we
could increase the list ad infinitum.
We do not like to pronounce any individual as
alcoholic, 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
more than once. It will not take long for you to decide, if you are honest with
yourself about it. It may be worth a bad case of jitters if you get a full
knowledge 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 overpowering
desire to do so. Here is one.
A man of thirty was doing a great deal of spree
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 exceptional man, he remained
bone dry for twenty-five years and retired at the age of fifty-five, after a
successful and happy business career. Then he fell victim to a belief which
practically every alcoholic has 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 regulate his drinking for a little while, making several
trips to the hospital meantime. Then, gathering all his forces, he attempted to
stop altogether and found he could not. Every means of solving his problem which
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, always 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 reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that
someday we will be immune to alcohol.
Young people may be encouraged by this man's
experience to think that they can stop, as he did, on their own will power. We
doubt if many of them can do it, because none will really want to stop, and
hardly one of them, because of the peculiar mental twist already acquired, will
find he can win out. Several of our crowd, men of thirty or less, had been
drinking only a few years, but they found themselves as helpless 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 turn into the real
thing and are gone beyond recall in a few years. Certain drinkers, who would be
greatly insulted if called alcoholics, are astonished at their inability to
stop. We, who are familiar with the symptoms, see large numbers of potential
alcoholics among young 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 considerable period, you may yet be a
potential alcoholic. We think few, to whom this book will appeal, can stay dry
anything like a year. Some will be drunk the day 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 reader
desires to stop. Whether such a person can quit upon a nonspiritual basis
depends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether
he will drink or not. Many of us felt that we had plenty of character. There was
a tremendous urge to cease forever. Yet we found it impossible. This is the
baffling feature of alcoholism as we know it this utter inability to leave it
alone, no matter how great the necessity or the wish.
How then shall we help our readers determine, to
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 render an even greater
service to alcoholic sufferers and perhaps to the medical fraternity. So we
shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking,
for obviously this is the crux of the problem.
What sort of thinking dominates an alcoholic who
repeats time after time the desperate experiment of the first 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. Everybody 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 contact with us.
We 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 drinking. All went well
for a time, but he failed to enlarge his spiritual life. To his consternation,
he found himself drunk half a dozen times in rapid succession. On each of these
occasions we worked with him, reviewing 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. 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 brass, but nothing serious. Then I decided to
drive to 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 sober. I sat down at a table and ordered a sandwich and a glass of
milk. Still no thought of drinking. I ordered another sandwich and decided to
have 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 hurt me on a full
stomach. I ordered a whiskey and poured it into the milk. I vaguely sense I was
not being any too smart, but I 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 more milk. That didn't seem to bother me so I tried
Thus started one more journey to the asylum for Jim.
Here was the threat of commitment, the loss of family and position, to say
nothing of that intense mental and physical suffering which drinking always
caused him. He had much knowledge about himself as an alcoholic. Yet all
reasons for not drinking were 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 characteristic 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 ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could
In some circumstances we have gone out deliberately
to get drunk, feeling ourselves justified by nervousness, anger, worry,
depression, jealousy or the like. But even in this type of beginning we are
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 or casually, there was little serious or effective
thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences
Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with
respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for
jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles.
He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this
point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then
deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. 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 hospital 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,
accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets
altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is
held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jaywalking idea out
of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the
day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which 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, the illustration would fit exactly. However
intelligent we may have been in other respects, where alcohol 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 is
true, but it doesn't fully apply. We admit we have some of these symptoms, but
we have not gone to the extremes 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 everything in life through drinking and we
certainly do not intend to. Thanks for the information."
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 hardly any exception, will be
absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a
point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic
readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience. Let us take
Fred is a 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 college age. He has so attractive a personality that he
makes friends with everyone. If ever there was a successful business man, it is
Fred. To all appearance he is a stable, well balanced individual. Yet, he is
alcoholic. We first saw Fred about a year ago in a 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 rest his nerves. The doctor intimated
strongly that he might be worse than he realized. For a few days he was
depressed 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. Fred would not believe himself an alcoholic, much less
accept a spiritual remedy for his problem. We told him what 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
acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self- knowledge would fix
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 exhibited 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 had learned. I reasoned I was not so far advanced as
most of you fellows, that I had been usually successful in licking my other
personal problems, and that I 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 exercising my will power and keeping on guard.
"In this frame of mind, I went about my business and
for a time all was well. I had no trouble refusing 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 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 would be too. It was the end of a perfect day, not a cloud on the
"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 more. I ordered a cocktail and my meal. Then I ordered 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 a airplane bound for New
York, and of finding a friendly taxicab driver at the landing field instead of
my wife. The driver escorted me for several days. I know little of where I went
or what I said and did. Then came the hospital with the unbearable mental and
"As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went
carefully over that evening in Washington. Not only had I been off guard, I
had made no fight whatever against the first drink. This time I had not thought
of the consequences at all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly as
thought the cocktails were ginger ale. I now remembered what my alcoholic
friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the
time and place would come I would drink 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 the
"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 evidence to the effect that an
alcoholic mentality, such as I had exhibited in Washington, was hopeless
condition. 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
"Then they outlined the spiritual answer and program
of action which a hundred of them had followed successfully. Though I had been
only a nominal churchman, their proposals were not, intellectually, hard to
swallow. But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty
drastic. It meant I would have to throw 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 curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved,
as in fact it proved to be.
"Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual
principles would solve all my problems. I have since been brought into a way of
living infinitely more satisfying 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
Many doctors and psychiatrists agree with our
conclusions. 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
hopelessness of the average alcoholics' 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 100% hopeless, apart from divine help. Had you offered 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 more: The alcoholic at certain times has no
effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few cases, neither
he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come
from a Higher Power.
In the preceding chapters you have learned something
of alcoholism. we hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic
and the non-alcoholic. If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit
entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take,
you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an
illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.
To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an
experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially
if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic
death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to
But it isn't so difficult. About half our original
fellowship were of exactly that type. At first some of us tried to avoid the
issue, hoping against hope we were not true alcoholics. But after a while we had
to face the fact that we must find a spiritual basis of life or else. Perhaps it
is going to be that way with you. But cheer up, something like half of us
thought we were atheists or agnostics. Our experience shows that you need not be
If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of
life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered
long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no
matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be
philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our
might, but the needed power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshalled by
the will, were not sufficient; they failed
utterly. to TOP
Lack of power, that was our dilemma. we had to find a
power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than
ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?
Well, that's exactly what this book is about. Its
main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will
solve your problem. That means we have written a book which we believe to be
spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are going to talk
about God. Here difficulty arises with agnostics. Many times we talk to a new
man and watch his hope rise as we discuss his alcoholic problems and explain our
fellowship. But his face falls when we speak of spiritual matters, especially
when we mention God, for we have re-opened a subject which our man thought he
had neatly evaded or entirely ignored.
We know how he feels. We have shared his honest doubt
and prejudice. Some of us have been violently anti-religious. To others, the
word "God" brought up a particular idea of Him with which someone had tried to
impress them during childhood. Perhaps we rejected this particular conception
because it seemed inadequate. With that rejection we imagined we had abandoned
the God idea entirely. We were bothered with the thought that faith and
dependence upon a Power beyond ourselves was somewhat weak, even cowardly. We
looked upon this world of warring individuals, warring theological systems, and
inexplicable calamity, with deep skepticism. We looked askance at many
individuals who claimed to be godly. How could a Supreme Being have anything to
do with it all? And who could comprehend a Supreme Being anyhow? Yet, in other
moments, we found ourselves thinking, when enchanted by a starlit night, "Who,
then, make all this?" There was a feeling of awe and wonder, but it was fleeting
and soon lost.
Yes, we of agnostic temperament have had these
thoughts and experiences. Let us make haste to reassure you. We found that as
soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to
believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even
though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power,
which is God.
Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to
consider another's conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate,
was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as
we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the
Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new
sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps. We found that
God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of
Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those
who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.
When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your
own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which
you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual
terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you. At the
start, this was all we needed to commence spiritual growth, to effect our first
conscious relation with God as we understood Him. Afterward, we found ourselves
accepting many things which then seemed entirely out of reach. That was growth,
but if we wished to grow we had to begin somewhere. So we used our own
conception, however limited it was.
We needed to ask ourselves but one short question.
-"Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power
greater than myself?" As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is
willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way. It has
been repeatedly proven among us that upon this simple cornerstone a wonderfully
effective spiritual structure can be built.*
That was great news to us, for we had assumed we
could not make use of spiritual principles unless we accepted many things on
faith which seemed difficult to believe. When people presented us with spiritual
approaches, how frequently did we all say, "I wish I had what that man has. I'm
sure it would work if I could only believe as he believes. But I cannot accept
as surely true the many articles of faith which are so plain to him." So it was
comforting to learn that we could commence at a simpler level.
Besides a seeming inability to accept much on faith,
we often found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy, sensitiveness, and
unreasoning prejudice. Many of us have been so touchy that even casual reference
to spiritual things make us bristle with antagonism. This sort of thinking had
to be abandoned. Though some of us resisted, we found no great difficulty in
casting aside such feelings. Faced with alcoholic destruction, we soon became as
open minded on spiritual matters as we had tried to be on other questions. In
this respect alcohol was a great persuader. It finally beat us into a state of
reasonableness. Sometimes this was a tedious process; we hope no one else will
prejudiced for as long as some of us were.
The reader may still ask why he should believe in a
Power greater than himself. We think there are good reasons. Let us have a look
at some of them.
The practical individual of today is a stickler for
facts and results. Nevertheless, the twentieth century readily accepts theories
of all kinds, provided they are firmly grounded in fact. We have numerous
theories, for example, about electricity. Everybody believes them without a
murmur of doubt. Why this ready acceptance? Simply because it is impossible to
explain what we see, feel, direct, and use, without a reasonable assumption as a
Everybody nowadays, believes in scores of assumptions
for which there is good evidence, but no perfect visual proof. And does not
science demonstrate that visual proof is the weakest proof? It is being
constantly revealed, as mankind studies the material world, that outward
appearances are not inward reality at all. To illustrate:
The prosaic steel girder is a mass of electrons
whirling around each other at incredible speed. These tiny bodies are governed
by precise laws, and these laws hold true throughout the material world, Science
tells us so. We have no reason to doubt it. When, however, the perfectly logical
assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see
it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our
perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince
ourselves it isn't so. We read wordy books and indulge in windy arguments,
thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it. Were our
contentions true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing, means
nothing, and proceeds nowhere.
Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents,
spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to
believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega,
the beginning and end of all. Rather vain of us, wasn't it?
We, who have traveled this dubious path, beg you to
lay aside prejudice, even against organized religion. We have learned that
whatever the human frailties of various faiths may be, those faiths have given
purpose and direction to millions. People of faith have a logical idea of what
life is all about. Actually, we used to have no reasonable conception whatever.
We used to amuse ourselves by cynically dissecting spiritual beliefs and
practices when we might have observed that many spiritually-minded persons of
all races, colors, and creeds were demonstrating a degree of stability,
happiness and usefulness which we should have sought ourselves. Instead, we
looked at the human defects of these people, and sometimes used their
shortcomings as a basis of wholesale condemnation. We talked of intolerance,
while we were intolerant ourselves. We missed the reality and the beauty of the
forest because we were diverted by the ugliness of some its trees. We never gave
the spiritual side of life a fair hearing.
In our personal stories you will find a wide
variation in the way each teller approaches and conceives of the Power which is
greater than himself. Whether we agree with a particular approach or conception
seems to make little difference. Experience has taught us that these are matters
about which, for our purpose, we need not be worried. They are questions for
each individual to settle for himself.
On one proposition, however, these men and women are
strikingly agreed. Every one of them has gained access to, and believe in, a
Power greater than himself. This Power has in each case accomplished the
miraculous, the humanly impossible. As a celebrated American statesman put it,
"Let's look at the record."
Here are thousands of men and women, worldly indeed.
They flatly declare that since they have come to believe in a Power greater than
themselves, to take a certain attitude toward that Power, and to do certain
simple things. There has been a revolutionary change in their way of living and
thinking. In the face of collapse and despair, in the face of the total failure
of their human resources, they found that a new power, peace, happiness, and
sense of direction flowed into them. This happened soon after they
wholeheartedly met a few simple requirements. Once confused and baffled by the
seeming futility of existence, they show the underlying reasons why they were
making heavy going of life. Leaving aside the drink question, they tell why
living was so unsatisfactory. They show how the change came over them. When many
hundreds of people are able to say that the consciousness of the Presence of God
is today the most important fact of their lives, they present a powerful reason
why one should have faith.
This world of ours has made more material progress in
the last century than in all the millenniums which went before. Almost everyone
knows the reason. Students of ancient history tell us that the intellect of men
in those days was equal to the best of today. Yet in ancient times, material
progress was painfully slow. The spirit of modern scientific inquiry, research
and invention was almost unknown. In the realm of the material, men's minds
were fettered by superstition, tradition, and all sort of fixed ideas. Some of
the contemporaries of Columbus thought a round earth preposterous. Others came
near putting Galileo to death for his astronomical heresies.
We asked ourselves this: Are not some of us just as
biased and unreasonable about the realm of the spirit as were the ancients about
the realm of the material? Even in the present century, American newspapers were
afraid to print an account of the Wright brothers' first successful flight at
Kittyhawk. Had not all efforts at flight failed before? Did not Professor
Langley's flying machine go to the bottom of the Potomac River? Was it not true
that the best mathematical minds had proved man could never fly? Had not people
said God had reserved this privilege to the birds? Only thirty years later the
conquest of the air was almost an old story and airplane travel was in full
But in most fields our generation has witnessed
complete liberation in thinking. Show any longshoreman a Sunday supplement
describing a proposal to explore the moon by means of a rocket and he will say,
"I bet they do it maybe not so long either." Is not our age characterized by the
ease with which we discard old ideas for new, by the complete readiness with
which we throw away the theory or gadget which does not work for something new
We had to ask ourselves why we shouldn't apply to our
human problems this same readiness to change our point of view. We were having
trouble with personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures,
we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn't make a living, we had a
feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't seem
to be of real help to other people was not a basic solution of these
bedevilments more important than whether we should see newsreels of lunar
flight? Of course it was.
When we saw others solve their problems by a simple
reliance upon the Spirit of the Universe, we had to stop doubting the power of
God. Our ideas did not work. But the God idea did.
The Wright brothers' almost childish faith that they
could build a machine which would fly was the mainspring of their
accomplishment. Without that, nothing could have happened. We agnostics and
atheists were sticking to the idea that self- sufficiency would solve our
problems. When others showed us that "God-sufficiency worked with them, we began
to feel like those who had insisted the Wrights would never fly.
Logic is great stuff. We like it. We still like it.
It is not by chance we were given the power to reason, to examine the evidence
of our sense, and to draw conclusions. That is one of man's magnificent
attributes. We agnostically inclined would not feel satisfied with a proposal
which does not lend itself to reasonable approach and interpretation. Hence we
are at pains to tell why we think our present faith is reasonable, why we think
it more sane and logical to believe than not to believe, why we say our former
thinking was soft and mushy when we threw up our hands in doubt and said, "We
When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed
crises we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition
that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is or He isn't.
What was our choice to be?
Arrived at this point, we were squarely confronted
with the question of faith. We couldn't duck the issue. Some of us had already
walked far over the Bridge of Reason toward the desired shore of faith. The
outlines and the promise of the New Land had brought lustre to tired eyes and
fresh courage to flagging spirits. Friendly hands had stretched out in welcome.
We were grateful that Reason had brought us so far. But somehow, we couldn't
quite step ashore. Perhaps we had been leaning too heavily on reason that last
mile and we did not like to lose our support.
That was natural, but let us think a little more
closely. Without knowing it, had we not been brought to where we stood by a
certain kind of faith? For did we not believe in our own reasoning? did we not
have confidence in our ability to think? What was that but a sort of faith? Yes,
we had been faithful, abjectly faithful to the God of Reason. So, in one way or
another, we discovered that faith had been involved all the time!
We found, too, that we had been worshippers. What a
state of mental goose-flesh that used to bring on! Had we not variously
worshipped people, sentiment, things, money, and ourselves? And then, with a
better motive, had we not worshipfully beheld the sunset, the sea, or a flower?
Who of us had not loved something or somebody? How much did these feelings,
these loves, these worships, have to do with pure reason? Little or nothing, we
saw at last. Were not these things the tissue out of which our lives were
constructed? Did not these feelings, after all, determine the course of our
existence? It was impossible to say we had no capacity for faith, or love, or
worship. In one form or another we had been living by faith and little else.
Imagine life without faith! Were nothing left but
pure reason, it wouldn't be life. But we believed in life of course we did. We
could not prove life in the sense that you can prove a straight line is the
shortest distance between two points, yet, there it was. Could we still say the
whole thing was nothing but a mass of electrons, created out of nothing, meaning
nothing, whirling on to a destiny of nothingness? Or course we couldn't. The
electrons themselves seemed more intelligent than that. At least, so the chemist
Hence, we saw that reason isn't everything. Neither
is reason, as most of us use it, entirely dependable, thought it emanate from
our best minds. What about people who proved that man could never fly? Yet we
had been seeing another kind of flight, a spiritual liberation from this world,
people who rose above their problems. They said God made these things possible,
and we only smiled. We had seen spiritual release, but liked to tell ourselves
it wasn't true.
Actually we were fooling ourselves, for deep down in
every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured
by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it
is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous
demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man
We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a
part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes
we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were.
We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only
there that He may be found. It was so with us.
We can only clear the ground a bit. If our testimony
helps sweep away prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to
search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the
Broad Highway. With this attitude you cannot fail. the consciousness of your
belief is sure to come to you.
In this book you will read the experience of a man
who thought he was an atheist. His story is so interesting that some of it
should be told now. His change of heart was dramatic, convincing, and moving.
Our friend was a minister's son. He attended church school, where he became
rebellious at what he thought an overdose of religious education. For years
thereafter he was dogged by trouble and frustration. Business failure, insanity,
fatal illness, suicide these calamities in his immediate family embittered and
depressed him. Post-war disillusionment, ever more serious alcoholism, impending
mental and physical collapse, brought him to the point to self-destruction.
One night, when confined in a hospital, he was
approached by an alcoholic who had known a spiritual experience. Our friend's
gorge rose as he bitterly cried out: "If there is a God, He certainly hasn't
done anything for me!" But later, alone in his room, he asked himself this
question: "Is it possible that all the religious people I have known are wrong?"
While pondering the answer he felt as though he lived in hell. Then, like a
thunderbolt, a great thought came. It crowded out all else:
"Who are you to say
there is no
top of this chapter
This man recounts that he tumbled out of bed to his
knees. In a few seconds he was overwhelmed by a conviction of the Presence of
God. It poured over and through him with the certainty and majesty of a great
tide at flood. The barriers he had built through the years were swept away. He
stood in the Presence of Infinite Power and Love. He had stepped from bridge to
shore. For the first time, he lived in conscious companionship with his
Thus was our friend's cornerstone fixed in place. No
later vicissitude has shaken it. His alcoholic problem was taken away. That very
night, years ago, it disappeared. Save for a few brief moments of temptation the
though of drink has never returned; and at such times a great revulsion has
risen up in him. Seemingly he could not drink even if he would. God had restored
What is this but a miracle of healing? Yet its
elements are simple. Circumstances made him willing to believe. He humbly
offered himself to his Maker then he knew.
Even so has God restored us all to our right minds.
To this man, the revelation was sudden. Some of us grow into it more slowly. But
He has come to all who have honestly sought Him.
When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to
How It Works
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly
followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not
completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are
constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such
unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They
are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which
demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average.
There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional
and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to
Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to
be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want
what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it - then you are ready
to take certain steps.
At some of these we balked. thought we could find an
easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command,
we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have
tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go
Remember that we deal with alcohol, cunning,
baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has
all power that One is God. May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the
turning point. we asked His protection and care with complete abandon.
Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a
program of recovery:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that
our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than
ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives
over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another
human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these
defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and
became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever
possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we
were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve
our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for
knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of
these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these
principles in all our affairs.
Many of us exclaimed, "What an order! I can't go
through with it." Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to
maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints.
The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles
we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather
than spiritual perfection.
Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the
agnostic, and our personal adventure before and after make clear three pertinent
(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.
Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which
is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood
Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?
The first requirement is that we be convinced that
any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost
always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are
good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor
who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the
ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his
arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show
would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be
wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite
virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and
self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and
dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied
What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very
well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him right. He decides to exert
himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or
gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may
be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes
angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a
self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that
he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages
well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things
he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching
all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a
producer of confusion rather than harmony?
Our actor is self-centered, ego-centric, as people
like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired business man who lolls in the
Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the
minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and
reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only
behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the
alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not
most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?
Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is
the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion,
self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they
retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we
invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on
self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.
So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own
making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of
self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we
alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kill us! God makes
that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self
without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but
we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could
we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We
had to have God's help.
This is the how and the why of it. First of all, we
had to quit playing God. It didn't work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this
drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His
agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most Good ideas are simple,
and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which
we passed to freedom.
When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of
remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He
provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well.
Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves,
our own little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing
what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed
peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became
conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the
hereafter. We were reborn.
We were now at Step Three. Many of us said to
our Maker, as we understood Him: "God, I offer myself to Thee - to build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may
better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear
witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I
do Thy will always!" We thought well before taking this step making sure we were
ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him.
We found it very desirable to take this spiritual
step with an understanding person, such as our wife, best friend, or spiritual
adviser. But it is better to meet God alone than with one who might
misunderstand. The wording was, of course, quite optional so long as we
expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation. This was only a beginning,
though if honestly and humbly made, an effect, sometimes a very great one, was
felt at once.
Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first
step of which is a personal housecleaning, which many of us had never attempted.
Though our decision was vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent
effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of,
the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a
symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.to
Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory.
This was Step Four. A business which takes no regular inventory usually
goes broke. Taking commercial inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing
process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. One
object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly
and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot
fool himself about values.
We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We took
stock honestly. First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our
failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had
defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.
Resentment is the "number one" offender. It destroys
more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease,
for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually
sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and
physically. In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed
people, institutions or principle with who we were angry. We asked ourselves why
we were angry. In most cases it was found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks,
our ambitions, our personal relationships, (including sex) were hurt or
threatened. So we were sore. We were "burned up." On our grudge list we set
opposite each name our injuries. Was it our self-esteem, our security, our
ambitions, our personal, or sex relations, which had been interfered with? We
were usually as definite as this example:
at: The Cause
to my wife.
||Told my wife of
||Brown may get
my job at the office
||She's a nut --
she snubbed me.
committed her husband for drinking.
He's my friend
She's a gossip.
Unjust -- Overbearing - Threatens to fire me for my drinking and
padding my expense account.
Misunderstands and Pride --
Wants house put in her name.
sex relations --
We went back through our
lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we
considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its
people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as
most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and
we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves.
But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. As
in war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were
It is plain that a life which includes deep
resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we
permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But
with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual
experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is
fatal. For when harboring such feeling we shut ourselves off from the sunlight
of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us,
to drink is to die.
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The
grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of
normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.
We turned back to the list, for it held the key to
the future. We were prepared to look for it from an entirely different angle. We
began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state,
the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill. How
could we escape? We saw that these resentments must be mastered, but how? We
could not wish them away any more than alcohol.
This was our course: We realized that the people who
wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms
and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked
God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would
cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves,
"This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry.
Thy will be done."
We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn't treat
sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. We
cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a
kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.
Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds
the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had
we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had
not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved
entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man's.
When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and
white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters
top of page
Notice that the word
"fear" is bracketed alongside the
difficulties with Mr. Brown, Mrs. Jones, the employer, and the wife. This short
word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and
corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set
in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn't
deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling? Sometimes we think
fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble.
We reviewed our fears thoroughly. We put them on
paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them. We asked
ourselves why we had them. Wasn't it because self-reliance failed us?
Self-reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn't go far enough. Some of
us once had great self-confidence, but it didn't fully solve the fear problem,
or any other. When it made us cocky, it was worse.
Perhaps there is a better way, we think so. For we
are now on a different basis of trusting and relying upon God. We trust infinite
God rather than our finite selves. We are in the world to play the role He
assigns. Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly
rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity.
We never apologize to anyone for
depending upon our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spirituality the way
of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength. The verdict of the ages
is that faith means courage. All men of faith have courage. They trust their
God. We never apologize for God. Instead we let Him demonstrate, through us,
what He can do. We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what
He would have us be. At once, we commence to outgrow
top of page
Now about sex.
Many of needed an overhauling there. But above all, we tried
to be sensible on this question. It's so easy to get way off the track. Here we
find human opinions running to extremes - absurd extremes, perhaps. One set of
voices cry that sex is a lust of our lower nature, a base necessity of
Then we have the voices who cry for sex and more sex;
who bewail the institution of marriage; who think that most of the troubles of
the race are traceable to sex causes. They think we do not have enough of it, or
that it isn't the right kind. They see its significance everywhere. One school
would allow man no flavor for his fare and the other would have us all on a
straight pepper diet. We want to stay out of this controversy. We do not want to
be the arbiter of anyone's sex conduct. We all have sex problems. We'd hardly be
human if we didn't. What can we do about them?
We reviewed our own conduct over the years past.
Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we
unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at fault,
what should we have done instead? We got this all down on paper and looked at
In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal
for our future sex life. We subjected each relation to this test -was it selfish
or not? We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them. We
remembered always that our sex powers were God-given and therefore good, neither
to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be despised and loathed.
Whatever our ideal turns out to be, we must be
willing to grow toward it. We must be willing to make amends where we have done
harm, provided that we do not bring about still more harm in so doing. In other
words, we treat sex as we would any other problem. In meditation, we ask God
what we should do about each specific matter. The right answer will come, if we
God alone can judge our sex situation. Counsel with
persons is often desirable, but we let God be the final judge. We realize that
some people are as fanatical about sex as others are loose. We avoid hysterical
thinking or advice.
Suppose we fall short of the chosen ideal and
stumble? Does this mean we are going to get drunk. Some people tell us so. But
this is only a half-truth. It depends on us and on our motives. If we are sorry
for what we have done, and have the honest desire to let God take us to better
things, we believe we will be forgiven and will have learned our lesson. If we
are not sorry, and our conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to
drink. We are not theorizing. These are facts out of our experience.
To sum up about sex: We earnestly pray for the right
ideal, for guidance in each questionable situation, for sanity, and for the
strength to do the right thing. If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves
the harder into helping others. We think of their needs and work for them. This
takes us out of ourselves. It quiets the imperious urge, when to yield would
If we have been thorough about our personal
inventory, we have written down a lot. We have listed and analyzed our
resentments. We have begun to comprehend their futility and their fatality. We
have commenced to see their terrible destructiveness. We have begun to learn
tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look
on them as sick people. We have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct,
and are willing to straighten out the past if we can.
In this book you read again and again that faith did
for us what we could not do for ourselves. We hope you are convinced now that
God can remove whatever self-will has blocked you off from Him. If you have
already made a decision, and an inventory of your grosser handicaps, you have
made a good beginning. That being so you have swallowed and digested some big
chunks of truth about yourself.
( Steps 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
Having made our personal inventory, what shall we do about
it? We have been trying to get a new attitude, a new relationship with our
Creator, and to discover the obstacles in our path. We have admitted certain
defects; we have ascertained in a rough way what the trouble is; we have put our
finger on the weak times in our personal inventory. Now these are about to be
cast out. This requires action on our part, which, when completed, will mean
that we have admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the
exact nature of our defects. This brings us to the Fifth Step in the program of recovery mentioned in
the preceding chapter.
This is perhaps difficult, especially discussing our
defects with another person. We think we have done well enough in admitting
these things to ourselves. There is doubt about that. In actual practice, we
usually find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient. Many of us thought it
necessary to go much further. We will be more reconciled to discussing ourselves
with another person when we see good reasons why we should do so. The best
reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time
after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their
lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier
methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of
the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never
completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but hung on to
some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their
egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they
had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we
find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.
More than most people, the alcoholic leads a double
life. He is very much the actor. To the outer world he presents his stage
character. This is the one he likes his fellows to see. He wants to enjoy a
certain reputation, but knows in his heart he doesn't deserve it.
The inconsistency is made worse by the things he does
on his sprees. Coming to his sense, he is revolted at certain episodes he
vaguely remembers. These memories are a nightmare. He trembles to think someone
might have observed him. As far as he can, he pushes these memories far inside
himself. He hopes they will never see the light of day. He is under constant
fear and tension, that makes for more drinking.
Psychologists are inclined to agree with us. We have
spent thousands of dollars for examinations. We know but few instances where we
have given these doctors a fair break. We have seldom told them the whole truth
nor have we followed their advice. Unwilling to be honest with these sympathetic
men, we were honest with no one else. Small wonder many in the medical
profession have a low opinion of alcoholics and their chance for recovery!
We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect
to live long or happily in this world. Rightly and naturally, we think well
before we choose the person or persons with whom to take this intimate and
confidential step. Those of us belonging to a religious denomination which
requires confession must, and of course, will want to go to the properly
appointed authority whose duty it is to receive it. Though we have no religious
conception, we may still do well to talk with someone ordained by an
established religion. We often find such a person quick to see and understand
our problem. Of course, we sometimes encounter people who do not understand
If we cannot or would rather not do this, we search
our acquaintance for a close-mouthed, understanding friend. Perhaps our doctor
or psychologist will be the person. It may be one of our own family, but we
cannot disclose anything to our wives or our parents which will hurt them and
make them unhappy. We have no right to save our own skin at another person's
expense. Such parts of our story we tell to someone who will understand, yet be
unaffected. The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of
Notwithstanding the great necessity for discussing
ourselves with someone, it may be one is so situated that there is no suitable
person available. If that is so, this step may be postponed, only, however, if
we hold ourselves in complete readiness to go through with it at the first
opportunity. We say this because we are very anxious that we talk to the right
person. It is important that he be able to keep a confidence; that he fully
understand and approve what we are driving at; that he will not try to change
our plan. But we must not use this as a mere excuse to postpone.
When we decide who is to hear our story, we waste not
time. We have a written inventory and we are prepared for a long talk. We
explain to our partner what we are about to do and why we have to do it. He
should realize that we are engaged upon a life-and-death errand. Most people
approached in this way will be glad to help; they will be honored by our
We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every
twist of character, every dark cranny of the past. Once we have taken this step,
withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can
be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the
nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we
begin to have a spiritual experience. The feeling that the drink problem has
disappeared will often come strongly. We feel we are on the Broad Highway,
walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.
Returning home we find a place
where we can be quiet for an hour, carefully reviewing what we have done. We
thank God from the bottom of our heart that we know Him better. Taking this
book down from our shelf we turn to the page which contains the twelve steps.
Carefully reading the first five proposals we ask if we have omitted anything,
for we are building an arch through which we shall walk a free man at last. Is
our work solid so far? Are the stones properly in place? Have we skimped on the
cement put into the foundation? Have we tried to make mortar without sand? If
we can answer to our satisfaction, we then look at Step Six. We have emphasized willingness as being
indispensable. Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which
we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all, everyone? If we
still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us be
When ready, we say something like this: "My Creator,
I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you
now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of
my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here,
to do your bidding. Amen." We have then completed Step Seven.
Now we need more action, without which we
find that "Faith without works is dead." Let's look at Steps Eight and Nine. We have a list of all persons we have
harmed and to whom we are willing to make amends. We made it when we took
inventory. We subjected ourselves to a drastic self- appraisal. Now we go out to
our fellows and repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the
debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the
show ourselves. If we haven't the will to do this, we ask until it comes.
Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for
victory over alcohol.
Probably there are still some misgivings. As we look
over the list of business acquaintances and friends we have hurt, we may feel
diffident about going to some of them on a spiritual basis. Let us be reassured.
To some people we need not, and probably should not emphasize the spiritual
feature on our first approach. We might prejudice them. At the moment we are
trying to put our lives in order. But this is not an end in itself. Our real
purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about
us. It is seldom wise to approach an individual, who still smarts from our
injustice to him, and announce that we have gone religious. In the prize ring,
this would be called leading with the chin. Why lay ourselves open to being
branded fanatics or religious bores? We may kill a future opportunity to carry a
beneficial message. But our man is sure to be impressed with a sincere desire to
set right the wrong. He is going to be more interested in a demonstration of
good will than in our talk of spiritual discoveries.
We don't use this as an excuse for shying away from
the subject of God. When it will serve any good purpose, we are willing to
announce our convictions with tact and common sense. The question of how to
approach the man we hated will arise. It may be he has done us more harm than we
have done him and, though we may have acquired a better attitude toward him, we
are still not too keen about admitting our faults. Nevertheless, with a person
we dislike, we take the bit in our teeth. It is harder to go to an enemy than to
a friend, but we find it much more beneficial to us. We go to him in a helpful
and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill feeling and expressing our
Under no condition do we criticize such a person or
argue. Simply tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done
our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the
street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so,
never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We
stick to our own. If our manner is calm, frank, and open, we will be gratified
with the result.
In nine cases out of ten the unexpected happens.
Sometimes the man we are calling upon admits his own fault, so feuds of years'
standing melt away in an hour. Rarely do we fail to make satisfactory progress.
Our former enemies sometimes praise what we are doing and wish us well.
Occasionally, they will offer assistance. It should not matter, however, if
someone does throw us out of his office. We have made our demonstration, done
our part. It's water over the dam.
Most alcoholics owe money. We do not dodge our
creditors. Telling them what we are trying to do, we make no bones about our
drinking; they usually know it anyway, whether we think so or not. Nor are we
afraid of disclosing our alcoholism on the theory it may cause financial harm.
Approached in this way, the most ruthless creditor will sometimes surprise us.
Arranging the best deal we can we let these people know we are sorry. Our
drinking has made us slow to pay. We must lose our fear of creditors no matter
how far we have to go, for we are liable to drink if we are afraid to face
Perhaps we have committed a criminal offense which
might land us in jail if it were known to the authorities. We may be short in
our accounts and unable to make good. We have already admitted this in
confidence to another person, but we are sure we would be imprisoned or lose our
job if it were known. Maybe it's only a petty offense such as padding the
expense account. Most of us have done that sort of thing. Maybe we are divorced,
and have remarried but haven't kept up the alimony to number one. She is
indignant about it, and has a warrant out for our arrest. That's a common form
of trouble too.
Although these reparations take innumerable forms,
there are some general principles which we find guiding. Reminding ourselves
that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask
that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what
the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face
jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything.
Usually, however, other people are involved.
Therefore, we are not to be the hasty and foolish martyr who would needlessly
sacrifice others to save himself from the alcoholic pit. A man we know had
remarried. Because of resentment and drinking, he had not paid alimony to his
first wife. She was furious. She went to court and got an order for his arrest.
He had commenced our way of life, had secured a position, and was getting his
head above water. It would have been impressive heroics if he had walked up to
the Judge and said, "Here I am."
We thought he ought to be willing to do that if
necessary, but if he were in jail he could provide nothing for either family. We
suggested he write his first wife admitting his faults and asking forgiveness.
He did, and also sent a small amount of money. He told her what he would try to
do in the future. He said he was perfectly willing to go to jail is she
insisted. Of course she did not, and the whole situation has only since been
adjusted. Before taking drastic action which might implicate other people we
secure their consent. If we have obtained permission, have consulted with
others, asked God to help and the drastic step is indicated we must not
This brings to mind a story about one of our friends.
While drinking, he accepted a sum of money from a bitterly-hated business rival,
giving him no receipt for it. He subsequently denied having received the money
and used the incident as a basis for discrediting the man. He thus used his own
wrong- doing as a means of destroying the reputation of another. In fact, his
rival was ruined. (to TOP
He felt that he had done a wrong he could not
possibly make right. If he opened that old affair, he was afraid it would
destroy the reputation of his partner, disgrace his family and take away his
means of livelihood. What right had he to involve those dependent upon him? How
could he possibly make a public statement exonerating his rival?
After consulting with his wife and partner he came to
the conclusion that it was better to take those risks than to stand before his
Creator guilty of such ruinous slander. He saw that he had to place the outcome
in God's hands or he would soon start drinking again, and all would be lost
anyhow. He attended church for the first time in many years. After the sermon,
he quietly got up and made an explanation. His action met widespread approval,
and today he is one of the most trusted citizens of his town. This all happened
The chances are that we have domestic troubles.
Perhaps we are mixed up with women in a fashion we wouldn't care to have
advertised. We doubt if, in this respect, alcoholics are fundamentally much
worse that other people. But drinking does complicate sex relations in the home.
After a few years with an alcoholic, a wife get worn out, resentful and
uncommunicative. How could she be anything else? The husband begins to feel
lonely, sorry for himself. He commences to look around in the night clubs, or
their equivalent, for something besides liquor. Perhaps he is having a secret
and exciting affair with "the girl who understands." In fairness we must say
that she may understand, but what are we going to do about a thing like that? A
man so involved often feels very remorseful at times, especially if he is
married to a loyal and courageous girl who has literally gone through hell for
Whatever the situation, we usually have to do
something about it. If we are sure our wife does not know, should we tell here?
Not always, we think. If she knows in a general way that we have been wild,
should we tell her it detail? Undoubtedly we should admit our fault. She may
insist on knowing all the particulars. She will want to know who the woman is
and where she is. We feel we ought to say to her that we have no right to
involve another person. We are sorry for what we have done and, God willing, it
shall not be repeated. More than that we cannot do; we have no right to go
further. Though there may be justifiable exceptions, and though we wish to lay
down no rule of any sort, we have often found this the best course to take.
Our design for living is not a one-way street. It is
as good for the wife as for the husband. If we can forget, so can she. It is
better, however, that one does not needlessly name a person upon whom she can
Perhaps there are some cases where the utmost
frankness is demanded. No outsider can appraise such an intimate situation. It
may be that both will decide that the way of good sense and loving kindness is
to let by-gones be by-gones. Each might pray about it, having the other one's
happiness uppermost in mind. Keep it always in sight that we are dealing with
that most terrible human emotion, jealousy. Good generalship may decide that the
problem be attacked on the flank rather than risk a face-to- face combat.
If we have no such complication, there is plenty we
should do at home. Sometimes we hear an alcoholic say that the only thing he
needs to do is to keep sober. Certainly he must keep sober, for there will be no
home if he doesn't. But he is yet a long way from making good to the wife or
parents whom for years he has so shockingly treated. Passing all understanding
is the patience mothers and wives have had with alcoholics. Had this not been
so, many of us would have no homes today, would perhaps be dead.
The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way
through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead.
Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept he
home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is
enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his
home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, "Don't see anything the matter here, Ma.
Ain't it grand the wind stopped blowin'?" Yes, there is a long period of
reconstruction ahead. We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are
sorry won't fill the bill at all. We ought to sit down with the family and
frankly analyze the past as we now see it, being very careful not to criticize
them. Their defects may be glaring, but the chances are that our own actions
are partly responsible. So we clean house with the family, asking each morning
in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance,
kindliness and love.
The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to
live it. Unless one's family expresses a desire to live upon spiritual
principles we think we ought not to urge them. We should not talk incessantly to
them about spiritual matters. They will change in time. Our behavior will
convince them more than our words. We must remember that ten or twenty years of
drunkenness would make a skeptic out of anyone.
There may be some wrongs we can never fully right. We
don't worry about them if we can honestly say to ourselves that we would right
them if we could. Some people cannot be seen - we sent them an honest letter.
And there may be a valid reason for postponement in some cases. But we don't
delay if it can be avoided. We should be sensible, tactful, considerate and
humble without being servile or scraping. As God's people we stand on our feet;
we don't crawl before anyone.
If we are painstaking about this phase of our
development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to
know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to
shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know
peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our
experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will
disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our
fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life
will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will
intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will
suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They
are being fulfilled among us, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will
always materialize if we work for them.
This thought brings us to Step
Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and
continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced
this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the
Spirit. Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is
not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime. Continue to watch
for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask
God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make
amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to
someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.
And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone, even
alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be
interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We
react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened
automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us
without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of
it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as
though we had been placed in a position of neutrality safe and protected. We
have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not
exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is how we react so
long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.
It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of
action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol
is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily
reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is
a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities.
"How can I best serve Thee, Thy will (not mine) be done." These are thoughts
which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line
all we wish. It is the proper use of the will.
Much has already been said about receiving strength,
inspiration, and direction from Him who has all knowledge and power. If we have
carefully followed directions, we have begun to sense the flow of His Spirit
into us. To some extent we have become God-conscious. We have begun to develop
this vital sixth sense. But we must go further and that means more action.
Step Eleven suggests prayer and meditation. We shouldn't be shy on this
matter of prayer. Better men than we are using it constantly. It works, if we
have the proper attitude and work at it. It would be easy to be vague about this
matter. Yet, we believe we can make some definite and valuable suggestions.
When we retire at night, we constructively review our
day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have
we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at
once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were
we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could
do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be
careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would
diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God's
forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.
On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours
ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct
our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or
self-seeking motives. Under these conditions we can employ our mental faculties
with assurance, for after all God gave us brains to use. Our thought- life will
be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong
In thinking about our day we may face indecision. We
may not be able to determine which course to take. Here we ask God for
inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision. We relax and take it easy. We
don't struggle. We are often surprised how the right answers come after we have
tried this for a while. What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration
gradually becomes a working part of the mind. Being still inexperienced and
having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are
going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all
sorts of absurd actions and ideas. Nevertheless, we find that our thinking will,
as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We come to rely
upon it. to TOP
We usually conclude the period of meditation with a
prayer that we be shown all through the day what our next step is to be, that we
be given whatever we need to take care of such problems. We ask especially for
freedom from self-will, and are careful to make no request for ourselves only.
We may ask for ourselves, however, if others will be helped. We are careful
never to pray for our own selfish ends. Many of us have wasted a lot of time
doing that and it doesn't work. You can easily see why.
If circumstances warrant, we ask our wives or friends
to join us in morning meditation. If we belong to a religious denomination which
requires a definite morning devotion, we attend to that also. If not members of
religious bodies, we sometimes select and memorize a few set prayers which
emphasize the principles we have been discussing. There are many helpful books
also. Suggestions about these may be obtained from one's priest, minister, or
rabbi. Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they
As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or
doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind
ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many
times each day "Thy will be done." We are then in much less danger of
excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much
more efficient. We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy
foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves.
It works - it really does.
We alcoholics are undisciplined. So we let God
discipline us in the simple way we have just outlined. But this is not all.
There is action and more action. "Faith without works is dead." The next chapter
is entirely devoted to
Working With Others
Practical experience shows that nothing will so much
insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works
when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this
message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure
their confidence when other fail. Remember they are very ill.
Life will take on new meaning. To watch people
recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a
fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends - this is an experience
you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with
newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.
Perhaps you are not acquainted with any drinkers who
want to recover. You can easily find some by asking a few doctors, ministers,
priests or hospitals. They will be only too glad to assist you. Don't start out
as an evangelist or reformer. Unfortunately a lot of prejudice exists. You will
be handicapped if you arouse it. Ministers and doctors are competent and you
can learn much from them if you wish, but it happens that because of your own
drinking experience you can be uniquely useful to other alcoholics. So
cooperate; never criticize. To be helpful is our only aim.
When you discover a prospect for Alcoholics
Anonymous, find out all you can about him. If he does not want to stop
drinking, don't waste time trying to persuade him. You may spoil a later
opportunity. This advice is given for his family also. They should be patient,
realizing they are dealing with a sick person.
If there is any indication that he wants to stop,
have a good talk with the person most interested in him--usually his wife. Get
an idea of his behavior, his problems, his background, the seriousness of his
condition, and his religious leanings. You need this information to put yourself
in his place, to see how you would like him to approach you if the tables were
Sometimes it is wise to wait till he goes on a binge.
The family may object to this, but unless he is in a dangerous physical
condition, it is better to risk it. Don't deal with him when he is very drunk,
unless he is ugly and the family needs your help. Wait for the end of the spree,
or at least for a lucid interval. Then let his family or a friend ask him if he
wants to quit for good and if he would go to any extreme to do so. If he says
yes, then his attention should be drawn to you as a person who has recovered.
You should be described to him as one of a fellowship who, as part of their own
recovery, try to help others and who will be glad to talk to him if he cares to
If he does not want to see you, never force yourself
upon him. Neither should the family hysterically plead with him to do anything,
nor should they tell him much about you. They should wait for the end of his
next drinking bout. You might place this book where he can see it in the
interval. Here no specific rule can be given. The family must decide these
things. But urge them not to be over-anxious, for that might spoil matters.
Usually the family should not try to tell your story.
When possible, avoid meeting a man through his family. Approach through a doctor
or an institution is a better bet. If your man needs hospitalization, he should
have it, but not forcibly unless he is violent. Let the doctor, if he will, tell
him he has something in the way of a solution.
When your man is better, the doctor might suggest a
visit from you. Though you have talked with the family, leave them out of the
first discussion. Under these conditions your prospect will see he is under not
pressure. He will feel he can deal with you without being nagged by his family.
Call on him while he is still jittery. He may be more receptive when
See your man alone, if possible. At first engage in
general conversation. After a while, turn the talk to some phase of drinking.
Tell him enough about your drinking habits, symptoms, and experiences to
encourage him to speak of himself. If he wishes to talk, let him do so. You will
thus get a better idea of how you ought to proceed. If he is not communicative,
give him a sketch or your drinking career up to the time you quit. But say
nothing, for the moment, of how that was accomplished. If he is in a serious
mood dwell on the troubles liquor has caused you, being careful not to moralize
or lecture. If his mood is light, tell him humorous stories of your escapades.
Get him to tell some of his.
When he sees you know all about the drinking game,
commence to describe yourself as an alcoholic. Tell him how baffled you were,
how you finally learned that you were sick. Give him an account of the struggles
you made to stop. Show him the mental twist which leads to the first drink of a
spree. We suggest you do this as we have done it in the chapter on alcoholism.
If he is alcoholic, he will understand you at once. He will match you mental
inconsistencies with some of his own.
If you are satisfied that he is a real alcoholic,
begin to dwell on the hopeless feature of the malady. Show him, from your own
experience, how the queer mental condition surrounding that first drink prevents
normal functioning of the will power. Don't, at this stage, refer to this book,
unless he has seen it and wishes to discuss it. And be careful not to brand him
as an alcoholic. Let him draw his own conclusion. If he sticks to the idea that
he can still control his drinking, tell him that possibly he can - if he is not
too alcoholic. But insist that if he is severely afflicted, there may be little
chance he can recover by himself.
Continue to speak of alcoholism as an illness, a
fatal malady. Talk about the conditions of body and mind which accompany it.
Keep his attention focussed mainly on your personal experience. Explain that
many are doomed who never realize their predicament. Doctors are rightly loath
to tell alcoholic patients the whole story unless it will serve some good
purpose. But you may talk to him about the hopelessness of alcoholism because
you offer a solution. You will soon have you friend admitting he has many, if
not all, of the traits of the alcoholic. If his own doctor is willing to tell
him that he is alcoholic, so much the better. Even though your protege may not
have entirely admitted his condition, he has become very curious to know how
you got well. Let him ask you that question, if he will. Tell him exactly
what happened to you. Stress the spiritual feature freely. If the man be
agnostic or atheist, make it emphatic that he does not have to agree with
your conception of God. He can choose any conception he likes, provided it
makes sense to him. The main thing is that he be willing to believe in a
Power greater than himself and that he live by spiritual principles.
When dealing with such a person, you had better use
everyday language to describe spiritual principles. There is no use arousing any
prejudice he may have against certain theological terms and conceptions about
which he may already be confused. Don't raise such issues, no matter what your
own convictions are.
Your prospect may belong to a religious denomination.
His religious education and training may be far superior to yours. In that case
he is going to wonder how you can add anything to what he already knows. But he
well be curious to learn why his own convictions have not worked and why yours
seem to work so well. He may be an example of the truth that faith alone is
insufficient. To be vital, faith must be accompanied by self sacrifice and
unselfish, constructive action. Let him see that you are not there to instruct
him in religion. Admit that he probably knows more about it than you do, but
call to his attention the fact that however deep his faith and knowledge, he
could not have applied it or he would not drink, Perhaps your story will help
him see where he has failed to practice the very precepts he knows so well. We
represent no particular faith or denomination. We are dealing only with general
principles common to most denominations.
Outline the program of action, explaining how you
made a self-appraisal, how you straightened out your past and why you are now
endeavoring to be helpful to him. It is important for him to realize that your
attempt to pass this on to him plays a vital part in your recovery. Actually, he
may be helping you more than you are helping him. Make it plain he is under no
obligation to you, that you hope only that he will try to help other alcoholics
when he escapes his own difficulties. Suggest how important it is that he place
the welfare of other people ahead of his own. Make it clear that he is not under
pressure, that he needn't see you again if he doesn't want to. You should not be
offended if he wants to call it off, for he has helped you more than you have
helped him. If your talk has been sane, quiet and full of human understanding,
you have perhaps made a friend. Maybe you have disturbed him about the question
of alcoholism. This is all to the good. The more hopeless he feels, the better.
He will be more likely to follow your suggestions.
Your candidate may give reasons why he need not
follow all of the program. He may rebel at the thought of a drastic
housecleaning which requires discussion with other people. Do not contradict
such views. Tell him you once felt as he does, but you doubt whether you would
have made much progress had you not taken action. On your first visit tell him
about the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. If he shows interest, lend him
your copy of this book.
Unless your friend wants to talk further about
himself, do not wear out your welcome. Give him a chance to think it over. If
you do stay , let him steer the conversation in any direction he like. Sometimes
a new man is anxious to proceed at once, and you may be tempted to let him do
so. This is sometimes a mistake. If he has trouble later, he is likely to say
you rushed him. You will be most successful with alcoholics if you do not
exhibit any passion for crusade or reform. Never talk down to an alcoholic from
any moral or spiritual hilltop; simply lay out the kit of spiritual tools for
his inspection. Show him how they worked with you. Offer him friendship and
fellowship. Tell him that if he wants to get well you will do anything to
If he is not interested in your solution, if he
expects you to act only as a banker for his financial difficulties or a nurse
for his sprees, you may have to drop him until he changes his mind. This he may
do after he gets hurts some more.
If he is sincerely interested and wants to see you
again, ask him to read this book in the interval. After doing that, he must
decide for himself whether he wants to go on. He should not be pushed or prodded
by you, his wife, or his friends. If he is to find God, the desire must come
If he thinks he can do the job in some other way, or
prefers some other spiritual approach, encourage him to follow his own
conscience. We have no monopoly on God; we merely have an approach that worked
with us. But point out that we alcoholics have much in common and that you would
like, in any case, to be friendly. Let it go at that. Do not be discouraged if
your prospect does not respond at once. Search out another alcoholic and try
again. You are sure to find someone desperate enough to accept with eagerness
what you offer. We find it a waste of time to keep chasing a man who cannot or
will not work with you. If you leave such a person alone, he may soon become
convinced that he cannot recover by himself. To spend too much time on any one
situation is to deny some other alcoholic an opportunity to live and be happy.
One of our Fellowship failed entirely with his first half dozen prospects. He
often says that if he had continued to work on them, he might have deprived many
others, who have since recovered, of their chance.
Suppose now you are making your second visit to a
man. He has read this volume and says he is prepared to go through with the
Twelve Steps of the program of recovery. Having had the experience yourself, you
can give him much practical advice. Let him know you are available if he wishes
to make a decision and tell his story, but do not insist upon it if he prefers
to consult someone else.
He may be broke and homeless. If he is, you might try
to help him about getting a job, or give him a little financial assistance. But
you should not deprive your family or creditors of money they should have.
Perhaps you will want to take the man into your home for a few days. But be sure
you use discretion. Be certain he will be welcomed by your family, and that he
is not trying to impose upon you for money, connections, or shelter. Permit that
and you only harm him. You will be making it possible for him to be insincere.
You may be aiding in his destruction rather than his recovery.
Never avoid these responsibilities, but be sure you
are doing the right thing if you assume them. Helping others is the foundation
stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn't enough. You have to
act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many
nights' sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your
business. It may mean sharing your money and your home, counseling frantic
wives and relatives, innumerable trips to police courts, sanitariums, hospitals,
jails and asylums. Your telephone may jangle at any time of the day or night.
Your wife may sometimes say she is neglected. A drunk may smash the furniture in
your home, or burn a mattress. You may have to fight with him if he is violent.
Sometimes you will have to call a doctor and administer sedatives under his
direction. Another time you may have to send for the police or an ambulance.
Occasionally you will have to meet such conditions.
We seldom allow an alcoholic to live in our homes for
long at a time. It is not good for him, and it sometimes creates serious
complications in a family.
Though an alcoholic does not respond, there is no
reason why you should neglect his family. You should continue to be friendly to
them. The family should be offered your way of life. Should they accept and
practice spiritual principles, there is a much better change that the head of
the family will recover. And even though he continues to drink, the family will
find life more bearable.
For the type of alcoholic who is able and willing to
get well, little charity, in the ordinary sense of the word, is need or wanted.
The men who cry for money and shelter before conquering alcohol, are on the
wrong track. Yet we do go to great extremes to provide each other with these
very things, when such action is warranted. This may seem inconsistent, but we
think it is not.
It is not the matter of giving that is in question,
but when and how to give. That often makes the difference between failure and
success. The minute we put our work on a service plane, the alcoholic commences
to rely upon our assistance rather than upon God. He clamors for this or that,
claiming he cannot master alcohol until his material needs are cared for.
Nonsense. Some of us have taken very hard knocks to learn this truth: Job or no
job - wife or no wife - we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place
dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on God.
Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man
that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust
in God and clean house.
Now, the domestic problem: There may be divorce,
separation, or just strained relations. When your prospect has made such
reparation as he can to his family, and has thoroughly explained to them the new
principles by which he is living, he should proceed to put those principles into
action at home. That is, if he is lucky enough to have a home. Though his family
be at fault in many respects, he should not be concerned about that. He should
concentrate on his own spiritual demonstration. Argument and fault-finding are
to be avoided like the plague. In many homes this is a difficult thing to do,
but it must be done if any results are to be expected. If persisted in for a few
months, the effect on a man's family is sure to be great. The most incompatible
people discover they have a basis upon which they can meet. Little by little the
family may see their own defects and admit them. These can then be discussed in
an atmosphere of helpfulness and friendliness.
After they have seen tangible results, the family
will perhaps want to go along. These things will come to pass naturally and in
good time provided, however, the alcoholic continues to demonstrate that he can
be sober, considerate, and helpful, regardless of what anyone says or does. Of
course, we all fall much below this standard many times. But we must try to
repair the damage immediately lest we pay the penalty by a spree.
If there be divorce or separation, there should be no
undue haste for the couple to get together. The man should be sure of his
recovery. The wife should fully understand his new way of life. If their old
relationship is to be resumed it must be on a better basis, since the former did
not work. This means a new attitude and spirit all around. Sometimes it is to
the best interests of all concerned that a couple remain apart. Obviously, no
rule can be laid down. Let the alcoholic continue his program day by day. When
the time for living together has come, it will be apparent to both parties.
Let no alcoholic say he cannot recover unless he has
his family back. This just isn't so. In some cases the wife will never come back
for one reason or another. Remind the prospect that his recovery is not
dependent upon people. It is dependent upon his relationship with God. We have
seen men get well whose families have not returned at all. We have seen others
slip when the family came back too soon.
Both you and the new man must walk day by day in the
path of spiritual progress. If you persist, remarkable things will happen. When
we look back, we realize that the things which came to us when we put ourselves
in God's hands were better than anything we could have planned. Follow the
dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful
world, no matter what your present circumstances!
When working with a man and his family, you should
take care not to participate in their quarrels. You may spoil your chance of
being helpful if you do. But urge upon a man's family that he has been a very
sick person and should be treated accordingly. You should warn against arousing
resentment or jealousy. You should point out that his defects of character are
not going to disappear over night. Show them that he has entered upon a period
of growth. Ask them to remember, when they are impatient, the blessed fact of
If you have been successful in solving your own
domestic problems, tell the newcomer's family how that was accomplished. In this
way you can set them on the right track without becoming critical of them. The
story of how you and your wife settled your difficulties is worth any amount of
Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts
of things alcoholics are not supposed to do. People have said we must not go
where liquor is served; we must not have it in our homes; we must shun friends
who drink; we must avoid moving pictures which show drinking scenes; we must not
go into bars; our friends must hide their bottles if we go to their houses; we
mustn't think or be reminded about alcohol at all.
We meet these conditions every day. An alcoholic who
cannot meet them, still has an alcoholic mind; there is something the matter
with his spiritual status. His only chance for sobriety would be some place like
the Greenland Ice Cap, and even there an Eskimo might turn up with a bottle of
scotch and ruin everything! Ask any woman who has sent her husband to distant
places on the theory he would escape the alcohol problem.
In our belief any scheme of combating alcoholism
which proposes to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure. If
the alcoholic tries to shield himself he may succeed for a time, but usually
winds up with a bigger explosion than ever. We have tried these methods. These
attempts to do the impossible have always failed.
So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is
drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes
bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee
parties. To a person who has had experience with an alcoholic, this may seem
like tempting Providence, but it isn't.
You will note that we made and important
qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, "Have I any good
social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting
to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?" If you
answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay
away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before
you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what
you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you
are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead!
Why sit with a long face in places where there is
drinking, sighing about the good old days. If it is a happy occasion, try to
increase the pleasure of those there; if a business occasion, go and attend to
your business enthusiastically. If you are with a person who wants to eat in a
bar, by all means go along. Let your friends know they are not to change their
habits on your account. At a proper time and place explain to all your friends
why alcohol disagrees with you. If you do this thoroughly, few people will ask
you to drink. While you were drinking, you were withdrawing from life little by
little. Now you are getting back into the social life of this world. Don't start
to withdraw again just because your friends drink liquor.
Your job now is to be at the place where you may be
of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be
helpful. You should not hesitate to visit the most sordid spot on earth on such
an errand. Keep on the firing line of life with these motives and God will keep
Many of us keep liquor in our homes. We often need it
to carry green recruits through a severe hangover. Some of us still serve it to
our friends provided they are not alcoholic. But some of us think we should not
serve liquor to anyone. We never argue this question. We feel that each family,
in the light of their own circumstances, ought to decide for themselves.
We are careful never to show intolerance or hatred of
drinking as an institution. Experience shows that such an attitude is not
helpful to anyone. Every new alcoholic looks for this spirit among us and is
immensely relieved when he finds we are not witchburners. A spirit of
intolerance might repel alcoholics whose lives could have been saved, had it not
been for such stupidity. We would not even do the cause of temperate drinking
any good, for not one drinker in a thousand likes to be told anything about
alcohol by one who hates it.
Some day we hope that Alcoholics Anonymous will help
the public to a better realization of the gravity of the alcoholic problem, but
we shall be of little use if our attitude is one of bitterness or hostility.
Drinkers will not stand for it.
After all, our problems were of our own making.
Bottles were only a symbol. Besides, we have stopped fighting anybody or
anything. We have to!
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