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 THEY CAN RECOVER is the main purpose of this book. For
them, we think these pages will prove so convincing that no further
authentication will be necessary. We hope this account of our experiences will
help everyone to better understand the alcoholic. Many do not yet comprehend
that he is a very sick person. And besides, we are sure that our new 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 will 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 clearly understood that
our alcoholic work is an avocation only, so that 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 nor 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
We shall be interested to hear from those who are getting results from this
book, particularly from those who have commenced work with other alcoholics. We
shall try to contact such cases.
Inquiry by scientific, medical and religious societies will be welcomed.
(This multilith volume will be sent upon receipt of $3.50, and the printed book
will be mailed, at no additional cost, as soon as published. )
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 letter:
To Whom It May Concern:
I have specialized in the treatment of alcoholism for many years.
About four years ago 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 thirty of these 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 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 anyone who has suffered alcoholic torture must believe — that the
body of the alcoholic is quite as abnormal as his mind. It does not satisfy us
to be told that we cannot 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 a kind of allergy to alcohol interests us. As
laymen, our opinion as to its soundness may, of course, mean little. But as
ex-alcoholics, we can say that his explanation makes good sense. It explains
things for which we cannot otherwise account.
Though we work out our solution on the spiritual 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
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 synthetic knowledge.
About four 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 perhaps 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 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 benefit.
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 cynical 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 community 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 simple rules.
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
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 perhaps considerable, we physicians must admit we have
made little impression upon the problem as a whole. Many types do not respond to
the ordinary psychological approach.
I do not hold with those who believe that alcoholism is entirely a mental
condition. 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 constitutional
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.
Then there are those who are never properly adjusted to life, who are the
so-called neurotics. The prognosis of this type is unfavorable.
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, 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 entire abstinence.
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 an experience
of two years ago.
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. More than three years have now 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 effect.
However, he did become "sold" on the ideas contained in this book. He has not
had a drink for more than three 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 hilarious intervals. 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 tombstone:
"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
Or by pot. "
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, would place me at the head
of vast enterprises which I would manage with 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
of 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 alloy 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, change of clothes, and three huge volumes of a financial
reference service. Our friends thought a lunacy commission should be appointed.
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 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 that year.
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 fair-weather friends.
My drinking assumed more serious proportions, continuing all day and almost
every night. The remonstrances of my friends terminated in a row and I become 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 our of his till with amused skepticism.
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
PKF-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 oclock — so what? Tomorrow was another day. As I
drank, the old fierce determination to win came back.
Next morning I telephoned a friend in Montreal. He had plenty of money left and
thought I had better go to Canada. By the following spring we were living in our
accustomed to 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 places.
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
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 ill.
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 chance vanished.
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 lacks 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 whiskey 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 — oblivion.
The mind and body are marvelous mechanisms, for mine endured this agony for 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
My brother-in-law is a physician, and through his kindness 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 combatting liquor, though It often remains strong in
other respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a desparate 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-knowledge.
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.
She would soon have to give me over to the undertaker, or 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 master.
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 drear 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 had
I pushed a drink across the table. He refused it. Disappointed but curious, I
wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn't himself.
"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
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 good natured contempt of some church folk 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 back again.
I had always believed in a power greater than 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 evolutionists, suggested vast laws and forces at work. Despite contrary
indications, I had little doubt that a mighty 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
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 point-blank 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
I saw that my friend was much more than inwardly reorganized. He was on a
different footing. His roots grasped a new soil.
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. I have not had a drink since.
There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then 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.
My school mate 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 life
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 known. 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
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 they are real.
While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hope-
less 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 my 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 it he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be
dead indeed. With us it is just like that.
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. I soon
found that when all other measures 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 one hundred families set their
feet in the path that really goes somewhere; have seem 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 eighty of us
and our families. We meet frequently at our different homes, so that newcomers
may find the fellowship they seek. At these informal gatherings one may often
see from 40 to 80 persons. We are growing in numbers and power.
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 life.
There is, however, a vast amoung of fun about it all. I suppose some would be
shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just underneath there is
deadly earnestness. God 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, nor even for Heaven. We have
it with us right here and now. Each day that simple talk in my kitchen
multiplies itself in a widening circle of peace on earth and good will to men.
THERE IS A SOLUTION
We, of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, know one hundred men who were once just as hopeless
as Bill. All have recovered. They have solved the drink problem.
We are ordinary 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 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 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.
This volume will inform, instruct and comfort those who are, or who may be
affected. They are many.
Highly competent psychiatrists who have dealt with us (often fruitlessly, we are
afraid) find it almost 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-alcoholic who has found this solution, who is properly armed with
certain medical information, 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 necessary. After such an
approach many take up their beds and walk again.
None of us makes a vocation of this work, nor do we think its effectiveness
would be increased if we did. We feel that elimination of the liquor problem 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 of
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
ought to 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-alcoholics, 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 times 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. " "The doctor told
him that if he ever drank again it would kill him, but there he is all lit up
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 alone.
Then we have a certain type of hard drinker. He may have the habit bad 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 ever 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 the 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 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, 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
misplaced 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 days when he simply cannot make it and gets drunk all
over again. Perhaps he goes to a doctor who gives him a dose of morphine or some
high-voltage 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. Psychiatrists and
medical men vary considerably in their opinion as to why the alcoholic reacts
differently from normal people. No one is sure why, once a certain point is
reached, nothing 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 confirm that.
These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the
first drink thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the real
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 theme really make sense in the light of the
havoc an alcoholic's drinking bout creates. They sound to you like the
philosophy of the man who, having a headache, beat him self on the head with a
hammer so that he couldn'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 talk.
Once in a while he may tell you 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, some
day, they will beat the game. But they often suspect they are down for the
How true this is, few realize. In a vague way their families and friends sense
that these drinkers are abnormal, but everybody hopefully waits 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 will
seldom 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 suspected.
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
non-existent. We are unable at certain times, no matter how well we understand
ourselves, 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 first drink.
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 treadbare 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 stove.
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 nonchalent 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 all human aid, and unless
locked up, is certain to die, or go permanently insane. These stark and ugly
facts have been confirmed by legions of alcoholics throughout history. But for
the grace of God, there would have been one hundred more convincing
demonstrations. So many want to stop, but cannot.
There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the levelling
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 our 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 ourselves.
If you are seriously alcoholic, we believe you have no middle-of-the-road
solution. You are in a position where life is becoming impossible, and if you
have passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, you
have but two alternatives: one is to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the
consciousness of your intolerable situation as best you can; and the other, to
find what we have found. This you can do if you honestly want to, and are
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 who prescribed for him. Though bitter
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 his fall.
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
judgement 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 physician's opinion.
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 free men may go
with out disaster, provided he remains willing to maintain a certain simple
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 his religious convictions were very good, but that 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
We, in our turn, sought the same escape, will 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 found
God. As a group, we have no desire to convince anyone that there is only one way
by which God can be discovered. 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, as a group, 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 association, or
his present choice. Not all of us have joined 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 experience.
There is a group of personal narratives. Then clear-cut directions are given
showing how an alcoholic may recover. These are followed by more than a score of
Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language, and
from his own point of view the way he found or rediscovered 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. "
MORE ABOUT ALCOHOLISM
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 liquor drinking is the great obsession of
every abnormal drinker. The persistance 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, had to be smashed.
We alcoholics are men and women who had lost the ability to control our
drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovered this 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 still worse relapse. Physicians who
are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal
drinker out of an alcoholic. Science may one day accomplish this, but it
evidently 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
non-alcoholic. 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
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, consulting psychologists,
going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums
— we could increase the list ad infinitum.
We do not like to brand any individual as an 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 will
be worth a bad case of jitters if you get thoroughly sold on the idea that you
are a candidate for Alcoholics Anonymous!
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 because of an overpowering desire to to 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
while, making several trips to the hospital meantime. Then, gathering all his
forces, he attempted to stop, 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
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 you are planning to stop drinking, there must be
no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday you 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-five or less, had been drinking but 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 feminine 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
alcoholic, 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 non-spiritual basis depends somewhat upon the
his character, and how much he really wants to be done with it. But even more
will it depend 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
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 know 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 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 deep
Yet he got drunk again. We asked him to tell us exactly how it happened. This is
his story: "I came to work on Tuesday morning. I remember I felt irritated that
I had to be a salesman for a concern I once owned. I had a few words with the
boss, but nothing serious. Then I decided to drive into the country and see one
of my prospects for a car. On the way I felt hungry so I stopped at a roadside
place where they have a bar. I had no intention of drinking. I just thought I
would get a sandwich. I also had the notion that I might find a customer for a
car at this place, which was familiar, for I had been going to it for years. I
had eaten there many times during the months I was 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 sensed I was not being any too smart, but
felt reassured, as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach. The experiment
went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That
didn't seem to bother me so I tried another. "
Thus started on 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 he could take whiskey if only
he mixed it with milk!
Whatever the precise medical 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 our group. Some of us
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 have
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 of
casually, there was little serious or effective thought during the period of
premeditation, of what the terrific consequences might be.
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 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, he is held up to ridicule. He tries every
known means to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in
an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he 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 us 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 us 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 non-alcoholic 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 warped and degenerated as ours were. But the
actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely
unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish
to emphasize and reemphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has
been revealed to us out of bitter experience. Let us take another illustration.
Fred is partner in a well known accounting firm. His income is good, he has a
fine home, is happily married and the father of promising children of college
age. He is so attractive a personality that he makes friends with everyone. If
ever there was a successful business man, it is Fred. To all appearances 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 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 it.
We heard no more of Fred for a while. One day we were told that he was back in
the hospital. This time he was quite shaky. He soon indicated he was anxious to
see us. The story he told is most instructive for here was a chap absolutely
convinced he had to stop drinking, who had no excuse for drinking, who 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, but I frankly did not believe it would be possible for me to
drink again. I somewhat 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 and problems,
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 horizon.
"I went to my hotel and leisurely dressed for dinner. As I crossed the threshold
of the dining room, the thought came to mind 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 an
airplane bound for New York, of finding a friendly taxicab driver at the landing
field instead of my wife. The driver escorted me about for several days. I know
little of where I went, or what I said and did. Then came the hospital with its
unbearable mental and physical suffering.
"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
that first drink. This time I had not thought of the consequences at all. I had
commenced to drink as carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I now
remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they phophesied 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 a crushing blow.
"Two of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous came to see me. They grinned, which
I didn't like so much, and then asked me if I thought myself alcoholic and if I
were really licked this time. I had to concede both propositions. They piled on
me heaps of medical evidence to the effect that an alcoholic mentality, such as
I had exhibited in Washington, was a 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 myself.
"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 their problems.
Most 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 alcoholic's
plight is, in my opinion, correct. As to two of you men, whose stories I have
heard, there is no doubt in my mind that you were 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 rare cases, neither he nor any other
human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a higher
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 hell or be
"saved" — not easy alternatives to face.
But it isn't so difficult. About half our 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 fifty of us thought we were atheists or agnostics.
Our experience shows that you need not disconcerted.
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
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
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 us 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, 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 the starlit night,
"Who, then, made 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 that
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 hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is
broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding. 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 is all you
will need to commence spiritual growth, to effect your first conscious relation
with God, as you understand Him. Afterward, you will find yourself accepting
many things which now seem entirely out of reach. That is growth, but if you are
going to grow, you have to begin somewhere. So use your own conception, however
limited it may be.
You need ask yourself 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 made us
bristle with antagonism. This sort of thinking had to be abandoned. Though some
of us resisted, we founds 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 will be prejudiced as long as some of
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 starting point.
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 as we cynically dissected spiritual beliefs and practices; 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 of its
trees. We never gave the spiritual side of life a fair hearing.
In the stories which follow you will find wide variation in the way each teller
approaches and conceives of the Power which is greater than himself. Whether you
agree with a particular approach or conception seems to make little difference.
Experience has taught that these are matters about which, for our purpose, we
need not be worried. They are questions for each individual to settle for
On one proposition, however, these men and women are strikingly agreed. Everyone
of them has gained access to, and believes in a Power greater than himself. This
Power has in each case accomplished the miraculous, the humanly impossible. As a
celebrated American statesman puts it, "Let's look at the record. "
Here are one hundred men and women, worldly and sophisticated indeed. They
flatly declare to you 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. They tell you that in the face of collapse and despair, in the face of
the total failure of their human resources, that a new Power, peace, happiness,
and sense of direction has flowed into them. This happened soon after they
a few simple requirements. Once confused and baffled by the seeming futility of
existence they will show you the underlying reasons why they were making heavy
going of life. Leaving aside the drink question, they tell why living was
so unsatisfactory. They will show you how the change came over them.
When one hundred people, much like you, are able to say that consciousness of
The Presence of God is today the most important fact of their lives, they
present a powerful reason why you too should have faith.
This world of ours has made more material progress in the last century than in
all the milleniums which sent 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 sorts of fixed ideas. The contemporaries
of Columbus thought a round earth preposterous. Others like them
came near putting Galileo to death for his astronomical heresies.
But ask yourself 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 absurd 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 swing.
But in most fields our generation has witnessed complete liberation of our
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 which does?
We had to ask ourselves why we shouldn't apply to our human problems this same
readiness to change the 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 this bedevilment
more important than whether we should see newsreels of lunar flight? Of
course it was.
When we saw others solve their problems by simple reliance upon the Spirit of
this 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 liked it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were
given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of our senses, 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
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 don't know. "
When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis 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
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 gooseflesh
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? Of course we couldn't. The electrons themselves seemed
more intelligent than that. At least, so the chemist said.
Hence, we saw that reason isn't everything. Neither is reason, as most of us
used it, entirely dependable, though 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 himself.
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. And we are sure you will
find the Great Reality deep down within you. In the last analysis it is only
there that He may be found. It was so with us; why not with you?
We can only clear the ground a bit for you. If our testimony helps sweep away
prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently
within yourself, then you will have joined us on the Broad Highway. With this
attitude you cannot fail. The consciousness that you do believe is sure to come
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 of 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 GOD?"
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 Creator.
Thus was our friend's cornerstone fixed in place. No later vicissitude has
shaken it. His alcoholic problem was taken away. That very night three years ago
it disappeared. Save for a few brief moments of temptation, the thought 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 his sanity.
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 too all who
have honestly sought Him.
Draw near to Him and He will disclose Himself to you!
HOW IT WORKS
Rarely have we see person fail who has thoroughly followed our directions. 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 way of life 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 be honest.
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 follow directions.
At some of these you may balk. You may think you can find an easier, softer way.
We doubt if you can. 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 absolutely.
Remember that you are dealing with alcohol — cunning, baffling, powerful!
Without help it is too much for you. But there is One who has all power — That
One is God. You must find Him now!
Half measures will avail you nothing. You stand at the turning point. Throw
yourself under His protection and care with complete abandon.
Now we think you can take it! Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as
your Program of Recovery:
1. 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 and direction of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being
the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely willing that God remove all these defects of
7. Humbly, on our knees, asked Him to remove our shortcomings
— holding nothing back.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became
willing to make complete 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
contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to
carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual experience as the result of this
course of action, we tried to carry this message to others, especially
alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
You may exclaim, "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
Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal
adventures before and after, have been designed to sell you three pertinent
(a) That you are alcoholic and cannot manage your own life.
(b) That probably no human power can relieve your alcoholism.
(c) That God can and will.
If you are not convinced on these vital issues, you ought to re-read the book to
this point or else throw it away!
If you are convinced, you are now at step three, which is that you make a
decision to turn your will and your life over to God as you understand Him. Just
what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?
The first requirement is that you see that any life run on self-will can hardly
be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collission with something or
somebody, even though our motives may be 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 wishes, 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 traits.
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 some 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 preacher 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 their protestations, are not these people mostly concerned with
themselves, their resentments, or their 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 almost the most extreme example that could be
found 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 kills
us! God makes that possible. And there is no way of entirely getting rid of self
without Him. You may have moral and philosophical convictions galore, but you
can't live up to them even though you would like to. Neither can you reduce your
self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on your own power. You must have
This is the how and why of it. First of all, quit playing God yourself. It
doesn't work. Next, decide that hereafter in this drama of life, God is going to
by your Director. He is the Principal; you are to be His agent. He is the
Father, and you are His child. Get that simple relationship straight. Most good
ideas are simple and this concept is to be the keystone of the new and
triumphant arch through which you will pass to freedom.
When you sincerely take such a position, all sorts of remarkable things follow.
You have a new Employer. Being all powerful, He must necessarily provide what
you need, if you keep close to Him and perform His work well. Established on
such a footing you become less and less interested in yourself, your little
plans and designs. More and more you become interested in seeing what you can
contribute to life. As you feel new power flow in, as you enjoy peace of mind,
as you discover you can face life successfully, as you become conscious of His
presence, you begin to lose your fear of today, tomorrow, or the hereafter. You
will have been reborn.
Get down upon your knees and say to your Maker, as you understand 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!" Think well
before taking this step. Be sure you are ready; that you can at last abandon
yourself utterly to Him.
It is very desirable that you make your decision with an understanding person.
It may be your wife, your best friend, your spiritual adviser, but remember it
is better to meet God alone that with one who might misunderstand. You must
decide this for yourself. The wording of your decision is, of course, quite
optional so long as you express the idea, voicing it without reservation. This
decision is only a beginning, though if honestly and humbly made, an effect,
sometimes a very great one, will be felt at once.
Next we launch out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a
personal housecleaning, which you have never in all probability attempted.
Though your decision is a vital and crucial step, it can have little permanent
effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of,
in yourself which have been blocking you. Your liquor is but a symptom. Let's
now get down to basic causes and conditions.
Therefore, you start upon a personal inventory. This is step four. A business
which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking a commercial
inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It is an effort to
discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. Its 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 do exactly the same thing with our lives. We take stock honestly. First, we
search out the flaws in our make-up which have caused our failure. Being
convinced that self, manifested in various ways, is what has defeated us, we
consider 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. List people, institutions or
principles with whom you are angry. Ask yourself why you are angry. In most
cases it will be found that your self-esteem, your pocketbook, your ambitions,
your personal relationships, (including sex) are hurt or threatened. So you are
sore. You are "burned up. "
On your grudge list set opposite each name your injuries. Is it your
self-esteem, your security, your ambitions, your personal, or your sex
relations, which have been interfered with?
Be as definite as this example:
I'm resentful at: The Cause
Mr. Brown His attention to my wife.
Told my wife of my mistress. Sex relations.
Brown may get my job at the office. Security.
Mrs. Jones She's a nut — she snubbed me.
She committed her husband for Personal relation-
drinking. He's my friend. She's ship. Self-esteem
My employer Unreasonable — Unjust — Over-
bearing — Threatens to fire me for Self-esteem (fear)
drinking and padding my expense Security
My wife Misunderstands and nags. Likes Pride — Personal
Brown. Wants house put in her name. and sex relations-
Go on through the list back through your lifetime. Nothing counts but
thoroughness and honesty. When you are finished consider it carefully. The first
thing apparent to you is that this world and its people are quite wrong.
that others are wrong is as far as most of us ever get. The usual outcome is
that people continue to wrong you and you stay sore. Sometimes it is remorse and
then you are sore at yourself. But the more you fight and try to have your way,
the worse matters get. Isn't that so? As in war, victors only seem to win. Your
moments of triumph are short-lived.
It is plain that a way of 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 only hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this
business of resentment is infinitely grave. We find that it is fatal. For when
harboring such feelings 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
If we are to live, we must be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm are
not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics
these things are poison.
Turn back to your list, for it holds the key to your future. You must be
prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle. You will begin to see
that the world and its people really dominate you. In your present state, the
wrongdoing of others, fancied or real, has power to actually kill you. How shall
you escape? You see that these resentments must be mastered, but how? You cannot
wish them away any more than alcohol.
This is our course: realize at once that the people who wrong you are
spiritually sick. Though you don't like their symptoms and the way these disturb
you, they, like yourself, are sick, too. Ask God to help you show them the same
tolerance, pity, and patience that you would cheerfully grant a friend who has
cancer. When a person next offends, say to yourself "This is a sick man. How can
I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done. "
Never argue. Never retaliate. You wouldn't treat sick people that way. If you
do, you destroy your chance of being helpful. You cannot be helpful to all
people, but at least God will show you how to take a kindly and tolerant view of
each and every one.
Take up your list again. Putting out of your mind the wrongs others have done,
resolutely look for your own mistakes. Where have you been selfish, dishonest,
self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation may not be entirely your fault,
disregard the other person involved entirely. See where you have been to blame.
This is your inventory, not the other man's. When you see your fault write it
down on the list. See it before you in black and white. Admit your wrongs
honestly and be willing to set these matters straight.
You will notice that the word fear is bracketed alongside the difficulties with
Mr. Brown, Mrs. Jones, your employer, and your wife. This short word somehow
touches about every aspect of our lives. It is an evil and corroding thread; the
fabric of our existence is shot through with it. It sets in motion trains of
circumstances which bring us misfortune we feel we don't deserve. But did not
we, ourselves, set the ball rolling? Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed
with stealing as a sin. It seems to cause more trouble.
Review your fears thoroughly. Put them on paper, even though you have no
resentment in connection with them. Ask yourself why you have them. Isn't it
because self-reliance has failed you? 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
Perhaps there is a better way — we think so. For you are now to go on a
different basis; the basis of trusting and relying upon God. You are to trust
infinite God rather than your finite self. You are in the world to play the role
he assigns. Just to the extent that you do as you think He would have you, and
humbly rely on Him, does He enable you to match calamity with serenity.
You must never apologize to anyone for depending upon your Creator. You 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. Never apologize for God.
Instead let Him demonstrate, through you, what He can do. Ask Him to remove your
fear and direct your attention to what He would have you be. At once, you will
commence to outgrow fear.
Now about sex. You can probably stand an overhauling there. We needed it. But
above all, let's 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 procreation. 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?
Review your own conduct over the years past. Where have you been selfish,
dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom did you hurt? Did you unjustifiably arouse
jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where you were at fault, what should you have
done instead? Get this all down on paper and look at it.
In this way you can shape a sane and sound ideal for your future sex life.
Subject each relation to this test — is it selfish or not? Ask God to mould your
ideals and help you to live up to them. Remember always that your sex powers are
God-given, and therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be
despised and loathed.
Whatever your ideal may be, you must be willing to grow toward it. You must be
willing to make amends where you have done harm, provided that you will not
bring about still more harm in so doing. In other words, treat sex as you would
any other problem. In meditation, ask God what you should do about each specific
matter. The right answer will come, if you want it.
God alone can judge your sex situation. Counsel with persons is often desirable,
but let God be the final judge. Remember that some people are as fanatical about
sex as others are loose. Avoid hysterical thinking or advice.
Suppose you fall short of the chosen ideal and stumble. Does this mean you are
going to get drunk? Some people will tell you so. If they do, it will be only a
half-truth. It depends on you and your motive. If you are sorry for what you
have done, and have the honest desire to let God take you to better things, you
will be forgiven and will have learned your lesson. If you are not sorry, and
your conduct continues to harm others, you are quite sure to drink. We are not
theorizing. These are facts out of our experience.
To sum up about sex: earnestly pray for the right ideal, for guidance in each
questionable situation, for sanity, and for the strength to do the right thing.
sex is very troublesome, throw yourself the harder into helping others. Think of
their needs and work for them. This will take you out of yourself. It will quiet
the imperious urge, when to yield would mean heartache.
If you have been thorough about your personal inventory, you have written down a
lot by this time. You have listed and analyzed your resentments. You have begun
to comprehend their futility and their fatality. You have commenced to see their
terrible destructiveness. You have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good
will toward all men, even your enemies, for you know them to be sick people. You
have listed the people you have hurt by your conduct, and you are willing to
straighten out the past if you can.
In this book you read again and again that God did for us what we could not do
for ourselves. We hope you are convinced now that He can remove the self-will
that has blocked you off from Him. You have made your decision. You have made an
inventory of the grosser handicaps you have. You have made a good beginning, for
you have swallowed and digested some big chunks of truth about yourself. Are you
willing to go on?