THREE MEN sat around the bed of an alcoholic patient in the psychopathic ward of
Philadelphia General Hospital one afternoon a few weeks ago. The man in the bed,
who was a complete stranger to them, had the drawn and slightly stupid look the
inebriates get while being defogged after a bender. The only thing that was
noteworthy about the callers, except for the obvious contrast between their
well-groomed appearances and that of the patient, was the fact that each had
been through the defogging process many times himself. They were members of
Alcoholics Anonymous, a band of ex-problem drinkers who make an avocation of
helping other alcoholics to beat the liquor habit.
The man in the bed was a mechanic. His visitors had been educated at Princeton,
Yale and Pennsylvania and were, by occupation, a salesman, a lawyer and a
publicity man. Less than a year before, one had been in shackles in the same
ward. One of his companions had been what is known among alcoholics as a
sanitarium commuter. He had moved from place to place, bedeviling the staffs of
the country's leading institutions for the treatment of alcoholics. The other
had spent twenty years of life, all outside institution walls, making life
miserable for himself, and his family and his employers, as well as sundry well-
meaning relatives who had had the temerity to intervene.
The air of the ward was thick with the aroma of paraldehyde, an unpleasant
cocktail smelling like a mixture of alcohol and ether which hospitals sometimes
use to taper off the paralyzed drinker and soothe his squirming nerves. The
visitors seemed oblivious of this and of the depressing atmosphere of
psychopathic wards. They smoked and talked with the patient for twenty minutes
or so, then left their personal cards and departed. If the man in the bed felt
that he would like to see one of them again, they told him, he had only to put
in a telephone call.
THEY MADE it plain that if he actually wanted to stop drinking, they would leave
their work or get up in the middle of the night to hurry to where he was. If he
did not choose to call, that would be the end of it. The members of Alcoholics
Anonymous do not pursue or coddle a malingering prospect, and they know the
strange tricks of the alcoholic as a reformed swindler knows the art of
Herein lies much of the unique strength of a movement, which in the past six
years, has brought recovery to around 2,000 men and women, a large percentage of
whom had been considered medically hopeless. Doctors and clergymen, working
separately or together, have always managed to salvage a few cases. In isolated
instances, drinkers have found their own methods of quitting. But the inroads
into alcoholism have been negligible, and it remains one of the great, unsolved
By nature touchy and suspicious, the alcoholic likes to be left alone to work
out his puzzle, and he has a convenient way of ignoring the tragedy which he
inflicts meanwhile upon those who are close to him. He holds desperately to a
conviction that, although he has not been able to handle alcohol in the past, he
will ultimately succeed in becoming a controlled drinker. One of medicine's
queerest animals, he is, as often as not, an acutely intelligent person. He
fences with professional men and relatives who attempt to aid him and he gets a
perverse satisfaction out of tripping them up in argument.
THERE IS no specious excuse for drinking which the troubleshooters of Alcoholics
Anonymous have not heard or used themselves. When one of their prospects hands
them a rationalization for getting soused, they match it with a half a dozen out
of their own experience. This upsets him a little, and he gets defensive. He
looks at their neat clothing and smoothly shaved faces and charges them with
being goody-goodies who don't know what it is to struggle with drink. They reply
by relating their own stories: the double Scotches and brandies before breakfast;
the vague feeling of discomfort which precedes a drinking bout; the awakening
from a spree without being able to account for the actions of several days and
the haunting fear that possibly they had run down someone with their automobiles.
They tell of the eight-ounce bottles of gin hidden behind pictures and in caches
from cellar to attic; of spending whole days in motion-picture houses to stave
off the temptation to drink; of sneaking out of the office for quickies during
the day. They talk of losing jobs and stealing money from their wives' purses;
of putting pepper into whiskey to give it a tang; of tippling on bitters and
sedative tablets, or on mouthwash or hair tonic; of getting into the habit of
camping outside the neighborhood tavern ten minutes before opening time. They
describe a hand so jittery that it could not lift a pony to the lips without
spilling the contents; drinking liquor from a beer stein because it can be
steadied with two hands, although at the risk of chipping a front tooth; tying
an end of a towel about a glass, looping the towel around the back of the neck,
and drawing the free end with the other hand; hands so shaky they feel as if
they were about to snap off and fly into space; sitting n hands for hours to
keep them from doing this.
These and other bits of drinking lore usually manage to convince the alcoholic
that he is talking to blood brothers. A bridge of confidence is thereby erected,
spanning a gap, which has baffled the physician, the minister, the priest, or
the hapless relatives. Over this connection, the troubleshooters convey, bit by
bit, the details of a program for living which has worked for them and which,
they feel, can work for any other alcoholic. They concede as out of their orbit
only those who are psychotic or who are already suffering from the physical
impairment known as wet brain. At the same time, they see to it that the
prospect gets whatever medical attention is needed.
MANY DOCTORS and staffs of institutions throughout the country now suggest
Alcoholics Anonymous to their drinking patients. In some towns, the courts and
probation officers cooperate with the local group. In a few city psychopathic
divisions, the workers of Alcoholics Anonymous are accorded the same visiting
privileges as staff members. Philadelphia General is one of these. Dr. John F.
Stouffer, the chief psychiatrist, says: "the alcoholics we get here are mostly
those who cannot afford private treatment, and this is by far the greatest thing
we have ever been able to offer them. Even among those who occasionally land
back in here again, we observe a profound change in personality. You would
hardly recognize them".
The Illinois Medical Journal, in an editorial last December, went further than D.
Stouffer, in stating: "It is indeed a miracle when a person who for years has
been more of less constantly under the influence of alcohol and in whom his
friends have lost all confidence, will sit up all night with a drunk and at
stated intervals administer a small amount of liquor in accordance with a
doctor's order without taking a drop himself."
This is a reference to a common aspect of the Arabian Nights adventures to which
Alcoholics Anonymous workers dedicate themselves. Often it involves sitting upon,
as well as up with, the intoxicated person, as the impulse to jump out a window
seems to be an attractive one to many alcoholics when in their cups. Only an
alcoholic can squat on another alcoholic's chest for hours with the proper
combination of discipline and sympathy.
During a recent trip around the East and Middle West, I met and talked with
scores of A.A.s, as they call themselves, and found them to be unusually calm
tolerant people. Somehow, they seemed better integrated than the average group
of nonalcoholic individuals. Their transformation from cop fighters, canned-heat
drinkers, and, in some instances, wife beaters, was startling. On one of the
most influential newspapers in the country, I found that the city editor, the
assistant city editor, and a nationally known reporter were A.A.s, and strong in
the confidence of their publisher.
IN ANOTHER city, I heard a judge parole a drunken driver to an A.A. member. The
latter, during his drinking days, had smashed several cars and had had his own
operator's license suspended. The judge knew him and was glad to trust him. A
brilliant executive of an advertising firm disclosed that two years ago he had
been panhandling and sleeping in a doorway under an elevated structure. He had a
favorite doorway, which he shared with other vagrants, and every few weeks he
goes back and pays them a visit just to assure himself he isn't dreaming.
In Akron, as in other manufacturing centers, the groups include a heavy element
of manual workers. In the Cleveland Athletic Club, I had luncheon with five
lawyers, an accountant, an engineer, three salesmen, an insurance man, a buyer,
a bartender, a chain-store manager, a manager of an independent store, and a
manufacturer's representative. They were members of a central committee, which
coordinates the work of nine neighborhood groups. Cleveland, with more than 450
members, is the biggest of the A.A. centers. The next largest are located in
Chicago, Akron, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington and New York. All told,
there are groups in about fifty cities and towns.
IN DISCUSSING their work, the A.A.s spoke of their drunk rescuing as "insurance"
for themselves. Experience within the group has shown, they said, that once a
recovered drinker slows up in this work he is likely to go back to drinking
himself. There is, they agreed, no such thing as an ex-alcoholic. If one is an
alcoholic - that is, a person who is unable to drink normally - one remains an
alcoholic until he dies, just as a diabetic remains a diabetic. The best he can
hope for is to become an arrested case, with drunk saving as his insulin. At
least, the A.A.s say so, and medical opinion tends to support them. All but a
few said that they had lost all desire for alcohol. Most serve liquor in their
homes when friends drop in, and they still go to bars with companions who drink.
A.A.s tipple on soft drinks and coffee.
One, a sales manager, acts as bartender at his company's annual jamboree in
Atlantic City and spends his nights tucking the celebrators into their beds.
Only a few of those who recover fail to lose the felling that at any minute they
may thoughtlessly take one drink and skyrocket off on a disastrous binge. An A.A.
who is a clerk in an Eastern city hasn't had a snifter in three and a half years,
but says that he still has to walk fast past saloons to circumvent the old
impulse; but he is an exception. The only hangover from the wild days that
plagues the A.A. is a recurrent nightmare. In the dream, he finds himself off on
a rousing whooper-dooper, frantically trying to conceal his condition from the
community. Even this symptom disappears shortly, in most cases. Surprisingly,
the rate of employment among these people, who formerly drank themselves out of
job after job, is said to be around ninety percent.
One-hundred-percent effectiveness with non-psychotic drinkers who sincerely want
to quit is claimed by the workers of Alcoholics Anonymous. The program will not
work, they add, with those who only "want to want to quit", or who want to quit
because they are afraid of losing their families or their jobs. The effective
desire, the state, must be based upon enlightened self-interest; the applicant
must want to get away from liquor to head off incarceration or premature death.
He must be fed up with the stark social loneliness, which engulfs the
uncontrolled drinker, and he must want to put some order into his bungled life.
As it is impossible to disqualify all borderline applicants, the working
percentage of recovery falls below the 100-percent mark. According to A.A.
estimation, fifty percent of the alcoholics taken in hand recover immediately;
twenty-five percent get well after suffering a relapse or two; and the rest
remain doubtful. This rate of success is exceptionally high. Statistics on
traditional medical and religious cures are lacking, but it has been informally
estimated that they are no more than two or three percent effective on run-of-
Although it is too early to state that Alcoholics Anonymous is the definitive
answer to alcoholism, its brief record is impressive, and it is receiving
hopeful support. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. helped defray the expense of getting
it started and has gone out of his way to get other prominent men interested.
ROCKEFELLER'S GIFT was a small one, in deference to the insistence of the
originators that the movement be kept on a voluntary, non paid basis. There are
no salaried organizers, no dues, no officers, and no central control. Locally,
the rents of assemble halls are met by passing the hat at meetings. In small
communities, no collections are taken, as the gatherings are held in private
homes. A small office in downtown New York acts merely as a clearinghouse for
information. There is no name on the door, and mail is received anonymously
through a post-office box. The only income, which is money received from the
sale of a book describing the work, is handled by the Alcoholic Foundation, a
board composed of three alcoholics and four non-alcoholics.
In Chicago, twenty-five doctors work hand in hand with Alcoholics Anonymous,
contributing their services and referring their own alcoholic patients to the
group, which now numbers around 200. The same cooperation exists in Cleveland
and to a lesser degree in other centers. A physician, Dr. W. D. Silkworth, of
New York City, gave the movement its first encouragement. However, many doctors
remain skeptical. Dr. Foster Kennedy, an eminent New York neurologist, probably
had these in mind when he stated at a meeting a year ago: "The aim of those
concerned in this effort against alcoholism is high; their success has been
considerable; and I believe medical men of goodwill should aid."
The active help of two medical men of goodwill, Drs. A. Wiese Hammer and C.
Dudley Saul, has assisted greatly in making the Philadelphia unit one of the
more effective of the younger groups. The movement there had its beginning in an
offhand way in February 1940, when a businessman who was an A.A. convert was
transferred to Philadelphia from New York. Fearful of backsliding for lack of
rescue work, the newcomer rounded up three local barflies and started to work on
them. He got them dry, and the quartet began ferreting out other cases. By last
December fifteenth, ninety-nine alcoholics had joined up. Of these, eighty-six
were now total abstainers - thirty-nine from one to three months, seventeen from
three to six months, and twenty-five from six to ten months. Five who had joined
the unit after having belonged in other cities had been nondrinkers from one to
At the end of the time scale, Akron, which cradled the movement, holds the
intramural record for sustained abstinence. According to a recent checkup, two
members have been riding the A.A. wagon for five and a half years, one for five
years, three for four and a half years, one for the same period with one skid,
three for three and a half year, seven for three years, three for three years
with one skid each, one for two and a half years, and thirteen for two years.
Previously, most of the Akronites and Philadephians had been unable to stay away
from liquor for longer than a few weeks.
In the Middle West, the work has been almost exclusively among persons who have
not arrived at the institutional stage. The New York group, which has a similar
nucleus, makes a sideline specialty of committed cases and has achieved striking
results. In the summer of 1939, the group began working on the alcoholics
confined in Rockland State Hospital, at Orangeburg, a vast mental sanitarium,
which get the hopeless alcoholic backwash of the big population centers. With
the encouragement of Dr. R. E. Baisdell, the medical superintendent, a unit was
formed within the wall, and meetings were held in the recreation hall. New York
A.A.s went to Orangeburg to give talks, and on Sunday evenings, the patients
were brought in state-owned buses to a clubhouse which the Manhattan group rents
on the West Side.
Last July first, eleven months later, records kept at the hospital showed that
of fifty-four patients released to Alcoholics Anonymous, seventeen had had no
relapse and fourteen others had had only one. Of the rest, nine had gone back to
drinking in their home communities, twelve had returned to the hospital and two
had not been traced. Dr. Baisdell has written favorably about the work to the
State Department of Mental Hygiene, and he praised it officially in his last
Even better results were obtained in two public institutions in New Jersey,
Greystone Park and Overbrook, which attract patients of better economic and
social background, than Rockland, because of their nearness to prosperous
suburban villages. Of seven patients released from the Greystone Park
institution in two years, five have abstained for periods of one to two years,
according to A.A. records. Eight of ten released from Overbrook have abstained
for about the same length of time. The others have had from one to several
WHY SOME people become alcoholics is a question on which authorities disagree.
Few think that anyone is "born an alcoholic". One may be born, they say, with a
hereditary predisposition to alcoholism, just as one may be born with a
vulnerability to tuberculosis. The rest seems to depend upon environment and
experience, although one theory has it that some people are allergic to alcohol,
as hay fever sufferers are to pollens. Only one note is found to be common to
all alcoholics - emotional immaturity. Closely related to this is an observation
that an unusually large number of alcoholics start out in life as an only child,
as a younger child, as the only boy in a family of girls or the only girl in a
family of boys. Many have records of childhood precocity and were what are known
as spoiled children.
Frequently, the situation is complicated by an off-center home atmosphere in
which one parent is unduly cruel, the other overindulgent. Any combination of
these factors, plus a divorce or two, tends to produce neurotic children who are
poorly equipped emotionally to face the ordinary realities of adult life. In
seeking escapes, one may immerse himself in his business, working twelve to
fifteen hours a day, or in what he thinks is a pleasant escape in drink. It
bolsters his opinion of himself and temporarily wipes away any feeling of social
inferiority, which he may have. Light drinking leads to heavy drinking. Friend
and family are alienated and employers become disgusted. The drinker smolders
with resentment and wallows in self-pity. He indulges in childish
fationalizations to justify his drinking: He has been working hard and he
deserves to relax; his throat hurts from an old tonsillectomy and a drink would
ease the pain: he has a headache; his wife does not understand him; his nerves
are jumpy; everybody is against him; and son and on. He unconsciously becomes a
chronic excuse-maker for himself.
All the time he is drinking, he tells himself and those who butt into his
affairs the he can really become a controlled drinker if he wants to. To
demonstrate his strength of will, he goes for weeks without taking a drop. He
makes a point of calling at his favorite bar at a certain time each day and
ostentatiously sipping milk or a carbonated beverage, not realizing that he is
indulging in juvenile exhibitionism. Falsely encouraged, he shifts to a routine
of one beer a day and that is the beginning of the end once more. Beer leads
inevitably to more beer and then to hard liquor. Hard liquor leads to another
first-rate bender. Oddly, the trigger, which sets off the explosion, is as apt
to be a stroke of business success as it is to be a run of bad luck. An
alcoholic can stand neither prosperity nor adversity.
THE VICTIM is puzzled on coming out of the alcoholic fog. Without his being
aware of any change, a habit has gradually become an obsession. After a while,
he no longer needs rationalization to justify the fatal first drink. All he
knows is that he feels swamped by uneasiness or elation, and before he realizes
what is happening, he is standing at a bar with an empty whisky pony in front of
him and a stimulating sensation in his throat. By some peculiar quirk of his
mind, he has been able to draw a curtain over the memory of the intense pain and
remorse caused by preceding stem-winders. After many experiences of this kind,
the alcoholic begins to realize that he does not understand himself; he wonders
whether his power of will, though strong in other fields, isn't defenseless
against alcohol. He may go on trying to defeat his obsession and wind up in a
sanitarium. He may give up the fight as hopeless and try to kill himself. Or he
may seek outside help.
If he applies to Alcoholics Anonymous, he is first brought around to admit that
alcohol has him whipped and that his life has become unmanageable. Having
achieved this state of intellectual humility he is given a dose of religion in
the broadest sense. He is asked to believe in a Power that is greater than
himself, or at least to keep an open mind on that subject while he goes on with
the rest the rest of the program. Any concept of the Higher Power is acceptable.
A skeptic or agnostic may choose to think of his Inner Self, the miracle of
growth, a tree, man's wonderment at the physical universe, the structure of the
atom, or mere mathematical infinity. Whatever form is visualized, the neophyte
is taught that he must rely upon it and, in his own way, to pray to the Power
He next makes a short moral inventory of himself with the private aid of another
person - one of his A.A. sponsors, a priest, a minister a psychiatrist, or
anyone else he fancies. If it gives him any relief, he may get up at a meeting
and recite his misdeed, but he is not required to do so. He restores what he may
have stolen while intoxicated and arranges to pay off old debts and to make good
on rubber checks; he makes amends to persons he has abused and in general,
cleans up his past as well as he is able to. It is not uncommon for his sponsors
to lend him money to help out in the early stages.
This catharsis is regarded as important because of the compulsion, which a
feeling of guilt exerts in the alcoholic obsession. As nothing tends to push an
alcoholic toward the bottle more than personal resentments, the pupil also makes
out a list of his grudges and resolves not to be stirred by them. At this point,
he is ready to start working on other, active alcoholics. By the process of
extroversion, which the work entails, he is able to think less of his own
The more drinkers he succeeds in swinging into Alcoholics Anonymous, the greater
his responsibility to the group becomes. He can't get drunk now without injuring
the people who have proved themselves his best friends. He is beginning to grow
up emotionally and to quit being a leaner. If raised in an Orthodox Church, he
usually, but not always, becomes a regular communicant again.
SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH the making over of the alcoholic goes the process of
adjusting his family to his new way of living. The wife or husband of an
alcoholic, and the children, too, frequently become neurotics from being exposed
to drinking excesses over a period of years. Reeducation of the family is an
essential part of a follow-up program, which has been devised.
Alcoholics Anonymous, which is synthesis of old ideas rather than a new
discovery, owes its existence to the collaboration of a New York stockbroker and
an Akron physician. Both alcoholics, they met for the first time a little less
than six years ago. In thirty-five years of periodic drinking, Dr. Armstrong, to
give the physician a fictitious name, had drunk himself out of most of his
practice. Armstrong had tried everything, including the Oxford Group, and had
shown no improvement. On Mother's Day 1935, he staggered home, in typical drunk
fashion, lugging an expensive potted plant, which he placed in his wife's lap.
Then he went upstairs and passed out.
At that moment, nervously pacing the lobby of an Akron hotel, was the broker
from New York, whom we shall arbitrarily call Griffith. Griffith was in a jam.
In an attempt to obtain control of a company and rebuild his financial fences,
he had come out to Akron and engaged in a fight for proxies. He had lost the
fight. His hotel bill was unpaid. He was almost flat broke. Griffith wanted a
During his career in Wall Street, Griffith had turned some sizable deals and had
prospered, but, through ill-timed drinking bouts, had lost out on his main
chances. Five months before coming to Akron, he had gone on the water wagon
through the ministration of the Oxford Group in New York. Fascinated by the
problem of alcoholism, he had many times gone back as a visitor to a Central
Park West detoxicating hospital, where he had been a patient, and talked to the
inmates. He effected no recoveries, but found that by working on other
alcoholics he could stave off his own craving.
A stranger in Akron, Griffith knew no alcoholics with whom he could wrestle. A
church directory, which hung in the lobby opposite the bar, gave him an idea. He
telephoned one of the clergymen listed and through him got in touch with a
member of the local Oxford Group. This person was a friend of Dr. Armstrong's
and was able to introduce the physician and the broker at dinner. In this manner,
Dr. Armstrong became Griffith's first real disciple. He was a shaky one at first.
After a few weeks of abstinence, he went east to a medical convention and came
home in a liquid state. Griffith, who had stayed in Akron to iron out some legal
tangles arising from the proxy battle, talked him back to sobriety. That was on
June 10, 1935. The nips the physician took from a bottle proffered by Griffith
on that day were the last drinks he ever took.
GRIFFITH'S lawsuits dragged on, holding him over in Akron for six months. He
moved his baggage to the Armstrong home, and together the pair struggled with
other alcoholics. Before Griffith went back to New York, two more Akron converts
had been obtained. Meanwhile, both Griffith and Dr. Armstrong had withdrawn from
the Oxford Group, because they felt that its aggressive evangelism and some of
its other methods were hindrances in working with alcoholics. They put their own
technique on a strict take-it-or-leave-it basis and kept it there.
Progress was slow. After Griffith had returned East, Dr. Armstrong and his wife,
a Wellesley graduate, converted their home into a free refuge for alcoholics and
an experimental laboratory for the study of the guest's behavior. One of the
guest, who unknown to his hosts, was a manic-depressive as well as an alcoholic,
ran wild one night with a kitchen knife. He was overcome before he stabbed
anyone. After a year and a half, a total of ten persons had responded to the
program and were abstaining. What was left of the family savings had gone into
the work. The physician's new sobriety caused a revival in his practice, but not
enough of one to carry the extra expense. The Armstrongs, nevertheless, carried
on, on borrowed money. Griffith, who had a Spartan wife, too, turned his
Brooklyn home into a duplicate of Akron image. Mrs. Griffith, a member of an old
Brooklyn family, took a job in a department store and in her spare time played
nurse to inebriates. The Griffiths also borrowed, and Griffith managed to make
odd bits of money around the brokerage houses. By the spring of 1939, The
Armstrongs and the Griffiths had between them cozened about one hundred
alcoholics into sobriety.
IN A BOOK, which they published at that time, the recovered drinkers described
the cure program and related their personal stories. The title was Alcoholics
Anonymous. It was adopted as a name for the movement itself, which up to then
had none. As the book got into circulation, the movement spread rapidly. Today,
Dr. Armstrong is still struggling to patch up his practice. The going is hard.
He is in debt because of his contributions to the movement and the time he
devotes gratis to alcoholics. Being a pivotal man in the group, he is unable to
turn down the requests for help, which flood his office.
Griffith is even deeper in the hole. For the past two years, he and his wife
have had no home in the ordinary sense of the word. In a manner reminiscent of
the primitive Christians, they have moved about, finding shelter in the home of
A.A. colleagues and sometimes wearing borrowed clothing.
Having got something started, both the prime movers want to retire to the fringe
of their movement and spend more time getting back on their feet financially.
They feel that the way the thing is set up, it is virtually self-operating and
self-multiplying. Because of the absence of figureheads and the fact that there
is no formal body of belief to promote, they have no fears that Alcoholics
Anonymous will degenerate into a cult.
The self-starting nature of the movement is apparent from letters in the files
of the New York office. Many persons have written in saying that they stopped
drinking as soon as they read the book, and made their homes meeting places for
small local chapters. Even a fairly large unit, in Little Rock, got started in
this way. An Akron civil engineer and his wife, in gratitude for his cure four
years ago, have been steadily taking alcoholics into their home. Out of thirty-
five such wards, thirty-one have recovered.
TWENTY PILGRIMS from Cleveland caught the idea in Akron and returned home to
start a group of their own. From Cleveland, by various means, the movement has
spread to Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Atlanta, San
Francisco, Evansville, and other cities. An alcoholic Cleveland newspaperman
with a surgically collapsed lung moved to Houston for his health. He got a job
on a Houston paper, and through a series of articles, which he wrote for it,
started an A.A. unit, which now has thirty-five members. One Houston member has
moved to Miami and is now laboring to snare some of the more eminent winter-
colony lushes. A Cleveland traveling salesman is responsible for starting small
units in many different parts of the county. Fewer than half of the A.A. members
has ever seen Griffith or Dr. Armstrong.
To an outsider who is mystified, as most of us are, by the antics of problem-
drinking friends, the results, which have been achieved, are amazing. This is
especially true of the more virulent cases, a few of which are herewith sketched
under names that are not their own.
Sara Martin was a product of the F. Scott Fitzgerald era. Born of wealthy
parents in a Western City, she went to Eastern boarding schools and "finished"
in France. After making her debut, she married. Sara spent her nights drinking
and dancing until daylight. She was known as a girl who could carry a lot of
liquor. Her husband had a weak stomach, and she became disgusted with him. They
were quickly divorced. After her father's fortune had been erased in 1929, Sara
got a job in New York and supported herself. In 1932, seeking adventure, she
went to Paris to live and set up a business of her own, which was successful.
She continued to drink heavily and stayed drunk longer than usual. After a spree
in 1933, she was informed that she had tried to throw herself out a window.
During another bout, she did jump or fall - she doesn't remember which - out of
a first-floor window. She landed face first on the sidewalk and was laid up for
fix months of bone setting, dental work, and plastic surgery.
IN 1936, Sara Martin decided that if she changed her environment by returning to
the United States, she would be able to drink normally. This childish faith in
geographical change is a classic delusion, which all alcoholics get at one time,
or another. She was drunk all the way home on the boat. New York frightened her
and she drank to escape it. Her money ran out and she borrowed from friends.
When the friends cut her, she hung around Third Avenue bars, cadging drinks from
strangers. Up to this point she had diagnosed her trouble as a nervous breakdown.
Not until she had committed herself to several sanitariums did she realize,
through reading, that she was an alcoholic. On advice of a staff doctor, she got
in touch with an Alcoholics Anonymous group. Today, she has another good job and
spends many of her nights sitting on hysterical women drinkers to prevent them
from diving out of windows. In her late thirties, Sarah Martin is an
attractively serene woman. The Paris surgeons did handsomely by her.
Watkins is a shipping clerk in a factory. Injured in an elevator mishap in 1927,
he was furloughed with pay by a company, which was thankful that he did not sue
for damages. Having nothing to do during a long convalescence, Watkins loafed in
speakeasies. Formerly a moderate drinker, he started to go on drunks lasting
several months. His furniture went for debt, and his wife fled, taking their
three children. In eleven years, Watkins was arrested twelve times and served
eight workhouse sentences. Once, in an attack of delirium tremens, he circulated
a rumor among the prisoners that the county was poisoning the food in order to
reduce the workhouse population and save expenses. A mess-hall riot resulted. In
another fit of D.T.'s, during which he thought the man in the cell above was
trying to pour hot lead on him, Watkins slashed his own wrists and throat with a
razor blade. While recuperating in an outside hospital, with eighty-six stitches,
he swore never to drink again. He was drunk before the final bandages were
removed. Two years ago, a former drinking companion got him to Alcoholics
Anonymous, and he hasn't touched liquor since. His wife and children have
returned, and the home has new furniture. Back at work, Watkins has paid off the
major part of $2,000 in debts and petty alcoholic thefts and has his eye on a
AT TWENTY-TWO, Tracy, a precocious son of well-to-do parents, was credit manager
for an investment-banking firm whose name has become a symbol of the money-mad
twenties. After the firm's collapse during the stock market crash, he went into
advertising and worked up to a post, which paid him $23,000 a year. On the day
his son was born, Tracy was fired. Instead of appearing in Boston to close a big
advertising contract, he had gone on a spree and had wound up in Chicago, losing
out on the contract. Always a heavy drinker, Tracy became a bum. He tippled on
Canned Heat and hair tonic and begged from cops, who are always easy touches for
amounts up to a dime. On one sleety night, Tracy sold his shoes to buy a drink,
putting on a pair of rubbers he had found in a doorway and stuffing them with
paper to keep his feet warm.
He started committing himself to sanitariums, more to get in out of the cold
than anything else. In one institution, a physician got him interested in the
A.A. program. As part of it, Tracy, a Catholic made a general confession and
returned to the church, which he had long since abandoned. He skidded back to
alcohol a few times, but after a relapse in February 1939, Tracy took no more
drinks. He has since then beat his way up again to $18,000 a year in advertising.
Victor Hugo would have delighted in Brewster, a heavy-thewed adventurer who took
life the hard way. Brewster was a lumberjack; cowhand, and wartime aviator.
During the postwar era, he took up flask toting and was soon doing a Cook's tour
of the sanitariums. In one of them, after hearing about shock cures, he bribed
the Negro attendant in the morgue, with gifts of cigarettes, to permit him to
drop in each afternoon and meditate over a cadaver. The plan worked well until
one day he cam upon a dead man who, by a freak facial contortion, wore what
looked like a grin. Brewster met up with the A.A.s in December 1938, and after
achieving abstinence, got a sales job, which involved much walking. Meanwhile,
he had got cataracts on both eyes. One was removed, giving him distance sight
with the aid of thick-lens spectacles. He used the other eye for close-up vision,
keeping it dilated with an eye-drop solution in order to avoid being run down in
traffic. The he developed a swollen, or milk, leg. With these disabilities,
Brewster tramped the streets for six months before he caught up with his drawing
account. Today, at fifty, still hampered by his physical handicaps, he is making
his calls and earning around $400 a month.
FOR THE Brewsters, the Martins, the Watkinses, the Tracys, and the other
reformed alcoholics, congenial company is now available wherever they happen to
be. In the larger cities, A.A.s meet one another daily at lunch in favored
restaurants. The Cleveland groups give big parties on New Year's and other
holidays, at which gallons of coffee and soft drinks are consumed. Chicago holds
open house on Friday, Saturday and Sunday - alternating, on the North, West, and
South Sides - so that no lonesome A.A. need revert to liquor over the weekend
for lack of companionship. Some play cribbage or bridge, the winner of each hand
contributing to a kitty for paying of entertainment expenses. The others listen
to the radio, dance, eat, or just talk. All alcoholics, drunk or sober, like to
gab. They are among the most society-loving people in the world, which may help
to explain why they got to be alcoholics in the first place.
The Saturday Evening Post
March 1, 1941