AA Co-Founder Shares His Story
Dr. Bobs Nightmare
I was born in a small New England village of about seven
thousand souls. The general moral standard was, as I recall it,
far above the average. No beer or liquor was sold in the
neighborhood, except at the State liquor agency where perhaps
one might procure a pint if he could convince the agent that he
really needed it. Without this proof the expectant purchaser
would be forced to depart empty handed with none of what I later
came to believe was the great panacea for all human ills. Men
who had liquor shipped in from Boston or New York by express
were looked upon with great distrust and disfavor by most of the
good townspeople. The town was well supplied with churches and
schools in which I pursued my early educational activities.
My father was a professional man of recognized ability and
both my father and mother were most active in church affairs.
Both father and mother were considerably above the average in
intelligence. Unfortunately for me I was the only child, which
perhaps engendered the selfishness which played such an
important part in bringing on my alcoholism.
From childhood through high school I was more or less forced
to go to church, Sunday School and evening service, Monday night
Christian Endeavor and sometimes to Wednesday evening prayer
meeting. This had the effect of making me resolve that when I
was free from parental domination, I would never again darken
the doors of a church. This resolution I kept steadfastly for
the next forty years, except when circumstances made it seem
unwise to absent myself.
After high school came four years in one of the best colleges
in the country where drinking seemed to be a major
extra-curricular activity. Almost everyone seemed to do it. I
did it more and more, and had lots of fun without much grief,
either physical or financial. I seemed to be able to snap back
the next morning better than most of my fellow drinkers, who
were cursed (or perhaps blessed) with a great deal of
morning-after nausea. Never once in my life have I had a
headache, which fact leads me to believe that I was an alcoholic
almost from the start. My whole life seemed to be centered
around doing what I wanted to do, without regard for the rights,
wishes, or privileges of anyone else; a state of mind which
became more and more predominant as the years passed. I was
graduated with "summa cum laude" in the eyes of the
drinking fraternity, but not in the eyes of the Dean.
The next three years I spent in Boston, Chicago, and Montreal
in the employ of a large manufacturing concern, selling railway
supplies, gas engines of all sorts, and many other items of
heavy hardware. During these years, I drank as much as my purse
permitted, still without paying too great a penalty, although I
was beginning to have morning "jitters" at times. I
lost only a half day's work during these three years.
My next move was to take up the study of medicine, entering
one of the largest universities in the country.
There I took up the business of drinking with much greater
earnestness than I had previously shown. On account of my
enormous capacity for beer, I was elected to membership in one
of the drinking societies, and soon became one of the leading
spirits. Many mornings I have gone to classes, and even though
fully prepared, would turn and walk back to the fraternity house
because of my jitters, not daring to enter the classroom for
fear of making a scene should I be called on for recitation.
This went from bad to worse until sophomore spring when,
after a prolonged period of drinking, I made up my mind that I
could not complete my course, so I packed my grip and went South
and spent a month on a large farm owned by a friend of mine.
When I got the fog out of my brain, I decided that quitting
school was very foolish and that I had better return and
continue my work. When I reached school, I discovered the
faculty had other ideas on the subject. After much argument they
allowed me to return and take my exams, all of which I passed
creditably. But they were much disgusted and told me they would
attempt to struggle along without my presence. After many
painful discussions, they finally gave me my credits and I
migrated to another of the leading universities of the country
and entered as a Junior that Fall.
There my drinking became so much worse that the boys in the
fraternity house where I lived felt forced to send for my
father, who made a long journey in the vain endeavor to get me
straightened around. This had
little effect however for I kept on drinking and used a great
deal more hard liquor than in former years.
Coming up to final exams I went on a particularly strenuous
spree. When I went in to write the examinations, my hand
trembled so I could not hold a pencil. I passed in at least
three absolutely blank books. I was, of course, soon on the
carpet and the upshot was that I had to go back for two more
quarters and remain absolutely dry, if I wished to graduate.
This I did, and proved myself satisfactory to the faculty, both
in deportment and scholastically.
I conducted myself so creditably that I was able to secure a
much coveted internship in a western city, where I spent two
years. During these two years I was kept so busy that I hardly
left the hospital at all. Consequently, I could not get into any
When those two years were up, I opened an office downtown.
Then I had some money, all the time in the world, and
considerable stomach trouble. I soon discovered that a couple of
drinks would alleviate my gastric distress, at least for a few
hours at a time, so it was not at all difficult for me to return
to my former excessive indulgence.
By this time I was beginning to pay very dearly physically
and, in hope of relief, voluntarily incarcerated myself at least
a dozen times in one of the local sanitariums. I was between
Scylla and Charybdis now, because if I did not drink my stomach
tortured me, and if I did, my nerves did the same thing. After
three years of this, I wound up in the local hospital where they
attempted to help me, but I would get my friends
to smuggle me a quart, or I would steal the alcohol about
the building, so that I got rapidly worse.
Finally my father had to send a doctor out from my home town who
managed to get me back there some way and I was in bed about two
months before I could venture out of the house. I stayed about
town a couple of months more and returned to resume my practice.
I think I must have been thoroughly scared by what had happened,
or by the doctor, or probably both, so that I did not touch a
drink again until the country went dry.
With the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment I felt quite
safe. I knew everyone would buy a few bottles, or cases, of
liquor as their exchequers permitted, and it would soon be gone.
Therefore it would make no great difference, even if I should do
some drinking. At that time I was not aware of the almost
unlimited supply the government made it possible for us doctors
to obtain, neither had I any knowledge of the bootlegger who
soon appeared on the horizon. I drank with moderation at first,
but it took me only a relatively short time to drift back into
the old habits which had wound up so disastrously before.
During the next few years, I developed two distinct phobias.
One was the fear of not sleeping, and the other was the fear of
running out of liquor. Not being a man of means, I knew that if
I did not stay sober enough to earn money, I would run out of
liquor. Most of the time, therefore, I did not take the morning
drink which I craved so badly, but instead would fill up on
large doses of sedatives to quiet the jitters, which distressed
me terribly. Occasionally, I would yield to the the morning
craving, but if I did, it would be only a few hours before I
would be quite unfit for work. This would lessen my chances of
smuggling some home that evening, which in turn would mean a
night of futile tossing around in bed followed by a morning of
unbearable jitters. During the subsequent fifteen years I had
sense enough never to go to the hospital if I had been drinking,
and very seldom did I receive patients. I would sometimes hide
out in one of the clubs of which I was a member, and had the
habit at times of registering at a hotel under a fictitious
name. But my friends usually found me and I would go home if
they promised that I should not be scolded.
If my wife were planning to go out in the afternoon, I would
get a large supply of liquor and smuggle it home and hide it in
the coal bin, the clothes chute, over door jambs, over beams in
the cellar and in cracks in the cellar tile. I also made use of
old trunks and chests, the old can container, and even the ash
container. The water tank on the toilet I never used, because
that looked too easy. I found out later that my wife inspected
it frequently. I used to put eight or twelve ounce bottles of
alcohol in a fur lined glove and toss it onto the back airing
porch when winter days got dark enough. My bootlegger had hidden
alcohol at the back steps where I could get it at my
convenience. Sometimes I would bring it in my pockets, but they
were inspected, and that became too risky. I used also to put it
up in four ounce bottles and stick several in my stocking tops.
This worked nicely until my wife and I went to see Wallace Beery
in "Tugboat Annie," after which the pant-leg and
stocking racket were out!
I will not take space to relate all my hospital or sanitarium
experiences. During all this time we became more or less
ostracized by our friends. We could not be invited out because I
would surely get tight and my wife dared not invite people in
for the same reason. My phobia for sleeplessness demanded that I
get drunk every night, but in order to get more liquor for the
next night, I had to stay sober during the day, at least up to
four o' clock. This routine went on with few interruptions for
seventeen years. It was really a horrible nightmare, this
earning money, getting liquor, smuggling it home, getting drunk,
morning jitters, taking large doses of sedatives to make it
possible for me to earn more money, and so on ad nauseam. I used
to promise my wife, my friends, and my children that I would
drink no more-promises which seldom kept me sober even through
the day, though I was very sincere when I made them.
For the benefit of those experimentally inclined, I should
mention the so-called beer experiment. When beer first came
back, I thought that I was safe. I could drink all I wanted of
that. It was harmless; nobody ever got drunk on beer. So I
filled the cellar full, with the permission of my good wife. It
was not long before I was drinking at least a case and a half a
day. I put on thirty pounds weight in about two months, looked
like a pig, and was uncomfortable from shortness of breath. It
then occurred to me that after one was all smelled up with beer
nobody could tell what had been drunk, so I began to fortify my
beer with straight alcohol. Of course, the result was very bad,
and that ended the beer experiment.
About the time of the beer experiment I was thrown in with a
crowd of people who attracted me because of their seeming poise,
health, and happiness. They spoke with great freedom from
embarrassment, which I could never do, and they seemed very much
at ease on all occasions and appeared very healthy. More than
these attributes, they seemed to be happy. I was self conscious
and ill at ease most of the time, my health was at the breaking
point, and I was thoroughly miserable. I sensed they had
something I did not have, from which I might readily profit. I
learned that it was something of a spiritual nature, which did
not appeal to me very much, but I thought it could do no harm. I
gave the matter much time and study for the next two and a half
years, but still got tight every night nevertheless. I read
everything I could find, and talked to everyone who I thought
knew anything about it.
My good wife became deeply interested and it was her interest
that sustained mine, though I at no time sensed that it might be
an answer to my liquor problem. How my wife kept her faith and
courage during all those years, I'll never know, but she did. If
she had not, I know I would have been dead a long time ago. For
some reason, we alcoholics seem to have the gift of picking out
the world's finest women. Why they should be subjected to the
tortures we inflicted upon them, I cannot explain.
About this time a lady called up my wife one Saturday
afternoon, saying she wanted me to come over that
evening to meet a friend of hers who might help me. It was the
day before Mother's Day and I had come home plastered, carrying
a big potted plant which I set down on the table and forthwith
went upstairs and passed out. The next day she called again.
Wishing to be polite, though I felt very badly, I said,
"Let's make the call," and extracted from my wife a
promise that we would not stay over fifteen minutes.
We entered her house at exactly five o' clock and it was
eleven fifteen when we left. I had a couple of shorter talks
with this man afterward, and stopped drinking abruptly. This dry
spell lasted for about three weeks; Then I went to Atlantic City
to attend several days' meeting of a National Society of which I
was a member. I drank all the Scotch they had on the train and
bought several quarts on my way to the hotel. This was on
Sunday. I got tight that night, stayed sober Monday till after
the dinner and then proceeded to get tight again. I drank all I
dared in the bar, and then went to my room to finish the job.
Tuesday I started in the morning, getting well organized by
noon. I did not want to disgrace myself, so I then checked out.
I bought some more liquor on the way to the depot. I had to wait
some time for the train. I remember nothing from then on until I
woke up at a friend's house, in a town near home. These good
people notified my wife, who sent my newly-made friend over to
get me. He came and got me home and to bed, gave me a few drinks
that night, and one bottle of beer the next morning. That was
June 10, 1935, and that was my last drink. As I write nearly six
years have passed.
The question which might naturally come into your mind would
be: "what did the man do or say that was different from
what others had done or said?" It must be remembered that I
had read a great deal and talked to everyone who knew, or
thought they knew, anything about the subject of alcoholism.
This man was a man who had experienced many years of frightful
drinking, who had had most all the drunkard's experience known
to man, but who had been cured by the very means I had been
trying to employ, that is to say, the spiritual approach. He
gave me information about the subject of alcoholism which was
undoubtedly helpful. Of far more importance was the fact that
he was the first living human with whom I bad ever talked, who
knew what he was talking about in regard to alcoholism from
actual experience. In other words, be talked my language. He
knew all the answers, and certainly not because he had picked
them up in his reading.
It is a most wonderful blessing to be relieved of the
terrible curse with which I was afflicted. My health is good and
I have regained my self-respect and the respect of my
colleagues. My home life is ideal and my business is as good as
can be expected in these uncertain times.I spend a great deal of
time passing on what I learned to others who want and need it
badly. I do it for four reasons:
1. Sense of duty.
2. It is a pleasure.
3. Because in so doing I am paying my debt to the man who took
time to pass it on to me.
4. Because every time I do it I take out a little more insurance
for myself against a possible slip.
Unlike most of our crowd, I did not get over my
craving for liquor much during the first two and one-half years of
abstinence. It was almost always with me. But at no time have I
been anywhere near yielding. I used to get terribly upset when I
saw my friends drink and knew I could not, but I schooled myself
to believe that though I once had the same privilege, I had abused
it so frightfully that it was withdrawn. So it doesn't behoove me
to squawk about it, for after all, nobody ever used to throw me
down and pour any liquor down my throat.
If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a
skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps
you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. If
you still think you are strong enough to beat the game alone, that
is your affair. But if you really and truly want to quit drinking
liquor for good and all, and sincerely feel that you must have
some help, we know that we have an answer for you. It never fails
if you go about it with one half the zeal you have been in the
habit of showing when getting another drink.
Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!
Reprinted from Alcoholics Anonymous, with
permission of A.A. World Services, Inc.