WAR FEVER ran high in the New England town
to which we new, young officers from Platts-
burg 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 sub-
lime with intervals hilarious. I was part of life at last,
and in the midst of the excitement I discovered liquor.
I forgot the strong warnings and the prejudices of my
people concerning drink. In time we sailed for "Over
There." I was very lonely and again turned to alcohol.
We landed in England. I visited Winchester Cathe-
dral. 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 appre-
ciation? My talent for leadership, I imagined, would
place me at the head of vast enterprises which I would
manage with the utmost assurance.
2 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
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 impor-
tant. 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. Po-
tential 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 lead-
ers 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 de-
cided to go anyway. I had developed a theory that
most people lost money in stocks through ignorance
of markets. I discovered many more reasons later on.
We gave up our positions and off we roared on a
motorcycle, the sidecar stuffed with tent, blankets, a
change of clothes, and three huge volumes of a finan-
BILL'S STORY 3
cial reference service. Our friends thought a lunacy
commission should be appointed. Perhaps they were
right. I had had some success at speculation, so we
had a little money, but we once worked on a farm for
a month to avoid drawing on our small capital. That
was the last honest manual labor on my part for many
a day. We covered the whole eastern United States in
a year. At the end of it, my reports to Wall Street
procured me a position there and the use of a large ex-
pense account. The exercise of an option brought in
more money, leaving us with a profit of several thou-
sand dollars for that year.
For the next few years fortune threw money and ap-
plause my way. I had arrived. My judgement and
ideas were followed by many to the tune of paper mil-
lions. The great boom of the late twenties was seeth-
ing 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, con-
tinuing all day and almost every night. The remon-
strances of my friends terminated in a row and I
became a lone wolf. There were many unhappy scenes
in our sumptuous apartment. There had been no real
infidelity, for loyalty to my wife, helped at times by
extreme drunkenness, kept me out of those scrapes.
In 1929 I contracted golf fever. We went at once
to the country, my wife to applaud while I started out
to overtake Walter Hagen. Liquor caught up with me
much faster than I came up behind Walter. I began
to be jittery in the morning. Golf permitted drinking
4 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
every day and every night. It was fun to carom around
the exclusive course which had inspired such awe in
me as a lad. I acquired the impeccable coat of tan
one sees upon the well-to-do. The local banker
watched me whirl fat checks in and out of his till with
Abruptly in October 1929 hell broke loose on the
New York stock exchange. After one of those days of
inferno, I wobbled from a hotel bar to a brokerage
office. It was eight o'clock--five hours after the market
closed. The ticker still clattered. I was staring at an
inch of the tape which bore the inscription XYZ-32. It
had been 52 that morning. I was finished and so were
many friends. The papers reported men jumping to
death from the towers of High Finance. That dis-
gusted me. I would not jump. I went back to the bar.
My friends had dropped several million since ten
o'clock--so what? Tomorrow was another day. As I
drank, the old fierce determination to win came back.
Next morning I telephoned a friend in 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 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 depart-
ment store, coming home exhausted to find me drunk.
BILL'S STORY 5
I became an unwelcome hanger-on at brokerage
Liquor ceased to be a luxury; it became a necessity.
"Bathtub" gin, two bottles a day, and often three, got
to be routine. Sometimes a small deal would net a few
hundred dollars, and I would pay my bills at the bars
and delicatessens. This went on endlessly, and I began
to waken very early in the morning shaking violently.
A tumbler full of gin followed by half a dozen bottles
of beer would be required if I were to eat any break-
fast. Nevertheless, I still thought I could control the
situation, and there were periods of sobriety which
renewed my wife's hope.
Gradually things got worse. The house was taken
over by the mortgage holder, my mother-in-law died,
my wife and father-in-law became 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 busi-
ness. 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 ap-
palling lack of perspective seemed near being just that.
Renewing my resolve, I tried again. Some time
6 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
passed, and confidence began to be replaced by cock-
sureness. I could laugh at the gin mills. Now I had
what it takes! One day I walked into a cafe to tele-
phone. In no time I was beating on the bar asking my-
self how it happened. As the whisky rose to my head
I told myself I would manage better next time, but I
might as well get good and drunk then. And I did.
The remorse, horror and hopelessness of the next
morning are unforgettable. The courage to do battle
was not there. My brain raced uncontrollably and
there was a terrible sense of impending calamity. I
hardly dared cross the street, lest I collapse and be run
down by an early morning truck, for it was scarcely
daylight. An all night place supplied me with a dozen
glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled at last.
A morning paper told me the market had gone to hell
again. Well, so had I. The market would recover, but
I wouldn't. That was a hard thought. Should I kill
myself? No--not now. Then a mental fog settled
down. Gin would fix that. So two bottles, and--
The mind and body are marvelous mechanisms, for
mine endured this agony two more years. Sometimes
I stole from my wife's slender purse when the morning
terror and madness were on me. Again I swayed diz-
zily 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
BILL'S STORY 7
a heavy sedative. Next day found me drinking both
gin and sedative. This combination soon landed me
on the rocks. People feared for my sanity. So did I.
I could eat little or nothing when drinking, and I was
forty pounds under weight.
My brother-in-law is a physician, and through his
kindness and that of my mother I was placed in a na-
tionally-known hospital for the mental and physical
rehabilitation of alcoholics. Under the so-called bella-
donna 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 com-
bating liquor, though it often remains strong in other
respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a
desperate desire to stop was explained. Understand-
ing 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 cur-
tain, 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
8 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
pride. I, who had thought so well of myself and my
abilities, of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was
cornered at last. Now I was to plunge into the dark,
joining that endless procession of sots who had gone
on before. I thought of my poor wife. There had been
much happiness after all. What would I not give to
make amends. But that was over now.
No words can tell of the loneliness and despair I
found in that bitter morass of self-pity. Quicksand
stretched around me in all directions. I had met my
match. I had been overwhelmed. Alcohol was my
Trembling, I stepped from the hospital a broken
man. Fear sobered me for a bit. Then came the insidi-
ous 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 some-
where, 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 though 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
BILL'S STORY 9
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 com-
mitted 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 wel-
fare, I thought only of recapturing the spirit of other
days. There was that time we had chartered an air-
plane to complete a jag! His coming was an oasis in
this dreary desert of futility. The very thing--an oasis!
Drinkers are like that.
The door opened and he stood there, fresh-skinned
and glowing. There was something about his eyes. He
was inexplicably different. What had happened?
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 alco-
holic 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
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
10 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
I cared to have it. I was shocked, but interested. Cer-
tainly I was interested. I had to be, for I was hopeless.
He talked for hours. Childhood memories rose be-
fore me. I could almost hear the sound of the preach-
er's voice as I sat, on still Sundays, way over there on
the hillside; there was that proffered temperance
pledge I never signed; my grandfather's good natured
contempt of some church 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 my-
self. 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 origi-
nated 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 limitations.
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.
BILL'S STORY 11
To Christ I conceded the certainty of a great man,
not too closely followed by those who claimed Him.
His moral teaching--most excellent. For myself, I had
adopted those parts which seemed convenient and not
too difficult; the rest I disregarded.
The wars which had been fought, the burnings and
chicanery that religious dispute had facilitated, made
me sick. I honestly doubted whether, on balance, the
religions of mankind had done any good. Judging
from what I had seen in Europe and since, the power
of God in human affairs was negligible, the Brother-
hood 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 reli-
gious people were right after all. Here was something
at work in a human heart which had done the impos-
sible. 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
12 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
reorganized. He was on a different footing. His roots
grasped a new soil.
Despite the living example of my friend there re-
mained in me the vestiges of my old prejudice. The
word God still aroused a certain antipathy. When the
thought was expressed that there might be a God per-
sonal to me this feeling was intensified. I didn't like
the idea. I could go for such conceptions as Creative
Intelligence, Universal Mind or Spirit of Nature but I
resisted the thought of a Czar of the Heaven, however
loving His sway might be. I have since talked with
scores of men who felt the same way.
My friend suggested what then seemed a novel idea.
He said, "Why don't you choose your own conception
That statement hit me hard. It melted the icy intel-
lectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and
shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last.
It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a
Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required
of me to make my beginning. I saw that growth could
start from that point. Upon a foundation of complete
willingness I might build what I saw in my friend.
Would I have it? Of course I would!
Thus was I convinced that God is concerned with us
humans when we want Him enough. At long last I
saw, I felt, I believed. Scales of pride and prejudice
fell from my eyes. A new world came into view.
The real significance of my experience in the Cathe-
dral burst upon me. For a brief moment, I had needed
and wanted God. There had been a humble willing-
ness to have Him with me--and He came. But soon
the sense of His presence had been blotted out by
BILL'S STORY 13
worldly clamors, mostly those within myself. And so
it had been ever since. How blind I had been.
At the hospital I was separated from alcohol for the
last time. Treatment seemed wise, for I showed signs
of delirium tremens.
There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then
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 noth-
ing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my
sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend
take them away, root and branch. I have not had a
My schoolmate visited me, and I fully acquainted
him with my problems and deficiencies. We made a
list of people I had hurt or toward whom I felt resent-
ment. 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-conscious-
ness within. Common sense would thus become un-
common 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 useful-
ness to others. Then only might I expect to receive.
But that would be in great measure.
My friend promised when these things were done I
would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator;
that I would have the elements of a way of living
which answered all my problems. Belief in the power
of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility
14 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
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
These were revolutionary and drastic proposals, but
the moment I fully accepted them, the effect was elec-
tric. 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 profound.
For a moment I was alarmed, and called my friend,
the doctor, to ask if I were still sane. He listened in
wonder as I talked.
Finally he shook his head saying, "Something has
happened to you I don't understand. But you had
better hang on to it. Anything is better than the way
you were." The good doctor now sees many men who
have such experiences. He knows that they are real.
While I lay in the hospital the thought came that
there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might
be glad to have what had been so freely given me.
Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn
might work with others.
My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of
demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Par-
ticularly 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
BILL'S STORY 15
spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others,
he could not survive the certain trails and low spots
ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink
again, and if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith
would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that.
My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusi-
asm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution
of their problems. It was fortunate, for my old busi-
ness associates remained skeptical for a year and a
half, during which I found little work. I was not too
well at the time, and was plagued by waves of self-
pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove me
back to drink, but I soon found that when all other
measures failed, work with another alcoholic would
save the day. Many times I have gone to my old hos-
pital 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 fel-
lowship had grown up among us of which it is a won-
derful thing to feel a part. The joy of living we really
have, even under pressure and difficulty. I have seen
hundreds of families set their feet in the path that
really goes somewhere; have seen the most impossible
domestic situations righted; feuds and bitterness of all
sorts wiped out. I have seen men come out of asylums
and resume a vital place in the lives of their families
and communities. Business and professional men have
regained their standing. There is scarcely any form of
trouble and misery which has not been overcome
among us. In one western city and its environs there
are one thousand of us and our families. We meet fre-
quently so that newcomers may find the fellowship
16 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
they seek. At these informal gatherings one may often
see from 50 to 200 persons. We are growing in num-
bers 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
There is, however, a vast amount of fun about it all.
I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming
worldliness and levity. But just underneath there is
deadly earnestness. Faith has to work twenty-four
hours a day in and through us, or we perish.
Most of us feel we need look no further for Utopia.
We have it with us right here and now. Each day my
friend's simple talk in our kitchen multiplies itself in
a widening circle of peace on earth and good will to