Letter from an AA member in 1940 - 90% success rate
Letter from Chan F. to Barry C. dated April 17, 1940
This is a Twelfth Step Letter from an early member of the Chicago Group to a "prospect" in Minneapolis, MN. Chan has been sober for about three months and Barry is still drinking. This letter proved to be the "turning point" that brought Barry C. into the A.A. program. Barry later became a leader of the Beginners' Meetings for the Nicollet Group in Minneapolis. Based on two years experience taking newcomers through all Twelve Steps in four one-hour sessions, he co-authored the Little Red Book in 1946.
8425 Monticello Ave.
April 17, 1940
I am inclosing a booklet that I thought might interest you. It concerns "Alcoholics Anonymous," an informal group of ex-guzzlers that has grown up in several cities and is spreading rapidly about the country.
The booklet does a good job of explaining the business, and I will not attempt to add much to it except to tell you a little about the Chicago group, of which I am a member.
You know enough about my drinking career so I need not go into detail. Well, as you probably observed while I was in Mpls (Minneapolis) last fall, I had not been improving any as the years passed. Trying to beat liquor had me plenty worried, and more so during the last couple of years. About a year ago, one of my Chicago friends, a newspaper man who had been fired for drinking a couple of years ago, was hitting the bottle harder than ever. He was doing a rapid tailspin toward the nut house or the graveyard; he had his wife almost nuts trying to do something about it, and she had even consulted me about trying to persuade him to go out to the Hines Vets Hospital (he was cagey, thought it was a ruse to get him permanently confined.)
About that time, Bill tried to commit suicide; he felt he was all washed up. He swallowed a terrific overdose of sedative late in the afternoon. His wife happened to come home early from her office, found him unconscious, called the doctor and they dragged him back from oblivion. That really was a bad shock to me; before that I had tried going on the wagon for stretches, but you know how those things end up–with a bigger binge than ever.
After Bill's unsuccessful attempt to die, he went on the wagon. I was skeptical as week after week passed, expecting him to fall off with a terrific thud. But he didn't, and it is a matter of record that he hasn't had a drink since–that is eight months dry.
Meanwhile, I was drinking–periodically–brief stretches of aridity, then a few weeks of really two-fisted tippling. Then Bill started working on me subtly. He told me a little about a gang of guys, all of them alcoholics, who had quit drinking and had worked up a little social life of their own to replace at least somewhat the free and easy atmosphere of a barroom. It sounded good to me, but I was a bit skeptical and was shying away a bit from anything that might savor of a WCTU setup. After about a month, he persuaded Marie and I to attend an open house in Willmette–one of the group's gatherings. We went and I was considerably amazed. I expected to find almost anything–a bunch of screwballs, or long faced prematurely doddering old souses, a forced and tense atmosphere. But instead, there were about thirty people, mostly around my age, some a bit older. One poker game (nickel limit) was in session, several other card games–bridge, pinnochle, etc. And a good buffet lunch, plus gallons of coffee. We didn't stay very long, but I did warm up to the drunks, and their fraus, and I had a feeling (really of vast relief) that I was hooked.
That was New Year's eve, and I didn't take a drink though we went to two other parties (one wet) afterward. But I made up for it a few days later; I went on a two day bender that was a beaut–it seemed like a good one, because in the back of my head I couldn't shake the thought that it probably was my last bout with he cheerful bottle.
As it later proved, that was it. I haven't had a drink since, and have little if any desire to drink. A tremendous load off my mind, a feeling of ease, new confidence in my future, and I am really enjoying life for the first time in years. Those damned drinking nightmares are somewhere in the dim past.
Well, that's my story, and by God I'm sticking to it, you skeptical bastard.
Very seriously, Barry, I've found that this thing is the answer. The group here, which is growing fast, was started little more than a year ago by an "alumnus" of the Cleveland group (Earl T.). We have about fifty members. We have an open house once a week, on Sunday, at one of the members’ homes (it is to be at our house this week; wish you were here–we're going to feed em about a half ton of fresh shrimp, etc.); gather for dinner at a downtown restaurant every Tuesday night, and afterward hold an informal meeting. In our other spare time, all of us work on newcomers, "prospects", some of them just out of sanitariums, others of whom have to be hospitalized to shake off the jitters.
By its nature, we must adhere as much as possible to the anonymous aspect of the group. We don't let it be generally known who belongs, where we meet, etc. If we did we would be deluged with crackpots, reformers, mamas and wives who want us to reform their darlings (and that doesn't work), etc. We merely try to pass the thing along to other alcoholics who want to quit and have learned that it is all but impossible to do it alone.
The group here is an interesting cross section of the town. We have (as you might guess) several newspaper men, among them the city editor of the town's best newspaper, a nationally famous reporter, a newspaper art director, several salesmen, two city firemen, a former city detective, a paperhanger, a lawyer, two doctors, a dentist, the heir to a State St. store fortune (for who we hold little hope, as he hasn't a damned thing to interest him besides drinking and no responsibility), etc. etc. etc., every last one of them an alcoholic.
The surprising thing about it, the damn thing works. We have an amazingly small percentage of slips; I would say that 90 percent of the guys who really want to quit are making the grade, and the "medicine" is very pleasant. Last night, a major league baseball star attended our group meeting; he is a member of the Cleveland group (Rollie H.).
Here's where you come in–if you are interested. I am in correspondence with four persons in Minneapolis, none of whom can handle his liquor and who want to quit. They are interested in forming the nucleus of a Minneapolis group. They are reading about it and soaking up in the fundamentals. In the next two or three weeks I am planning to drive to Mpls, taking with me three or four other members of the group. We plan to contact these people as soon as we get there, and then get them together. Our mission will be merely to be as helpful as we can–answer questions, tell them how we operated in Chicago, etc. The rest is up to them.
Write and tell me what you think of the plan. There is no catch in it, it costs nothing, you incur no obligation, take no pledge.
I mentioned that the other Mpls guys are "reading about it." As the booklet I am inclosing mentions, there is a book called Alcoholics Anonymous that tells the detailed story of the group–how it operates, how it started, its method, and the personal stories of many of the first hundred members of the group. The book costs $3.50, and we have them available here at that price; it is strictly a non-profit enterprise, and the publishing of the book was underwritten by members of the New York group. If you can scrape up the price, I would like you to order one–I can mail it from here. If you can't spare the dough, I'll try to borrow one for you to read, though they are scarce and much in demand.
I trust you will excuse what probably sounds like a long sales talk, but very naturally I am filled up with it and I think it is too damned good to keep.
Marie and the kids are fine, though Marie is too damned busy to get enough sleep. She is working, of course, and is mixed up in a lot of other activities.
I have been busy for a month completely redecorating our apartment, 5½ rooms, to make a month's rent. It was a hell of a job, even though I had the supervision of an expert and he loaned me all his equipment. Haven't got the garden plowed yet, but expect to get started on planting next week.
Please keep this as confidential as you can, Barry; I don't mind any of my Mpls friends knowing I am on the wagon, but the anonymous business is really necessary for the group as far as names of persons in it is concerned.
My best to Corrine and the rest of the family, and to any of my friends you may meet.