|PART TWO of "Richmond Walker and the Twenty-Four Hour Book," talk given by Glenn C. (South Bend, Indiana) at the 8th Annual National A.A. Archives Workshop, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on September 27, 2003.|
The downhill slide begins
On Black Friday (October 28, 1929), the U.S. Stock Exchange in New York crashed, and the economic crisis got worse and worse. By March 6, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt had to close all the banks in the country for four days by presidential proclamation.
The two brothers were able to keep their business going, but times were so tough that in 1932, Rich and Agnes had to sell their fancy home in Chestnut Hill. They decided to try to make something positive of it, so they got a smaller house in Cohasset, Massachusetts. It was twenty-five miles south of Boston, but it was right on the harbor, so this gave it some charm. In his lead, Rich talked about his discouragement at that point (Ld 16, see also 7): "I continued to take the train to Boston and go to the office, but my heart was not in it." Naturally enough, being an alcoholic, he began to drink even more and neglected his wife even further. In the readings for March 29th to 30th, he says, "My few friends were only drinking companions, not real friends."
|"I lied to my wife constantly about where I had been and what I'd been doing. I took time off from the office and pretended I'd been sick or gave some other dishonest excuse. I was dishonest with myself, as well as with other people. I would never face myself as I really was or admit when I was wrong. I pretended to myself that I was as good as the next fellow, although I suspected I wasn't."|
They were desperately short of money, and in truth, it was not all due to the Great Depression which had struck the country. Rich was drinking up a lot of their available cash. In his Twenty-Four Hour book, he says that one of the things A.A. had given him was that it did in fact "make me happy to see my wife have enough money for herself and the children" now.
In the Twenty-Four Hour book, he says that he acted that way in part out of gross selfishness. In the reading for March 28th, he says: "I wanted my own way in everything. I don't believe I ever grew up. When things went wrong, I sulked like a spoiled child and often went out and got drunk. [I was] all get and no give." And in the reading for May 10th, he said that he had no feelings of loyalty to anyone or anything: "When I was drinking, I wasn't loyal to anybody. I should have been loyal to my family, but I wasn't. I let them down by my drinking." He betrayed his wife, he betrayed his own children, and he didn't even care.. He let them down at a point when they were totally dependent on him. An alcoholic has to face a lot of bitter truths about himself when he does a fourth step and an eighth step.
His daughter Hilda's death:
the plummet downhill quickened
|Money problems there during the great depression had already thrown Rick into considerable despair. But then came the worst blow of all. Around 1935, he managed to scrape together the money to send his twelve-year-old daughter Hilda to a summer camp on Cape Cod. While she was there, she caught spinal meningitis and died. Rich plunged into such grief that he resigned his position as a partner in the firm. "Agnes and I took a trip to Sweden, and upon our return I went back to the office, not as a partner, but as a clerk working on statistics." Rich was around 42 to 43 years old at the time. The next seven years were the worst of his life: "I was arrested three times for drunken driving," he said in his lead, "and landed in several hospitals," as his drinking just continued to get worse and worse (Ld 17).|
The party was over
|It had not been like that, he said, back when he was in his twenties. He could still remember those good old days (24H 2/8): "All of us alcoholics had a lot of fun with drinking. We might as well admit it. We can look back on the good times . . . . But the time comes for all of us alcoholics when drinking ceases to be fun and becomes trouble." The party was over now, for good. The only parts of his later drinking years of which he could remember much at all, was the hangovers the mornings after (24H 6/01, 6/02, 6/03, see also 1/28):|
"Some things I do not miss since becoming dry: That over-all awful feeling physically, including the shakes, a splitting headache, pains in my arms and legs, bleary eyes, fluttering stomach, droopy shoulder, weak knees, a three-day beard and a flushed complexion. Also facing my wife at breakfast and looking at my breakfast. Also composing the alibi and sticking to it. Also trying to shave with a hand that won't behave. Also opening up my wallet to find it empty."
"Some more things I do not miss since becoming dry: Wondering if the car is in the garage and how I got home. Struggling to remember where I was and what I did since my last conscious moment. Trying to delay getting off to work. Wondering how I will look when I arrive at the office. Dreading the day ahead of me."
"Some more things I do not miss since becoming dry: Running all over town to find a bar open to get that "pick-up." Meeting my friends and trying to cover up that I feel "lousy." Looking at myself in a mirror and calling myself a damn fool. Struggling with myself to snap out of it for two or three days. Wondering what it is all about."
|And it was not just the hangovers and the morning after, but the other things alcohol did to him. As his drinking got worse and worse, he had to lie even more each time around: to his wife, to his brother Joe, and to everyone else with whom he came into contact (24H 1/27):|
|"What a load lying puts on your shoulders! Drinking makes liars out of all of us alcoholics. In order to get the liquor we want, we have to lie all the time. We have to lie about where we've been and what we've been doing. A man who's lying is only half alive, because of the constant fear of being found out. When you come into A.A., and get honest with yourself and with other people, that terrible load of lying falls off your shoulders."|
Caught between the times:
the terror of remorse and dread
|Increasingly, Rich said, he was caught between a past filled only with remorse and a future filled only with dread (24H 1/28 and 3/20).|
"What a load remorse puts on your shoulders! That terrible mental punishment we've all been through. Ashamed of the things you've said and done. Afraid to face people because of what they might think of you. Afraid of the consequences of what you did when you were drunk. What an awful beating the mind takes!"
"When we were drinking, we used to worry about the future. Worry is terrible mental punishment. What's going to become of me? Where will I end up? In the gutter or the sanitarium? We can see ourselves slipping, getting worse and worse, and wonder what the finish will be. Sometimes we get so discouraged in thinking about the future that we toy with the idea of suicide."
Only by learning to live well within the now -- the Eternal Now of the divine Spirit -- could an alcoholic be freed from this hell of remorse and dread. Rich placed a proverb at the beginning of his Twenty-Four Hour book which laid out the only route which he had found that he could follow and be happy and unafraid. Notice that he took it from the Hindu spiritual tradition -- Rich was trying to put us on notice, from the very beginning of the book, that the "universal spiritual thoughts" which would save us could be found in all the religions of the world, not just in the Judeo-Christian tradition:
Look to this day,
For it is life,
The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
The realities and verities of existence,
The bliss of growth,
The splendor of action,
The glory of power --
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
Today well lived was the secret to hope and happiness, provided it was lived with a sure faith in a God of compassion and grace. Only trust in God's compassion can free us from the shame and guilt and remorse over our pasts.
Feeding my pride vs. nurturing the
real, eternal, imperishable me
Rich had done his early drinking in fancy nightclubs, and on Nantucket Island where the wealthy had their summer homes, and on expensive trips to the Caribbean. But during his last seven years of drinking he went progressively down the ladder till he was drinking in cheaper and cheaper bars, and with lower and lower companions. He talks about that in the readings for May 4–6 in the Twenty-Four Hour book. "I used to hang around the lowbrow barrooms so I could feel superior to the other customers." "I used to tell tall stories about myself. I told them so often that I half believe some of them now, even though I know they aren't true." "I had to show off and boast so that people would think I amounted to something, when of course both they and I knew that I really didn't amount to anything. I didn't fool anybody."
Rich said he learned an important lesson from that: "If I'm going to stay sober, I've got to keep myself small." He had to learn to quit feeding his pride, and playing the phoney, and find out who he really was. As A.A. began to teach him to live well within the eternal now, Rich said, he was able to begin regaining contact with his own essential being, what he called "the real, eternal, unperishable me." (24H 1/14)
|"I will learn to overcome myself, because every blow to selfishness is used to shape the real, eternal, unperishable me. As I overcome myself, I gain that power which God releases in my soul. And I too will be victorious."|
|The Eternal Me is the true spiritual self, which dwells within the Eternal Now, untouched by the material world, in immediate communion with the Great Spirit who presides over the universe. "The eternal life is calmness and when a man enters into that, then he lives as an eternal being." (24H 3/10 and 3/17) This is the ancient pre-Christian Platonic tradition at its best.|
His brief period in the Oxford
|In 1939 Rich did what Bill W. and Dr. Bob had done before him: he joined the Oxford Group in an attempt to get sober (Ld 18). He was able to achieve two and a half years of painful, white-knuckled sobriety by using their methods. But that was as long as he could make it, and in 1941 he started drinking again. He did however gain a deep acquaintance with Oxford Group concepts like guidance, and with the books which various Oxford Group leaders were writing and publishing.|
His last year and a half of drinking
From 1941 to May of 1942, Rich was not only back to drinking again, he was putting away so much alcohol that he had to be hospitalized several times, lying there suffering through the D.T.'s. But still he could not stop (Ld 8 and 17, 24H 4/18).
"I was lying in a hospital when my wife sent a lawyer to tell me she did not want me around any longer. In this she was certainly justified -- I was of no use as a husband or father to my children." He and Agnes had been married about nineteen years at the time. He was forty-nine years old, and everything was now destroyed. It was clear to one and all that he was a hopeless alcoholic, and as he said in his lead, "my wife rightly refused to put up with it any longer."
Rich tried to deal with this blow by going back to the island of Nantucket where he had drunk so happily, as he remembered it, in summers long ago, but there was no happiness there now, so finally he got a tiny little room on Beacon Street in Boston where he lived alone (Ld 17). This period of separation from his wife lasted a total of nine nightmarish months (Ld 9). He drank to try to mute the voices and feelings of the inner hell within his own mind: remorse, dread, guilt, shame, anger, hurt feelings, resentment, jealousy, envy, and the feeling of utterly hopeless futility. It was like the worst kind of bad dream -- the kind that leaves us temporarily filled with total horror and terror even after we awaken -- but when he woke up after drinking himself into oblivion, this waking nightmare would descend on him and would not go away until he started drinking again.
Hitting bottom: Spring 1942
|Toward the end of those nine months, Rich finally hit his first bottom, and decided, in total desperation, that he had to reach out once again to whatever kind of God actually ruled this universe, and make a naked plea for help (Ld 19).|
|"While I was drinking alone in the room on Beacon Street in Boston, I became disgusted with my life and suddenly decided I would do something about it. I talked with some members of the Oxford Group, and the next morning, in my lonely room, I prayed to God to show me how to live a better life. I went to Jim's home in Newtonville for two weeks until I had sobered up."|
|It was the Spring of 1942. His father died that year, and he went up to his wife at the funeral and, in typical alcoholic fashion, swore a mighty oath that he was off of alcohol forever. "She took me back on the basis that I would never drink again -- I fully believed I never would." (Ld 19) Of course it could not last long. Rich had his second slip. When we read the passages about slips in the Twenty-Four Hour book, it is important to remember that Rich was talking about something which he himself knew about at first hand.|
Finding A.A. in May 1942:
early Boston A.A.
This time he really hit bottom, and as he tells us in his lead (Ld 19), "after one week of drinking, I walked into the A.A. clubroom at 306 Newbury Street in Boston." He had finally come to the people who had the real answers. This was in May of 1942, and Rich never drank any kind of alcoholic beverage again for the rest of his life (Ld 20). After the painful nine-month separation, he and Agnes got back together, and ever since that point, Rich said (Ld 9), "I have enjoyed a happy married life and the companionship of my children. Joining Alcoholics Anonymous was the best thing I had done in my life since I started drinking at the age of twenty."
In May 1942, A.A. had not been established in Boston for very long. The story of how A.A. got to that city actually began with Marty Mann, the first woman to get sober in A.A., who had been forced (by Harry Tiebout, the psychiatrist) to read one of the advanced multilithed copies of the Big Book while she was being confined at Blythewood Sanitarium in Greenwich, Connecticut. The recent book by Sally and David Brown tells her story in detail. She resisted the program at first however, and did not go to her first A.A. meeting until April of 1939, the same month the Big Book actually came off the presses. The Boston connection arose because Marty subsequently brought a man named Paddy K. to Blythewood, and Paddy decided to start working the A.A. program, and then started the first A.A. group in Boston. And one of the first two Bostonians whom Paddy brought in was Jennie B., the first woman to get sober in that city, the daughter of a Back Bay family (see note 3). Rich had been filled with a lot of snobbiness back in his drinking days, but even he had to respect a group which included people who came from the elegant Back Bay area of the city.
The elegant Back Bay
section of Boston
The first regular A.A. meeting in Boston was begun in March 1941, only fourteen months before Rich came into the program. It is important to note that the first Boston A.A. meetings were held at the Jacoby Club at 115 Newbury Street. Early Boston A.A. was linked to the Jacoby Club in the same way that the earliest history of A.A. in Akron and New York was intertwined with the history of the Oxford Group. The Boston A.A. group obtained its own meeting place in June of that year, at 123 Newbury Street, but the same end of the block, and they kept up their connection with the Jacoby Club. Both groups were located only two blocks away from the Public Garden and Boston Common in the heart of downtown Boston, which meant that they were only two blocks away from Emmanuel Episcopal Church at 15 Newbury Street, where the Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club had first begun. The A.A. group then moved four and a half blocks further west shortly before Rich came in, and had just started meeting at 306 Newbury Street. They had just made their final break with the Jacoby Club, but many of the comparative old timers at the first meetings Rich attended had come into the A.A. program when the Jacoby Club linkage was still intact (see note 4).
The Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club were started in Boston in the first decade of the twentieth century, and had demonstrated a good deal more success than the Oxford Group in not only getting alcoholics sober but keeping them sober. In fact, in the 1940's, thoughtful students of alcoholism treatment would tell you that an alcoholic's best bet was to join either A.A. or the Jacoby Club, which both worked, because psychiatry only worked in two or three percent of the cases. The Jacoby Club believed that alcoholism could be treated only by combining real spirituality with techniques that dealt with psychological problems, using what they called moral suggestion techniques. They also realized that fellowship among recovering alcoholics was absolutely vital to success and made this the centerpiece of their program.
The teaching of Richmond Walker's Twenty-Four Hour book is really much closer to the spirit of the Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club than it is to the spirit of the Oxford Group. Rich had tried the Oxford Group, and had not been able to obtain permanent, long-term sobriety there.
Renewal and the taste of heaven
Boston-style A.A. worked. When he walked into the A.A. clubroom on Newbury Street in May 1942, Rich was a man who had fallen into total hopelessness. What he found there was like a pool of fresh water to a man dying of thirst (Ld 19, 24H 4/29 and 4/04). He saw people who had gone through the same hell which he had, but had managed to recover. Working the program required a great faith, but it was not a blind faith. We could see a demonstration (an Emmet Fox term, see note 5), right before our very eyes, that this kind of faith actually worked (24H 4/22).
"People believe in A.A. when they see it work. An actual demonstration is what convinces them. What they read in books, what they hear people say, doesn't always convince them. But when they see a real honest-to-goodness change take place in a person, a change from a drunkard to a sober, useful citizen, that's something they can believe because they can see it." He saw people at his first meetings there in Boston who had genuinely changed (an Oxford Group term), and he had to admit to himself that whatever they were doing, it actually worked (April 25).
So Rich's life story turned from one of tragedy into a story of renewal. He had found new life. But a total personal transformation of that sort required real work on his part. As he says in the reading for January 18, we alcoholics have to re-educate our subconscious minds (an Emmanuel Movement and Jacoby Club idea).
|"The new life can't be built in a day. We have to take the program slowly, a little at a time. Our subconscious minds have to be re-educated. We have to learn to think differently . . . . Anyone who tries it, knows that the old alcoholic thinking is apt to come back on us when we least expect it."|
How do we re-educate the subconscious? One way is to take a meditational book like Rich's and read from it every morning when we first get up. The Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club had had great success with what they called the moral suggestion technique. Rich's method embodied richer and more sophisticated techniques for doing this. The subconscious mind is especially susceptible to impression at that point, and the effect will start building up over time, even if ten minutes after we read the passage, we seem to have forgotten all about what it was talking about. The subconscious will not have forgotten, not if it was a book like Rich's, which was especially designed to contain images and metaphors and ways of speaking which spoke directly to the subconscious. That is why early A.A.'s found his book to be the most powerful meditational work they had ever encountered.
The principles of this new way of life were eternal, heavenly principles (24H 1/10): "I pray that I may learn the principles of the good life. I pray that I may meditate upon them and work at them, because they are eternal." They are the taste of heaven itself. When we stay in the Now, and live by these eternal values, we ourselves are living in the eternal life of God. So Rich made the daring statement (24H 1/25):
|"I do not look upon [God's promise of eternal life] as referring only to the after-life. I do not look upon this life as something to be struggled through, in order to get the rewards of the next life. I believe that the Kingdom of God is within us and we can enjoy 'eternal life' here and now."|
|It was a biblical statement which Rich was citing -- Luke 17:21, "the kingdom of God is within you" -- but Rich carried it out to its full radical conclusion. He was teaching a realized eschatology as opposed to a future eschatology, to use the terminology which the Christian existentialist theologian Rudolf Bultmann was expounding at the University of Marburg over in Germany at that time. Or to use the terminology of the history of religions scholar Mircea Eliade, Rich was using language about the end time as a symbolic way of talking about how we could learn to cross through the barrier which separates ordinary profane space and time from the realm of sacred space and time at any time that we wished to (see note 6). The two realms actually coexist simultaneously. Where is heaven? Heaven can be right here and right now, if we are willing to grow enough spiritually to enter it.|
The move to Florida
|Rich helped in the formation of the A.A. intergroup in Boston, and at some point moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, where he also helped in the formation of the A.A. intergroup there (see note 7). He said that (24H 2/20–2/21) "my main business now is keeping sober. I make a living in business, but that's not my main business. It's secondary to the business of keeping sober." He became one of the great heroes within Florida A.A., which is why I am so pleased to have the opportunity to talk about him here in Fort Lauderdale.|