Editors note: Walter S. is a Jewish man in recovery with over twelve years of continuous sobriety. Besides participating regularly in 12-step meetings, he also connects with his fellow Jewish recovering addicts on the Jewish Recovery website. Walter submitted an article published in the AA Grapevine to share with our readers. His poignant personal story reminds us that the Jewish community is not sheltered in any way from the devastation of the illness of addiction. At the same time, the recovery community is populated with many Jewish recovering addicts, who are successful in their recovery and yearn for connections to the Jewish community. Thankfully, today maybe new recovery resources are available for the Jewish community. To find out more, please visit our resource page.


There were frequent beatings, fights, and unhappy scenes at homeMy name is Walter; I am a recovered alcoholic. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share my experience, strength and hope. I became a hopeless, "category 4" alcoholic as described roughly in the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous, Ch. 8 "To Wives," page 110).

I was born in New York in 1948. My childhood – not that it has anything to do with my alcoholism – was very, very unhappy. There were frequent beatings, fights, and unhappy scenes at home; many of the fights were directly related to alcohol and alcoholism. I became a loner, a recluse, a misfit and felt separated - exiled - from others. I used to be ashamed to bring anyone into contact with my family because I was afraid there would be yet another disastrous scene.

I got drunk for the first time at the age of eleven. There was no "invisible line." There was no "functional alcoholic" after that. A true alcoholic was born. I found the solution to being Walter; it was alcohol and the sense of ease, comfort, and belonging that my soul so craved. Suddenly, it was alright to be me and I could do vast and wondrous things – at least I thought so. My peers and miscellaneous authority figures along the way thought otherwise; most of them learned to avoid me and chastised me for my admittedly anti-social, dangerous behavior. I was a violent, rebellious teenager seething with rage who believed everyone was out to get me.

I arrived at Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 27 (1975) as a daily, blackout, gutter crawling drunk. I managed to stay "dry" for nearly eleven years on the first half of Step One and the Fellowship (people – humans); I just did not drink, nothing else changed. I was still the self-centered, cruel, violent person I had always been. I did not know that my alcoholism had already put me beyond "human aid," so I sought recovery and validation in the Fellowship (human aid). I gave lip service to the Steps; only doing those that did not hurt too much or cause me to humble myself. I was a great First and Twelfth Stepper. I had nothing to offer the newcomer because I had not followed the Program of Action, The Twelve Steps. I had not achieved the Spiritual Experience required to recover from alcoholism; I remained a painfully dry drunk.

When my alcoholism became active again, I had not been to a meeting in over four years; I was cheating on my wife, and hiding it from her and my two children. The guilt, remorse, and shame devoured me on a daily basis… just like before coming to AA. My only solution – or so I believed – was to kill the pain with more alcohol. Soon thereafter, I abandoned my wife and children to pursue full-time alcoholism. In 1985, I started drinking again and remained drunk and "medicated" for the next twelve years. I found out what "the last 10 or 15 years of literal hell" really meant. At first, the slide into oblivion was gradual but controllable, or so I egotistically believed; it finally shattered me.

I suffered frequent beatings and frequent head injuries, which I naturally ignoredAs the years wore on, the descent into hell became more and more horrific as I began to show up at various mental and penal institutions. I found myself at psychiatric wards - shot full of Haldol and straitjacketed - trying to convince the resident psychiatrist that I was sane. The problem with that approach is that the harder one tries to convince these professionals, the more insane you appear. And, I was definitely insane; I just didn't think so – I was simply "misunderstood and unloved."

During those years I existed "in or on the streets," doing whatever was required to keep "the game" going. I would gladly sell me or you and everything we owned or could steal in order to keep myself in alcohol and other controlled substances. I suffered frequent beatings and frequent head injuries, which I naturally ignored; it was all part of the machismo, the drama of being a major player on the streets… or so I believed.

I was incarcerated for two violent felonies - armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon - all directly related to bad decisions I made while drinking. After all, alcoholism is not really about alcohol; it's about having dreadful thoughts and feelings, making poor decisions and taking shocking, anti-social, often criminal actions. During those years, I stopped caring whether I lived or died. Unable to take my own life, I turned to asking the police or other law enforcement personnel – who I saw on a regular basis – to shoot me to put me out of my misery, but all they did was beat me senseless and lock me up in the psyche wards.


I know this may sound strange to non-alcoholics or those drunks in early recovery, but the best thing alcohol did for me was to keep me alive long enough to reach AA and the program of action. Following a conspiracy of events in January 1997, I found myself in a dry-out joint, an asylum as the Book calls them, in Northern California. Once I dried out, they turned me over to a county facility and put me in a county bed at another asylum. I was on a county bed because by that time my net worth was reduced to what I could pack into a few cardboard boxes. I spent 90 days at that facility, and it was the beginning of my return to sanity. I was unemployable and mercifully remained that way for several years; this was a gift from G‑d because it enabled me to focus completely on the job of recovery from "a hopeless condition of mind and body."

Looking back on all that, I know that this was the presence of G‑d in my life; it was a "window of opportunity" that sadly does not exist today, at least not in the same way. Around me were people who were not one bit shy about telling me to shut up and listen because I did not know how to stay sober, do life, or treat others. I was told that I was too damaged for The Steps to even help me; at that, I felt like "the gates of hell" had closed on me. I learned that my alcoholism was not about particular substances; it was about thoughts, feelings, and actions.

I had many illusions and shattered dreams, but in truth I was a stranger to myselfSince I was not really a "religious" person, I had no idea how I could come to believe; my belief in everything was gone. An old timer said to me, "Look, kid, do you know the difference between right and wrong?" I believe we all do; that's what creates the hellish internal conflict suffered by so many of us. So, I said that I knew the difference. To which he said, "Well, just do the next right thing and you will find a G‑d of your understanding personal to you."

Simple but TRUE! Guess what? Each time I did the right thing, or refrained from doing the wrong things, I got a little piece of Walter back. You see, I had no idea who Walter really was; I had many illusions and shattered dreams, but in truth I was a stranger to myself. A few years later and still sober, one of my sponsors told me that if I were willing to take the actions required by the Steps, I would find G‑d in the process. Right Again!

The central fact of my life today is my alcoholism. The long form of our Third Tradition says, "We believe our membership should include all who suffer from alcoholism." Just because I have taken the Steps, continue to work them in my daily life, have achieved almost 10 years sober, and try to carry the message to other suffering alcoholics DOES NOT mean that I do not suffer from alcoholism. It is all too easy to slip back into old patterns of thinking and feeling. The difference is that unless I put them into action, thoughts cannot hurt me or those I love. Thank G‑d, I have been granted a solution to my alcoholism and to being Walter.