How I Quit
This took some time. I didn't dash into it. I had done that before, and
had dashed out again just as impetuously. I revolved the matter in my
mind for some weeks. Then I decided to quit. Then I did quit. Thereby
hangs this tale.
I went to a dinner one night that was a good dinner. It was a dinner
that had every appurtenance that a good dinner should have, including
the best things to drink that could be o
tained, and lashings of them.
I proceeded at that dinner just as I had proceeded at scores of similar
dinners in my time--hundreds of them, I guess--and took a drink every
time anybody else did. I was a seasoned drinker. I knew how to do it. I
went home that night pleasantly jingled, but no more. I slept well, ate
a good breakfast and went down to business. On the way down I decided
that this was the day to make the plunge. Having arrived at that
decision, I went out about three o'clock that afternoon, drank a Scotch
highball--a big, man's-sized one--as a doch-an-doris, and quit. That
was almost a year ago. I haven't taken a drink since. It is not my
present intention ever to take another drink; but I am not tying myself
down by any vows. It is not my present intention, I say; and I let it
go at that.
No man can be blamed for trying to fool other people about
himself--that is the way most of us get past; but what can be said for
a man who tries to fool himself? Every man knows exactly how bogus he
is and should admit it--to himself only. The man who, knowing his
bogusness, refuses to admit it to himself--no matter what his attitude
may be to the outside world--simply stores up trouble for himself, and
discomfort and much else. There are many phases of personal
understanding of oneself that need not be put in the newspapers or
proclaimed publicly. Still, for a man to gold-brick himself is a
profitless undertaking, but prevalent notwithstanding.
When it comes to fooling oneself by oneself, the grandest performers
are the boys who have a habit--no matter what kind of a habit--a habit!
It may be smoking cigarettes, or walking pigeontoed, or talking through
the nose, or drinking--or anything else. Any man can see with half an
eye how drinking, for example, is hurting Jones; but he always argues
that his own personal drinking is of a different variety and is doing
him no harm. The best illustration of it is in the old vaudeville
story, where the man came on the stage and said: "Smith is drinking too
much! I never go into a saloon without finding him there!"
That is the reason drinking liquor gets so many people--either by
wrecking their health or by fastening on them the habit they cannot
stop. They fool themselves. They are perfectly well aware that their
neighbors are drinking too much--but not themselves. Far be it from
them not to have the will-power to stop when it is time to stop. They
are smarter than their neighbors. They know what they are doing. And
suddenly the explosions come!
There are hundreds of thousands of men in all walks of life in this
country who for twenty or thirty years have never lived a minute when
there was not more or less alcohol in their systems, who cannot be said
to have been strictly and entirely sober in all that time, but who do
their work, perform all their social duties, make their careers and are
fairly successful just the same.
There has been more flub-dub printed and spoken about drinking liquor
than about any other employment, avocation, vocation, habit, practice
or pleasure of mankind. Drinking liquor is a personal proposition, and
nothing else. It is individual in every human relation. Still, you
cannot make the reformers see that. They want other people to stop
drinking because they want other people to stop. So they make laws that
are violated, and get pledges that are broken and try to legislate or
preach or coax or scare away a habit that must, in any successful
outcome, be stopped by the individual, and not because of any law or
threat or terror or cajolery.
This is the human-nature side of it, but the professional reformers
know less about human nature, and care less, than about any other phase
of life. Still, the fact remains that with any habit, and especially
with the liquor habit--probably because that is the most prevalent
habit there is--nine-tenths of the subjects delude themselves about how
much of a habit they have; and, second, that nine-tenths of those with
the habit have a very clear idea of the extent to which the habit is
fastened on others. They are fooled about themselves, but never about
their neighbors! Wherefore the breweries and the distilleries prosper
However, I am straying away from my story, which has to do with such
drinking as the ordinary man does--not sprees, nor debauches, or
orgies, or periodicals, or drunkenness, but just the ordinary amount
of drinking that happens along in a man's life, with a little too much
on rare occasions and plenty at all times. A German I knew once told me
the difference between Old-World drinking and American drinking was
that the German, for example, drinks for the pleasure of the drink,
while the American drinks for the alcohol in it. That may be so; but
very few men who have any sense or any age set out deliberately to get
drunk. Such drunkenness as there is among men of that sort usually
comes more by accident than by design.
My definition of a drunkard has always been this: A man is a drunkard
when he drinks whisky or any other liquor before breakfast. I think
that is pretty nearly right. Personally I never took a drink of liquor
before breakfast in my life and not many before noon. Usually my
drinking began in the afternoon after business, and was likely to end
before dinnertime--not always, but usually.