When I Quit
For purposes of comprehensive record I have divided the various stages
of my waterwagoning into these parts: the obsession stage; the caramel
stage; the pharisaical stage, and the safe-and-sane stage. I drank my
Scotch highball and went over to the club. The crowd was there; I sat
down at a table and when somebody asked me what I'd have I took a glass
of water. Several of my friends looked inquiringly at me and one asked:
"On the wagon?" This attracted the attention of the entire group to my
glass of water. I came in for a good deal of banter, mostly along the
line that it was time I went on the wagon. This was varied with
predictions that I would stay on from an hour to a day or so. I didn't
like that talk, but I bluffed it out--weakly, to be sure. I said I had
decided it wouldn't do me any harm to cool out a bit.
Next day, along about first-drink time, I felt a craving for a
highball. I didn't take it. That evening I went over to the club again.
The crowd was there. I was asked to have a drink. This time I rather
defiantly ordered a glass of water. The same jests were made, but I
drank my water. On the third day I was a bit shaky--sort of nervous. I
didn't feel like work. I couldn't concentrate my mind on anything. I
kept thinking of various kinds of drinks and how good they would taste.
I tried out the club. I may have imagined it, but I thought my old
friends lacked interest in my advent at the table. One of them said:
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, take a drink! You've got a terrible grouch on."
I backed out.
I did have a grouch. I was sore at everybody in the world. Also, I kept
thinking how much I would like to have a drink. That was natural. I had
accustomed my system to digest a certain amount of alcohol every day.
I wasn't supplying that alcohol. My system needed it and howled for it.
I knew a man who had been a drunkard but who had quit and who hadn't
taken a drink for twelve years. I discussed the problem with him. He
told me an eminent specialist had told him it takes eighteen months for
a man who has been a heavy drinker or a steady drinker to get all the
alcohol out of his system. I hadn't been a heavy drinker, but I had
been a steady drinker; and that information gave me a cold chill. I
thought if I were to have this craving for a drink every day for
eighteen months, surely I had let myself in for a lovely task!
I stuck for a week--for two weeks--for three weeks. At the end of that
time my friends had grown accustomed to this idiosyncrasy and were
making bets on how long I would last. I didn't go round where they were
much. I was as lonesome as a stray dog in a strange alley. I had
carefully cultivated a large line of drinking acquaintances and I
hardly knew a congenial person who didn't drink. That was the hardest
part of the game. I wasn't fit company for man or beast. I don't blame
my friends--not a bit. I was cross and ugly and hypercritical and
generally nasty, and they passed me up. However, the craving for
liquor decreased to some degree. There were some periods in the day
when I didn't think how good a drink would taste, and did devote myself
to my work.
I discovered a few things. One was that, no matter how much fun I
missed in the evening, I didn't get up with a taste in my mouth. I had
no katzenjammers. After a week or so I went to sleep easily and slept
like a child. Then the caramel stage arrived. I acquired a sudden
craving for candy. I had not eaten any candy for years, for men who
drink regularly rarely take sweets. One day I looked in a
confectioner's window and was irresistibly attracted by a box of
caramels. I went in and bought it, and ate half a dozen. They seemed to
fill a long-felt want. The sugar in them supplied the stimulant that
was lacking, I suppose. Anyhow, they tasted right good and were
satisfactory; and I kept a box of caramels on my desk for several weeks
and ate a few each day. Also I began to yell for ice cream and pie and
other sweets with my meals.
Along about this time I developed the pharisaical stage. I looked with
a great pity on my friends who persisted in drinking. I assumed some
little airs of superiority and congratulated myself on my great
will-power that had enabled me to quit drinking. They were steadily
drinking themselves to death. I could see that plainly. There was
nothing else to it. I was a fine sample of a full-blown prig. I went so
far as to explain the case to one or two, and I got hooted at for my
pains; so I lapsed into my condition of immense superiority and said:
"Oh, well, if they won't take advice from me, who knows, let them go
along. Poor chaps, I am afraid they are lost!"
It's a wonder somebody didn't take an ax to me. I deserved it. After
lamenting--to myself--the sad fates of my former companions and pluming
myself on my noble course, I woke up one day and kicked myself round
the park. "Here!" I said. "You chump, what business have you got
putting on airs about your non-drinking and parading yourself round
here as a giant example of self-restraint? Where do you get off as a
preacher--or a censor, or a reformer--in this matter? Who appointed you
as the apostle of non-drinking? Take a tumble to yourself and close
That was the beginning of the safe-and-sane stage, which still
persists. It came about the end of the second month. I had lost all
desire for liquor; and, though there were times when I missed the
sociability of drinking fearfully, I was as steady as a rock in my
policy of abstaining from drinks of all kinds. Now it doesn't bother me
at all. I am riding jauntily on the wagon, without a chance of falling
At the time I decided it was up to me to stop this pharisaical
foolishness, I took a new view of things; decided I wasn't so much,
after all; ceased reprobating my friends who wanted to drink; had no
advice to offer, and stopped pointing to myself as a heroic young
person who had accomplished a gigantic task.
Friends had tolerated me. I wondered that they had, for I was a sad
affair. Surely it was up to me to be as tolerant as they had been,
notwithstanding my new mode of life. So I stopped foreboding and tried
to accustom my friends to my company on a strictly water basis. The
attempt was not entirely successful. I dropped out of a good many
gatherings where formerly I should have been one of the bright and
shining lights. There are no two ways about it--a man cannot drink
water in a company where others are drinking highballs and get into the
game with any effectiveness. Any person who quits drinking may as well
accept that as a fact; and most persons will stop trying after a time
and seek new diversions; or begin drinking again.