From the 1950s series, Marty Mann describes how her battles with alcoholism and depression forced her to open herself up to those around her, and led her to help other people who suffered with addiction.
I am an alcoholic—one of the fortunate ones who found the road to recovery. That was thirteen years ago, but I haven’t forgotten. I remember what it was like to be hopelessly in the grip of the vicious disease of alcoholism, not knowing what was wrong with me. I remember my desperate search for help. Failing to find it, I remember my inner despair—my outer defiance.
I remember the arrogance and pride with which I faced the non-understanding world, in spite of my terrible hidden fears—my fear of life and my fear of death. At times I feared life so much more than death that twice I sought death. Suicide seemed a welcome release from a terror and agony past bearing.
How grateful I am now that I didn’t succeed. But I believed in nothing, then. Not in myself, nor in anything outside myself. I was walled in with my suffering—alone and, I thought, forsaken.
But I wasn’t forsaken, of course. No one is, really. I seemed to suffer alone, but I believe now that I was never alone—that none of us are. I believe, too, that I was never given more to bear than I could endure, but rather that my suffering was necessary, for me. I believe it may well have taken that much suffering, in my case, to break down my wall of self, to crush my arrogance and pride, to let me seek and accept the help that was there.
For in the depths of my suffering I came to believe. To believe that there was a Power greater than myself that could help me. To believe that because of that Power—God—there was hope and help for me.
I found my help through people—doctors whose vocation it is to deal with suffering, and other human beings who had suffered like myself. In the depths of my personal abyss I received understanding and kindness and help from many individuals. People, I learned, can be very kind. I came to believe deeply in this—in people and the good that is in them.
I came to realize that suffering is universal. It lies behind much apparent harshness and irritability, many of the careless, even cruel, words and acts which make our daily lives difficult so much of the time. I learned that if I could understand this, I might not react so often with anger or hurt. And if I learned to react to difficult behavior with understanding and sympathy, I might help to bring about a change in that behavior. My suffering helped me to know things.
I do not believe that everyone should suffer. But I do believe that suffering can be good, and even necessary, if—and only if—one learns to accept that suffering as part of one’s essential learning process, and then to use it to help oneself and one’s fellow sufferers.
Don’t we all endure suffering, one way or another? This fact gives me a deep sense of kinship with other people and a consequent desire to help others in any and every way I can.
It is this belief that underlies my work, for alcoholism is the area in which I feel best fitted, through my own experience, to help others. And I believe that trying to help my fellow men is one of the straightest roads to spiritual growth. It is a road everyone can take. One doesn’t have to be beautiful or gifted, or rich or powerful, in order to offer a helping hand to one’s fellow sufferers. And I believe that one can walk with God by doing just that.
Marty Mann was one of the first women to join Alcoholics Anonymous. She founded the National Committee on Alcoholism in 1944, now known as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). Born into a wealthy Chicago family, Mann worked as a magazine editor, art critic and photographer.
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