Let Me Tell You About Anne Smith

“My husband [Clarence Snyder] was 34 and an alcoholic. Other people drank normally. My husband just got drunk.I was eternally on the defensive. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t listen to good music. I couldn’t enjoy anything.

I tried to appear busy. I tried to avoid crowds. Put us at a party and either Joe [Clarence] would get drunk and pass out, which was preferable, or he’d start pawing the women, which was humiliating. I felt as if I was 200 years old. All 200 years were weighing me down when a friend of ours — this was 12 years ago, and A.A. hadn’t gained much reputation — persuaded Joe to attend a meeting of alcoholics in Akron.

To myself I said between gritted teeth “I’ll be hanged if I want to associate with a bunch of drunks and their broken-down, haggard wives.”

Then that first meeting.

I had lived on the surface for years. I could show a surface kindliness, but I was bitter and resentful inside.The meeting was in somebody’s home. I halted on the threshold that first evening, hesitant, fearful, not knowing what might be ahead. I doubted the whole occasion. This was Joe’s affair. If it would bring about his sobriety, OK — but it was not for me. I felt I didn’t need it. Further, I rather enjoyed the hard shell I had built around myself. No one could hurt me any further. I had been shamed and ostracized and pitied. I was proof against further hurts.

And then this greeting. “Come in, my dear.”

It was Anne Smith. As gracious, as friendly, as charming as any woman I had ever met or known. If she had pitied me I would have fled in anger and disgrace. She was wise enough to know that. She understood. She knew that most wives of alcoholics feel fear. But you couldn’t be afraid with Anne.

That love of Anne’s changed things. For me it was like the miracle coming to Paul on the road to Damascus. That night when I reached home I got down on my knees and prayed. I wanted to be different. My parents had always been normally religious. I had never been anything other than religious. But this was different. When anything of a memorial tribute is printed about Anne I hope it emphasizes this big point: She didn’t want glorification for glory’s sake. She would have hoped only to tell other wives how to carry on.

She knew how to handle the wife of an alcoholic. She knew the days and nights full of despair, the poverty-stricken effort to keep up appearances, the unsatisfactory blending of shabbiness and pride. Time after time I saw her melt some other person’s heart.

A proud woman, a hard-shelled woman walked in belligerently. She had her speech all prepared: “Well, Mrs. Smith,” she began belligerently. “Call me Anne, my dear.” That love cracked the proud one, won her over.

Anne was a good listener. She knew the therapy of getting things off your chest. Things might have grown into an old story. But not with her. Every meeting with a newcomer was a fresh experience. She greeted strangers and listened for their names. Next time she’d be able to call them by name. In those early days there were no women alcoholics in the group. They were just wives — those who still had wives.

Bill W. emphasizes that in those early days — 1935, 1936, 1937 — we few people were clinging together, like a little group of persons saved from a shipwreck. In those early days most of us didn’t have telephones. We were handed a little address book. We were told “All our homes are open to you. Drop in any time.” We did.

Many a time Joe and I dropped in on Dr. Bob and Anne for a potluck meal. We might have bread and milk for supper. We might have corned beef hash for Sunday. There were no apologies. Everybody was honest and genuine. We gave potluck dinners as we were all too poor to furnish much food. Those were the days when with many people at the table we might have 11 kinds of potato salad, because we were all too poor to buy wieners. Everyone brought food. I wonder if A.A.’s today appreciate how pitifully poor most of us were in those struggling days. It makes me sick to attend some A.A. groups today. I’ve visited A.A.’s from Ohio to California — and see the wives sitting together, in a clique. They don’t step out and meet the new ones.

Anne never forgot the newcomers. She knew the wives need hospitalization as much as the man. The alcoholic gets lots of attention — the man’s sponsor takes care of that. The other wives should look after the newcomer wife. Nowadays when many A.A.’s are back on their feet again and are fairly prosperous I am struck with the fact that at Christmas parties many A.A. women are gayly dressed. But the poor ones, the new ones, still too deep in debt to be nicely dressed, and with nothing to be gay about, they hang around the edges, feeling cold and lonely and forgotten. Anne Smith hated to wear a new dress. I remember one party we were all going to. I had my first new dress, the first bought since my husband had stayed sober long enough to hold down a decent job. I asked Anne which dress she was going to wear, because I knew she had two new ones.She answered, “I hate to wear a new dress. So many people will be there who can’t afford a new one. I hate to embarrass them.”

It was a bigness of heart, this continual thinking of others besides herself, that enabled Anne to shape a formless group into what was presently to become A.A. in Akron. I hope we never lose sight of Anne’s use of religion in building her own life and rebuilding the lives of the fearful wrecks who looked to her for guidance and strength. I hope we never forget her humility, her courage, her cheerfulness, her unsparing use of herself. Anne made me realize that all my years of misery have been of some account, because I have been able to translate them into usefulness; into helpfulness for other people.

I have known women who, for instance, lost sons in the war, and ever since they live in the past, constantly bemoaning their loss and curdling every life they come in contact with. Why don’t these lonesome and heartbroken women go and visit sick boys in the veterans’ hospitals and try to bring a little cheer into the world? Anne didn’t harm other people because she had suffered. Rather, her life was rich because she was able to help people. Anne never stopped living. She went on to reach out and touch other lives.

I think of her every time I hear that familiar but little understood verse: “He that loseth his life shall save it.” Anne lost herself in her work for A.A. Thereby she gained a new and bigger life. A Cleveland minister in writing about A.A. summed up in this sentence – “Freedom is the ability to get outside yourself and lose yourself in the thought and activities of others.” That’s what Anne did.

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