Stay With The Winners

i got this as a comment from resident sage In The Same Boat and decided to take him up on his offer to post whatever i felt like of his wherever i wanted.

If any of you other readers wold like to share, please feel free to either email me ( or post your post as a comment. The more the merrier!

Here then, is In The Same Boat’s comment response to my blog post, “Your Excuse is Invalid“.


Yes! Don’t focus on the losers. Focus on the winners.

Something that has helped me get through a tough spot is to identify ‘winners’ who don’t drink, and use them as inspiration. Steve Jobs didn’t drink. And look what he did!

But my hero is Richard Feynman, the famous physicist who won the Nobel Prize for explaining Quantum Mechanics. His book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” helped me a lot throughout my life, to understand scientific integrity.

Here is few key passage from the book, that really had an impact on me.

(This is taken from ‘O Americano, Outra Vez!’, where he recounts a year in Brazil, and plays in a Samba band, while teaching Physics, and having adventures with the flight attendants who stayed in his hotel. He was quite a womanizer.)

“The people from the airlines were somewhat bored with their lives, strangely enough, and at night they would often go to bars to drink. I liked them all, and in order to be sociable, I would go with them to the bar to have a few drinks, several nights a week.

One Day, about 3:30 in the afternoon, I was walking along the sidewalk opposite the beach at Copacabana past a bar. I suddenly got this treMENDdous, strong feeling: ‘That’s *just* what I want; that’ll fit just right. I’d just love to have a drink right now!’

I started to walk into the bar, and I suddenly thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute! It’s the middle of the afternoon. There’s nobody here. There’s no social reason to drink. Why do you have a such a terribly strong feeling that you *have* to have a drink?’ — and I got scared.

I never drank ever again, since then. I suppose I really wasn’t in any danger, because I found it very easy to stop. But that strong feeling that I didn’t understand frightened me. You see, I get such fun out of *thinking* that I don’t want to destroy this most pleasant machine that makes life such a big kick….”

Being a bored college student at age 20, I remember reading that. At the time, I was aware that I had a problem with alcohol but so do most college students. I called my friend and read him the passage. And he said “well, there you have your test. If you feel like drinking in the afternoon alone, that’s the time to stop.” I wish I had remembered that test and followed through with it. But it took me much longer than Feynman to figure it out.

And here’s another passage I find therapeutic. Here he discusses the party the Swedes threw for him when he was award his Nobel Prize. It’s from “Alfred Nobel’s other Mistake”

“I sat next to the lady who was in charge of organizing the dinner. A waitress came by to fill my wineglass, and I said ‘No thank you. I don’t drink.’

The lady said ‘No, no. Let her pour the drink.’

‘But I *don’t* drink.’

She said, ‘It’s all right. Just look. You see, she has two bottles. We know that number eighty-eight doesn’t drink.’ (Number eighty-eight was on the back of my chair.) ‘They look exactly the same, but one has no alcohol.’

‘But how do you know?’ I exclaimed.

She smiled. ‘Now watch the king,’ she said. ‘He doesn’t drink either.’

Thank you, Dr. Feynman. Now that’s a winner!


About Al K Hall

Like a battered drinker or a punch drunk boxer, i am here for another round. For those of you who don’t know me, i’m a semi-professional writer on the rocks and a non-practicing alcoholic (if after 30 years of practicing, you still can't do something well, it's best to just give it up). For those of you who do know me, thanks for stopping by anyway and where’s the ten bucks you owe me? Welcome to my Bar None. A hole in the wall where we can hang out and trade the kind of stories you swap only when you’ve had one too many and either can’t find your way home or are afraid to. Hell, it’s cheaper than therapy and plus the pictures are prettier. Here we’ll crack open bottles and jokes and ‘last call’ are the only dirty words you’ll never hear. Pull up a stool and make yourselves at home.

Posted on May 15, 2012, in Alcoholism, Guest Post, Lessons in Recovery, Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. God, are the only geniuses and winners sober alcoholics, or non-drinkers? While i appreciate your friend’s devotion to sobriety, what happens to the rest of the world? WTF do you do with the less privileged or those who struggle? Kick them to the curb. This is very elitist. I’m sorry.

    And why would you need to “pretend” to drink in order to be a winner? This is an improbable and confusing story.

    • Wow, Mel,

      i’m so sorry you’ve been offended by this post! i just reread it again, though, and am a little surprised it made you so angry.

      “Stay with the winners” is a slogan we use a lot in AA and it means newcomers should spend time with those who have been sober for a while and who seem happy in their sobriety so that they can teach us by example. Like everyone in life, alcoholics need role models and ITSB has presented us ‘users’ with one here. He by no means is saying that only recovering alcoholics are winners—there are many “winners” from many different walks of life and with many different backgrounds—but he chose to share this story because it deals with a recovering alcoholic and this is a blog for recovering alcoholics and addicts.

      i know for sure that alcoholism and my recovery has made me very humble. i would not consider myself elitist at all. i’m just trying to create a place where the less privileged (because alcoholics and addicts are the “less privileged” in society) can come for inspiration, but everyone is welcome even if some posts target alcoholics more specifically.

      Keep coming back, Mel,

      Al K Hall

      PS Of all the blogs i manage, this is the last one i expected would create controversy! lol

      • Hey you! I was playing the game! I thought you were trying to stir up some controversy!!! Duh, i could pull up a stool to the Bar None HA HA.

        OK, I confess, i like to stir the pot myself from time to time.

        …and btw, I’m assuming you guys aren’t looking for drunks to emulate 😉

        Anyhoo, I don’t think i’ve ever considered the drinking history of the people i admire. I’m assuming that all us slobs are doing the best we can, and maybe a few folks could do better with less juice 😉

        Anyway, i have heard that saying in OA as well. We used to say, “find the people who have what you want and get what they have” … or stick with them, etc. Al, i think there’s something in me that ALWAYS wants to “go the other way” if i see too much “perfection”, or too much “winningness”. This “goldenness” does not ring true to me…

        And while i want my dreams to come true, and strive to be a rocket scientist, my greatest joy is in service and seeking the best in people — or bringing it out.

        Maybe i read the blog as a self-promoting sort of thing: “I want to be King” rather than, i want to support my fellow AA’ers, and try to do good by engaging others and bringing them along. Different strokes. … it’s not to say i want to be a goody-two-shoes, i simply have never found peace in My Awards, or My Achievements and My Heroics. In that same vein, perhaps i’m so egotistical i don’t emulate anyone because i think i’m always right!!! Nope …

        I think i’m getting lost here!!

        Much respect to you and your friend in the boat. Stick with what keeps you sober, end of story, right?!!

        Are WE cool? Hope so … just spewing a few Mel-isms around.

        • Hi Mel,

          Yeah, i totally get what you mean about shying away from the godliness and perfection. While i find myself becoming less intense in my sobriety, i’m learning that losing that intensity doesn’t mean i can’t keep my rough edges. i don’t see myself joining any religion or becoming holier than thou.

          You’re the second person to bring up a distaste for the word “winner” and i understand the issues here. We addicts consider ourselves outsiders, underprivileged, lost, condemned, failures and the domain of “Winners” has been associated with a realm we have been barred for life from. “Winner” for me, though, is what we are when we try. When we care what happens to us. When we care about ourselves rather than giving up and saying we deserve the pain we feel.

          And i certainly understand your wariness of awards! You know me!

          Keep coming back, Mel,

          Al K Hall

    • OK, comments are running amok all over your site. Phew is all i have to say. Yea, OK … (see my comment under INSANITY blog) …

      Yep, it’s the word “winner” … It’s ALL THAT WORD’s fault. All i can think of is Charlie Sheen: A shining example of the HAVOK booze and drugs wreaks upon the soaked brain.

      Maybe on the alcoholics or addicts re: the word winner. That’s good for me … i’m moving toward your idea of changing the scope in my mind that leans toward, “i’m a loser f o r e v e r! Not so, not so! I DO think it’s the verbiage.

      Perhaps Al, i’ll start low, low, low … with I’m not a loser … AT ALL! and work my way up to Champ. Yea, Champ. I like that. 😉 I’ll keep coming back, if you will 😉

      • Champ! There’s a good word. Leave it to Mel to find the right verbiage for the situation. Nicely done, my Wordsmith & Wesson!

        Keep coming back, Champ

        Al K Hall

      • Are we talking BANG BANG Smith & Wesson, or are we frying some chicken? Never mind. Big hug for being an inspiration and holding your boat steady during a ripple. You know … i’m trying SO hard to get into the gray (or is it grey) zone too. Like, do i have to be Superb? I was walking here, to work today thinking, wow, i feel confident, i feel friendly, DAMN, who is this Champion anyway. Work time …

        • Wordsmith and Wesson because you shoot from the hip and are a straight shooter! Although i can’t promise you i won’t be stealing that moniker for myself sometime soon because i like it!

          Congrats on the walk to work! That’s superb, Champ!

          Keep coming back,

          Al K Hall

  2. I have that book too.. the thing is, I think some people make decisions primarily by their intuition, and some people by some other process (their developed logic, or something). Feynman was a genius, he didn’t go by his gut, he made a lot of decisions by cold logic, to great success. I think that’s why he went against his intuition which was telling him to go into the bar : because he was accustomed to bypassing his feelings.

    I’m no where near a genius, and tend to go by my intuition in everything except work, so yeah, I’d be heading into the bar by the Copacabana in that situation. It takes a lot of work to develop that sense of “hold on, I feel like drinking, but let me think about why that is, for a second.” I have had limited success so far with it… Still hopeful.

    • Booze Story!

      From your latest post it seems to me you’re on the right track.

      It takes a lot of work to develop that sense of “hold on, I feel like drinking, but let me think about why that is, for a second.”

      Ironically, what you talk about here is what i’m going to be talking about in my next couple of posts. It’s the ability to be able to act, not react to impulses and urges. Unfortunately, there is no easy secret; it takes a lot of work, just like you mentioned.

      Keep coming back, brother,

      Al K Hall

  3. Speaking of winners, here’s a piece that surprised me about Eric Clapton.
    This is from the book “Willpower” which is a scientific look at research papers about self control. This is sort of the anti-Feynman who just walked by a bar and supposedly said, “naaah” and walked away never to drink again…

    During Eric Clapton’s many suicidal moments, when wealth and fame and his music were no longer enough, he was sustained by one thought: If he killed himself, he would no longer be able to drink. Alcohol was his great enduring love, supplemented by serious affairs with cocaine, heroin, and just about any kind of drug he could get his hands on. When he first checked himself into the Hazelden clinic in his late thirties, he suffered a seizure during detox because he didn’t warn the medical team that he’d been taking Valium – which he’d considered a “lady’s drug” so minor it wasn’t worth mentioning.

    Clapton remained sober for several years after that stint in rehab, but then one summer evening, near his home in England, he drove past a crowded pup and had a thought. “My selective memory, ” as he puts it, “told me that standing at the bar in a pub on a summer’s evening with a long, tall glass of lager and lime was heaven, and I chose not to remember the nights on which I had sat with a bottle of vodka, a gram of coke, and a shotgun, contemplating suicide.”

    He ordered the beer, and before long he was back to binges and suicidal feelings. On a particularly low night, he started work on “Holy Mother,” a song pleading for divine help. He hurt his career and wrecked his marriage, but he couldn’t stop drinking even after being seriously hurt in a drunk-driving accident. The birth of his son inspired him to return to Hazelden, but toward the end of his rehab he still felt powerless to resist the bottle.

    “Drinking was in my thoughts all the time,” he writes in his autobiography, Clapton. “I was absolutely terrified, in complete despair.” As he was panicking one night alone in his room at the clinic, he found himself sinking to his knees and begging for help.

    “I had no notion who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether,” he recalls. “I had nothing left to fight with. Then I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do, my pride just wouldn’t allow it, but I knew that on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help, and getting down on my knees, I surrendered.” Since that moment, he says, he has never seriously considered taking another drink, not even on the horrifying day in New York when he had to identify the body of his son, Condor, who had fallen fifty-three stories to his death.

    “An atheist would probably say it was just a change of attitude,” he says, “and to a certain extent that’s true, but there was much more to it than that.” Ever since then, he has prayed for help every morning and night, kneeling down because he feels the need to humble himself. Why kneel and pray? “Because it works, as simple as that,” Clapton says, repeating a discovery reformed hedonists have been reporting for thousands of years. Sometimes it happens instantly, as with Clapton or St. Augustine, who reported receiving a direct command from God to stop drinking, whereupon, “all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”

    And sometimes it takes a while, as with the supremely cynical agnostic like Marry Karr, the author of the Liar’s Club….

    • Wow! What an intense passage. i know you guys aren’t big “believers” in the 12 Steps, but this is probably the best illustration of steps 1-3 that i’ve ever seen…

      1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
      2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
      3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

      On top of that, i’m a huge fan of Eric Clapton’s, so it’s great to read about how he came to be better. Thanks a lot for sharing this, brother!

      Keep coming back,

      Al K Hall

      • It was surprising to find this information about alcohol and AA (and Eric Clapton) in this book I was reading for an unrelated reason, but there it was. It goes on to talk about AA and how the social scientists found that, ya know, it actually works.

        Not sure what you’ll think of this bit, but here’s how the section about Clapton and Karr, The Mystery of AA, concludes:

        “I had no money, I had shit myself, I had pissed myself, I had puked all over myself, and I had no idea where I was,” he recalls. “But the really insane thing was, I couldn’t wait to do it all again. I thought there was something otherworldly about the whole culture of drinking, that being drunk made me a member of some strange, mysterious club.” That’s the negative side of peer pressure. The positive side comes from craving acceptance and support from people with different desires, like the members of the AA groups who helped Clapton and Karr stay sober. The people at those meetings may ultimately matter far more than the twelve steps or the belief in a higher power. They may even BE the higher power.

        Take care 🙂

        • Truth!

          i have a friend who went into NA and AA 25 years ago and is now becoming a counselor and he told me exactly the same thing. The AA 12 Steps are fine and dandy and work for a huge number of people, but that the group therapy plays at least an equally large role in recovery.

          As for the group being the Higher Power, that is exactly what my sponsor first told me when i started working the 12 Steps. He told me to think of the group as my Higher Power and make a minimum of four meetings a week. As i’m kind of anti-organized religion, it was just what i needed to hear and it put me on the right path, right away.

          Thanks for the insights, brother, and keep coming back,

          Al K Hall

    • inthesameboatla

      Cool story, bro.

      Everyone who quits has their last drink. Mine was actually a planned “farewell party to alcohol.” I had all my favorite drinks with an old college drinking friend of mine. (Ironically, he studies methamphetamine addiction but seems to like the drink). And that was the end of it.

      I didn’t need surrender. I just said “I’ve had enough of this shit. It isn’t making my life better because the consequences outweigh the benefits.”

      There is more than one way up the mountain.

  4. inthesameboatla

    What I got out of those passages is that even very smart people can have problems with alcohol, recognize that they had the problem, and quit with no shame. And that helps me function. Because although I’ll freely admit that I had problems , I often suffer a loss of confidence in situations where people who are drinking around me (and don’t know my past) start pestering me about it. So it helps me to keep someone like Steve Jobs or Feynman in mind.

    In his stories I quoted, Feynman sugar coated the issue. But reading further about the guy, it’s clear he did have problems with booze and life issues. His wife died of TB when he was in his early 20s. He had the weight of being a key contributor to the atomic bomb, and the consequences that ensued (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Cold War) on his chest. He had pain and guilt and a sense of hopelessness that the world was going to annihilate itself. He drank heavily during his second marriage to the point where she divorced him for cruelty. That explains in part why he was in Brazil partying it up for his sabbatical year.

    So although the moment that he decided to quit for good doesn’t fall into the “hitting rock bottom” moment script that many AAers like, that helps me too. There wasn’t a moment I decided to quit for “good.” In fact, when I decided to toy with the idea of quitting my drinking was relatively under control but still bothered me. Then I went to SMART meetings, and they challenged me to stop for 90 days. Then it came down to “ok, I’ve been dry for 90 days. I have not had a drink the decade starting with 2010, let’s see if I can make it to 2020.”

    Now imagine you’ve quit for a few years, and you’re being recognized at a Nobel prize party. If that isn’t a trigger “Oh, what the hell. I can have a drink. I just won the Nobel prize for God’s sake. I DESERVE a drink!” I don’t know what is. But he was quite adamant that he didn’t want that wine. And from that, I sensed he was scared, like we all should be, sometimes.

    And it is true that you can get further in life being sober. Look at George W. Bush for christ’s sake. I truly wish that guy had kept drinking rather than deciding to run for president.

    • ITSB!

      Thanks for the additions! This guy is so fascinating, even if i’m more of a rock music reference guy myself.

      So although the moment that he decided to quit for good doesn’t fall into the “hitting rock bottom” moment script that many AAers like, that helps me too.

      i really appreciated this sentence. It’s true that i hit my bottom very hard and that many many people in AA hit that same bottom. Clapton talks about it in the information Boozestory provided for us, but there are those who have a “soft bottom” as i’ve heard it called. People who realized they had a problem before they had a horrible, life changing bottom. You guys are the lucky heroes and hopefully Boozestory himself will have the same success if he decides to go dry.

      Keep coming back, Boat,

      Al K Hall

      PS Lol about George W! Let me know if you can think of any others like him and we can start a Top 10 List of People we wish had stayed users!

  5. inthesameboatla

    To add to that, Fenyman was famous for being able to reason through complicated problems very quickly. Someone would ask him a question, and he would immediately write out the answer, when for “ordinary” people, it would take them pages and pages of math. I suppose he did the same thing with his alcoholism. He felt a strange “inappropriate” urge to drink, decided it was scary and would lead to no good, and put the alcohol behind. The sub-geniuses, myself included, can take a lot longer to figure out that those strange cravings can lead to disaster.

  6. Man, I really didn’t think I was shooting from the hip… Well very HARD anyway. A BB gun … A little zing. No wonder Jen us one of the few people who hangs with me: we both like to shoot guns. She shoots straighter, course we both shoot to kill. Ha ha …C U later , m

  7. Al K, thanks for sharing inthesameboatla’s comment – it was a very interesting, inspiring and fun read. I must admit, I know nothing about dr Feynman – but that’s a good thing, now I have something new to read up on. Oh, and I didn’t know Steve Jobs didn’t drink either hahaa

    Take care my friend!

    • i didn’t know anything about Feynman, either, but then i’m just a humble barkeep in cyberspace! Thanks for reading, River!

      Keep coming back,

      Al K Hall

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