Jim Henry - A lifetime's odyssey

Alcoholics Anonymous

Once Jim realised he had a drinking problem and decided to do something about it, he became a lifelong and enthusiastic member of AA.

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

How Jim Henry Stopped Drinking

Jim’s drinking simply worsened as time went on from his student days and he developed a very serious problem. His father-in-law, Eddie Wilson must have been quite enlightened for a man his age for he suggested to his daughter May that this was not normal drinking, it must be some sort of disease.

Jim was a binge drinker. He could do without a drink for ages and then one would lead to another and another. But matters came to a head during the time when he was stationed in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, (Rhodesia as it was then). There were no AA meetings he could go to there but there were several “Loners” whom he used to meet, perhaps even flying hundreds of miles to do so.

During the early fifties, Egypt was theoretically an independent, sovereign state, but in fact, Britain was in charge of the Suez Canal. On one occasion, 1950/51, Jim Henry was invited to attend a diplomatic event of some kind in Cairo and he flew up from Rhodesia with other RAF personnel. He remembered going in to a dinner but the next thing he knew he was waking up in the side ward of a Cairo hospital. A doctor came into the room and warned him that if the story of his state of drunkenness ever came out, he’d be cashiered out of the service. He thanked the doctor for his discretion and from that time on, he remained sober.

He was greatly helped in his sobriety by his wife May who took it upon herself to go to the AA open meetings in Belfast on the Dublin Road, while he was abroad. In fact some people would maintain that May invented Al Anon before it was thought of in America as she, along with Lois Wilson and Anne Smith brought families together to deal with their family member’s problem drinking. May acted as a kind of proxy for Jim when she herself went to AA meetings and met individuals who had contacts in Africa and then she would write and tell Jim about them. In these days of instant communication it’s difficult to remember that it might take days or even weeks for a message from Northern Ireland to reach Zimbabwe, and that for Jim then it might mean taking a plane and possibly also a canoe journey miles up a river to reach someone deemed helpful.

Jim wrote about one of these experiences in a story in Irish called Gan Ainm, one of his short stories, self published in Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet.

AA convention Portsmouth 1991
Bulawayo, 1953
Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet
AA convention in Solihull
Athlone Convention 59 Nora John O'M
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

Staying Sober

One method Jim used to stay sober was influenced by public advertising. He remembered from his drinking days that every time he crossed O’Connell Bridge in Dublin, he could see an ad for Power’s Gold Label and that on each occasion he saw it, it stayed in his mind a little longer every time, so that when he went into a pub or when he was asked what he’d like to drink, he’d say, “A Power’s Gold Label.” Realising the subconscious power of this repetition he put a piece of paper in his pocket and every morning he’d read to himself: “ I am an alcoholic.”

Throughout his life he attended meetings wherever he happened to be and he sponsored many people, going to see them and also talking for hours on the phone. It was while he was stationed in Pucklechurch that he started a branch in nearby Bristol in 1953. Their first meeting was in the Full Moon public house in Stokes Croft! He was welcomed back many times over the years and Bristol always made a great fuss of him.

Around 1956, some AA members decided it would be a good thing to have an All Ireland Convention but one problem was how to contact all the members. Jim’s brother-in-law, Basil Wilson (who was fond of a drink but not an alcoholic) worked in Telephone House in Belfast and helped with the phone calls. Sam Finlay worked hard to gather all the members he could and then they approached a Dublin Hotel to host the weekend. The hotel manager was not too thrilled at the notion of a weekend of alcoholics so he insisted that it could only go ahead if they guaranteed 50% occupancy. An ad in Telephone House helped – Dublin weekend; dinner and entertainment included for only £2 10s. It was oversubscribed and in fact, well known Belfast man, Barney Ross couldn’t get a room.
So in 1957 the first All Ireland Convention was held in Dublin.

One of the last conventions he attended was the Northern Ireland Doctors and Dentists Group in the Grand Hotel Malahide in May 1997. He was active in this group right up to his death in December that year.

The last time Jim returned to Bristol was in October 1997 and the group presented him with a piece of Bristol glass.

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

How Jim Henry Stopped Drinking

Jim’s drinking simply worsened as time went on from his student days and he developed a very serious problem. His father-in-law, Eddie Wilson must have been quite enlightened for a man his age for he suggested to his daughter May that this was not normal drinking, it must be some sort of disease.
Jim was a binge drinker. He could do without a drink for ages and then one would lead to another and another. But matters came to a head during the time when he was stationed in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, (Rhodesia as it was then) There were no AA meetings he could go to there but there were several “Loners” whom he used to meet, perhaps even flying hundreds of miles to do so.

During the early fifties, Egypt was theoretically an independent, sovereign state, but in fact, Britain was in charge of the Suez Canal. On one occasion, 1950/51, Jim Henry was invited to attend a diplomatic event of some kind in Cairo and he flew up from Rhodesia with other RAF personnel. He remembered going in to a dinner but the next thing he knew he was waking up in the side ward of a Cairo hospital. A doctor came into the room and warned him that if the story of his state of drunkenness ever came out, he’d be cashiered out of the service. He thanked the doctor for his discretion and from that time on, he remained sober. He was greatly helped in his sobriety by his wife May who took it upon herself to go to the AA open meetings in Belfast on the Dublin Road, while he was abroad. In fact some people would maintain that May invented Al Anon before it was thought of in America as she, along with Lois Wilson and Anne Smith brought families together to deal with their family member’s problem drinking. May acted as a kind of proxy for Jim when she herself went to AA meetings and met individuals who had contacts in Africa and then she would write and tell Jim about them. In these days of instant communication it’s difficult to remember that it might take days or even weeks for a message from Northern Ireland to reach Zimbabwe, and that for Jim then it might mean taking a plane and possibly also a canoe journey miles up a river to reach someone deemed helpful.
Jim wrote about one of these experiences in a story in Irish called Gan Ainm, one of his short stories, self published in Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet.

AA convention Portsmouth 1991
Bulawayo, 1953
Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet