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Bob's Last Major Talk
Detroit, Michigan, December 1948 -transcribed
© AA Grapevine,
Inc, June 1973
Although a good many of you have heard
or have read about the inception of A.A., probably there
are some who haven't. From that brief story, there are things
to be learned. So, even at the risk of repetition, I would
like to relate exactly what did happen in those early days.
recall the story about Bill having had a spiritual experience
and having been sold on the idea of attempting to be helpful
to other drunks. Time went by, and he had not created a
single convert, not one. As we express it, no one had jelled.
He worked tirelessly, with no thought of saving his own
strength or time, but nothing seemed to register.
he came out to Akron on a business mission, which (perhaps
for the good of all of us) turned out to be quite a flop,
he was tempted to drink. He paced up and down the lobby
of the Mayflower Hotel, wondering whether he had better
buy two fifths of gin and be "king for a night," as he expressed
it, or whether he had better not. His teachings led him
to believe that he possibly might avoid difficulties if
he found another alcoholic on whom to work.
the name of our good friend the Reverend Walter Tunks on
the bulletin board in the lobby of the Mayflower, Bill called
him up and asked him for the name of some local member of
the Oxford Group, people with whom he had affiliated and
through whose instrumentality he had acquired sobriety.
Dr. Tunks said he wasn't one himself, but he knew quite
a number and gave Bill a little list of about nine or ten.
started to call them up, without very much success. They
had either just left town or were leaving town or having
a party or had a sore toe or something. Anyway, Bill came
down very near to the end, and his eyes happened to light
on the name of Mrs. Seiberling - our good friend Henrietta.
He called Henry and told her what he wanted, and she said,
"Come right out and have lunch with me." At lunch, he went
into his story in considerable detail, and she said, "I
have just the man for you.
rushed to the phone and called Anne and told her that she
had just the fellow to be helpful to me, and that we should
come right over. Anne said, "Well, I guess we better not
go over today."
Henry is very persistent, a very deter-mined individual.
She said, "Oh yes, come on over. I know he'll be helpful
to Bob." Anne still didn't think it very wise that we go
over that day. Finally, Henry bore in to such an extent
that Anne had to tell her I was very bagged and had passed
all capability of listening to any conversation, and the
visit would just have to be postponed. So Henry started
in about the next day being Sunday and Mother's Day, and
Anne said we would be over then.
don't remember ever feeling much worse, but I was very fond
of Henry, and Anne had said we would go over. So we started
over. On the way, I extracted a solemn promise from Anne
that 15 minutes of this stuff would be tops. I didn't want
to talk to this mug or anybody else, and we'd really make
it snappy, I said. Now these are the actual facts: We got
there at five o'clock, and it was 11:15 when we left.
your memories are good enough to carry you back to certain
times when you haven't felt too good. You wouldn't have
listened to anybody unless he really had something to tell
you. I recognized the fact that Bill did have something,
sol listened those many hours, and I stopped drinking immediately.
shortly after that, there was a medical meeting in Atlantic
City, and I developed a terrific thirst for knowledge. I
had to have knowledge, I said, so I would go to Atlantic
City and absorb lots of knowledge. I had incidentally acquired
a thirst for Scotch, but I didn't mention that. I went to
Atlantic City and really hung one on. When I came to, I
was in the home of a friend of ours in Cuyahoga Falls, one
of the suburbs of Akron. Bill came over and got me home
and gave me a hooker or two of Scotch that night and a bottle
of beer the next morning, and that was on the l0th of June,
1935, and I have had no alcohol, in any form that I know
the interesting part of all this is not the sordid details,
but the situation that we two fellows were in. We had both
been associated with the Oxford Group, Bill in New York,
for five months, and I in Akron, for two and a half years.
Bill had acquired their idea of service. I had not, but
I had done an immense amount of reading they had recommended.
I had refreshed my memory of the Good Book, and I had had
excellent training in that as a youngster. They told me
I should go to their meetings regularly, and I did, every
week. They said that I should affiliate myself with some
church, and we did that. They also said I should cultivate
the habit of prayer, and I did that - at least, to a considerable
extent for me. But I got tight every night, and I mean that.
It wasn't once in a while - it was practically every night.
couldn't understand what was wrong. I had done all the things
that those good people told me to do. I had done them, I
thought, very faithfully and sincerely. And I still continued
to overindulge. But the one thing that they hadn't told
me was the one thing that Bill did that Sunday - attempt
to be helpful to somebody else.
immediately started to look around for prospects, and it
wasn't long before one appeared, in the form of a man whom
a great many of you know - Bill D., our good friend from
Akron. Now I knew that this Bill was a Sunday-school superintendent,
and I thought that he probably forgot more about the Good
Book every night than I ever knew. Who was I to try to tell
him about it? It made me feel somewhat hypocritical. Anyway,
we did talk, and I'm glad to say the conversation fell on
we had three prospects dumped in our laps almost simultaneously.
In my mind, the spirit of service was of prime importance,
but I found that it had to be backed up with some knowledge
on our subject. I used to go to the hospital and stand there
and talk. I talked many a time to a chap in the bed for
five or six hours. I don't know how he ever stood me for
five or six hours, but he did. We must have hidden his clothes.
Anyway, it came to me that I probably didn't know too much
about what I was saying. We are stewards of what we have,
and that includes our time. I was not giving a good account
of my stewardship of time when it took me six hours to say
something to this man that I could have said in an hour
- if I had known what I was talking about. I certainly was
not a very efficient individual.
somewhat allergic to work, but I felt that I should continue
to increase my familiarity with the Good Book and also should
read a good deal of standard literature, possibly of a scientific
nature. So I did cultivate the habit of reading. I think
I'm not exaggerating when I say I have probably averaged
an hour a day for the last 15 years. (I'm not trying to
sell you on the idea that you've got to read an hour a day.
There are plenty of people, fine A.A.s, who don't read very
see, back in those days we were groping in the dark. We
knew practically nothing of alcoholism. I, a physician,
knew nothing about it to speak of. Oh, I read about it,
but there wasn't anything worth reading in any of the text-books.
Usually the information consisted of some queer treatment
for D.T.s, if a patient had gone that far. If he hadn't,
you prescribed a few bromides and gave the fellow a good
early A.A. days, we became quite convinced that the spiritual
program was fine if we could help the Lord out a little
with some supplementary diet. Bill D., having a lot of stomach
trouble, had stumbled across the fact that he began feeling
much better on sauerkraut and cold tomatoes. We thought
Bill should share that experience. Of course, we discovered
later that dietary restrictions had very little to do with
that point, our stories didn't amount to anything to speak
of. When we started in on Bill D., we had no Twelve Steps,
either; we had no Traditions.
we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in
the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts that
we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount,
the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book
used to have daily meetings at a friend's house. All this
happened at a time when everybody was broke, awfully broke.
It was probably much easier for us to be successful when
broke than it would have been if we'd had a checking account
apiece. We were, every one of us, so painfully broke that.
. . well, it isn't a pleasant thought. Nothing could be
done about it. But I think now that it was providentially
1940, or maybe early in 1941, we held the Akron meetings
at the residence of that good friend, who allowed us to
bang up the plaster and the doorjambs, carting chairs up-and
downstairs. And he had a very beautiful home. Then we outgrew
that, so we rented the auditorium in King School, and the
group I attend personally has been there ever since. We
attempt to have good meetings, and I think we're usually
wasn't until 1938 that the teachings and efforts and studies
that had been going on were crystallized in the form of
the Twelve Steps. I didn't write the Twelve Steps. I had
nothing to do with the writing of them. But I think I probably
had something to do with them indirectly. After my June
10th episode, Bill came to live at our house and stayed
for about three months. There was hardly a night that we
didn't sit up until two or three o'clock, talking. It would
be hard for me to conceive that, during these nightly discussions
around our kitchen table, nothing was said that influenced
the writing of the Twelve Steps. We already had the basic
ideas, though not in terse and tangible form. We got them,
as I said, as a result of our study of the Good Book. We
must have had them. Since then, we have learned from experience
that they are very important in maintaining sobriety. We
were maintaining sobriety - therefore, we must have had
that was the way things got started in Akron. As we grew,
we began to get offshoots, one in Cleveland, then another
one in Akron, and all have been continuing ever since. It
is a great source of satisfaction to me to feel that I may
have kicked in my two bits' worth toward getting this thing
started. Maybe I'm taking too much for granted. I don't
know. But I feel that I was simply used as God's agent.
I feel that I'm no different from any of you fellows or
girls, except that I was a little more fortunate. I got
this message thirteen and a half years ago, while some of
you had to wait till later.
used to get a little peeved at our Heavenly Father, because
He had been a little slow on the trigger in my own case.
I thought I would have been ready to receive the message
quite a while before He got around to presenting it. And
that used to irritate me no end. After all, maybe He knows
better than I. But I felt sure that I would have been glad
to have anything presented to produce the sobriety that
I thought I wanted so badly. I even used to doubt that at
times. I would go to my good friend Henry and say, "Henry,
do you think I want to stop drinking liquor?"
being a very charitable soul, would say, "Yes, Bob, I'm
sure you want to stop."
I would say, "Well,
I can't conceive of any living human who really wanted to
do something as badly as I think I do, who could be such
a total failure. Henry, I think I'm just one of those want-to-want-to
she'd say, "No, Bob, I think you want to. You just haven't
found a way to work it yet."
The fact that my sobriety
has been maintained continuously for 13½ years doesn't allow
me to think that I am necessarily any further away from
my next drink than any of you people. I'm still very human,
and I still think a double Scotch would taste awfully good.
If it wouldn't produce disastrous results, I might try it.
I don't know. I have no reason to think that it would taste
any different - but I have no legitimate reason to believe
that the results would be any different, either. They were
always the same. I always wound up back of the dear old
eight ball. I just don't want to pay the bill, because that's
a big bill. It always was, and I think it would be even
larger today because of what has gone on in the past 13
years. Being a bit out of practice, I don't believe I'd
last very long. I'm having an awfully nice time, and I don't
want to bump myself off, even with the "pleasures" of the
alcohol route. No, I'm not going to do it, and I'm never
going to as long as I do the things I'm supposed to, and
I know what these things are. So, if I should ever get tight,
I certainly would have no one but myself to blame for it.
it would not be done with malice aforethought, but it would
certainly be done as a result of extreme carelessness and
said I was quite human, and I get to thinking every once
in a while that this guy Bob is rather a smart individual.
He's got this liquor situation right by the tail - proved
it and demonstrated it - hasn't had a drink for over 13
years. Probably could knock off a couple, and no one would
be the wiser. I tell you, I'm not trying to be funny. Those
thoughts actually do enter my mind. And the minute they
do, I know exactly what has happened.
see, in Akron we have the extreme good fortune to have a
very nice setup at St. Thomas Hospital. The ward theoretically
accommodates seven alcoholics, but the good Sister Ignatia
sees that it's stretched a little bit. She usually has two
or more others parked around somewhere. Just as soon as
that idea that I could probably polish off a couple enters
my mind, I think "Oh-oh. How about the boys in the ward?
You've been giving them the semi-brush-off for the last
few days. You'd better get back on the job, big boy, before
you get into trouble." And I patter right back and am much
more attentive than I had been before I got the funny idea.
But I do get it every once ma while, and I'll probably go
on getting it whenever I get careless about seeing the boys
in the ward.
time I neglected them, I was thinking more of Bob than I
was of the ward. I wasn't being especially loving. Those
fellows had come there indicating their desire for help,
and I was just a little too busy to give them much of my
time, as if they had been panhandling on the street. Don't
want to be bothered with the fellow? Ten cents to get rid
of him - why, that's easy! He could even stand two bits
- not because you love the fellow, but just to be relieved
of the nuisance of his hanging on your coat sleeve. No unselfishness,
no love at all indicated in that transaction.
think the kind of service that really counts is giving of
yourself, and that almost invariably requires effort and
time. It isn't a matter of just putting a little quiet money
in the dish. That's needed, but it isn't giving much for
the average individual in days like these, when most people
get along fairly well. I don't believe that type of giving
would ever keep anyone sober. But giving of our own effort
and strength and time is quite a different matter. And I
think that is what Bill learned in New York and I didn't
learn in Akron until we met.
four absolutes, as we called them, were the only yardsticks
we had in the early days, before the Steps. I think the
absolutes still hold good and can be extremely helpful.
I have found at times that a question arises, and I want
to do the right thing, but the answer is not obvious. Almost
always, if I measure my decision care-fully by the yardsticks
of absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, absolute purity,
and absolute love, and it checks up pretty well with those
four, then my answer can't be very far out of the way. If,
however, I do that and I'm still not too satisfied with
the answer, I usually consult with some friend whose judgment,
in this particular case, would be very much better than
mine. But usually the absolutes can help you to reach your
own personal decision without bothering your friends.
we have trouble taking the First Step; we can't get quite
honest enough to admit that John Barleycorn really has bested
us. The lack of absolute purity is involved here - purity
of ideas, purity of motives. Absolute unselfishness includes
the kind of service I have been taking about - not the dime
or two bits to the bum, but actually giving of yourself.
you well know, absolute love incorporates all else. It's
very difficult to have absolute love. I don't think any
of us will ever get it, but that doesn't mean we can't try
to get it. It was extremely difficult for me to love my
fellowman. I didn't dislike him, but I didn't love him,
either. Unless there was some special reason for caring,
I was just indifferent to him. I would be willing to give
him a little bit :fit didn't require much effort. I never
would injure him at all. But love him? For a long time,
I just couldn't do it.
think I overcame this problem to some extent when I was
forced to do it, because I had to either love this fellow
or attempt to be helpful to him, or I would probably get
drunk again. Well, you could say that was just a manifestation
of selfishness, and you'd be quite correct. I was selfish
to the extent of not wanting Bob hurt; so, to keep from
getting Bob hurt, I would go through the motions of trying
to be helpful to the other fellow. Debate it any way you
want to, but the fact remains that the average individual
can never acquire absolute love. I suspect there are a few
people who do; I think maybe I know some who come pretty
close to it. But I could count them on the fingers of one
hand. I don't say that in any disparaging manner; I have
some wonderful friends. But I'm talking about the final
aspects of absolute love, particularly as it applies to
don't think we can do anything very well in this world unless
we practice it. And I don't believe we do A.A. too well
unless we practice it. The fellows who win great world awards
in athletic events are people who practice, have been practicing
for years, and still have to practice. To do a good job
in A.A., there are a number of things we should practice.
We should practice, as I've said, acquiring the spirit of
service. We should attempt to acquire some faith, which
isn't easily done, especially for the person who has always
been very materialistic, following the standards of society
today. But I think faith can be acquired; it can be acquired
slowly; it has to be cultivated. That was not easy for me,
and I assume that it is difficult for everyone else.
thing that was difficult for me (and I probably don't do
it too well yet) was the matter of tolerance. We are all
inclined to have closed minds, pretty tightly closed. That's
one reason why some people find our spiritual teaching difficult.
They don't want to find out too much about it, for various
personal reasons, like the fear of being considered effeminate.
But it's quite important that we do acquire tolerance toward
the other fellow's ideas. I think I have more of it than
I did have, although not enough yet. If somebody crosses
me, I'm apt to make a rather caustic remark. I've done that
many times, much to my regret. And then, later on, I find
that the man knew much more about it than I did. I'd have
been infinitely better off if I'd just kept my big mouth
thing with which most of us are not too blessed is the feeling
of humility. I don't mean the fake humility of Dickens'
Uriah Heep. I don't mean the doormat variety; we are not
called upon to be shoved around and stepped on by anyone;
we have a right to stand up for our rights. I'm taking about
the attitude of each and every one of us toward our Heavenly
Father. Christ said, "Of Myself, I am nothing - My strength
cometh from My Father in heaven." If He had to say that,
how about you and me? Did you say it? Did I say it? No.
That's exactly what we didn't say. We were inclined to say
instead, "Look me over, boys. Pretty good, huh?" We had
no humility, no sense of having received anything through
the grace of our Heavenly Father.
don't believe I have any right to get cocky about getting
sober. It's only through God's grace that I did it. I can
feel very thankful that I was privileged to do it. I may
have contributed some activity to help, but basically, it
was only through His kindness. If my strength does come
from Him, who am I to get cocky about it? I should have
a very, very humble attitude toward the source of my strength;
I should never cease to be grateful for whatever blessings
come my way. And I have been blessed in very large measure.
know, as far as everybody's ultimate aim is concerned, it
doesn't make much difference whether we're drinking or whether
we're sober. Either way, we're all after the same thing,
and that's happiness. We want peace of mind. The trouble
with us alcoholics was this: We demanded that the world
give us happiness and peace of mind in just the particular
way we wanted to get it - by the alcohol route. And we weren't
successful. But when we take time to find out some of the
spiritual laws, and familiarize ourselves with them, and
put them into practice, then we do get happiness and peace
of mind. I feel extremely fortunate and thankful that our
Heavenly Father has let me enjoy them. Anyone can get them
who wishes to. There seem to be some rules that we have
to follow, but happiness and peace of mind are always here,
open and free to anyone. And that is the message we can
give to our fellow alcoholics.
know what A.A. has done in the past 13 years, but where
do we go from here? Our membership at present is, I believe,
conservatively estimated at 70,000. * Will it increase from
here on? Well, that will depend on every member of A.A.
It is possible for us to grow or not to grow, as we elect.
If we fight shy of entangling alliances, if we avoid getting
messed up with controversial issues (religious or political
or wet-dry), if we maintain unity through our central offices,
if we preserve the simplicity of our program, if we remember
that our job is to get sober and to stay sober and to help
our less fortunate brother to do the same thing, then we
shall continue to grow and thrive and prosper.