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Composition Groups in A.A.
of the great strengths of Alcoholics Anonymous has always
been that everyone is equal and everyone is welcome. A.A.'s
traditions of anonymity and self-support and singleness
of purpose all contribute to this true equality of Fellowship
found in A.A. meetings. So it is small wonder that "special"
groups have been viewed with suspicion, alarm and sometimes-outright
hostility within A.A. Nevertheless, "special"
groups based on a commonality of interest beyond their common
alcoholism—gender, age, race, occupation, sexual preference,
etc.—have existed within A.A. since the earliest days.
A number of these kinds of groups have found it helpful
to organize on an international level, often holding their
own conventions, with steering committees or central contacts
where interested A.A.'s can write for further information.
Their addresses are listed in the front of the A.A. Directories
for the US. and Canada.
the mid - 1970's, when feelings against "special
purpose" groups were at their height (see Chap. XX
on Conference), the point was made that these should not
be called "special purpose" groups since all
A.A. groups have the same purpose: sobriety. Rather, they
are "special composition" groups. In 1977, after
tempers had cooled down a bit, Dr. Jack Norris, then Chairman
of the General Service Board, made a presentation on the
subject to the Conference. He said, in part: "When
other requirements are added that might seem to exclude
some alcoholics, these should be considered A.A. meetings
and not A.A. groups. We have never discouraged A.A.'s
from forming special-purpose meetings of any or all kinds
to meet the needs of interested individuals, but we have
been hesitant to consider as groups those that might seem
to exclude any alcoholic, for whatever reason.
members feel that no A.A. group is special and, therefore,
that no group should be labeled as such or even give the
impression that it is 'special.' However, the
fact is that such groups do exist...These groups feel that
'labels' serve the purpose of attraction (providing
double identification) and are not intended to imply exclusion
of other alcoholics."
a Grapevine article in October of the same year, K.S. said,
"When I discussed the purpose of such groups with
people who attend them, they expressed a definite belief
that they could not be entirely open about themselves in
most regular A.A. groups... Homosexuals believe that the
specifics of their emotional relationships would not be
understood or accepted in regular A.A. meetings. Young people
are convinced that their life-styles. . . are not understandable
to older members. And professionals feel they get more understanding
from those they consider their peers, particularly in matters
relating to their conduct in their professions when they
were active alcoholics.
there seems to be genuine concern about anonymity"
- especially, K.S. noted, among people whose professional
status calls for licensing, homosexuals who are in groups
made up mostly of heterosexuals, and young people who were
once involved illegally with drugs. "Members of special
groups are certain that many of their kind would never be
able to get themselves to A.A. if they had to enter through
a regular group. Whether or not we agree with this thinking,
the point is that many alcoholics do believe in it. And
they believe in it seriously enough to form these special
groups and make them work."
groups were probably the first special groups to form. The
first Women's group in the world is believed to be one started
in Cleveland, Ohio, in June 1941. The following year, Ruth
B. wrote G.S.O. from Minneapolis, "There has been some discussion
here of having the women alcoholics meet in a separate group.
We have heard that women do meet in separate groups in Chicago
and Cleveland...we have less than a dozen women alcoholics
in Minneapolis, only four of whom are very active..." Bobbie
B. replied, "I suggest you write directly to Marion R.,
12214 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, Ohio. Marion is the secretary
of a women' s group out there who recently celebrated their
first anniversary. New York, who has about 40 women alcoholics
on their lists, 25 of whom have been dry since contacting
A.A., holds a meeting once every two weeks for women only..."
At about the same time, Bobbie received a similar query
from Harrisburg, Pa., and replied in part, "There are over
60 in the New York (women's) group. This is remarkable,
because when I first met the group a little over two years
ago, there were only 2, and some thought that perhaps this
program just wouldn't work for women." In a letter which
Grace 0. of New York wrote Bill W. in 1945, she said, "Our
gal's group now has 19 newcomers—all in seven weeks!"
Diego, California has had a women's group that has
met continuously, every week, since September 1945. It met
first at the office of the husband of one of the members,
but soon rotated among the homes of the various women. By
February 1946, a strong nucleus of 15 members made it possible
to rent a meeting place of their own. The first Women's
group in Salt Lake City listed itself with G.S.O. in the
spring of 1952. Significantly, a special session for Women
members was included in the program of the First International
Convention of A.A. in 1950 in Cleveland. No attempt has
been made to keep a count of women's groups over the
years, but it is safe to say they exist in almost any sizeable
community where there is A.A.
reason was touched upon in a letter from the Archivist,
Nell Wing, replying in 1979 to an inquiry from a woman writer.
She explained, "It was difficult for a woman to approach
A.A. in the late '30's or early '40's, and more difficult
still to be accepted in an A.A. group. It was generally
felt by male members that women had no place in an A.A.
meeting where their presence was considered by many to be
a disturbing factor. Since much of the success of the A.A.
program centered around a one-to-one relationship (especially
in the beginning years of the Fellowship), there was a perhaps
justifiable concern that a side effect of sharing and practicing
the program together might result in some hanky-panky."
When an occasional woman alcoholic showed up, men felt it
best not to sponsor her and often turned her over to the
wives of A.A. members to befriend and offer support. As
more women came in, they were actively encouraged to form
their own groups.
P., who came into A.A. in 1940, explains (with his wife
Katie's corroboration) that there was sometimes resistance
to women attending regular meetings by the spouses—from
both sides! That is, the wives of the men were suspicious
of the motives and the behavior of the women alcoholics.
And if the woman newcomer was married, her husband would
forbid her to spend evening after evening with a bunch of
men. So the answer was to form women's groups.
in A.A. decided to meet in a national conference of their
own in February 1964. The purpose was "to provide
a forum to share experiences common to women alcoholics;
to discuss problems of particular interest; to provide opportunities
to share with women from other areas; and to learn how to
be of greater service to those who still suffer."
At the first National A.A. Women's Conference, held
in Kansas City, Missouri, 45 women were present. It has
been held annually ever since, and attendance has grown
to several hundred. The permanent motto of the event is,
"The Language of the Heart Will Be Spoken Here."
Anonymous always welcomed any alcoholic, in principle -
regardless of race, color, religion or any other characteristic
that might otherwise set him apart. However, A.A. is inescapably
a part of the society in which it exists. And when the Fellowship
was founded - and for three decades thereafter - de facto
discrimination against Blacks was accepted in many places.
Later, and indeed even now, when a Black alcoholic comes
into a white A.A. meeting, even though he may be warmly
welcomed with every effort made to make him feel at home,
he often feels "different" and is likely to
alcoholism is rampant in the Black community, A.A. has never
enjoyed a percentage of Black membership equivalent to the
percentage of Blacks in the general population. Joe McQ.,
himself the first Black member of A.A. in Little Rock, Arkansas,
believes cultural differences mitigate against Blacks seeking
help-in A.A. or elsewhere. In his day, he says, from the
viewpoint of the young Black male, his world was divided
rather sharply between the pious, spiritual-singing church-goers
who were teetotalers; and the bottle-drinking, hip group
who hung out in the pool halls and on the street corners.
And the drinkers identified any nondrinker as a part of
the pious group, of which they wanted no part. This stereotype
has faded in the last two decades with the rapid assimilation
of Blacks into the general society, but the fact that A.A.
is not reaching Black alcoholics as it should has been a
continuing concern of the General Service Board and G.S.O.
problem was to be the topic of a General Sharing Session
on a Board weekend in January 1986. Garrett T., the first
Black Trustee (1983-87), shared that when he came to A.A.,
Blacks were not welcomed at white meetings in Washington,
D.C., so his home group has always been a Black group, the
Mideast. It was brought out that in keeping with its Traditions,
A.A. has not taken an aggressive or advocative role with
regard to racial causes, but has "let it happen."
The result, in A.A., has been that in many parts of the
country, integration came earlier and easier than segregation
(i.e., formation of Black groups.)!
first inquiry received at G.S.O. from a "colored"
alcoholic came from Pittsburgh in 1943. In reply to the
next inquiry in October 1944, Bobbie B. wrote, "We
do not have a colored group anywhere and the problem is
popping up more and more every day. In Pittsburgh they have
one colored member, and I suggest you write and find out
how the situation is handled there." In 1945, however,
there were Black groups in both Washington, D.C., and St.
Louis, Missouri. In January of the following year, a group
started in Los Angeles and within a year had 20 members.
In June, the Outhwaite group in Cleveland, Ohio, registered
at G.S.O. with eight members. And a month later there was
news of a colored group in Charleston, South Carolina. In
the same period, colored groups began in Kansas City, Missouri,
and Toledo, Ohio.
1947, the pace picked up. A colored group began in New York's
Harlem, and two were reported in New Jersey. Philadelphia's
first negro group met for the first time at the end of June,
and a group was formed in, Cincinnati. The first negro group
in Crowley, Louisiana, was started in May 1949. By 1952,
there were about 25 known negro groups, according to Ann
M., who was especially dedicated to helping A.A. reach Black
alcoholics. As no effort has been made at G.S.O. to distinguish
Black groups from others in the A.A. Directories, it is
next to impossible to trace their growth in the intervening
decades, nor to estimate the present number. They are obviously
very strong in Northern Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Washington,
D.C.; Atlanta, Georgia; and probably in most major cities
with concentrations of Black population.
A.A. was young, most of the members were not. The majority
of those whose alcoholism had brought them to their knees
were middle - aged. On the other hand, there has always
been a sprinkling of younger alcoholics, who were regarded
almost as curiosities; in fact, many of today's long-time
members came in at a relatively youthful age - or they wouldn't
still be around! There were enough Young People in A.A.
by 1950 that the First International Convention that year
in Cleveland included a session for them! Then, as A.A.
grew older in the '50's and '60's,
more alcoholics began showing up in their early thirties,
their twenties and even their teens.
were several reasons for this trend. Awareness of alcoholism
was much higher, so those with a problem sought help earlier.
The stigma was steadily reduced. Drugs, as they became more
available and more commonly used by young people, hastened
their progression and ultimate desperation. Later on, treatment
centers turned out large numbers of younger graduates. And
here, as always in A.A., the principle that "like attracts
like" applied. When a youthful alcoholic hesitantly approached
a group for the first time and saw another youth, he or
she was more likely to stay. And when a kid—rejecting
his family (or rejected by them) and running with a street
crowd—found acceptance, a new way of life and evident
joy in A.A., his young alcoholic peers were sometimes attracted
to see what had happened to him.
1985, one of the better known examples of A.A.'s ability
to turn a young person's life around was the story of June
C., who came to Alcoholics Anonymous in Venice, California,
in 1972 at the age of 13. The product of delinquent, violent,
alcoholic parents, June was pathologically suicidal as a
child, and had been turned out onto the street before she
had reached her teens because she had physically abused
her mother as a result of her own drinking and drugging.
Beaten up in a gang fight, the waif attempted suicide once
more, and ended up in the hospital. From there, she was
induced to go to an A.A. meeting. And she kept showing up,
as she had nowhere else to go. "I hated the people there,
and they avoided me," she says. Her appearance and dress,
her language and her attitude were unacceptable. "It was
a year before I put on shoes," June admits. But she kept
coming, and gradually some of the adult members—and
particularly a caring sponsor—took her under their
wing. They virtually adopted her—gave her a place
to sleep, slowly changed the way she dressed, persuaded
her to attend school, made her get some kind of work. June
G. went on to high school, then the university, then law
school—and today practices as a public defender in
the court system of the City of Los Angeles. A charming,
lovely looking, smartly attired young lady of 26 (in 1985),
June has 13 years of solid sobriety—thanks to her
only "family": Alcoholics Anonymous.
the path of most young people coming to. A.A. was not without
obstacles. Many in the '60's told how they were ignored
or scorned by older members at regular A.A. groups. "You're
too young to be an alcoholic," they were told. "Go out and
do some more drinking." One speaker at a young people's
A.A. convention said, "As I was leaving one of my first
meetings, I overheard an older member remark, 'I've spilled
more booze than that young punk has drunk.' He probably
had, but it was the alcohol I had drunk—not what he
spilled—that made my life unmanageable."
And even when a regular group made them feel welcome, the
young people sometimes felt different for the same reasons
that nonalcoholic youngsters feel different from adults;
they dressed differently, talked differently, and had different
fears and hang-ups.
helpful insights into young people in A.A. were gained from
a. strictly unofficial study done in 1976 by Darlene L.,
a college student and A.A. member in Southern California,
assisted by Jerry F., the then Delegate. The project consisted
of distributing questionnaires addressed to "under
30" A.A.'s in that area. Darlene got 79 replies
from which she drew her conclusions. The first discovery
was that three out of four had a parent or other close relative
who was an alcoholic (a much more startling fact in 1976
than today!). Many respondents had attended their first
A.A. meeting as a child; in the company of a parent, so
they knew where to-come when they got into trouble themselves.
The second discovery was that the young persons' progression
into serious alcoholism was very fast; within three years
of beginning to drink regularly, they knew they had a problem.
Similarly the study revealed they realized their powerlessness
over alcoholism very early, enabling them to overcome their
denial syndrome. Most of the young alcoholics had also been
drug users, greatly speeding up their reaching a bottom.
And finally, when they came to A. A., most identified with
the alcoholism of the older members but had problems arising
out of their identity as young people.
the younger members in various parts of the country began
banding together in their own groups. The first known group
"for men and women under 35" was formed in January
1946 in Philadelphia. Within a year, it had about 30 members
and an admirable record of sobriety. The same year, in October,
a similar group was started in San Diego, California, but
for young men only. It was followed within months by a young
women's group. In 1947 a "35 and under"
group began in New York City "with a mere handful."
But three years later, it had 75 to 100 alcoholics.
September 1961 Grapevine article on these "Youth Groups"
states, "In some places, naturally enough,
(they) were started with high hopes and flood-tide energy,
but little stable or wise leadership. Groups turned into
social clubs, or other Traditions were broken, and groups
died." But in the long run, most of the groups survived
and became viable, because they filled a need. "One girl
admitted, 'I guess we just rebel more at our age, even in
A.A. groups. And here, I don't have to try to compare my
drinking with that of fellows who reminisce about bathtub
gin or speakeasies.' And another fellow said, 'My young
people's group helps me with current problems. Because I'm
young, I have lots of domestic, professional and other personal
problems. Getting started in a career or starting a family
are not problems most older members are now facing, so we
younger ones can face them together and help one another.
That's in addition to helping each other stay sober—which
always comes first.'"
people's groups were often regarded with suspicion
by older groups. Not uncommonly, they were not included
in the local service structure because they were "not
A.A." But the youngsters continued doing their thing
and gradually came to be not only accepted but admired.
In the 1961 article, the Milwaukee A.A. Central Office secretary
is quoted as saying, "These young people's groups
are the lifesavers of A.A. in our area. The service workers
under 35 are where we get most of our best volunteers who
keep our Central Office functioning. They're the ones
we can count on most to take on Twelfth Step jobs, institutional
work and public information tasks."
young people's groups—along with young people from
regular A.A. groups—banded together in 1958 to form
the International Conference of Young People in Alcoholics
Anonymous, or ICYPAA (pronounced "Icky-Pa") for short. They
held their first convention at Niagara Falls, New York,
April 26-27, 1958. Less than a hundred people attended.
The event has been held annually ever since in different
cities from coast to coast, and the attendance now runs
3,000 or more, and are eagerly bid. for by young A.A.'s
in the host regions and eagerly sought by the convention
bureaus of host cities.
the large conventions and the existence of ICYPAA caused
more controversy within conventional A.A. than the individual
young people's groups. It was immediately accused
of being-some kind of non-affiliated splinter group. Older
A.A.'s felt vaguely threatened. ICYPAA leaders kept
insisting, "We're not a separate movement or
a breaking-away from Alcoholics Anonymous. The Ninth Tradition
says 'we may create service committees directly responsible
to those they serve. Our primary purpose is to carry the
message to younger alcoholics."
resistance from regular A.A. groups has now generally disappeared.
Trustees from the General Service Board (including its Chairman)
now routinely and delightedly attend the annual ICYPAA conventions—and
sometimes the regional ones, too. Past members of young
people's groups have become trusted servants, Delegates
and even Trustees. (George D.)., past Pacific Regional Trustee,
was a former member of the first young people's group in
Los Angeles.) The Conventions are very large - supporters
of G.S.0. At the invitation of the General Service Board,
ICYPAA leaders have attended a Board sharing session and
they gave extremely valuable assistance in arranging subjects
to be interviewed and filmed for A.A.'s documentary, film
targeting young people. These are the future of A.A.
this influx of young people into the Fellowship has led
older members of A.A. to form a number of groups and meetings
for senior citizen alcoholics. The first of these is believed
to be the Golden Years group started in North Hollywood,
California, in 1978. "Teet" C., one of the founders, says
they had seen older alcoholics "fall by the wayside because
they felt they did not belong in large wide-open A.A. meetings."
He adds, however, that all newly sober elders are cautioned
against making the Golden Years group their sole participation."
Many of the members are long-timers with 25 to 40 years
sobriety, who try to help the newcomer break through his
or her denial. In the last decade, many other "over-40",
"sober seniors" or "golden years" groups have formed throughout
the country. A.A. has recognized the special needs of the
older alcoholic with the publication of the pamphlet, "Time
To Start Living", including a large-type edition. (See Chap.
12). A.A. has exhibited at conventions of the American Association
of Retired People, and the staff member on the CPC assignment
has also attended.
-i.e., gay and lesbian - alcoholics have found help and
recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous from its very early days.
Bill W. refers to them in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
and in a 1958 letter expresses deep sympathy and concern.
The dedication and talents of gay and lesbian A.A. members
have often led them into service, where they have contributed
enormously in all capacities including Delegate and Trustee.
Almost never overt in their lifestyle, they have been completely
1975, Lillen Fifield published a study of alcohol abuse
in the Los Angeles gay community entitled, "On My Way to
Nowhere: Alienated, Isolated, Drunk." Its title suggested
the author's theory to account for the high incidence of
alcoholism among homosexuals - which is reflected in the
number of homosexual A.A.'s in that city. The point was
made that A.A. serves unique needs for gay and lesbian alcoholics
over and above those of straight alcoholics. The former
are frequently estranged from their families at an early
age, and hence feel rejected, lonely and "different"—which
makes them especially vulnerable to alcoholism. Add to this
that their social life usually revolves around gay bars,
partying and drinking. When they reach their bottom and
come to A.A., they find in recovery not only a new way of
life and new values, but also an acceptance and, indeed,
a new "family" they have never had before.
in large cities with a significant homosexual population—New
York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Boston—gays
and lesbians came to A.A as early as the 1940's and in increasing
numbers ever since. Going back to the late '40's and more
noticeably in the '50's and '60's, there were groups in
certain neighborhoods such as Greenwich Village and the
East Side of Manhattan in New York, and downtown San Francisco,
which were primarily composed of gay people, though they
were not listed or designated as gay groups. "We were getting
along fine," recalls a gay A.A. member in San Francisco,
"with plenty of gay people getting sober in groups downtown
or Mann or East Bay which were predominantly gay but also
had a rich diversity of people."
although the gays identified with the drinking and the feelings
of straight A.A.'s, they sometimes had difficulty
being comfortable or openly sharing their experiences and
problems. And so, in San Francisco in about 1967, some people
felt they wanted a group which was exclusively gay. It is
recalled that there was considerable debate and controversy
within the gay A.A. community whether or not to do it, but
it was finally decided to give it a try downtown at the
Episcopal Church on Fell Street. At first, the members identified
themselves with names and "I'm a gay alcoholic."
Shortly, however, most of them dropped saying "gay"
and said simply, "I'm an alcoholic." "We
regarded this just as a place where homosexual alcoholics
could come who were intimidated in coming to a straight
A.A. group," a founder says. "We had no idea
of creating something in which people would come in and
get sober and spend their entire A.A. life. But that's
what's happened, and if we hadn't done it, someone
someone else was indeed doing it in other cities. In Washington,
D.C., for example, four alcoholics—two gay and two
lesbian—gathered for a meeting in a private home on
December 8, 1971. All of them found an exclusively homosexual
group extremely helpful. They continued meeting on Sundays
at two homes in nearby Virginia until the summer of 1972,
when Cade W. and Bob W approached Fr. Goodrich of St.James
Episcopal Church and requested meeting space. He gave his
permission. A later pastor said, "If it had gone to the
Vestry Council, it would have been turned down." Soon a
Wednesday Step meeting was added to the Sunday meeting at
St.James. Besides Cade and Bob, early members included Blanche
H., Gerry Kay T., Tom H., Ray C., Vern W., Barbara G., Nancy
T. and Dennis L.
early 1974, Ray C. started the St.Margaret's open
speaker meeting on Friday evenings. The Lambda group in
Virginia followed on Saturday nights. A Big Book meeting
began at St. Thomas in late '75, and the Montrose
group began a month later. A.A. groups for gays continued
to grow and in 1985 Washington, Maryland and Virginia had
15 groups with about 40 meetings a week.
similar patterns of growth occurred in other cities, and
A.A. groups for gays began to appear in other locations,
the need was felt for a directory of gay/lesbian groups.
(Since 1974, they were listed, without special designation,
in A.A.'s Directories for U.S. /Canada, by Conference
action. See pp. XX-XX). For this purpose as well as to provide
a contact point for homosexual As similar patterns of growth
occurred in other cities, and A.A. groups for gays began
to appear in other locations, the need was felt for a directory
of gay/lesbian groups. (Since 1974, they were listed, without
special designation, in A.A.'s Directories for U.S.
/Canada, by Conference action. See pp. XX-XX). For this
purpose as well as to provide a contact point for homosexual
alcoholics, the International Advisory council for Homosexual
Men and Women in Alcoholics Anonymous was organized. They
also publish a helpful pamphlet. The Council is listed in
the front of the A.A. Directories, along with contacts for
other special composition groups, and the Council has worked
with G.S.O. to help provide workshops and social events
for gay/lesbian A.A.'s at International Conventions
since 1980. However, gay members in other cities are quick
to point out that the Council does not speak for all gay
A.A.'s nor is it responsible to them. "Some
of us out here," says a member in San Francisco, "area
little nervous and a little resentful at the recognition
given to this particular bunch."
question of listing groups for homosexuals raged in Los
Angeles (and some other localities) long after the Conference
had decided it at the national level. The problem in Southern
California was due not only to the large number of such
groups, but it was further complicated by the existence
of a whole coterie of groups for gays who called themselves
"Alcoholics Together." They pressured the Los
Angeles central Office to list them in the local meeting
directory. Actually, however, "Alcoholics Together"
were religious in origin and, though they patterned themselves
after all aspects of the A.A. program, they were not A.A.
- which finally settled the issue.
1975, an ad hoc group of gay A.A.'s in Northern California
decided they would put on an AA. round-up. A gay member
who tried to help them says the trouble was, none of the
sponsoring group had more than two years sobriety. "They
made a lot of mistakes, including putting out a flyer that
was carefully designed to offend almost everybody, without
their realizing they were offending anybody." Howls of protest
were heard as far as the G.S.O. in New York, and the local
Delegate was asked to meet with them and try to straighten
them out. Subsequently, a second flyer was produced, and
when it was shown to staff member Cora Louise B. during
the Conference, she remarked, "My, this is as proper and
decorous as an invitation to a coming-out party in Greenville,
first round-up in 1976 was a great success, with about 200
in attendance from as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia,
and Los Angeles. They immediately wanted to go home and
have a similar event of their own—and so the idea
spread. The format of the ICYPAA conferences was followed
in many cases. Criticism has been heard that the largest
of these round-ups in New York and San Francisco, drawing
around 2,000 people, have gotten far afield from A.A. in
their workshops. But other recent local gatherings of gay
A.A.'s have been "pure, basic A.A. - absolutely marvelous!"
according to one discriminating member.
W. courted the favor of doctors toward Alcoholics Anonymous.
He considered medical recognition of alcoholism as a disease
to be critical to A.A.'s future, and he valued doctors as
a resource to reach the still-suffering alcoholic and refer
him to A.A. However, though the co-founder was a doctor
and another doctor's personal story was included in the
first edition of the Big Book, it was not fully recognized
that doctors had a more direct relationship with A.A.—as
recovered drunks. Doctors are statistically more prone to
alcoholism than any other profession; yet they are less
prone to recognize their problem or accept help from anyone
other than another doctor.
was the late Dr. C.P., of Cape Vincent, New York, who, after
joining Alcoholics Anonymous in 1946, realized that doctors
in A.A. needed to band together to help other doctors. The
first meeting of ten doctors was held in the garage of Dr.
Clarence P. in Clayton, New York, in 1947. As three of them
were Canadians, they were "International" from
the beginning. Clarence then issued an invitation through
the Grapevine, which resulted in a gathering of 25 doctors
from all over, in late summer 1949. Those present agreed
that an annual gathering, held in different parts of the
U.S./Canada, would be a desirable addition to their attendance
at local A.A. meetings the rest of the year.
annual meetings have been held the first weekend in August
every year since, at various locations including Chicago,
Denver, San Antonio, San Diego, Toronto, New York, etc.,
etc. Guest speakers, in and out of A.A., representing fields
connected with alcoholism, are featured, with plenty of
time for regular A.A. sharing. There are no dues, but a
modest registration fee at the annual meeting covers expenses
of the meeting, postage for the year, and a contribution
International Doctors in A.A., as they call themselves,
have upwards of 2,000 on their confidential mailing list—including
names in Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Africa,
Japan, etc. All are assumed to be active in their local
A.A. groups as well. The IDAA itself is organized loosely
like an A.A. group, with a Secretary-Treasurer who maintains
the mailing list, corresponds with newcomers, and circulates
newsletters periodically. Dr. Lewis "Luke" R., of Youngstown,
Ohio, has had the position through most of IDAA's existence.
Regional meetings and groups, organized by local A.A. doctors,
have also been successful and well attended.
majority of IDAA members are medical doctors—physicians,
surgeons, psychiatrists, etc. The membership also includes
dentists, psychologists, veterinarians and medical scientists
such as biochemists and microbiologists. "Through our association
with this group," states Dr. "Luke" R, "we hope to better
cope with and understand our own problems, the problems
of other doctors, and most certainly the problems of our
indebted to the International Doctors in A.A. for advice
and inspiration, a number of lawyers in A.A., led by Igor
S. of Hartford, Connecticut, founded the International Lawyers
in A.A. at a meeting in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in September
1975. Twenty lawyers were present, 16 from Canada and four
from the U.S. They met in September of the next year in
Buffalo, New York, at what they called their second annual
convention. Again, about 20 were present. The conventions
have continued ever since.
shared their drinking experiences and identified strongly
with their common difficulties in the practice of law when
drinking alcoholically. They widened their focus to discuss
when and under what circumstances they should divulge their
A.A. membership, and how best to extend a hand to colleagues
or clients in trouble with booze. They concluded they were
in a position to carry the A.A. message effectively without
risking their professional reputations or practices. Like
IDAA, the ILAA viewed themselves not as a special-purpose
group, but rather as a supplement to attendance at regular
A.A. meetings and a "vestibule" for lawyers
with a drinking problem to meet with other lawyers before
entering mainstream A.A.
S. says, "ILAA emphatically does not seek to form
a separatist or elitist group. Instead, it serves as a sharing
community, demonstrating to the frightened, guilt-laden
lawyer that he is not alone."
with the founding of International Lawyers in A.A., state
bar associations began to set up procedures to identify
alcoholism or drug abuse in the profession and to provide
help. Local lawyer's groups were able to assist be
offering their experience, strength and hope to those in
Pilots in A.A.: "Birds of a Feather"
airline pilots, an alcohol problem had large and terrifying
dimensions. If they were discovered, even in recovery, they
would lose their jobs, under FAA regulations. They had no
secure place to go to attend A.A. meetings. "We had a constant,
gut-wrenching, sweat producing fear of being found out -
even after treatment," says one pilot in A.A.
first discussion of the special needs of alcoholic airline
personnel for treatment and subsequent recovery in A.A.
was held in the early summer of 1975 between Mike M., an
airline dispatcher at the Seattle-Tacoma (SEA-TAC) airport,
and Larry Haynie, then director of the Alcoholism Treatment
Center at Puget Sound Hospital in Tacoma. Mike had also
been discussing with Ward B., a pilot, the need for an airmen-only
A.A. meeting, so he was drawn into a second appointment
with Haynie. These three are considered the co-founders
of what came to be called "Birds of a Feather"
(BOAF). The first organized group meeting was held Friday,
December 5, 1975, in a conference room at Puget Sound Hospital.
soon included Rudy D., who vigorously championed the need
for a secret, protective meeting. His airline had just announced
that they had no alcoholic pilots, because if they found
one, they would fire him. Al J. also became an active organizer
and contact for the "Birds."
that modest beginning, BOAF grew to about 90 names throughout
the world. Their meetings, which they call "nests,"
are held usually at or near airports in Atlanta, Washington,
Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, La Jolla,
Seattle, Burlingame and Morristown, N.J. In June 1981, the
formation of a "nest" at Vancouver, British
Columbia, Canada, made the "Birds" truly international,
in addition to "solo" members in Ireland, Germany,
Iceland and India. Membership has broadened to include other
licensed cockpit crew besides pilots. Birds of a Feather
meetings are simply closed A.A. meetings at which the strictest
anonymity is observed. They are registered at G. S. 0.,
but are not listed in any A.A. Directories except for the
address of the national contact) or local Intergroup meeting
1978 the need was recognized for a national BOAF body to
coordinate the meetings and serve as a communications link.
John R. was appointed its first secretary, followed by Chuck
C., Al J., Pat W., Grant B. and Ron D. A newsletter, the
"Bird Word," is circulated periodically. In
December 1982, Renton, Washington, hosted the first international
convention of the Birds, followed by Atlanta and Chicago.
In addition, every December 7, the Washington, D.C., "nest"
hosts a "Pearl Harbor Day" meeting attended
by several hundred ex-airmen from the military as well as
current pilots. The Pearl Harbor day meeting pre-dates BOAF
by many years and has none if its secrecy.
Special Composition Groups
hearing impaired may be more susceptible to alcoholism than
hearing people because of their isolation and sense of being
"different." And their recovery in A.A. is hampered
by the difficulty of communicating. Long recognizing this
need, A.A. has attempted to serve the hearing impaired through
the group services assignment at C.S.O. The first Deaf group,
apparently, was started in Los Angeles in March 1962, with
as many as 18 in attendance - but attendance dwindled and
the group was inactivated in 1981. Meanwhile, the Eye Opener
group for the hearing impaired was formed in Washington,
D.C., in 1970, and the Sign of Hope group in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, in 1981. In 1985, G.S.0. listed about 100
groups and contacts throughout the country.
exclusively Deaf groups have tended to lose members to regular
A.A. groups which have increasingly tried to provide an
interpreter who can "sign" for hearing impaired
members when needed. Signing for the deaf is now provided
at all International Conventions and many other A.A. gatherings
(or Native American, in the modern terminology) groups have
existed. They are essentially de facto Indian because they
meet on or near reservations, but they also provide powerful
identification for the Native American newcomer and recognize
cultural differences. The first all Indian group in the
U.S. is believed to be the Oneida, Wisconsin, group started
in 1953; it is now known as the Hobart group. A letter from
Hazel R. at C.S.O. in 1966 says there are 20 Indian groups
in the U.S. and 11 in Canada. The number was probably nearer
100 by 1985.
other groups are composed of A.A.'s who speak languages
other than English. There were (NUMBER) of Spanish-speaking
groups in the U.S./Canada in 1985. They have formed their
own Intergroups in cities with large Hispanic population,
and they held their first "Convention Nacional A.A.
de Habla Hispana" in 1972. It has been held annually
ever since, rotating among various locales, and draws about
there are (NUMBER) of French-speaking groups, centered mainly
in Quebec, Canada. A huge annual convention held in Montreal
is billed as the Bi-Lingual, but its attendance is probably
80 percent from French-speaking groups.
other groups organized on the basis of language include
Polish, Finnish, Italian, Korean and Vietnamese speaking.