Richmond W., author of Twenty-Four Hours a Day; published For Drunks Only: One Man's Reaction to Alcoholics Anonymous in September 1945. More than forty years later, students of A.A. history and A.A. members will find this pamphlet a welcome addition to their reading list. For Drunks Only is Walker's personal story of following the guidelines in Chapter Five of Alcoholics Anonymous: "what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now." He also adds insight on how A.A. works for those who are willing to accept the A.A. spiritual program of recovery from alcoholism.
In the early 1940s, Alcoholics Anonymous headquarters published only its Big Book* and a few pamphlets. Meanwhile, many groups began publishing additional material for A.A. members. Richmond W. was a few years sober in A.A. and a member of the South Shore A.A. group in Quincy, Massachusetts when they published 2,000 copies of For Drunks Only in 1945. At that time, A.A. membership was around 13,000 and 900 A.A. groups were established.
In 1945, Richmond W. sent a copy of his pamphlet to his friend and A.A. cofounder, Bill W. The book was inscribed, "For Bill W. with gratitude from Rich W." In 1946, Richmond W. offered Bill W. For Drunks Only; to consider for publication by A.A. But, A.A. declined to publish For Drunks Only; as it would also decline to publish Twenty Four Hours a Day when he made a similar offer in 1954. In March 1946, 6,000 more copies of For Drunks Only were printed by the Quincy Group and sold for 25 cents each to A.A. members.
In 1945, A.A. world headquarters was in its adolescence with A.A. membership rapidly increasing. Problems of finance, anonymity, and the question of leadership when its cofounders were gone were the concerns of the day. The A.A. Grapevine began printing The Twelve Traditions in the summer of 1946 as a set of principles and guidelines for A.A. unity. So, in 1945 A.A. members had just the Big Book, a few pamphlets, and the newly begun A.A. Grapevine as literature to help them with their journey in sobriety. For Drunks Only and Twenty-Four Hours a Day stand apart from other literature for A.A. members by their use of Oxford Group literature and principles.
The Oxford Group, through its teachings and meetings, tried to help individuals become physically, mentally, and spiritually whole. Its disciples taught the necessity of absolute surrender to God as the directing force in their entire lives. (In Not-God, Ernest Kurtz describes the Oxford Group as a nondenominational, theologically conservative, evangelically styled attempt to recapture the impetus and spirit of what its members understood to be primitive Christianity.) When Bill W. achieved sobriety in 1934, it was the Oxford Group and their meetings that helped him. In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of AgeBill W. wrote, "Early A.A. got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution of harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group."
Richmond W., like many other A.A. members during the 1940s, relied heavily on writings associated with the Oxford Group, although the Oxford Group was not exclusively for alcoholics trying to remain sober. The Oxford Group author which influenced Richmond W. the most was A. J. Russell. Russell had attended an Oxford Group meeting with the intention of doing a newspaper story on the Oxford Group. In Russell's words, ‘as an observer, I became a convert’
A characteristic of most group or social movements is that one book becomes identified as the "Bible" of that organization. Just as Alcoholics Anonymous has this status in A.A., For Sinners Only by Russell was the "Bible" of the Oxford Group. Russell was also the editor of God Calling, which Richmond W. used as a guideline in writing Twenty-Four Hours a Day. Russell, who was a newspaper editor in London, describes his journey from "Prodigal Son" to the Oxford Group in For Sinners Only. This book became a best seller in the 1930s in the United States and England and was translated into many foreign languages. In 1939, the Big Book was published giving the first lOO A.A. members their Own book and their own organization removed from the Oxford Group.
For Sinners Only chronicles Russell's interpretation of the group, with various sections of the book citing important ideas such as: the common fear of people to "let go" and trust themselves to God, the importance of surrendering to the will of God, and the way one's powerlessness to overcome sin leads that person to seek help from the Powerful One. Russell was able to make spiritual progress through insights which came during "Quiet Times" or morning meditations of listening to God. The Oxford Group believed in the importance of "Quiet Times" for daily guidance.
One chapter of For Sinners Only was devoted to Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City and its rector, The Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker. Calvary Episcopal Church served as the U.S. headquarters of the Oxford Group during the 1930s. Shoemaker had been an Oxford Group convert since 1918.
In November 1934, Calvary witnessed the arrival of Bill W. Through the assistance of Shoemaker and Dr. William Duncan Silkworth at Towns Hospital, Bill W. remained sober and a member of the Oxford Group. Dr. Bob S., A.A's other cofounder, also relied on the literature and meetings of the Oxford Group in Akron, Ohio.
The influence of Oxford Group teachings and literature is evident in For Drunks Only. Richmond W. uses the Oxford Group term "soul-sickness" to describe his alcoholic condition when he attended his first A.A. meeting. As in Oxford Group meetings, early A.A. members were instructed to get up at meetings and bear personal witness to past mistakes. Richmond W. wrote that the Big Book told him to do seven things: 'Admit I'm an alcoholic, realize I must spend the rest of my life without alcohol, be absolutely honest with myself and others, turn to a Higher Power for help, live one day at a time, come to A.A. meetings regularly, and work with other alcoholics:' A major criteria for working the Oxford Group program were the Four Absolutes: Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love. Bill W., however, was careful not to put absolute requirements into the A.A. program; he believed individuals seeking sobriety would have problems with this concept. Richmond W. also refers to the Sanskrit proverb in For Drunks Only which he used in the foreword of Twenty-Four Hours a Day.
In Chapter Four of For Drunks Only; "The Spiritual Basis of A.A.:' Richmond W. tells the reader that A.A. members have a motto: “But for the grace of God” This motto is important for sobriety and to conquer the "soul-sickness" caused by alcoholism. Early A.A. members were often asked when joining A.A. to get down on their knees when they accepted God in their lives. (This practice is one of many that have been eliminated over the years in A.A. Other early rigid practices have also been softened as A.A. goes through its evolutionary stages.) Richmond W. also uses parables such as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan from the New Testament in his pamphlet. The Twenty-Four Hour Programme (Richmond W. shows the influence of British Oxford Group writers with his use of the British spelling of program) is simplified in thl old saying, “Yesterday is gone, forget it; tomorrow never comes, don’t worry; today is here, get busy”
Richmond W. continually refers to witnessing which is one of the most frequently used Oxford Group sayings. He then tells us that this term is the same as sharing which is the term used by A.A. members. Richmond W.'s concept of A.A. involves a program of "submission, release, and action" and one of "faith, hope, and charity." Richmond W. comes closer than most others who write about A.A. in his interpretation of the source of the A.A. Twelve Steps. The Oxford Group's "Five C's" are discussed as the source of the Steps. Confidence, confession, convic. tion, conversion, and continuance are illustrated by Walker as they apply to the Steps.
We are all fortunate that For Drunks Only is again available as it illustrates the influence of the Oxford Group. But more importantly, it shows us that the A.A. program of over forty years ago remains essentially the same today. This is reflected in Richmond W.'s conclusion where he states: “And, finally, if you want to, you can become a uniquely useful person by using your own greatest defeat and failure and sickness as a weapon to help others.”
* The Big Book is "Alcoholics Anonymous", published by A.A. World Services, Inc., New York, NY.