WITH ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
is apparent that the Washingtonian societies, when they were most effective
in the rehabilitation of alcoholics, had a great many similarities to
Alcoholics Anonymous. These similarities might be listed as follows:
Alcoholics helping each other.
The needs and interests of alcoholics kept central, despite mixed membership,
by predominance of numbers, control, or the enthusiasm of the movement.
The sharing of experiences.
The fellowship of the group or its members constantly available.
A reliance upon the power of God.
Total abstinence from alcohol.
Washingtonian groups probably failed to meet this ideal program, or
to maintain it for long. Even in itemizing the ideal program, some of
the differences between the Washingtonian groups and Alcoholics Anonymous
stand out. The admission of nonalcoholics as members and the incorporation
of the "temperance" purpose - the inducement of total abstinence
in nonalcoholics - are the most striking differences. Furthermore, at
their best, the Washingtonian groups possessed no understanding of alcoholism
other than the possibility of recovery through love and sympathy. Their
approach to the problem of alcoholism and alcohol was moralistic rather
than psychological or therapeutic. They possessed no program for personality
change. The group had no resource of ideas to help them rise above the
ideational content locally possessed. Except for their program of mutual
aid they had no pattern of organization or activity different from existing
patterns. There was far too great a reliance upon the pledge, and not
enough appreciation of other elements in their program. Work with other
alcoholics was not required, nor was the therapeutic value of this work
explicitly recognized. There was no anonymity to keep the public from
becoming aware of broken pledges, or to keep individuals from exploiting
the movement for prestige and fame. Finally, there was not enough understanding
of their own therapeutic program to formulate it and thus help the new
groups to establish themselves on a sound and somewhat uniform basis.
differences can be brought out more clearly by a more detailed, comparative
analysis of the Alcoholics Anonymous program - its principles, practices
Exclusively alcoholic membership.- There are many therapeutic values
in the cohesiveness and solidarity which a group with a common problem
can achieve. But in the light of the Washingtonian experience, the greatest
long-run value of an exclusively alcoholic membership is that it permits
and reinforces exclusive attention to the rehabilitation of alcoholics.
Singleness of purpose. - As stated in the masthead of an organizational
publication (23), Alcoholics Anonymous "is not allied with any
sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not
wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any
causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics
to achieve sobriety."
can divide groups more quickly - and certainly destroy the therapeutic
atmosphere effectively - than religious and political controversy. Strong
efforts were made in the Washingtonian movement to minimize sectarian,
theological and political differences, but the movement did not avoid
attracting to itself the hostile emotions generated by these conflicts.
Even if it had been more successful in this regard, it was still caught
in all the controversy to which the temperance cause had become liable.
Not only that, but within the temperance movement itself it eventually
became stranded on the issue of moral suasion versus legal action.
the light of this experience, the position of Alcoholics Anonymous stands
in decided and hopeful contrast. In refusing to endorse or oppose causes,
and particularly the temperance cause, A.A. is avoiding the greatest
handicap which the Washingtonian movement had. Some temperance leaders
may deplore that A.A. does not give them support, but they have no grounds
for complaining that they are being opposed or hampered by A.A.
A.A. program also contains a happy formula for avoiding the religious
or theological controversies which could easily develop even within
the groups as presently constituted. This is the use of the term "Power"
(greater or higher), and particularly the phrase "as we understood
Him," in referring to this Power, or God. The tolerance which this
phrase has supported is an invaluable asset.
further value of this single-minded concentration on the rehabilitation
of alcoholics is made obvious by the Washingtonian experience. Whenever,
and as long as, the Washingtonians were working hard at the reclamation
of drunkards, they had notable success and the movement thrived and
grew. This would support the idea that active outreach to other alcoholics
is a factor in therapeutic success and, at the same time, a necessary
condition for growth - and even for survival. Entirely aside from the
matter of controversy, then, this singleness of A.A. purpose is a condition
of continued therapeutic success and survival.
An adequate, clear-cut program of recovery. - Another great asset of
Alcoholics Anonymous is the ideology which forms the content and context
of its program of recovery, and which has received clear and attractive
expression in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (24) and in other A.A. literature.
This ideology incorporates the much sounder understanding of alcoholism
which has been developed in recent years. It is a pragmatic blend of
that which scientific research, dynamic psychology and mature religion
have to offer; and through the literature of the movement, the members
are kept sympathetically oriented to the developments in these fields.
instead of viewing alcoholism with a moralistic eye on alcohol - as
an evil which ought to be abandoned - A.A. sees alcoholism as an illness,
symptomatic of a personality disorder. Its program is designed to get
at the basic problem, that is, to bring about a change in personality.
program is simply and clearly stated in the Twelve Steps - augmented
by the "24 hour program" of abstaining from alcohol, and the
supporting slogans and emphases such as "First things first,"
"Live and let live," "Easy does it," "Keep
an open mind," honesty, humility, and so forth. Great stress is
also put upon regular attendance at the group meetings, which are characterized
by the informal exchange of experiences and ideas and by a genuinely
to the Washingtonian brand, the A.A. sharing of experiences is notably
enriched by the psychological insights which have been brought into
the group by A.A. literature and outside speakers. A thorough analysis
and catharsis is specifically asked for in the Twelve Steps - as well
as an improvement in relations to other persons. Work with other alcoholics
is required, and the therapeutic value accruing to the sponsor of new
members is distinctly recognized. The spiritual part of the program
is more clearly and inclusively defined; more soundly based, and more
frankly made an indispensable condition of recovery.
appears, furthermore, that the A.A. group activity is more satisfactory
to the alcoholic than was the case in many Washingtonian societies.
A.A. members seem to find all the satisfaction and values in their groups
that the founders of the various orders thought were lacking in the
decided Washingtonian weakness was its general lack of follow-through.
In contrast, A.A. is particularly strong on this point, providing a
potent follow-through in a group setting where self-analysis and catharsis
are stimulated; where new attitudes toward alcohol, self and others
are learned; where the feeling tones are modified through a new quality
of relationships; where, in short, a new way of life is acquired - one
which not only enables the person to interact with his environment (particularly
with other persons) without the use of alcohol, but enables him to do
so on a more mature, satisfying basis.
doubt a similar change occurred in many (though probably not in most)
of the alcoholic Washingtonians, but it was more by a coincidence, within
and without the societies, of circumstances that were rarely understood
and never formulated into a definite, repeatable program. A.A. is infinitely
better equipped in this respect.
Anonymity. - A comparison with the Washingtonian experience underscores
the sheer survival value of the principle of anonymity in Alcoholics
Anonymous. At the height of his popularity, John B. Gough either "slipped"
or was tricked by his enemies into a drunken relapse. At any rate, the
opponents of the Washingtonian movement seized upon this lapse with
glee and made the most of it to hurt Gough and the movement. This must
have happened frequently to less widely known but nevertheless publicly
known Washingtonians. Public confidence in the movement was impaired.
Anonymity protects the reputation of A.A. from public criticism not
only of "slips" but also of failures, internal tensions, and
all deviant behaviour.
important, anonymity keeps the groups from exploiting prominent names
for the sake of group prestige; and it keeps individual members from
exploiting their A.A. connection for personal prestige or fame. This
encourages humility and the placing of principles above personalities.
Such behaviour not only generates outside admiration of A.A. but has
therapeutic value for the individual members. There are further therapeutic
values in anonymity: it makes it easier for alcoholics to approach A.A.,
and it relaxes the new member. It encourages honest catharsis and utter
frankness. It protects the new member from the critical eyes of certain
acquaintances while he experiments with this new way of life, for fumbling
and failure will be hidden.
Hazard-avoiding traditions. - Another decisive contrast to the Washingtonian
movement is the development in Alcoholics Anonymous not only of a relatively
uniform program of recovery but also of relatively uniform traditions
for avoiding the usual hazards to which organizations are subject.
Alcoholics Anonymous there is actually no overhead authority. Wherever
two or three alcoholics get together to attain sobriety on the general
basis of the Twelve Step program they may call themselves an A.A. group.
They are free to conduct their activities as they see fit. As would
be expected in a fellowship of independent groups, all kinds of practices
and policies have been tried. A careful reading of the A.A. publication,
A.A. Tradition (25), will reveal how great the variety has been, here
and there. Membership has been limited. Conduct of groups has been undemocratic.
Leaders have exploited the groups for personal prestige. The principle
of anonymity has been violated. Personal and jurisdictional rivalries
have developed. Money, property and organizational difficulties have
disrupted A.A. groups. Members and groups, yielding to their own enthusiasms
and reflecting the patterns of other institutions around them, have
endangered the immediate and ultimate welfare of the A.A. fellowship.
These deviations could have been serious had there not existed a considerable
uniformity in practice and principle.
the early days of A.A., the entire fellowship was bound together by
a chain of personal relationships - all created on the basis of a common
program, a common spirit and a common tradition. This spirit and this
pragmatically achieved program and tradition were the only guiding principles,
and relative uniformity was not difficult. Alcoholics Anonymous was
just a fellowship - small, informal, poor and unpretentious. But with
growth, prosperity and prestige, the difficulties of getting all groups
and members to see the value of these guiding principles increased.
A self-conscious statement and explanation was needed - and this finally
emerged in 1947 and 1948 in the "Twelve Points of Tradition,”
elaborated upon in editorials in The A.A. Grapevine (23) and subsequently
published as a booklet (25).
formulating and stating the reasons for these traditions, Bill W., one
of the founders, has continued the extremely valuable function which
he, Dr. Bob and other national leaders have performed - that of keeping
intact the experienced based program and principles of A.A.
as important as any other is the tradition of keeping authority in principles
rather than letting it become vested in offices and personalities. This
tradition is supported by the related principle of rotating leadership,
and the concept that leaders are merely the trusted servants of the
group or groups. The hazard-avoiding values of these traditions are
tradition that membership be open to any alcoholic has value in countering
the tendency toward exclusiveness, class-consciousness, cliquishness
- and it helps to keep the groups focused on their main job of helping
the "alcoholic who still suffers."
tradition of complete self-support of A.A. groups and activities by
the voluntary contributions of A.A. members avoids the dangers inherent
in fixed dues, assessments, public solicitations, and the like - and
it is conducive to self-reliance and self-respect. Furthermore, in minimizing
money it maximizes fellowship.
tradition that "any considerable property of genuine use to A.A.
should be separately incorporated and managed" is important in
keeping the A.A. groups from becoming entangled in the problems of property
beyond the minimum necessary for their own functioning. The tradition
of "the least possible organization" has a similar value.
These last three traditions might be summed up as precautions against
the common tendency to forget that money, property and organization
are only means - and that means find their rightful place only when
the end is kept clearly in view. For A.A., these traditions should help
to keep the groups concentrated on their prime purpose: helping alcoholics
existence of these traditions - and their clear formulation - are assets
which the Washingtonian movement never possessed.
prognosis for Alcoholics Anonymous is suggested by this comparison with
the Washingtonian movement?
least that can be said is that the short life of the Washingtonian movement
simply has no parallel implications for A.A. Despite certain but limited
similarities in origins, purpose and early activities, the differences
are too great to draw the conclusion of a similar fate for A.A.
the differences, then, of such a nature as to assure a long life for
Alcoholics Anonymous? This much can be said with assurance of consensus:
(A) In the light of our present-day knowledge, A.A. has a sounder program
of recovery than the Washingtonians achieved. (B) A.A. has avoided many
of the organizational hazards which plagued the Washingtonian societies.
The success and growth of A.A. during more than a decade of public life,
its present vigour and its present unity underscore these statements
and augur well for the future.
the writer's judgment, based on a systematic study (26) of A.A., there
is no inherent reason why A.A. should not enjoy an indefinitely continued
existence. How long an existence will depend upon how well the leaders
and members continue to follow the present program and principles -
that is, how actively A.A. members will continue to reach out to other
alcoholics; how thoroughly the remainder of the A.A. program will continue
to be practiced, particularly the steps dealing with catharsis and the
spiritual aspects; and, how closely all groups will be guided by the
the writer would suggest that the value in the traditions lies chiefly
in the avoidance of factors that can easily interfere with keeping the
ideal therapeutic atmosphere found in the small A.A. groups at their
best. Most of the personality change necessary for recovery from alcoholism
occurs in these small groups - and that work is at its very best when
there is a genuinely warm, nonegocentric fellowship. How well this quality
of fellowship is maintained in the small, local groups is offered, therefore,
as another condition determining how bright the future of A.A. will
the worth of these judgments, they point up the potential value to A.A.
of careful, objective research on these and related conditions. This
would give Alcoholics Anonymous another asset that the Washingtonians