Alcoholics Anonymous History
A New Way Out
By Dick B.
A New Way Out
New Path – Familiar Road Signs –
Our Creator’s Guidance
An introductory chapter for all those dedicated servants, organizations, professionals, and still-suffering individuals who want to know how our Creator reached into one of the great social movements of our age, touched the lives of its founders and members, and enabled them to ask His guidance along a path—a way out—that would deliver those who wanted to become His children, to seek His power and strength, to obey His rules, and to prove Him with their healed minds and bodies and glorify Him with their love and service to Him and bring others into His family with faith, hope, and love.
Ask our Heavenly Father the Way
Become one of His children
Tell others what He has done for you and will do for others in trouble
Pray to Him and for them and show them how to pray
Study His Word as a lamp for your feet
Claim the love, power, strength, and deliverance He offers
Program your life to glorify Him – with love for Him and others
Historical documentation of victories available to young people who want to pray; to organizations that want to use their evangelistic efforts anew; to movements seeking effective help for alcoholics, addicts, and others with life-controlling problems; and to all who want to establish a relationship with the Creator, learn from the Bible, talk to and hear from Him, and walk in fellowship with Him, His Son, and like-minded believers and let Him make them free.
The Royal Way God Has Already Marked Out
In God I have put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me
Hear my prayer, O God: give ear to the words of my mouth
Teach me thy way, O LORD. I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto Him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, thou shalt say, Speak, LORD for thy servant heareth
1 Samuel 3:7-9
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life
Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whether thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.
And he [Saul] trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. Acts 9:6
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye were saved. By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:1-5
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall received the gift of the Holy Ghost
A New Way to Travel – The Creator’s Royal Way
The Question Behind Our Accurate Historical Guide – Have you talked with the Creator?
Summary of the Basic Contributing Historical Roots, Books, Persons, and Entities
Recognizing the Two Distinctly Diverse Programs – Akron and New York
The Simple, Successful Akron Program That Produced a 75% Success Rate
Parallels From the Groups and People Contributing to, or Assessing Akron’s Program
Picking Up The Common Ancestral Thread; Learning What They Did; Using It Today
Minding the Sources Bill Used to Fashion His Variant New York Program
Hindrances Today to the Original Spiritual Roots, Program, and Power
The Importance of Choice
The Necessity for Cure
A New Way Out
New Path – Familiar Road Signs – Our Creator’s Guidance
A New Way To Travel A Well-Lighted Path to Recovery, Healing, and Wholeness While Effectively Reckoning with Prejudices against Religious Means on the One Hand, and Prejudices Against 12-Step Programs on the Other
Thoughts for the reader
When this title speaks of “A Way Out, “ it speaks of a way out of correctional facilities and prisons, a way out of alcoholism and addictions, a way out of life-controlling problems, and a way out of the prisons of the mind that bind people to fear, self-condemnation, and despair. We speak to “God’s way out.” We take our cue from the Bible. But we urge the reader to heed 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (King James Version)
“. . . . No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, he also will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:11, Comparative Study Bible, Rev ed. New International Version. MI: Zondervan, 1999, p. 2929, italics added)
Alcoholics Anonymous Language
“According to a letter dated July 18, 1939. . . Bill, at that time, was using ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ both as a working title of the book [A.A.’s basic text] as a name of the fellowship. Among other titles suggested were. . . ‘The Way Out’ . . . The choices quickly boiled down to ‘The Way Out,’ favored by a majority in Akron, and ‘Alcoholics Anonymous,’ preferred by most in New York. When a vote was taken in the two groups, ‘The Way Out’ prevailed by a bare majority. . . . The Library of Congress had 25 books entitled ‘The Way Out,’ 12 entitled, ‘The Way,’ and none called ‘Alcoholics Anonymous.’ That settled the matter; nobody wanted to struggle with the burden of being simply another ‘way out’.” (Pass In On. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984, pp. 202-203)
Our Words and Views in this Title – With a Disclaimer
Neither the author nor the publisher purports to speak for or represent Alcoholics Anonymous. The opinions here are those of the author. Paradise Research Publications, Inc., the publisher, is not in any way affiliated with or connected with Alcoholics Anonymous World Services
The Need for This Accurate Historical Guide To Recovery Today Within the Many, Existing, Successful, Treatment Groups, Programs, and Approaches
[“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:8-9”]
Have You Talked With The Creator?
I have firmly concluded—from my own 20 years of experience as an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous, my own sponsorship of more than 100 men in recovery, and my own 16 years of research into the history of A.A.— that the greatest difficulties today in all recovery programs arise from a lack of information about A.A. roots, a lack historical knowledge about those successful recovery programs which placed their works in God’s hands, an unwillingness to consider the successes of early movements and of early A.A., a conviction that man’s ways can do the job, and an utter failure to ask the questions so often asked in early A.A.: What does it say in the Good Book? What does the Creator want me to do? What would the Master say? Why are our own plans and efforts bearing so little fruit?
There are pertinent questions: Have you asked our Heavenly Father for help? Have you talked to Him about your problems? Have you asked the Creator what He wishes to have you do?
Let’s look at some recovery history. Let’s see if anyone has placed a program of Divine Aid before the Divine Creator and followed His suggestions.
Bill Wilson’s 12 Step Spiritual Kindergarten
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on June 10, 1935. And that event ushered in a whole era of dynamic programs and a long-overdue renewed focus on spiritual means of recovery from alcoholism, addiction, and other life-controlling problems.
A.A.’s spiritual solution expanded from Alcoholics Anonymous to an estimated 200 other “anonymous” recovery groups. Also to other “Twelve Step” groups. Then to other not-so-anonymous recovery groups and meetings in churches, non-profit agencies, and government facilities. Then to addiction prevention and treatment programs in rehabs, hospitals, in-patient and outpatient treatment facilities; then to self-help groups, mutual support groups, and therapy. Then to widespread publishing of “official” texts, guidebooks, recovery books, treatises, research papers, and scientific investigations. And inevitably to research and history societies, grants and funding, and alternative therapies. And then even into so-called Recovery Bibles which published Bibles that included Twelve Step phrases and language, meditation ideas, and psychological materials.
The variety of ever-proliferating spiritual and other recovery programs patterned on, or derived from, Alcoholics Anonymous and its Twelve Steps, can today be found in such organizations as the Salvation Army, Rescue Missions, the Veterans Administration, Branches of the U.S. Military, church and youth organizations, Teen Challenge, Overcomers Outreach, Inc, Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics for Christ, and Alcoholics Victorious. Most have used, modified, or dramatically changed the Twelve Step recovery ideas—and certainly the early A.A. Christian Fellowship program in Akron that preceded the whole shebang.
Yet, as A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson claimed so often, nobody “invented” A.A., and it was, as Bill characterized it, just a “spiritual kindergarten” Bill claimed its ideas came from religion, medicine, and the experience of alcoholics themselves. Co-founder Dr. Bob declared that the basic ideas came from study and effort in the Bible—particularly the Book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. Both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob acknowledged a debt to the Oxford Group (later called Moral Re-Armament and also called “A First Century Christian Fellowship”) for the “terse and tangible” program of action embodied in A.A.’s Big Book and Twelve Steps. Both said Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount contained A.A.’s underlying philosophy.
The Varied Sources
Historical research since 1990 has unearthed, defined, and articulated a large number of ideas that reached A.A. from the King James Version of the Bible, United Christian Endeavor Society, Young Men’s Christian Association; The Salvation Army; Dr. Frank Buchman’s Oxford Group; The Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s role and teachings from the Bible and the Oxford Group; a core idea from Dr. Carl Gustav Jung; some core ideas and language from Professor William James of Harvard; the extensive work with alcoholics by Dr. William Duncan Silkworth—primarily at Towns Hospital; the literature and practices with Christian Quiet Time and meditation books and devotionals popular in the 1930’s; the specific teachings of Anne Ripley Smith (wife of Dr. Bob)—found initially in the spiritual journal she kept and shared in the 1930’s; several psychological ideas from lay therapist Richard Peabody; a number of words and ideas from “New Thought” proponents such as Ralph Waldo Trine, Emmet Fox, Christian Science, and Unity; and a large body of literature circulated, read in early A.A., and written by such notables as Glenn Clark, E. Stanley Jones, Charles Sheldon, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Norman Vincent Peale, Toyohiko Kagawa, and Samuel M. Shoemaker, plus innumerable writings by Oxford Group activists and admirers.
The Pot Hole As To Specifics
This large a body of resources, was pulled together by the work and thinking of two real alcoholics—Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. There was no basic text until 1939. There were no specific “steps” until 1939. There was not even a common agreement among the founders as to how much “God,” “Jesus Christ,” the “Bible,” the Oxford Group, and Christian writings were to figure ultimately in the basic writings and approaches. The real definitive historical picture of A.A., from A.A.’s own standpoint, was to be found only in Bill Wilson’s Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1956; and in the later Pass It On (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984) and DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980). Even these historical works were not completed until the mid 1980’s. And the interim period from 1935 to 1980 had seen the passing of both A.A. founders, the addition of a host of writings published by individual A.A. areas, several solo efforts by Bill Wilson, and the emergence of authoritative writers and thinkers such as Sister Ignatia, Father Ralph Pfau, Father Ed Dowling, S.J., Father John C. Ford, S.J., Richmond Walker, and A.A.’s own Ed Webster and Clarence Snyder.
Perhaps unaware of these varied roots and personalities, or opposed to their ideas, or protective of their “own” A.A. perspective, all too many programs and recovery books simply omit reference to the majority of present-day historical source materials and opt for some incomplete, simplified, and usually erroneous introductory material. They omit treasures that could and should make the program understandable. They omit historical facts that explain the Biblical and other recovery concepts. They add unusual words and ideas that confuse the facts. And they discard many of the original religious and scientific ideas and replace them with “universal,” “secular,” “spiritual but not religious,” and “simple” approaches.
In over 16 years of research, writing, visiting, speaking, and comparing, I have seen a huge hole in each of the programs that have spun off from or out of Alcoholics Anonymous. They simply lack a concise, yet comprehensive, accurate, and informative segment or chapter on the spiritual history and roots of early Alcoholics Anonymous—a fellowship with astonishing success.
We’d fervently like to see all related programs and approaches include the simple matter in this guide. We believe this guide will preclude necessity for including the thousands of pages of ideas and materials that have helped define the whole. Instead, it will provide an outline, a workbook, a guidebook, and a resource. It can and should be usable as a preface, a chapter, a starting platform, a guiding approach, and an authoritative summary of just where it all came from, what it used to be like, how it can be described from an historical standpoint, and how it can supplement almost any and every recovery effort today.
Summary of Basic Roots and Contributing Books, Persons, and Entities
The formative and developmental period for A.A. occurred from 1933 to the publication of its basic text and Twelve Steps in 1939. In that brief period, a small group of pioneers, primarily from Akron, took the Bible, their own experience with other sources, and personal contact with still-suffering alcoholics and developed a spiritual program of recovery with astonishing success rates of 75% and, by early 1940 in Cleveland, 93%–with all the recovered men and the few women in the fellowship boldly and positively asserting that they had been cured of alcoholism.
The kit of spiritual tools the Akron Pioneers used to get well were these:
The Bible (affectionately called “The Good Book”)
Dr. Bob said A.A.’s basic ideas came from the Good Book and that the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 were absolutely essential to the solution of their problems. See Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, 3rd ed., HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1938; The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc. 2005; and Why Early A.A. Succeeded. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2001.
The United Christian Endeavor Society
Dr. Bob said he had received excellent training in the Bible as a youngster—due not only to his family’s frequent weekly attendance at North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, but also due to his active participation in that church’s Christian Endeavor Society. And Christian Endeavor’s simple principles and practices consequently seem very much resemble to the Christian Fellowship program Dr. Bob and Bill W. developed, and Dr. Bob led in Akron. See Dick B., James Club.
The Salvation Army
The original five-point Salvation Army program focused on salvation, abstinence; redemption of the sinning criminals and alcoholics; helping them out of the slums and into new lives; and prodding them into helping others still stuck in the shadows. Its principles and practices influenced the mission where Bill and his “sponsor” Ebby began the march into what religion had to offer the alcoholic. The Salvation Army program much resembled the principal ingredients of the early Akron A.A. program (In certain locations, its ARC programs still resemble the early A.A. look-a-like). See the series of lectures at Yale University in 1945, in which Bill Wilson himself addressed the clergy and scholars. Note should be taken of Lecture 26 by Rev. Francis W. McPeek, “The Role of Religious Bodies in the Treatment of Inebriety in the United States,” Twenty-nine Lectures with Discussions as Given at the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies. New Haven: Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1945, pp. 414-415; Dick B., The Salvation Army Factor; Harold Begbie, Twice Born Men. NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1909; and the splendid discussion in Howard C. Clinebell, Ph.D. Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictions. Rev. and Enl. ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998..
Young Men’s Christian Association
Both A.A.’s East Coast mentors—Oxford Group Founder Frank Buchman and Rev. Sam Shoemaker—were closely involved with the YMCA for several years. As to Buchman, see Mark O. Guldseth, Streams. Alaska: Fritz Creek Studios, 1982, pp. 84-85, 92-94, 128, Garth Lean, Frank Buchman: A Life. London: Constable, 1985, pp. 33-44, 81-82; and as to Buchman and Shoemaker, see Lean, Buchman, pp. 82, 108-131. Shoemaker’s early materials were published by the Y’s Association Press. Inspired by John R. Mott, the de facto leader of the world student Christian movement, both Buchman and Shoemaker espoused the YMCA’s principles of personal work, evangelism, and Morning Watch. These foci all influenced A.A. development in the areas of one-on-one help, bringing people to Christ, and establishing the importance of morning meditation with Bible study, prayer, guidance, and devotionals. See Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc.; Pass It On, p.130.
Dr. Frank Buchman’s First Century Christian Fellowship—the Oxford Group
The twenty-eight Oxford Group ideas that impacted A.A. became incorporated in A.A. itself as a practical program of life-changing action. See Dick B., Oxford Group and A.A. A.A.’s own literature eventually acknowledged the debt. See Pass It On, where Bill Wilson is reported as writing: “I would give anything if you could avoid mentioning the matter [A.A.’s connection with the Oxford Group] at all, but it must be noted, I’m quite anxious to avoid words carrying criticism or sting. After all, we owe our lives to the group” (pp. 246-247)
The Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker’s Books, Teachings, and Personal Role
As an Oxford Group leader and an Episcopal rector, Shoemaker’s personal relationship with Bill Wilson, and later A.A. itself, directly contributed most of the Oxford Group language and teachings that were codified into A.A.’s Big Book and Twelve Steps. See The Language of the Heart, p. 298; and Dick B., Twelve Steps for You and New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1939.
Anne Ripley Smith, Wife of Dr. Bob, and “Mother of A.A.”
In a journal she kept over the period from 1933 to 1939, Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Smith wrote down in her own journal almost every one of the principles and practices of early A.A.—though the Big Book and Twelve Steps had not yet been written. Anne shared from this journal in morning quiet times and in meetings with early AAs and their families. And you can see that the principles of A.A. were articulated before the principles of A.A. were later articulated by Bill W. See Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal: 1933-1939: A.A.’s Principles of Success. In recognition of Anne’s matchless role, Bill Wilson and many others called Anne the “Mother of A.A.”
The Core Conversion Prescription from Dr. Carl Gustav Jung
It was the view of Dr. Carl Gustav Jung of Switzerland—passed along in Jung’s conversations with Oxford Group member Rowland Hazard—that led Bill Wilson to believe that a transforming religious conversion experience was the spiritual ingredient required for victory over alcoholism. See Bill W. My First Forty Years. MN: Hazelden, 2000, pp. 123-139; Pass It On, pp. 381-386. A few AAs with practically no documentation have tried to debunk the idea that Rowland Hazard ever visited Dr. Carl Jung; but there are ample reasons to doubt their approach, particularly now that excellent studies have been done of the matter. See Cora Finch, Stellar Fire: Carl Jung, a New England Family, and the Risks of Anecdote, http://www.stellarfire.org., 2006. Wilson hailed Carl Jung as one of A.A.’s “founders” Pass It On, pp. 381, 383. And see Ron Ray, The Forerunner–Rowland (http://www.archivesinternational.org/AI/Documents/pdf/forerowland.pdf); and an extensive corroborative study by a scholar who did her thesis on the subject. See Amy Colwell Bluhm, Ph.D., “Veriticatio of C.G. Jung’s analysis of Rowland Hazard and the history of Alcoholics Anonymous,” History of Psychology, May, n.d.; American Psychological Association.
The Key Influence of Professor William James of Harvard
Both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob studied William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, from which Bill had concluded there was a validation of his own “hot flash” conversion experience. Little recognized too were the New Thought language and ideas that filtered into A.A. language via Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s writings and those of others, including Anne Smith. Shoemaker particularly relied upon James’ writings on self-surrender and conversion. See Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Realizing Religion. NY: Association Press, 1929; William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience. NY: First Vintage Books/The Library of America Edition, 1990; and Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism.
The Ideas and Personal Influence of William Duncan Silkworth, M.D.
Most AAs seem inclined to believe that Silkworth’s “Doctor’s Opinion” in the front of their basic text shows Silkworth’s direct influence on their First Step and the Big Book’s discussions of alcoholism. However, recent findings establish a much greater Silkworth influence on the chain of events that led to A.A.’s earlier emphasis on Jesus Christ, the Great Physician.. See Dale Mitchel. Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks. MN: Hazelden, 2002, pp. 42-51, 63, 66, 100, 104-109. Silkworth told Bill the rudiments of alcoholism, but Silkworth had a direct influence on Bill’s seeking out the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, who, Silkworth said, could cure alcoholics. In addition to Mitchel’s book, see: Pass It On; Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why; and Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ. Together these affirm Silkworth’s frequent remarks that cure of alcoholism was available to one who gives his life to Jesus Christ.
The Christian Quiet Times or Quiet Hours and Devotionals
Quiet Time (with Bible study, prayer, seeking guidance, and reading Christian devotionals) was a “must” in early A.A. DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 135. It affirmed, explained, and elaborated upon the Biblical ideas then being studied; and it heavily influenced A.A.’s Eleventh Step. See Dick B., Good Morning: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A., 2d ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998.; The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998; and The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed.; Rev. Sam Shoemaker was a particularly strong advocate of Quiet Time and spelled out the ingredients of quiet, prayer, Bible study, listening to God, and the reading of Christian literature. See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.., 2d ed., HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 199l.
Non-Oxford Group Literature by leading Christian Writers
Explanations of Bible segments, quiet times, prayer, and healing were circulated among A.A. pioneers from the writings of Henry Drummond, Oswald Chambers, E. Stanley Jones, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and many others. See Dick B., The Books Early AAs Read; Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed.; HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998; Anne Smith’s Journal; Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Lay Recovery Ideas of Richard Peabody
Richard Peabody wrote The Common Sense of Drinking—read by both Bill W. and Dr. Bob. Though Peabody was merely a lay therapist and though he ultimately died drunk, a number of specific phrases almost directly attributable to The Common Sense of Drinking, can be found in Wilson’s Big Book—phrases speaking of no cure for alcoholism, half measures availed nothing, once-an-alcoholic-always-an-alcoholic. Richard R. Peabody, The Common Sense of Drinking. Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1939. Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 3rd ed., HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc, 2006; Cured: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts. 2d ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006; and Mel B., New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the Twelve Step Miracle. MN: Hazelden Foundation, 1991.
New Thought Writings of Emmet Fox, Mary Baker Eddy, Unity and Others
New Thought writers were read by AAs, and some of their language and concepts can be found embedded in A.A.’s later language—even though their writings did not espouse or actually rejected the born-again Christianity of early A.A. See Dick B., Making Known The Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous. 3rd ed,, 2006; The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth.7th ed., 1998; Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed., 1998.; and Mel B. New Wine.
The Hands-on Personal Work of Recovered Alcoholics with Newcomers
Pioneer AAs plunged into one-on-one work with other, new or wet alcoholics. In so doing, they applied the foregoing ideas, hospitalized drunks, concentrated on the Bible, prayer, and devotional literature, and added some Oxford Group practices for changing lives. This emphasis is best shown in books about Clarence Snyder (Dick B., That Amazing Grace; Three Clarence Snyder Old-timer Sponsees, Our Legacy; and Mitch K. How It Worked. The expression “flying blind period” is a misnomer. You don’t fly blind with God. But you can and do use His tools to bring healings and cures to others if you apply the A.A. principles of love and service. Articulation of service through fellowship and witness was picked up from the Oxford Group and its life-changing techniques. See Harold Begbie, Life-Changers. NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927; Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous; Jerry G. Dunn. God is For the Alcoholic. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1965.
The Two, Diverse Recovery Program Origins; and the Three Emerging, Varied, Approaches in Akron, Cleveland, and New York
United Christian Endeavor and Dr. Bob’s Youth
The early A.A. program of the Akron pioneers really began with the training Dr. Bob had received as a youngster in attending about four church service and prayer meetings each week at the North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. The training seeded the program of the United Christian Endeavor Society of the young people in that church. And the Christian Endeavor Society’s actual practices consisted of confession of Christ, Bible Study, Prayer meetings, Conversion meetings, reading and discussion of religious literature, Quiet Hour, fellowship and witness. Christian Endeavor emphasized love and service. It was self-governing and self-supporting.
Years later, in Akron, after having been apprised of Russell Firestone’s seemingly miraculous deliverance from alcoholism, Dr. Bob was brought into a tiny Oxford Group meeting consisting of a few Groupers and a few alcoholics and their families. It was in that fellowship that Dr. Bob began to make changes in his life in hope or at least the hope of his wife and the group that he would be able to stop drinking just as Russell Firestone had done. Bob went all out for the practices and for the training he’d had as a youngster. He read the Bible from cover to cover three times. He joined a new church. He read everything he could find on the Oxford Group, as well as an immense amount of other religious literature. At the meetings and in his own life, there was Bible study, prayer, seeking of God’s strength and guidance, and fellowship. But Dr. Bob did not want to quit drinking, and he didn’t. Finally, at a meeting convened by Henrietta Seiberling of the rubber clan, the group got Dr. Bob to admit to his alcoholism, asked him to join them in prayer, and—as a group—prayed for Bobs deliverance from alcoholism. But Bob did not quit drinking—not, that is, until in apparent answer to the prayers, Bill Wilson appeared in Akron out of New York, was seeking out another drunk to help, was put in touch with Henrietta Seiberling, was regarded by her as “manna from heaven” in answer to prayers, and in turn introduced to Dr. Bob at the Gate Lodge home of Henrietta and her three children. See Dick B. Henrietta B. Seiberling: Ohio’s Lady with a Cause,2d ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2005.
Developments in New York Centered on Shoemaker and the Oxford Group
The origin and development of the New York group was entirely different. Its roots began with the visits of Rowland Hazard to Dr. Carl Jung in Switzerland and Jung’s diagnosis of Hazard’s “chronic mind of an alcoholic” likely to be cured only by a conversion experience. This Rowland sought in the Oxford Group, A First Century Christian Fellowship, founded by Lutheran Minister Frank Buchman. Essentially, the Oxford Group sought to change lives by putting its activists through a practical program of action. Their formula was Sin is the problem. Christ is the cure. The result is a miracle. (Mark O. Guldseth, Streams. Alaska: Fritz Creek Studios, 1945. The program had some twenty-eight principles that were to impact on A.A. They were learned by Rowland Hazard. They were taught by Rowland and others to Ebby Thacher, a seemingly hopeless drunk. Rowland and some Oxford Group friends lodged Thacher in Calvary Mission in New York, and Thacher there “got religion,” was converted, and sought out his old school-mate and alcoholic friend, Bill Wilson. Thacher convinced young Bill that God had done for him, in relieving him of alcoholism, what he could not do for himself; and Bill, in turn, went to Calvary Mission, made a decision for Christ, checked into Towns Hospital for the fourth time for treatment of his alcoholism. There Thacher indoctrinated Wilson further in Oxford Group principles; and Wilson himself surrendered his life to God. Wilson had what Bill believed was a conversion experience, with the result that Bill not only never drank again, but also believed he had found a cure for alcoholism that could benefit countless others. Bill set out to change lives in Towns Hospital, in Calvary Mission, and in Oxford Group meetings but had no success whatever. And it was after five months of failed evangelism that Bill went to Akron on a business deal—confronted with the choice of resuming his drinking or finding another drunk to help.
The First Meeting of Alcoholics Bill W. and Dr. Bob
Though reluctant to come, Dr. Bob was persuaded by Henrietta Seiberling and by his own wife and son to meet with Bill—planning to stay a mere 15 minutes. But the talk lasted almost six hours at Henrietta’s home. The two men hit it off. Bill thought he had carried a powerful message to Bob. And Bob said he had heard it all before but was impressed with Bill’s idea of service and his unselfish efforts with Bob. Whereupon the two began discussing the Bible and Oxford Group principles to the end of figuring how they might help others. Bill moved into the Smith home in Akron for three months. Bob went on one last bender that summer; but on June 10, 1935, he had his last drink, and A.A. was founded. This was, in turn, followed almost immediately by the success of the two men in leading A.A. Number Three (Bill Dotson) to a cure; and this third success marked the founding of Akron Group Number One—the first A.A. group. Bill, Bob, Bob’s wife Anne, Henrietta Seiberling, and the small group of Oxford Group helpers continued as a fellowship throughout the summer of 1935. Then Bill Wilson returned to New York with the basic ideas in place. There were no Steps. There were no Traditions. There was no basic text. There were the Bible, the Christian devotionals and literature they studied, and some Oxford Group principles they applied. There were no drunkalogs. Even their stories were considered unimportant and of minimal value. But for the next two-and-a-half years from the summer of 1935 to the early part of 1938, the Akron program developed with astonishing results. It was soon called a Christian Fellowship—with its alcoholic squad reaching out; one meeting a week as a so-called clandestine lodge of the Oxford Group; daily Bible study, prayer, Quiet Time, use of devotionals, reading of Christian literature, conversion meetings, virtual half-way houses for the newcomers primarily in the Smith home, and short hospitalization of newcomers where they were daily visited by Dr. Bob and Akron members who had recovered.
The Simple Program of the Akron Christian Fellowship
The Akron program closely resembled the practices in Christian Endeavor that Dr. Bob learned as a youngster. There was also an incorporation of long-standing Salvation Army principles such as abstinence, bringing new people to Christ and salvation, extending shelter and food to newcomers, engaging in prayer and Bible study, and encouraging participants to seek out others to help with the message of salvation and deliverance from alcoholism. Medical aspects and hospitalization appear to have come from Dr. Bob’s own experience as a practicing physician and the information Bill had learned in Towns Hospital and from his psychiatrist Dr. Silkworth. Dr. Bob’s wife gathered the details of their work together from 1933 to 1939 in a spiritual journal she wrote and shared with others at meetings, in daily Quiet Times she led in the mornings, and in personal talks. All types of Christian literature—devotionals, Oxford Group and Shoemaker writings, and the writings of well-known authors like Fosdick, Drummond, E. Stanley Jones, Glenn Clark, Kagawa, and a host of other leaders of the day—were circulated among the AAs and their families. There appears to have been little or no attempt to achieve the “conversion” experience solution which had so dominated Bill Wilson’s thinking on the East Coast and which had in fact produced few if any successes.
The Akron program was considered so successful, among the forty pioneers (previously considered medically incurable) who really tried, that Bill Wilson sought funds from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to pay the bills and move the message forward. Rockefeller dispatched his agent Frank Amos to Akron for a thorough investigation. Amos reported back to Rockefeller that the program was much like that of the gospel of the First Century Christians, was led by Dr. Bob, was indeed miraculous, and consisted of seven points which Amos described in the following words:
- An alcoholic must realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and that he must never drink anything with alcohol in it.
- He must surrender himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope.
- Not only must he want to stop drinking permanently, he must remove from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery, and others which frequently accompany alcoholism. Unless he will do this absolutely, Smith and his associates refuse to work with him.
- He must have devotions every morning–a “quiet time” of prayer and some reading from the Bible and other religious literature. Unless this is faithfully followed, there is grave danger of backsliding.
- He must be willing to help other alcoholics get straightened out. This throws up a protective barrier and strengthens his own willpower and convictions.
- It is important, but not vital, that he meet frequently with other reformed alcoholics and form both a social and a religious comradeship.
- Important, but not vital, that he attend some religious service at least once weekly.
Parallels from the Groups Contributing to Akron’s Pioneer Program
Christian Endeavor Society Parallels
The Christian Endeavor Societies of Dr. Bob’s youth focused on these practices: Confession of Jesus Christ; Bible study; prayer meetings; conversion meetings; reading of religious literature; Quiet Hour; love and service. They were self-supporting, self-governing, and supported their particular local church.
Salvation Army Parallels
The original Salvation Army practices might be, and have been summarized as advocating abstinence, confession of Christ, focus on Bible and prayer, elimination of sin, and helping others, not yet saved and restored, to whole lives.
Oxford Group Parallels
Reduced to their essence, the twenty-eight Oxford Group life-changing ideas meant a belief in the Creator; surrender to Him and doing His will; elimination of sin by applying the art of the 5 C’s—Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, and Continuance; living by the Four Absolute Standards of Jesus Christ—honesty, purity, unselfishness and love; making restitution for harms done; Quiet Time with Bible study, prayer, and seeking of guidance; fellowship, and witness—changing the lives of others by the same techniques.
The Akron Program as Reported to Rockefeller by Frank Amos
Rockefeller’s agent, Frank Amos, thoroughly investigated the early program, reported its successes, and pointed to Dr. Bob as the leader. Amos declared the program had seven simple elements—the first five mandatory and the last two simply recommended: abstinence, absolute reliance on the Creator, elimination of sinful conduct, establishing a child-of-God relationship with, and fellowship with, the Creator through Bible study, prayer, seeking guidance; helping other alcoholics get well; engaging in religious and social comradeship; attending church. See above for the precise words Amos used to describe Akron’s simple program.
Silkworth’s Concise Summary of Parallel Elements
Writing about the program on July 27, 1939, shortly after the Big Book was published, Dr. Silkworth said, “The essential features of this new approach, without psychological embellishment, are:” (1) One alcoholic can secure the confidence of another. (2) He cites his own case and medical opinion that there may be no hope for him save a spiritual experience. (3) The patient has a serious dilemma—to have a spiritual experience or be destroyed by alcohol. (4) He believes he can’t be untangled by human means; he is persuaded by the recovered alcoholic’s peculiar ability; “he turns to religion with an entire willingness and accepts without reservation a serious religious proposal and then is able to acquire a set of religious beliefs and undergo the change common to religious experience;” (5) He is advised to “do certain things which are obviously good psychology, good morals and good religion”: (a) Make a moral appraisal of himself and disclose the findings to another he trusts. (b) Adjust bad personal relationships, setting right, so far as possible, his wrongs of the past. (c) “Recommit himself daily, or hourly if need be, to God’s care and direction, asking for strength.” (d) If possible, attend weekly fellowship meetings and actively lend a hand with alcoholic newcomers. See Mitchel, Silkworth, pp. 158-161.
Shoemaker’s Brief Explanation to AAs themselves of a “Religious Experience,” “Spiritual Experience” or “Spiritual Awakening” as these were variously called
At A.A.’s 20th Anniversary and International Convention at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1955,, Sam Shoemaker—who was invited to speak to the entire assembly—spelled out what he believed were four universal factors in all genuine “spiritual awakenings.”
These four factors contain a remarkably simple parallel road to the spiritual solution in the other organizations. In New Light on Alcoholism, p. 330, and in the body of Bill’s Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, pp. 261-270, the four key elements are listed as
The Common Thread
Note the similar elements drawn from, and discussed by, the programs and people who were instrumental in defining all these roots. Note also the simplicity of the elements—with variances only due to the institution, the professional status, and the religion involved. They appear, as a group, to provide a reliable common thread for spiritual recovery that relies on God:
- A willingness, based on the inadequacy of medical and human help and on the successful experience of another, to accept without reservation a religious approach and solution—that God is, and rewards those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6).
- A commitment to complete, permanent abstinence, and resisting temptation.
- Accepting Christ as the way to establishing a relationship with the Creator and then becoming one of His children; with the afflicted entrusting himself or herself to God’s care and direction, and asking for strength.
- Eliminating sinful conduct by making a moral appraisal, confessing sins, adjusting bad relationships, and righting wrongs of the past.
- Growing in fellowship with God through Bible study, prayer, seeking revelation, and obeying His will.
- Fellowshipping with like-minded believers and, as well, loving, witnessing, and lending a hand to newcomers and bringing them to salvation, sobriety, spiritual wholeness, and service to others.
An Elaboration of the Process by an experienced, religious, A.A., churched, Old Timer who carried the principles to the many alcoholics and addicts he helped.
In his title God Is For The Alcoholic (a book that sold over half a million copies), Jerry G. Dunn asserted that God has provided the following “way of escape” for the alcoholic at his bottom (See Dunn, God Is For The Alcoholic. Chicago: Moody Press, 1965, p. 55):
- Encourage him in his desire to stop.
- Help him to face his problem.
- Provide him with medical care, so that he can have the help modern medicine can give him. See that he gets a complete physical checkup.
- Help him to understand that he can’t overcome alcohol addiction by himself.
- Introduce him to the power of God.
- Teach him to keep in daily touch with God’s power.
Standing on the platform of complete abstinence, Dunn then suggested five ways to help the alcoholic. And as you look at the Dunn’s five ways—expressed in detail as follows, just picture what Dr. Bob and the early AAs were doing in their days of confessing Christ, studying the Bible, holding prayer meetings, asking for guidance, and then turning to help the newcomer alcoholic. The five ways were as follows.
This first way, Dunn said, “is to pray for him.” He quotes an S.D. Gordon book owned by Dr. Bob: “but you can’t do more than pray until you have prayed.” Then the ground rules to be followed: (1) Be sure you are a member of God’s family—prayer is the privilege and duty of the children of God. (2) Stand on God’s promise to answer prayer. (3) Make the right approach through private prayer after examining yourself, confessing the sin in your life, and asking God to blot it out; (4) Make the right approach through public prayer—where a group of Christians share mutual burdens and pray together for a given problem or a certain situation; (5) Make use of intercessory prayer lifting the alcoholic into the hands of the Lord and petitioning God to deliver him; (6) Crying out to God; making sure to ask; expecting an answer; and praying for men in authority (Dunn, God, pp. 82-96).
The second way “is to present the gospel to him at the earliest possible moment.” Dunn tells of his associate Garland Thompson who had never been an alcoholic, nor made a special study of alcoholism, but devoted his entire life to prayer and personal witnessing. Men who were won to Christ said gratefully, “Know what set me to thinking? It was Garland Thompson putting his arm around me and telling me that God loves me and, because He loves me, you guys here at the Mission were going to help me. I was pretty drunk, but that got through to me.” We must point up to the alcoholic (who is making a profession of faith) that faith in Christ means a new life: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, old things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17), Dunn, God, pp. 98-105.
The third way “is to offer fellowship—communion, intimacy, joint interest, and feeling.” “Alcoholics Anonymous, the most successful organization involved in the treatment of the alcoholic, has made fellowship a cornerstone in their efforts to help the individual. We must do the same. . . We can have rapport with the alcoholic because we have been separated from God by sin just as he has been separated from God by sin. And we have been delivered, by Christ, from our sin, even as he can be delivered, by Christ, from his sin.” Dunn cites Luke 5:31-32, quoting Jesus: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Then he cites 1 Timothy 2:4 to establish God’s will that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. “How can we help an alcoholic,” Dunn asked? Dunn’s answer as to fellowship: “By creating around him an atmosphere that would create in him a desire to help, One of the most effective ways of doing this is to offer him fellowship in the name of our loving Lord.” (Dunn, God, pp. 106-126)
The fourth way is to “show Christ’s long-suffering to us as a pattern for others to follow in their treatment of sinners.” As Dunn put it, “The patience of Job would have been sorely tried by an alcoholic.” “But God saved me and delivered me and my family. He can do the same for any individual—even the degenerate filthy alcoholic addict—who calls upon His name.” (Dunn, God, pp.127-138).
The fifth way is to “Let the alcoholic stand on his own two feet.” “If we sin, we should be rebuked. If we repent, we ought to be forgiven.” Firmness is the key. Dunn, God, pp. 139-152.
Dunn moves on with how you can help the alcoholic to the critical responsibility the alcoholic has for helping himself. Dunn discusses five ways that the alcoholic can help himself (Dunn, God, pp.155-202):
Transfer his dependency to God.
Talk with God daily.
Live a step at a time: “God knows the end from the beginning. He will direct our paths if we ask Him to. We can only follow God’s instructions one day at a time (Matthew 6:34)—the origin of “Easy Does It” and “One Day at a Time.”
Keep a perpetual inventory. “I have found that my inventory has helped me to say no to temptations. I say when a particular temptation confronts me, ‘That’s out of my old life. It is not a part of my new life. I’m not going to do that thing.”
Picking Up the Common Thread; Learning What Others Did; Using It Today
You can invent a self-made religion. You can invoke half-baked prayers. You can rely on idolatrous powers such as chairs, radiators, and doorknobs. You can say that you prefer one religious denomination over another. You can decline to read religious literature, to hang out with like-minded believers, and to attend a church or religious group of your own choosing. But you cannot escape the commonality in the foregoing unique and effective religious ideas for curing alcoholism.
Dr. Bob laid the religious solution on the line for newcomers. He asked them point-blank if they believed in God. He addressed the readers of the Big Book by stating he felt sorry for them if they were atheists, agnostics, or skeptics. “Your Heavenly Father,” Bob wrote,” will never let you down.” See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 144; and Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed, p. 181.
Though declaring that he had formerly been an atheist, Bill Wilson opted for Sam Shoemaker’s approach that he needed to find God; he needed a vital religious experience; and he needed Jesus Christ. See Samuel Shoemaker, Realizing Religion, pp. 1-9. And though Bill removed from his Big Book drafts all references to Shoemaker, to the Bible, to the need for Christ, and to a conversion experience, Wilson explicitly fashioned a program to “find God” and “establish a relationship with God.” Even Bill’s qualifying phrase “God as we understood Him” was no different from the identical expression long used by Rev. Sam Shoemaker in such books as Children of the Second Birth—books that most assuredly were talking about children of Yahweh, the Creator and as much of Him as they understood when they gave their lives over to His care and direction. Then, in his Big Book, Bill pressed the Biblical point: There is a God. Bill invoked and virtually quoted verbatim Shoemaker’s own challenge that God either is or He isn’t. And concluded that if you followed certain Steps, you’d find or rediscover God, have a conversion experience, be changed, and stay sober because [It] “was a form of lunacy which only God Almighty could cure,” Bill said. See Dick B. Akron Genesis, p. 13. And Bill also declared in the Big Book: “Even so has God restored us all to our right minds. . . He has come to all who have honestly sought Him. When we drew near to Him, He disclosed Himself to us!” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st ed., 1939, p. 69).
Note Bill’s New, Different Direction: Fashioning the 1939 Big Book and 12 Steps
By a bare majority vote in A.A.’s original tiny fellowship, Bill was authorized to write a basic text; and most of those voting undoubtedly believed the new book would be a report on the elements of the Akron Program—they even proposed calling the new effort “The James Club.”
But Bill had other ideas. He wanted commercial sales of the books. He formed a corporation—Works Publishing Company. He prepared a prospectus and sold shares of stock. He was importuned by his partner Hank Parkhurst to avoid describing a religious program. He did discuss the manuscript with, and took extensive advice from, his friend Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker—even asking Sam to write the Twelve Steps, but Sam declined. Bill was determined to placate the atheists and agnostics, few though they were. And all overt references, in his manuscript, to the early Christian Fellowship, the Bible, its Bible study and prayer meetings, Jesus Christ, and the religious literature they studied were removed. Some 400 to 800 pages. (See Pass It On., p. 204). Hazelden historian Bill Pittman personally told me that Bill Wilson’s secretary Ruth Hock had informed him (Pittman) that the trashed material was mostly Christian in tone and content. And Bill’s wife Lois Wilson seemed to corroborate the point when she remembered, “Finally it was agreed that the book should present a universal spiritual program, not a specific religious one, since all drunks were not Christian.” See Lois Remembers, p. 113.
Bill seemingly adopted a life-changing program of action to “find God” and “change lives,” but he also included a host of new elements that did not resemble the common elements as outlined above and as originally taken from such sources as Christian Endeavor, the Salvation Army, Silkworth, and the Bible, to the extent described above.
Here are the sources Bill did call upon:
Carl Jung and William James Ideas as Modified
From Dr. Carl Jung, Bill offered the solution—a conversion experience. But he changed that phrase to one used by William James and Sam Shoemaker—a religious experience. Then he opted for the phrase “spiritual experience”—a term used in the Oxford Group. And Bill adopted the thesis of Professor William James that people could be cured by valid religious experiences.
The Oxford Group Link Through Rowland Hazard as Adapted
Rowland Hazard had learned the conversion solution from Jung; and, upon Jung’s suggestion, had aligned himself with a religious group—the Oxford Group—founded by Dr. Frank Buchman. There appears to be no evidence that Rowland had a “conversion experience,” but it seems clear that Rowland learned Buchman’s Oxford Group precepts, passed them along to Ebby Thacher, who (with Rowland and others) convinced Bill that the Oxford Group life-changing ideas would produce the needed conversion and, as they were thought to have done with Rowland, produce the cure for alcoholism as well. For the Oxford Group slogan was “Sin is the problem. Christ is the cure. The result is a miracle.” (See Mark O. Guldseth, Streams. Alaska: Fritz Creek Studios, 1945, p.144)
The Views and Efforts of Silkworth as Re-worked
Discarding all mention by Dr. Silkworth himself of Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, and the power of Jesus Christ as the solution, Wilson simply incorporated Silkworth’s remarks on the problem—alcoholism was said thereby to be an obsession of the mind coupled with an allergy of the body that would, if not arrested, get progressively worse and eventually lead to death, brain damage, or jail.
The Special Place of Co-founder Sam Shoemaker
You cannot read the language of Bill’s Big Book and Twelve Steps without encountering the words and phrases of Bill’s friend Rev. Sam Shoemaker. You can find the details and parallels in Dick B., Twelve Steps for You. 4t ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2005; The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials, 4th ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2005; and Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith Community. FL: Came To Believe Publications, 2005. And Shoemaker himself drew on ideas and language used by Carl Jung, William James, Oxford Group writers, and Dr. Silkworth.
The Side-line Roles of Richard Peabody and New Thought Writers
There is good reason to believe—just from examining the words and phrases themselves—that Bill interjected into the Big Book and Steps ideas from lay-therapist Peabody and such New Thought writers as Henry Drummond, Mary Baker Eddy, the Fillmores, Ralph Waldo Trine, Emmet Fox, and others. Such phrases as once-an-alcoholic-always-an-alcoholic, no-cure-for-alcoholism, and half-measures availed us nothing seem directly extracted from Peabody’s Common Sense of Drinking. Similarly the strange expression “higher power” and such words as cosmic consciousness, fourth dimension, Universal Mind, and the like have a strange ring when compared to the Bible and the Bible roots of A.A. But they do represent ideas that were floating in the minds and literature read by some of the pioneers.
The Discernable Roots in Twelve Step Language
There have been many attempts to correlate the Twelve Steps with various Bible verses, with various Oxford Group ideas, with New Thought language, and other sources. But the simple fact is that the Twelve Steps came from the many sources mentioned above. And my title Twelve Steps for You takes each of the Twelve Steps and examines it in terms of each of the sources and ideas the contributed to it.
The work should be immensely helpful in studying, understanding, taking, teaching, and practicing the Steps of any Twelve Step or similar spin-off program or fellowship.
The Further Additions and Amendments from 1940 to 1955
I see no profit here in describing with particularity the history, changes, and ingredients of the A.A. program after the First Edition of the Big Book was published in 1939. The reason is that the pre-1939 program is the one that has been forgotten, that has been shelved, and yet still stands as the original program that produced extraordinary results not since achieved. But it is important to note that the changes—after the changed approach by Wilson in 1939—were themselves many in number and form. And to state that they materially affected the shape and language of the A.A. fellowship today.
Breaking off from Akron Number One in the interest of assuring that Roman Catholics would be welcome in A.A., Clarence Snyder organized the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland in May, 1939. He took with him the principles of the Bible, the Four Absolutes of the Oxford Group, the Big Book, and the Twelve Steps. Clarence was, perhaps, an important beacon light as to what A.A. could be if it remembered and applied its roots. And the Cleveland groups soared from one to thirty in a year and achieved a documented 93% success rate. Clarence authored pamphlets on how to take the 12 Steps and on Sponsorship. Cleveland Central Bulletins quoted the Bible and the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes. And pulling in and indoctrinating newcomers was first in priority.
Sister Ignatia and St. Thomas Hospital
Shortly after the 1939 developments, Sister Ignatia began working with Dr. Bob directly and admitting alcoholics to St. Thomas Hospital in Akron where she and Bob treated some 5,000 alcoholics. Sister Ignatia worked in harmony with Dr. Bob, consulted Anne Smith often, and yet introduced ideas of her own—still holding to the importance of initial hospitalization just as A.A. in Akron had done. The good Sister passed out Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, wrote materials on treatment, and seems to have originated the idea of giving out medallions on graduation from the alcoholic ward. She earned immense popularity in the Mid-west.
Having cut his teeth in the Oxford Group, Richmond Walker went on to write several popular books such as For Drunks Only. MN: Hazelden, n.d.—laying out the principles of the program as he saw them. And he ultimately wrote the materials that became the presently popular Twenty-Four Hour Book, still published by Hazelden. This book is widely used in treatment programs and widely read by AAs even today. It completely altered the nature of the original Quiet Time practices in Akron.
Father Ed Dowling, S.J.
In 1940, the Jesuit priest, Father Ed Dowling, S.J., became the friend, confidant, and “spiritual sponsor” of Bill Wilson. Dowling was one of the two men (Father John Ford, S.J., being the other) who edited in the 1950’s two new books Bill Wilson wrote—Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc, 1987. Dowling and Wilson communicated frequently. At Bill’s invitation, Dowling addressed AAs at their Twentieth Anniversary Convention in St. Louis. The extent of his impact on A.A. itself seems still to be evaluated.
Father Ralph Pfau
Father Pfau, also a Roman Catholic priest, developed a following of his own, particularly in the Midwest—writing two major books and a host of pamphlets on sobriety. The latter were called the “Golden Books” and are still in wide circulation in Mid-west A.A. They appear to be particularly popular with Roman Catholic AAs in that area, although Professor Glenn Chesnut, who has written extensively on Pfau, wrote me that Pfau’s works were popular in many A.A. areas around the United States, and not just among Roman Catholics.
Ed Webster and the Regional Factors and Literature
Bill Wilson became severely depressed in the period spanning 1942 to 1955. Such depressions had begun in his youth when his parents separated, when his first love died unexpectedly, and on other occasions. Bill’s Secretary Nell Wing told me that this was a “terrible period” for A.A. However, the 1942 to 1955 period marked the period when many non-Wilson, non-New York materials were published by local offices; and in the vacuum of Bill’s active leadership, a good many regional publications sprang up. These were widely used in Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and the State of Washington for many years. At least one became the forerunner of a work within A.A. today called “back to basics”—the “basics” being those developed in the 1940’s and quite different from the Akron basics.
The Turn-about from 1950 to 1955 following deaths of Anne and Dr. Bob
As the foregoing elements began to be added in the 1940’s, Bill’s disabilities from depression were in full swing. And Dr. Bob was growing older and infirm while Anne Smith was losing her sight. At the end of the decade, the Smiths were dead; Wilson was still depressed; and new factors involving “traditions,” “concepts,” “warranties,” and organizational structures were becoming a norm, at least in New York. Finally, the Second Edition of the Big Book was published; and it not only removed some of the original Big Book stories, but also changed the basic solution from a “spiritual experience” to a “spiritual awakening.” It placed the new “personality change” language in an appendix to A.A.’s basic text. Even “God consciousness” was relegated to second position in favor of changes of an “educational variety.” And Bill’s famous “hot flash” seemed a relic of the past.
The Further Revisions Through Publishing Entities
When A.A. was founded, and in the early years, there was no national office. There was no publishing entity. There was no basic text. There were no Steps. There was simply the Bible, prayer, conversion, fellowship and witness, coupled with some of the practices of the Oxford Group involving the Four Absolutes, the 5 C’s, and restitution. Even these were Biblical in origin and content.
Even the original A.A. Step program, fashioned by Bill Wilson and published in 1939, was confined to one basic text Alcoholics Anonymous. But the 1940’s and early 1950’s saw the beginning of a plethora of explanatory books, including those mentioned above, and pamphlets published at the instance of Dr. Bob in Akron; pamphlets and newsletters published by Cleveland and other areas; and finally A.A.’s own Grapevine and an endless stream of later pamphlets promulgated by A.A.’s New York headquarters. In addition Bill’s own remarks were published by A.A. in As Bill Sees It NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1967, and The Language of the Heart. NY: The AA Grapevine Inc., 1988. All gave rise to new interpretations and directions—far different from those in the original program.
Hindrances Today Blocking the Path Returning to the Original Spiritual Roots and Power
The Challenge of A.A.’s Mere 1 to 5% Success Rate Today
Despite occasional protests primarily within the A.A. fellowship, it is no secret that the original documented 75% to 93% success rate in the pioneer program has been replaced by a 1 to 5% success rate today. Though the reasons could be several, the fact is that the A.A. of today is not the A.A. of yesteryear. And this makes a review of the early history a matter of great import.
The Flight to Other Ideas and Programs
For a variety of reasons, the original, unique, altruistic, non-profit love and service of the A.A. pioneers and some of their successors, have been replaced with fewer and fewer examples of working with others, fewer and fewer qualified sponsors, more and more treatment programs, detached half-way houses, other support groups, mandated attendance, costly therapy, and billions of dollars in grants for research—coupled with billions spent on wars against drugs..
Christians in A.A. have flocked to other recovery organizations—some based on the Twelve Steps, and some not. In sum, these include Alcoholics Victorious, Overcomers Outreach, Inc., Overcomers, Alcoholics for Christ, Teen Challenge, Celebrate Recovery, and others.
Many unbelievers, agnostics, and atheists have rejected A.A.’s religious overtones and have turned to Rational Recovery, Moderation Management, humanist, and secular approaches.
The potential impact of A.A., which boasts of only a million members in the United States, has to be contrasted with the fourteen million or more people who are non-A.A. alcoholics and the seventy-five million people in American Families impacted by alcoholism. A.A. has further limited its own impact on a preponderance of its dual-addicted members with its “singleness of purpose” doctrine which tends to exclude those with problems other than alcohol and force them to other fellowships with addiction, “substance abuse,” “chemical dependency” and like problems—gambling, smoking, drugs, sexual aberrations, ADD, etc.
The Revisionist Ideas and Intrusions
As A.A. has changed, the intrusions into its ideas have multiplied. The original program was about the Creator and reliance upon Him. The founders said so explicitly. Today AAs are told they may believe in whatever they wish or nothing at all. The original program included acceptance of Christ. Today the very mention of Jesus Christ in many meetings brings immediate intimidation and reproof. The original program took its basic ideas from the Bible—particularly the Book of James, 1 Corinthians13, and the Sermon on the Mount. Today these go unmentioned. The original program incorporated the four standards of Jesus—Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, and Absolute Love—thought to be based on the standards or yardsticks taught by Jesus Christ and spelled out in the 1800’s by Dr. Robert E. Speer. Today, one would be hard-put at many a meeting to find any emphasis at all on “purity”—considering the vulgar language, overt sexual references, and frequent mention of “relationships” and “adultery.” The original program actually circulated religious devotionals, books, and pamphlets. Today A.A. itself pushes only “Conference Approved” literature. The original program was self-supporting and self-governing. Today’s A.A.—at the national level—is utterly dependent upon revenues from book publishing and distribution and even outside subsidies; while self-government has been retired in favor of trustees and delegates whose actions are far removed from people in the fellowship. The original program offered hospitalization, food and shelter, and family activities. Today these are relegated to insurance companies, non-profit organizations, government agencies, counseling, and groups like Al-Anon.
And the language has changed. New ideas such as “higher power” and “spirituality” and “not-god-ness” have replaced Bible verses and left members adrift as to meanings. The original requirements of belief in God, conversion to Christ, Bible study, prayer meetings, Quiet Time, reading of religious literature, and medical attention are just plain missing from the fellowship.
This is not to say that you cannot today, in A.A., believe in Almighty God, claim Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, read the Bible, pray, have a Quiet Time of your own, obey God’ commandments, embrace the Sermon on the Mount, and attend a church and denomination of your own choice. I do. Many of the people I have sponsored do. You can! But none of these activities are looked on as “part” of the A.A. program though each used to be. In fact, some people and groups who observe these practices are banned from official A.A. meeting lists.
Yet this is not the A.A. I joined, nor the A.A. I love, nor the fellowship that offered me personally so much support and non-judgmental love and service when I really needed it. The principles are not lost. They are available. They need to be recalled to mind. And that need to be considered as options in A.A., support groups, recovery groups, church groups, and treatment.
Hindrances to Historical Values–Emanating From A Present-day Focus on A.A. Shortcomings, Treatment alternatives, Singleness of Purpose, Universalism, Secularism, Rigidity, and “Spirituality”
There is no need or value here for outlining the foregoing factors that seem to have led to diminishing 12 Step effectiveness. The focus on self-centeredness as a sin has replaced transgression of God’s commandments as the measure of sin. The focus on treatment as a solution has replaced reliance on the Creator. The focus on drunkalogs and meeting attendance has not kept newcomers from relapses and departures. A.A.’s focus on only one type of addiction—alcoholism–has pushed droves of “alcoholic/addicts” into other programs. The attempt to universalize A.A., as Lois Wilson urged, and to be all things to all people, has contributed to revolt against the mentioning of A.A.’s Christian roots. The secularism, now permeating American political talk, has had its impact in A.A.—encouraging boldness by those who reject God, Jesus, the Bible, church, religion, and religious literature. Then there’s what some have called the “rigidity” in the fellowship in which pull-up-the-ladder AAs urge the guardians of A.A. Traditions to “enforce” rules from above as they interpret them. And this ex cathedra mentality has diminished the respect for local group autonomy, anonymity, and the Creator as the only judge. “Spirituality”—New Age compromise talk—has become the darling of those who don’t want to mention God or the Bible or religion. And though the word’s meaning is totally obscure, the word has been used like a sledge hammer to drive down any religious talk.
The Importance of Choice
People who are suffering from alcoholism, addiction, and life-controlling problems need a choice.
Not a mandate.
You cannot mandate abstinence. You cannot mandate resistance to temptation. You cannot mandate belief in God or His son. You cannot mandate Bible study and prayer. You cannot mandate obedience to God’s commandments. You cannot mandate unselfish love and service to others. Nor can you mandate recovery by arrest, by raids, by imprisonment, by treatment, by therapy, or by religion, church, or medicine. Or even by attacking drug lords abroad.
But you can offer a choice.
In fact, you can offer that choice through the testimony, experience, and victory others have achieved. That message-carrying ability is still a tool of great force. That choice can involve any of the foregoing elements. And the ability to offer the choice and make the choice really depends on your knowledge of the alternatives and their effectiveness. History speaks to us loudly.
Christian Endeavor societies were effective. They grew in membership to 3,500,000 young people affiliated with churches around the globe. The Salvation Army was effective, became known as the number one recovery program, and still seems to stand as the most effective treatment program around the world. YMCA evangelism reached out around the world, and the organization is large and ubiquitous today. The Oxford Group was effective for a time and once sported a large following in the hundreds of thousands. And early A.A.’s pioneer program achieved unusual effectiveness—beginning with a tiny pilot group known as the “First Forty.”
A.A.’s own “Conference Approved” literature affirms the early A.A. effectiveness.
It reports as to Dr. Bob:
- “The birth of our Society dates from his first day of permanent sobriety, June 10, 1935. To 1950, the year of his death, he carried the A.A. message to more than 5,000 alcoholic men and women, and to all these he gave his medical services without thought of charge.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 171)
- “It had been decided that Bob would attend mostly to the questions of hospitalization and the development of our Twelfth Step work. Between 1940 and 1950, in the company of that marvelous nun, Sister Ignatia, he had treated 5,000 drunks at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. His spiritual example was a powerful influence, and he never charged a cent for his medical care. So Dr. Bob became the prince of all twelfth-steppers. Perhaps nobody will ever do such a job again. (The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975, p. 34. bold face added)
- Bob’s personal story concluded: “If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. . . we know we have an answer for you. It never fails, if you go about it with one-half the zeal you have been in the habit of showing when you were getting another drink. Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 181. bold face added)
It reports as to the early program the following documented success rates among medically incurable alcoholics who really tried:
- “Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses. . .” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. xx). The Akron success rate was 75%!
- “Records in Cleveland show that 93 percent of those who came to us never had a drink again (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 261). The Cleveland Groups grew from one to thirty in a year. And the Cleveland success rate was 93%.
Was there “A Way Out” for those who really tried? Well who wouldn’t sign up for a way that involved a doctor who had treated over 5,000 drunks, achieved a 75% success rate, and sponsored a man (Clarence Snyder) whose groups achieved a 93% success rate and a growth factor of 30 groups in a year!
Moreover, these people were cured. And the best proof of it came from another quote from A.A. “Conference Approved” literature where Bill Wilson explicitly spelled out the golden text of A.A. when Bill said to Henrietta Dotson, wife of A.A. Number Three:
“Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 191)
Getting Ingredients of the Original Cures Back Into Focus
And here were the original ingredients of the cures the early Christian Fellowship achieved:
(1) the choice of abstinence,
(2) the choice of avoiding temptation,
(3) the choice of entrusting one’s life to the care, direction, and strength of the Creator,
(4) the choice of establishing a relationship with Him through Christ,
(5) the choice of obeying His commandments and eliminating sinful conduct,
(6) the choice of growing in knowledge and fellowship with God, His son, and God’s children through Bible study, prayer, religious fellowship, worship, and witness.
(7) the choice of passing along to others with love and service the message that would enable those others to be helped in like manner.
You may, if you choose, apply the principles of the early programs wherever you are. Old-time religion, Old-time moral precepts, and Old-School A.A. work successfully in any one’s life when such ideas are grounded on the truth in God’s Word. You can apply them in your church, in your Bible fellowship, in your recovery group, in your treatment program, in Alcoholics Anonymous, in 12 Step programs, in your youth groups, in your outreach to prisoners, homeless, the abandoned, and their families and children. And it’s time to learn the facts and learn just how.
There is an opportunity today for those who want to pick up the mantle. It requires choices, enthusiastic participation, adequate instruction, unselfish personal outreach, a message of truth, a faith in God, and an underlying love of God in action. It is available to and for youngsters. It is available through and for churches and non-profits. It is available through and for treatment. It is available in and for anonymous and 12 Step groups. It is available in and through recovery groups and programs. It can be made available in prisons and jails, in mental health facilities, and in educational courses. With today’s effective communication alternatives, it can be made available on TV, radio, video, audio, CD, DVD, websites, blog sites, and even cell phones. It can be made available in meetings, groups, conferences, seminars, panels, cruises, retreats, camps, and a host of other areas. Its time has come,
I believe this article and presentation show you A Way Out if you choose to learn and activate it.