A Talk By Bob E., A.A. #11
Shortly, before his death, Bob E. shared with some members of the Upstate Group of All Addicts Anonymous, the following recollection of what AA was like when he first joined:
There was no levity either. We all had our sense of humor, but for us recovery was a life-and-death matter. We were all businessmen, but we had reached our bottom and wanted to restore ourselves to our previous place in business and society.
For the first five years we met in someone’s home every night. It was serious business, and we hung on to each other for dear life. We could not afford any failures and so we grew very slowly at first. But we proved that an alcoholic on this program can help another alcoholic as no one else can.
Many AA meetings are very different now, but in the beginning it was absolutely necessary for us to be strict and serious. That is the way Dr. Bob was, gruff and tough. He always put the program on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Dr. Bob and his wife Annie were both wonderful people. (Annie died in 1949. Bob died in 1950 of cancer. He knew for years that he had it.) He was a great student of the Bible, which he read every night till the wee hours. In that first group, Dr. Bob selected the readings and made all the appointments and all the major decisions. (I was the first secretary of the group and the following year became chairman.) Everyone had to make a complete surrender to join in the first place, and so we had no reservations; we worked the whole program, 100 percent.
Great emphasis was laid on the daily plan of checking ourselves on the Four Absolutes: absolute honest, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love. The Twelve Steps came from the Absolutes. (The Four Absolutes are very popular to this day in Akron AA. They are mentioned more often than the steps.)
We did not tell our drinking histories at the meetings back then. We did not need to. A man’s sponsor and Dr. Bob knew the details. Frankly, we did not think it was anybody else’s business. We were anonymous and so was our life. Besides, we already knew how to drink. What we wanted to learn was how to get sober and stay sober.
Bill Wilson was in favor of having at least fifty percent of an AA member’s talk at a meeting consist of “qualifying” or telling the story of how he became an alcoholic. Bill himself had a warm, friendly disposition, and this idea of his did attract people and enable the movement to grow to a size where it had helped thousands of people all over the world. For that we must be grateful.
But when the “qualifying” business first began, it took some getting used to on our part. I remember one time when we were meeting at King School; some people came in from Cleveland, and most of the qualifying they did was really very bad. They clapped and made a lot of noise. To us it seemed strange and offensive. Gradually we opened up under Bill’s persuasive influence. But we still did not care for it when people would get carried away by their own voice and make their stories too sensational and repulsive.
When Alcoholics Anonymous, the AA Big Book, was printed, we had no money to get the books out of the warehouse in New York. Jack Alexander’s article in the Saturday Evening Post (March 1941) got the Big Book into circulation in a hurry, and that was when the term Alcoholics Anonymous became the accepted name for the movement. Up till then we had simply been called “a Christian fellowship.”