I like Alcoholics Anonymous. Anyone got a problem with that?
Dick B. © 2005
I’ve written about the history and spiritual roots of A.A. for over 15 years now. I think the early roots are growing clearer and clearer. There were two distinct sources of the A.A. program. The first was fed by Dr. Bob’s training and experience as a youngster, particularly as a member of Christian Endeavor in his North Congregational Church at St. Johnsbury. Almost every idea he learned and practiced there was incorporated in the Akron pioneer Christian Fellowship during its formative years from 1935 to 1938—Reliance on the Creator, acceptance of Christ, Bible study, group prayer, elimination of sin, helping others, fellowship, witness, love and service. It happened largely because of the resourcefulness and tenacity of Henrietta Seiberling who utilized the Oxford Group doings in Akron to get Dr. Bob out of drink and on the beam. The second source was fed by a variety of sources on the East Coast – Dr. Carl Jung, Rowland Hazard, the Oxford Group, Ebby Thacher, Calvary Rescue Mission, Dr. William Silkworth, the ideas of Professor William James, and primarily the inspiration and teaching of Bill’s close friend and spiritual wellspring Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. Out of Bill’s experience on the East Coast, and the successes in Akron grew the authorization for the Big Book. And Bill began writing it in 1938, took most of its major ideas from Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s teachings on the Oxford Group, asked Sam to write the 12 Steps, and then wrote them himself in December, 1938 when Sam declined.
That’s it in a nutshell. All the early AAs claimed they were cured. So did the newspapers and magazines; and this went on for a decade. And then hordes of new people and ideas began to enter the scene: women, Jews, Roman Catholics, atheists, agnostics, treatment center graduates, therapy and church referrals, correctional and probation referrals, and people of non Judeo/Christian faiths, as well as those who were unbelievers and had no religious connection at all. A few got well. Many stuck around for the ride. Most went out and drank again, disappearing for a time or forever.
When I came in to A.A. in April, 1986, I was in dire straits. I faced and was to face the hideous four horsemen of which Bill Wilson wrote; and, of course, I was saddled with the “curse of alcoholism” as Dr. Bob called it. I saw “God as we understood Him” on the wall at my third meeting. I got my sponsor that night and resolved to do the whole A.A. thing. Actually, that meant seizures, treatment, District Attorney, State Bar, newspapers, the VA psych ward, and even a brief stint in prison.
Here’s what I found. I found tons of activity and friends right off. They wrote me in prison. They visited me in the nut ward. They even supported me for the month I was in the treatment center. And I unhesitatingly sought the help of our Creator from the start. In fact I made a speech about it at the Beginners Meeting – my third A.A. meeting. They didn’t treat me like a leper. Instead, I was surrounded by people handing out cards, offering to tell me about meetings, giving me their phone numbers, and showing more concern than I had seen manifested in the last nine months of my drinking.
The bottom line: I haven’t found it necessary to take a drink or a mind-altering prescription drug from the first day of sobriety (April 21, 1986) or the first day of A.A. (April 23, 1986). I shook. I shivered. I hurt all over. I bit my tongue almost in half during seizures. I wet my pants in meetings. And nobody shoved me toward the door.
I learned that A.A. had a program which I needed to learn and take. I had to study the Big Book carefully, and did. I had to “take” the Steps, and did. I had to participate in the fellowship, its meetings, and its service, and I did. I had to help as many newcomers as possible, and I did. I tried to sponsor as many men as possible – finally more than 100, and I did. Most important of all, I had to grow in my understanding of, and reliance upon my Creator and make use of the power I had received through being born again of His spirit through what Jesus Christ had accomplished, and I have. I realized I didn’t need to feel guilt, shame, fear, disgrace, loneliness, or abandonment; and that took a little time. Yet I was always able to move forward. Eventually, I came to realize that A.A. had originally been a Christian Fellowship and took its basic ideas from the Bible. That was true primarily of Akron A.A.; and it took some time to sort that out. That gave me a lot of joy and support.
There have been those who scorn one who confesses that he is a Christian, reads the Bible, and looks to God Almighty for healing, guidance, strength, and deliverance. But actually they are not large in number, articulate in objections, or nearly as intimidating as they want to be. And, almost 19 years later, I know how many people – hundreds of thousands – have come to realize the facts about A.A. history. Some have fled A.A. altogether. Some have sought out Christian churches. Some have sought out “Christ-centered” groups. Some have joined rational or secular recovery groups. Many have just left the whole thing behind. And lots have maintained good sobriety and healthy prosperous lives.
I just thought it was time to say once again how much I like A.A., how much you can give and how much you can receive in A.A., and how important it is to devote more time to talking about its rich history, its ready availability, and its still-present availability to people of all beliefs and unbeliefs – even to Christians like me.