Relapses & Successes
A Thorny Business With Limited Tools
The Most Important Question
Can a very very sick person with an overloaded boatful of troubles enter the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous, get well, and move forward into a new, useful, and happy life? My answer is: Without a doubt! And I’ll share my own experience.
I entered the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous on April 23, 1986, just two days after quitting drinking. I then not only had seizures and other violent results in acute withdrawal; but I shook and shook for about five years. So much so that, when he shared the podium with me at The First Nationwide A.A. History Conference in Phoenix a couple of years ago—shortly before his death—A.A. co-founder Dr. Bob’s son, Smitty, came up to me smiling, gave me a hug, and asked if I was the “Shakey Dick” from Marin County that he met many years back. And I was. But it’s not my purpose here to tell you how my life was changed with God’s help, but rather to tell you three words I heard from an A.A. speaker early on. That man said you could only make it in A.A. if you pursued “Three D’s.”—Decision, Determination, Discipline. As the years passed, I began to understand his view and coincidentally to believe in its accuracy.
I joined A.A. at about sixty years of age. I had previously had a week-long blackout and had been drinking outrageously for the previous nine months. I brought with me a packet full of legal, financial, marital, depression, and criminal difficulties which I had somehow tried to drown with booze and sleeping pills. But I tried the new A.A. route in desperation, and I decided never to drink again; and I have not. I did find, however, that I knew little about my own drinking problem, about alcoholism, and about Alcoholics Anonymous. But I was determined to go to any lengths to get relief. I learned too that success in A.A., like my previous successes in high school, college, and law school, as well as in the Boy Scouts and the Army, would require my submitting to a disciplined life—whatever that might require.
Let’s therefore again return to the same question posed at the beginning. Can any alcoholic, though very very sick, though very very burdened with the wreckage of the past, and though very uninformed about his drinking problem, alcoholism, and Alcoholics Anonymous, nonetheless make the grade without ever drinking again and thus without ever having a relapse. Again, the answer is “Yes.”
Now what do the experts, the statistics, and the critics have to say about that answer?
Who are the people best qualified to tell us the facts about how soon and how many AAs relapse or leave the rooms? Leave in the first 30 days, 90 days, 6 months, year, five years, etc.? And, for sure, I don’t fit the following expert categories: I’m not connected with academia; nor in a position to get government grants, university funding, the research assistance of Fellows; nor to obtain other resources to do the job right from the standpoint of scholarly research. I don’t have a Ph.D. in psychology, medicine, or religion. I don’t work for or with a treatment facility, research group, or government agency. I don’t even have easy access to “peer review” of my findings, analyses, and publications. By contrast, a goodly number of other folks do fit in the research mold.
There are those connected with universities like Stanford, New Mexico, Brown, Rutgers, Columbia, Harvard, and elsewhere. There are those connected with the acronym outfits like NIDA, NIAAA, NIH, WHO, or with Health and Human Services, the Drug Control Office, and others. There are those connected with large treatment facilities like Hazelden. There are those connected with the Veterans Administration and its vast resources and interest in recovery. And there are those who belong to societies like Research Society on Alcoholism, Association for Medical and Educational Research on Substance Abuse, Christian Association for Psychological Studies, Substance Abuse Librarians, and the Alcohol and Drugs History Society. There are those Ph.D.’s and M.D.’s who contract out for grants and subsidies that enable them to research and be funded by governments and by charitable foundations.
There are those who call themselves “two-hatters.” They may have been drunks. They may fit in one of the categories above. They may very possibly have been through treatment centers or rehabs or therapy for their own addictive problems. And they are involved to a greater or lesser degree in both the A.A. fellowship and in professional work in treatment, hospital, medical, psychology, or religious fields. I suspect, too, from my personal observations of and acquaintance with quite a few, that there are many more than you think or that choose not to reveal their past substance abuse and participation in recovery and A.A..
Anyone else who’s an expert? I think so.
I believe many who have recovered and been cured of alcoholism through continuous active participation in A.A. itself have a unique set of qualifications. We have worked with wet drunks and dry drunks. We’ve neither asked for, nor received compensation. We have attended hundreds if not thousands of meetings, conferences, seminars, flings, round-ups, retreats, assemblies, and other activities common in the A.A. fellowship. We have sponsored men and women. We have “taken them through the Steps.” We have helped them study and learn the Big Book; introduced them within the fellowship, and participated in their sobriety birthday parties. We’ve helped them establish a relationship with God.
We are pretty good at spotting a drunk when we see one because we’ve been one. We tend to know how deceptive, grandiose, confused, recalcitrant, or inaccurate a drunk’s story may well be. We soon see and learn who among us is still going to meetings and who is not. We soon see and hear who is full of baloney as to their purported but non-existent actions and beliefs. We watch newcomers like a hawk—whether they succeed or fail. And we simply must know and concede that there are rim-runners today as there were in the 1930’s—people who just dip their feet into our rooms but never follow through. There are those too who give A.A. a real try and yet succumb to temptation, fear, pressure, excitement, romance, depression, despair and all the rest and then “deal” with them by returning to drink.There are those who don’t even want to qui drinkingt; but they offer quite a presence because they attend as commanded to go by a probation department or judge, or because bussed to meetings by a treatment center van or because told by a therapist or welfare agency or family member that they won’t get help or money or an inheritance or job unless they show their face in A.A.
Furthermore, I’m inclined to believe that most of the other well-intentioned “experts” often have very little information, knowledge, or understanding of “Who’s Who” in our million-member A.A. mass at any given point in time.
The professionals do have tools—hopefully bona fide random samples. But they have difficulty lassooing the people to be sampled. They have difficulty getting the right mix. They don’t have the exit-polls so common among political pollsters today. They don’t necessarily have much information about liars, drunks, religion, A.A. practices and yardsticks, faked success figures, or the individual alcoholics meandering through A.A. meetings traveling through city after city, state after state, and group after group.
Their tools are not the tools that early AAs had in Akron and in the early Cleveland Fellowships. In those pioneer days, members used full names. They exchanged addresses and phones numbers. They kept membership rosters. I have seen the written documentation. And the AAs were on a personal friendship, first-name basis. And they certainly had more disciplined groups and members and leaders than A.A. has today.
Experts today often dispute the early A.A. success rates of 75% to 93%. Yet those experts have rarely, if ever, seen the early rosters, photos, interviews, or the survivors who have supplied the facts and records of the original program.
Statistics—And Do They Matter?
Actually, statistics about successes and relapses do matter. A great deal.
And I’ll be so bold—based on personal experience—as to say that the statistics matter most of all to the drunks themselves. That said, I’ll tell you my experiences that demonstrate the interest and concern of AAs about their own success and relapse rates.
Many many many times, newcomers and not-so-newcomers have come up to me in A.A. meetings and asked, “How many make it?” Or, “What is the success percentage?” Also, more often than not, old timers speak up in meetings and tell those present that “very few” make it—a declaration that arouses further interest among members. Time and time again there are “roll calls” at conferences and retreats and other meetings where people are asked, in their turn, to stand when the years or months or days of their sobriety are called off; and we see who is still around and the countless number of people who are not. Time and time again, people in A.A. pick up “chips” or other medallions at meetings which hand out these symbols to those who have, in the order called, achieved this or that period of sobriety. Time and time again, people in A.A. will tell you their “belly button” birthday date and their “sobriety” birthday date and draw a proud distinction between the two. In fact, a number of websites today provide space for recording and receiving congratulations on sobriety attainments. Time and time again, someone will ask an A.A. “How much time have you?” And the long and short of it is that the people who seem to care the most about successes and relapses are the members of our fellowship. They want to succeed themselves. They want others to succeed. They want to know how many do succeed. They want to know what their own chances are. They want to join the ranks of those who have more “time.” They want to pick up the “chip” that shows they’ve made 24 hours, thirty days, 60 days, 90 days, six months, one year, and so on; and these events happen all the time all over the United States. Thus A.A. may be “one day at a time” to some treatment people and counselors. But few of us would still be sitting in meetings over long period of time just thanking God for “today.” Achieving and announcing long-term sobriety that equals or exceeds that of others is a big, big, big, deal to the members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
And the thing that matters about AAs’ own statistics is that they are derived from eye-witness observation and continuous exposure. AAs go to meetings all the time. They hear the foregoing comments all the time. They announce their own status all the time. And they keep track of the time their sponsees and friends have logged in. It’s a big, big, deal.
They also see the departures of hordes.. At one year of sobriety, they can look around them to find the gang they got sober with; and they see the multiple missing faces. At five years, they notice the mssing faces everywhere. At ten years, they begin to find themselves standing alone. Now there are plenty of old-timers who initially will tell you this is not the case. They’ll sometimes tell you that the people in their “group” have been around for years. And the reason? If the assertion is actually true, first of all, these people have usually stuck to the groups where there is sobriety equal to, or greater than their own.. You don’t see them frequenting the many “beginners meetings.” Second, they really don’t want to own up to the fact that they have long-since stopped observing and working with newcomers. This is quite often the case with the closet expert who has long since given up active membership. Third, they may well not be in attendance in the areas where A.A. is hot—areas where mobs are pulled in from courts and treatment and hence swell the numbers, but don’t swell the substantial sobriety count. Finally, there is the new trumpeting that “relapse is OK.” And this may cause some modern-day old timers (twenty-five years sober or less) to excuse the absences rationalize the failures, and decline to make the failures an example.
What Do The Statistics Show?
Let’s get honest, as so many of the experts and statisticians really do.
Many wisely point to the very factors that leave them with inadequate tools. One is the inadequacy of A.A.’s own triennial membership surveys. One is the anonymity factor which makes it difficult, they say, for them to pin-point and identify specific members. One is the fact that many AAs belong to several groups, attend several “home groups,” and have several different types of meeting routines. Hence any survey of a given group, home group, or meeting crowd may well be surveying the same people more than once. And I have personally seen that happen in the variety of meetings I have attended. One is the fact that not all that many AAs are particularly willing participants in “surveys”—whatever their reasons. How often we see newcomers and even old timers hiding out in large meetings in the hope that no one will see or identify them. One is the fact that plenty of AAs are game-playing and pretending to attendance to satisfy a court, a sponsor, friends, family, a counselor and others while in fact dodging the whole thing. One is the fact that the person who relapses and goes out on the street looking for drugs or into a bar looking for a drink is not one who is likely to be advertising his relapse. More than likely, he is just as sneaky about his return to drink as he was about his original secretive behavior—a secret way of living so well known to us AAs.
Do the experts issue these caveats before they opine? I’ve certainly seen a number of instances where they have. Also a number where they haven’t. And, in the case of researchers who are trying to be objective instead of being subsidized to prove or dispute success, their surveys are very often couched in despairing comments about the inadequacy of the tools. Sometimes even accompanied with an apologetic plea or challenge for more and different tools and research.
See Research on Alcoholics Anonymous, Edited by Barbara S. McCrady and William R. Miller (NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1993).
Given Their Own Cautions, What Do
The Experts Tell Us?
Flawed, inaccurate, apologetic or not, there are plenty of rather similar success estimates on the table today. Here are a few:
In the title Research on Alcoholics Anonymous edited by Barbara S. McCrady and William R. Miller (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1993), the two scholars state at page 6:
Relatedly, it is clear that a majority of those who attend AA do not continue. The AA (1990b) triennial surveys reflect a steady decline in the percentage of people remaining in AA over the first year of contact. By three months, 50% have dropped out, and by 12 months the attrition rate appears to be closer to 90%. . . . Clearly long-term sobriety occurs within a select minority of those who initially attend AA.
Confirming such an observation, there was a very large A.A. history meeting in Mill Valley, California, in 1990. A.A.’s General Service Office Archivist Frank Mauser (now deceased) said to the 800 or so AAs who were present:
Fifty percent of those who come to A.A. are out the door in 90 days.
Alan C. Ogborne wrote in Research on Alcoholics Anonymous, supra, p. 339:
As a community based fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) presents many challenges to its evaluation as a therapeutic resource. Unlike many of the other “treatments” evaluated by social scientists, AA’s philosophy seems unscientific and its ways incompatible with the dominant paradigm of controlled experimentation. . . .
To some extent these challenges have been overcome in a number of published research studies; and as shown by Emrick (1987; Emrick, Tonigan, Montgomery, & Little, 1992) and other reviewers (e.g. Institute of Medicine, 1989, McCrady & Irvine, 1988), the accumulated results challenge claims of AA’s remarkable potency and superiority to other forms of treatment.
In the same research volume, scholars Moos, Finney, and Maude-Griffin wrote:
Between 50% and 75% of new members apparently quit AA after only brief contact with it (Emrick, 1987). Research on Alcoholics Anonymous, supra, p.270.
Stanton Peele, J.D., Ph.D., a frequent commentator on A.A., published the following on his website http://www.peele.net/lib/commentary.html and titled it “Commentary on ‘The Lay Treatment Community’”:
The various components of Bean-Bayog’s analysis do not fit well together. For example, research does not clearly indicate that AA is effective. The best evaluation of AA’s effectiveness among the papers included in the Review (McLatchie & Lomp, 1988) finds that those who attend AA most regularly and those with the least involvement in AA have the best outcomes following alcoholism treatment. These results agree with the 5- year follow-up of George Vaillant (1983). . . In these analyses, alcoholics whose attendance at AA was sporadic or short-term clearly had the worst outcomes. These data suggest that compelling patients with little sympathy or aptitude for AA to attend this kind of group has substantial potential for damage. Furthermore, those who do not respond to the AA approach seem to comprise by far the largest percentage of alcoholics. Brandma, Maultsby, and Welsh (1980) found that almost 7 in 10 alcoholics assigned to AA dropped out before 10 meetings.
Enoch Gordis, M.D., head of NIAAA, wrote me on June 23, 1995 and said this:
Only half of those coming to A.A. for the first time remain more than three months; twenty-nine percent have been sober over five years; those with 10 or 15 years of sobriety amount to 6.8%; and those with more than twenty-five years of sobriety represent less than one-half of one percent.
J. Scott Tonigan, Ph.D., deputy director of the Research Division, Center on Alcoholism, in New Mexico, was quoted as follows by the Akron Beacon Journal, Friday, June 9, 1995:
It is an axiom in the field that about 75% of those who turn to AA drop out by the end of the first year.
Joan Matthews-Larson, Ph.D., wrote in THE PHOENIX, April 1997 issue:
Would you sign up for surgery that had a 75% failure rate? . . . In 617 independently done follow-up studies, conventional treatment has an average success of 24%, The Rand Corporation, which followed 900 males from six NIAAA Treatment Centers over a four- year period, found only 21% sober after the first year, and 7% still sober in the fourth year.
Professor Herbert Fingarette wrote in Heavy Drinking, University of California Press, 1988:
Among A.A. members “slipping is a normal and frequent activity.”. . . there is no evidence that the particular way of life advocated by A.A. is the only, or even the most effective application application of this theme [the theme that a new form of social organization and communication might lead heavy drinkers to a new way of life]. The A.A. way of life is one way, but the proposition that alcoholism is one all-encompassing and selfsame disease to be defeated only by one all-healing alternative is a barrier to progress for most heavy drinkers.
A.A. Critics Are Far Less Generous
In Their Appraisals
Author Jack Trimpey wrote in Rational Recovery, 1996:
AA doesn’t work! Abstinence rates for people in the recovery group movement are astonishingly low, under 10% (p. 303). A.A. is intensely religious (p. 304). I tried a number of HP’s (Higher Powers), theirs and mine, and they all turned out to be flops at keeping me sober (p. 7)
Susan Powter wrote in Sober… and Staying That Way: This Missing Link in the Cure for Alcoholism, 1997, p. 15:
One date at a time, fine, but please, experts contend that AA has a 12 percent recovery rate. What happens to the other 88 percent of us?
For more equally tart criticisms by William L. Playfair, M.D.; Ken Ragge; Martin and Deidre Bobgan; Bill Pittman and Charles Bishop, Jr. See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed., (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999, p. 571-572.
In his Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?, 2d ed. Rev. and exp. (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998), Charles Bufe included an entire chapter, titled “How Effective is A.A.?” I shall not detail his remarks or quoted sources, but I do call attention to these observations by Bufe:
Based on my attendance at AA meetings in San Francisco in the late 1980’s, I would estimate that over 50% of those attending meetings in that city at that time were members for less than a year and, in fact, that a majority were members for only a few months. The situation appears to have changed little in recent years (The discrepancy between my observations and AA’s claim that only 27% of its members have less than one-year’s abstinence is probably accounted for by AA’s astoundingly high dropout rrate; because of it, one constantly sees faces showing up at AA meetings, with many of them sticking around for relatively few meetings. My estimate, however, isn’t too far out of line with the figures given by Bill C. in a 1965 article in the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol. In it, he reports that of 393 AA members surveyed, 31% had been sober for more than one year; 12% had been sober for more than one year but had at least one relapse after joining AA; 9% had achieved a year’s sobriety; 6% had died; 3% had gone to prison; 1% had gone to mental institutions; and 30% had stopped attending AA
The success rate calculated through analysis of the 1996 membership survey is hardly more impressive. . . . Using the figure of five years’ sobriety as the criterion of success, one arrives at an AA success rate of approximately 2.6% to 3.5% (in comparison with the total number of “alcoholics in the U.S. and Canada). And the success rate is lower than that if one defines “success” as AA does—as lifelong abstinence (p. 90)
[Quoting AA’s Triennial Surveys] In terms of new-member dropout rate, all five surveys were in close agreement. . . . In other words, AA has a 95% new-member dropout rate during the first year of attendance. If success is defined as one-year’s sobriety, on the face of it this 95% dropout rate gives AA a maximum success rate of only 5%; and a great many new members do not remain continuously sober during their first year in AA, which causes the apparent AA success rate to fall even lower (p. 91).
What Can We Learn About Successes And Relapses That Answers The Initial, Vital Question?
I said at the beginning that one question was paramount. The question is: Can you get well in A.A. today even if you are very very sick and very very burdened with the wreckage of the past.
If you look at what the experts say, what the statistics show, and what the critics proclaim: Your chances are very very poor. And that, regrettably, is what any of us honest enough to report what we see would have to say also. But our question has nothing to do with rates or percentages. It has to do with YOU. Can you get well? Even if you’re sick and in lots of trouble. The answer is: Yes, if you want to.
First of all, as the experts concede, there is plenty wrong with their surveys and their statistics. Even the way they measure A.A. activity has often to do only with the number of meetings attended, whether you have a sponsor, whether you yourself sponsor people, whether you have worked Steps 6 to 12, etc. Moreover, I can confirm, as can most of us, that there are innumerable lousy meetings, lousy sponsors, and lousy ways of “taking” any of the Steps. But such measures are simply materialistic yardsticks. They don’t tell us whether the AA has had a conversion, been born again, claimed a spiritual awakening or spiritual experience, or operated the manifestations of the gift of the Holy Spirit. They don’t even tell us whether an A.A. believes in God or not, whether an AA studies the Bible, whether an AA goes to church, whether an AA prays, or whether the AA has accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour.
I personally know many many relapsed AAs who have attended hundreds and hundreds of meetings, been speakers, chaired groups, studied the Big Book, been taken through the Steps, sponsored others, participated in all kinds of A.A. activities and yet are drinking buckets, smoking pot, and snorting cocaine this very day. So the first and most common measuring stick—attendance and involvement—doesn’t tell us anything about an individual’s chances. It doesn’t deal with the problem. Then the experts talk about the problems of anonymity, poor survey tools, and a floating membership. Those identification problems, inadequate survey tools, and floating population problems still don’t address the people involved. Finally, some of the best researcher comments point to the immense diversity within A.A. and the need in any survey to look at the people and their backgrounds and not just what they do in A.A. Amen!
Next, in the worst, most marred, and weakest research arena, some experts endeavor to measure “spirituality” as if that word personifies recovery. And that test is hogwash. It is subjective. It has no common definition. Bill Wilson defined spirituality as reliance on the Creator. Several decades later, historian Ernest Kurtz re-defined it as a spirituality of “imperfection” and of not-godness. Still others assert that spirituality merely requires that you get a focus outside of yourself which may be called a “higher power.” And this departure from reason has spawned “higher powers” called a light-bulb, the Great Pumpkin, Santa Claus, a rock, Ralph, a chair, the group, good orderly direction, a Coke bottle, the Big Dipper, the Great Pumpkin, Gertrude, Something, Somebody, or “it.” Now, with those research criteria (which no intellectual of integrity and no sensible A.A. as his length of sobriety increases could possibly define or quantify), what has that “spirituality” yardstick to do with success. Moreover, among those subject to being “tested” for “spirituality” are atheists with a belief, agnostics without a belief, Muslims with a belief, Hindus with a belief, Roman Catholics with a belief, born again Christians with a belief, Protestants who have been taught that A.A. is “not of the Lord” and is “of the devil,” and our New Age friends that think a “personality change sufficient to overcome the disease of alcoholism” defines the “spiritual aim.”And most of these don’t subscribe to a Coke bottle as being what to believe in.
And researchers expect to find useful results from that mess?
I said at the beginning that you can get well in A.A. today. Now I will tell you what I did, and then I will tell you what the early AAs did.
I came into A.A. and learned that I was not to pick up a drink—no matter what! “Don’t drink, and go to meetings” was stated so often you were prompted to obey. So I adopted permanent abstinence as my first yardstick. I was licked. I knew it. They (the ever-present spokespeople in meetings) convinced me that alcohol, whether a cause, a depressant, a disease, a sin, a sickness, a spiritual malady or some religious shortcoming, was to be resisted at all costs. That made sense to me. It was consistent with James 4:7. Temptation was out. Sobriety was in. I wanted deliverance, and they told me things would get better if I did what they did, went where they went, and believed what they believed.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get me medical help, and I had seizures. They put me in a treatment program, and I sure belonged there for 30 days. They told me to get a sponsor, and I did. They told me to go to 90 meetings in 90 days, and I did. They told me to study the Big Book, and I tried. My sponsor tried to take me through the Steps, was simply not qualified, and cut me loose after Step Five. I was told to help others. And I helped, in whatever way presented itself, every alkie that walked or crept or crawled. They told me to participate in my own recovery, and I did. I did it by giving service and a quarter to meetings, attending meetings daily, attention to newcomers at meetings, prompt and regular attendance, speaking at meetings when asked, chairing meetings when asked, frequently calling my sponsor and other AAs, and being willing to do whatever it took. I participated in every conceivable kind of A.A. activity—frequent phone calls for support, frequent fellowship with other newcomers, frequent reaching out to the new people, going to county-wide Unity and Gratitude meetings as well as A.A. seminars, conferences, retreats, dances, recreational events—and almost always in company with my family or my friends in A.A. I heard talk of a “higher power” and was sufficiently crazy that I thought and said that I had two “higher powers”—God and the Fellowship. Another detour!
Midst it all, I realized that I was not drinking, was “dry,” was busy, was participating, was crazy and confused and forgetful, and was trying to find out where God—the God mentioned in the Big Book over 400 times, the Creator, the Maker, the Father, the Spirit mentioned therein—fit in the program. What about guilt, shame, disgrace, fear? Where was prayer? What was the standard for real spiritual truth? Where did A.A. come from? How was I going to face courts, jail, tax liens, divorce problems, financial disaster, loss of my law license, day-to-day expenses, and housing issues.
These gems followed me into early sobriety. And they almost got me. I became frightened, anxious, despairing, and even suicidal. Yet whenever I mentioned the Bible among AAs, I was told not to read it—just to confine myself to the Big Book. Whenever I mentioned my Bible fellowship, I was told I was not ready for that yet. Even when someone mentioned Emmet Fox, I was warned away from him (thank goodness). And nobody, just nobody, made it clear that God had the answers to life. And how did that measure up to the expression, “Let go and let God.” Nobody showed me page 181 of the Big Book where Dr. Bob wrote “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down.” Nobody showed me page 191 of the Big Book where Bill Wilson and Bill Dotson (AA Number Three) both said the Lord had cured them. Nor did they show me where, just a few pages back, Dr. Bob said he had found a cure for alcoholism. Nobody, except a few Roman Catholics, ever mentioned church. Few mentioned God. One bald-headed guy used to say every Friday night at the beginner’s meeting that his “Higher Power” was Ralph. And we just laughed. Nobody ever mentioned any prayer but the Serenity Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the meeting. Nobody ever mentioned the literature—including Emmet Fox—that early AAs read. In fact, nobody mentioned A.A. history.
But, thank God in heaven, about four important events occurred in the first few months amidst all the terror and confusion. And they truly pointed toward victory.
First, one night I was so frightened I phoned my A.A. Jewish friend Seymour who talked a lot about God. I told him I was scared to death. I told him I didn’t know how or what to pray. And he said, “Then, tell God just that.” And I realized I didn’t have to have a theologian with me when I prayed.
I phoned a young AA man who had befriended me. I called in the middle of the night and ranted on about my fears; and he said, “Man you are in bad shape. Get to the hospital and do so quickly.”
In the meantime, I had heard from a young man, now dead of alcoholism, that A.A. had come from the Bible and that the early members wanted to call it “The James Club.” He told me to read DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, and I did even though nobody had ever called my attention to this piece of A.A. literature. I’d never heard it mentioned. But I will still frightened and in despair. I checked into the VA Psych ward in San Francisco. I was an anxious, crazy, despairing mess.
Finally, my older son insisted that I start reading the Bible and listening to Bible tapes. And I did just that. Then, in addition to taking other patients with me to AA meetings in San Francisco, I started attending a Bible fellowship back in Marin which consisted of some older people. One of them called me every day and told me to stop trying to program my life and let God guide it.
When I put these events together, I began to see quite clearly that my only help would have to come from the Creator. And I had to believe that. I began to see deliverance stemming from my Bible reading and believing. I studied and sought profit from believing Hebrews 11:6—an old standby in early A.A.:
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Almost overnight, the fear, anxiety, and despair were gone. Salvation had truly become the anchor of my soul, and I felt secure in God’s everlasting arms. I was one of His kids that He would surely care for if and when I sought Him first. I became quite willing to ask Him what to do, where to go, what to say, and how to handle things. It’s laid out very simply in Proverbs 3:5-6:
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.
I could and did do just that to the extent it was possible for me to renew my mind to that truth, and He (Yahweh, the Creator) did direct my paths. The rest is history. My history.
The Answer Lies Not With Experts
Or Critics Or Surveys
Early AAs did all the things that I did and lots more. They had sound guidance from God, from the Bible, from their devotionals, from Dr. Bob, from Bob’s wife Anne, from Henrietta Seiberling, and from T. Henry Williams and his wife—all in Akron. I won’t repeat the early program elements here. You can find them all in my titles The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials and When Early AAs Were Cured and Why.
If you want to stay in A.A. and have all the productive and delivering experiences I tell about in my title God and Alcoholism, feel free to pursue your own religious convictions—particularly if you are a Christian as were the early A.A. pioneers. Use the guidance, words, and power of God to help yourself and others. For Yahweh our Creator will never let you down! Just as Dr. Bob assured us all. And you can’t very easily measure believing by how many times someone prays or reads the Bible or asks God’s guidance; nor can you measure a spiritual relationship with God by asking which denomination someone belongs to; nor can you determine a person’s degree of victorious living by just conducting surveys. God knows the answers. So can you. And so can your brothers and sisters in Christ if God chooses to give them revelation. That’s the early A.A.way. It worked for 75% in Akron and later 93% in early Cleveland A.A.