Remembering A.A.’s Early Friends
By Bill W., General Service Conference, 1952
You share with me, I know, the thought that the closing hours of this conference bring with them a deep and joyous realization. The realization that at last we are surely on the high road that stretches straight out toward our future, toward, we trust, an everlasting sunrise. We face the sunrise in high hope, with a confidence that is almost awesome and with our hearts full of unspeakable gratitude.
Gratitude to the Father of lights, Who has delivered us out of our bondage, gratitude to friends through whose hearts he has enabled this miracle to be worked, and gratitude for each other.
This too is an hour that will ever stir memory. With me, perhaps more than most, the wellsprings of memory are at flood tide. I think of a psychiatrist at Zurich, Switzerland, who had a patient, an American businessman, treated him a year. The patient thought greatly of his psychiatrist, none other than the famous Mr. Jung. The patient thought he was well, but leaving the doctor, he soon found himself drunk. So he returned to Dr. Jung, who yet unknowing to this day, is one of the founders of this society. And he said to this patient, “Unless you have a spiritual experience, there is nothing that can be done. You are too much conditioned by alcoholism to be saved in any other way.”
Our friend thought it was a hard sentence, but like many of us since, he began to seek such an experience. It found it in the confines of the Oxford Group, an evangelical movement of that time. He sobered at once. There he found the grace to achieve it. It was then called to his attention that a friend of his was about to be committed for alcoholism to an asylum in Vermont. Together with some other “Groupers,” he interceded. The result was our beloved Ebby, who first brought the essentials of recovery to me.
Meanwhile, there was a little Jesuit, Ed Dowling, laboring among his flock, lame and relatively obscure, he too, was to light a candle for A.A.
There was a nun, Sister Ignatia, in Akron who was to become the companion of Dr. Bob, who as you know, was the prince of our Twelfth Steppers. She, too, was to light a candle for us.
Even Francis of Assisi holding for the principle of corporate poverty, had lit a candle for A.A. So had William James, the father of modern psychology, whose book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” had such a profound influence upon us. He had lit a candle for Alcoholics Anonymous.
Then, too, there were to be couriers to all the world. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Fulton Oursler of Liberty, Jack Alexander and the owner of Saturday Evening Post. They were to become couriers. They, too, were to light candles for Alcoholics Anonymous.
But back there in the summer of 1934, the alcoholics of the world felt as hopeless as ever. And yet, as you see, a table was being prepared in the presence of our ancient enemy, John Barleycorn. Candles were already upon it, and meat and drink was there, but the guests had not arrived.
Then came some guests and they partook of the spark that was to become Alcoholics Anonymous was struck. Then ensued our period of flying blind, at the end of which, about 1937 or 1938, we realized that, indeed, a table had been prepared in the presence of our enemy. And that the candles upon that table might one day shine around the world and touch every distant beachhead. There were more years of travail in that pioneering time which ended in 1941 with the advent of the Post article. Meanwhile, our book of experience had appeared. No longer need we travel in person. The message could be taken through those printed pages to distant ones who suffered.
Our recovery program was really complete. Then came the test whether our growing groups could live and work together, whether the enormous explosive quality of our fellowship would find in our principles of recovery a sufficient containing element. Soon we can to realize little by little that we of Alcoholics Anonymous must hang together or indeed we should hang separately.
And in that sometimes frightening experience, the Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous was forged. And at Cleveland, in 1950, it was confirmed by our fellowship as the traditional platform upon which our society intended to stand.
No body of law was this Tradition. A set of principles infused with the spirit of our 12 steps of recovery and enshrined in the heart of each of us -that would be our protection, we thought, from any blows with which the outside world would assail us, our protection from any temptations to which we might be subjected within. Such was the Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In this period of infancy and in adolescence this Society discovered that it had to function. This Conference culminates that long process of discovery through which we have learned how we can best act to carry this message to those who suffer. Yes, the advent of this conference in full strength will mark a great day in the annals of Alcoholics Anonymous.
For me, it marks a time when I must shift from activity to reflection and meditation and to the task of acting as your scribbler, to record the experience of these marvelous years just past. I realize that I shall be but a reflector, a scribbler only. I hope the task will be completed, useful and pleasing to you –and pleasing to God.
My heart is too full to say anymore, excepting au revoir.