What Happened to Those Who Left?
By Bill W., General Service Conference, 1965
A.A. members can soberly ask themselves what became of the 600,000 alcoholics who approached the Fellowship during the past 30 years but “who did not stay,” Bill W., surviving co-founder, suggested in a moving address to the Conference at its closing session.
“How much and how often did we fail all these?” Bill asked. “When we remember that in the 30 years of A.A. existence we have reached less than ten per cent of those who might of been willing to approach us, we began to get an idea of the immensity of our task, and of the responsibilities with which we will always be confronted.”
In no circumstances should members feel that the Alcoholics Anonymous is the know-all and do-all of alcoholism, Bill noted, citing the “perhaps one hundred agencies” in the United States and Canada alone that are engaged in “research, alcohol education and rehabilitation.”
“We should very seriously ask ourselves how many alcoholics have gone on drinking because we have failed to cooperate in good spirit with these many agencies – whether they be good, bad or indifferent,” the co-founder remarked. “No alcoholic should go mad or die merely because he did not come straight to A.A. at the beginning.”
“All of the basic components of A.A. were supplied by others, Bill pointed out, “although we drunks certainly did put A.A. together. Here, especially, our maxim should be ‘Let’s be friendly with our friends.”
Bill said that at certain great turning points in A.A. history, members have backed away from what should have been “clearly visible responsibilities.” He cited the old-timers who almost prevented preparation of the Big Book “because some avowed we did not need it,” while others shrank from the risks involved.
There was “a great outcry” against formation of the General Service Conference, he recalled. “There was almost no belief that such a linkage could be effectively forged; even an attempt at such a project would ruin us, many thought.” The spiritual assets of A.A. have “in God’s time” invariably come to exceed even such large liabilities, Bill said, “A.A. recovery goes forward on a large scale. Practice of A.A.’s Twelve Traditions has amazingly cemented our unity. Our General Service Office and General Service Conference have made possible a wide spreading of our message at home and abroad. Our pains and our necessities first called us reluctantly to responsibility. But in the latter years a joyous willingness and a confident faith have more and more permeated all the affairs of our Fellowship.”
Fear of negative factors should not deceive members into absurd rationalizations, Bill suggested. “In the fear of accumulated wealth and bureaucracy, we should not discover an alibi for failure to pay A.A.‘s legitimate service expenses. For fear of controversy, our leadership should not go timid when lively debate and forthright action is a necessity. And for fear of accumulating prestige and power, we should never fail to endow our trusted leaders with proper authority to act for us.”
“Let us never fear needed change,” Bill urged. “Once a need becomes clearly apparent in an individual, a Group, or in A.A. as a whole, it has long since been found out that we cannot stand still and look the other way.”