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Speaker recordings courtesy of We Do Recovery
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Speaker recordings courtesy of We Do Recovery
** These recordings are pulled from Youtube and may contain advertising. If advertising is present, it does not mean that AA District 2 endorses any product or outside institution as prescribed in our 6th Tradition.
A couple of considerations should be in place for the contribution process.
The first is setting your Prudent Reserve for your group.
Prudent Reserver from the AA literature:
“Most groups try to hold a certain amount of money in reserve. There is no predetermined amount for such a reserve, but most groups try to put aside enough money to cover at least one to three months’ operating expenses. The group itself usually determines the actual size and scope of the prudent reserve. Our experience shows that an accumulation of A.A. funds for unspecified purposes beyond a prudent level may divert a group’s attention from carrying the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. Groups with excess funds are encouraged to support other service entities.“
Excess Money Contributions:
The AA literature establishes guidelines for groups that have met their Prudent Reserve and how they can contribute to support AA as a whole. See the image below:
Hank Parkhurst was a business dynamo who was the first alcoholic to recover in New York, following Bill Wilson. Thus, Hank was New York’s AA#2. His was a vital contribution to AA: without Hank Parkhurst the Big Book might never have been published.
Hank was born March 13, 1895, in Marion, Iowa into a family that had lived in that area for several generations. He was so gifted an entrepreneur that an associate once described him as being able to produce a good idea a minute for business. He had been a Standard Oil of New Jersey executive who was fired because of his drinking. Hank sought treatment at Charles B. Towns Hospital in Manhattan. He met Bill Wilson there during the autumn of 1935.
Parkhurst was the first New York alcoholic other than Bill to stay sober for any substantial amount of time. Hank was sober approximately four years, before he drank again.
He is mentioned in “The Doctor’s Opinion” (page XXIX of the Big Book). Doctor Silkworth describes him as “–a case of pathological mental deterioration.” But, Silkworth added, “He adopted the plan outlined in this book.” And, the doctor admitted he hardly recognized Hank when he saw him a year later.
But, perhaps more importantly, Hank is credited with contributing the major interview around which Bill wrote the chapter, “To Employers.” (Some historians believe that Hank himself actually wrote this entire chapter except the first two paragraphs.)
After Bill and Lois Wilson lost their home at 182 Clinton Street, Brooklyn Heights, they moved to Montclair, New Jersey on April 26, 1939, and lived with Hank and his wife, Kathleen Nixon Parkhurst. Hank and Kathleen had moved to Montclair from Teaneck, after Hank got sober. (He’s noted, again, in the Big Book, on page 163, as “–a man who was living in a large community.” That reference is to Montclair.)
Parkhurst could be quite personable and was considered a handsome man. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and red-haired and had been a good athlete in school. He and Kathleen had two sons: Henry G. Parkhurst, Jr. (Hank, Jr., and Robert Stewart Parkhurst (Bob) and at least one grandson.
Hank was an agnostic when he came to AA. But, he evolved spiritually into a belief in a “universal power.” He and Jim Burwell led the fight against any mention of God in the Big Book. Parkhurst and Burwell wanted to leave God out of the book altogether, to make it a psychological book and refer only to the spiritual nature of recovery, produced by the practice of the principles of the Twelve Steps. The verbal war over the mention of God produced the compromise “—as we understood Him” which became part of the Book.
Parkhurst was renting an office at that time at 11 Hill Street, Newark. This office housed Hank’s company, Honor Dealers. It was a cooperative firm. Through it, gas station owners could buy gasoline, oil and automotive parts at lower prices through joint purchasing. Some thought it was Hank’s way of getting back at Standard Oil for firing him. But, the business went nowhere. It is considered likely that Bill authored the first two chapters of the Big Book in this Hill Street office.
Hank then moved to another office at 17 William Street in Newark, one block north of the Hill Street address. The new office, #601, faced east, the preferred exposure. But, Hank’s money ran out, he didn’t pay the rent and the county sheriff evicted him. He then moved to a smaller office on the same floor of the same building, #604, which faced west. Bill dictated much of the remainder of the Big Book to Ruth Hock in this building. Ruth was a secretary for Honor Dealers and served in a similar capacity to the energetic effort, which would produce AA.
It was Hank who was the driving force behind the idea of forming a private company to publish the Big Book. The Trustees of the Alcoholic Foundation had opposed the idea of self-publishing. There were rewards, to be sure. Self-publishing could produce a financial return six times greater than author’s royalties. But, among the Trustees, the common feeling was that self-publishing was risky, that most such enterprises failed out of ignorance of the publishing business and that neither Bill nor Hank knew anything about publishing. That opinion was expressed by a majority of the Trustees at the Foundation’s first meeting, April 11, 1938. (The Foundation was established on that date as a charitable, tax-exempt entity to provide the movement with a legally formed, New York-based center.)
Hank told Bill that since the Board of Trustees had not and would not raise a cent for the publishing project, he and Bill should not wait but should publish the book by themselves. They had little or no money, so: Hank convinced Bill that they should form a stock company and sell shares to their fellow alcoholics. Not only did Hank guarantee Bill that this approach would succeed, he insisted it was the only way to get the Book published. Bill felt somewhat reassured because a widely respected publishing executive, Eugene Exman of Harper Brothers, had told him that drafts of the first two chapters looked good and that a society like theirs really should own, control and publish its own literature.
So: Hank and Bill formed Works Publishing Company, Incorporated, on September 21, 1938. (Some historians say that the company never was legally incorporated.) They issued six hundred shares of stock with a par value of $25.00 per share. Bill and Hank each received one-third of the shares. The remaining two hundred shares were to be sold to their fellow alcoholics. Money from the sale of stock would be used to pay expenses of the Newark office and to enable Bill and Hank to continue their work full time on the publishing project. The Alcoholic Foundation would receive author’s royalties from the book sales. Hank signed the certificates as “President.” Sales were slow.
Parkhurst, the self-appointed “President,” had handled all the finances for Works Publishing. But, later, when he was asked to account for the money, he had no records. It appeared he had mixed the funds for Works, Honor and the fledgling fellowship together, along with his personal money and had no idea how to separate them.
The publication date of the Big Book was April 1, 1939. It was printed by Cornwall Press, in Cornwall, New York. The US Copyright Office says there were 4,730 copies in the first printing. The first ten copies were delivered April 10th of that year to the Newark office Hank and Bill shared. It was a joyous moment!
But, things soon went downhill for Hank. First, Bill obtained a postal box for the young fellowship across the Hudson River in lower Manhattan. Bill felt this location was the most convenient for reaching the area they intended to serve: New York City, Long Island and New Jersey. Bill then proposed moving the Alcoholic Foundation office itself to a point nearer the postal box. He felt there was no need to keep an office in Newark; Hank had closed Honor Dealers.
But, since it had been his office, Parkhurst was upset about Bill’s decision. The actual move, on March 16, 1940, to 30 Vesey Street, Room 703, in lower Manhattan angered Hank. And, when the furniture from his office moved across the Hudson, Hank was furious, even though he had sold the furniture to Bill. (That furniture remained with Bill Wilson for the rest of his life. First it went to AA headquarters in Manhattan. Later it moved to Bill’s studio, “Wits End,” at his home, “Stepping Stones,” at Bedford Hills, in the rolling, wooded hills of picturesque, suburban Westchester County, just north of New York City.)
For Hank, this troubling episode appears to have been the least of it. In other respects, he was beginning to collide with life and getting bruised heavily in the process. He was becoming (as Dr. Silkworth previously described it) “–restless, irritable and discontented.”
He had taken a new job-one he did not want — in western New Jersey. He had intended to take the office, the furniture and Ruth Hock with him.
Further, Hank wanted to divorce his wife, Kathleen, and marry Ruth. But, Ruth declined to go west with him and moved instead to the young fellowship’s new office in lower Manhattan. Ultimately she said “No” to Hank’s marriage proposal. Hank blamed Bill for her refusal.
Hank further resented Bill’s asking him to turn in his stock certificates in Works Publishing, Inc. Members of the fellowship had decided in 1940 that all book sales profits should go to the Alcoholic Foundation. They decided that Bill and Hank should return their shares in Works Publishing.
And, they asked those other members who had purchased shares of the stock to sell them to the Foundation at par value. In this way, the alcoholics reasoned, the fellowship would own the Big Book and anything it published in the future. Bill and Dr. Bob were to receive author’s royalties from the book sales, so that they both might continue to devote their full time to the affairs of the fellowship.
Bill complied immediately. He turned in his shares of Works Publishing, Inc. stock to the Alcoholic Foundation. But, Hank, who had started drinking again, refused. He held onto the stock until he appeared unexpectedly one day, scruffy, drunk and destitute, at the New York office. He insisted the furniture in that office was his and demanded payment for it, even though he had been paid for it previously. Bill offered to pay for it again if Hank would hand in his stock. Hank accepted two hundred dollars and handed over his shares. He subsequently accused Bill of taking advantage of him in his drunken state. Later, Hank approached Bill several more times claiming he had never been paid for the furniture and Bill paid him again each time.
Then Hank learned that AA had granted Bill a $25.00 a week payment from the sale of the Book. Hank considered the arrangement wrong. He resented it and was said to have become quite jealous of all the attention showered on Bill as A.A.’s co-founder.
Hank’s oldest son, Henry G. Parkhurst, Jr., later that Hank always felt Bill had treated him unfairly with respect to the stock, the revenue from the Book sales and his office furniture. Years later sales of the Book mushroomed. But, Hank received no share of the profits.
It is difficult to say precisely when Hank returned to drinking, but it appears to have been late in 1939. Lois Wilson’s diary for September 6, 1939, says Hank was drunk. Kathleen Parkhurst had reported Hank was drinking on September 5th. He never recovered, completely, although there were some occasional, brief periods of dryness.
Hank and Kathleen divorced in 1939 and Hank married at least two other women during a return to drinking that lasted on and off for approximately eleven years. One of the women he married and divorced was a sister-in-law of Cleveland AA pioneer, Clarence Snyder. He later married an oil heiress from a wealthy Houston family. She died about 1950 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Sources say Kathleen married a Wally van Arc, who, they say, was involved, somehow, in the publishing of the Big Book. (AA’s Archivists at GSO New York say they have no information whatever on anyone named Wally van Arc.) Later, during a brief period of dryness, Hank re-married Kathleen. Several sources say Kathleen was also an alcoholic: an episodic or periodic drunk. Hank’s obituary identified Kathleen as his widow. Exact dates of these marriages, divorces and the re-marriage have proven unavailable.
Hank moved to Ohio and began spreading malicious stories there about Bill, charging that Wilson had diverted AA’s money to his own personal use. Despite the fact that Hank was drinking, some Ohio AAs believed him, including Clarence Snyder, who had started AA in Cleveland. A number of the Ohio AA’s began calling for Bill’s expulsion, accusing him of financial trickery and dishonesty. One Ohio A.A. swore he knew personally that Wilson had taken as much as $65,000 from A.A. during the previous year. Several groups in Ohio wanted to secede from A.A. because of the charges and turmoil.
To meet the situation head-on, Bill and Dr. Bob, hosted a dinner for all concerned in June 1942 in Cleveland. After dinner, they all gathered in a hotel parlor, where a local committee, complete with its own attorney and certified public accountant, interrogated Bill. Both Bill and Dr. Bob quietly but firmly denied all allegations and answered all questions. Wilson presented the committee with a recent audit of all of A.A.’s financial affairs, showing, openly and clearly, his 25-dollar a week payment from sales of the Big Book. An identical payment had been arranged for Dr. Bob. (Bob had given some of his money to Bill and returned much of the rest to AA.) And, although it had nothing to do with the AA treasury, both Bill and Bob voluntarily told the committee of the 30-dollar-a-week income each received from a private fund set up to support them by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. so that both of them could continue their AA work full-time. The committee’s CPA carefully examined the audit, read it aloud, pronounced it accurate beyond question, and thus completely exonerated Bill. The committee members apologized to him.
But, the emotional scars remained for Wilson. All this grief and scandal had been caused by a man he had helped to stop drinking, a man who once had been his partner. Opinions vary as to whether they ever completely settled their differences.
Hank Parkhurst died January 18, 1954, at Mercer Hospital in Pennington, New Jersey, within two months of his 59th birthday. Lois Wilson said his death was due to drinking. Others claimed it was pills. Some thought it was both. His obituary says only that he died after a lengthy illness. Others noted that Hank’s disagreements with Bill and his subsequent resentments, mostly over Big Book matters, apparently kept Parkhurst from returning to AA.
Despite the pain and trouble he caused during the final years of his life, Alcoholics Anonymous would appear to owe a huge debt to Henry G. Parkhurst. Ruth Hock, who was there for the entire adventure, said the Big Book definitely would not have been written without Bill and surely could not have been published without Hank. His story, “The Unbeliever” appeared in the first edition of the book that he was so instrumental in publishing.
SOURCES: The archives of the AA General Service Office; AA publications: “Alcoholics Anonymous”, “Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age”, and “Pass It On”; “Lois Remembers” by Lois Burnham Wilson; “Bill W.” by Francis Hartigan; “Not-God” by Ernest Kurtz; “Bill W. And Mr. Wilson” by Matthew J. Raphael; The Hopewell (N.J.) Herald; the US Copyright Office, Washington, DC and AA historians Al R. and Joe H.
I’m grateful for the above sources. Any errors are my own.
Written/researched during 1997 by Mike O. (Michael O’Neil) of “The Just Do It Big Book Study Group of Alcoholics Anonymous,” DeBary, Florida. (Author Revised: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001.)
British Journal of Addiction, Vol. 50, 1953:
By FRANCIS T. CHAMBERS, Jr.
of the Philadelphia Hospital Institute
In 1935 I joined the staff of the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital, and with the generous support of the senior staff members endeavored to work out a treatment plan to be available for those seeking help for acute problems. This plan had the then unique characteristic of being a positive, rather than a negative approach. By and large, at this period, most treatment consisted of the facilities offered by rest homes and “cures”, where the whole emphasis was placed on sobering a man up. Temporary sobriety having been achieved, he was then discharged with little or no understanding of himself or his problem.
Dr. Edward A. Strecker, who held the Chair of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, collaborated with me in writing ALCOHOL: One Man’s Meat, published in 1938. This book, because it presented a positive treatment plan, had the effect of stimulating a more optimistic approach toward the problem, and we were deluged by requests for help. We did not have the necessary staff, facilities, nor the economic support that would have made help available for all. Fortunately, the Alcoholics Anonymous movement became active at about this time, and has contributed a great deal of help for many alcoholic addicts who could not have received it in any other way.
* Read before the Society for the Study of Addiction at the rooms of the Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos Street, W.l., on Tuesday, 26 August, 1952, the President, Dr. G. W. Smith, being in the Chair.
In 1949, Antabuse was introduced in our country for controlled study, and in 1951 it was released to the medical profession. This release was introduced in part by the following paragraph:
“Antabuse, the drug that builds a ‘chemical fence’ around the alcoholic, is now available for general prescription use in the fight against the Nation’s number one emotional disease.”
In sequence, then, we see three positive approaches, each of which was met by great optimism on the part of the public. This optimism has been tempered by the sobering fact that each one of these approaches had, along with successes, many failures, and did not live up to the hope engendered by wishful thinking. This does not mean that Antabuse should be discarded as a treatment measure because there are failures, and sometimes fatal failures; nor does it mean that those who fail to respond to the Alcoholics Anonymous group movement indicate that the A.A. is not a helpful measure; nor again does it mean that psychotherapy should be discarded because it, too, has failures. There are in the United States a number of treatments other than those we are discussing. Dr. Abraham Myerson points out: “The treatment of the individual case has at this time some twenty varieties, ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous and frank religious exhortation to spinal fluid drainage, benzedrine sulfate and the conditioned reflex, not forgetting psychoanalysis, psychotherapeutics, and shock therapy.” Add to this the many advertised cures in sanitariums and health farms, and one sees how bewildering the burden of choice can be to the patient or his family seeking help.
Let us first analyze Antabuse as a treatment measure. Bear in mind that it was introduced as “the drug that builds ‘chemical fence’ around the alcoholic.” We must first ask ourselves: what about the individuals who do not wish a fence built around them, and is it always wise to do so? In reference to the first group, who do not wish to be protected, there is in the United States not a legal statute to enforce this means toward total abstinence.
In connection with this point whether or not it is always wise to build a chemical fence around the alcoholic, my associates, Dr. Edward A. Strecker and Dr. Vincent T. Lathbury, have discussed two patients in whom the experimental use of Antabuse was followed by a psychotic reaction. A like reaction was discussed by Dr. 0. Martensen-Larsen, and more serious effects by Dr. Erik Jacobsen of Denmark.
Dr. Jacobsen says, in part, that the “effective deprivation of alcohol without adequate psychotherapy can be just as dangerous as the untoward effects of disulfiram.” In the same article, Dr. Jacobsen reports that there were 17 fatal cases following treatment with Antabuse among 10,000 patients. Of this total, he cites five cases of death were due to sudden, unexplained causes. Deaths following the administration of Antabuse are cited by R. 0. Jones, M. C. Becker and G. Sugarman, and D. M. Spain, V.A. Bradess and A.A. Eggston. I am quoting only in part from the available literature dealing with such unfavorable reactions.
Briefly, then, we have three contraindications to the use of Antabuse. First, there are those who refuse this treatment; second, those who may develop a psychotic reaction following the treatment; and third, those to whom the treatment may be fatal. Let me add a fourth risk, perhaps the most important; namely that the indiscriminate use of Antabuse on a group of patients most apt to respond to psychotherapy might interfere with or even block their potential accessibility to psychotherapy. Experience with patients who have had previous treatment with Antabuse shows that they have often resented this treatment and discontinued it. As one of them expressed his attitude to me, “I found that my reaction to alcohol after the Antabuse treatment was terrifying. Therefore I was pretty sure to take no more Antabuse.” Several patients have told me that while taking Antabuse they found that a very little alcohol plus the Antabuse reaction gave them a desirable result of intoxication.
On the other hand, medical literature is full of successful results obtained by the administration of Antabuse. One patient of mine, a woman of 65, asked for the Antabuse treatment two years ago. My associates, Dr. Kenneth Appel and Dr. Alexander Vujan, after careful tests, administered Antabuse, and this woman has since then made a much better adjustment. We recommended follow-up psychotherapy, which was not accepted. Without such follow-up therapy, we can only guess as to why the Antabuse worked. This woman was highly intelligent, with a strong indication of psychoneurotic nucleus. She came from a protected walk of life. Later on she encountered more than her share of tragedy. The death of two husbands during her young womanhood probably augmented an already established unconscious feeling of rejection. The insidious sway of her addiction held fast through middle life. Now her grown children were repeating the pattern of rejection because of her addiction problem. At this psychologically important moment we supplied, via the Antabuse treatment, a way to make alcohol actually reject her even more severely than did reality from her neurotic viewpoint.
In 1939, the Alcoholics Anonymous group movement published their book Alcoholics Anonymous. It received a tremendous amount of publicity because of the enthusiasm of its members, plus the fact that it had a very understandable popular appeal. In the forward of this book the writers remark that they wish to show other alcoholics “precisely how we have recovered,” and they state. “We are not an organization in the conventional sense of the word. There are no fees or dues whatsoever. The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking. We are not allied with any particular faith, sect, or denomination, nor do we oppose anyone. We simply wish to be helpful to those who are afflicted.”
Since this book was written, groups of Alcoholics Anonymous have formed in all the large cities of the United States, and in many of the smaller towns. As a movement it has a strong similarity to religious conversion. They state in their book:
“The great fact is just this, and nothing less: that we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences, which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows, and toward God’s universe. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.”
I have gathered from talks with many of the group that the spiritual experience does not always take place, but that even without this experience some are successful in refraining from drinking. With or without the religious experience, members have a very deep sense of Cause, and each becomes an Apostle for this Cause. They insist that members attend weekly or bi-weekly meetings, at which meeting novices hear ex-alcoholics recount the misery of their drinking history, and how they had hurt all their loved ones, but how, now, with the help of the Alcoholics Anonymous group they are no longer hurting those they love, and are happy and successful without alcohol. They recommend twelve steps in their program to recovery:
“1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
I understand that you have similar groups in Great Britain. I believe that they work with the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous in the U.S.A. In the States some of its appeal is because of the go-getter attitude contained in its emotional approach. It savors of the credo of the American success story, and it is colored by the aggressive streamlined glamorization so woven into American custom. My experience with members of this group has been that the successful men and women are those who have made A.A. the most important thing in their lives. They devote a tremendous amount of time to discussion of Alcoholics Anonymous work, they attend meetings regularly, and are willing, at great inconvenience to themselves, to be called out to administer to one of their group who has fallen, or to call on some drunkard in order to persuade him to seek their help. Let me briefly try to analyze some of the aspects of what they have to offer.
Most of those who become members have gone downhill quite far. In fact, many A.A. members say you have to “hit bottom” before you are accessible to their movement. These men and women, due to their abnormal drinking lives, have by and large lost their normal friends and their contact with society. They are lonely, isolated by their addiction problem. To be welcomed again in an uncritical group, where their past alcoholic history can be worn as a badge of honor, provided they recover, must give them a tremendous emotional lift in re-establishing contact with other human beings.
All of us who are interested in the vast problem of mental hygiene owe a debt of deep gratitude to the circumstances that presented this movement at this time. The group is keeping many men and women sober, who otherwise would be cluttering up our jails and our mental hospitals. They are relieving psychiatrists of an already intolerable load, and most important, this approach is keeping many men and women from destroying themselves and crippling their families irretrievably.
With all due credit for A.A.’s valuable work, some of the more fanatical members bring to mind a sketch written by the American humorist, James Thurber, entitled, The Bear Who Let It Alone.
“In the woods of the Far West there once lived a brown bear who could take it or leave it alone. He would go into a bar where they sold mead, a fermented drink made of honey, and he would have just two drinks. Then he would put some money on the bar and say, ’See what the bears in the back room will have,’ and he would go home. But finally he took to drinking by himself most of the day. He would reel home at night, kick over the umbrella stand, knock down the bridge lamps, and ram his elbows through the windows. Then he would collapse on the floor and lie there until he went to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.
“At length the bear saw the error of his ways and began to reform. In the end he became a famous teetotaler and a persistent temperance lecturer. He would tell everybody who came to his house about the awful effects of drink, and he would boast about how strong and well he had become since he gave up touching the stuff. To demonstrate this, he would stand on his head and on his hands and he would turn cartwheels in the house, kicking over the umbrella stand, knocking down the bridge lamps, and ramming his elbows through the windows. Then he would lie down on the floor, tired by his healthful exercise, and go to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.”
About ten years ago, I was asked to read a short paper, “Emotional Immaturity in Alcoholics,” at the Philadelphia General Hospital. This was followed by a talk given by one of the key men in Alcoholics Anonymous. He began his talk by saying that he agreed with me that all alcoholics were emotionally immature; hence they needed Alcoholics Anonymous to compensate for the deficiency of emotional maturity. This pointed out to me the outstanding difference between their approach and a psychotherapeutic approach; namely, that they accept the emotional immaturity, and supplied a crutch for it, where psychotherapy attempts to supply insight into the emotional immaturity, and helps the patient toward emotional growth and maturity as a necessary adjunct to abstinence.
One of the earliest papers on the subject of alcoholism that I have come upon was by Dr. Benjamin Rush, written in the early eighteen hundreds. He cites religious conversion as the only effective means of bringing about abstinence among his alcoholic patients. This phenomenon, I think, is explained in part by the extraordinary egocentricity we find in alcoholics, and this in turn leads us to uncover the omnipotent infant hidden behind the iron curtain of the unconscious, who is still dictating the personality, policy, and behavior of the patient. We see that these patients are in a way playing God. This highly disguised phenomenon was beautifully revealed in the William Saroyan play, The Time of Your Life. In religious conversion, one admits to an all-powerful God. Therefore the convert is forced to abdicate the throne, but in turn becomes God’s lieutenant. This is an emotional growth step not always possible, not always wise, but where it works effectively and suffices to give a fractional degree of stability to the addicted personality, we should thank God for its occurrence wherever we encounter it.
Psychotherapy may include a great many different approaches and various disciplines and techniques. Alcoholics Anonymous might be described as a simple form of psychotherapy. Freudian psychoanalysis is considered by some as the only thorough approach to a non-addicted readjustment. This could be described as a very complicated and time-consuming psychotherapy. Because of the variant concepts of psychotherapy, I would like to outline briefly the type that we have found practical and effective with a certain group of patients.
“The first and often neglected step in the treatment of pathological drinking is a personality diagnosis. This diagnosis should be avoided during the intoxication symptoms and withdrawal symptoms. Even after a state of sobriety has been reached, the physician should delay opinion as to the best method of treatment until he has had ample opportunity to study the personality of his patient.
“The following classification can be employed advantageously in the clinic devoted to abnormal drinking if it is used in the spirit that Thompson suggests when he says: ‘We have revised this classification to some extent, but we have altered still more extensively our application of it. Many individuals who are examined in this clinic we now regard as normal or average individuals with an exaggeration of some particular personality characteristic, rather than as psychopathic personalities or deviates.’ Even a glance at this classification makes clear how wide is the range of alcoholism. The classification is as follows:
- Borderline psychosis.
- Mental deficiency.
- Psychopathic personalities.
- Normal individuals with predominant personality characteristics:
Swindler (hysterical type)
Unethical, sly, wily type professional gambler or ‘con
man’; professional criminal of the planning, careful type. I think you have a slang word “Spiv” that describes the type.
(a) Adolescent immature type,
(b) Adolescent adventurous type.
Adult immature type.
Egocentric and selfish type.
Shiftless, lazy, uninhibited, pleasure-loving type.
A dynamic, dull type.
Adjusted to lower economic level.
Personality adjusted to ordinary, average life.”
We have found that the germ of alcoholism reaches far back into childhood and that most patients are suffering from unconscious feeling of guilt and rejection coming, usually, from these childhood experiences. We are beginning to see more clearly that drinking alcohol in itself did not create their problem. Rather it was their neurotic insecurity, which created their addiction. We see in the paranoid patient a tendency to project his personality discomfort outward, in the psycho-neurotic a tendency to project personality discomfort inward, and in the alcoholic a tendency to reach for a drug to anesthetize his personality discomfort.
We have found in the study of the personalities of those who consulted us that emotional immaturity manifests itself prior to drinking, and certainly we have found that emotional immaturity is ever-present in the emotional life of the abnormal drinker. “Man is but a child-born,” and I doubt that in our civilization emotional maturity is a completely obtainable goal. When we talk of maturity, we talk of degree. In the abnormal drinker, emotional immaturity plus the addiction problem precludes emotional growth. We see a like reaction in the psychoneurotic, and we see, perhaps, in the psychotic a terrifying regression to the infantile level. Maturity, if we must attempt to analyze it, could be described as an individual’s ability to deal with, compromise with, and sublimate the primitive infantile tendencies that exist in all of us. The alcoholic, when intoxicated, is on an infantile level. When sober, he is a very uncomfortable child in an adult body in an adult world.
I think we often see in the abnormal drinker an actor living a role of pretence that is fooling him far more than the audience. This actor has a complete misconception of the reality of himself. All he knows is that this reality is painful. He does not see that reality is painful because of his maladjustment to it. Having found that alcohol will induce a brief pleasurable fantasy of self; the abnormal drinker seeks more and more the escape mechanism of alcohol. Because such a patient appears to be normal to his family and the public when he is not drinking, the degree of his emotional maladjustment is not recognized by society, nor is it recognized by the patient. In the mind of the public and the patient the problem seems simple, i.e., if alcohol is destroying this man or woman’s potentiality to live a normal, constructive life, then the answer is to give up alcohol. I think we can say that the majority of non-deteriorated and non-psychotic alcoholics want to get well. Despite the contradiction of oft-repeated drunken behavior, there is little doubt that somewhere within the mental recesses of the abnormal drinker there lies the desire to rid himself of his addiction. He wants to be normal, but he does not know how to start. To bridge the gap of understanding between the patient and those who want to help him we must first recognize and understand his conception of what constitutes normality. What does he mean when he says; “I want to get well?”
Mental exploration uncovers an apparent contradiction of sane thinking; i.e., normality is synonymous in the mind of the alcoholic with only one thing – drinking normally. He really believes he wants to drink in a normal way. Most patients give a history of repeated determination to drink in moderation, which attempt eventually ends in acute alcoholic episodes. This self-deception on the patient’s part, of wanting to be temperate in the use of alcohol, should be discarded with the insight gained in psychotherapy. It is not easy for the patient to see that the one or two cocktails he thinks would suffice actually would be as unsatisfactory to him as one or two aspirin tablets would be to the morphinist awaiting his customary dose of morphine.
Therefore, in dealing with patients, we must realize that a mental condition exists which renders a normal response impossible. We do not tell our patients that they are normal and that all that is wrong with them is that they drink too much. If this were only true, everything would be so beautifully simple. We would only have to say, “Please stop drinking, and everything will be all right.” Obviously if they stop drinking they will be more acceptable to society, but otherwise nothing has been accomplished toward curing the state of mind that originally sought escape from their personality discomfort by blunting this discomfort with alcohol. When the stream of alcohol is dammed but nothing else is done then there is merely produced a condition of suppressed alcoholism that could be rightly described as an alcoholic complex, or a partially repressed but imperative urge, that becomes endowed with a super-emotional content. In all probability this is the condition of many successful non-drinking alcoholics, wherein hate and fear have supplanted the love of and depending on alcohol. The partially repressed but imperative urge becomes endowed with a super emotional redirection. The truth is that abstinence frequently means the discarding of an all-important crutch by a sick personality. This may be the right moment for psychotherapy to be substituted for the crutch, not as something to lean on, but as a means of gaining insight into the little boy or girl who never grew up emotionally.
It is obvious to anyone who ever studied the problem of addiction that the abnormal drinker is playing a very passive role no matter how well he may disguise it by over-compensating action. The very role of drinking is passive. Without being conscious of it, he is asking a drug to change his ways of thinking and being and feeling. The addict carries the passive role to its extreme in deep intoxication. He is helpless.
With this hidden passivity in mind I endeavor to lead a patient into an active role toward treatment. I ask him to read and analyze the book, Alcohol: One Man’s Meat, underscoring any passages that he thinks might give us insight into his own problem. By the very act of doing this he is taking an active rather than a passive role toward his recovery.
I inform the patient at the first contact that he and he alone will affect his recovery, that I can only help him to gain understanding of himself and his problem. If a good rapport is established I find it is helpful to anticipate with the patient the emotional growing pains that he will encounter during the beginning of his non-alcoholic readjustment. The patient puts much emphasis on the immediate withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. He has experienced these and knows how dreadful they are. He has no understanding of or preparation for the secondary emotional withdrawal symptoms that he will encounter during the first year or two of abstinence. These secondary withdrawal symptoms seem to take place in insidiously disguised protests against reality and in bombardments of rationalization urging him to return to alcohol. The late Richard Peabody contributed great insight into this phase of readjustment. In his book, The Common Sense of Drinking, he supplies this insight to the patient, as well as forearming him against the extraordinary rationalizing technique that he will uncover from time to time during his struggle to make readjustment without alcohol.
We encounter in alcoholism an age-old phenomenon of politics; the political psychology of the dictator. Dictator ideology survives only by creating and then enlarging the enemy without, in order to take the focus off the real enemy within -i.e., the dictator. With this technique whole populations are seduced into relinquishing their freedom. They become willing slaves to their State, hypnotized through propaganda by the imagined enemy without. In the addicted personality, alcohol is the dictator and here; too, the enemy without is created and becomes part of the rationalizing process of alcoholism. The typical alcoholic drinks because his wife nags him, or because he does not get the promotion he thinks he deserves, or because his friends let him down or shun him. In effect each aspect of reality soon becomes the threatening enemy without and the patient relinquishes his freedom to the alcoholic dictator in order to save himself from his own misconception of a hostile reality. There is always a paranoid-like rationalizing system in alcoholism. Understanding the abnormal psychology of addiction, one sees that rationalization is a necessary support to the alcoholic disease that has taken over the personality. Outside of delirium tremens, alcoholic psychosis and the occasional psychotic reactions following the administration of Antabuse, it does not reveal itself overtly, but it is there nonetheless, and it is very important that the patient gain insight into its abnormal mechanisms.
During therapy the patient will under our guidance gain insight into his unconscious feelings of rejection and guilt. If he is successful he learns to deal with these feelings instead of running away from them, and if acquired his insight into their source may help to allay a great deal of his personality discomfort.
I hope it will be seen from my very brief description of a treatment approach that I attempt to deal with a patient’s personality problem as well as his alcoholic problem. Personality problems presented by patients vary enormously, as do the underlying causes for their addiction. They have, however, an extraordinarily similar system of irrational thoughts about drinking which will apply to all of them. Just as the understanding of the warped thought process in the paranoid schizophrenic will help to make the diagnosis and indicate the type of treatment, so also will the understanding of the warped thought process in the alcoholic help us to treat him.
A criticism of this type of psychotherapy is that it is limited to a group who can afford the expense involved in such a treatment. Many of our patients are outpatients, and do well on an outpatient status. In this way, the expense can be kept down so that it is within the reach of nearly everyone. However many of our patients need psychotherapy and would not respond to it without an initial and sometimes prolonged hospital stay, and this is, of course, expensive.
In order to make a treatment plan available to a greater number of people it has been suggested that group therapy might be instigated. Unhappily group treatment precludes the rapport, which has been shown to be so necessary. It has been tried by some of my associates, but the results have not been favorable.
In my attempt to analyze and compare three treatment measures, I have clarified for myself, and I hope for you, the fallacy of finding the treatment for alcoholics. Far better, and much more rewarding in results, is to find the form of treatment best suited to each type of personality afflicted with alcoholism.
Note: Francis T. Chambers, Jr. was a lay-therapist and was trained by Richard R. Peabody.
District 2 Business Meeting Minutes
Sunday February, 2016
Meeting opened: 3:00 P.M. with the Serenity Prayer. Lance B. chaired the meeting.
Members present: Lance B., Cathie D., Tony L., David P., Bobby A., Sue T., Kathy C., Mike N., Kelly C., Rick L., Judy W., Jay L., Patricia C., Susan S., Teresa H., Gene H.
Read by Bobby A. Motioned and passed.
Read by David P. Motioned and passed
- A Motion was made and passed to add the Cleveland AA Group to District 2. Meetings are held at the Cleveland First Baptist Church, 36632 State Hwy. 79 Cleveland, AL. 35049. Tuesday and Thursday 12:00 p.m. OD/NS .
- Mike N. attempted to contact Rickwood Caverns to schedule 2016 district picnic. He received no answer. He will try again this week.
- No decision was made at this time concerning picnic speakers.
- Sue T. is looking for a gratitude dinner speaker.
- Motioned and passed to establish a $2,000.00 dollar district 2 prudent reserve. Funds exceeding this amount will be split and sent to GSO and area.
- Motioned and passed to accept newly designed district 2 website.
- Motioned and passed to have an AA History Workshop at the Downtown Cullman Group. Scheduled for Saturday August 20th, 2016 from 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
- Sue T. will develop flyers for the workshop and forward them to David P. to be added to the district 2 website.
Motioned and passed to adjourn meeting at 4:00 p.m.
The next district 2 business meeting will be held at the Goose Hung High Group on Sunday April 17th 2:00 p.m. located at Church of the Nazarene 5415 AL Hwy 157 Cullman, AL. 35055.
The below letter was written by Bill Wilson to the eminent Swiss psychologist & psychiatrist Dr. Carl Gustav Jung which was dated 1/23/61. Bill considered it a long overdue note of appreciation for Dr. Jung’s contribution to A.A.’s solution for alcoholism. The Big Book refers to part of the story on pages 26 & 27. This letter is then followed by Dr. Jung’s reply.
My dear Dr. Jung:
This letter of great appreciation has been very long overdue.
May I first introduce myself as Bill W., a co-founder of the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous. Though you have surely heard of us, I doubt if you are aware that a certain conversation you once had with one of your patients, a Mr. Rowland H., back in the early 1930’s, did play a critical role in the founding of our Fellowship.
Though Rowland H. has long since passed away, the recollections of his remarkable experience while under treatment by you has definitely become part of AA history. Our remembrance of Rowland H.’s statements about his experience with you is as follows:
Having exhausted other means of recovery from his alcoholism, it was about 1931 that he became your patient. I believe he remained under your care for perhaps a year. His admiration for you was boundless, and he left you with a feeling of much confidence.
To his great consternation, he soon relapsed into intoxication. Certain that you were his “court of last resort,” he again returned to your care. Then followed the conversation between you that was to become the first link in the chain of events that led to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.
My recollection of his account of that conversation is this: First of all, you frankly told him of his hopelessness, so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned. This candid and humble statement of yours was beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which our Society has since been built.
Coming from you, one he so trusted and admired, the impact upon him was immense.
When he then asked you if there was any other hope, you told him that there might be, provided he could become the subject of a spiritual or religious experience – in short, a genuine conversion. You pointed out how such an experience, if brought about, might remotivate him when nothing else could. But you did caution, though, that while such experiences had sometimes brought recovery to alcoholics, they were, nevertheless, comparatively rare. You recommended that he place himself in a religious atmosphere and hope for the best. This I believe was the substance of your advice.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. H. joined the Oxford Groups, an evangelical movement then at the height of its success in Europe, and one with which you are doubtless familiar. You will remember their large emphasis upon the principles of self-survey, confession, restitution, and the giving of oneself in service to others. They strongly stressed meditation and prayer. In these surroundings, Rowland H. did find a conversion experience that released him for the time being from his compulsion to drink.
Returning to New York, he became very active with the “O.G.” here, then led by an Episcopal clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. Dr. Shoemaker had been one of the founders of that movement, and his was a powerful personality that carried immense sincerity and conviction.
At this time (1932-34) the Oxford Groups had already sobered a number of alcoholics, and Rowland, feeling that he could especially identify with these sufferers, addressed himself to the help of still others. One of these chanced to be an old schoolmate of mine, Edwin T.(“Ebby”). He had been threatened with commitment to an institution, but Mr. H. and another ex-alcoholic “O.G.” member procured his parole and helped to bring about his sobriety.
Meanwhile, I had run the course of alcoholism and was threatened with commitment myself. Fortunately I had fallen under the care of a physician – a Dr. William D. Silkworth – who was wonderfully capable of understanding alcoholics. But just as you had given up on Rowland, so had he given me up. It was theory that alcoholism had two components – an obsession that compelled the sufferer to drink against his will and interest, and some sort of metabolism difficulty which he then called an allergy. The alcoholic’s compulsion guaranteed that the alcoholic’s drinking would go on, and the allergy made sure that the sufferer would finally deteriorate, go insane, or die. Though I had been one of the few he had thought it possible to help, he was finally abliged to tell me of my hopelessness; I, too, would have to be locked up. To me, this was a shattering blow. Just as Rowland had been made ready for his conversion experience by you, so had my wonderful friend, Dr. Silkworth, prepared me.
Hearing of my plight, my friend Edwin T. came to see me at my home where I was drinking. By then, it was November 1934. I had long marked my friend Edwin for a hopeless case. Yet there he was in a very evident state of “release” which could by no means accounted for by his mere association for a very short time with the Oxford Groups. Yet this obvious state of release, as distinguished from the usual depression, was tremendously convincing. Because he was a kindred sufferer, he could unquestionably communicate with me at great depth. I knew at once I must find an experience like his, or die.
Again I returned to Dr. Silkworth’s care where I could be once more sobered and so gain a clearer view of my friend’s experience of release, and of Rowland H.’s approach to him.
Clear once more of alcohol, I found myself terribly depressed. This seemed to be caused by my inability to gain the slightest faith. Edwin T. again visited me and repeated the simple Oxford Groups’ formulas. Soon after he left me I became even more depressed. In utter despair I cried out, “If there be a God, will He show Himself.” There immediately came to me an illumination of enormous impact and dimension, something which I have since tried to describe in the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” and in “AA Comes of Age”, basic texts which I am sending you.
My release from the alcohol obsession was immediate. At once I knew I was a free man.
Shortly following my experience, my friend Edwin came to the hospital, bringing me a copy of William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience”. This book gave me the realization that most conversion experiences, whatever their variety, do have a common denominator of ego collapse at depth. The individual faces an impossible dilemma. In my case the dilemma had been created by my compulsive drinking and the deep feeling of hopelessness had been vastly deepened by my doctor. It was deepened still more by my alcoholic friend when he acquainted me with your verdict of hopelessness respecting Rowland H.
In the wake of my spiritual experience there came a vision of a society of alcoholics, each identifying with and transmitting his experience to the next – chain style. If each sufferer were to carry the news of the scientific hopelessness of alcoholism to each new prospect, he might be able to lay every newcomer wide open to a transforming spiritual experience. This concept proved to be the foundation of such success as Alcoholics Anonymous has since achieved. This has made conversion experiences – nearly every variety reported by James – available on an almost wholesale basis. Our sustained recoveries over the last quarter century number about 300,000. In America and through the world there are today 8,000 AA groups.
So to you, to Dr. Shoemaker of the Oxford Groups, to William James, and to my own physician, Dr. Silkworth, we of AA owe this tremendous benefaction. As you will now clearly see, This astonishing chain of events actually started long ago in your consulting room, and it was directly founded upon your own humility and deep perception.
Very many thoughtful AAs are students of your writings. Because of your conviction that man is something more than intellect, emotion, and two dollars worth of chemicals, you have especially endeared yourself to us.
How our Society grew, developed its Traditions for unity, and structured its functioning will be seen in the texts and pamphlet material that I am sending you.
You will also be interested to learn that in addition to the “spiritual experience,” many AAs report a great variety of psychic phenomena, the cumulative weight of which is very considerable. Other members have – following their recovery in AA – been much helped by your practitioners. A few have been intrigued by the “I Ching” and your remarkable introduction to that work.
Please be certain that your place in the affection, and in the history of the Fellowship, is like no other.
William G. W.
Co-founder Alcoholics Anonymous
The below letter was sent back to Bill from the kind doctor, dated 1/30/61.
Dear Mr. Wilson:
Your letter has been very welcome indeed.
I had no news from Rowland H. any more and often wondered what has been his fate. Our conversation which he has adequately reported to you had an aspect of which he did not know. The reason that I could not tell him everything was that those days I had to be exceedingly careful of what I said.
I had found out that I was misunderstood in every possible way. Thus I was very careful when I talked to Rowland H. But what I really thought about was the result of many experiences with men of his kind.
His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.
How could one formulate such an insight in a language that is not misunderstood in our days?
The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is, that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Rowland H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one.
I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society, cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil. But the use of such words arouses so many mistakes that one can only keep aloof from them as much as possible.
These are the reasons why I could not give a full and sufficient explanation to Rowland H. But I am risking it with you because I conclude from your very decent and honest letter that you have acquired a point of view above the misleading platitudes one usually hears about alcoholism.
You see, alcohol in Latin is spiritus and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.
Thanking you again for your kind letter.
- G. Jung
(Facts and thoughts transcribed from a talk given by Wally P. on 11/23/96 in Mesa, Arizona. Wally is the author of the book “Back To Basics: The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners’ Meetings, ‘Here are the steps we took…’ in Four One-Hour Sessions”.)
Initial growth in Alcoholics Anonymous took place in Cleveland, Ohio. Clarence S. and the guys went out actively pursuing drunks and brought them off bar stools and street corners. We don’t do that today, but we were doing it back then [late 1930’s and 1940’s]. And it worked!
In early 1940, when there were about 1,000 members of AA, more than half were from Cleveland. The book ‘AA Comes of Age’ talks about it on pages 20 and 21: “It was soon evident that a scheme of personal sponsorship would have to be devised for the new people. Each prospect was assigned an older AA, who visited him at his home or in the hospital, instructed him on AA principles, and conducted him to his first meeting.” So even back in the early days the sponsor was taking the sponsee to meetings and getting together with him, rather than having the sponsee track the sponsor down. ‘AA Comes of Age’ continues by saying, “But in the face of many hundreds of pleas for help, the supply of elders could not possibly match the demand. Brand-new AA’s, sober only a month or even a week, had to sponsor alcoholics still drying up in hospitals.” Because of this rapid growth in Cleveland, the idea of formalized classes started. In the book ‘Dr. Bob and the Good Old-timers’ it states on page 261, “Yes, Cleveland’s results were the best. Their results were in fact so good that many a Clevelander really though AA had started there in the first place.” Over half of the fellowship was from Cleveland up and through the mid-1940s.
During the winter of 1941 the Crawford Group (founded in February 1941) organized a separate group to help newcomers through the Steps. By the first issue of the Cleveland Central Bulletin, October 1942, the Crawford “Beginners’ Class” was listed as a separate meeting. And in the second issue, in November 1942, there was an article entitled “Crawford Men’s Training”. This refers to possibly the first “Beginners’ Class”. “The Crawford Men’s Training System has been highly acclaimed to many. Old AA’s are asked to come to these meetings with or without new prospects, where new prospects will be given individual attention just as though they were in a hospital. Visiting a prospect in his home has always been handicapped by interruptions. But the prospect not daring to unburden himself completely for fear of being overheard by his relatives and by the AA’s reticence for the same reason. Hospitalization without question is the ideal answer to where the message will be most effective; but the Crawford training plan strikes us as being the next best.”
In the early days they weren’t sure if you could get sober if you didn’t go to treatment. That was one of the early questions – could a person get sober without going to a three or five-day detox. Because it was during that detox that sometimes ten and twenty AA members came to visit the new person. And each hour the prospect was awake he would hear someone’s story – over and over again. And something gelled during these hospital stays. But they were trying to do it outside of the hospital and this is where the first of the classes came from.
These classes continued at Euclid Avenue Meeting Hall through June 1943 and at that time the Central Bulletin announced a second session – “The Miles Training Meeting”. The bulletin read, “The Miles Group reports they have enjoyed unusual success with their training meetings. The newcomer is not permitted to attend a regular AA meeting until he has been given a thorough knowledge of the work.” The newcomer couldn’t go to a meeting until he completed the training session. A lot of places didn’t allow you to go to AA meetings until you had taken the four classes. You didn’t just sit there – you had already completed the steps when you went to your first AA meeting. “From 15 to 20 participate at each training meeting and new members are thoroughly indoctrinated.”
These meetings grew and spread and visitors came from out of town and out of state. In 1943 the Northwest Group in Detroit, Michigan standardized the classes into four sessions. “In June 1943 a group of members proposed the idea of a separate discussion meeting to more advantageously present the Twelve Steps of the recovery program to the new affiliates. The decision was made to hold a Closed Meeting for alcoholics only for this purpose. The first discussion meeting of the Northwest Group was held on Monday night June 14, 1943 and has been held every Monday night without exception thereafter (as of 1948). A plan of presentation of the Twelve Steps of the recovery program was developed at this meeting. The plan consisted of dividing the Twelve Steps into four categories for easier study.” The divisions were:
- The Admission
- Restitution and Inventory
- Working and the message
“Each division came to be discussed on each succeeding Monday night in rotation. This method was so successful that it was adopted first by other groups in Detroit and then throughout the United States. Finally the format was published in it’s entirety by the Washington, DC Group in a pamphlet entitled ‘An Interpretation of our Twelve Steps.” The first pamphlet was published in 1944 and contains the following introduction: “Meetings are held for the purpose of aquatinting both the old and new members with the Twelve Steps on which our Program is based. So that all Twelve Steps may be covered in a minimum of time they are divided into four classifications. One evening each week will be devoted to each of the four subdivisions. Thus, in one month a new man can get the bases of our Twelve Suggested Steps.” This pamphlet was reproduced many times in Washington, DC and then throughout the country and is even still being printed in some areas today.
In the Fall of 1944, a copy of the Washington, DC pamphlet reached Barry C. – one of the AA pioneers in Minneapolis. He wrote a letter to the New York headquarters requesting permission to distribute the pamphlet. We talk about “Conference Approved Literature” today; but this is the way the Fellowship operated back then. This is a letter from Bobby B., Bill W.’s secretary, printed on “Alcoholic Foundation” stationary. This is what she says: “The Washington pamphlet, like the new Cleveland one, and a host of others, are all local projects. We do not actually approve or disapprove these local pieces. By that I mean the Foundation feels that each group is entitled to write up their own ‘can opener’ and to let it stand on it’s own merits. All of them have their good points and very few have caused any controversy. But in all things of a local nature we keep hands off – either pro or con. Frankly, I haven’t had the time to more than glance at the Washington booklet, but I’ve heard some favorable comments about it. I think there must be at least 25 local pamphlets now being used and I’ve yet to see one that hasn’t some good points.”
And then in 1945 the AA Grapevine printed three articles on the “Beginners’ Classes”. The first one was published in June and it described how the classes were conducted in St. Louis, Missouri. This has to do with the “education plan” and they called it the Wilson Club. “One of the four St. Louis AA groups is now using a very satisfactory method of educating prospects and new members. It has done much to reduce the number of ‘slippers’ among new members. In brief it is somewhat as follows: Each new prospect is asked to attend four successive Thursday night meetings. Each one of which is devoted to helping the new man learn something about Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s founding and the way it works. The new man is told something about the book and how this particular group functions. Wilson Club members are not considered full active members of AA until they’ve attended these four educational meetings.”
In the September 1945 issue of the Grapevine the Geniuses Group in Rochester, NY explained their format for taking newcomers through the Steps. The title of the article was “Rochester Prepares Novices for Group Participation”. This is how they perceived the recovery process to operate most efficiently: “It has been our observation that bringing men [and woman] into the group indiscriminately and without adequate preliminary training and information can be a source of considerable grief and a cause of great harm to the general moral of the group itself. We feel that unless a man, after a course of instruction and an intelligent presentation of the case for the AA life, has accepted it without any reservation he should not be included in group membership. When the sponsors feel that a novice has a fair working knowledge of AA’s objectives and sufficient grasp of it’s fundamentals then he is brought to his first group meeting. Then he listens to four successive talks based on the Twelve Steps and Four Absolutes. They are twenty-minute talks given by the older members of the group and the Steps for convenience and brevity are divided into four sections. The first three Steps constitute the text of the first talk; the next four the second; the next four the third; and the last Step is considered to be entitled a full evening’s discussion by itself.” This group taught the Steps in order rather than in segments.
In December 1945, the St. Paul, Minnesota Group wrote a full-page description of the “Beginners’ Meetings”. The description of their four one-hour classes was: “New members are urged to attend all the sessions in the proper order. At every meeting the three objectives of AA are kept before the group: to obtain and to recover from those things which caused us to drink and to help others who want what we have.” In 1945 Barry C., of Minneapolis, received a letter from one of the members from the Peoria, Illinois Group. In the letter, the writer, Bud, describes the efforts of Peoria, Illinois in regarding the “Beginners’ Classes”. “In my usual slow and cautious matter I proceeded to sell the Peoria Group on the Nicollet Group. Tomorrow night we all meet to vote the adoption of our bylaws slightly altered to fit local conditions”. (No one taught the classes the same way. They were taught based on a group conscience.) “Sunday afternoon at 4:30 our first class in the Twelve Steps begins. We’re all attending the first series of classes so we’ll all be on an even footing. We anticipate on losing some fair-weather AA hangers-on in the elimination automatically imposed by the rule that these classes must be attended. This elimination we anticipate with a “we” feeling of suppressed pleasure. It is much as we are all extremely fed up with running a free drunk taxi and sobering-up service.”
Then sometime prior to 1946 in Akron, Ohio the Akron Group started publishing four pamphlets on the AA Program. They were written by Ed W. at the direction of Dr. Bob, one of the co-founders of AA. Dr. Bob wanted some “blue-collar” pamphlets for the Fellowship. In one of the pamphlets, “A Guide to the Twelve Steps”, it reads: “A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is intended to be a simple, short and concise interpretation of the rules for sober living as compiled by the earliest members of the organization. The writers and editors are members of the Akron, Ohio Group where Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935. Most of the ideas and explanations were brought out in a series of instruction classes conducted by veteran members of the group.” So this proves the classes were being taught in Akron, Ohio. There are a lot of places they were being taught.
Then the classes were actually formalized into a book called “The Little Red Book” in 1946. The inscription on the inside cover says, “The material in this Little Red Book is an outgrowth of a series of notes originally prepared for Twelve Step instruction to AA beginners.” So we know the “Little Red Book” came out of these four one-hour classes also. “Few books have had greater record for humble service than the Little Red Book upon which so many members have cut their AA teeth.” A manuscript drawn up from these notes was sent to Dr. Bob at the request of USA and Canadian members. He approved the manuscript and the book was published in 1946. Dr. Bob approved of “The Little Red Book”. So Dr. Bob not only authorized the publication of the Akron pamphlets, he also endorsed “The Little Red Book”, both of which were products of the “Beginners’ Classes”.
Even our first AA group handbook, originally entitled “A Handbook for the Secretary”, published by the Alcoholic Foundation in 1950, had a section on the “Beginners’ Classes”. At the time there were only three types of meetings: Open Speaker Meetings, Closed Discussion Meetings, and Beginners’ Meetings. There was no such thing as an Open Discussion Meeting in the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the Beginners’ Meetings, which are described in the Meeting section, the handbook states: “In larger metropolitan areas a special type of meeting for newcomers to AA is proved extremely successful. Usually staged for a half-hour prior to an open meeting, this meeting features an interpretation of AA usually by an older member presented in terms designed to make the program clear to the new member. (Note: The Chicago Group held their “Beginners’ Classes” a half-hour prior to their Open Meeting. When publishing the group handbook, the New York office only described Chicago’s format.) After the speaker’s presentation the meeting is thrown open to questions.” In each of the four one-hour classes there was always a session for questions afterwards. “Occasionally, the AA story is presented by more than one speaker. The emphasis remains exclusively on the newcomer and his problem.”
The four one-hour classes were taught all over the country. Some other cities include Oklahoma City, Miami Florida, and Phoenix Arizona.
If these classes were so important, then what happened to them? Most of the people who have joined AA in the last twenty-five years or so have never even heard of them. Ruth R., an old-timer in Miami Florida, who came into AA in 1953, gave some insight into the demise of the “Beginners’ Classes”. “At that time the classes were being conducted at the Alana Club in Miami – two books were used: “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Big Book) and the “Little Red Book”. Jim and Dora H., Florida AA pioneers, were enthusiastic supporters and they helped organize several of the classes and served as instructors.” (Note: Dora was a Panel 7 Delegate to the General Service Office.) Ruth recalled that the classes were discontinued in the mid-1950s as the result of the publication of the book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” by Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing Inc. In the Miami area the “Twelve and Twelve” replaced both the “Big Book” and the “Little Red Book” and “Step Studies” replaced the “Beginners’ Classes”. In the process, the period for taking the Steps was expanded and modified from 4 weeks to somewhere in between 12 and 16 weeks. The Fourth Step inventory was modified and became a much more laborious and detailed procedure. What was originally conceived as a very simple program, which took a few hours to complete, evolved into a complicated and confusing undertaking requiring several months.
Studying the Steps is not the same as taking the Steps. In the “Beginners’ Classes” you take the steps. The Big Book says, “Here are the steps we took” not “here are the steps we read and talked about.” The AA pioneers proved that action, not knowledge, produced the spiritual awakening that resulted in recovery from alcoholism. On page 88, the authors of the Big Book wrote, “It works-it really does. We alcoholics are undisciplined. So we let God discipline us in the simple way we have just outlined. But this is not all. There is action and more action. Faith without works is dead.”
(This concludes the description of the “Beginners’ Classes” during Wally P.’s talk in Masa, Arizona on November 23, 1996. Wally P. is an AA Archivist from Tucson, Arizona. For two years he researched and studied areas of the country that held “Beginners’ Classes” back in the 40’s and ‘50’s. He then started teaching the classes under the guidance of his sponsor who took the classes in 1953 and never drank again. In March of 1996 Wally mentioned the “Beginners’ Classes” as part of his historical presentation at the Wilson House in East Dorset, Vermont. Wally then wrote and published a book entitled “Back to Basics: The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners’ Classes – Take all 12 Steps in Four One-Hour Sessions.” Since then, there have been over 1000 “Back to Basics” meetings and groups started all over the world. Now, almost 60 years since the classes were first originated, newcomers are once again being taken through the Twelve Steps in four one-hour “Beginners’ Classes”.
On a Saturday in April 1998, members of the “Into Action Big Book Group” of Berkeley Heights, N.J. went to see Wally give a presentation of the “Beginners’ Classes” in Philadelphia. Members went through the Steps in the four one-hour classes, all in one day. This group then began facilitating the classes in June 1998 in various locations throughout New Jersey and has taken thousands of AA members through the Steps since. They have expanded the classes to be five, one-and-one-half hour sessions, to include more of the material for each Step in the Big Book.
The Cherry Hill Group of Southern New Jersey has taught Beginners’ Classes every Sunday evening since early 1998.
The Woodlands Group in Texas have been conducting the “Beginners’ Classes” since April 1998. Within one year, about ten “Back to Basics” meetings resulted from the Woodland group and approximately 1,650 alcoholics were taken through the Steps! The Woodlands and subsequent groups in Texas are enjoying a 75-93% success rate like the Cleveland groups had in the 1940’s.
Wally P. has a website containing much information on the AA “Beginners’ Classes”. Go to www.aabacktobasics.com on the World Wide Web.)