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.
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.)
The following, rather long, extract describes the Washingtonians and one of their star speakers as they were seen from the perspective of the latter part of the 19th century–years after their decline to little more than a fond memory in the minds of temperance advocates. The extract is from The Temperance Reform and its Great Reformers by Rev. W.H. Daniels, A.M., published 1878.
Thanks to Rick K. who came across the book, converted this segment into digital format, and made it available for reproduction here.
Excerpted from The Temperance Reform and its Great Reformers
by Rev. W.H. Daniels, A.M., published 1878.
Chapter VI — The Washingtonians
The Washingtonian movement had its origin in a tippling house, in the city of Baltimore, in the year 1840, with a company of half a dozen hard drinkers who had formed themselves into a club, and who used to meet for drinking bouts at Chase’s tavern.
One night the Rev. Matthew Hale Smith, a noted lecturer on temperance, was announced to speak in one of the churches, and they appointed two of their number a committee to go and hear him. The committee brought back a favorable report of the man and his doctrines, upon which a warm discussion arose. This being overheard by the landlord, he at once broke into a tirade against all temperance lecturers, and denounced them as hypocrites and fools.
To this storm of abuse one of the old topers replied, “Of course it is for your interest to cry them down;” whereupon the discussion waxed hotter and hotter, and resulted in the six men forming themselves into a temperance club which they styled the “Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society,” and adopted a pledge requiring total abstinence from the use of all intoxicating liquors.
The names of those six individuals were William Mitchell, David Hoss, Charles Anderson, George Steer, Bill M’Curdy, and Tom Campbell. John Hawkins early became a member, but was not one of the original six.
They then voted to meet the next night in a carpenter shop, and each agreed to bring a new member. These meetings were held almost nightly, at which each man related his own experience at the court of death. As might be expected, the meetings soon began to attract public attention.
These reformed men were soon invited to visit other cities and towns; and who of our older citizens has not listened to the thrilling and simple experience of John Hawkins as he portrayed the misery of the drunkard, and told the touching story of his little daughter, Hannah, persuading him to reform? This new movement spread from city to city, and from town to town, until there was scarcely a place in the United States that did not have its Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society. Men who had been drunkards for years burst the bonds that had so long bound them, and became temperance reformers. The name being quite long, it soon became shortened by daily use, and these organizations became known throughout the country as “Washingtonians.”
This was a rebellion of the subjects of King Alcohol against his tyranny, and as such it immediately became famous. It was a reform, commencing with the people who most needed reformation, and carried with it so much of sound sense, and so little of mere rhetoric, that every-where the reformed men who went about telling their own experience and salvation from the power of liquor found large and attentive audiences, and the Washingtonian movement became the chief topic both in religious and social circles.
It was quite a wonderful thing to hear a man in plain clothes, and without any of the graces of speech, declare what had been done for him, and exhorting with all simplicity and boldness that others should give up liquor as he had done.
The common people heard these men gladly, and drunkards by thousands and tens of thousands signed the total abstinence pledge.
In this movement there was no exception made in favor of the man who could buy fifteen gallons over the man who could buy a single glass.
Ale, wine, beer, cider, every thing else that had alcohol in it, was rejected, and for motives of domestic peace and plenty, self-respect and personal honor, men were persuaded to sign this pledge.
It was assumed that every man who wished to do so was able to break off his habits of drink. The religious feature of the movement, which is its latest and crowning glory, had not then appeared. Personal experiences, droll stories, and sharp jokes at the expense of drunkards and drunkard makers; imitations of the antics and fooleries of men under the influence of liquor; sharp thrusts at the avariciousness and meanness of the liquor sellers, and at the tricks of liquor makers, formed the staple of the lecturing under the Washingtonian movement.
When this movement began, Dr. Jewitt, who was himself one of the chief agents of the reformation in Massachusetts, says, “Nineteen twentieths of the clergy were total abstainers;” and what was true of Massachusetts was substantially true throughout New England.
The progress of the temperance reform for the nine years from 1831 to 1840 may be indicated by the following figures: In the first-mentioned year twelve millions of people drank seventy millions of gallons of liquor — an average of six gallons a year to every man, woman, and child — besides wine, beer and cider. In 1840 seventeen millions of people drank forty-three millions of gallons — a reduction of more than one half per capita.
Still more manifest were the signs of progress after the Washingtonian movement fairly got under way, and the reformed men had commenced their tour of the principal cities, relating their experience to assembled multitudes, and gathering in the people by thousands to the new society. It is estimated that under the impetus of this movement one hundred and fifty thousand drunkards signed the pledge, besides uncounted thousands of other classes of society.
Some of the leaders in this movement, so far from feeling the need of religion, declared that religious exercises of every kind were out of place in temperance meetings. They were not even opened with prayer.
It seemed to be a part of the policy to avoid every possible question that might arise concerning religion, in order that men might be the more deeply impressed with the duty of temperance. But this effort to divorce temperance from religion was the chief weakness of the Washingtonian movement. Nevertheless, in spite of this coldness toward Christ and his Church, the actual reform wrought by this means was oftentimes the forerunner of revivals of religion in local churches, and many a man was saved from his other sins through his effort to save himself from drunkenness.
Few names were more familiar to the people of the United States during the early years of the great Washingtonian movement than that of John Hawkins, of Baltimore. He was not one of the original club by which the reform was inaugurated, but joined them soon after, and presently developed such talent for temperance oratory that his services were in demand from Maine to Louisiana. During the eighteen years of his life after his reformation he spoke and organized Washingtonian societies in all the principal cities and towns of New England; and in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Harrisburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Ky., Charleston, S.C., New Orleans, etc.
In his journal, which was published after his death, the record of the number of signers of the total abstinence pledge at a large number of his meetings are given, usually reaching into the hundreds, a considerable portion of them being men whose bloated countenances and trembling nerves showed how much they were in need of this salvation.
At Springfield, Mass., Newport, R.I., Saratoga, N.Y., and Portland, Maine, his efforts were notably blessed; but perhaps his most remarkable triumph was in Boston, then a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants, in which it was declared at one of the Washingtonian Conventions that “four fifths of all the Boston drunkards had signed the temperance pledge.”
The enthusiasm of these Washingtonian meetings was something wonderful. The experiences of men actually reformed from the lowest depths of drunkenness were arguments that nothing could resist, and the presence of such a man before an audience was as if one had risen from the dead. Poor wretches would rise to their feet in the midst of great assemblies, and, with a look of desperation on their bloated faces, would ask,
“Do you think I could reform? Do you think there is any hope for me?”
“Yes, brother. Sign the pledge, and it will make a sober man of you,” would be the reply.
Then, amid the sobs, and “God bless yous!” of his family and friends, the poor drunkard would crowd up to the platform, take the pen in his trembling hand, and sign, the vast congregation holding their breath as they watched him through their tears. Then, with a heavy sigh, the man, with a new hope in him, would, perhaps, try to speak a few words, confessing his own sins, and the sorrows he had brought upon his wife and children — always the same sad story, but always new and touching — and then the older Washingtonians would gather round him, talk encouragingly to him, find out his most pressing necessities and relieve them, and the poor, lost wretch would feel as if he had suddenly been lifted to a mountain top where on the one hand he could look down into the abyss from which he had just been taken, and on the other he could catch a glimpse of the distant glories of the city of God, whose snowy, shining towers he dimly remembered in childhood’s visions, but which he had wholly lost sight of in his long years of degradation, and which he had never again expected to see.
The following, from one of Mr. Hawkins’s addresses at Faneuil Hall, Boston, shows the tone and spirit of that brotherly work:
“When I compare the past with the present, my days of intemperance with my present peace and sobriety, my past degradation with my present position in this hall — the Cradle of Liberty — I am overwhelmed. It seems to me holy ground.
“I never expected to see this hall. I heard of it in my boyhood. ‘Twas here that Otis and the elder Adams argued the principles of independence, and we now meet here to make a second declaration of independence, not quite so lengthy as the old one, but it promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our forefathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor; we, too, will pledge our honor and our lives, but our fortunes — they have gone for rum!
“Drunkard! Come up here, you can reform. I met a gentleman this morning who reformed four weeks ago, rejoicing in his reformation; he brought a man with him who took the pledge, and this man brought two others. This is the way we do the business up in Baltimore; we reformed drunkards are a Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union. We are all missionaries. We don’t slight the drunkard; we love him, we nurse him, as a mother does her infant learning to walk.
“I tell you, be kind to those men; they have peculiar feelings when the boys run after them and hoot at them. Don’t lay a stumbling block in the way of such a man; he has better feelings than many a moderate drinker. Go up to him, stretch out your hand to him and say, `How do you do, sir?’
“Just let me tell you about one of our reformed men. We all of us changed a great deal in our appearance; some grew thin, some grew pale, but a certain dark-complexioned man grew yellow; and the old grog-seller noticing the change in the others and seeing this old customer not becoming “white”, declared he did not believe but what he was a hypocrite, still drinking behind the door. One day the two men met, and the taverner said to the teetotaler,
“‘It appears to me you don’t alter quite so much as the rest’
“‘Don’t I? Well, why don’t I?’
“‘Why you don’t grow pale, you only grow yaller.’
“‘Yes,’ said the reformed drunkard, putting his hand in his pocket and pulling out a handful of gold pieces, `these look “yaller”, too, but you don’t get any more of ’em from me!’
“Go to Baltimore now and see our happy wives and children. Just think of our procession on the 5th of April, when we celebrated our anniversary. Six thousand men, nearly half of them reformed within a year, followed by two thousand boys of all ages, to give assurance to the world that the next generation shall be sober.
“But where were our wives on that occasion? At home, shut up with hungry children in rags, the way they were a year ago? No, no; but in carriages, riding round the streets to see and rejoice over their sober husbands!”
Mr. Hawkins, like the other temperance orators of those days, relied chiefly on the force and value of his own experience before the great crowds that flocked to hear him; but all the time he had new miracles of deliverances to relate, new stories of reformation to tell out of the rich successes that crowned his temperance ministry.
The following, gathered mostly from his published memoirs, is the story of [Hawkins’] life:
“I was born in Baltimore, on the 28th of September, 1797. After some years at the school of the Rev. Mr. Coxe, at the age of fourteen I was apprenticed for eight years to learn the trade of a hatter with a master whose place of business was a regular den of drunkenness. A few days ago I found the old books of my master; there were the names of sixty men upon them, and we could not recollect but one who did not go to a drunkard’s grave.”
When the British made a landing at Baltimore during the war of 1812, young Hawkins borrowed a musket and joined the ranks of the volunteers, exposing himself with all the rashness and abandon of southern youth in the very front of the battle, from which, however, he escaped unhurt. In 1815 he was brought under the influence of divine grace in a revival of religion, united on probation with the Methodist Episcopal Church, and for some years was a zealous and useful Sunday-school teacher and Christian worker. But hard times came, employment failed, and in 1818 he went to seek his fortune at the West.
Of these days he says:
“As soon as I was away from paternal care I fell away. All went by the board, and my sufferings commenced. For six months I had no shoes, and only one shirt and one pair of pantaloons. Then I was a vagabond indeed. But I returned, ragged and bloated, to my mother’s home. It was customary in those days to let the young people drink with their parents, but neither they nor I thought of my becoming a miserable drunkard.
“When I got to the edge of my native town I was so ashamed that I waited till the dusk of the evening, and then I crept along to the house of my mother. She dressed me up decently, did not upbraid me, but only said, `John, I am afraid you are bloated!'”
Mr. Hawkins having temporarily reformed, was married on Christmas day, 1822, to Miss Rachel Thompson, of Baltimore, of which marriage two children were born, Elizabeth and Hannah. The latter name will recall to many of the readers of this history a little temperance book of Washingtonian days entitled “Hannah Hawkins; or, the Reformed Drunkard’s Daughter,” a book over which many tears have been shed and many good resolutions made.
“For fifteen years,” continues Mr. H., “I rose and fell, was up and down. I would earn fifteen dollars a week and be well and happy, and with my money in hand would start for home, but in some unaccountable way would fall into a tavern, thinking one glass would do me good. But a single glass would conquer all my resolutions. I appeal to all my fellow-drunkards if it is not exactly so.
“During the first two weeks of June (1840) I drank dreadfully, bought liquor by the gallon and drank and drank. I cannot tell how I suffered; in body every thing, but in mind more!
“By the fourteenth of the month — drunk all the time — I was a wonder to myself, astonished that I had any mind left; and yet it seemed, in the goodness of God, uncommonly clear. My conscience drove me to madness. I hated the darkness of the night, and when morning came I hated the light, I hated myself, hated existence; was about taking my own life. I asked myself, `Can I restrain? Is it possible?’ But there was no one to take me by the hand and say `You can.’ I had a pint of whisky in my room, where I lay in bed, and thought I would drink it, but this seemed to be a turning point with me. I knew it was life or death as I decided to drink it or not.
“My wife came up knowing how I was suffering, and asked me to come down to breakfast. I said I would some presently. Then my daughter, Hannah, came up — my only friend, I always loved her the most — and she said, ‘Father, don’t send me after whisky to-day!’
“I was tormented before; this was agony. I could not stand it, so I told her to leave, and she went down stairs crying, and saying, `Father is angry with me.’ My wife came up again and asked me to take some coffee. I told her I did not want any thing of her and covered myself up in the bed. Pretty soon I heard some one in the room, and, peeping out, I saw it was my daughter.
“`Hannah,’ said I, `I am not angry with you — and — I SHALL NOT DRINK ANY MORE.’ Then we wept together.
“I got up, went to the cupboard, and looked on my enemy, the whisky bottle, and thought, `Is it possible I can be restored?’ Several times while dressing I looked at the bottle, but I thought, `I shall be lost if I yield.’
“Poor drunkard! There is hope for you. You cannot be worse off than I was, not more degraded to more of a slave to appetite. You can return if you will. Try it! TRY IT!
“Well, I went to the society of reformed drunkards, where I found all my old bottle companions. I did not tell any one, not even my wife, that I was going. I had got out of difficulty, but did not know how long I could keep out.
The six founders of [The Washingtonians] were there. We had worked together, got drunk together, we stuck together like brothers; and so we do now that we are sober.
“One of them said, `Here’s Hawkins, the regulator, the old bruiser,’ and they clapped and laughed. But there was no laugh in me; I was too solemn and sober for that. Then they read the pledge:
“`We, whose names are annexed, desirous of forming a society
for our mutual benefit and to guard against a pernicious practice
which is injurious to our health, standing, and families,
do pledge ourselves, as gentlemen, that we will not drink any
spiritous or malt liquors, wine or cider.’
“They all looked over my shoulder to see me write my name. It was a great battle. I never had such feelings before.
“At eleven o’clock I went home. Before when I stayed out late I always went home drunk. My yard is covered with brick, and my wife could easily tell as I walked over it whether I were drunk or sober. She could even tell whether the gate opened drunk or sober.
“Well, this time it opened sober, and when I entered she was astonished. I smiled, and she smiled; and then I told her quick — I could not keep it back; –`I have put my name to the temperance pledge, never to drink as long as I live.’
“It was a happy time. I cried and she cried — we couldn’t help it; the crying woke up my daughter, and she cried too for joy. I slept none that night; my thoughts were better than sleep. Next morning I went to see my mother. She had been praying twenty years for her drunken son. When she heard the good news she said, `It is enough. Now I am ready to die.’
“Now what was I to do? My mind was blunted, my character gone; I was bloated, and getting old; but men who had slighted me came to my help again, took me by the hand, encouraged me, held me up, and comforted me.
“I’ll never slight a drunkard as long as I live; he needs sympathy and is worthy of it. Poor and miserable as he is, he did not design to become a drunkard, and people have too long told him he cannot reform. But now we assure him he can reform, and we show ourselves, the Baltimore Washingtonians, two hundred in one year, as evidence of that fact.
“Drunkard, come up here! You can reform. Take the pledge and be forever free!”
The Washingtonian meetings might have been called temperance class-meetings, with a missionary outlook. One of the first records of the work is a letter to the original Baltimore Washingtonians, asking them to send a delegation of reformed men to New York, “to tell their experience.” Five men were sent, men wholly without oratorical powers, but who had been slaves to drink, and had felt how good it was to be free; and the testimony of these five men was all that was required to kindle the enthusiasm in that great city.
A number of new temperance newspapers sprang into existence. Nineteen such publications are named in Mr. Hawkins’ memoirs, while the regular newspaper press was largely occupied with the strange work of reform among the drunkards and the individual histories that the meetings developed. Some of the ablest speakers and writers of the day, in prose and poetry, devoted their genius to this great moral reform; among them Rev. Mr. Pierpont, of Boston, Wm. B. Tappen, Rev. Edward N. Kirk, D.D., and a large number of other leading clergymen. Dr. Lyman Beecher, in his mature age, saw and rejoiced over this temperance tidal wave, which was a fulfillment of his own prophecy, and a result for which he had well prepared the way.
Mr. Hawkins, toward the close of his brilliant career as a temperance worker, was licensed as a preacher of the Gospel by the Methodist Protestant Church, though he seems to have made little use of his commission.
His death occurred suddenly at Piqua, Pa., August 26, 1858, in the sixty-first year of his age, in the full possession of his mental power, and in the glorious hope of everlasting life.
In 1947, because of the growing interest in AA, the Grapevine editors decided to write a brief definition of the Fellowship. Thus, the AA Preamble was first published in the June 1947 issue. They used portions of the Foreword to the first edition of the Big Book.
The Grapevine had just begun to circulate among non-alcoholics, and the Preamble was intended primarily to describe for them what AA is and is not. It is still often used for public information purposes.
As time passed, it began appearing in all Conference-approved publications, and many groups now use it to open meetings.
The original version was slightly different from what we know today. For example:
1) It stated that the only requirement for membership is an HONEST desire to stop drinking, and 2) it contained only the very brief statement “AA has no dues or fees.”
At the 1958 General Service Conference, a delegate pointed out that the word “honest” does not appear in the Third Tradition, and suggested that it should be deleted from the Preamble. Many delegates felt that as AA had matured, it had become almost impossible to determine what constitutes an honest desire to stop drinking, and also that some who might be interested in the program could be confused by the phrase. The mid-summer 1958 meeting of the General Service Board ratified the deletion, and since then the Preamble has read simply “a desire to stop drinking.”
The phrase “AA has no dues or fees” also was clarified to read as it presently does: “There are no dues or fees for AA membership, we are self-supporting through our own contributions.” The current version of the Preamble appears on the first page of every issue of the Grapevine.
Source: The AA Grapevine Workbook
By Nancy O.
Other AA Preambles
A few months after the Grapevine published the Preamble in June 1947,Ollie L., Dick F., and Searcy W. decided to beef it up for the drunks in Texas. “We worked on it, passed it around, and agreed on this version,” says Searcy W. “It’s now read by groups throughout the state.” It works for Searcy. He’s been sober 54 years.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.
We are gathered here because we are faced with the fact that we are powerless over alcohol, and are unable to do anything about it without the help of a Power greater than ourselves.
We feel each person’s religious convictions, if any, are his own affair, and the simple purpose of the program of AA is to show what may be done to enlist the aid of a Power greater than ourselves, regardless of what our individual conception of that Power may be.
In order to form a habit of depending upon and referring all we do to that Power, we must first apply ourselves with some diligence, but repetition confirms and strengthens this habit, then faith comes naturally.
We have all come to know that as alcoholics we are suffering from a serious disease for which medicine has no cure. Our condition may be the result of an allergic reaction to alcohol, which makes it impossible for us to drink in moderation. This condition has never, by any treatment with which we are familiar, been permanently cured. The only relief we have to offer is absolute abstinence – a second meaning of AA.
There are no dues or fees. The only requirement is an honest desire to stop drinking. Each member is a person with an acknowledged alcoholic problem who has found the key to abstinence from day to day by adhering to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. The moment he resumes drinking he loses all status as a member of AA. His reinstatement is automatic, however, when he again fulfills the sole requirement for membership – an honest desire to quit drinking.
Not being reformers we offer our experience only to those who want it. AA is not interested in sobering up drunks who are seeking only temporary sobriety. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree and in which we join in harmonious action. Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are those who will not or cannot lend themselves to this simple program– usually men and women who are incapable of being honest with themselves. You may like this Program or you many not, but the fact remains that is works.. and we believe it is our only chance to recover.
There is a vast amount of fun included in the AA fellowship. Some people may be shocked at our apparent worldliness and levity, but just underneath there is a deadly earnestness and a full realization that we must put first things firs. With each of us the first thing is our alcoholic problem. Faith must work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.
We are gathered here because we are faced with the fact that we are powerless over alcohol and unable to do anything about it without the help of a Power greater than ourselves. We feel that each person’s religious views, if any, are his own affair. The simple purpose of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is to show what may be done to enlist the aid of a Power greater than ourselves, regardless of what our individual conception of that Power may be.
In order to form a habit of depending upon and referring all we do to that Power, we must at first apply ourselves with some diligence. By often repeating these acts, they become habitual and the help rendered becomes natural to us.
We have all come to know that as alcoholics we are suffering from a serious illness for which medicine has no cure. Our condition may be the result of an allergy which makes us different from other people. It has never been by any treatment with which we are familiar, permanently cured. The only relief we have to offer is absolute abstinence, the second meaning of A.A.
There are no dues or fees. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Each member squares his debt by helping others to recover.
An Alcoholics Anonymous is an alcoholic who through application and adherence to the A.A. program has forsworn the use of any and all alcoholic beverage in any form. The moment he takes so much as one drop of beer, wine, spirits or any other alcoholic beverage he automatically loses all status as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. is not interested in sobering up drunks who are not sincere in their desire to remain sober for all time. Not being reformers, we offer our experience only to those who want it.
We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree and on which we can join in harmonious action. Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our program. Those who do not recover are people who will not or simply cannot give themselves to this simple program. Now you may like this program or you may not, but the fact remains, it works. It is our only chance to recover.
There is a vast amount of fun in the A.A. fellowship. Some people might be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity but just underneath there lies a deadly earnestness and a full realization that we must put first things first and with each of us the first thing is our alcoholic problem. To drink is to die. Faith must work twenty-four hours a day in
and through us or we perish.
In order to set our tone for this meeting I ask that we bow our heads in a few moments of silent prayer and meditation.
I wish to remind you that whatever is said at this meeting expresses our own individual opinion as of today and as of up to this moment. We do not speak for A.A. as a whole and you are free to agree or disagree as you see fit, in fact, it is suggested that you pay no attention to anything which might not be reconciled with what is in the A.A. Big Book.
If you don’t have a Big Book, it’s time you bought you one. Read it, study it, live with it, loan it, scatter it, and then learn from it what it means to be an A.A.
The Wilmington Preamble has long been surrounded by controversy and discussion of such has sparked many a debate almost from its inception in the early years of Alcoholics Anonymous. The history of our fellowship has mostly been passed from member to member over the expanse of many years; member whose very disease has a tendency to distort one’s memory. Inaccuracies may prevail. The following is in no way an attempt to dispel those controversies, but an effort to establish an accurate history of the birth of the Wilmington Preamble and to keep it’s true history alive for the enlightenment of future generations. Documentable corrections are welcomed.
The Wilmington Preamble’s birth ties in with one of Wilmington’s earliest members, Shoes L. Shoes joined the Wilmington Group and got sober in May of 1944.The following month in June, Shoes was Chairman of the group and in charge of getting speakers for their meetings. There was at this time a sportswriter in town covering the horseraces at Delaware Park. His name was Mickey M. and Shoes asked him to speak at the group’s meeting. Mickey replied that he wasn’t much of a speaker but that he would write something appropriate. He reportedly went back to his room at the Hotel Dupont and wrote the Wilmington Preamble as we know it and it was read the following Friday night.
Being a sportswriter, Mickey M. covered events in other towns, and while in Baltimore covering the races at Pimlico gave the same preamble to the Baltimore Group which they also adopted as their own. Where it was actually read first is the subject of many debates but one fact remains clear, that this “Preamble” was widely accepted in Maryland and Delaware long before World Service sanctioned the shorter A.A. Preamble that is more universally accepted today.
The Wilmington AA Preamble:
We of Alcoholics Anonymous are a group of persons for whom alcohol has become a major problem. We have banded together in a sincere effort to help ourselves and other problem drinkers recover health and maintain sobriety.
Definitions of alcoholics are many and varied. For brevity we think of an alcoholic as one whose life has become unmanageable to any degree due to the use of alcohol.
We believe that the alcoholic is suffering from a disease for which no cure has yet been found. We profess no curative powers but have formulated a plan to arrest alcoholism.
From the vast experience of our many members we have learned that successful membership demands total abstinence. Attempts at controlled drinking by the alcoholic inevitably fail.
Membership requirements demand only a sincere desire on the part of the applicant to maintain total abstinence.
There are no dues of fees in A.A.; no salaried officers. Money necessary for operating expenses is secured by voluntary contributions.
Alcoholics Anonymous does not perform miracles, believing that such powers rests only in God.
We adhere to no particular creed or religion. We do believe, however, that an appeal for help to one’s own interpretation of a higher power, or God, is indispensable to a satisfactory adjustment to life’s problems.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not a prohibition or temperance movement in any sense of the word. We have no criticism of the controlled drinker. We are concerned only with the alcoholic.
We attempt to follow a program of recovery which has for its chief objectives: Sobriety for ourselves; help for other alcoholics who desire it; amends for past wrongs; humility; honesty; tolerance; and spiritual growth.
We welcome and appreciate the cooperation of the medical profession and the help of the clergy.
Bill writes in the Big Book (page 2): “I took a night law course…I studied economics and business as well as law…Potential alcoholic that I was, I nearly failed my law course. At one of the finals I was too drunk to think or write…By the time I had completed the law, I knew the law was not for me.”
Dan Demarest, a former Stepping Stones board member (Stepping Stones is where Bill & Lois lived the last half of their life) and a lawyer himself, was curious about Bill’s almost-law career and contacted Brooklyn Law School for more information. He writes:
“I spoke on the telephone yesterday with Dean Traeger of Brooklyn Law School, who had before him the School’s file on Bill Wilson’s academic career as a law student in the early 1920’s.
“He stated that, in Bill’s first year at law school, his grades varied sharply from brilliant (90 in Contracts, 89 in Torts) to mediocre (77 in Agency and in Partnerships). In his second year, his grades were ever more up and down, including some high marks and also a 67 and a 68; which were flunking grades. Both of these failed courses Bill took again and passed.
“In February of 1923, Bill flunked a course on Equity and left the Law School. His file shows that he returned in September, when all his courses were third year courses except for Equity, which he repeated and passed. “He was scheduled to graduate in June of 1924, except that he failed a course called “Executors and Administrators” (relating to wills, estates and trusts).
“He again returned in the fall and began repeating the Executors and Administrators course, but left the Law School finally on November 20, 1924 without, according to Dean Traeger’s records, again taking the exam for the Executors and Administrator’s course.
“My surmise is that in later years Bill remembered that he had more than once made up for and successfully passed a test previously failed but that he did not recall that he had not gotten around to retaking this last examination.”
“I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not take so much as one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had written lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant business. And so I did. Shortly afterward I came home drunk.”
“Big Book” page 5.
“There were unhappy scenes in the sumptuous Livingston Street apartment. Promise followed empty promise. On October 20, 1928, Bill wrote in the family Bible, the most sacred place he knew: ‘To my beloved wife that has endured so much, let this stand as evidence of my pledge to you that I have finished with drink forever.’ By Thanksgiving Day of that year he had written, ‘My strength is renewed a thousandfold in my love for you,’ In January 1929, he added, ‘To tell you once more that I am finished with it. I love you.’
“None of those promises, however, carried the anguish Bill expressed in an undated letter to Lois: ‘I have failed again this day. That I should continue to even try to do right in the grand manner is perhaps a great foolishness. Righteousness simply does not seem to be in me. Nobody wishes it more than I. Yet no one flouts it more often.’
“Again, he wrote a promise to his wife in the family Bible: ‘Finally and for a lifetime, thank God for your love.’ The promise was dated September 3, 1930. Like those that had preceded it, it was not kept. That was the last of the Bible promises.”
“Pass It On” pages 81 & 86.
This is a transcribed talk that Bill Wilson gave back in 1944. It can be found in a book called “Alcohol, Science and Society” that came out in 1945 which contains 29 lectures with discussions as given at the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies. This is the only talk by Bill in the book. I love the fact that there is a question and answer part at the end!
THE FELLOWSHIP OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
As Given at the Yale School of Alcohol Studies
My first task is a joyous one; it is to voice the sincere gratitude that every member of Alcoholics Anonymous present feels tonight that we can stand in the midst of such an assembly. I know that in this assembly there are many different points of view, that we have social workers, ministers, doctors and others – people we once thought did not understand us, because we did not understand them. I think right away of one of our clergyman friends. He helped start our group in St. Louis, and when Pearl Harbor came he thought to himself, “Well this will be a hard day for the AA’s.” He expected to see us go off like firecrackers. Well, nothing much happened and the good man was rather joyously disappointed, you might say. But he was puzzled. And then he noticed with still more wonder that the AA’s seemed rather less excited about Pearl Harbor than the normal people. In fact, quite a number of the so-called normal people seemed to be getting drunk and very distressed. So he went up to one of the AA’s and said, “Tell me, how is it that you folks hold up so well under this stress, I mean this Pearl Harbor?” The A.A. looked at him, smiled, but quite seriously said, “You know, each of us has had his own private Pearl Harbor, each of us has known the utmost of humiliation, of despair, and of defeat. So why should we, who have known the resurrection, fear another Pearl Harbor?”
So you can see how grateful we are that we have found this resurrection and that so many people, not alcoholics, with so many points of view, have joined to make it a reality. I guess all of you know Marty Mann by this time. I shall always remember her story about her first A.A. meeting. She had been in a sanatorium under the care of a wonderful doctor, but how very lonely she felt! Somehow, there was a gap between that very good man and herself that could not quite be bridged. Then she went to her first A.A. meeting, wondering what she would find; and her words, when she returned to the sanatorium, in talking to her friend, another alcoholic, were: “Grenny, we are no longer alone. ” So we are a people who have known loneliness, but now stand here in the midst of many friends. Now I am sure you can see how very grateful for all this we must be.
I am sure that in this course you have heard that alcoholism is a malady; that something is dead wrong with us physically; that our reaction to alcohol has changed; that something has been very wrong with us emotionally; and that our alcoholic habit has become an obsession, an obsession which can no longer reckon even with death itself. Once firmly set, one is not able to turn it aside. In other words, a sort of allergy of the body that guarantees that we shall die if we drink, an obsession of the mind that guarantees that we shall go on drinking. Such has been the alcoholics dilemma time out of mind, and it is altogether probable that even those alcoholics who did not wish to go on drinking, not more than 5 out of 100 have ever been able to stop, before A.A.
That statement always takes me back to a summer night at a drying out place in New York where I lay upstairs at the end of a long trail. My wife was downstairs talking with the doctor, asking him, “Bill wants so badly to stop this thing, doctor, why can’t he? He was always considered a person of enormous persistence, even obstinacy, in those things that he wished to achieve. Why can’t his will power work now? It does work even yet in other areas of life, but why not in this?” And then the doctor went on to tell her something of my childhood, showing that I had grown up a rather awkward kid, how that had thrown upon me a kind of inferiority and had inspired in me a fierce desire to show other people that I could be like them; how I had become a person who abnormally craved approval, applause. He showed her the seed, planted so early, that had created me an inferiority-driven neurotic. On the surface, to be sure, very self confident, with a certain amount of worldly success in Wall Street. But along with it this habit of getting release from myself through alcohol.
You know, as strange as it may seem to some of the clergy here who are not alcoholic, the drinking of alcohol is a sort of spiritual release. Is it not true that the great fault of all individuals is abnormal self-concern? And how well alcohol seems temporarily to expel those feelings of inferiority in us, to transport us temporarily to a better world. Yes, I was one of those people to whom drink became a necessity and then an addiction. So it was 10 years ago this summer that the good doctor told my wife I could not go on much longer; that my habit of adjusting my neurosis with alcohol had now become an obsession; how that obsession of my mind condemned me to go on drinking, and how my physical sensitivity guaranteed that I would go crazy or die, perhaps within a year. Yes, that was my dilemma. It has been the dilemma of millions of us, and still is.
Some of you wonder, “Well, he had been instructed by a good physician, he had been told about his maladjustment, he understood himself, he new that his increasing physical sensitivity meant that he would go out into the dark and join the endless procession. Why couldn’t he stop? Why wouldn’t fear hold such a man in check?”
After I left that place, fear did keep me in check for 2 or 3 months. Then came a day when I drank again. And then came a time when an old friend, a former alcoholic, called me on the phone and said that he was coming over. It was perhaps right there on that very day that the Alcoholics Anonymous commenced to take shape. I remember his coming into my kitchen, where I was half drunk. I was afraid that perhaps he had come to reform me. You know, curiously enough, we alcoholics are very sensitive on this subject of reform. I could not quite make out my friend. I could see something different about him but I could put my finger on it. So finally I said, “Ebby, what’s got into you?” And he said, “Well, I’ve got religion.” That shocked me terribly, for I was one of those people with a dandy modern education which had taught me that self-sufficiency would be enough to carry me through life, and here was a man talking a point of view which collided with mine.
Ebby did not go on colliding with me. He knew, as a former agnostic, what my prejudices were, so he said to me, blandly enough, “Well, Bill, I don’t know that I’d call it religion exactly, but call it what you may, it works.” I said, “What is it? What do you mean? Tell me more about this thing?” He said, “Some people came and got hold of me. They said, “Ebby, you’ve tried medicine, you’ve tried religion, you’ve tried change of environment, I guess you’ve tried love, and none of these things has been able to cure you of your liquor. Now, here is an idea for you.” And then he went on to tell me how they explained, they said, “First of all, Ebby, why don’t you make a thorough appraisal of yourself? Stop finding fault with other people. Make a thoroughgoing moral appraisal of yourself. When have you been selfish, dishonest? And, especially, where have you been intolerant? Perhaps those are the things that underlie this alcoholism. And after you have made such an appraisal of yourself, why don’t you sit down and talk it out with someone in full and quit this accursed business of living alone? Put an end to this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation into which you have fallen. And then, why don’t you continue this policy of abating the disturbance in yourself? Why don’t you take stock of all the people among your acquaintances that you have hurt -all of the people who annoy you, who disturb you. Why don’t you go out to them and make amends; set things right and talk things out, and get down these strains that exist between you and them? Then, Ebby, we have still another proposal. Why don’t you try the kind of giving that demands no reward? We don’t mean the mere giving of money, though you once had plenty of that. No, we mean the giving of yourself to someone who is in need. Why don’t you try that? Seek out someone in need and forget your own troubles by becoming interested in his.” Ebby said, “Where does religion come in?” And his friends went on to say, “Ebby, it is our experience that no one can carry out such a program with enough thoroughness and enough continuity on pure self-sufficiency. One must have help. Now we are willing to help you, as individuals, but we think you ought to call upon a power greater than yourself, for your dilemma is well nigh insurmountable. So, call on God, as you understand God. Try prayer.” Well, in effect, that was the explanation my friend made to me. Those of you who know a little of the A.A. are already able to see a little of the basic idea.
You see, here was my friend talking to me, one alcoholic talking to another. I could no longer say, “He doesn’t understand me.” Sure he understood me. We had done a lot of drinking together, and gone the route of humiliation, despair and defeat. Yes, he could understand. But now he had something. He did not shock me by calling it the resurrection, but that’s what it was. He had something I did not have, and those were the terms upon which it could be obtained.
Honesty with oneself and other people, the kind of giving that demands no return, and prayer. Those were the essentials. My friend then got up and went away, but he had been very careful not to force any of his views upon me. In no sense could I have the feeling that he was moralizing with me or preaching, because I knew it was not long ago that he was no better than I. He merely said that he was leaving these ideas with me, hoping that they would help.
Even so, I was irritated, because he had struck a blow at my pet philosophy of self-sufficiency, and was talking about dependence upon some power greater than myself. “Ah yes,” I thought, as I went on drinking, “yes it’s this preacher stuff. Yes, I remember, up in the old home town where my grandfather raised me, how the deacon, who was so good, treated Ed MacDonald, the local drunk – as dirt under his feet; and more than that, the old son of a gun short weighted my good old grandfather in his grocery store. If that’s religion, I don’t want any of it.” Such were my prejudices. But the whole point of this was that my friend had got onto my level. He had penetrated my prejudices, although he had not swept them all away.
I drank on but I kept turning this thing over in my mind, and finally asked myself, “Well how much better off am I than a cancer patient.” But a small percentage of those people recover, and the same is true with alcoholics, for by this time I knew quite a good deal about alcoholism. I knew that my chances were very, very slim. I knew that, in spite of all the vigilance in the world, this obsession would pursue me, even if I dried up temporarily. Yes, how much better off was I than a cancer patient? Then I began to say to myself, “Well who are beggars to be choosers? Why should a man be talking about self-sufficiency when an obsession has condemned him to have none of it? Then I became utterly willing to do anything, to try to accept any point of view, to make any sacrifice, yes, even to try to love my enemies, if I could get rid of this obsession. First, I went up to a hospital to ask the doctor to clear me up so I could think things through clearly. And again, came my friend, the second day that I was there. Again I was afraid, knowing that he had religion, that he was going to reform me. I cannot express the unreasonable prejudice that the alcoholics have against reform. That is one reason that it has been so hard to reach them. We should not be that way but we are. And here was my friend, trying to do his best for me, but the first thought that flashed across my mind was, “I guess this is the day that he is going to save me. Look out! He’ll bring in that high powered sweetness and light, he’ll be talking about a lot of this prayer business.” But Ebby was a good general, and it’s a good thing for me he was.
No, he did not collide with those prejudices of mine. He just paid me a friendly visit, and he came up there quite early in the morning. I kept waiting and waiting for him to start his reform talk, but no, he didn’t. So finally I had to ask for some of it myself. I said, “Ebby, tell me once more about how you dried up.” And he reviewed it again for me.
Honesty with oneself, of a kind I had never had before. Complete honesty with someone else. Straightening out all my twisted relationships as best I could. Giving of myself to help someone else in need. And prayer.
When he had gone away, I fell into a very deep depression, the blackest that I had ever known. And in that desperation, I cried out, “If there is a God, will He show Himself?” Then came a sudden experience in which it seemed the room lit up. It felt as though I stood on the top of a mountain, that a great clean wind blew, that I was free. The sublime paradox of strength coming out of weakness.
So I called in the doctor and tried to tell him, as best I could, what had happened. And he said, “Yes, I have read of such experiences but I have never seen one.” I said, “Well doctor, examine me, have I gone crazy?” And he did examine me and said, “No boy, you’re not crazy. Whatever it is, you’d better hold onto it. It’s so much better than what had you just a few hours ago.” Well, along with thousands of other alcoholics, I have been holding on to it ever since.
But that was only the beginning. And at the time, I actually thought that it was the end, you might say, of all my troubles. I began there, out of this sudden illumination, not only to get benefits, but also to draw some serious liabilities. One of those that came immediately was one that you might call Divine Appointment. I actually thought, I had the conceit really to believe, that God had selected me, by this sudden flash of Presence, to dry up all the drunks in the world. I really believed it. I also got another liability out of the experience, and that was that it had to happen in some particular way just like mine or else it would be of no use. In other words, I conceived myself as going out, getting hold of these drunks, and producing in them just the same kind of experience that I had had. Down in New York, where they knew me pretty well in the A.A., they facetiously call these sudden experiences that we sometimes have a “W.W. hot flash.” I really thought that I had been endowed with the power to go out and produce a “hot flash” just like mine in every drunk.
Well, I started off; I was inspired; I knew just how to do it, as I thought then. Well, I worked like thunder for 6 months and not one alcoholic got dried up. What were the natural reactions then? I suppose some of you here, who have worked with alcoholics, have a pretty good idea. The first reaction was one of great self-pity; the other was a kind of martyrdom. I began to say, “Well, I suppose that this is the kind of stuff that martyrs are made of but I will keep on at all costs.” I kept on, and I kept on, until I finally got so full of self-pity and intolerance (our two greatest enemies in the A.A.) that I nearly got drunk myself. So I began to reconsider. I began to say, “Yes, I found my relief in this particular way, and glorious it was and is, for it is still the central experience of my whole life. But who am I to suppose that every other human being ought to think, act and react just as I do? Maybe were all very much alike in a great many respects but, as individuals, we’re different too.”
At that juncture I was in Akron on a trip, and I got a very severe business setback. I was walking along in the corridor of the hotel, wondering how God could be so mean. After all the good I had done Him – why, I had worked here with drunks for six months and nothing had happened – and now here was a situation that was going to set me up in business and I had been thrown out of it by dishonest people. Then I began to think, “That spiritual experience – was it real?” I began to have doubts. Then I suddenly realized that I might get drunk. Buy I also realized that those other times when I had had self-pity, those other times when I had had resentment and intolerance, those other times when there was that feeling of insecurity, that worry as to where the next meal would come from; yes, to talk with another alcoholic even though I failed with him, was better than to do nothing. But notice how my motivation was shifting all this time. No longer was I preaching from any moral hilltop or from the vantage point of a wonderful spiritual experience. No, this time I was looking for another alcoholic, because I felt that I needed him twice as much as he needed me. And that’s when I came across Dr. “Bob” S. out in Akron. That was just nine years ago this summer.
And Bob S. recovered. Then we two frantically set to work on alcoholics in Akron. Well, again came this tendency to preach, again this feeling that it has to be done in some particular way, again discouragement, so our progress was very slow. But little by little we were forced to analyze our experiences and say, “This approach didn’t work very well with that fellow. Why not? Let’s try to put ourselves in his shoes and stop this preaching. See how we might be approached if we were he.” That began to lead us to the idea that A.A. should be no set of fixed ideas, but should be a growing thing, growing out of experience. After a while, we began to reflect: ” This wonderful blessing that has come to us, from what does it get its origin?” It was a spiritual awakening growing out of painful adversity. So then we began to look the harder for our mistakes, to correct them, to capitalize upon our errors. And little by little we began to grow so that there were 5 of us at the end of that first year; at the end of the second year, 15; at the end of the third year, 40; at the end of the forth year, 100.
During those first 4 years most of us had another bad form of intolerance. As we commenced to have a little success, I am afraid our pride got the better of us and it was our tendency to forget about our friends. We were very likely to say, “Well, those doctors didn’t do anything for us, and as for these sky pilots, well, they just don’t know the score.” And we became snobbish and patronizing.
Then we read a book by Dr. Carrel. From that book came an argument that is now a part of our system. (How much we may agree with the book in general, I don’t know, but in this respect the AA’s think he had something.) Dr. Carrel wrote, in effect; the world is full of analysts. We have tons of ore in the mines and we have all kinds of building materials above ground. Here is a man specializing in this, there is a man specializing in that, and another one in something else. The modern world is full of wonderful analysts and diggers, but there are very few who deliberately synthesize, who bring together different materials, who assemble new things. We are much too shy on synthetic thinking – the kind of thinking that’s willing to reach out now here and now there to see if something new cannot be evolved.
On reading that book some of us realized that was just what we had been groping toward. We had been trying to build out of our own experiences. At this point we thought, “Let’s reach into other people’s experiences. Let’s go back to our friends the doctors, let’s go back to our friends the preachers, the social workers, all those who have been concerned with us, and again review what they have got above ground and bring that into the synthesis. And let us, where we can, bring them in where they will fit.” So our process of trial and error began and, at the end of 4 years, the material was cast in the form of a book known as Alcoholics Anonymous. And then our friends of the press came in and they began to say nice things about us. That was not too hard for them to do because by that time we had gotten hold of the idea of not fighting anything or anyone. We began to say, “Our only motive as an organization is to help the alcoholic. And to help him we’ve got to reach him. Therefore, we can’t collide with his prejudices. So we aren’t going to get mixed up with controversial questions, no matter what we, as individuals, think of them. We can’t get concerned with prohibition, or whether to drink or not to drink. We can’t get concerned with doctrine and dogma in a religious sense. We can’t get into politics, because that will arouse prejudice which might keep away alcoholics who will go off and die when they might have recovered.”
We began, then, to have a good press, because after all we were just a lot of very sick people trying to help those who wanted to be helped. And I am very happy to say that in all the years since, not a syllable of ridicule, or criticism, has ever been printed about us. For this we are very grateful.
That experience led us to examine some of the obscure phrases that we sometimes see in the Bible. It could not have been presented at first, but sooner or later in his second, third, or fourth year, the A.A. will be found reading his Bible quite as often – or more -as he will a standard psychological work. And you know, there we found a phrase that began to stick in the minds of some of us. It was this:
“Resist not evil.” Well, after all, what is one going to think? In this modern world, where everybody is fighting, here came someone saying, “Resist not evil.” What did that mean? Did it mean anything? Was there anything in that phrase for the AA’s?
Well we began to have some cases on which we could try out that principle. I remember one case, out of which some will get a kick, and I imagine some others here may be a little shocked, but I think there is a lesson in it, at least there was for us, a lesson in tolerance. One time, after A.A. had been going for 3 or 4 years, an alcoholic was brought into our house over in Brooklyn where we were holding a meeting. He is the type that some of us now call the blockbuster variety. He often tells the story himself. His name is Jimmy. Well, Jimmy came in and he was a man who had some very, very fixed points of view. As a class, we alcoholics are the worst possible people in this respect. I had many, many fixed points of view myself, but Jimmy eclipsed us all. Jimmy came into our little group – I guess there were then 30 or 40 of us meeting – and said, “I think you’ve got a pretty good idea here. This idea of straightening things out with other people is fine. Going over your own defects is all right. Working with other drunks, that’s swell. But I don’t like this God business.” He got very emphatic about it and we thought that he would quiet down or else he would get drunk. He did neither. Time went on and Jimmy did not quiet down; he began to tell the other people in the group, “You don’t need this God business. Look, I’m staying sober.” Finally, he got up in the meeting at our house, the first time he was invited to speak – he had then been around for a couple of months – and he went through his usual song and dance of the desirability of being honest, straightening things out with other people, etc. Then he said, “Damn this God business.” At that, people began to wince. I was deeply shocked, and we had a hurried meeting of the “elders” over in the corner. We said, “This fellow has got to be suppressed. We can’t have anyone ridiculing the very idea by which we live.”
We got hold of Jimmy and said, “Listen, you’ve got to stop this anti-God talk if you’re going to be around this section.” Jimmy was cocky and he said, “Is that so? Isn’t it a fact that you folks have been trying to write a book called Alcoholics Anonymous, and haven’t you got a typewritten introduction in that book, lying over there on that shelf, and didn’t we read it here about a month ago and agree to it?” And Jimmy went over and took down the introduction to Alcoholics Anonymous and read out of it: “The only requirement for membership in Alcoholics Anonymous is an honest desire to get over drinking.” Jimmy said, “Do you mean it or don’t you?” He rather had us there. He said, “I’ve been honest. Didn’t I get my wife back? Aren’t I paying my bills? And I’m helping other drunks every day.” There was nothing we could say. Then we began secretly to hope. Our intolerance caused us to hope that he would get drunk. Well, he confounded us; he did not get drunk, and louder and louder did he get with his anti-God talk. Then we used to console ourselves and say, “Well, after all, this is a very good practice in tolerance for us, trying to accommodate ourselves to Jimmy.” But we never did really get accommodated.
One day Jimmy got a job that took him out on the road, out from under the old A.A. tent, you might say. And somewhere out on the road his purely psychological system of staying dry broke wide open, and sure enough he got drunk. In those days, when an alcoholic got drunk, all the brethren would come running, because we were still very afraid for ourselves and no one knew who might be next. So there was great concern about the brother who got drunk. But in Jimmy’s case there was no concern at all. He lay in a little hotel over in Providence and he began to call up long distance. He wanted money, he wanted this, and he wanted that. After a while, Jimmy hitchhiked back to New York. He put up at the house of a friend of mine, where I was staying, and I came in late that night. The next morning, Jimmy came walking downstairs where my friend and I were consuming our morning gallon of coffee. Jimmy looked at us and said, “Oh, have you people had any meditation or prayer this morning?” We thought he was being very sarcastic. But no, he meant it. We could not get very much out of Jimmy about his experience, but it appeared that over in that little second-rate hotel he had nearly died from the worst seizure he had ever had, and something in him had given way. I think it is just what gave way in me. It was his prideful obstinacy. He had thought to himself, “Maybe these fellows have got something with their God-business.” His hand reached out, in the darkness, and touched something on his bureau. It was a Gideon Bible. Jimmy picked it up and he read from it. I do not know just what he read, and I have always had a queer reluctance to ask him. But Jimmy has not had a drink to this day, and that was about 5 years ago.
But there were other fruits of what little tolerance and understanding we did have. Not long ago I was in Philadelphia where we have a large and strong group. I was asked to speak, and the man who asked me was Jimmy, who was chairman of the meeting. About 400 people were there. I told this story about him and added: “Supposing that we had cast Jimmy out in the dark, supposing that our intolerance of his point of view had turned him away. Not only would Jimmy be dead, but how many of us would be together here tonight so happily secure?” So we in A.A. find that we have to carry tolerance of other people’s viewpoints to very great lengths. As someone well put it, “Honesty gets us sober but tolerance keeps us sober.
I would like to tell, in conclusion, one story about a man in a little southern community. You know, we used to think that perhaps A.A. was just for the big places; that in a small town the social ostracism of the alcoholic would be so great that they would be reluctant to get together as a group; that there would be so much unkind gossip that we sensitive folk just could not be brought together.
One day our central office in New York received a little letter, and it came from a narcotic addict who was just leaving the Government hospital down in Lexington. Speaking of intolerance, it is a strange fact that we alcoholics are very, very intolerant of people who take “dope,” and it is just as strange that they are very intolerant of us. I remember meeting one, one day, in the corridor of a hospital. I thought he was an alcoholic, so I stopped the man and asked him for a match. He drew himself up with great hauteur and said, “Get away from me you dammed alcoholic.” At any rate, here was a letter from a narcotic addict who explained that once upon a time he had been an alcoholic, but for 12 years had been a drug addict. He had got hold of the book Alcoholics Anonymous and thought the spirit of that book had got hold of him, and he wanted to go back to his own little southern town that was, Shelby, North Carolina, and start an A.A. group. We were very skeptical of the offer. The very idea of a narcotic addict starting an A.A. group, even if he had once been an alcoholic! And here he was going to try to start it in a little southern town in the midst of all this local pride and gossip.
We began to get letters from him and apparently he was doing all right. He was a medical doctor, by the way, and he told us modestly, as time went on, about getting a small crowd of alcoholics together and having his trials and tribulations. Mind you, we had never seen him all this time; he had just been writing. He said that his practice had come back somewhat. And so 3 years passed. We had a little pin on a map showing that there was an Alcoholics Anonymous group at Shelby, North Carolina. It happened that I was taking a trip south to visit one of our southern groups. By this time the movement had grown and I had gotten to be kind of a big shot, so I thought, and I wondered, “Should I stop off at Shelby? You know, after all, that’s kind of a small group.” It is a great thing that I did stop off at Shelby, as you will soon see. Down the station came a man, followed by two others. The two in back of him were alcoholics, all right, but one looked a little bit different. I saw, as he drew near, that his lips were badly mangled, and I realized that this was the drug addict, Dr. M. In the agony of his hangovers he had chewed his lips to pieces. Yes, it was our man, and he proved to be a wonderful person. He was really modest, and that is something you seldom see in an ex-alcoholic. He introduced me to the others, and we got into his car and went over to the town of Shelby. I soon found myself sitting at a table in one of those delightful southern ancestral homes. Here was the man s mother -and his wife. They had been married about 2 years and there was a new baby. The practice had begun to come back. Still, there was very little shoptalk at that meal; and there is no such thing as an A.A. meal without shoptalk. I said, “Indeed, this fellow is a very modest man, I never saw an alcoholic like him.” He spoke very little of his accomplishments for the group. And then came the meeting that night. Here, next to the barber shop in the hotel, on the most prominent corner in Shelby, was the A.A. meeting room, with “A.A.” looming big up over the door. I thought, “Well, this chap must be some persuader.”
I went inside and there were 40 alcoholics and their wives and friends. We had our meeting; I talked too much as I always do, and the meeting was over. I began to reflect that this was the largest Alcoholics Anonymous in all America in proportion to the size of the town. What a wonderful accomplishment! The next morning, my telephone rang in the hotel. A man was downstairs and he said, “I’d like to come up. There are some things you ought to know about Dr. M. who got the A.A. group together in this town.”
Up came this individual, and said, “You know, I too, was once an alcoholic but for 22 years I’ve been on dope. I used to meet our friend Dr. M. over in Lexington, and when he got out of there and came back here, I heard he’d beaten the dope game. So when I left, I started for Shelby, but on my way I got back on morphine again. He took me into his home and took me off it. Yes, I used to be a respectable citizen of this state, I helped organize a lot of banks here, but I’ve heard from my family only second-hand for many years. It’s my guess you don’t know what southern pride is, and you haven’t any idea what this man faced when he came back to this town to face the music. People wouldn’t speak to him for months. They’d say, “Why this fellow, the son of our leading doctor, goes away, studies medicine, comes back, and he’s a drunk, and after a while, he’s on the dope. The townspeople wouldn’t have much to do with him when he first came, and I’m ashamed to say that the local drunks wouldn’t either, because they said, we am’ t going to be sobered up by a dope addict. But you see, Dr. M. himself had once been an alcoholic, so that he could get that indispensable bond of identification across. Little by little, alcoholics began to rally around him.”
My visitor continued, “Well, that was the beginning. Intolerance, misunderstanding, gossip, scandal, failure, defeat, all those things faced our friend when he came into this town. And that was 3 years ago. Well, Bill, you’ve seen his mother, you’ve seen his wife, you’ve seen his baby, and you’ve seen the group. But he hasn’t told you that he now has the largest medical practice in this whole town, if not in the county. And he hasn’t told you hat he has been made head of our local hospital. And I know you don’t know this – every year in this town the citizens have a great meeting at which they cast a ballot, and last spring, at the annual casting of the ballot, the people of this town almost unanimously declared by their ballot that Dr. M. had been the towns most useful citizen during the 12 months gone by.” So I thought to myself, “So you were the big shot who planned to go straight past Shelby.” I looked at my visitor and said, “Indeed, What hath God wrought!”
Potts: Mr. W., is it possible for someone who hasn’t been drunk, or ever been an alcoholic, to do what an alcoholic has done? Have you found any possibility that laymen or preachers could begin to do such work? Is there anything in your experience that might lead to that possibility?
Lecturer: Yes, there is a great deal in our experience that leads to the idea that our friends of the nonalcoholic world can participate. While it’s true that the core of our process is the transmission of these things from one alcoholic to another, it is a fact that very often a minister or a doctor can lay the groundwork for our approach. Then, too, there is a class of people that we alcoholics flatter by calling them “dry” alcoholics. In other words, they’re neurotics of our description who don’t drink, and we recognize them as more or less kindred spirits; sometimes they approach our group and are well received. On the other hand, sometimes people who, from their life experience, just couldn’t get the pitch or couldn’t make the identification would be regarded by some of the groups as complete outsiders. You know, one of other faults is that of snobbishness. We AA’s have become extremely snobbish, strange as that may be. But it is true that this is a synthesis and we draw upon the resources of both medicine and religion. Of course, the doctor helps us on the physical side of the treatment. He can often prepare the groundwork with the potential by pointing out that he has the symptoms of a well-nigh fatal malady. The preacher, or the friend, would do well to emphasize the idea of sickness rather than of immorality. The alcoholic knows he’s a louse in most cases, even though he won’t admit it, and to be told so once more by someone who never took a glass of beer seems to annoy him greatly. That is not because the other fellow is wrong; we’re wrong, but we’re just built that way and it’s a matter of taking things as they are.
Stoneburner: What can ministers do to cooperate with A.A.?
Lecturer: Of course the approach to the alcoholic is everything. I think the preacher could do well if he does as we do. First find out all you can about the case, how the man reacts, whether he wants to get over his drinking or not. You see, it is very difficult to make any impressions upon a man who still wants to drink. At some point in their drinking career, most alcoholics get punished enough so that they want to stop, but then it’s far too late to do it alone. Sometimes, if the alcoholic can be impressed with the fact that he is a sick man, or a potentially sick man, then, in effect, you raise the bottom up to him instead of allowing him to drop down those extra hard years to reach it. I don’t know any substitute for sympathy and understanding, as much as the outsider can have. No preaching, no moralizing, but the emphasis on the idea that the alcoholic is a sick man.
In other words, the minister might first say to the alcoholic, “Well, all my life I’ve misunderstood you people, I’ve taken you people to be immoral by choice and perverse and weak, but now I realize that even if there have been such factors, they really no longer count, now you’re a sick man.” You might win the patient by not placing yourself up on a hilltop and looking down on him, but by getting down to some level of understanding that he gets, or partially gets. Then, if you can present this thing as a fatal and progressive malady, and you can present our group as a group of people who are not seeking to do anything against his will – we merely want to help if he wants to be helped – then sometimes you’ve laid the groundwork.
I think the clergyman can often do a great deal with the family. You see, we alcoholics are prone to talk too much about ourselves without sufficiently considering the collateral effects. For example, any family, wife and children, who have had to live with an alcoholic 10 or 15 years, are bound to be rather neurotic and distorted themselves. They just can’t help it. After all, when you expect the old gent to come home on a shutter every night, it’s wearing. Children get a very distorted point of view; so does the wife. Well, if they constantly hear it emphasized that this fellow is a terrible sinner, that he’s a rotter, that he’s in disgrace, and all that sort of thing, you’re not improving the condition of the family at all because, as they become persuaded of it, they get highly intolerant of the alcoholic and that merely generates more intolerance in him. Therefore, the gulf that must be bridged is widened, and that is why moralizing pushes people, who might have something to offer, further away from the alcoholic. You may say that it shouldn’t be so, but it’s one of those things that is so.
Robinson: Would local A.A. groups be interested in preventing the development of alcoholics by giving cooperation to local option movements or other programs to that end?
Lecturer: I don’t think so. That may be a very hard thing to explain. I’m sure that many people who are in the reform movement are very, very much disappointed with AA’s because they don’t seem to want to cooperate. Now I make haste to say right away that on this question of reform, this question of prohibition or moderation or what have you, there are just as many points of view among the AA’s and their families as there are among the next thousand people who walk by this place. Therefore, no MA. group can very well say, “We have a particular view about prohibition, or this or that degree of prohibition, or about any educational program that involves controversial issues.” You see we AA’s are of particular and unique use to other alcoholics, therefore we have to be very careful about anything that is going to get between them and us. In other words, we can’t do anything that is going to arouse prejudice. For example, if I were to make the statement here that I believe in prohibition, or that I don’t believe in prohibition, and either of those points of view were quoted publicly, I would inevitably arouse prejudice. If I said, “Well I don’t believe in prohibition and that’s my personal view,” then a great many good people who do believe in prohibition would get annoyed; they might go out and say to the alcoholic’s wife, ‘Well, I don’t like that crowd of AA’s because they don’t believe in prohibition and look what liquor has done to your husband.” So she doesn’t suggest A.A. to her husband and he eventually dies because we have been foolish enough to arouse prejudice in somebody’s mind.
Likewise, if we said, “Well, we believe in prohibition,” and that were quoted, every alcoholic, almost without exception, reading that in the newspapers, would say, “Why, that’s a bunch of reformers! And none of that for me.” He shouldn’t react that way, but he does. Since ours is a life and death job, you can understand why, as a group, we are very careful not to express any opinions on controversial questions. As a group we have no opinion on any kind of controversy regardless of the merit of either side, because if we show such an interest, as a group, then we cut down our own peculiar usefulness.
It isn’t that there aren’t bonds of sympathy between us and a great many points of view. It isn’t that individuals among us don’t have points of view. But I wouldn’t for the world, in a place like this, express my personal views about any controversial question lest my opinion be imputed publicly to the group, to A.A. Then we would be thrown into a controversy that could only prejudice our efforts and not help anybody very much. It isn’t a lack of understanding or lack of sympathy; it’s a matter of policy about which we have to be unusually careful.
Question: How many drug addicts are there in the A.A. and in the organization similar to A.A., which operates among drug addicts?
Lecturer: We have quite a number of drug addicts who were once alcoholics. So far, I don’t know of any case of pure drug addiction that we have been able to approach. In other words, we can no more approach a simon-pure addict than the outsider can usually approach us. We are in exactly the same position with them that the doctor and the clergyman have been in respect to the alcoholic. We just don’t talk that fellow’s language. He always looks at us and says, “Well, those alcoholics are the scum of the earth and besides, what do they know about addiction?” Now, however, since we have a good number of addicts who were once alcoholics, those addicts in their turn are making an effort, here and there, to transfer the thing over to the straight addict. In that way we hope the bridge is going to be crossed. There may be a case here and there that has been helped. But in all, I suppose, there may be around 50 cases of real morphine addiction in former alcoholics who have been helped by A.A. Of course we have a great many barbital users, but we don’t consider those people particularly difficult if they really want to do something about it, and particularly if it’s associated with liquor. They seem to get out of it after a while. But where you have morphine, or some of those derivatives, then it gets very tough. Then you have to have a “dope” talk to a “dope,” and I hope that we can find, some day, a bridge to the addict.
Rogers: How many members do you have in A.A.? How many A.A. groups are there?
Lecturer: I might have made that point, although, I suppose that the A.A. ‘s here would have advertised it from the housetops. We have, I think, about 15,000 members, and A.A. groups are in about 367 places. A.A. is showing a capacity to spread by way of literature and correspondence even outside of the United States. We have a very successful group now in Honolulu and until recently they had had no contacts with us except by mail.
Question: If an alcoholic comes to an A.A. meeting under the influence of alcohol, how do you treat him or handle him during the meeting itself?
Lecturer: Groups will run usually run amuck on that sort of question. At first we are likely to say that we’re going to be supermen and save every drunk in town. The fact is that a great many of them just don’t want to stop. They come, but they interfere very greatly with the meeting. Then, being still rather intolerant, the group will swing way over in the other direction and say, “No drunks around these meetings.” We get forcible with them and put them out of the meeting, saying, “You’re welcome here if your sober.” But the general rule in most places is that if a person comes for the first or second time and can sit quietly in the meeting, without creating an uproar, nobody bothers him. On the other hand, if he’s a chronic “slipper” and interferes with the meetings, we lead him out gently, or maybe not so gently, on the theory that one man cannot be permitted to hold up the recovery of others. The theory is “the greatest good for the greatest number.”