Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
Recovery Today / December 2011
Dick B. / A Christmas Gift that Keeps on Giving
by Father Bill W.
Nobody knows the real date of Jesus’ birth. It could have been in the spring when the flowers first bloom; or in the fall, when it’s harvest time and everything’s ripe and bountiful. The truth is nobody knows. But, long about the fifth century, the Church decided it needed to agree on a date, so they sat down and chose what might seem like a very odd choice for the Savior’s birth. They chose the day of the year when (at least in the northern hemisphere) the earth’s axis is tilted farthest from the sun so the world turns coldest and daylight hours are at their shortest. Maybe they had in mind the words from Isaiah the prophet: “Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, … on them a Light has shined.”
As alcoholics and addicts, I think we can probably all relate to living “in a land of deep darkness.” Nearly forty years ago, just after Christmas Day, my own darkness brought me crawling through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous. I found a home there and enjoyed 20 years of uninterrupted sobriety before the darkness began descending on me once again. This time I was sober, but I still hadn’t found that needed “conscious contact” or “spiritual awakening” – at least, I hadn’t found it in a form deep enough to carry me through another twenty years. Another trip through the 12 Steps or another round of ninety meetings in ninety days simply wasn’t going to cut it for this addict. I needed a personal relationship with a God who could light my way home.
One of the men who helped me find that Light is a man named Dick B. I first met Dick at Bill Wilson’s own birthplace in East Dorsett, Vermont. It wasn’t exactly like going to Bethlehem and running into one of the wise men, but it came fairly close! Dick was presenting some of his earliest research. The gift he gave to me proved more valuable than frankincense and myrrh. It led me into a new and more personal relationship with God because, at that time, I was badly in need of some spiritual grounding and enlightenment. Dick’s words struck the right chord. His research brought the Steps and the Program into that new Light for which I was searching. He did it, not by preaching but by presenting solid history and scholarship on the origins of our Program. God had prepared him well for the work assigned.
Dick came to recovery in as bad a shape as any and worse than most. He suffered three grand mal seizures during his first week off the booze. Once a hotshot lawyer with a degree from Stanford, Dick landed in the psych ward of a VA Hospital in San Francisco where he remained for 2 months. But there, in the depth of his own personal darkness, he found God and began a recovery that now numbers over 25 years. Dick took full responsibility for his past wrongs, pleaded guilty to three felony charges that were later turned to misdemeanors. He went to prison for 30 days. But while he was there, he helped guide as many fellow prisoners as he could and vowed to be of maximal service when he was released.
Dick turned his talents learned as a research lawyer into the service of God. He began studying the real heart of the 1939 program of Alcoholics Anonymous. That original program had produced an astounding recovery rate of 75% - far and above the diminishing results he was seeing in the A.A. of his time. He read more than 500 books and pamphlets, interviewed dozens of living members of the Oxford Group, and traveled to AA archives throughout the country. He came away convinced that the original spiritual program of recovery that was practiced especially in Akron, Ohio was being watered down to the point where fewer and fewer alcoholics were being offered the in-depth spiritual change sufficient to overcome addiction. Dick then set about publishing his research (along with more than a few of his strongly held opinions) in a parade of books that now numbers over 30. He’s also gotten with the times and produces a blog along with scholarly articles that have grown into the hundreds. Get yourself onto his massive e-mail list and you’ll never lack for material to keep you growing along spiritual lines!
In the course of his work, Dick unearthed a number of surprises as he dug ever deeper into AA’s early history.
Today, there are a growing number of splinter groups that “take what they like from AA and leave the rest.” Running the gamut from Celebrate Recovery to Atheists Anonymous, the 12 Steps in various forms are now being co-opted by our secular and materialistic American culture. It’s to be expected and nobody, not even Dick, is whining. It’s not unlike what occurred in the early church when Christianity was uprooted and transplanted into the state religion. The original message – not unlike the original manuscript – lost much in the process.
Dick B. has made a tremendous contribution to all of us who owe our lives to the 12–Steps and to our Fellowships. He’s painstakingly documented the principles, players, and events that turned our once “hopeless condition of mind and body” into what is now recognized by most experts in the field as an illness that is mental and physical, but recognized by far too few that its successful treatment is necessarily achieved only through working a strong spiritual program, much as they did in early A.A. This Christmas do yourself a real favor. Go to www.DickB.com and order a copy of The Good Book and the Big Book or The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous. Either one will surely brighten your Christmas and shine some of God’s light into your darkness.