Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
By Dick B.
© 2011 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Moving from Being “in Recovery” to Having “Recovered”
Would you like to recover from alcoholism and addiction? Do you believe that God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, can relieve you of those problems? According to the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous--known affectionately within A.A. as the “Big Book”--an effective way to recover from alcoholism is to establish a relationship with God. Note the following statement about the personal stories in the Big Book:
Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York City, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 29]
In fact, if you have become a child of God by way of the new birth—i.e., a Christian—you don't need to establish a relationship with God, as you already have one. The pre-publication, “multilith edition” of the first edition of the Big Book (also known as the “Original Manuscript”) words the statement quoted above in a way that children of God may find to be clearer and more helpful:
Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language, and from his own point of view the way he found or rediscovered God. [The Book That Started It All: The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden Foundation, 2010), Manuscript page 17, book page 45]
The Big Book sets forth the cure for alcoholism experienced and proclaimed by A.A.'s pioneers. And that cure involved finding or rediscovering God.
The Twelve Step A.A. Way That is Still in Publication and Still Works
Alcoholics Anonymous history is filled with urgings that the suffering alcoholic “find” God. (See, for example, pages 58-59 of the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous.) The idea was suggested by Professor William James, a man who is quoted in the Big Book and who wrote about the “variety” of ways men have “found” God through a “spiritual” experience. On page 9 of the second of his earliest books, Realizing Religion, Reverend Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr., Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York--whom Bill Wilson specifically called a “co-founder of A.A.”--made the following statements about “finding God”:
You need to find God. . . . You need a vital religious experience. . . . You need Jesus Christ.
And Bill Wilson--who called Shoemaker his teacher of ideas--put the following famous, oft-repeated expression in the Big Book:
But there is One who has all power--that One is God. May you find Him now! [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 59]
And there were, and still are, 12 suggested steps to recovery that include the idea that the A.A. “solution” is based on “three pertinent ideas”:
(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 60]
The original A.A. “solution” comes back over and over to God. As item “C” above plainly says: “God could and would if He were sought.” That solution applies to the “natural man” (1 Cor 2:14), who needs to “establish a relationship with God” (or “find God”). It also applies to the child of God, who needs to “rediscover God,” with whom he or she already has a relationship. [See also Hebrews 11:6 as to the importance of believing that God “is” (or “exists”) and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.]
The Solution Through That “Vital Religious Experience”
Bill Wilson made clear that the path to “finding or rediscovering God” (or “establishing a relationship with God,” as the first-through-fourth editions of the Big Book put it)—was available to all those who went to any lengths to follow his suggested program of recovery:
There is a solution. . . .
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. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 25]
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. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 25]
Bill Wilson had such an experience. He describes it in detail in his autobiography. He sought “the Great Physician” (Jesus Christ) that Dr. Silkworth had recommended to him. Bill said:
I remember saying to myself, “I’ll do anything, anything at all. If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him.” Then, with neither faith nor hope I cried out, “If there be a God, let him show himself.” The effect was instant, electric. Suddenly my room blazed with an indescribably white light. I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description. I have no words for this. Every joy I had known was pale by comparison. The light, the ecstasy. I was conscious of nothing else for a time. Then, seen in mind’s eye, there was a mountain. I stood upon its summit where a great wind blew. A wind, not of air, but of spirit. In great, clean strength it blew right through me. Then came the blazing thought, “You are a free man.” [Bill W.: My First Forty Years: An Autobiography by the Cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), 145]
In January of 1968, Bill wrote an article published by A.A. itself—an article that finished the account in this way:
I stood on a high mountain. I was taken there. I had not climbed it. And then the great thought burst upon me: “Bill, you are a free man! This is the God of the Scriptures.” And then I was filled with a consciousness of a presence. . . . So I hung on, and then I knew there was a God and I knew there was a grace. And through it all, I continued to feel, if I presume to say it, that I do know these things. [The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine Writings (NY: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1980), 284]
The Early Akron Fellowship Way Was Different. Simple. Effective
In Akron, when a newcomer was hospitalized at Akron City Hospital during the earliest days of his sobriety, A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob would ask the newcomer simply if he believed in God. [See, for example: DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980), 144.] The question asked was whether he believed in God--not a god. God! This question was posed just before the newcomer was discharged from the hospital. And, if he replied, “Yes,” he was asked to pray. He was given a Bible. And he was sent on his way to “fix” drunks “as an avocation.” [See, for example: Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (Washingtonville, NY: Big Book Study Group, 1998), 58; and Dick B., That Amazing Grace: The Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics Anonymous (San Rafael, CA: Paradise Research Publications, 1996), 26-28.]
But the newcomer was soon required to find or rediscover God (or to “establish his relationship with God”) by making a full surrender. He was taken upstairs out of a regular meeting. He was strongly encouraged to: (1) accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior; (2) ask God to take alcohol out of his life; and (3) “fix” drunks “as an avocation.” The newcomer was then deemed ready to begin going out and helping others get well. (See, for example: Mitchell K., How It Worked, 70-71.)
The Early AAs Fully Understood How to Establish Their Relationship with God
Bill Wilson—as quoted by A.A. Number Three (Bill Dotson)--was very clear about his having been cured of alcoholism by God:
“Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191]
A.A. Number Three—Bill Dotson--was there when Bill W. made the statement above. Bill D. said:
That sentence, “The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep telling people about it,” has been a sort of a golden text for the A.A. program and for me. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191]
And then probably the most wonderful thing that I have learned from the program . . . is the statement: “I came into A.A. solely for the purpose of sobriety, but it has been through A.A. that I have found God.
I feel that is about the most wonderful thing that a person can do. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 192]