& History of AA
March 14, 2014
Alcoholics Anonymous History
A New Way Out
By Dick B.
A New Way Out
New Path - Familiar Road Signs -
Our Creator’s Guidance
An introductory chapter for all those dedicated
servants, organizations, professionals, and still-suffering individuals
who want to know how our Creator reached into one of the great social
movements of our age, touched the lives of its founders and members, and
enabled them to ask His guidance along a path—a way out—that would
deliver those who wanted to become His children, to seek His power and
strength, to obey His rules, and to prove Him with their healed minds
and bodies and glorify Him with their love and service to Him and bring
others into His family with faith, hope, and love.
Ask our Heavenly Father the Way
Become one of His children
Tell others what He has done for you and will
do for others in trouble
Pray to Him and for them and show them how to
Study His Word as a lamp for your feet
Claim the love, power, strength, and
deliverance He offers
Program your life to glorify Him - with love
for Him and others
Historical documentation of victories available
to young people who want to pray; to organizations that want to use
their evangelistic efforts anew; to movements seeking effective help for
alcoholics, addicts, and others with life-controlling problems; and to
all who want to establish a relationship with the Creator, learn from
the Bible, talk to and hear from Him, and walk in fellowship with Him,
His Son, and like-minded believers and let Him make them free.
The Royal Way
God Has Already Marked Out
In God I have put
my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me
Hear my prayer, O
God: give ear to the words of my mouth
Teach me thy way, O
LORD. I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name
Commit thy way unto
the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass
Trust in the LORD
with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all
thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths
This poor man
cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles
Now Samuel did not
yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto
Him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and
went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli
perceived that the LORD had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto
Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, thou shalt say,
Speak, LORD for thy servant heareth
1 Samuel 3:7-9
There was a man of
the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to
Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a
teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest,
except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily
I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom
For God so loved
the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth
in him should not perish, but have everlasting life
Thomas saith unto
him, Lord, we know not whether thou goest; and how can we know the way?
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man
cometh unto the Father but by me.
And he [Saul]
trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And
the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be
told thee what thou must do. Acts 9:6
I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye
have received, and wherein ye were saved. By which also ye are saved, if
ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in
vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I received, how
that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he
was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the
scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day
according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the
1 Corinthians 15:1-5
Then Peter said
unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus
Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall received the gift of the
A New Way to Travel – The Creator’s Royal Way
The Question Behind Our Accurate Historical
Guide – Have you talked with the Creator?
Summary of the Basic Contributing Historical
Roots, Books, Persons, and Entities
Recognizing the Two Distinctly Diverse Programs
– Akron and New York
The Simple, Successful Akron Program That
Produced a 75% Success Rate
Parallels From the Groups and People
Contributing to, or Assessing Akron’s Program
Picking Up The Common Ancestral Thread;
Learning What They Did; Using It Today
Minding the Sources Bill Used to Fashion His
Variant New York Program
Hindrances Today to the Original Spiritual
Roots, Program, and Power
The Importance of Choice
The Necessity for Cure
A New Way Out
New Path - Familiar Road Signs - Our
A New Way To Travel A Well-Lighted Path to
Recovery, Healing, and Wholeness While Effectively Reckoning with
Prejudices against Religious Means on the One Hand, and Prejudices
Against 12-Step Programs on the Other
Thoughts for the reader
When this title
speaks of “A Way Out, “ it speaks of a way out of correctional
facilities and prisons, a way out of alcoholism and addictions, a way
out of life-controlling problems, and a way out of the prisons of the
mind that bind people to fear, self-condemnation, and despair. We speak
to “God’s way out.” We take our cue from the Bible. But we urge the
reader to heed 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Prove all things; hold fast that
which is good.” (King James Version)
“. . . . No
temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is
faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, he
also will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
(1 Corinthians 10:11, Comparative Study Bible, Rev ed. New
International Version. MI: Zondervan, 1999, p. 2929, italics added)
Alcoholics Anonymous Language
“According to a
letter dated July 18, 1939. . . Bill, at that time, was using
‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ both as a working title of the book [A.A.’s basic
text] as a name of the fellowship. Among other titles suggested were. .
. ‘The Way Out’ . . . The choices quickly boiled down to ‘The Way Out,’
favored by a majority in Akron, and ‘Alcoholics Anonymous,’ preferred by
most in New York. When a vote was taken in the two groups, ‘The Way Out’
prevailed by a bare majority. . . . The Library of Congress had 25
books entitled ‘The Way Out,’ 12 entitled, ‘The Way,’ and none called
‘Alcoholics Anonymous.’ That settled the matter; nobody wanted to
struggle with the burden of being simply another ‘way out’.” (Pass In
On. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984, pp.
Our Words and Views in this Title – With a
author nor the publisher purports to speak for or represent Alcoholics
Anonymous. The opinions here are those of the author. Paradise Research
Publications, Inc., the publisher, is not in any way affiliated with or
connected with Alcoholics Anonymous World Services
The Need for This Accurate Historical Guide To
Recovery Today Within the Many, Existing, Successful, Treatment Groups,
Programs, and Approaches
thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the
LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways
higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah
Have You Talked With The Creator?
I have firmly concluded—from my own 20 years of
experience as an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous, my own
sponsorship of more than 100 men in recovery, and my own 16 years of
research into the history of A.A.— that the greatest difficulties today
in all recovery programs arise from a lack of information about A.A.
roots, a lack historical knowledge about those successful recovery
programs which placed their works in God’s hands, an unwillingness to
consider the successes of early movements and of early A.A., a
conviction that man’s ways can do the job, and an utter failure to ask
the questions so often asked in early A.A.: What does it say in the Good
Book? What does the Creator want me to do? What would the Master say?
Why are our own plans and efforts bearing so little fruit?
There are pertinent questions: Have you asked our
Heavenly Father for help? Have you talked to Him about your problems?
Have you asked the Creator what He wishes to have you do?
Let’s look at some recovery history. Let’s see if
anyone has placed a program of Divine Aid before the Divine Creator and
followed His suggestions.
Bill Wilson’s 12 Step Spiritual Kindergarten
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on June 10, 1935.
And that event ushered in a whole era of dynamic programs and a
long-overdue renewed focus on spiritual means of recovery from
alcoholism, addiction, and other life-controlling problems.
A.A.’s spiritual solution expanded from Alcoholics
Anonymous to an estimated 200 other “anonymous” recovery groups. Also to
other “Twelve Step” groups. Then to other not-so-anonymous recovery
groups and meetings in churches, non-profit agencies, and government
facilities. Then to addiction prevention and treatment programs in
rehabs, hospitals, in-patient and outpatient treatment facilities; then
to self-help groups, mutual support groups, and therapy. Then to
widespread publishing of “official” texts, guidebooks, recovery books,
treatises, research papers, and scientific investigations. And
inevitably to research and history societies, grants and funding, and
alternative therapies. And then even into so-called Recovery Bibles
which published Bibles that included Twelve Step phrases and language,
meditation ideas, and psychological materials.
The variety of ever-proliferating spiritual and
other recovery programs patterned on, or derived from, Alcoholics
Anonymous and its Twelve Steps, can today be found in such organizations
as the Salvation Army, Rescue Missions, the Veterans Administration,
Branches of the U.S. Military, church and youth organizations, Teen
Challenge, Overcomers Outreach, Inc, Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics for
Christ, and Alcoholics Victorious. Most have used, modified, or
dramatically changed the Twelve Step recovery ideas—and certainly the
early A.A. Christian Fellowship program in Akron that preceded the whole
Yet, as A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson claimed so
often, nobody “invented” A.A., and it was, as Bill characterized it,
just a “spiritual kindergarten” Bill claimed its ideas came from
religion, medicine, and the experience of alcoholics themselves.
Co-founder Dr. Bob declared that the basic ideas came from study and
effort in the Bible—particularly the Book of James, the Sermon on the
Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. Both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob acknowledged a
debt to the Oxford Group (later called Moral Re-Armament and also called
“A First Century Christian Fellowship”) for the “terse and tangible”
program of action embodied in A.A.’s Big Book and Twelve Steps. Both
said Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount contained A.A.’s underlying philosophy.
The Varied Sources
Historical research since 1990 has unearthed,
defined, and articulated a large number of ideas that reached A.A. from
the King James Version of the Bible, United Christian Endeavor Society,
Young Men’s Christian Association; The Salvation Army; Dr. Frank
Buchman’s Oxford Group; The Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s role and teachings from
the Bible and the Oxford Group; a core idea from Dr. Carl Gustav Jung;
some core ideas and language from Professor William James of Harvard;
the extensive work with alcoholics by Dr. William Duncan
Silkworth—primarily at Towns Hospital; the literature and practices with
Christian Quiet Time and meditation books and devotionals popular in the
1930’s; the specific teachings of Anne Ripley Smith (wife of Dr.
Bob)—found initially in the spiritual journal she kept and shared in the
1930’s; several psychological ideas from lay therapist Richard Peabody;
a number of words and ideas from “New Thought” proponents such as Ralph
Waldo Trine, Emmet Fox, Christian Science, and Unity; and a large body
of literature circulated, read in early A.A., and written by such
notables as Glenn Clark, E. Stanley Jones, Charles Sheldon, Harry
Emerson Fosdick, Norman Vincent Peale, Toyohiko Kagawa, and Samuel M.
Shoemaker, plus innumerable writings by Oxford Group activists and
The Pot Hole As To Specifics
This large a body of resources, was pulled
together by the work and thinking of two real alcoholics—Bill Wilson and
Dr. Bob Smith. There was no basic text until 1939. There were no
specific “steps” until 1939. There was not even a common agreement among
the founders as to how much “God,” “Jesus Christ,” the “Bible,” the
Oxford Group, and Christian writings were to figure ultimately in the
basic writings and approaches. The real definitive historical picture of
A.A., from A.A.’s own standpoint, was to be found only in Bill Wilson’s
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World
Services, Inc., 1956; and in the later Pass It On (NY:
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984) and DR. BOB and the
Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.,
1980). Even these historical works were not completed until the
mid 1980’s. And the interim period from 1935 to 1980 had seen the
passing of both A.A. founders, the addition of a host of writings
published by individual A.A. areas, several solo efforts by Bill Wilson,
and the emergence of authoritative writers and thinkers such as Sister
Ignatia, Father Ralph Pfau, Father Ed Dowling, S.J., Father John C.
Ford, S.J., Richmond Walker, and A.A.’s own Ed Webster and Clarence
Perhaps unaware of these varied roots and
personalities, or opposed to their ideas, or protective of their “own”
A.A. perspective, all too many programs and recovery books simply omit
reference to the majority of present-day historical source materials and
opt for some incomplete, simplified, and usually erroneous introductory
material. They omit treasures that could and should make the program
understandable. They omit historical facts that explain the Biblical and
other recovery concepts. They add unusual words and ideas that confuse
the facts. And they discard many of the original religious and
scientific ideas and replace them with “universal,” “secular,”
“spiritual but not religious,” and “simple” approaches.
In over 16 years of research, writing, visiting,
speaking, and comparing, I have seen a huge hole in each of the programs
that have spun off from or out of Alcoholics Anonymous. They simply lack
a concise, yet comprehensive, accurate, and informative segment or
chapter on the spiritual history and roots of early Alcoholics
Anonymous—a fellowship with astonishing success.
We’d fervently like to see all related programs
and approaches include the simple matter in this guide. We believe this
guide will preclude necessity for including the thousands of pages of
ideas and materials that have helped define the whole. Instead, it will
provide an outline, a workbook, a guidebook, and a resource. It can and
should be usable as a preface, a chapter, a starting platform, a guiding
approach, and an authoritative summary of just where it all came from,
what it used to be like, how it can be described from an historical
standpoint, and how it can supplement almost any and every recovery
Summary of Basic
Roots and Contributing Books, Persons, and Entities
The formative and developmental period for A.A.
occurred from 1933 to the publication of its basic text and Twelve Steps
in 1939. In that brief period, a small group of pioneers, primarily from
Akron, took the Bible, their own experience with other sources, and
personal contact with still-suffering alcoholics and developed a
spiritual program of recovery with astonishing success rates of 75% and,
by early 1940 in Cleveland, 93%--with all the recovered men and the few
women in the fellowship boldly and positively asserting that they had
been cured of alcoholism.
The kit of spiritual tools the Akron Pioneers used
to get well were these:
The Bible (affectionately called “The Good
Dr. Bob said A.A.’s basic ideas came from the Good
Book and that the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1
Corinthians 13 were absolutely essential to the solution of their
problems. See Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots
in the Bible, 3rd ed., HI: Paradise Research
Publications, Inc., 1938; The James Club and The Original A.A.
Program’s Absolute Essentials. HI: Paradise Research Publications,
Inc. 2005; and Why Early A.A. Succeeded. HI: Paradise
Research Publications, Inc., 2001.
The United Christian Endeavor Society
Dr. Bob said he had received excellent training in
the Bible as a youngster—due not only to his family’s frequent weekly
attendance at North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, but
also due to his active participation in that church’s Christian Endeavor
Society. And Christian Endeavor’s simple principles and practices
consequently seem very much resemble to the Christian Fellowship program
Dr. Bob and Bill W. developed, and Dr. Bob led in Akron. See Dick B.,
James Club and my website:
The Salvation Army
The original five-point Salvation Army program
focused on salvation, abstinence; redemption of the sinning criminals
and alcoholics; helping them out of the slums and into new lives; and
prodding them into helping others still stuck in the shadows. Its
principles and practices influenced the mission where Bill and his
“sponsor” Ebby began the march into what religion had to offer the
alcoholic. The Salvation Army program much resembled the principal
ingredients of the early Akron A.A. program (In certain locations, its
ARC programs still resemble the early A.A. look-a-like). See the series
of lectures at Yale University in 1945, in which Bill Wilson himself
addressed the clergy and scholars. Note should be taken of Lecture 26 by
Rev. Francis W. McPeek, “The Role of Religious Bodies in the Treatment
of Inebriety in the United States,” Twenty-nine Lectures with
Discussions as Given at the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies.
New Haven: Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1945, pp. 414-415;
Dick B., The Salvation Army Factor, on my website:
Begbie, Twice Born Men. NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1909; and the
splendid discussion in Howard C. Clinebell, Ph.D. Understanding and
Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictions.
Rev. and Enl. ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998..
Young Men’s Christian Association
Both A.A.’s East Coast mentors—Oxford Group
Founder Frank Buchman and Rev. Sam Shoemaker—were closely involved with
the YMCA for several years. As to Buchman, see Mark O. Guldseth,
Streams. Alaska: Fritz Creek Studios, 1982, pp. 84-85, 92-94, 128,
Garth Lean, Frank Buchman: A Life. London: Constable, 1985, pp.
33-44, 81-82; and as to Buchman and Shoemaker, see Lean, Buchman,
pp. 82, 108-131. Shoemaker’s early materials were published by the Y’s
Association Press. Inspired by John R. Mott, the de facto leader of the
world student Christian movement, both Buchman and Shoemaker espoused
the YMCA’s principles of personal work, evangelism, and Morning Watch.
These foci all influenced A.A. development in the areas of one-on-one
help, bringing people to Christ, and establishing the importance of
morning meditation with Bible study, prayer, guidance, and devotionals.
See Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for
Living That Works. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc.; Pass
It On, p.130.
Dr. Frank Buchman’s First Century Christian
Fellowship—the Oxford Group
The twenty-eight Oxford Group ideas that impacted
A.A. became incorporated in A.A. itself as a practical program of
life-changing action. See Dick B., Oxford Group and A.A. A.A.’s
own literature eventually acknowledged the debt. See Pass It On,
where Bill Wilson is reported as writing: “I would give anything if you
could avoid mentioning the matter [A.A.’s connection with the Oxford
Group] at all, but it must be noted, I’m quite anxious to avoid words
carrying criticism or sting. After all, we owe our lives to the group”
The Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker’s Books,
Teachings, and Personal Role
As an Oxford Group leader and an Episcopal rector,
Shoemaker’s personal relationship with Bill Wilson, and later A.A.
itself, directly contributed most of the Oxford Group language and
teachings that were codified into A.A.’s Big Book and Twelve Steps. See
The Language of the Heart, p. 298; and Dick B., Twelve Steps
for You and New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and
A.A., 2d ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1939.
Anne Ripley Smith, Wife of Dr. Bob, and “Mother
In a journal she kept over the period from 1933 to
1939, Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Smith wrote down in her own journal almost
every one of the principles and practices of early A.A.—though the Big
Book and Twelve Steps had not yet been written. Anne shared from this
journal in morning quiet times and in meetings with early AAs and their
families. And you can see that the principles of A.A. were articulated
before the principles of A.A. were later articulated by Bill W. See Dick
B., Anne Smith’s Journal: 1933-1939: A.A.’s Principles of Success.
In recognition of Anne’s matchless role, Bill Wilson and many others
called Anne the “Mother of A.A.”
The Core Conversion Prescription from Dr. Carl
It was the view of Dr. Carl Gustav Jung of
Switzerland—passed along in Jung’s conversations with Oxford Group
member Rowland Hazard—that led Bill Wilson to believe that a
transforming religious conversion experience was the spiritual
ingredient required for victory over alcoholism. See Bill W. My First
Forty Years. MN: Hazelden, 2000, pp. 123-139; Pass It On, pp.
381-386. A few AAs with practically no documentation have tried to
debunk the idea that Rowland Hazard ever visited Dr. Carl Jung; but
there are ample reasons to doubt their approach, particularly now that
excellent studies have been done of the matter. See Cora Finch,
Stellar Fire: Carl Jung, a New England Family, and the Risks of
http://www.stellarfire.org., 2006. Wilson
hailed Carl Jung as one of A.A.’s “founders” Pass It On, pp. 381,
383. And see Ron Ray, The Forerunner–Rowland (http://www.archivesinternational.org/AI/Documents/pdf/forerowland.pdf);
and an extensive corroborative study by a scholar who did her thesis on
the subject. See Amy Colwell Bluhm, Ph.D., “Veriticatio of C.G. Jung’s
analysis of Rowland Hazard and the history of Alcoholics Anonymous,”
History of Psychology, May, n.d.; American Psychological
The Key Influence of Professor William James of
Both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob studied William
James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, from which Bill had
concluded there was a validation of his own “hot flash” conversion
experience. Little recognized too were the New Thought language and
ideas that filtered into A.A. language via Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s writings
and those of others, including Anne Smith. Shoemaker particularly relied
upon James’ writings on self-surrender and conversion. See Samuel M.
Shoemaker, Jr., Realizing Religion. NY: Association Press, 1929;
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience. NY: First
Vintage Books/The Library of America Edition, 1990; and Dick B., New
Light on Alcoholism.
The Ideas and Personal Influence of William
Duncan Silkworth, M.D.
Most AAs seem inclined to believe that Silkworth’s
“Doctor’s Opinion” in the front of their basic text shows Silkworth’s
direct influence on their First Step and the Big Book’s discussions of
alcoholism. However, recent findings establish a much greater Silkworth
influence on the chain of events that led to A.A.’s earlier emphasis on
Jesus Christ, the Great Physician.. See Dale Mitchel. Silkworth: The
Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks. MN: Hazelden, 2002, pp. 42-51, 63,
66, 100, 104-109. Silkworth told Bill the rudiments of alcoholism, but
Silkworth had a direct influence on Bill’s seeking out the Great
Physician, Jesus Christ, who, Silkworth said, could cure alcoholics. In
addition to Mitchel’s book, see: Pass It On; Dick B., When
Early AAs Were Cured and Why; and Norman Vincent Peale, The
Positive Power of Jesus Christ. Together these affirm Silkworth’s
frequent remarks that cure of alcoholism was available to one who gives
his life to Jesus Christ.
The Christian Quiet Times or Quiet Hours and
Quiet Time (with Bible study, prayer, seeking
guidance, and reading Christian devotionals) was a “must” in early A.A.
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 135. It affirmed, explained,
and elaborated upon the Biblical ideas then being studied; and it
heavily influenced A.A.’s Eleventh Step. See Dick B., Good Morning:
Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A., 2d ed. HI:
Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998.; The Akron Genesis of
Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications,
Inc., 1998; and The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th
ed.; Rev. Sam Shoemaker was a particularly strong advocate of Quiet Time
and spelled out the ingredients of quiet, prayer, Bible study, listening
to God, and the reading of Christian literature. See Dick B., New
Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.., 2d ed., HI:
Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 199l.
Non-Oxford Group Literature by leading
Explanations of Bible segments, quiet times,
prayer, and healing were circulated among A.A. pioneers from the
writings of Henry Drummond, Oswald Chambers, E. Stanley Jones, Harry
Emerson Fosdick, and many others. See Dick B., The Books Early AAs
Read; Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed.; HI:
Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998; Anne Smith’s Journal;
Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Lay Recovery Ideas of Richard Peabody
Richard Peabody wrote The Common Sense of
Drinking—read by both Bill W. and Dr. Bob. Though Peabody was merely
a lay therapist and though he ultimately died drunk, a number of
specific phrases almost directly attributable to The Common Sense of
Drinking, can be found in Wilson’s Big Book—phrases speaking of no
cure for alcoholism, half measures availed nothing,
once-an-alcoholic-always-an-alcoholic. Richard R. Peabody, The Common
Sense of Drinking. Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1939. Dick B.,
When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 3rd ed., HI:
Paradise Research Publications, Inc, 2006; Cured: Proven Help for
Alcoholics and Addicts. 2d ed. HI: Paradise Research Publications,
Inc., 2006; and Mel B., New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the
Twelve Step Miracle. MN: Hazelden Foundation, 1991.
New Thought Writings of Emmet Fox, Mary Baker
Eddy, Unity and Others
New Thought writers were read by AAs, and some of
their language and concepts can be found embedded in A.A.’s later
language—even though their writings did not espouse or actually rejected
the born-again Christianity of early A.A. See Dick B., Making Known
The Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous. 3rd
ed,, 2006; The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth.7th
ed., 1998; Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed., 1998.;
and Mel B. New Wine.
The Hands-on Personal Work of Recovered
Alcoholics with Newcomers
Pioneer AAs plunged into one-on-one work with
other, new or wet alcoholics. In so doing, they applied the foregoing
ideas, hospitalized drunks, concentrated on the Bible, prayer, and
devotional literature, and added some Oxford Group practices for
changing lives. This emphasis is best shown in books about Clarence
Snyder (Dick B., That Amazing Grace; Three Clarence Snyder
Old-timer Sponsees, Our Legacy; and Mitch K. How It Worked.
The expression “flying blind period” is a misnomer. You don’t fly blind
with God. But you can and do use His tools to bring healings and cures
to others if you apply the A.A. principles of love and service.
Articulation of service through fellowship and witness was picked up
from the Oxford Group and its life-changing techniques. See Harold
Begbie, Life-Changers. NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927; Dick B.,
The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous; Jerry G. Dunn. God is
For the Alcoholic. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago,
The Two, Diverse Recovery Program Origins; and
the Three Emerging, Varied, Approaches in Akron, Cleveland, and New York
United Christian Endeavor and Dr. Bob’s Youth
The early A.A. program of the Akron pioneers
really began with the training Dr. Bob had received as a youngster in
attending about four church service and prayer meetings each week at the
North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. The training
seeded the program of the United Christian Endeavor Society of the young
people in that church. And the Christian Endeavor Society’s actual
practices consisted of confession of Christ, Bible Study, Prayer
meetings, Conversion meetings, reading and discussion of religious
literature, Quiet Hour, fellowship and witness. Christian Endeavor
emphasized love and service. It was self-governing and self-supporting.
Years later, in Akron, after having been apprised
of Russell Firestone’s seemingly miraculous deliverance from alcoholism,
Dr. Bob was brought into a tiny Oxford Group meeting consisting of a few
Groupers and a few alcoholics and their families. It was in that
fellowship that Dr. Bob began to make changes in his life in hope or at
least the hope of his wife and the group that he would be able to stop
drinking just as Russell Firestone had done. Bob went all out for the
practices and for the training he’d had as a youngster. He read the
Bible from cover to cover three times. He joined a new church. He read
everything he could find on the Oxford Group, as well as an immense
amount of other religious literature. At the meetings and in his own
life, there was Bible study, prayer, seeking of God’s strength and
guidance, and fellowship. But Dr. Bob did not want to quit drinking, and
he didn’t. Finally, at a meeting convened by Henrietta Seiberling of the
rubber clan, the group got Dr. Bob to admit to his alcoholism, asked him
to join them in prayer, and—as a group—prayed for Bobs deliverance from
alcoholism. But Bob did not quit drinking—not, that is, until in
apparent answer to the prayers, Bill Wilson appeared in Akron out of New
York, was seeking out another drunk to help, was put in touch with
Henrietta Seiberling, was regarded by her as “manna from heaven” in
answer to prayers, and in turn introduced to Dr. Bob at the Gate Lodge
home of Henrietta and her three children. See Dick B. Henrietta B.
Seiberling: Ohio’s Lady with a Cause,2d ed. HI: Paradise Research
Publications, Inc., 2005.
Developments in New York Centered on Shoemaker
and the Oxford Group
The origin and development of the New York group
was entirely different. Its roots began with the visits of Rowland
Hazard to Dr. Carl Jung in Switzerland and Jung’s diagnosis of Hazard’s
“chronic mind of an alcoholic” likely to be cured only by a conversion
experience. This Rowland sought in the Oxford Group, A First Century
Christian Fellowship, founded by Lutheran Minister Frank Buchman.
Essentially, the Oxford Group sought to change lives by putting its
activists through a practical program of action. Their formula was Sin
is the problem. Christ is the cure. The result is a miracle. (Mark O.
Guldseth, Streams. Alaska: Fritz Creek Studios, 1945. The
program had some twenty-eight principles that were to impact on A.A.
They were learned by Rowland Hazard. They were taught by Rowland and
others to Ebby Thacher, a seemingly hopeless drunk. Rowland and some
Oxford Group friends lodged Thacher in Calvary Mission in New York, and
Thacher there “got religion,” was converted, and sought out his old
school-mate and alcoholic friend, Bill Wilson. Thacher convinced young
Bill that God had done for him, in relieving him of alcoholism, what he
could not do for himself; and Bill, in turn, went to Calvary Mission,
made a decision for Christ, checked into Towns Hospital for the fourth
time for treatment of his alcoholism. There Thacher indoctrinated Wilson
further in Oxford Group principles; and Wilson himself surrendered his
life to God. Wilson had what Bill believed was a conversion experience,
with the result that Bill not only never drank again, but also believed
he had found a cure for alcoholism that could benefit countless others.
Bill set out to change lives in Towns Hospital, in Calvary Mission, and
in Oxford Group meetings but had no success whatever. And it was after
five months of failed evangelism that Bill went to Akron on a business
deal—confronted with the choice of resuming his drinking or finding
another drunk to help.
The First Meeting of Alcoholics Bill W. and Dr.
Though reluctant to come, Dr. Bob was persuaded by
Henrietta Seiberling and by his own wife and son to meet with
Bill—planning to stay a mere 15 minutes. But the talk lasted almost six
hours at Henrietta’s home. The two men hit it off. Bill thought he had
carried a powerful message to Bob. And Bob said he had heard it all
before but was impressed with Bill’s idea of service and his unselfish
efforts with Bob. Whereupon the two began discussing the Bible and
Oxford Group principles to the end of figuring how they might help
others. Bill moved into the Smith home in Akron for three months. Bob
went on one last bender that summer; but on June 10, 1935, he had his
last drink, and A.A. was founded. This was, in turn, followed almost
immediately by the success of the two men in leading A.A. Number Three
(Bill Dotson) to a cure; and this third success marked the founding of
Akron Group Number One—the first A.A. group. Bill, Bob, Bob’s wife Anne,
Henrietta Seiberling, and the small group of Oxford Group helpers
continued as a fellowship throughout the summer of 1935. Then Bill
Wilson returned to New York with the basic ideas in place. There were no
Steps. There were no Traditions. There was no basic text. There were the
Bible, the Christian devotionals and literature they studied, and some
Oxford Group principles they applied. There were no drunkalogs. Even
their stories were considered unimportant and of minimal value. But for
the next two-and-a-half years from the summer of 1935 to the early part
of 1938, the Akron program developed with astonishing results. It was
soon called a Christian Fellowship—with its alcoholic squad reaching
out; one meeting a week as a so-called clandestine lodge of the Oxford
Group; daily Bible study, prayer, Quiet Time, use of devotionals,
reading of Christian literature, conversion meetings, virtual half-way
houses for the newcomers primarily in the Smith home, and short
hospitalization of newcomers where they were daily visited by Dr. Bob
and Akron members who had recovered.
Program of the Akron Christian Fellowship
The Akron program closely resembled the practices
in Christian Endeavor that Dr. Bob learned as a youngster. There was
also an incorporation of long-standing Salvation Army principles such as
abstinence, bringing new people to Christ and salvation, extending
shelter and food to newcomers, engaging in prayer and Bible study, and
encouraging participants to seek out others to help with the message of
salvation and deliverance from alcoholism. Medical aspects and
hospitalization appear to have come from Dr. Bob’s own experience as a
practicing physician and the information Bill had learned in Towns
Hospital and from his psychiatrist Dr. Silkworth. Dr. Bob’s wife
gathered the details of their work together from 1933 to 1939 in a
spiritual journal she wrote and shared with others at meetings, in daily
Quiet Times she led in the mornings, and in personal talks. All types of
Christian literature—devotionals, Oxford Group and Shoemaker writings,
and the writings of well-known authors like Fosdick, Drummond, E.
Stanley Jones, Glenn Clark, Kagawa, and a host of other leaders of the
day—were circulated among the AAs and their families. There appears to
have been little or no attempt to achieve the “conversion” experience
solution which had so dominated Bill Wilson’s thinking on the East Coast
and which had in fact produced few if any successes.
The Akron program was considered so successful,
among the forty pioneers (previously considered medically incurable) who
really tried, that Bill Wilson sought funds from John D. Rockefeller,
Jr. to pay the bills and move the message forward. Rockefeller
dispatched his agent Frank Amos to Akron for a thorough investigation.
Amos reported back to Rockefeller that the program was much like that of
the gospel of the First Century Christians, was led by Dr. Bob, was
indeed miraculous, and consisted of seven points which Amos described in
the following words:
An alcoholic must
realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint,
and that he must never drink anything with alcohol in it.
He must surrender
himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no
Not only must he
want to stop drinking permanently, he must remove from his life
other sins such as hatred, adultery, and others which frequently
accompany alcoholism. Unless he will do this absolutely, Smith and
his associates refuse to work with him.
He must have
devotions every morning–a “quiet time” of prayer and some reading
from the Bible and other religious literature. Unless this is
faithfully followed, there is grave danger of backsliding.
He must be
willing to help other alcoholics get straightened out. This throws
up a protective barrier and strengthens his own willpower and
It is important,
but not vital, that he meet frequently with other reformed
alcoholics and form both a social and a religious comradeship.
not vital, that he attend some religious service at least once
the Groups Contributing to Akron’s Pioneer Program
Christian Endeavor Society Parallels
The Christian Endeavor Societies of Dr. Bob’s
youth focused on these practices: Confession of Jesus Christ; Bible
study; prayer meetings; conversion meetings; reading of religious
literature; Quiet Hour; love and service. They were self-supporting,
self-governing, and supported their particular local church.
Salvation Army Parallels
The original Salvation Army practices might be,
and have been summarized as advocating abstinence, confession of Christ,
focus on Bible and prayer, elimination of sin, and helping others, not
yet saved and restored, to whole lives.
Oxford Group Parallels
Reduced to their essence, the twenty-eight Oxford
Group life-changing ideas meant a belief in the Creator; surrender to
Him and doing His will; elimination of sin by applying the art of the 5
C’s—Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, and Continuance;
living by the Four Absolute Standards of Jesus Christ—honesty, purity,
unselfishness and love; making restitution for harms done; Quiet Time
with Bible study, prayer, and seeking of guidance; fellowship, and
witness—changing the lives of others by the same techniques.
The Akron Program as Reported to Rockefeller by
Rockefeller’s agent, Frank Amos, thoroughly
investigated the early program, reported its successes, and pointed to
Dr. Bob as the leader. Amos declared the program had seven simple
elements—the first five mandatory and the last two simply recommended:
abstinence, absolute reliance on the Creator, elimination of sinful
conduct, establishing a child-of-God relationship with, and fellowship
with, the Creator through Bible study, prayer, seeking guidance; helping
other alcoholics get well; engaging in religious and social comradeship;
attending church. See above for the precise words Amos used to describe
Akron’s simple program.
Silkworth’s Concise Summary of Parallel
Writing about the program on July 27, 1939,
shortly after the Big Book was published, Dr. Silkworth said, “The
essential features of this new approach, without psychological
embellishment, are:” (1) One alcoholic can secure the confidence of
another. (2) He cites his own case and medical opinion that there may be
no hope for him save a spiritual experience. (3) The patient has a
serious dilemma—to have a spiritual experience or be destroyed by
alcohol. (4) He believes he can’t be untangled by human means; he is
persuaded by the recovered alcoholic’s peculiar ability; “he turns to
religion with an entire willingness and accepts without reservation a
serious religious proposal and then is able to acquire a set of
religious beliefs and undergo the change common to religious
experience;” (5) He is advised to “do certain things which are obviously
good psychology, good morals and good religion”: (a) Make a moral
appraisal of himself and disclose the findings to another he trusts. (b)
Adjust bad personal relationships, setting right, so far as possible,
his wrongs of the past. (c) “Recommit himself daily, or hourly if need
be, to God’s care and direction, asking for strength.” (d) If possible,
attend weekly fellowship meetings and actively lend a hand with
alcoholic newcomers. See Mitchel, Silkworth, pp. 158-161.
Shoemaker’s Brief Explanation to AAs themselves
of a “Religious Experience,” “Spiritual Experience” or “Spiritual
Awakening” as these were variously called
At A.A.’s 20th Anniversary and
International Convention at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1955,, Sam
Shoemaker—who was invited to speak to the entire assembly—spelled out
what he believed were four universal factors in all genuine “spiritual
These four factors contain a remarkably simple
parallel road to the spiritual solution in the other organizations. In
New Light on Alcoholism, p. 330, and in the body of Bill’s
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, pp. 261-270, the four key
elements are listed as
The Common Thread
Note the similar elements drawn from, and
discussed by, the programs and people who were instrumental in defining
all these roots. Note also the simplicity of the elements—with variances
only due to the institution, the professional status, and the religion
involved. They appear, as a group, to provide a reliable common thread
for spiritual recovery that relies on God:
A willingness, based on the inadequacy of
medical and human help and on the successful experience of another,
to accept without reservation a religious approach and solution—that
God is, and rewards those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6).
A commitment to complete, permanent
abstinence, and resisting temptation.
Accepting Christ as the way to establishing a
relationship with the Creator and then becoming one of His children;
with the afflicted entrusting himself or herself to God’s care and
direction, and asking for strength.
Eliminating sinful conduct by making a moral
appraisal, confessing sins, adjusting bad relationships, and
righting wrongs of the past.
Growing in fellowship with God through Bible
study, prayer, seeking revelation, and obeying His will.
Fellowshipping with like-minded believers and,
as well, loving, witnessing, and lending a hand to newcomers and
bringing them to salvation, sobriety, spiritual wholeness, and
service to others.
An Elaboration of the Process by an
experienced, religious, A.A., churched, Old Timer who carried the
principles to the many alcoholics and addicts he helped.
In his title God Is For The Alcoholic (a
book that sold over half a million copies), Jerry G. Dunn asserted
that God has provided the following “way of escape” for the alcoholic
at his bottom (See Dunn, God Is For The Alcoholic. Chicago: Moody
Press, 1965, p. 55):
Encourage him in his desire to stop.
Help him to face his problem.
Provide him with medical care, so that he can
have the help modern medicine can give him. See that he gets a
complete physical checkup.
Help him to understand that he can’t overcome
alcohol addiction by himself.
him to the power of God.
Teach him to keep in daily touch with God’s
Standing on the platform of complete abstinence,
Dunn then suggested five ways to help the alcoholic. And as you
look at the Dunn’s five ways—expressed in detail as follows, just
picture what Dr. Bob and the early AAs were doing in their days of
confessing Christ, studying the Bible, holding prayer meetings, asking
for guidance, and then turning to help the newcomer alcoholic. The five
ways were as follows.
This first way, Dunn said, “is to pray for him.”
He quotes an S.D. Gordon book owned by Dr. Bob: “but you can’t do more
than pray until you have prayed.” Then the ground rules to be followed:
(1) Be sure you are a member of God’s family—prayer is the privilege and
duty of the children of God. (2) Stand on God’s promise to answer
prayer. (3) Make the right approach through private prayer after
examining yourself, confessing the sin in your life, and asking God to
blot it out; (4) Make the right approach through public prayer—where a
group of Christians share mutual burdens and pray together for a given
problem or a certain situation; (5) Make use of intercessory prayer
lifting the alcoholic into the hands of the Lord and petitioning God to
deliver him; (6) Crying out to God; making sure to ask; expecting an
answer; and praying for men in authority (Dunn, God, pp. 82-96).
The second way “is to present the gospel to him
at the earliest possible moment.” Dunn tells of his associate
Garland Thompson who had never been an alcoholic, nor made a special
study of alcoholism, but devoted his entire life to prayer and personal
witnessing. Men who were won to Christ said gratefully, “Know what set
me to thinking? It was Garland Thompson putting his arm around me and
telling me that God loves me and, because He loves me, you guys here at
the Mission were going to help me. I was pretty drunk, but that got
through to me.” We must point up to the alcoholic (who is making a
profession of faith) that faith in Christ means a new life: “Therefore
if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed
away; behold, old things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17), Dunn,
God, pp. 98-105.
The third way “is to offer
fellowship—communion, intimacy, joint interest, and feeling.”
“Alcoholics Anonymous, the most successful organization involved in the
treatment of the alcoholic, has made fellowship a cornerstone in their
efforts to help the individual. We must do the same. . . We can have
rapport with the alcoholic because we have been separated from God by
sin just as he has been separated from God by sin. And we have been
delivered, by Christ, from our sin, even as he can be delivered, by
Christ, from his sin.” Dunn cites Luke 5:31-32, quoting Jesus: “I came
not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Then he cites 1
Timothy 2:4 to establish God’s will that all men be saved and
come to a knowledge of the truth. “How can we help an alcoholic,” Dunn
asked? Dunn’s answer as to fellowship: “By creating around him an
atmosphere that would create in him a desire to help, One of the most
effective ways of doing this is to offer him fellowship in the name of
our loving Lord.” (Dunn, God, pp. 106-126)
The fourth way is to “show Christ’s
long-suffering to us as a pattern for others to follow in their
treatment of sinners.” As Dunn put it, “The patience of Job
would have been sorely tried by an alcoholic.” “But God saved me and
delivered me and my family. He can do the same for any individual—even
the degenerate filthy alcoholic addict—who calls upon His name.” (Dunn,
The fifth way is to “Let the alcoholic stand on
his own two feet.” “If we sin, we should be rebuked. If we repent,
we ought to be forgiven.” Firmness is the key. Dunn, God, pp.
Dunn moves on with how you can help the alcoholic
to the critical responsibility the alcoholic has for helping himself.
Dunn discusses five ways that the alcoholic can help himself
(Dunn, God, pp.155-202):
Transfer his dependency to God.
Talk with God daily.
Live a step at a time: “God knows the end
from the beginning. He will direct our paths if we ask Him to. We can
only follow God’s instructions one day at a time (Matthew 6:34)—the
origin of “Easy Does It” and “One Day at a Time.”
Keep a perpetual inventory. “I have found
that my inventory has helped me to say no to temptations. I say when a
particular temptation confronts me, ‘That’s out of my old life. It is
not a part of my new life. I’m not going to do that thing.”
Picking Up the
Common Thread; Learning What Others Did; Using It Today
You can invent a self-made religion. You can
invoke half-baked prayers. You can rely on idolatrous powers such as
chairs, radiators, and doorknobs. You can say that you prefer one
religious denomination over another. You can decline to read religious
literature, to hang out with like-minded believers, and to attend a
church or religious group of your own choosing. But you cannot escape
the commonality in the foregoing unique and effective religious ideas
for curing alcoholism.
Dr. Bob laid the religious solution on the line
for newcomers. He asked them point-blank if they believed in God. He
addressed the readers of the Big Book by stating he felt sorry for them
if they were atheists, agnostics, or skeptics. “Your Heavenly Father,”
Bob wrote,” will never let you down.” See DR. BOB and the Good
Oldtimers, p. 144; and Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th
ed, p. 181.
Though declaring that he had formerly been an
atheist, Bill Wilson opted for Sam Shoemaker’s approach that he needed
to find God; he needed a vital religious experience; and he needed Jesus
Christ. See Samuel Shoemaker, Realizing Religion, pp. 1-9. And
though Bill removed from his Big Book drafts all references to
Shoemaker, to the Bible, to the need for Christ, and to a conversion
experience, Wilson explicitly fashioned a program to “find God” and
“establish a relationship with God.” Even Bill’s qualifying phrase “God
as we understood Him” was no different from the identical expression
long used by Rev. Sam Shoemaker in such books as Children of the
Second Birth—books that most assuredly were talking about children
of Yahweh, the Creator and as much of Him as they understood when they
gave their lives over to His care and direction. Then, in his Big Book,
Bill pressed the Biblical point: There is a God. Bill invoked and
virtually quoted verbatim Shoemaker’s own challenge that God either is
or He isn’t. And concluded that if you followed certain Steps, you’d
find or rediscover God, have a conversion experience, be changed, and
stay sober because [It] “was a form of lunacy which only God Almighty
could cure,” Bill said. See Dick B. Akron Genesis, p. 13. And
Bill also declared in the Big Book: “Even so has God restored us all to
our right minds. . . He has come to all who have honestly sought Him.
When we drew near to Him, He disclosed Himself to us!” (Alcoholics
Anonymous, 1st ed., 1939, p. 69).
Note Bill’s New,
Different Direction: Fashioning the 1939 Big Book and 12 Steps
By a bare majority vote in A.A.’s original tiny
fellowship, Bill was authorized to write a basic text; and most of those
voting undoubtedly believed the new book would be a report on the
elements of the Akron Program—they even proposed calling the new effort
“The James Club.”
But Bill had other ideas. He wanted commercial
sales of the books. He formed a corporation—Works Publishing Company. He
prepared a prospectus and sold shares of stock. He was importuned by his
partner Hank Parkhurst to avoid describing a religious program. He did
discuss the manuscript with, and took extensive advice from, his friend
Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker—even asking Sam to write the Twelve Steps, but
Sam declined. Bill was determined to placate the atheists and agnostics,
few though they were. And all overt references, in his manuscript, to
the early Christian Fellowship, the Bible, its Bible study and prayer
meetings, Jesus Christ, and the religious literature they studied were
removed. Some 400 to 800 pages. (See Pass It On., p. 204).
Hazelden historian Bill Pittman personally told me that Bill Wilson’s
secretary Ruth Hock had informed him (Pittman) that the trashed material
was mostly Christian in tone and content. And Bill’s wife Lois Wilson
seemed to corroborate the point when she remembered, “Finally it was
agreed that the book should present a universal spiritual program, not a
specific religious one, since all drunks were not Christian.” See
Lois Remembers, p. 113.
Bill seemingly adopted a life-changing program of
action to “find God” and “change lives,” but he also included a host of
new elements that did not resemble the common elements as outlined above
and as originally taken from such sources as Christian Endeavor, the
Salvation Army, Silkworth, and the Bible, to the extent described above.
Here are the sources Bill did call upon:
Carl Jung and William James Ideas as Modified
From Dr. Carl Jung, Bill offered the solution—a
conversion experience. But he changed that phrase to one used by William
James and Sam Shoemaker—a religious experience. Then he opted for the
phrase “spiritual experience”—a term used in the Oxford Group. And Bill
adopted the thesis of Professor William James that people could be cured
by valid religious experiences.
The Oxford Group Link Through Rowland Hazard as
Rowland Hazard had learned the conversion solution
from Jung; and, upon Jung’s suggestion, had aligned himself with a
religious group—the Oxford Group—founded by Dr. Frank Buchman. There
appears to be no evidence that Rowland had a “conversion experience,”
but it seems clear that Rowland learned Buchman’s Oxford Group precepts,
passed them along to Ebby Thacher, who (with Rowland and others)
convinced Bill that the Oxford Group life-changing ideas would produce
the needed conversion and, as they were thought to have done with
Rowland, produce the cure for alcoholism as well. For the Oxford Group
slogan was “Sin is the problem. Christ is the cure. The result is a
miracle.” (See Mark O. Guldseth, Streams. Alaska: Fritz Creek
Studios, 1945, p.144)
The Views and Efforts of Silkworth as Re-worked
Discarding all mention by Dr. Silkworth himself of
Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, and the power of Jesus Christ as the
solution, Wilson simply incorporated Silkworth’s remarks on the
problem—alcoholism was said thereby to be an obsession of the mind
coupled with an allergy of the body that would, if not arrested, get
progressively worse and eventually lead to death, brain damage, or jail.
The Special Place of Co-founder Sam Shoemaker
You cannot read the language of Bill’s Big Book
and Twelve Steps without encountering the words and phrases of Bill’s
friend Rev. Sam Shoemaker. You can find the details and parallels in
Dick B., Twelve Steps for You. 4t ed. HI: Paradise
Research Publications, Inc., 2005; The James Club and the Original
A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials, 4th ed. HI: Paradise
Research Publications, Inc., 2005; and Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith
Community. FL: Came To Believe Publications, 2005. And Shoemaker
himself drew on ideas and language used by Carl Jung, William James,
Oxford Group writers, and Dr. Silkworth.
The Side-line Roles of Richard Peabody and New
There is good reason to believe—just from
examining the words and phrases themselves—that Bill interjected into
the Big Book and Steps ideas from lay-therapist Peabody and such New
Thought writers as Henry Drummond, Mary Baker Eddy, the Fillmores, Ralph
Waldo Trine, Emmet Fox, and others. Such phrases as
once-an-alcoholic-always-an-alcoholic, no-cure-for-alcoholism, and
half-measures availed us nothing seem directly extracted from Peabody’s
Common Sense of Drinking. Similarly the strange expression “higher
power” and such words as cosmic consciousness, fourth dimension,
Universal Mind, and the like have a strange ring when compared to the
Bible and the Bible roots of A.A. But they do represent ideas that were
floating in the minds and literature read by some of the pioneers.
The Discernable Roots in Twelve Step Language
There have been many attempts to correlate the
Twelve Steps with various Bible verses, with various Oxford Group ideas,
with New Thought language, and other sources. But the simple fact is
that the Twelve Steps came from the many sources mentioned above. And my
title Twelve Steps for You takes each of the Twelve Steps and
examines it in terms of each of the sources and ideas the contributed to
The work should be immensely helpful in studying,
understanding, taking, teaching, and practicing the Steps of any Twelve
Step or similar spin-off program or fellowship.
Additions and Amendments from 1940 to 1955
I see no profit here in describing with
particularity the history, changes, and ingredients of the A.A. program
after the First Edition of the Big Book was published in 1939. The
reason is that the pre-1939 program is the one that has been forgotten,
that has been shelved, and yet still stands as the original program that
produced extraordinary results not since achieved. But it is
important to note that the changes—after the changed approach by Wilson
in 1939—were themselves many in number and form. And to state that they
materially affected the shape and language of the A.A. fellowship today.
Breaking off from Akron Number One in the interest
of assuring that Roman Catholics would be welcome in A.A., Clarence
Snyder organized the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland
in May, 1939. He took with him the principles of the Bible, the Four
Absolutes of the Oxford Group, the Big Book, and the Twelve Steps.
Clarence was, perhaps, an important beacon light as to what A.A. could
be if it remembered and applied its roots. And the Cleveland groups
soared from one to thirty in a year and achieved a documented 93%
success rate. Clarence authored pamphlets on how to take the 12 Steps
and on Sponsorship. Cleveland Central Bulletins quoted the Bible
and the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes. And pulling in and indoctrinating
newcomers was first in priority.
Sister Ignatia and St. Thomas Hospital
Shortly after the 1939 developments, Sister
Ignatia began working with Dr. Bob directly and admitting alcoholics to
St. Thomas Hospital in Akron where she and Bob treated some 5,000
alcoholics. Sister Ignatia worked in harmony with Dr. Bob, consulted
Anne Smith often, and yet introduced ideas of her own—still holding to
the importance of initial hospitalization just as A.A. in Akron had
done. The good Sister passed out Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of
Christ, wrote materials on treatment, and seems to have originated
the idea of giving out medallions on graduation from the alcoholic ward.
She earned immense popularity in the Mid-west.
Having cut his teeth in the Oxford Group, Richmond
Walker went on to write several popular books such as For Drunks
Only. MN: Hazelden, n.d.—laying out the principles of the program as
he saw them. And he ultimately wrote the materials that became the
presently popular Twenty-Four Hour Book, still published by
Hazelden. This book is widely used in treatment programs and widely read
by AAs even today. It completely altered the nature of the original
Quiet Time practices in Akron.
Father Ed Dowling, S.J.
In 1940, the Jesuit priest, Father Ed Dowling, S.J.,
became the friend, confidant, and “spiritual sponsor” of Bill Wilson.
Dowling was one of the two men (Father John Ford, S.J., being the other)
who edited in the 1950’s two new books Bill Wilson wrote—Alcoholics
Anonymous Comes of Age and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc, 1987. Dowling and Wilson
communicated frequently. At Bill’s invitation, Dowling addressed AAs at
their Twentieth Anniversary Convention in St. Louis. The extent of his
impact on A.A. itself seems still to be evaluated.
Father Ralph Pfau
Father Pfau, also a Roman Catholic priest,
developed a following of his own, particularly in the Midwest—writing
two major books and a host of pamphlets on sobriety. The latter were
called the “Golden Books” and are still in wide circulation in Mid-west
A.A. They appear to be particularly popular with Roman Catholic AAs in
that area, although Professor Glenn Chesnut, who has written extensively
on Pfau, wrote me that Pfau’s works were popular in many A.A. areas
around the United States, and not just among Roman Catholics.
Ed Webster and the Regional Factors and
Bill Wilson became severely depressed in the
period spanning 1942 to 1955. Such depressions had begun in his youth
when his parents separated, when his first love died unexpectedly, and
on other occasions. Bill’s Secretary Nell Wing told me that this was a
“terrible period” for A.A. However, the 1942 to 1955 period marked the
period when many non-Wilson, non-New York materials were published by
local offices; and in the vacuum of Bill’s active leadership, a good
many regional publications sprang up. These were widely used in
Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and the State of Washington for many years.
At least one became the forerunner of a work within A.A. today called
“back to basics”—the “basics” being those developed in the 1940’s and
quite different from the Akron basics.
The Turn-about from 1950 to 1955 following
deaths of Anne and Dr. Bob
As the foregoing elements began to be added in the
1940’s, Bill’s disabilities from depression were in full swing. And Dr.
Bob was growing older and infirm while Anne Smith was losing her sight.
At the end of the decade, the Smiths were dead; Wilson was still
depressed; and new factors involving “traditions,” “concepts,”
“warranties,” and organizational structures were becoming a norm, at
least in New York. Finally, the Second Edition of the Big Book was
published; and it not only removed some of the original Big Book
stories, but also changed the basic solution from a “spiritual
experience” to a “spiritual awakening.” It placed the new “personality
change” language in an appendix to A.A.’s basic text. Even “God
consciousness” was relegated to second position in favor of changes of
an “educational variety.” And Bill’s famous “hot flash” seemed a relic
of the past.
The Further Revisions Through Publishing
When A.A. was founded, and in the early years,
there was no national office. There was no publishing entity. There was
no basic text. There were no Steps. There was simply the Bible, prayer,
conversion, fellowship and witness, coupled with some of the practices
of the Oxford Group involving the Four Absolutes, the 5 C’s, and
restitution. Even these were Biblical in origin and content.
Even the original A.A. Step program, fashioned by
Bill Wilson and published in 1939, was confined to one basic text
Alcoholics Anonymous. But the 1940’s and early 1950’s saw the
beginning of a plethora of explanatory books, including those mentioned
above, and pamphlets published at the instance of Dr. Bob in Akron;
pamphlets and newsletters published by Cleveland and other areas; and
finally A.A.’s own Grapevine and an endless stream of later
pamphlets promulgated by A.A.’s New York headquarters. In addition
Bill’s own remarks were published by A.A. in As Bill Sees It NY:
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1967, and The Language of
the Heart. NY: The AA Grapevine Inc., 1988. All gave rise to new
interpretations and directions—far different from those in the original
Blocking the Path Returning to the Original Spiritual Roots and Power
The Challenge of A.A.’s Mere 1 to 5% Success
Despite occasional protests primarily within the
A.A. fellowship, it is no secret that the original documented 75% to 93%
success rate in the pioneer program has been replaced by a 1 to 5%
success rate today. Though the reasons could be several, the fact is
that the A.A. of today is not the A.A. of yesteryear. And this makes a
review of the early history a matter of great import.
The Flight to Other Ideas and Programs
For a variety of reasons, the original, unique,
altruistic, non-profit love and service of the A.A. pioneers and some of
their successors, have been replaced with fewer and fewer examples of
working with others, fewer and fewer qualified sponsors, more and more
treatment programs, detached half-way houses, other support groups,
mandated attendance, costly therapy, and billions of dollars in grants
for research—coupled with billions spent on wars against drugs..
Christians in A.A. have flocked to other recovery
organizations—some based on the Twelve Steps, and some not. In sum,
these include Alcoholics Victorious, Overcomers Outreach, Inc.,
Overcomers, Alcoholics for Christ, Teen Challenge, Celebrate Recovery,
Many unbelievers, agnostics, and atheists have
rejected A.A.’s religious overtones and have turned to Rational
Recovery, Moderation Management, humanist, and secular approaches.
The potential impact of A.A., which boasts of only
a million members in the United States, has to be contrasted with the
fourteen million or more people who are non-A.A. alcoholics and the
seventy-five million people in American Families impacted by alcoholism.
A.A. has further limited its own impact on a preponderance of its
dual-addicted members with its “singleness of purpose” doctrine which
tends to exclude those with problems other than alcohol and force them
to other fellowships with addiction, “substance abuse,” “chemical
dependency” and like problems—gambling, smoking, drugs, sexual
aberrations, ADD, etc.
The Revisionist Ideas and Intrusions
As A.A. has changed, the intrusions into its ideas
have multiplied. The original program was about the Creator and reliance
upon Him. The founders said so explicitly. Today AAs are told they may
believe in whatever they wish or nothing at all. The original program
included acceptance of Christ. Today the very mention of Jesus Christ in
many meetings brings immediate intimidation and reproof. The original
program took its basic ideas from the Bible—particularly the Book of
James, 1 Corinthians13, and the Sermon on the Mount. Today these go
unmentioned. The original program incorporated the four standards of
Jesus—Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, and
Absolute Love—thought to be based on the standards or yardsticks taught
by Jesus Christ and spelled out in the 1800’s by Dr. Robert E. Speer.
Today, one would be hard-put at many a meeting to find any emphasis at
all on “purity”—considering the vulgar language, overt sexual
references, and frequent mention of “relationships” and “adultery.” The
original program actually circulated religious devotionals, books, and
pamphlets. Today A.A. itself pushes only “Conference Approved”
literature. The original program was self-supporting and self-governing.
Today’s A.A.—at the national level—is utterly dependent upon revenues
from book publishing and distribution and even outside subsidies; while
self-government has been retired in favor of trustees and delegates
whose actions are far removed from people in the fellowship. The
original program offered hospitalization, food and shelter, and family
activities. Today these are relegated to insurance companies, non-profit
organizations, government agencies, counseling, and groups like Al-Anon.
And the language has changed. New ideas such as
“higher power” and “spirituality” and “not-god-ness” have replaced Bible
verses and left members adrift as to meanings. The original requirements
of belief in God, conversion to Christ, Bible study, prayer meetings,
Quiet Time, reading of religious literature, and medical attention are
just plain missing from the fellowship.
This is not to say that you cannot today, in A.A.,
believe in Almighty God, claim Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour,
read the Bible, pray, have a Quiet Time of your own, obey God’
commandments, embrace the Sermon on the Mount, and attend a church and
denomination of your own choice. I do. Many of the people I have
sponsored do. You can! But none of these activities are looked on as
“part” of the A.A. program though each used to be. In fact, some people
and groups who observe these practices are banned from official A.A.
Yet this is not the A.A. I joined, nor the A.A. I
love, nor the fellowship that offered me personally so much support and
non-judgmental love and service when I really needed it. The principles
are not lost. They are available. They need to be recalled to mind. And
that need to be considered as options in A.A., support groups, recovery
groups, church groups, and treatment.
Historical Values--Emanating From A Present-day Focus on A.A.
Shortcomings, Treatment alternatives, Singleness of Purpose,
Universalism, Secularism, Rigidity, and “Spirituality”
There is no need or value here for outlining the
foregoing factors that seem to have led to diminishing 12 Step
effectiveness. The focus on self-centeredness as a sin has replaced
transgression of God’s commandments as the measure of sin. The focus on
treatment as a solution has replaced reliance on the Creator. The focus
on drunkalogs and meeting attendance has not kept newcomers from
relapses and departures. A.A.’s focus on only one type of
addiction—alcoholism--has pushed droves of “alcoholic/addicts” into
other programs. The attempt to universalize A.A., as Lois Wilson urged,
and to be all things to all people, has contributed to revolt against
the mentioning of A.A.’s Christian roots. The secularism, now permeating
American political talk, has had its impact in A.A.—encouraging boldness
by those who reject God, Jesus, the Bible, church, religion, and
religious literature. Then there’s what some have called the “rigidity”
in the fellowship in which pull-up-the-ladder AAs urge the guardians of
A.A. Traditions to “enforce” rules from above as they interpret them.
And this ex cathedra mentality has diminished the respect for local
group autonomy, anonymity, and the Creator as the only judge.
“Spirituality”—New Age compromise talk—has become the darling of those
who don’t want to mention God or the Bible or religion. And though the
word’s meaning is totally obscure, the word has been used like a sledge
hammer to drive down any religious talk.
People who are suffering from alcoholism,
addiction, and life-controlling problems need a choice.
Not a mandate.
You cannot mandate abstinence. You cannot mandate
resistance to temptation. You cannot mandate belief in God or His son.
You cannot mandate Bible study and prayer. You cannot mandate obedience
to God’s commandments. You cannot mandate unselfish love and service to
others. Nor can you mandate recovery by arrest, by raids, by
imprisonment, by treatment, by therapy, or by religion, church, or
medicine. Or even by attacking drug lords abroad.
But you can offer a choice.
In fact, you can offer that choice through the
testimony, experience, and victory others have achieved. That
message-carrying ability is still a tool of great force. That choice can
involve any of the foregoing elements. And the ability to offer the
choice and make the choice really depends on your knowledge of the
alternatives and their effectiveness. History speaks to us loudly.
Christian Endeavor societies were effective. They
grew in membership to 3,500,000 young people affiliated with churches
around the globe. The Salvation Army was effective, became known as the
number one recovery program, and still seems to stand as the most
effective treatment program around the world. YMCA evangelism reached
out around the world, and the organization is large and ubiquitous
today. The Oxford Group was effective for a time and once sported a
large following in the hundreds of thousands. And early A.A.’s pioneer
program achieved unusual effectiveness—beginning with a tiny pilot group
known as the “First Forty.”
A.A.’s own “Conference Approved” literature
affirms the early A.A. effectiveness.
It reports as to Dr. Bob:
“The birth of our Society dates from his first
day of permanent sobriety, June 10, 1935. To 1950, the year of his
death, he carried the A.A. message to more than 5,000 alcoholic men
and women, and to all these he gave his medical services without
thought of charge.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th
ed., p. 171)
“It had been decided that Bob would attend
mostly to the questions of hospitalization and the development of
our Twelfth Step work. Between 1940 and 1950, in the company of that
marvelous nun, Sister Ignatia, he had treated 5,000 drunks at
St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. His spiritual example was a powerful
influence, and he never charged a cent for his medical care. So Dr.
Bob became the prince of all twelfth-steppers. Perhaps nobody
will ever do such a job again. (The Co-Founders of Alcoholics
Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks. NY:
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975, p. 34. bold
Bob’s personal story concluded: “If you think
you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form
of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this
book, I feel sorry for you. . . we know we have an answer for you.
It never fails, if you go about it with one-half the zeal you have
been in the habit of showing when you were getting another drink.
Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” (Alcoholics
Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 181. bold face added)
It reports as to the early program the following
documented success rates among medically incurable alcoholics who really
“Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really
tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up
after some relapses. . .” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th
ed., p. xx). The Akron success rate was 75%!
“Records in Cleveland show that 93 percent of
those who came to us never had a drink again (DR. BOB and the
Good Oldtimers, p. 261). The Cleveland Groups grew from one to
thirty in a year. And the Cleveland success rate was 93%.
Was there “A Way Out” for those who really tried?
Well who wouldn’t sign up for a way that involved a doctor who had
treated over 5,000 drunks, achieved a 75% success rate, and sponsored a
man (Clarence Snyder) whose groups achieved a 93% success rate and a
growth factor of 30 groups in a year!
Moreover, these people were cured. And the best
proof of it came from another quote from A.A. “Conference Approved”
literature where Bill Wilson explicitly spelled out the golden text of
A.A. when Bill said to Henrietta Dotson, wife of A.A. Number Three:
“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., p. 191)
Ingredients of the Original Cures Back Into Focus
And here were the original ingredients of the
cures the early Christian Fellowship achieved:
(1) the choice of abstinence,
(2) the choice of avoiding temptation,
(3) the choice of entrusting one’s life to the
care, direction, and strength of the Creator,
(4) the choice of establishing a relationship with
Him through Christ,
(5) the choice of obeying His commandments and
eliminating sinful conduct,
(6) the choice of growing in knowledge and
fellowship with God, His son, and God’s children through Bible study,
prayer, religious fellowship, worship, and witness.
(7) the choice of passing along to others with
love and service the message that would enable those others to be helped
in like manner.
You may, if you choose, apply the principles of
the early programs wherever you are. Old-time religion, Old-time moral
precepts, and Old-School A.A. work successfully in any one’s life when
such ideas are grounded on the truth in God’s Word. You can apply them
in your church, in your Bible fellowship, in your recovery group, in
your treatment program, in Alcoholics Anonymous, in 12 Step programs, in
your youth groups, in your outreach to prisoners, homeless, the
abandoned, and their families and children. And it’s time to learn the
facts and learn just how.
There is an opportunity today for those who want
to pick up the mantle. It requires choices, enthusiastic participation,
adequate instruction, unselfish personal outreach, a message of truth, a
faith in God, and an underlying love of God in action. It is available
to and for youngsters. It is available through and for churches and
non-profits. It is available through and for treatment. It is available
in and for anonymous and 12 Step groups. It is available in and through
recovery groups and programs. It can be made available in prisons and
jails, in mental health facilities, and in educational courses. With
today’s effective communication alternatives, it can be made available
on TV, radio, video, audio, CD, DVD, websites, blog sites, and even cell
phones. It can be made available in meetings, groups, conferences,
seminars, panels, cruises, retreats, camps, and a host of other areas.
Its time has come,
I believe this article and presentation show you A
Way Out if you choose to learn and activate it.
Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; 808 874
YOU MAY HEAR MOST OF THIS PRESENTATION ON THE DICK
B. BLOG SITE.