2Q - What is meant by mental obsession and the obsessional character of
2A - Well, as I understand it, we are all born with the freedom of choice.
The degree of this varies from person to person, and from area to area in
our lives. In the case of neurotic people, our instincts take on certain
patterns and directions, sometimes so compulsive they cannot be broken by
any ordinary effort of the will. The alcoholic's compulsion to drink is like
As a smoker, for example, I have a deeply ingrained habit - I'm almost an
addict. But I do not think that this habit is an actual obsession. Doubtless
it could be broken by an act of my own will. If badly enough hurt, I could
in all probability give up tobacco. Should smoking repeatedly land
me in Bellevue Hospital, I doubt that I would make the trip many times
before quitting. But with my alcoholism, well, that was something else
again. No amount of desire to stop, no amount of punishment, could enable me
to quit. What was once a habit of drinking became an obsession of drinking -
Perhaps a little more should be said about the obsessional character of
alcoholism. When our fellowship was about three years old some of us called
on Dr. Lawrence Kolb, then Assistant Surgeon General of the United States.
He said that our report of progress had given him his first hope for
alcoholics in general. Not long before, the U.S. Public Health Department
had thought of trying to do something about the alcoholic situation. After a
careful survey of the obsessional character of our malady, this had been
given up. Indeed, Dr. Kolb felt that dope addicts had a far better chance.
Accordingly, the government had built a hospital for their treatment at
Lexington, Kentucky. But for alcoholics - well, there simply wasn't any use
at all, so he thought.
Nevertheless, many people still go on insisting that the alcoholic is not a
sick man - that he is simply weak or willful, and sinful. Even today we
often hear the remark "That drunk could get well if he wanted to."
There is no doubt, too, that the deeply obsessional character of the
alcoholic's drinking is obscured by the fact that drinking is a socially
acceptable custom. By contrast, stealing, or let us say shop-lifting, is
not. Practically everybody has heard of that form of lunacy known as
kleptomania. Oftentimes kleptomaniacs are splendid people in all other
respects. Yet they are under an absolute compulsion to steal - just for the
kick. A kleptomaniac enters a store and pockets a piece of merchandise. He is
arrested and lands in the police station. The judge gives him a jail term.
He is stigmatized and humiliated. Just like the alcoholic, he swears that
never, never will he do this again.
On his release from the jail, he wanders down the street past a department
store. Unaccountably he is drawn inside. He sees, for example, a red tin
fire truck, a child's toy. He instantly forgets all about his misery in the
jail. He begins to rationalize. He says, "Well, this little fire engine is
of no real value. The store won't miss it." So he pockets the toy, the store
detective collars him, he is right back in the clink. Everybody recognizes
this type of stealing as sheer lunacy.
Now, let's compare this behavior with that of an alcoholic. He, too, has
landed in jail. He has already lost family and friends. He suffers heavy
stigma and guilt. He has been physically tortured by his hangover. Like the
kleptomaniac he swears that he will never get into this fix again. Perhaps
he actually knows that he is an alcoholic. He may understand just what that
means and may be fully aware of what the fearful risk of that first drink
Upon his release from jail, the alcoholic behaves just like the
kleptomaniac. He passes a bar and at the first temptation may say, "No, I
must not go inside there; liquor is not for me." But when he arrives at the
next drinking place, he is gripped by a rationalization. Perhaps he says,
"Well, one beer won't hurt me. After all, beer isn't liquor." Completely
unmindful of his recent miseries, he steps inside. He takes that fatal first
drink. The following day, the police have him again. His fellow citizens
continue to say that he is weak or willful. Actually he is just as crazy as
the kleptomaniac ever was. At this stage, his free will in regard to
alcoholism has evaporated. He cannot very well be held accountable for his
behavior. (The N.C.C.A. 'Blue Book', Vol. 12, 1960)
3Q - Just how does A.A. work?
3A - I cannot fully answer that question. Many A.A. techniques have been
adopted after a ten-year period of trial and error, which has led to some
interesting results. But, as laymen, we doubt our own ability to explain
them. We can only tell you what we do, and what seems, from our point of
view, to happen to us.
At the very outset we should like it made ever so clear that A.A. is a
synthetic gadget, as it were, drawing upon the resources of medicine,
psychiatry, religion, and our own experience of drinking and recovery. You
will search in vain for a single new fundamental. We have merely streamlined
old and proven principles of psychiatry and religion into such forms that
the alcoholic will accept them. And then we have created a society of his
own kind where he can enthusiastically put these very principles to work on
himself and other sufferers.
Then too, we have tried hard to capitalize on our one great natural
advantage. That advantage is, of course, our personal experience as drinkers
who have recovered. How often the doctors and clergymen throw up their hands
when, after exhaustive treatment or exhortation, the alcoholic still
insists, "But you don't understand me. You never did any serious drinking
yourself, so how can you? Neither can you show me many who have recovered."
Now, when one alcoholic who has got well talks to another who hasn't, such
objections seldom arise, for the new man sees in a few minutes that he is
talking to a kindred spirit, one who understands. Neither can the recovered
A.A. member be deceived, for he knows every trick, every rationalization of
the drinking game. So the usual barriers go down with a crash. Mutual
confidence, that indispensable of all therapy, follows as surely as day does
night. And if this absolutely necessary rapport is not forthcoming at once
it is almost certain to develop when the new man has met other A. A.s.
Someone will, as we say, "click with him."
As soon as that happens we have a good chance of selling our prospect those
very essentials which you doctors have so long advocated, and the problem
drinker finds our society a congenial place to work them out for himself and
his fellow alcoholic. For the first time in years he thinks himself
understood and he feels useful; uniquely useful, indeed, as he takes his own
turn promoting the recovery of others. No matter what the outer world thinks
of him, he knows he can get well, for he stands in the midst of scores of
cases worse than his own who have attained the goal. And there are other
cases precisely like his own - a pressure of testimony which usually
overwhelms him. If he doesn't succumb at once, he will almost surely do so
later when Barleycorn builds a still hotter fire under him, thus blocking
off all his other carefully planned exits from dilemma. The speaker recalls
seventy-five failures during the first three years of A.A. - people we
utterly gave up on. During the past seven years sixty-two of these people
have returned to us, most of them making good. They tell us they returned
because they knew they would die or go mad if they didn't. Having tried
everything else within their means and having exhausted their pet
rationalizations, they came back and took their medicine. That is why we
never need to evangelize alcoholics. If still in their right minds they come
back, once they have been well exposed to A.A.
Now to recapitulate, Alcoholics Anonymous has made two major contributions
to the programs of psychiatry and religion. These are, it seems to us, the
long missing links in the chain of recovery:
1. Our ability, as ex-drinkers, to secure the confidence of the new man - to
"build a transmission line into him."
2. The provision of an understanding society of ex-drinkers in which the
newcomer can successfully apply the principles of medicine and religion to
himself and others.
So far as we A.A.s are concerned, these principles, now used by us every
day, seem to be in surprising agreement. (N.Y. State J. Med.,Vol.44, Aug.
3A - On the surface A.A. is a thing of great simplicity, yet at its core a
profound mystery. Great forces surely must have been marshaled to expel
obsessions from all these thousands, an obsession which lies at the root of
our fourth largest medical problem and which, time out of mind, has claimed
its hapless millions. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol. 50, July 1950).
4Q - How can A.A. best assure its continued existence?
4A - Since the beginning of recorded time, many societies and nations of
civilizations have passed in review. In those great ones that have left
their mark for good, in contrast with those who have left their mark for
evil, there has always been a sense of history, a true and high constant
purpose, and there has always been a sense of destiny.
In the societies which failed to leave a bright mark in the annals of the
world, there was always a false or boastful sense of history, always a
mistaken or inadequate purpose and always the presumption of an infinite, a
glorious and an exclusive destiny.
In the societies that left their mark of goodness on time, the sense of
history was not a matter for pride or for glory; it was the substance of the
learning of the experience of the past. In the purpose of such a society
there was always truth and constancy, but never a supposition that the
society had apprehended all of the truth - or the superior truth. And in the
sense of destiny there was no conceit, no supposition that a society or
nation or culture would last forever and go on to greater glories. But there
was always a sense of duty to be fulfilled, whatever destiny the society
might be assigned by providence for the betterment of the world.
This is the crossroads at which we in A.A. stand. This is a good time to
re-examine how well we have looked upon our A.A. history and how much we
have profited by it, what false insights or false glories we may have been
extracting from history - to our future detriment. It is a moment to examine
the purpose of this Society. Indeed, we are very lucky to be able to state
as the nucleus of that purpose a single word: sobriety.
Quite early we saw, however, that sobriety in abstinence from alcohol could
never be attained unless there was sobriety and more quietude in the false
motivation that underlay our drinking.
When the Twelve Steps were cast up - without any real experience and
therefore under some Guidance, surely - we were given keys to sobriety in
its wider implications. We have been blessed with a concrete definition of
purpose but, for all its concreteness, we could still abuse it and misuse it
in a very natural way.
Some times we begin to think that perhaps, according to Scriptural promise,
the first shall be last and the last - meaning us - shall really be first.
That would indeed be a very dangerous presumption and never should we
indulge it. If we do, we shall compete in history with other societies who
have been ill-advised enough to suppose that they had a monopoly on truth or
were in some way superior to other attempts of men to think and to associate
in love and in harmony.
We may look out upon our destiny with no violation of our principle that we
are to live one day at a time. We mean that, emotionally, each in his
personal life is never to repine upon the past glory too much, in the
present, or presume upon the future. We shall attend to the day's business
but we shall try to apprehend ever more truth from the lessons of our
history, not the lessons of our successes but the lessons of our defections,
failures and the awful emotions that can set us loose upon us. For these,
indeed, are the raw materials that God has used to forge this still rather
little instrument called Alcoholics Anonymous. So we may look at destiny and
we may ask ourselves about it and speculate upon it a little - if we do not
presume to play God. (G.S.C., 1961)
7Q - What did A.A. learn from the Oxford Group and why did they leave them?
7A - AA's first step was derived largely from my own physician, Dr.
Silkworth, and my sponsor Ebby and his friend, from Dr. Jung of Zurich. I
refer to the medical hopelessness of alcoholism - our 'powerlessness' over
The rest of the Twelve Steps stem directly from those Oxford Group teachings
that applied specifically to us. Of course these teachings were nothing new;
we might have obtained them from your own Church. They were, in effect, an
examination of conscience, confession, restitution, helpfulness to others,
I should acknowledge our great debt to the Oxford Group people. It was
fortunate that they laid particular emphasis on spiritual principles that we
needed. But in fairness it should also be said that many of their attitudes
and practices did not work well at all for us alcoholics. These were
rejected one by one and they caused our later withdrawal from this society
to a fellowship of our own - today's Alcoholics Anonymous.
Perhaps I should specifically outline why we felt it necessary to part
company with them. To begin with, the climate of their undertaking was not
well suited to us alcoholics. They were aggressively evangelical. They
sought to re-vitalize the Christian message in such a way as to "change the
world." Most of us alcoholics had been subjected to pressure of evangelism
and we never liked it. The object of saving the world - when it was still
very much in doubt if we could save ourselves - seemed better left to other
people. By reason of some of its terminology and by exertion of huge
pressure, the Oxford Group set a moral stride that was too fast,
particularly for our newer alcoholics. They constantly talked of Absolute
Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, Absolute Honesty, and Absolute Love. While
sound theology must always have its absolute values, the Oxford Groups
created the feeling that one should arrive at these destinations in short
order, maybe by next Thursday! Perhaps they didn't mean to create such an
impression but that was the effect. Sometimes their public "witnessing" was
of such a character to cause us to be shy. They also believed that by
"converting" prominent people to their beliefs, they would hasten the
salvation of many who were less prominent. This attitude could scarcely
appeal to the average drunk since he was anything but distinguished.
The Oxford Group also had attitudes and practices which added up to a highly
coercive authority. This was exercised by "teams" of older members. They
would gather in meditation and receive specific guidance for the life
conduct of newcomers. This guidance could cover all possible situations from
the most trivial to the most serious. If the directions so obtained were not
followed, the enforcement machinery began to operate. It consisted of a sort
of coldness and aloofness which made recalcitrants feel they weren't wanted.
At one time, for example, a "team" got guidance for me to the effect that I
was no longer to work with alcoholics. This I could not accept.
Another example: When I first contacted the Oxford Groups, Catholics were
permitted to attend their meetings because they were strictly
non-denominational. But after a time the Catholic Church forbade its members
to attend and the reason for this seemed a good one. Through the Oxford
Group "teams", Catholic Church members were actually receiving specific
guidance for their lives; they were often infused with the idea that their
Church had become rather horse-and-buggy, and needed to be "changed."
Guidance was frequently given that contributions should be made to the
Oxford Groups. In a way this amounted to putting Catholics under a separate
ecclesiastical jurisdiction. At this time there were few Catholics in our
alcoholic groups. Obviously we could not approach any more Catholics under
Oxford Group auspices. Therefore this was another, and the basic reason for
the withdrawal of our alcoholic crowd from the Oxford Groups notwithstanding
our great debt to them. (N.C.C.A. 'Blue Book', Vol. 12, 1960)
7A - The first A.A. group had come into being but we still had no name.
Those were the years of flying blind, those ensuing two or three years. A
slip in those days was a dreadful calamity. We would look at each other and
wonder who might be next. Failure! Failure! Failure was our constant
I returned home from Akron now endowed with a more becoming humility and
less preaching and a few people began to come to us, a few in Cleveland and
Akron. I had got back into business briefly and again Wall Street collapsed
and took me with it as usual. So I set out West to see if there was
something I could do in that country. Dr. Bob and I of course had been
corresponding but it wasn't until one late fall afternoon in 1937 that I
reached his house and sat in his living room. I can recall the scene as
though it were yesterday and we got out a pencil and paper and we began to
put down the names of those people in Akron, New York and that little
sprinkling in Cleveland who had been dry a while and despite the large
number of failures it finally burst upon us that forty people had got a real
release and had significant dry time behind them. I shall never forget that
great and humbling hour of realization. Bob and I saw for the first time
that a new light had begun to shine down upon us alcoholics, had begun to
shine upon the children of the night.
That realization brought an immense responsibility. Naturally, we thought at
once, how shall what we forty know be carried to the millions who don't
know? Within gunshot of this house there must be others like us who are
thoroughly bothered by this obsession. How shall they know? How is this
going to be transmitted?
Up to this time as you must be aware, A.A. was utterly simple. It filled the
full measure of simplicity as is since demanded by a lot of people. I guess
we old timers all have a nostalgia about those halcyon days of simplicity
when thank God there were no founders and no money and there were no meeting
places, just parlors. Annie and Lois baking cakes and making coffee for
those drunks in the living room. We didn't even have a name! We just called
ourselves a bunch of drunks trying to get sober. We were more anonymous than
we are now. Yes, it was all very simple. But, here was a new realization,
what was the responsibility of the forty men to those who did not know?
Well, I have been in the world of business, a rather hectic world of
business, the world of Wall Street. I suspect that I was a good deal of a
promoter and a bit of a salesman, rather better than I am here today. So I
began to think in business man's terms. We had discovered that the hospitals
did not want us drinkers because, we were poor payers and never got well.
So, why shouldn't we have our own hospitals and I envisioned a great chain
of drunk tanks and hospitals spreading across the land. Probably, I could
sell stocks in those and we could damn well eat as well as save drunks.
Then too, Dr. Bob and I recalled that it had been a very tedious and slow
business to sober up forty people, it had taken about three years and in
those days we old timers had the vainglory to suppose that nobody else could
really do this job but us. So we naturally thought in terms of having
alcoholic missionaries, no disparagement to missionaries to be sure. In
other words, people would be grubstaked for a year or two, moved to Chicago,
St. Louis, Frisco and so on and start little centers and meanwhile we would
be financing this string of drunk tanks and began to suck them into these
places. Yes, we would need missionaries and hospitals! Then came one
reflection that did make some sense.
It seemed very clear that what we had already found out should be put on
paper. We needed a book, so Dr. Bob called a meeting for the very next night
and in that little meeting of a dozen and a half, a historic decision was
taken which deeply affected our destiny. It was in the living room of a
nonalcoholic friend who let us come there because his living room was bigger
than the Smith's parlor and he loved us. I too, remember that day as if it
So, Smithy and I explained this new obligation which depended on us forty.
How are we to carry this message to the ones who do not know? I began to
wind up my promotion talk about the hospitals and the missionaries and the
book and I saw their faces fall and straight away that meeting divided into
three significant parts. There was the promoter section of which I was
definitely one. There was the section that was indifferent and there was
what you might call the orthodox section.
The orthodox section was very vocal and it said with good reason, "Look! Put
us into business and we are lost. This works because it is simple, because
everybody works at it, because nobody makes anything out of it and because
no one has any axe to grind except his sobriety and the other guy's. If you
publish a book we will have infinite quarrels about the damn thing. It will
get us into business and the clinker of the orthodox section was that our
Lord, Himself, had no book.
Well, it was impressive and events proved that the orthodox people were
practically right, but, thank God, not fully right. Then there were the
indifferent ones who thought, well, if Smitty and Bill think we ought to do
these things, well, its all right with us. So the indifferent ones, plus the
promoters out voted the orthodoxy and said "If you want to do these things
Bill, you go back to New York where there is a lot of dough and you get the
money and then we'll see."
Well, by this time I'm higher than a kite you know. Promoters can stay high
on something besides alcohol. I was already talking about the greatest
medical development, greatest spiritual development, greatest social
development of all time. Think of it, forty drunks. (Chicago, Ill., February
9Q - How do medicine and religion differ in their approach to the alcoholic?
9A - They differ in one respect. When the doctor has shown the alcoholic the
underlying difficulties and has prescribed a program of readjustment, he
says to him, "Now that you understand what is required for recovery, you
should no longer depend on me. You must depend on yourself. You go do it."
Clearly, then, the objective of the doctor is to make the patient
self-sufficient and largely, if not wholly, dependent upon himself.
Religion does not attempt this. It says that faith in self is not enough,
even for a non-alcoholic. The clergyman says that we shall have to find and
depend upon a Higher Power - God. He advises prayer and frankly recommends
an attitude of unwavering reliance upon Him who presides over all. By this
means we discover strength much beyond our own resources.
So, the main difference seems to add up to this: Medicine says, know
yourself, be strong and you will be able to face life. Religion says, know
thyself, ask God for power, and you will become truly free.
In Alcoholics Anonymous the new person may try either method. He sometimes
eliminates "the spiritual angle" from the Twelve Steps to recovery and
wholly relies upon honesty, tolerance and working with others. But it is
interesting to note that faith always comes to those who try this simple
approach with an open mind - and in the meantime they stay sober.
If, however, the spiritual content of the Twelve Steps is actively denied,
they can seldom remain dry. That is our A.A. experience. We stress the
spiritual simply because thousands of us have found we can't do without it.
(N.Y. State 3. Med., Vol. 44, Aug. 15, 1944)
10Q - What were the conditions that led to the Twelve Traditions?
10A - After the Jack Alexander article was published in 1941 it brought down
a deluge on our little New York office of thousands upon thousands of
inquiries from frantic alcoholics, their wives, their employers and at that
moment we passed out of our infancy and embarked upon our next phase- the
phase of adolescence.
Well, adolescence by definition is a troubled time of young life and we were
no exception as groups began to take shape all over the land and these
groups immediately had trouble. We made the very sad discovery that just
because you sobered up a drunk you haven't made a saint out of him by a long
shot. We found that we could be bitterly resentful and we discovered that we
had a much better booze cure than we thought possible. A lot of us found
that we could gripe like thunder and still stay sober. We found that we were
in all sorts of petty struggles for leadership and prestige. A lot of us
were very suspicious of the Book enterprise in the hands of that fellow
Wilson who has a truck backed up to Mr. Rockefeller who has all the dough.
And we began to have all sorts of troubles.
Money had entered the picture - it had to. We had to hire halls that didn't
come for nothing, the book cost something, we had dinners once in a while.
Yes, money came into it.
Then we found little by little that the groups had to have chores done. Who
was going to be the Chairman, would we hand pick him or elect him or what?
You know what those troubles were and they became so fearsome that we went
through another period of flying blind. The first period of flying blind you
remember had to do with whether the individual could be restored into one
piece, whether the forces of destruction in him could be contained and
subdued. Now, we were beginning to wonder in the early part of our
adolescence, whether the destructive forces in our groups would rend us
apart and destroy the society. Ah, those were fearsome days.
Our little New York office began to be deluged with mail from these groups,
growing up at distances and not in contact with our old centers and they
were having these troubles: There were people coming out of the insane
asylums. Lord, what would these lunatics do to us? There were prisoners,
would we be sandbagged? There were queer people. There were people, believe
it or not, whose morals were bad and the respectable alcoholics of that time
shook their heads and said, "surely these immoral people are going to render
us asunder." Little Red Riding Hood and the bad wolves began to abound. Ah
yes, could our society last?
It kept growing, more groups, more members. Sometimes the groups divided
because the leaders were mad at each other and sometimes they divided
because they were just too big. But by a process of fission and sub-division
this movement grew and grew and grew. Ten years later it had spread into
Out of that vast welter of experience in our adolescence it began to be
evident that we were going to take very different attitudes towards many
things than our fellow Americans. We were deeply convinced for example, that
the survival of the whole was far more important than the survival of any
individual or group of individuals. This was a thing far bigger than any one
of us. We began to suspect that once a mass of alcoholics were adhering even
halfway to the Twelve Steps, that God could speak in their Group conscience
and up out of that Group conscience could come a wisdom greater than any
In the early days we all had membership rules. Where have they gone now?
We're not afraid anymore. We open our arms wide, we say we don't care who
you are, what your difficulties are. You just need say, "I'm an alcoholic and
I'm interested." You declare yourself in. Our membership idea is put exactly
Years ago we thought this society should go into research and education, to
do everything for drunks all the time. We know better now. We have one sole
object in this society, we shoemakers are going to stick to our last and we
will carry that message to other alcoholics and leave these other matters to
the more competent. We will do one thing supremely well rather than many
And so our Tradition grew. Our Tradition is not American tradition. Take our
public relations policy. Why, in America everything runs on big names,
advertising people. We are a country devoted to heroism. It is a beloved
tradition and yet this movement in the wisdom of it's Group's soul, knew
that this was not for us. So our public relations policy is anonymity at the
public level. No advertising of people, principles before personalities.
Anonymity has a deep spiritual significance - the greatest protection this
As our society has grown up it has developed its way of life. It's a way of
relating ourselves together, it's a way of relating ourselves to these
troublesome questions of property, money and prestige and authority and the
world at large. The A.A. Tradition developed not because I dictated it but
because you people, your experience formed it and I merely set it on paper
and tried beginning four years ago (1946) to reflect it back to you. Such
were our years of adolescence, and before we leave them I must say that a
powerful impetus was given the Traditions by the Gentleman who introduced
me. (Earl T.)
One day he came down to Bedford Hills after the long form of the Traditions
were written out at some length, because in the office we were forever having
to answer questions about Group troubles, so the original Traditions were
longer and covered more possibilities of trouble. Earl looked at me rather
quizzically and he said "Bill, don't you get it through your thick head that
these drunks do not like to read. They will listen for a while but they will
not read anything. Now, you want to capsule these Traditions as simply as
are the Twelve Steps to Recovery."
So he and I started the capsulizing process, which lasted a day or two and
that put the Traditions into their present (short) form. Well, by this time we had a
lot of experience on these principles, which we began to think might bind us
together in unity for so long as God might need us. And at Cleveland (1950),
seven thousand of us did declare "Yes, these are the traditional principles
upon which we are willing to stand, upon which we can safely commit
ourselves to the future, and so we emerged from adolescence. Again, last year
we took destiny by the hand. (Transcribed from tape. Chicago, IL, February
12Q - What will the General Service Conference do?
12A - It will hear the annual reports of the Alcoholic Foundation, the
General Office, Grapevine, and Works Publishing and also the report of our
certified public accountant. The Conference will fully discuss these
reports, offering needed suggestions or resolutions respecting them.
The Trustees will present to the Conference all serious problems of policy
or finance confronting A.A. Headquarters, or A.A. as a whole. Following
discussions of these, the Conference will offer the Trustees appropriate
advice and resolutions.
Special attention will be given to all violations of our Tradition liable to
seriously affect A.A. as a whole. The Conference will, if it be deemed wise,
publish suitable resolutions deploring such deviations.
Because Conference activities will extend over a three-day weekend,
Delegates will be able to exchange views on every conceivable problem. They
will become closely acquainted with each other and with our Headquarters
people. They will visit the premises of the Foundation, Grapevine and
General Office. This should engender mutual confidence. Guesswork and rumor
are to be replaced by first-hand knowledge.
Before the conclusion of each year's Conference, a Committee will be named
to render all A.A. members a written report upon the condition of their
Headquarters and the state of A.A. generally.
On a Conference Delegate's return home, his State or Provincial Committee
will, if practical, call a meeting of Group representatives and any others
who wish to hear his personal report. The Delegate will get these meetings
reaction to his report, and its suggestions respecting problems to be
considered at future Conference sessions. The Delegate ought to visit as
many of his constituent Groups as possible. They should have direct
knowledge of their A.A. Headquarters .(Third Legacy Pamphlet, October 1950).
12A - Through the General Service Conference, A.A. as a whole is now brought
into the picture. The Conference is a "huge rotating committee" in whose
hands has been placed the responsibility for AA's worldwide services -
assistance to the Groups, public relations, preparation and distribution of
literature, foreign propagation and other activities. (Bill W. 1st GSC,
13Q- Could you explain AA's tradition concerning other agencies in the field
13A - I remember very well when this committee started (January, 1944) It
brought me in contact with our great friends at Yale, the courageous Dr.
Haggard, the incredible Dr. Jellinek or Bunky as we affectionately know him
and Seldon and all those dedicated people.
The question arose, could an AA member get into education or research or
what not? Then ensued a fresh and great controversy in AA which was not
surprising because you must remember that in this period we were like people
on Rickenbacker's raft. Who would dare ever rock us ever so little and
precipitate us back in the alcohol sea.
So, frankly, we were afraid and as usual we had the radicals and we had the
conservatives and we had moderates on this question of whether A.A. members
could go into other enterprises in this field. The conservatives said, "no,
let's keep it simple, let's mind our own business." The radicals said, "let
's endorse anything that looks like it will do any good, let the A.A. name
be used to raise money and to do whatever it can for the whole field," and
the growing body of moderates took the position, "let any A.A. member who
feels the call go into these related fields for if we are to do less it
would be a very antisocial outlook." So that is where the Tradition finally
sat and many were called and many were chosen since that day to go into
these related fields which has now got to be so large in their promise that
we of Alcoholics Anonymous are getting down to our right size and we are
only now realizing that we are only a small part of a great big picture.
We are realizing again, afresh, that without our friends, not only could we
not have existed in the first place but we could not have grown. We are
getting a fresh concept of what our relations with the world and all of
these related enterprises should be. In other words, we are growing up. In
fact, last year at St. Louis we were bold enough to say that we had come of
age and that within Alcoholics Anonymous the main outlines of the basis for
recovery, of the basis for unity and of the basis for service or function
were already evident.
At St. Louis I made talks upon each of those subjects which largely
concerned themselves about what A.A. had done about these things but here we
are in a much wider field and I think that the sky is the limit. I think
that I can say without any reservation that what this Committee has done
with the aid of it's great friends who are now legion as anyone here can
see. I think that this Committee has been responsible for making more
friends for Alcoholics Anonymous and of doing a wider service in educating
the world on the gravity of this malady and what can be done about it than
any other single agency.
I'm awfully partial and maybe I'm a little biased because here sits the dean
of all our ladies (Marty M.), my close, dear friend. So speaking out of turn
as a founder, I want to convey to her in the presence of all of you the best
I can say of my great love and affection is thanks.
At the close of things in St. Louis, I remember that I likened A.A. to a
cathedral style edifice whose corners now rested on the earth. I remember
saying that we can see on its great floor the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics
Anonymous and there assembled 150,000 sufferers and their families. We have
seen side walls go up, buttressed with the A.A. Tradition and at St. Louis,
when the elected Conference took over from the Board of Trustees, the spire
of service was put into effect and its beacon light, the beacon light of
A.A. shone there beckoning to all the world.
I realized that as I sat here today that that was not a big enough concept,
for on the floor of the cathedral of the spirit there should always be
written the formula from whatever source for release from alcoholism,
whether it be a drug, whether it be the psychiatric art, whether it be the
ministrations of this Committee. In other words, we who deal with this
problem are all in the same boat, all standing upon the same floor. So let's
bring to this floor the total resources that can be brought to bear upon
this problem and let us not think of unity just in terms of A.A. Tradition
but let us think of unity among all those who work in the field as the kind
of unity that befits brotherhood and sisterhood and a kinship in the common
suffering. Let us stand together in the spirit of service. If we do these
things, only then can we declare ourselves really come of age. And only
then, and I think that this is a time not far off. I think we can say that
the future, our future, the future of the Committee, of A.A. and of the
things that people of good will are trying to do in this field will be
completely assured. (Transcribed from taped address to The National
Committee for Education on Alcoholism. March 30, 1956).
14Q - What purposes do the Twelve Concepts for World Services serve?
14A -"The Concepts to be discussed in the following pages are primarily an
interpretation of AA's world service structure. They spell out the
traditional practices and the Conference charter principles that relate the
component parts of our world structure into a working whole. Our Third
Legacy manual is largely a document of procedure. Up to now the Manual tells
us how to operate our service structure. But there is considerable lack of
detailed information, which would tell us why the structure has developed as
it has and why its working parts are related together in the fashion that
our Conference and General Service Board charters provide.
"These Twelve Concepts therefore represent an attempt to put on paper the
why of our service structure in such a fashion that the highly valuable
experience of the past and the conclusions that we have drawn from it cannot
"These Concepts are no attempt to freeze our operation against needed
change. They only describe the present situation, the forces and principles
that have molded it. It is to be remembered that in most respects the
Conference charter can be readily amended. This interpretation of the past
and present can, however, have a high value for the future. Every oncoming
generation of service workers will be eager to change and improve our
structure and operations. This is good. No doubt change will be needed.
Perhaps unforeseen flaws will emerge. These will have to be remedied.
But along with this very constructive outlook, there will be bound to be
still another, a destructive one. We shall always be tempted to throw out
the baby with the bathwater. We shall suffer the illusion that change, any
plausible change, will necessarily represent progress. When so animated, we
may carelessly cast aside the hard won lesions of early experience and so
fall back into many of the great errors of the past.
Hence, a prime purpose of these Twelve Concepts is to hold the experience
and lessons of the early days constantly before us. This should reduce the
chance of hasty and unnecessary change. And if alterations are made that
happen to work out badly, then it is hoped that these Twelve Concepts will
make a point of safe return." (GSC, 1960)
15 - (Remembering AA's Early Friends)
Bill never tired of telling the story of A.A.s' beginning and giving thanks
for our many early friends. This is how he told it to the General Service
Conference in 1952.
15A - "You share with me, I know, the thought that the closing hours of this
conference bring with them a deep and joyous realization. The realization
that at last we are surely on the high road that stretches straight out
toward our future, toward, we trust, an everlasting sunrise. We face the
sunrise in high hope, with a confidence that is almost awesome and with our
hearts full of unspeakable gratitude.
Gratitude to the Father of lights, Who has delivered us out of our bondage,
gratitude to friends through whose hearts he has enabled this miracle to be
worked, and gratitude for each other.
This too is an hour that will ever stir memory. With me, perhaps more than
most, the wellsprings of memory are at flood tide. I think of a psychiatrist
at Zurich, Switzerland, who had a patient, an American businessman, treated
him a year.
The patient thought greatly of his psychiatrist, none other than the famous
Dr. Jung. The patient thought he was well, but leaving the doctor, he soon
found himself drunk. So he returned to Dr. Jung, who yet unknowing to this
day, is one of the founders of this society. And he said to this patient,
"Unless you have a spiritual experience, there is nothing that can be done.
You are too much conditioned by alcoholism to be saved in any other way."
Our friend thought it was a hard sentence, but like many of us since, he
began to seek such an experience. He found it in the confines of the Oxford
Group, an evangelical movement of that time. He sobered at once. There he
found the grace to achieve it. It was then called to his attention that a
friend of his was about to be committed for alcoholism to an asylum in
Vermont. Together with some other "Groupers," he interceded. The result was
our beloved Ebby, who first brought the essentials of recovery to me.
Meanwhile, there was a little Jesuit, Ed Dowling, laboring among his flock,
lame and relatively obscure, he too, was to light a candle for A.A.
There was a nun, Sister Ignatia, in Akron who was to become the companion of
Dr. Bob, who as you know, was the prince of our Twelfth Steppers. She, too,
was to light a candle for us.
Even Francis of Assisi holding for the principle of corporate poverty, had
lit a candle for A.A. So had William James, the father of modern psychology,
whose book, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," had such a profound
influence upon us. He had lit a candle for Alcoholics Anonymous.
Then, too, there were to be couriers to all the world. Harry Emerson
Fosdick, Fulton Oursler of Liberty, Jack Alexander and the owner of Saturday
Evening Post. They were to become couriers. They, too, were to light candles
for Alcoholics Anonymous.
But back there in the summer of 1934, the alcoholics of the world felt as
hopeless as ever. And yet, as you see, a table was being prepared in the
presence of our ancient enemy, John Barleycorn. Candles were already upon
it, and meat and drink was there, but the guests had not arrived.
Then came some guests and they partook of the spark that was to become
Alcoholics Anonymous was struck. Then ensued our period of flying blind, at
the end of which, about 1937 or 1938, we realized that, indeed, a table had
been prepared in the presence of our enemy. And that the candles upon that
table might one day shine around the world and touch every distant
There were more years of travail in that pioneering time which ended in 1941
with the advent of the Post article. Meanwhile, our book of experience had
appeared. No longer need we travel in person. The message could be taken
through those printed pages to distant ones who suffered.
Our recovery program was really complete. Then came the test whether our
growing groups could live and work together, whether the enormous explosive
quality of our fellowship would find in our principles of recovery a
sufficient containing element. Soon we came to realize little by little that
we of Alcoholics Anonymous must hang together or indeed we should hang
And in that sometimes frightening experience, the Tradition of Alcoholics
Anonymous was forged. And at Cleveland, in 1950, it was confirmed by our
fellowship as the traditional platform upon which our society intended to
No body of law was this Tradition. A set of principles infused with the
spirit of our 12 steps of recovery and enshrined in the heart of each of us
- that would be our protection, we thought, from any blows with which the
outside world would assail us, our protection from any temptations to which
we might be subjected within.
Such was the Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In this period of infancy and in adolescence this Society discovered that it
had to function. This Conference culminates that long process of discovery
through which we have learned how we can best act to carry this message to
those who suffer. Yes, the advent of this conference in full strength will
mark a great day in the annals of Alcoholics Anonymous.
For me, it marks a time when I must shift from activity to reflection and
meditation and to the task of acting as your scribbler, to record the
experience of these marvelous years just past. I realize that I shall be but
a reflector, a scribbler only. I hope the task will be completed, useful and
pleasing to you -- and pleasing to God.
My heart is too full to say anymore, excepting au revoir."
17Q - Is A.A. based totally on your own experiences?
17A - Let's look. Dr. Bob recovered. Then we two 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 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 and
see how he 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 adversity. So then we began to
look harder for our mistakes, to correct them, to capitalize on our errors.
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
40; and at the end of the fourth year, 100.
During those first four 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. Carrell (Man, The Unknown). From that book came
an argument which is now a part of our system. 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 four years, the
material was cast in the form of a book known as Alcoholics Anonymous. (Yale
Summer School of Alcohol Studies, June 1945)
19Q - Could you describe your spiritual experience for us and your
understanding of what happened?
19A - In December 1934, I appeared at Towns Hospital, New York. My old
friend, Dr. William Silkworth shook his head. Soon free of my sedation and
alcohol I felt horribly depressed. My friend Ebby turned up and although
glad to see him, I shrank a little as I feared evangelism, but nothing of
the sort happened. After some small talk, I again asked him for his neat
little formula for recovery. Quietly and sanely and without the slightest
pressure he told me and then he left.
Lying there in conflict, I dropped into the blackest depression I had ever
known. Momentarily my prideful depression was crushed. I cried out, "Now I
am ready to do anything - anything to receive what my friend Ebby has."
Though I certainly didn't expect anything, I did make this frantic appeal,
"If there be a God, will He show Himself!" The result was instant, electric
beyond description. The place seemed to light up, blinding white. I knew
only ecstasy and seemed on a mountain. A great wind blew, enveloping and
penetrating me. To me, it was not of air but of Spirit. Blazing, there came
the tremendous thought, "You are a free man." Then the ecstasy subsided.
Still on the bed, I now found myself in a new world of consciousness which
was suffused by a Presence. One with the Universe, a great peace came over
me. I thought, "So this is the God of the preachers, this is the great
Reality." But soon my so-called reason returned, my modern education took
over and I thought I must be crazy and I became terribly frightened.
Dr. Silkworth, a medical saint if ever there was one, came in to hear my
trembling account of this phenomenon. After questioning me carefully, he
assured me that I was not mad and that perhaps I had undergone a psychic
experience which might solve my problem. Skeptical man of science though he
then was, this was most kind and astute. If he had of said, "hallucination,"
I might now be dead. To him I shall ever be eternally grateful.
Good fortune pursued me. Ebby brought me a book entitled "Varieties of
Religious Experience" and I devoured it. Written by William James, the
psychologist, it suggests that the conversion experience can have objective
reality. Conversion does alter motivation and it does semi-automatically
enable a person to be and to do the formerly impossible. Significant it was,
that marked conversion experience came mostly to individuals who knew
complete defeat in a controlling area of life. The book certainly showed
variety but whether these experiences were bright or dim, cataclysmic or
gradual, theological or intellectual in bearing, such conversions did have a
common denominator - they did change utterly defeated people. So declared
William James, the father of modern psychology. The shoe fitted and I have
tried to wear it ever since.
For drunks, the obvious answer was deflation at depth, and more of it. That
seemed plain as a pikestaff. I had been trained as an engineer, so the news
of this authoritative psychologist meant everything to me. This eminent
scientist of the mind had confirmed everything that Dr. Jung had said, and
had extensively documented all he claimed. Thus William James firmed up the
foundation on which I and many others had stood all these years. I haven't
had a drink of alcohol since 1934. (N.Y. Med. Soc. Alcsm., April 28,1958)
20Q - Could you tell us about the early days and the meetings in your home
on Clinton Street?
20A - In those days we were associated with the Oxford Group and one of its
founders was Sam Shoemaker and the Group was meeting in Calvary Church. Our
dept to the Oxford Group is simply immense. We might have found these
principles elsewhere, but they did give them to us, and I want to again
record our underlying gratitude. We also learned from them, so far as
alcoholics are concerned, what not to do - something equally important.
Father Edward Dowling, a great Jesuit friend of ours, once said to me,
"Bill, it isn't what you people put into A.A. that makes it good - it's what
you left out." We got both sets of notions from our Oxford Group friends,
and it was through them that Ebby had sobered up and became my sponsor, the
carrier of this message to me.
We began to go to Oxford Group meetings over in Calvary House, and it was
there, fresh out of Towns Hospital, that I made my first pitch, telling
about my strange experience, which did not impress the alcoholics who were
listening. But something else did impress him. When I began to talk about
the nature of this sickness, this malady, he pricked up his ears. He was a
professor of chemistry, an agnostic, and he came up and talked afterward.
Soon, he was invited over to Clinton Street - our very first customer. We
worked very hard with Freddy for three years, but alas, he remained drunk
for eleven years afterward. Other people came to us out of those Oxford
Group audiences. We began to go down to Calvary Mission, an adjunct of the
church in those days, and there we found a bountiful supply of real tough
nuts to crack. We began to invite them to Clinton Street, and at this point
the Groupers felt that we were over doing the drunk business. It seemed that
they had the idea of saving the world and besides they'd had a bad time with
us. Sam and his associates, he now laughingly tells me, were very much put
out that they gathered a big batch of drunks in Calvary House, hoping for a
miracle. They put them upstairs in those nice apartments and had them
completely surrounded with sweetness and light but the drunks imported a
flock of bottles and one of them pitched a shoe out of the apartment window
and it went through a stained-glass window of the church. So the drunks were
not exactly popular when the Wilson's showed up.
At any rate, we began to be with alcoholics all the time, but nothing
happened for six months. Like the Groupers, we nursed them. In fact, over in
Clinton Street, we developed in the next two or three years something like a
boiler factory, a sort of clinic, a hospital, and a free boarding house,
from which practically no one issued sober, but we had a pile of experience.
We began to learn the game, and after our withdrawal from the Oxford Group -
a year and a half from the time I sobered in 1934 - we began to hold meetings
of the few who had sobered up. I suppose that was really the first A.A.
meeting. The book had not yet been written. We did not even call it
Alcoholics Anonymous; people asked who we were and we said, "Well, we're a
nameless bunch of alcoholics." I suppose that use of the word "nameless"
sort of led us to the idea of anonymity, which was later clapped on the book
at the time it was titled.
There were great doings in Clinton Street. I remember those meetings down in
the parlor so well. Our eager discussion, our hopes, our fears - and our
fears were very great. When anyone in those days had been sober a few months
and slipped, it was a terrific calamity. I'll never forget the day, a year
and-a-half after he came to stay with us, that Ebby fell over, and we all
said, "Perhaps this is going to happen to all of us." Then, we began to ask
ourselves why it was, and some of us pushed on.
At Clinton Street, I did most of the talking, but Lois did most of the work,
and the cooking, and the loving of those early folks.
Oh my! The episodes we had there! I was away once on a business trip (I'd
briefly got back into business), one of the drunks was sleeping on the
lounge in the parlor. Lois woke up in the middle of the night, hearing a
great commotion. One of the drunks had gotten a bottle and was drunk; he had
also gotten into the kitchen and had drunk a bottle of maple syrup and he
had fallen into the coal hod. When Lois opened the door, he asked for a
towel to cover up his nakedness. She once led this same gentleman through
the streets late at night looking for a doctor, and not finding a doctor,
then looking for a drink, because, as he said, he could not fly on one wing!
On one occasion, a pair of them were drunk. We had five, and on another
occasion, they were all drunk at the same time! Then there was the time when
two of them began to beat each other with two-by-fours down in the basement.
Then one night, poor Ebby, after repeated trials and failures, was finally
locked out one night, but lo and behold, he appeared anyway. He had come
through the coal chute and up the stairs, very much begrimed.
So you see, Clinton Street was a kind of blacksmith shop, in which we were
hammering away at these principles. For Lois and me, all roads lead back to
Clinton Street. (Manhattan Group, 1955)
21Q - How did you meet A.A. No.3, Bill D?
21A - I was living at Dr. Bob's place and one day he said to me "Don't you
think that for self-protection that we had better be working with more
drunks." I thought it was a good idea and the upshot was that he called City
Hospital where he was in some discredit because of his drinking and he got
hold of the Head Nurse down there and said to her "A fellow from New York
and I have a new cure for alcoholism." Quite kindly the nurse observed,
"Well, Doctor, I think that you should try it on yourself." Then she told us
that they had a dandy prospect who was strapped down for blackening the eyes
of one of the nurses. So doc said, "Put him to bed and we'll be down when
you get him cleared up a bit and put him in a private room."
So a little while after Dr. Bob and I saw a sight that tens of thousands of
us have since beheld and God willing, hundreds of thousands shall see. It
was the sight of the man on the bed who did not yet know that he could get
Well, as it turned out, the man on the bed was no optimist, like many a
drunk since he said, "I'm different, my case is too tough and don't talk to
me about religion, I'm already a man of faith. I used to be a Deacon in the
Church and I've got faith in God still, but quite obviously He has none in
me. Anyhow, come back tomorrow and see me as you fellows interest me as you've been through the mill." Of course we had related our simple formula. Of course we had told him of our release although he was not impressed that mine was only of months and Bob's only of days. He said, "I was sober once
that long myself."
We came once more and as we entered his room the man's wife sat at the foot
of the bed and she was saying to her husband, "What has got into you, you
seem so different." He said, "Here they are, these are the ones who
understand, they've been through the mill." He made great haste in
explaining how during the night hope had come to him and he had taken there
to follow our simple formula. Something else had happened, there was a sense
of lightness, a sense of feeling in one piece, a feeling of relief, he said.
The next thing we knew No.3 said to his wife "Fetch my clothes dear, we're
going to get up and get out of here." So A.A. No.3 rose from his bed and
walked out of that place never to drink again. Well, at that time there was
no realization on the part of us what had begun to happen. Of course, that
was the beginning of A.A. as we understand it today. The essential process
was the same and the grace of God just as everlasting. (Chicago, Il.,
23Q - Can the Twelve Steps be compared to the Spiritual Exercises of St.
23A - In 1941, I visited St. Louis and Father Ed Dowling met me at the
field. This was a blistering day and he had come to bring me to the (Jesuit)
Sodality Headquarters. I was struck by the delightful informality. Of course
I had never been to such a place before. I had been raised in a small
Vermont village, Yankee style. Happily there was no bigotry in my
grandfather who raised me but neither was there much religious contact or
understanding. So here I was in some kind of a monastery. Even then, believe
it or not, I still toyed with the notion that Catholicism was somehow a
superstition of the Irish!
Then Father Ed and his Jesuit partners commenced to ask me questions. They
wanted to know about the recently published A.A. book and especially about
AA's Twelve Steps. To my surprise they had supposed that I must have had a
Catholic education. They seemed doubly surprised when I informed them that
at the age of eleven I had quit the Congregational Sunday School because my
teacher had asked me to sign a temperance pledge. This had been the extent
of my religious education.
More questions were asked about AA's Twelve Steps. I explained how a few
years earlier some of us had been associated with the Oxford Groups; that we
had picked up from these good people the ideas of self-survey, confession,
restitution, helpfulness to others and prayer, ideas that we might have got
in many other quarters as well. After our withdrawal from the Oxford Groups,
these principles and attitudes had been formed into a word-of-mouth program,
to which we had added a step of our own to the effect "that we were
powerless over alcohol." Our Twelve Steps were the result of my effort to
define more sharply and elaborate upon these word-of-mouth principles so
that the alcoholic readers would have a more specific program: that there
could be no escape from what we deemed to be the essential principles and
attitudes. This had been my sole idea in their composition. This enlarged
version of our program had been set down rather quickly - perhaps in twenty
or thirty minutes - on a night when I had been very badly out of sorts. Why
the Steps were written down in the order in which they appear today and just
why they were worded as they are, I have no idea.
Following this explanation of mine, my new Jesuit friends pointed to a chart
that hung on the wall. They explained that this was a comparison between the
Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics
Anonymous, that, in principle, this correspondence was amazingly exact. I
believe they also made the somewhat startling statement that spiritual
principles set forth in our Twelve Steps appear in the same order that they
do in the Ignatius Exercises.
In my abysmal ignorance, I actually inquired, "Please tell me - who is this
While of course the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous contain nothing
new, there seems no doubt that this singular and exact identification with
the Ignatius Exercises has done much to make the close and fruitful relation
that we now enjoy with the Church. (The 'Blue Book', Vol.12, 1960)
24Q - How did you meet Father Ed Dowling?
24A - My first unforgettable contact with Father Ed came about in this way.
It was early 1940, though late in the winter. Save for old Tom, the fireman
we had lately rescued from Rockland Asylum, the club was empty (24th St.
clubhouse in N.Y. City where Bill and Lois were living, as they had been
evicted from their Clinton St. home.) My wife Lois was out somewhere. It had
been a hectic day, full of disappointments. I lay upstairs in our room,
consumed with self-pity. This had been brought on by one of my
characteristic imaginary ulcer attacks. It was a bitter night, frightfully
windy. Hail and sleet beat on the tin roof over my head.
Then the front doorbell rang and I heard old Tom toddle off to answer it. A
minute later he looked into the doorway of my room, obviously much annoyed.
Then he said, "Bill, there is some old damn bum down there from St. Louis,
and he wants to see you." "Great heavens," I thought, "this can't be still
another one." Wearily and even resentfully, I said to Tom, "Oh well, bring
him up, bring him up." Then a strange figure appeared in my bedroom door. He
wore a shapeless black hat that somehow reminded me of a cabbage leaf. His
coat collar was drawn around his neck, and he leaned heavily on a cane. He
was plastered with sleet. Thinking him to be just another drunk, I didn't
even get off the bed. Then he unbuttoned his coat and I saw that he was a
A moment later I realized with great joy that he was the clergyman who had
put that wonderful plug for A.A. into The Queen's Work. My weariness and
annoyance instantly evaporated. We talked of many things, not always about
serious matters either. Then I began to be aware of one of the most
remarkable pair of eyes I have ever seen. And, as we talked on, the room
increasingly filled with what seemed to me to be the presence of God which
flowed through my new friend. It was one of the most extraordinary
experiences that I have ever had. Such was his rare ability to transmit
grace. Nor was my experience at all unique. Hundreds of AA's have reported
having exactly this experience when in his presence. This was the beginning
of one of the deepest and most inspiring friendships that I shall ever know.
This was the first meaningful contact that I have ever had with the
clergymen of the Catholic faith. (The 'Blue Book', Vol. 12, 1960)
A - Father Edward Dowling, a great Jesuit friend of ours, once said to me,
"Bill, it isn't what you people put into Alcoholics Anonymous that makes it
so good - it's what you left out." (Transcribed from tape, Manhattan Group,
25Q - What are the ideas embodied in the Twelve Traditions?
25A - That, touching all matters affecting A.A. unity, our common welfare
should come first; that A.A. has no human authority - only God as He may
speak in our Group conscience; that our leaders are but trusted servants,
they do not govern; that any alcoholic may become an A.A. member if he says
so - we exclude no one; that every A.A. Group may manage its own affairs as
it likes, provided surrounding groups are not harmed thereby; that we A.A.'s
have but a single aim - the carrying of our message to the alcoholic who
still suffers; that in consequence we can not finance, endorse or otherwise
lend the name 'Alcoholics Anonymous' to any other enterprise, however
worthy; that A.A., as such, ought to remain poor, lest problems of
property, management and money divert us from our sole aim; that we ought to
be self-supporting, gladly paying our small expenses ourselves; that A.A.
should forever remain non-professional, ordinary 12th step work never to be
paid for; that, as a Fellowship, we should never be organized but may
nevertheless create responsible Service Boards or Committees to insure us
better propagation and sponsorship and that these agencies may engage
full-time workers for special tasks; that our public relations ought to
proceed upon the principle of attraction rather than promotion, it being
better to let our friends recommend us; that personal anonymity at the level
of press, radio and pictures out to be strictly maintained as our best
protection against the temptations of power or personal ambition; and
finally, that anonymity before the general public is the spiritual key to
all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before
personalities, that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to
the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever
live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all. (Tape -
Twelve Traditions, Cleveland, July, 1950)
25A - We sometimes congratulate ourselves on the Traditions as though they
were a list of virtues singular to us. Actually, they are a codification of
the lessons of our past experience during the early days of A.A.
These Traditions are not fixed absolutely. There may be room for
improvement. However, they should not be lightly cast aside, since they bear
on our unity, survival and growth under Gods grace."
We are entering a new era of growth with vast forces tearing at the world.
The problems and difficulties of the future may be greater than those we
have already survived. Still, there is a love among us that passeth all
understanding and that will sustain us through all the trials that lie
ahead, no matter how formidable." (Transcribed from tape, GSC, 1968)
29Q - What purpose does the right of appeal serve?
29A - There came to this country some hundred years ago a French Baron whose
family and himself had been wracked by the French revolution, De Toqueville,
and he was a worshipful admirer of democracy. And in those days democracy
seemed to be mostly expressed in people's minds by votes of simple
majorities. And he was a worshipful admirer of the spirit of democracy as
expressed by the power of a majority to govern. But, said De Toqueville, a
majority can be ignorant, it can be brutal, it can be tyrannous - and we
have seen it. Therefore, unless you most carefully protect a minority, large
or small, make sure that minority opinions are voiced, make sure that
minorities have unusual rights, your democracy is never going to work and
its spirit will die. This was De Toqueville's prediction and, considering
today's times, is it strange that he is not widely read now?
So that is why in this Conference we try to get a unanimous consent while we
can; this is why we say the Conference can mandate the Board of Trustees on
a two - thirds vote. But we have said more here. We have said that any
Delegate, any Trustee, any staff member, any service director - any board,
committee or whatever - that wherever there is a minority, it shall always
be the right of this minority to file a minority report so that their views
are held up clearly. And if in the opinion of any such minority, even a
minority of one, if the majority is about to hastily or angrily do something
which could be to the detriment of Alcoholics Anonymous, the serious
detriment, it is not only their right to file a minority appeal, it is their
So, like De Toqueville, neither you nor I want either the tyranny of the
majority, nor the tyranny of the small minority. And steps have been taken
here to balance up these relations. (GSC, 1960)
32Q - Is Alcoholics Anonymous a new religion? A competitor of the Church?
32A - If these misgivings had real substance, they would be serious indeed.
But, Alcoholics Anonymous cannot in the least be regarded as a new religion.
Our Twelve Steps have no theological content, except that which speaks of
"God as we understand Him." This means that each individual AA member may
define God according to whatever faith or creed he may have. Therefore there
isn't the slightest interference with the religious views of any of our
membership. The rest of the Twelve Steps define moral attitudes and helpful
practices, all of them precisely Christian in character. Therefore, as far
as the steps go, the steps are good Christianity, indeed they are good
Catholicism, something which Catholic writers have affirmed more than once.
Neither does AA exert the slightest religious authority over its members. No
one is compelled to believe anything. No one is compelled to meet membership
conditions. No one is obliged to pay anything. Therefore we have no system
of authority, spiritual or temporal, that is comparable to or in the least
competitive with the Church. At the center of our society we have a Board of
Trustees. This body is accountable yearly to a Conference of elected
Delegates. These Delegates represent the conscience and desire of AA as
regards functional or service matters. Our Tradition contains an emphatic
injunction that these Trustees may never constitute themselves as a
government - they are to merely provide certain services that enable AA as a
whole to function. The same principles apply at our group and area level.
Dr. Bob, my co-partner, had his own religious views. For whatever they may
be worth, I have my own. But both of us have gone heavily on the record to
the effect that these personal views and preferences can never under any
conditions be injected into the AA program as a working part of it. AA is a
sort of spiritual kindergarten, but that is all. Never should it be called a
religion. (The 'Blue Book', Vol.12, 1960)
A - Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization; there is no dogma.
The one theological proposition is a "Power greater than one's self." Even
this concept is forced on no one. The newcomer merely immerses himself in
our society and tries the program as best he can. Left alone, he will surely
report the onset of a transforming experience, call it what he may.
Observers once thought A.A. could only appeal to the religiously
susceptible. Yet our membership includes a former member of the American
Atheist Society and about 20,000 others almost as tough. The dying can
become remarkably open-minded. Of course we speak little of conversion
nowadays because so many people really dread being God-bitten. But
conversion, as broadly described by James, does seem to be our basic
process; all other devices are but the foundation. When one alcoholic works
with another, he but consolidates and sustains that essential experience.
(Amer. J. Psych., Vol. 106, 1949)
33Q - What is the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous?
33A - Of those sincerely willing to stop drinking about 50 per cent have
done so at once, 25 per cent after a few relapses and most of the remainder
have improved. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol. 44, Aug., 1944)
33A - As of 1949 our quantity results are these. The 14 year old society of
Alcoholics Anonymous has 80,000 members in about 3,000 groups. We have
entered into about 30 foreign countries and U.S. possessions; translations
are going forward. By occupation we are an accurate cross section of
America. By religious affiliation we are about 40% Catholic, nominal and
active Protestants; also many former agnostics, and a sprinkling of Jews
comprise the remainder. Ten to 15% are women. Some Negroes are recovering
without undue difficulty. Top medical and religious endorsements are almost
universal. A.A. membership is pyramiding, chain style, at the rate of 30% a
year. During 1949 we expect 20,000 permanent recoveries, at least. Half of
them will be medium or mild cases with an average age of 36 - a fairly
Of alcoholics who stay with us and really try, 50% get sober at once and
stay that way, 25% do so after some relapses and the remainder show some
improvement. But many problem drinkers do quit A.A. after a brief contact,
many, three or four out of five. Some are too psychopathic or damaged. But
the majority have powerful rationalizations yet to be broken down. Exactly
this does happen, providing they get what A.A. calls a "good exposure," on
first contact. Alcohol then burns such a hot fire under them that they are
driven back to us, often years later. They tell us that they had to return;
it was A.A. or else. Such cases leave us the agreeable impression that half
of our original exposures will eventually return, most of them to recover.
(Amer. J. Psychiatry Vol. 106, 1949)
33A - About two thousand recoveries now take place each month. Of those
alcoholics who wish to get well and are emotionally capable of trying our
method, 50 per cent recover immediately, 25 per cent after a few backslides.
The remainder are improved if they continue active in A.A. Of the total who
approach us, it is probable that only 25 per cent become A.A. members on the
first contact. A list of seventy-five of our early failures today discloses
that 70 returned to A.A. after one to ten years. We did not bring them back;
they came of their own accord. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol.50, July 1950)
33A - As we gained in size, we also gained in effectiveness. The recovery
rate went up. Of all those who really tried A.A., 50 per cent made it at
once, 25 per cent finally made it; and the rest, if they stayed with us,
were definitely improved. That percentage has since held, even with those
who first wrote their stories in the original edition of "Alcoholics
Anonymous." In fact, 75 per cent of these finally achieved sobriety. Only 25
per cent died or went mad. Most of those still alive have been sober for an
average of twenty years.
In our early days and since, we have found that great numbers of alcoholics
approach us and then turn away - maybe three out of five, today. But we have
happily found out that the majority of them later return, provided they are
not too psychopathic or too brain damaged. Once they have learned from the
lips of other alcoholics that they are beset by an often fatal malady, their
further drinking only turns up the screw. Eventually they are forced back
into A.A., they must or die. Sometimes this happens years after the first
exposure. The ultimate recovery rate in A.A. is therefore a lot higher than
we at first thought it could be.
Yet we must humbly reflect that Alcoholics Anonymous has so far made only a
scratch upon the total problem of alcoholism. Here in the United States, we
have helped to sober up scarcely five per cent of the total alcoholic
population of 4,500,000. (N.Y. Med. Society on Alcoholism, 1958)
33A- A.A. members can soberly ask themselves what became of the 600,000
alcoholics who approached the Fellowship during the past thirty years but
who did not stay. How much and how often did we fail all these? When we
remember that in the 20 years of A.A. existence we have reached less than 10
per cent of all those who might be willing to approach us, we begin to get
an idea of the immensity of our task, and of the responsibilities with which
we will always be confronted. (G.S.C. 1958).
33A - I took note of the fact that in the generation which has seen A.A.
come alive, this period of twenty-five years, a vast procession of the
world's drunks have passed in front of us and have gone over the precipice.
Based on figures I was careful to get, it looks like, worldwide, there was
something like 25 million of them and out of that stream of despair,
illness, misery and death -- we fished out just one in a hundred in the last
25 years. I think we're fishing somewhat bigger and better.
Our numbers are considerable. We have size. There is great security in
numbers. You can't imagine how it was in the very first two or three years
of this thing when nobody was sure that anybody could stay sober...Then we
were like the people on Eddie Rickenbacker's raft. Boy, anybody rock that
raft, even a little, and he was sure to be clobbered, that's all, and then
thrown overboard. But today it's a different story.
Along with greater security in numbers, there has come a certain amount of
liability. The more people there are to do a job, it often turns out, the
less there are. In other words, what is everybody's business is nobody's
business. So size is bound to bring complacency unless we get increasingly
aware of what's going on. (Transcribed from tape. GSC, 1960)
34Q - What contribution did Dr. Carl Jung make to A.A.?
34A - Few people know that the first taproot of A.A. hit paydirt some thirty
years ago in a physicians office. Dr. Carl Jung, that great pioneer in
psychiatry was talking to an alcoholic patient. This is in effect what
The patient, a prominent American businessman, had gone the typical
alcoholic route. He had exhausted the possibilities of medicine and
psychiatry in the United States and had then come to Dr. Jung as to a court
of last resort. Carl Jung had treated him for a year and the patient, whom
we shall call Mr. R., felt confident that the hidden springs underneath his
compulsion to drink had been discovered and removed. Nevertheless, he found
himself intoxicated within a short time after leaving Dr. Jung's care.
Now he was back, in a state of black despair. He asked Dr. Jung what the
score was, and he got it. In substance, Dr. Jung said, "For some time after
you came here, I continued to believe that you might be one of those rare
cases who could make a recovery. But I must now frankly admit that I have
never seen a single case recover through the psychiatric art where the
neurosis is so severe as yours. Medicine has done all that it can for you,
and that's where you stand."
Mr. R's depression deepened. He asked, "Is there no exception, is this
really the end of the line for me?"
"Well," replied the doctor, "There are some exceptions, a very few. Here and
there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual
experiences. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements
and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the
guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely
new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have
been trying to produce some emotional rearrangement within you. With many
types of neurotics, the methods which I employ are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description."
"But," protested the patient, "I'm a religious man, and I still have faith."
To this Dr. Jung replied, "Ordinary religious faith isn't enough. What I'm
talking about is a transforming experience, a conversion experience, if you
like. I can only recommend that you place yourself in the religious
atmosphere of your own choice, that you recognize your own hopelessness, and
that you cast yourself upon whatever God you think there is. The lightning
of the transforming experience may then strike you. This you must try - it
is your only way out." So spoke the great and humble physician.
For the A.A.-to-be, this was a ten strike. Science had pronounced Mr. R.
virtually hopeless. Dr. Jung's words had struck him at great depth,
producing an immense deflation of his ego. Deflation at depth is today a
cornerstone principle of A.A. There in Dr. Jung's office it was first
employed on our behalf.
The patient, Mr. R., chose the Oxford Groups of that day as his religious
association and atmosphere. Terribly chastened and almost helpless, he began
to be active with them. To his intense joy and astonishment, the obsession
to drink presently left him.
Returning to America, Mr. R. came upon an old school friend of mine, a
chronic alcoholic. This friend - whom we shall call Ebby - was about to be
committed to a State Hospital. At this juncture another vital ingredient was
added to the synthesis. Mr. R., the alcoholic, began talking to Ebby, also
an alcoholic and a kindred sufferer. This made for identification at depth,
a second cardinal principle. Over this bridge of identification, Mr. R.
passed Dr. Jung's verdict of how hopeless, medically and psychiatrically,
most alcoholics were. He then introduced Ebby to the Oxford Groups where my
friend promptly sobered up. (N.Y. City Med. Soc. Alcsm., April 28, 1958)
35Q - What effect did Ebby's message have on you?
35A - Well, by this time I knew how hopeless my alcoholism was, and yet I
still rebelled - the idea of a dependency on some intangible God who might
not even be there. Oh, if I could swallow it, but could I! I went on
drinking for a number of days and gradually I got jittery enough to think
about the hospital and then it came to me "Of a sudden" one day - "Fool! -
why should you question how you're going to get well, why should beggars be
choosers? If you had a cancer and you were sure of it and your physician
said "This is so malignant that we can't touch it with our art and even if
your physician came along with the improbable story that there were many who
got over cancer by standing on their head in the public square crying 'Amen'
and if he could really make a case that it was so, yes Bill Wilson, if you
had cancer, you too would be out in the public square ignominiously standing
on your head and crying 'Amen'- anything to stop the growth of those cells
and that would be the first priority, and your pride would have to go."
And then I asked myself "Is my case different now? Have I not an allergy of
the body; have I not a cancer of the emotions - yes, and maybe I have a
cancer of the soul which has resulted in an obsession which condemns me to
drink and an increasing tolerance of liquor which condemns me to go mad or
die. Yes, I'm going to try this. And then there was one more flicker of
obstinacy when I said to myself, "But I don't want any of these evangelical
experiences, I mean it will have to be a kind of intellectual religion that
I'll get, so just to be sure that I don't go into my emotional tizzy, I
believe I'll go up to see dear old Dr. Silkworth and have him dry me out.
(Memphis, Tenn., Sept. 18-20, 1947)
35A - What then did happen at that kitchen table? Perhaps this speculation were better left to medicine and religion. I confess I do not know. Possibly conversion will never be fully understood.
My friend's story had generated mixed emotions; I was drawn and revolted by
turns. My solitary drinking went on, but I could not forget his visit.
Several themes coursed in my mind: First, that his evident state of release
was strangely and immensely convincing. Second, that he had been pronounced
hopeless by competent medicos. Third, that those old-age precepts, when
transmitted by him, had struck me with great power. Fourth, I could not, and
would not, go along with any God concept. No conversion nonsense for me.
Thus did I ponder. Trying to divert my thoughts, I found it no use. By cords
of understanding, suffering, and simple verity, another alcoholic had bound
me to him. I shall not break away. (Amer J. Psychiat., Vol.106, 1949)
35A - He first told me his drinking experience, accent on its more recent
horrors. Of course his identification with me was immediate, and as it
proved, deep and vital indeed. One alcoholic was talking with another as no
one except an alcoholic can. Then he offered me his naively simple recovery
formula. Not one syllable was new, but somehow it affected me profoundly.
There he sat, recovered. An example of what he preached. You will note that
his only dogma was God, which for my benefit he stretched into an
accommodating phrase, a Power greater than myself. That was his story. I
could take it or leave it. I need feel no obligation to him. Indeed, he
observed, I was doing him a favor by listening. Besides it was obvious that
he had something more than ordinary "water wagon" sobriety. He looked and
acted "released"; repression had not been his answer. Such was the impact of
an alcoholic who really knew the score. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol.50, July
36Q - Why do clergymen so often fail with alcoholics, when A.A. so often
succeeds? Is it possible that the grace of A.A. is superior to that of the
36A - No clergyman, because he does not happen to be a channel of grace to
alcoholics, should ever feel that his Church is lacking in grace. No real
question of grace is involved at all - it is just a question of who can best
transmit God's abundance. It so happens that we who have suffered
alcoholism, we, who can identify so deeply with other sufferers, are the
ones usually best suited for this particular work. Certainly no clergyman
ought to feel any inferiority just because he himself is not an alcoholic.
(N.C.C.A., 'Blue Book,' Vol.12,(1960)
36A - I thought the answer to be very simple. The Church has the
spirituality, but in the case of drunks, it didn't have the communication to
pave the way, one alcoholic to the next, for the Grace to descend. So you
have the spirituality, of which we have borrowed, and we have the
communication. Therefore we are in no competition at all; we can do together
that which we cannot do in separation. (Transcribed from tape. G.S.C. 1960)
Another question, same topic.
36Q - What can ministers do to co-operate with A.A.?
36A - 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 an impression on 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
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 of 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 had been
such factors, they really no longer count, now you're a sick man." You might
win over 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 that clergymen 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 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 which 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. (Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies, June 1945).
37Q - What is AA's relationship with the community?
37A - Now that our methods and results are better known we are receiving
splendid cooperation everywhere from clergymen, doctors, employers, editors
- in fact, from whole communities. While there is still a well-understood
reluctance on the part of city and private hospitals to admit alcoholic
patients, we are pleased to report a great improvement in this direction.
But we are still very far, in most places, from having anything like
adequate hospital accommodations.
Over and above this traditional activity, we may give some counsel to those
who work upon various aspects of the total problem. It may be possible that
our experience fits us for a special task. Writing of Alcoholics Anonymous,
Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick once said: "Gothic Cathedral windows are not the
sole thing which can be seen from within. Alcoholism is another. All outside
views are clouded and unsure." Thus, with our inside view - one best seen by
those drinkers who have suffered from alcoholism - we would help those
working on alcohol problems who have not had our first hand experience.
While we members of Alcoholics Anonymous are not scientists, our special
insight may help science; while we are of all religions and sometimes none,
we can assist clergymen; although not educators, we shall, perhaps, aid in
clearing away unsure views; not penologists, we do help in prison work; not
a business or organization, we nevertheless advise employers; not
sociologists, we constantly serve families, friends and communities; not
prosecutors or judges, we try to promote understanding and justice;
emphatically not doctors, we do minister to the sick. Taking no side on
controversial questions, we may sometimes mediate fruitless antagonism,
which have so often blocked effective cooperation among those who would
solve the riddle of the alcoholic.
These are the activities and aspirations of thousands of the members of
Alcoholics Anonymous. While our organization as a whole has but one aim - to
help the alcoholic who wishes to recover - there are a few of us, indeed,
who as individuals do not wish to meet some of the broader responsibilities
for which we may be especially fitted. (Quart. J. Stud. Alc., Vol.6, Sept.,
37A - Many an alcoholic is now sent to A.A. by his own psychiatrist.
Relieved of his drinking, he returns to the doctor a far easier subject.
Practically every alcoholic's wife has become, to a degree, his possessive
mother. Most alcoholic women, if they still have a husband, live with a
baffled father. This sometimes spells trouble aplenty. We AA's certainly
ought to know! So, gentlemen, here is a big problem right up your alley.
We of A.A. try to be aware that we may never touch but a segment of the
total alcohol problem. We try to remember that our growing success may prove
to be a heady wine; will you men and women of medicine be our partners;
physicians wielding well your invisible scalpels; workers all, in our common
cause? We like to think Alcoholics Anonymous a middle ground between
medicine and religion, the missing catalyst of a new synthesis. This to the
end that millions who still suffer may presently issue from their darkness
into the light of day! (Amer. J. Psychiat., Vol. 106, 1949)
37A - Alcoholics Anonymous once stood in no-mans land between medicine and
religion. Religionists thought we were unorthodox; medicine thought we were
totally unscientific. The last decade brought a great change in this
respect. Clerics of every denomination declare that, while A.A. contains no
shred of dogma, it has an impeccable spiritual basis, quite acceptable to
men of all creeds, even the agnostic himself. You gentlemen of medicine also
observe that AA is psychiatrically sound so far as it goes and that A.A.
refers all bodily ills of its membership to your profession. Therefore, it
is now clear that Alcoholics Anonymous is a synthetic construct which draws
upon three sources, namely, medical science, religion and its own particular
experience. Withdraw one of these supports and its platform of stability
falls to earth as a farmer's three-legged milk stool with one leg chopped
off. That you have invited me, an A.A. member, to sit in your councils today
is a happy token of that fact, for which our society is deeply grateful.
What, then, has Alcoholics Anonymous contributed as third partner of the
recovery synthesis which promises so much to sufferers everywhere? Does
Alcoholics Anonymous contain any new principles? Strictly speaking it does
not. A.A. merely relates the alcoholic to the tested truths in a brand new
way. He is now able to accept them where he couldn't before. Now he has a
concrete program of action and the understanding support of a successful
society of his fellows in which he carries that out. In all probability,
these are the long-missing links in the recovery chain. (N.Y. State J. Med.,
Vol. 50, July 1950)
38Q - Why the General Service Conference?
38A - Alcoholics Anonymous, we think, will always need a world center --
some point of reference on the globe where our few but important universal
services can focus and then radiate to all who wish to be informed or
helped. Such a place will ever be needed to look after our over-all public
relations, answer inquiries, foster new Groups and distribute our standard
books and publications. We shall also want a place of advice and mediation
touching important questions of general policy or A.A. Tradition. We shall
require, too, a safe repository for the modest funds we shall use to carry
out these simple, but universal purposes.
Of course we must take care that our universal center of service never
attempts to discipline or govern. Conversely, we ought to protect our good
servants working there from unreasonable demands or political demands of any
kind. No personal power, no officials or resounding titles, no politics, no
accumulation of money or property, none but vital universal services to
Alcoholics Anonymous - that is our ideal. To do without such a Center would
be to invite confusion and disunity; to install there a centralized
authority would be to encourage political strife and cleavage. Some little
organization of our services, securely bound by tradition, we shall surely
need - just enough, and of such a character as to permanently forestall any
At the center of A.A. we now have the excellent body of custody and service.
Our Trustees have gradually come to symbolize the collective conscience of
AA, our general office acts in the manner of the heart which receives
problems through its veins and pumps out assistance through its myriad
arteries, and The Grapevine tries to record the true voice of Alcoholics
Anonymous. Such is the happy state of our central affairs that we surely
must take pains to preserve and protect, we trust, into a long and useful
Therefore, our headquarters problem of the future will, in all probability,
consist in guarding and preserving, in its main outlines, what we already
have. How then, shall we best keep intact our ideal of service; how shall we
avoid national or international politics; how can we best devise against any
possible breakdown of the present A.A. Service Headquarters and how shall we
give each A.A. in the world a continual assurance that all is well with it;
that it continues to perform its tasks effectively, so meriting his warm
support, moral and financial?
To these problems of tomorrow many are giving prayerful reflection. A.A.' s
are commencing to say what, or who, is going to guarantee the operation of
our General Headquarters when the old-timers who inaugurated it have passed
off the scene, especially very early ones like Dr. Bob and Bill. Known so
well to us from the pioneering period of A.A., these early ones still occupy
a unique position. They command a wider confidence and still wield more
personal influence than anyone else could again, or for that matter, ever
should. Having helped set up our universal Service Center they asked the
rest of us to have confidence in it. And we do have that confidence, not
that we much know the present Trustees, but because we know Bob and Bill and
the other oldsters, in the long future, when these oldsters can no longer
assure us, who is going to take their place? Does it not seem clear that the
A.A. movement and its Service Center must soon be drawn closer together?
Though we know our General Office and our Grapevine fairly well, shouldn't
we somehow draw closer to our Trustees? Shouldn't we take steps to allay our
feelings of remoteness while the older ones are still around, and there is
still time to experiment?" Such are the questions now being asked, and they
are good ones.
Perhaps the best suggestion for closing the gap between our Alcoholic
Foundation and the A.A. Groups is the idea of creating what we might call
the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous. (Proposal by Bill W.
and Dr. Bob to the Alcoholic Foundation, April, 1947)
38A - Let's face these facts (October 1950). First. Dr. Bob and I are
perishable, we can't last forever. Second. The Trustees are almost unknown
to the A.A. membership. Third. In future years our Trustees couldn't
possibly function without direct guidance from A.A. itself. Somebody must
advise them. Somebody, or something must take the place of Dr. Bob and I.
Fourth. Alcoholics Anonymous is out of its infancy. Grown up, adult now, it
has full right and plain duty to take direct responsibility for its own
Headquarters. Fifth. Clearly then, unless the Foundation is firmly anchored,
through State and Provincial representatives, to the movement it serves, a
Headquarters breakdown will someday be inevitable. When its old timers
vanish, an isolated Foundation couldn't survive one grave mistake or serious
controversy. Any storm could blow it down. Its revival wouldn't be simple.
Possibly it could never be revived. Still isolated, there would be no means
of doing that. Like a fine car without gasoline it would be helpless. Sixth.
Another serious flaw; As a whole, the A.A. movement has never faced a grave
crisis. But someday it will have to. Human affairs being what they are, we
can't expect to remain untouched by the hour of serious trouble. With direct
support unavailable, with no reliable cross-section of A.A. opinion, how
could our remote Trustees handle a hazardous emergency? This gaping "open
end" in our present set-up could positively guarantee a debacle. Confidence
in the Foundation would be lost. A .A.'s everywhere would say: "By whose
authority do the Trustees speak for us? And how do they know they are right?" With A.A. Service life-lines tangled and severed, what then might happen
to the million who don't know. Thousands would continue to suffer or die
because we had taken no fore-thought, because we had forgotten the virtue of
prudence This must not come to pass.
That is why the Trustees, Dr. Bob and I now propose the General Service
Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous. That is why we urgently need your direct
help. Our principle services must go on living. We think the General Service
Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous can be the agency to make that certain.
(Third Legacy Pamphlet, October 1950)
39Q - How did the connection between the Rockefeller's and Alcoholics
39A - After the meeting in Akron in the Fall of 1937, I went back to New
York as we say, all steamed up. I then made the dismal discovery that the
very rich who had the money that we needed had not the slightest interest in
drunks, they just didn't give a damn. I solicited and I solicited and I
became very worried. I even approached the Rockefeller Foundation, you know,
I figured John D. would have an interest in alcoholism, sociology, medicine
and religion and this should just fit the bill. But no, we didn't fit into
any category with the Rockefeller Foundation and they felt a little poor at
the time what with the depression. One day I'm in my brother-in-law's
office, he a doctor. I was moaning about the stinginess of the rich, our
need for money and how it looked like this thing wasn't going to go
anywhere. He said, "Have you tried the Rockefeller Foundation." And I told
him that I had. "Well," he said, "it might help if you saw Mr. Rockefeller
personally." I said, "Dr. Winn, I don't want to seem facetious, but could
you recommend me to the Prince of Wales, he might help out too." And then
came one of those strange turns of fate, if you like, or providence, if you
prefer and the slender thread was this, My brother-in-law the doctor sat
there scratching his head and he said, "When I was a young fellow I used to
go to school with a girl and I think the girl had a uncle and it seemed to
me that his name was Willard Richardson and it seems he was a pretty old guy
and he might be dead now but it does seem to me that he had something to do
with the Rockefeller charities. Supposing I call the Rockefeller offices and
see if he is around and if he would remember me. He called this dear old
gentleman on the phone, one of the greatest nonalcoholic friends that A.A.
ever had. Immediately he remembered my brother-in-law and said, "Leonard
where have you been all these years. I'd love to see you."
Unlike me, my brother-in-law is a man of very few words and he rather
tensely explained that he had a relative who was trying to help alcoholics
and was making some headway and could we come over to Mr. Rockefeller's
offices and talk about it. "Why certainly," said the old man, and soon we
were in the presence of this wonderful Christian gentleman who was
incredibly one of John D's closest friends. When I saw that I thought that
now we are really getting close to the bankroll and the old man asked me a
few shrewd questions and I told the yarn so far as it had been spun. Then he
said, "Mr. Wilson, would you like to come to lunch with me early next week."
Oh boy, would I. Now we were really getting warm. So we had lunch and at the
lunch he said, "I know of three or four fellows who would be real interested
in this. I'll get a meeting together with them as they are friends or are
associated with Mr. Rockefeller and some were recently on a committee, which
recently recommended the discontinuance of the prohibition experiment.
So presently, several of us alcoholics, Smitty and a couple from Akron, some
of the boys from New York, found ourselves sitting in the company of these
friends of Mr. Rockefeller in Mr. Rockefeller's private boardroom. In fact, I was told that I was sitting in a chair that Mr. Rockefeller had
sat in only a half-hour before. I thought, now we are really getting hot.
Well, we were nonplussed, a little lost for words, so each of us alkies just
started telling his story. Our new friends listened with rapt attention and
then with reluctance and modesty I brought up the subject of money and at
once you see that God has worked through many people to shape our destiny.
At once, Mr. Scott who had sat at the head of the table said, "I am deeply
impressed and moved by what has been said here but aren't you boys afraid
that if you had money you might create a professional class, aren't you
afraid that the management of plants, properties and hospitals would
distract you from your purely good will aims." Well, we admitted, we had
certainly thought of those difficulties. They had been urged upon us by some
of our own members, but we felt that the risk of not doing these things was
greater than the risk of doing at least some of them. "At least," we said,
"Mr. Scott, this society needs a book in which we can record our experience
so that the alcoholics at a distance can know what has happened."
One of the gentlemen said that he would go out to Akron and we kind of
steered him that way as the mortgage on the Smith's house was bigger than
mine and he went out to Akron and came back with a glowing report which Mr.
Richardson placed in front of Mr. Rockefeller. This marked another turning
point. After hearing the story and reading the report on Akron Group No.1,
Mr. Rockefeller expressed his deep interest and feelings about us. "But
Dick," he said, "If we give these fellows real money its going to spoil them
and it will change the whole complexion. Maybe you fellows think it needs
money and if you do go ahead and get them up some." He said, "I'll tell you
what I'll do, I'll put a small sum in the Riverside Church treasury and you
can draw it out and at least try to help these two men for a while but this
thing should be self sustaining. Money, Dick, will spoil it." What a
profound realization. God did not work through us but through Mr.
Rockefeller whose every interest we had actually claimed from that moment.
This man who had devoted his life to giving away money said "not this time."
And he never did give us real money, praise God. (Chicago, Ill.,
40Q - What do the Three Legacies of AA represent?
40A The three legacies of AA - recovery, unity and service - in a sense
represent three impossibilities, impossibilities that we know became
possible, and possibilities that have now borne this unbelievable fruit. Old
Fitz Mayo, one of the early AA's and I visited the Surgeon General of the
United States in the third year of this society and told him of our
beginnings. He was a gentle man, Dr. Lawrence Kolb, and has since become a
great friend of AA. He said, "I wish you well. Even the sobriety of a few is
almost a miracle. The government knows that this is one of the greatest
health problems but we have considered the recovery of alcoholics so
impossible that we have given up and have instead concluded that
rehabilitation of narcotic addicts would be the easier job to tackle."
Such was the devastating impossibility of our situation. Now, what has been
brought to bear upon this impossibility that it has become possible? First,
the grace of Him who presides over all of us. Next, the cruel lash of John
Barleycorn who said. "This you must do, or die." Next, the intervention of
God through friends, at first a few and now legion! who opened to us, who in
the early days were uncommitted, the whole field of human ideas, morality
and religion, from which we could choose.
These have been the wellsprings of the forces and ideas and emotions and
spirit which were first fused into our Twelve Steps for recovery. Some of us
act well, but no sooner had a few got sober than the old forces began to
come into play in us rather frail people. They were fearsome, the old
forces, the drive for money, acclaim, prestige.
Would these forces tear us apart? Besides, we came from every walk of life.
Early, we had begun to be a cross-section of all men and women, all
differently conditioned, all so different and yet happily so alike in our
kinship of suffering. Could we hold in unity? To those few who remain who
lived in those earlier times when the Traditions were being forged in the
school of hard experience on its thousands of anvils, we had our very, very
It was sure recovery was in sight, but how could there be recovery for many?
Or how could recovery endure if we were to fall into controversy and so into
dissolution and decay?
Well, the spirit of the Twelve Steps which have brought us release from one
of the grimmest obsessions known -- obviously, this spirit and these
principles of retaining grace had to be the fundamentals of our unity. But
in order to become fundamental to our unity, these principles had to be
spelled out as they applied to the most prominent and the most grievous of
So, out of experience came the need to apply the spirit of our steps to our
lives of working and living together. These were the forces that generated
the Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.
But, we had to have more than cohesion. Even for survival, we had to carry
the message and we had to function. In fact, that had become evident in the
Twelve Steps themselves for the last one enjoins us to carry the message.
But just how would we carry this message? How would we communicate, we few,
with those myriad's who still don't know? And how would this communication
be handled? How could we do these things. How could we authorize these
things in such a way that in this new, hot focus of effort and ego that we
would not again be shattered by the forces that had once ruined our lives?
This was the problem of the Third Legacy. From the vital Twelfth Step call
right up through our society to its culmination today. And, again, many of
us said: "This can't be done. It's all very well for Bill and Bob and a few
friends to set up a Board of Trustees and to provide us with some
literature, and look after our public relations and do all of those chores
for us that we can't do for ourselves. This is fine, but we can't go any
further than that. This is a job for our elders, for our parents. In this
direction only, can there be simplicity and security.
And then came the day when it was seen that the parents were both fallible
and perishable and Dr. Bob's hour struck and we suddenly realized that this
ganglion, this vital nerve center of World Service, would lose its sensation
the day the communication between an increasingly unknown Board of Trustees
and you was broken. Fresh links would have to be forged. And at that time
many of us said: This is impossible, this is too hard. Even in transacting
the simplest business, providing the simplest of services, raising the
minimum amounts of money, these excitements to us, in this society so bent
on survival have been almost too much locally. Look at our club brawls. My
God, if we have elections countrywide and Delegates come down here and look
at the complexity - thousands of group representatives, hundreds of
committeemen, scores of Delegates - my God, when these descend on our
parents, the Trustees, what is going to happen then? It won't be simplicity: it can't be. Our experience has spelled it out.
But there was the imperative, the must, and why was there an imperative?
Because we had better have some confusion, some politicking, than to have
utter collapse of this center.
That was the alternative and that was the uncertain and tenuous ground on
which the General Service Conference was called into being.
I venture, in the minds of many and sometimes in mine that the Conference
could be symbolized by a great prayer and a faint hope. This was the state
of affairs in 1945 to 1950. Then came the day when some of us went up to
Boston to watch an assembly elect by two-thirds vote or lot a Delegate.
Prior to assembly, I consulted all the local politicos and those very wise
Irishmen in Boston said, "We're going to make your prediction Bill, you know
us temperamentally, but we're going to say that this thing is going to
work." That was the biggest piece of news and one of the mightiest
assurances that I had up to this time that there could be any survival for
Well, work it has and we have survived another impossibility. Not only have
we survived the impossibility, we have so far transcended it that there can
be no return in future years to the old uncertainties, come what perils
Now, as we have seen in this quick review, the spirit of the Twelve Steps
was applied in specific terms to our problems of living and working
together. This developed the Twelve Traditions. In turn, the Twelve
Traditions were applied to this problem of functioning at world levels in
harmony and unity. (10th GSC, April, 1960)
41Q - 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?
41A - Groups will usually run amuck on that sort of question. At first we
are likely to say that we are 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 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." (Yale Summer
School of Alcohol Studies, June 1945)
Index of AA History Pages on Barefoot's Domain
As in so many things, especially with we alcoholics, our History is our Greatest Asset!.. We each arrived at the doors of AA with an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That Do Not Work" .. Today, In AA and In Recovery, Our History has added an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That DO Work!!" and We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it!!
ABC Page 60 from the Big Book
KEEP COMING BACK!
ONE DAY AT A TIME!