Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bill W.'s Experience at Winchester Cathedral


Bill W.’s Experience at Winchester Cathedral 

By Ken B. (based on research by Dick B.)
© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved
 

On page one of “Bill’s Story” in Alcoholics Anonymous (affectionately known within A.A. as “the Big Book"), Bill W. briefly mentions his visit to Winchester Cathedral in England during World War I: 

We landed in England. I visited Winchester Cathedral.  Much moved, I wandered outside.  My attention was caught by a doggerel on an old tombstone: 

“Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his death
Drinking cold small beer.
A good soldier is ne’er forgot
Whether he dieth by musket
Or by pot.” 

Ominous warning—which I failed to heed.[1] 

He states that he was “much moved” while he was in Winchester Cathedral, but provides no details about the experience. 

On page 10, Bill mentions Winchester Cathedral a second time: 

That war-time day in old Winchester Cathedral came back again. 

I had always believed in a Power greater than myself. I had often pondered these things. I was not an atheist.[2] 

And although he mentions his always-held belief in “a Power greater than” himself and declares that he “was not an atheist,” he still doesn’t provide details as to what he experienced at Winchester Cathedral. 

Bill then brings up his wartime trip to Winchester Cathedral a third time while discussing the visit by his Burr and Burton Seminary schoolmate Ebby T. to his and Lois’s residence at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn, New York, in late November 1934. And Bill finally provides some details of his experience at the Cathedral, but only in hindsight: 

Thus was I convinced [through the discussion with Ebby T.] that God is concerned with us humans when we want Him enough.[3] At long last I saw, I felt, I believed. Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view. 

The real significance of my experience at the Cathedral burst upon me. For a brief moment, I had needed and wanted God. There had been a humble willingness to have Him with me—and He came. But soon the sense of His presence had been blotted out by worldly clamors, mostly those within myself. And so it had been ever since. How blind I had been.[4] 

Note the following language used in the second paragraph just quoted above relating to Bill W.’s experience at Winchester Cathedral in 1918: 

·         “For a brief moment, I had needed and wanted God.”
·         “There had been a humble willingness to have Him with me—and He came.”
·         “. . . the sense of His presence . . .” 

In order to get a better understanding of the nature of Bill W.’s experience at Winchester Cathedral, it is helpful to look at Bill’s description of the event found in drafts of “Bill’s Story” that predated “the Multilith Edition” of the Big Book,[5] as well as to look at a retrospective on the event Bill dictated as part of his “autobiography” in September 1954. 

To begin, let’s look at Bill W.’s discussion of how the chapters of the Big Book came into existence: 

Each morning I traveled all the way from Brooklyn to Newark where, pacing up and down in Henry’s office, I began to dictate rough drafts of the chapters of the coming book. . . . 

As the chapters were slowly roughed out I read them to the New York group at its weekly meeting in our parlor at Clinton Street, and copies were sent to Dr. Bob for checking and criticism in Akron, where we had nothing but the warmest support. But in the New York meeting the chapters got a real mauling. I redictated them and Ruth retyped them over and over. . . . 

So the job went until we reached the famous Chapter five. . . . 

. . . The hassling over the four chapters already finished had really been terrific.[6] 

So, it is not hard to understand why one or more pre-“Multilith Edition” versions of the early chapters of the Big Book have been found in the archives at Bill and Lois Wilson’s home known as “Stepping Stones” in Katonah, New York (and perhaps elsewhere).[7] 

On October 2, 1991, author and unofficial historian of A.A. Dick B. photocopied at Stepping Stones—with permission—a 36-page document with lines numbered 1-1,180 titled “W. G. Wilson’s Original Story.”[8] The following excerpt, in which Bill discusses his experience at Winchester Cathedral in England, appears on lines 209-233 of page 9 of that document:  

209.     Then we were in dear old England, soon to cross
210. the channel to the great unknown. I stood in Winchester
211. Cathedral the day before crossing hand in hand with head
212. bowed, for something had touched me then I had never felt
213. before. I had been wondering, in a rare moment of sober
214. reflection, what sense there could be to killing and
215. carnage of which I was soon to become an enthusiastic part.
216. Where could the Deity be - could there be such a thing –
217. Where now was the God of the preachers, the thought of which
218. used to make me so uncomfortable when they talked about him.
219. Here I stood on the abyss edge of the abyss into which
220. thousands were falling that very day. A feeling of despair
221. settled down on me - where was He - why did he not come-
222. and suddenly in that moment of darkness, He was there. I
223. felt an all enveloping, comforting, powerful presence.
224. Tears stood in my eyes, and as I looked about, I saw on the
225. faces of others nearby, that they too had glimpsed the great
226. reality. Much moved, I walked out into the Cathedral yard,
227. where I read the following inscription on a tombstone. 'Here
228. lies a Hampshire Grenadier, Who caught his death drinking
229. small good beer - A good soldier is ne'er forgot, whether
230. he dieth by musket or by pot.' The squadron of bombers
231. swept overhead in the bright sunlight, and I cried to myself
232. 'Here's to adventure' and the feeling of being in the great
233. presence disappeared, never to return for many years.  

Note the following language used in lines 209-233 of the “W. G. Wilson’s Original Story” document just quoted above relating to Bill W.’s experience at Winchester Cathedral in 1918: 

·         “I stood in Winchester Cathedral . . . with head bowed, for something had touched me then I had never felt before.”
·         “Where could the Deity be – could there be such a thing – Where now was the God of the preachers, the thought of which used to make me so uncomfortable when they talked about him.”
·         “A feeling of despair settled down on me - where was He - why did he not come - and suddenly in that moment of darkness, He was there. I felt an all enveloping, comforting, powerful presence. Tears stood in my eyes, and as I looked about, I saw on the faces of others nearby, that they too had glimpsed the great reality. Much moved, . . .”
·         [And after going outside, seeing the doggerel on the tombstone, and seeing the airplane squadron flying overhead, Bill said:] “I cried to myself 'Here's to adventure' and the feeling of being in the great presence disappeared, never to return for many years.” 

Here is an excerpt from another (purported)—and apparently later—version of what eventually became “Bill’s Story” in Alcoholics Anonymous.[9] 

We were in England. I stood in Winchester Cathedral with head bowed, in the presence of something I had never felt before. 

Where now was the God of the preachers? Across the Channel thousands were perishing that day. Why did He not come? Suddenly in that moment of darkness – He was there! I felt an enveloping comforting Presence. Tears stood in my eyes. I had glimpsed the great reality. 

Much moved, I wandered through the Cathedral yard. My attention was caught by a doggerel on an old tombstone: 

“Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his death
Drinking cold small beer
A good soldier is ne’er forgot
Whether he dieth by musket
Or by pot.” 

My mood changed. A squadron of fighters roared overhead. I cried to myself, “Here’s to Adventure.” The feeling of being in the great presence disappeared.[10] 

Finally, let’s look at one other description Bill W. gave of what happened when he visited Winchester Cathedral in August 1918. The following version of the Bill’s experience at the cathedral comes from the “autobiography” that Bill dictated to Ed Bierstadt in September 1954 at the Hotel Bedford:

In Winchester [, England], there came another illuminating experience. We [American troops on their way to France to fight in World War I] were, of course, permitted to sightsee in town, and one of the very first places I visited was old Winchester Cathedral. . . . I walked inside the cathedral, and there was a company of soldiers there, some of them pretty tough-looking specimens, and all were very much subdued by the atmosphere of that place. I have been in many cathedrals since and have never experienced anything like it. . . . There was within those walls a tremendous sense of presence. I remember standing there and again the . . . spiritual experience repeated itself. I thought of France, I thought of wounds, I thought of suffering, I thought of death, even of oblivion. And then my mood veered sharply about as the atmosphere of the place began to possess me, and I was lifted up into a sort of ecstasy. And though I was not a conscious believer in God at the time—I had no defined belief—yet I somehow had a mighty assurance that things were and would be all right. And then it was that I went out and read the inscription about the Hampshire grenadier, and once more I was possessed with the spirit of adventure, and the spiritual experience. And the depression that had preceded it vanished into the background. 

That was very much like the experience at Newport, . . . except this time the notion of the supernatural and the notion of God kept crossing my mind, and the sense of some sort of sustaining presence in the place was quite overpowering. I didn’t define it, but it was a valid spiritual experience and it had the classic mechanism: collapsed human powerlessness, then God coming to man to lift him up to set him on the high road to his destiny. Those were my impressions of my experience in the cathedral.[11] 

Hopefully Bill W.’s three discussions of his experience at Winchester Cathedral presented in this article—two from pre-“Multilith Edition” manuscripts of Alcoholics Anonymous, and one from the “autobiography” he dictated in September 1954—will help you better understand Bill’s references to his experience at that cathedral found in “Bill’s Story” in today’s Big Book. 

Gloria Deo


[1] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 1.
[2] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 10.
[3] To get a much clearer understanding of Bill W.’s comments about his understanding of, and degree of belief in, God around the time of Ebby T.’s visit, please note that the entire four-paragraph section on page 12 of the fourth edition of the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous—beginning with the words “Despite the living example of my friend . . .” and ending with the words “Would I have it? Of course I would!”—was not present in the prepublication edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (often referred to as “the Multilith Edition” or “the Original Manuscript). That four-paragraph section was inserted at the last moment in the printer’s manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous just before the book was published in April 1939. See Appendix 1: “Why Don’t You Choose Your Own Conception of God” in Dick B. and Ken B., Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous: God’s Role in Recovery Confirmed! (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2012): http://www.dickb.com/Pioneer-Stories-in-Alcoholics-Anonymous.shtml.
[4] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 12-13.
[5] Bill W. stated that—after “the story section of the book” and “the text” were completed “in the latter part of January, 1939”—“a prepublication copy of the text and some of the stories” was made and “[f]our hundred mimeograph copies of the book were made and sent to everyone we could think of who might be concerned with the problem of alcoholism.” [See: Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957), 164-65.] This “prepublication copy” has come to be known more popularly as “the Multilith Edition” and “the Original Manuscript”: http://silkworth.net/originalmanuscript/originalmanuscript.html; accessed 8/22/2015.
[6] Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 159-60.
[7] The physical address of Stepping Stones is 62 Oak Road, Katonah, NY 10536. Although the house itself sits on the Bedford Hills border, and Bill and Lois Wilson always referred to their home as being in Bedford Hills, both Katonah and Bedford Hills are hamlets of the larger Town of Bedford: http://www.steppingstones.org/visiting.html.
[8] By June 1938, Bill W. had written a rough draft of the first two chapters of what was to become the book Alcoholics Anonymous. (See A Narrative Timeline of AA History, accumulated and ed. by Arthur S., March 2014, 28: http://hindsfoot.org/aatimeline.pdf; accessed 8/22/2015.) At that time, the chapter titled “There Is a Solution” was the first chapter, and the chapter titled “Bill’s Story” was the second chapter. Bill W. stated that he (and one or more others) had used those two chapters to raise money “. . . from early summer [1938] to early fall . . .” (See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 152-54). The order of the chapters was reversed by the time “the Multilith Edition” was circulated after January 1939.
[9] This version of the story seems to be a revision of the version of the story found in the 36-page document with lines numbered 1-1,180 titled “W. G. Wilson’s Original Story” quoted above. And this revision seems to have been made before “the Multilith Edition” was circulated after January 1939.
[10] “Bill’s Story: The Original Version” (BBSG-SONJ), page 5: http://www.laurenceholbrook.com/AAHistoryLovers/Bills%20Story%20BBSG%5B1%5D.pdf; accessed 8/22/2015.  This version of “Bill’s Story,” still labeled “Chapter Two,” followed the chapter titled “There Is a Solution,” originally labeled as “Chapter One.”
[11] Bill W., My First 40 Years (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2000), 49-51.
 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"So You Think Drunks Can't Be Cured?"

By Ken B.

Have you noticed the following statement made in "the basic text for our Society" [i.e., Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as "the Big Book")] by "Alcoholic Anonymous Number Three" (Akron attorney Bill D.) "a week or two after" he "had come out of the [Akron City] hospital [on July 4, 1935]":
 
"I thought, I think I have the answer. [A.A. cofounder] Bill [W.] was very, very grateful that he had been released from this terrible thing and he had given God the credit for having done it, and he's so grateful about it he wants to tell other people about it. That sentence, 'The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep telling people about it,' has been a sort of a golden text for the A.A. program and for me." [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191].
 
Bill D.'s references to "cured" reflected the common talk of early AAs.  In my article titled "Have You Been Talked out of A.A.'s Cure for Alcoholism?", I mentioned three "archive scrapbooks" published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., which contained reproductions of newspaper articles from around the United States, many of which spoke of early AAs who said they were cured of alcoholism: 
 
·         (M-42) Archives Scrapbook 1939-1942;
·         (M-66) Archives Scrapbook 1943; and
·         (M-69) Archives Scrapbook 1944.
 
Following on Richard K.'s excellent work on the use of the word "cured" by early AAs--as found in his title, So You Think Drunks Can’t Be Cured? Press Releases by Witnesses to the Cure, (Haverhill, Mass.: Golden Text Publishing Company, 2003), Dick B. published When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2003, 2005, 2006). In that book, Dick B. cited a number of those early newspaper articles in which AAs spoke of having been cured of alcoholism. (See pp. 112-13.) One of those articles was titled "So You Think Drunks Can't Be Cured?" (from which Richard K. may have gotten the title of his publication). Here is some background on that article:
 

“Early in 1941 a member of the Indianapolis AA group, Jim M., was transferred to Louisville. As a means to effect his continuing sobriety, he sought to establish a group of fellow alcoholics, and by June the first Louisville Fellowship was formed. The first meeting was held at the YMCA at Third St. and Broadway. The initial group varied from five to ten people. In September the Sunday Courier-Journal featured a story, “So You Think Drunks Can’t Be Cured,” which undoubtedly helped increase membership.” [Source: “Alcoholics Anonymous” in The Encyclopedia of Louisville, John E. Kleber, ed. ([Lexington, KY]: University Press of Kentucky, 2001), 21; http://mcaf.ee/8uw3hk; accessed 8/15/2015]

For more on this topic of the many times early AAs stated that they had been cured of their alcoholism, see also: Dick B., Cured! Proved Help for Alcoholics and Addicts (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Cured" and the "There Is Hope" January 19, 1939, newspaper article

 
By Ken B.

As my dad (Dick B.) likes to say, "When you find one piece of truth, there is (most likely going to be) more." So, on "cured," here is a photocopy of an article titled "There Is Hope" published Thursday, July 19, 1939, in "The Hackettstown [New Jersey] Courier-Post," in which "a former big business executive"--likely A.A. cofounder Bill W.'s business partner Hank P.--told Silas Bent, former Sunday Editor of "The New York Times," ". . . with elation that he had been cured." http://gsowatch.aamo.info/1938/newspap.gif. And here is a purported transcript of that article: http://www.a-1associates.com/aa/MAGAZINES/Hackettstown.htm.

Early AAs Said They Were Cured of Alcoholism

Early AAs Said They Were Cured of Alcoholism
By Ken B.
 
I recently wrote an article based on research done by my dad (pen name: "Dick B.") titled: "Have You Been Talked out of A.A.'s Cure for Alcoholism?" In that article, I pointed out that, in strong contrast to the single negative use of the word "cured" on page 85 of the current (fourth, 2001) edition of Alcoholics Anonymous ("the Big Book"), there are seven occurrences of the word "cured" used in a positive sense of "cure of alcoholism" on pages 1-192 of the Big Book. The most important of the seven occurrences is A.A. cofounder Bill W.'s own declaration in mid-July 1935 to the wife of "Alcoholic Anonymous Number Three" (Akron attorney Bill D.): ". . . 'Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.'" [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 191; emphasis added].

The fact is that many early AAs referred to themselves as having been cured of alcoholism, a "disease" which the medical community of the time had considered "incurable." Here is another of those seven occurrences of the word "cured" in a positive sense of the cure of alcoholism:

"Nineteen years ago last summer [i.e., in 1935], [A.A. cofounder] Dr. Bob and I [A.A. cofounder Bill W.] saw him (Bill D.) for the first time. Bill lay on his hospital bed and looked at us in wonder.

"Two days before this, Dr. Bob had said to me, 'If you and I are going to stay sober, we had better get busy.' Straightway, Bob called Akron's City Hospital and asked for the nurse on the receiving ward. He explained that he and a man from New York had a cure for alcoholism. Did she have an alcoholic customer on whom it could be tried?" [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 188; emphasis added].

A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob were two of many early AAs who spoke of having been cured of alcoholism. In October and November 1939, only a few months after the first edition of the Big Book was published in April 1939, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper published a number of articles about A.A. by Elrick B. Davis. According to the website on which the articles were reproduced (www.barefootsworld.net), they were "reprinted from the Cleveland Plain Dealer with permission."

Oct. 21, 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here: Part 1
Oct. 23, 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here: Part 2
Oct. 24, 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here: Part 3
Oct. 25, 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here: Part 4
Oct. 26, 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its Stand Here: Part 5
Nov. 2, 1939, A Noted Divine Reviews "Alcoholics Anonymous"
Nov. 4, 1939, A Physician Looks Upon Alcoholics Anonymous

You might enjoy counting the occurrences of forms of the word "cured" in a positive sense of the cure of alcoholism. As my dad (Dick B.) likes to say, "Where there is one piece of truth, there is (quite often) more."

For more information on this and other topics relating to the roles played by God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible in early A.A.'s astonishing success, please see, for example, my dad's main website (www.DickB.com) and the many Christian Recovery resources available at "A.A. History: The Rest of the Story, with Dick B." (www.AAHistoryChristianRecovery.com).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Further Burial of Akron Program Ideas in the Words of Bill’s New Twelve Steps


The Further Burial of Akron Program Ideas

in the Words of Bill’s New Twelve Steps

 

By Dick B.

© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved

 

This is not a Twelve Step or a Big Book study. My title Twelve Steps for You covers the diverse origins of each of the Twelve Steps, examining each, step by step. The Big Book has been extensively studied and well-reviewed by such venerable AAs as Joe McQ. and Charlie P. in their Seminars, tapes, and books. What’s been missing is an understanding of the fact that Bill Wilson was commissioned to write a basic text conveying the program details that were so successful in Akron by 1938. Instead, Wilson and his partner Hank Parkhurst, formed a corporation, drew up a stock prospectus, outlined a completely new and different recovery procedure, and sold the ultimate product as “the steps we took.” This despite the fact that there were no steps, that the predecessor Oxford Group had no steps, and that no steps were ever taken by anyone in early 1939—the date the Big Book was published.

 

As a starting point, we can look at Bill’s six word-of-mouth steps and the variant presentations of them. But it is important to highlight the things in the ultimate draft of Twelve Steps that completely changed A.A.’s ideas on what it took to recover. The draft threw Dr. Jung’s “conversion” into a barrel and reworded it a “spiritual experience.” Here are the highlights (See ‘Pass It On, 198-99):

 

·         The idea that AAs were somehow “powerless” replaced the original concept that they were simply “licked.” Powerless led more neatly to Bill’s “Power.” Being licked had been a prelude to a cry to God for help out of the mire.

·         The idea that AAs “came to believe” replaced the original concept that they either believed or they didn’t. And “Power greater than themselves” replaced the word “God” to appease two or three atheists and fit the step into Bill’s “Power” progression.

·         The Third Step redefined “sin,” characterized it as “self-centeredness,” and put a spin on the surrender as being a surrender of self instead of a surrender to God—the kind of surrender involved in a real conversion.

·         The Fourth through Seventh Steps involved action to eliminate offensive manifestations of self, rather than adopting the Biblical solution of receiving the spirit of God, walking by the Spirit, and disdaining walk by the flesh. Note the significance of this change in terms of the “cure” concept. “Self” can’t be eliminated; hence never “cured.” Walking in obedience to God’s will is always possible and an attainable condition to cure.

·         The restitution aspects of the Eighth and Ninth steps retained the Biblical ideas of agreeing with our adversary quickly, righting wrongs through restoration or reconciliation, and cleansing hands as suggested in James 4:7-10.

·         The Tenth and Eleventh Steps shifted attention from a daily walk with the Creator to a daily effort to eliminate self-centeredness plus newly minted defects of character—resentment, self-seeking, dishonesty, and fear. They ignored the Four Absolute standards of Jesus that were so important to AAs and used in Akron—unselfishness, purity, honesty, love.

·         The Twelfth Step twisted “conversion” to “spiritual experience” which later add-on provided no way to a new man, a new power of the Holy Spirit, and a new relationship with God. Quite frankly, no more dramatic shift in emphasis from God to self can be found elsewhere in the action steps. The Twelfth Step emphasized an experience allegedly produced by action instead of a new creature, in Christ, produced by the Creator in the miracle a new birth. Its message therefore shifted to some undefined experience resulting from the steps taken, rather than a demonstration of what God does for man that man cannot do for himself. It spoke of principles but simply left them unspecified even though, in early A.A., the principles were taken from the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians 13, and other parts of the Bible.

 

As Bill’s Depressions Progressed, Diversionary Programs Multiplied

 

Clarence Snyder and Cleveland A.A. Perhaps it all started constructively in May, 1939 when Clarence Snyder took the Bible, the Oxford Group Four Absolutes, the Big Book, and the Twelve Steps to Cleveland and made hay with the old and the new, retaining strong ties to both. Cleveland’s groups grew from one to thirty in a year. The success rate soared to 93%. And Clarence developed guides to taking the steps and sponsorship. [See Three Clarence Snyder Sponsee Old-timers and Their Wives: Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide for Those Who Want to Believe, comp. & ed. by Dick B. (Winter Park, FL: Came to Believe Publications, 2005).]

 

Dr, Bob, Sister Ignatia, and St. Thomas Hospital: In 1940, Akron began to be focused on hospitalization and Twelfth-stepping as part of the work by Dr. Bob and Sister Ignatia at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. This work retained the important hospitalization of old. But Sister Ignatia added some new approaches, and both Dr. Bob and Anne Smith were moving toward their declining years in energy and effort. The Ignatia story is well covered in Mary C. Darrah. Sister Ignatia: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1992; and, while it cannot be said that the A.A. program thereby changed, it does seem that a stint with Bob, Ignatia, and St. Thomas might have inclined St. Thomas patients to believe they had completed their rehabilitation even though Akron Group Number One was still meeting, and Dr. Bob was still active.

 

Enter four new influences. Their respective works are covered elsewhere, but each brought substantial changes to A.A. itself:
 
(1) Father Ed Dowling, S.J., entered the scene in late 1940; he communicated with Bill for the next twenty years. Their subject matter: Bill’s “second conversion” when he did a “fifth step” with Dowling, Dowling’s view of the significance of the Exercises of St. Ignatius, and a steady flow of letters. [See Robert Fitzgerald. The Soul of Sponsorship: The Friendship of Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J., and Bill Wilson in Letters (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 1995).] But, by 1942, Bill had gone into a deep, severe, almost immobilizing thirteen year depression. And still other leaders and programs were, for whatever reason, attempting to fill the gap.
 
(2) Richmond Walker had a spotty past as a recycled drunk. He gained an interest in the Oxford Group and its literature as early as 1934. He joined the Oxford Group in 1939 to get sober, but didn’t succeed for much over two years. But he gained extensive knowledge of Oxford Group ideas In May of 1942, he entered A.A. and was involved in three very influential literary works. He worked with a devotional titled God Calling, which had been edited by Oxford Group writer A.A. Russell. In 1945, a Massachusetts A.A group published Walker’s For Drunks Only which was filled with Oxford Group ideas, A.A. principles, and sobriety suggestions. He offered it to A.A. for publication and was declined. In 1948, Walker worked with God Calling and converted it to a recovery devotional that has sold in the millions, though also declined by A.A. itself. That devotional is titled Twenty-Four Hours Book.
 
(3) Father Ralph Pfau: Ralph was the first Roman Catholic priest to get sober in Alcoholics Anonymous (he came in on November 10, 1943), and under the pen name which he chose to use, Father John Doe, he wrote his 14 Golden Books back in the 1940’s and 50’s and early 60’s. They are still being read and used by A.A.’s today: Spiritual Side (1947), Tolerance (1948), Attitudes (1949), and others. They were coming out once a year at the beginning. Then Pfau changed his writing and published three much longer books, including Sobriety and Beyond (1955).
 
(4) Ed Webster: In 1946, in Minneapolis, Ed Webster published The Little Red Book under the sponsorship of the A.A. Nicollet Group. Its title was "An Interpretation of the Twelve Steps."   Ed had the help and support of Dr. Bob, who gave numerous suggestions for wording various passages. Ed also wrote Stools and Bottles (1955), Barroom Reveries (1958) and Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities (in 1970, just a year before his death).
 
 
 
 

Bill’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: When Bill finally pulled out of his depression, Anne Smith was dead, Dr. Bob was dead, the reigns of A.A. were becoming the property of New York, and Bill had set about writing a whole new program in his book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. It was heavily edited by two Roman Catholic Jesuit priests who purportedly sought to eliminate Oxford Group thoughts from its content. Bill also introduced a second edition of the basic text and adopted “spiritual awakening” as the target of the steps—leaving conversion, religious experience, and spiritual experience in the dust bin. He completely replaced “conversion” with a psychological conclusion that, for most AAs, a mere personality change sufficient to overcome the “disease” of alcoholism was all that was required for recovery.

 

Finally, recovery centers and literature substantially pre-empted doctrinal literature publication and distribution. But, as all the foregoing developments occurred, the A.A. success rates became observably more and more dismal—dropping from its original rate of at least 75% to about 5%. And these changes—one and all—provide solid reasons for returning to, re-examining, and learning early ideas and history.


AA OF AKRON rides again

through its four later pamphlets commissioned by Dr. Bob

 

I don’t think anything surprised me more as an AA from the West Coast than finding the four AA OF AKRON pamphlets on sale at the Akron A.A. Intergroup Office--pamphlets originally commissioned by Dr. Bob. They had apparently been around for years. They were filled with the kind of Akron A.A. I’ve described above. They quoted the Bible, recommended prayer, discussed the importance of God, and did so in the context of the Twelve Steps. Yet how in the world did these gems come into being when their contents were virtually unknown where I came from? They seemed at first to be the product or property of some “clandestine A.A.” until I learned what I know today—that they closely resembled the Frank Amos summary of early A.A.

 

I can’t say and do not know how much research has been done on their origins. But this much has been suggested. Dr. Bob felt that the program in the Big Book was not easy for “blue collar” AAs to deal with. He asked Evan W. to prepare some practical guides. And four emerged. For those who have become acquainted with early A.A. in Akron, there’s not a surprise in them even though two of the four I own were republished, respectively in 1989 and 1993, while the other two bear were republished in October, 1997.

 

Treat yourself to this A.A. program material. Program principles and practices that were not written by Bill W.,  that square with the A.A. that Frank Amos summarized, that frequently quote the Bible—just as Dr. Bob did, and that I described in detail above. And let’s look at the general ideas in each of the pamphlets, one by one:

 

Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous

 

At the outset, this pamphlet asks and answers the following:

 

            But, asks the alcoholic, where can I find a simple, step-by-step religious guide? The Ten    Commandments give us a set of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots; the Twelve Steps of        AA give us a program of dynamic action; but what about a spiritual guide? Of course the         answer is that by following the Ten Commandments and Twelve Steps to the letter we             automatically lead a spiritual life, whether or not we recognize it.

 

Then the pamphlet says: “Here, however, is a set of suggestions, couched in the simplest of language:

 

            1 – Eliminate sin from our lives.

            2 – Develop humility

            3 – Constantly pray to God for guidance.

            4 – Practice charity.

            5 – Meditate frequently on our newly found blessings, giving honest thanks for them.

            6 – Take God into our confidence in all our acts.

            7 – Seek the companionship of others who are seeking a spiritual

                  life.

 

And the explanatory discussions of these seven points frequently mention God, Christianity, the Bible, and prayer. The pamphlet gives several illustrations of how men have found God. It concludes with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. 

 

A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous.

 

This guide picks up the trail where Spiritual Milestones left off. It addresses the newcomer, hospitalization, sponsors, visiting the hospital, and what the newcomer must do on his discharge. He is told to read the Bible and give particular attention to the Sermon on the Mount, Book of James, 1 Corinthians 13, and the Twenty-third and Ninety-first Psalms. The guide suggests a prayer life for each and every day. Then it describes the thrill of helping someone else. Citing Matthew 6:34 of the Sermon on the Mount, it suggests day by day time progress and acquiring health “one day at a time.” It quotes Step Twelve as a “Spiritual Experience,” not the “Awakening” Bill was soon to substitute as the result of taking the steps.

 

Second Reader for Alcoholics Anonymous

 

Its primary topic is, WHAT IS THERE IN AA FOR ME BESIDES SOBRIETY. And the article discusses four items: “Work, Play, Love, and Religion”—substituting A.A. for the latter. It contends that the good active AA is practicing Christianity whether he knows it or not. It devotes a paragraph to the Bible accounts that children loved for years: The Lord’s Prayer, David and Goliath and Samson, Adam and Eve in the Garden, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan. And it lays out some very practical and purposeful ways of sharing a story in A.A. meetings.

 

A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

 

With this fourth pamphlet, Akron AA completes the circuit of A.A. activity. It offers the following as a simplified, condensed form of the complete program:

 

·         We honestly admitted we were powerless over alcohol and sincerely wanted to do something about it. In other words, we admitted we were whipped and had a genuine desire to QUIT FOR GOOD.

·         We asked and received help from a power greater than ourselves and another human. (NOTE: In almost all cases that power is called God. It is, however, God as WE UNDERSTAND HIM. . . .)

·         We cleaned up our lives, paid our debts, righted wrongs.

·         We carried our new way of life to others desperately in need of it.

 

The pamphlet discusses each of the Twelve Steps individually. It concludes with these rules for living.

 

·         Remember that you an alcoholic, and but one drink away from drunkenness again.

·         Remember that you are completely dependent on God as you understand Him.

·         Remember to keep your thinking straight.

·         Remember that a wrong act will play on your mind until you either do something to rectify it or get drunk.

·         Remember that defects will creep into your life if given half a chance.

·         Remember that if only through gratitude, we must help others in order to help ourselves.

 

Is It Any Wonder!

 

Just look at the road traveled in A.A. between 1935 and 1955. Just look at how the early Akron A.A. precepts perished a little more along each step of the road. And then ask if it’s any wonder that today’s people don’t even know their history, and perhaps don’t even want to know it.

 

But our educational target is the child of God in A.A.—the Christian, the believer, if you wish—who is awash in authoritative talk about spirituality, higher powers, powerlessness, personality changes, and experiences. It is he who needs to be reached with the simplicity of the early Christian Fellowship program. He has as much at stake in that program as any other person in A.A. It concerns his life, his freedom, and his happiness which were spiraling down the tube in his drinking years. And he has as much need and right as any person in A.A. to know that his own beliefs—when used to deliver him from the power of darkness—were the very beliefs that delivered early AAs from the curse of alcoholism. It was alcohol that was the enemy and the key. And the early pioneers found out how to defeat that enemy and turn the lock with the help of Almighty God.