The Real Alcoholics Anonymous History Story
By Dick B.
© 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Many observers of early A.A. and early A.A. pioneers themselves called A.A. “First Century Christianity” in action. The A.A. story really begins with the Book of Acts and what First Century Christians did.
This included daily fellowship together, study of God’s word, prayers, meetings in the home and temple, breaking bread together, witnessing, conversion, and seeing huge numbers added to the church.
Beginning around 1850 in America, many Christian organizations and leaders took a special interest in revivals that offered salvation, teaching of the word of God, healings, and concern for helping alcoholics and derelicts. These Christians included the Great Evangelists—e.g., Dwight Moody and F. B. Meyer; Gospel Rescue Missions; the Young Men’s Christian Association; the Salvation Army; the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor; and to some extent A First Century Christian Fellowship, also known as the Oxford Group.
Next in importance came the Christian upbringing of A.A. cofounders Dr. Bob and Bill W. And the Christian revival concerns were a big part of their young lives. This meant parental teaching, church, Sunday school, sermons, reading of Scripture, prayer meetings, hymns, Congregational academies in St. Johnsbury and Manchester, Vermont. It also meant involvement in the Young Men’s Christian Association, daily chapel, required church and Bible study, and emphasis on salvation and the Bible.
When Bill W., Dr. Bob, and A.A. Number Three (Bill D.) had reached their bottoms, these three Christian students of the Bible all turned to God for help, were healed, and were told they must help others do the same thing. Bill W. had been told by his doctor (Silkworth) that the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, could cure him of his alcoholism. Bill accepted Christ at Calvary Mission; cried out to God for help at Towns Hospital; and never drank again. Dr. Bob had spent two-and-a-half years with some Oxford Group people, refreshed his extensive knowledge of the Bible, but never publically admitted to his alcoholism. Then he joined his group in prayers for his own deliverance and was soon rewarded by a visit from Bill W. to Akron where Bill and Bob had a long conversation arranged by Henrietta Seiberling. Bob believed Bill talked his language, and he grasped the importance of Bill’s emphasis on service—helping other alcoholics. The two men spent the summer of 1935 in the Smith home developing a program for helping other alcoholics recover. Soon they decided to find another drunk to help. They located A.A. Number Three, put him in a hospital room, told him their stories, said he must give his life to God, and told him he must then help others. Number 3 followed directions, sought God’s help, and was cured of his alcoholism. And the first A.A. Group was founded July 4, 1935.
Based on Bill W.’s conversion to God by accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, Dr. Bob’s excellent training in the Bible, and the passion of the two men to help other alcoholics, a seven-point program was developed in Akron. (See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 131). In November 1937 in Akron, Bill W. and Dr. Bob reviewed the men they had helped and found that upwards of 40 men were maintaining sobriety for a time. Dr. Bob called the Akron group a “Christian fellowship” and engaged in some 16 practices summarized on pages 27-38 in Dick B.’s title Stick with the Winners. But Bill W. sold the Akron crew on the need for a book that would carry the message to as many people as possible. Bill W. did not report the Akron program in what became the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead, he worked with his friend Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., and developed from Oxford Group ideas a 12 Step program for life-changing that was to help people find God by a vital religious experience, and provide knowledge of the dangers of alcoholism and the message to be carried to others. Meanwhile, Dr. Bob and the Akronites took the lead in writing personal stories that told how they had found or rediscovered God, followed the path of the Akron “Christian fellowship,” been cured of alcoholism, and helped other alcoholics recover. Bill W. later wrote that his own, “new,” design-for-living program had, in the case of Step One, come from Dr. Silkworth. His ideas of a vital religious experience as the end result (Step 12) had come from the writings of Professor William James, and the rest (Steps 2-11) had come directly from Sam Shoemaker.
However, just before the new book went to the printer, Bill was prevailed upon to change his Step language by removing “God” from Step 2 and replacing it with “a Power greater than ourselves,” and inserting the words “as we understood Him” after the word “God” in Steps 3 and 11. Bill W. stated these changes were made in order to appease remonstrating atheists and agnostics and, in effect, to allow others to choose their own conception of a god for help. This idea was adopted for the Big Book despite the fact that Bill W. had told A.A. Number Three’s wife Henrietta that the Lord had cured Bill W. of his alcoholism.
By 1951, Dr. Bob and his wife Anne Smith were dead. Bill W. had persuaded Dr. Bob to turn over management of A.A. to a “General Service Conference” guided by Twelve Traditions. And Bill—though in the throes of a deep depression—worked with two Jesuit priests, John Ford and Ed Dowling, to fashion essays on the meaning of the Steps and Traditions. Primarily, the revised Step ideas put the stamp of approval on using such language as a “Higher Power” to describe the “power” upon which AAs could depend for what Bill had called a “daily reprieve” from alcoholism.