Recovery Before A.A. – Three Facts to Note
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Were Alcoholics and Addicts Being Healed and Cured Before A.A.?
There are a good many pieces of evidence you could look at in search of an answer to the question: Were alcoholics and addict s being healed and cured before A.A. But there are three sets of facts without dispute and clearly relevant to the answer.
We will briefly discuss the three evidentiary sources:
(1) The people and organizations who were helping and successfully healing alcoholics beginning in the 1850’s.
(2) The results cited by eminent clergy at the Yale Summer School (in which Bill W. participated) in 1945 and by others.
(3) The details of how the first three AAs—Christians and Bible students—were cured (and said so) by renouncing their alcoholic lives, turning to God for help, and then helping others – before A.A. and its first group were formed in 1935.
More on each of the three discussions of Recovery Before A.A.
· Beginning in the 1850’s, the following groups were healing alcoholics. For one thing, they were FOR curing alcoholics and addicts and NOT Against liquor. Here are the
people and organizations in the first set of facts:
The great evangelists who offered salvation, the Word, and healing in huge revival meetings in Vermont and elsewhere: Dwight L. Moody, Ira Sankey, F. B. Meyer,
Allen Folger, and several others
Young Men’s Christian Association brethren who could point to the revivals they conducted and their role in The Great Awakening of 1875 in St. Johnsbury—the village where Dr. Bob was born and raised. That Great Awakening brought over 1500 to Christ in a town with a 5,000 population and transformed the whole village religious life. The Young Men’s Christian Association was actually founded in Great Britain to bring young men out of street drinking and into Bible study. Dr. Bob father was President of the St. Johnsbury YMCA. Bill Wilson was President of the Burr and Burton Seminary YMCA.
Congregationalism in Vermont and New England. Towering Congregational Church leaders, including former Governor Deacon Erastus Fairbanks, former Governor Horace Fairbanks, Joseph Fairbanks, Thaddeus Fairebanks, Col. Franklin Fairbands, Rev. Edward Fairbanks, Rev. Henry Fairbanks all figured in the revivals, building of churches, and public buildings and the St. Johnsbury Great Awakening and its aftermath. The entire Bob Smith family were much involved in Congregationalism in Vermont. Bill Wilson’s boyhood church—East Congregational Church of East Dorset and his seminary church Manchester Congregational Church were active in temperance and revivals. So were the staunch Congregationalists heading Bill’s Burr and Burton Seminary.
Gospel Rescue Missions, such as those of Jerry McAuley and S.H. Hadley at Water Street and elsewhere were helping many thousands of alcoholics, addicts, and derelict receive salvation, the Word of God, and release from their alcoholism and addiction.
Salvation Army. General William Booth founded this movement in the slums of darkest England and offered to drunks and criminals the simple formula of: (1) One recovered Salvationist approaching the suffering with Salvation and the Bible. (2) Once the suffering soul accepted both and was healed of his curse, he was urged to join “God’s Army” and help others get out of the pit.
The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. Building to a worldwide membership of 4.5 million, this movement began in Maine at the Williston Congregational Church and rapidly spread through New England and then worldwide. Dr. Bob and his parents were involved at North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury. And the program to bring young people back to church offered many of the features later part of the Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship—conversion meetings, Bible study meetings, prayer meetings, Quiet Hour observances, reading and discussing Christian literature. It also had a minor interest in Temperance.
Our three most important resources providing more facts and documentation are: Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont; Bill W. and Dr. Bob: The Green Mountain Men of Vermont;
And Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A.
· The Summaries of Leading Clergy, including Those participating in Twenty-nine Lectures with Discussions as given at Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies in 1945
The Lecture of the Reverend Francis W. Mc Peek, Executive Director of the Federation of Churches in Washington, D.C. [who reviewed what he called “a brief, highly selective survey of a century‘s efforts among religious people to bring the healing power of God into the lives of those who suffer from inebriety]
It is, moreover, the insistence of historical Christianity that no man can live fully without a knowledge of and dependence upon God. . . . No one is exempt (p. 404)
The deep-running desires for a faith which united and heals the soul and directs the will, and the bits of emotionally tinged knowledge of God from earlier times, are refreshed or activated in many ways. Sometimes they are strengthened by chance words heard or real—a phrase overheard from conversation in a public place, a radio sermon, a service of public worship, a quotation from the Scriptures in and unexpected place. Augustine was converted by reading a single passage. St. Anthony by a single word (p. 405)
But by all odds the most of those who find their way back to sobriety after years of indulgence find it because they first find a friend with whom there is no necessity of pretense. The scold, the crank, the moralizer, the contemptuous-these serve usually only to widen the abyss, already so great, that separates the inebriate from those to whom he most truly wishes to belong. The hallmark of a good friend is his stability and freedom from censoriousness; the hallmark of a religious friend is not only these things, but also a humility tempered with unshaken faith. To these religious elements we add one other—the moving power of mass example (pp. 405-06)
Much work was done in city missions and particularly by the Salvation Army. The Army, however, has focused its efforts on the conversion experience and has made use of its own general facilities and of other community resources when these were needed in aftercare. Those who wish to read a portrayal of the Salvation Army’s methods and approach may consult Hall’s biography of Henry F. Milans (Out of the Depth).
Generally speaking, the Salvationists have capitalized on the same techniques that have made other reform programs work: (1) Insistence on total abstinence. (2 reliance on God. (3) the provision of new friendships among those who understand. (4) the opportunity to work with those who suffer from the same difficulty. (5) unruffled patience and consistent faith in the ability of the individual and the power of God to accomplish the desired ends (pp. 414-15).
Certain things may be held as conclusive. Towering above them all is this indisputable fact: It is faith in the living God which has accounted for more recoveries from the disease than all other therapeutic agencies put together (p. 417).
For others, see Alcohol, Science and Society: Twenty-none Lectures with Discussions as given at the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies; Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 3rd ed., 2006; Howard Clinebell, Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol. Drug, and Behavioral Addictions. Rev. and enl. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998).
· Details about how the first three AAs (Bill W., Dr. Bob, Bill D.)—Christians and Bible students all turned from liquor, turned to and relied on God, and then helped others get cured by the same means. This before the founding of A.A. and its first group in 1935; and before there were any Big Books, Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, drunkalogs, and meetings like those today.
When the first three got sober, there were no Big Books, Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, drunkalogs, and meetings like those today. In The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlet, Dr. Bob pointed out the absence of either the original old school A.A. program and of Bill W.’s new Big Book Twelve Step program. He said the pioneers believed that the answers to their problem were in the Bible. And they studied and discussed the Bible as they developed the original program and the Twelve Step program.
We now know how the first three AAs got sober in these early days. They were Christians. They had always believed in God. They had all studied the Bible extensively. Their stories of cure should be known to all AAs—Bill’s cry to God for help at Towns Hospital and immediate deliverance from alcohol; Dr. Bob’s prayer for deliverance with Henrietta Seiberling and others, the miraculous appearance of Bill Wilson, and Dr. Bob’s last drink; Bill D. had been hospitalized many times. Bill and Bob visited him. Bill D. surrendered to God asking for his help. He was told to help others if healed. And all of this happened and began immediately. Only after that was the first A.A. group founded. And development of the old school program began over the summer of 1935.
Each of the first three AAs specifically stated he had been cured and, in the case of Bill W. and Bill D..specifically attributed the healing to the “Lord.” Dr. Bob attributed it to his “Heavenly Father.”
Specific resources for these facts are: Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191, 179-81; The Co-Founders of Alcoholics: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks, 13-14; The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide: Historical Perspectives and Effective Modern Application, 4th ed. 167-71; Dick B. and Ken B., Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous: God’s Role in Recovery Confirmed!, ix-xiv, 34-38,41-42