“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path."
(Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 26)
Dick B.’s Story
(November 25, 2013)
I was born in Stockton, California, in 1925. I was the only child of two loving parents. My dad was a successful securities salesman. My mother was a concert pianist and studied the Bible every day. My dad had quit smoking before I was born, and neither parent gave evidence of any problem with alcohol. I saw no reason to smoke, and I didn’t. I saw no reason to drink, and I did not drink until I returned from the Army at age 21.
In school, I excelled. Top of my class in high school and valedictorian at my graduation. At the University of California in Berkeley, I was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in my Junior Year and was president of the Inter Fraternity Scholastic Honor Society. At Stanford University, I was elected to the board of Stanford Law Review, on the basis of grades, and became Case Editor of the Stanford Law Review in my second year on the board.
I married a Stanford girl, and we had two sons. Neither she nor the sons were or became alcoholics. Throughout our long marriage, we never prayed together or read the Bible together. This, even though I became president of the Mill Valley Community Church, and my wife busied herself with church affairs. Unfortunately, six months after our marriage, she had a major bipolar incident, the nature of which continued for 18 years. And, after a successful ten-year career as an attorney in a San Francisco law firm, I opened my own law office in Corte Madera, California. I had suffered from sleeping problems in law school and ever since. A psychiatrist had been the first of many physicians who enabled me, step by step, to become dependent upon and to abuse high-powered sedatives and such mind-altering palliatives as valium, thorazine, and quide. Worse, I began mixing them with drinks during the night; and soon I was passing out on the kitchen floor each morning with an almost unbearable body discomfort I called the “heeby jeebies”—not a shaking without, but certainly an unbelievable trembling within. None of this had the slightest impact in deterring my continued excessive drinking.
As success in my law practice increased, the time spent practicing law decreased. The money poured in. The drinking accelerated to the point that I was daily in an almost-drunken state by day’s end. I drank at service club meetings, at chamber of commerce functions, at church meetings, at social events, at the business quarters of a regular drinking buddy next door to my office, and finally alone at home in the evenings. My wife wouldn’t even leave the kitchen to join me despite appeals for her company. If someone had told me I had a problem with alcohol and prescription drugs—and they did—my response was that the problem was my wife, my sleep disorders, and occasionally the number of “minor” auto accidents which occurred when I drank “just a little too much.” Friends, colleagues, physicians, my minister, and other erring commentators—including even some bartenders—began to tell me and others that I was drinking too much. But that did not deter me at all. I had reached the point where I didn’t care what they thought.
I quit drinking for almost two years, however, when my doctor suggested I go on the Pritikin Diet to lose a considerable amount of weight and also to eliminate liquor “for a while.” In this endeavor, I also excelled, losing some 80 pounds, swimming daily, drinking soda water, and following the Pritikin formula. Then I left my wife—cold turkey. The kids had graduated from college and made new lives, and the joy in my marriage had long since left. Or so I thought.
Armed with this new-found fighting trim, I believed that I deserved to renew drinking. But alcohol and drugs had taken a toll I did not recognize. They had removed inhibitions and restraints that had previously been solid moral standards in my life. I began engaging in unethical and irresponsible behavior with a “let them eat cake” attitude. And then I got caught. A resentful relative of a client called the newspapers and the State Bar. My name appeared repeatedly in the news, along with my picture. I became severely depressed, anxious, ashamed, terrified, and guilt-ridden; my clients vanished; and I drank with a vengeance I hadn’t imagined possible. Nothing changed. In fact, everything seemed to get increasingly worse and unbearable—the depression, the drinking, the sleeping pills, the troubles, and the terror. Finally, I consulted a psychiatrist who recommended different sleeping pills and anti-depressants. But I couldn’t wait. I went home, poured a four-ounce glass of cheap gin, and went into an entire week’s blackout—a period I can’t recall or describe even these 22 years later. And that incident, plus a return to the psychiatrist, and the suggestion of my ex-wife, brought me to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous two days sober and ready to conquer the world without booze. But nobody in A.A. had told me about detoxing, seizures, brain-damaged thinking, and bodily withdrawal misery.
What did happen was a series of events that has left me with a continuing appreciation of the unique value of Alcoholics Anonymous to new and still-suffering alcoholics. At early meetings, I had feared the opinions of those who had seen my picture in the newspapers, who might discover some of the things I had done, and who were not as crazy as I was becoming. But those items were definitely unimportant to the mass of drunks I met. At every meeting I attended, I was hugged, welcomed, given phone numbers to call, invited to join other alcoholics after the meetings, given meeting schedules for later meetings, told to “stick with the winners” and “keep coming back” because “it works.” I used the phone numbers repeatedly, followed other recovered alcoholics around, and went to meetings without ceasing. I began to participate in A.A. service where given the opportunity. What these things did for me inspired me to go and do likewise. And I still do. I never see a newcomer at a meeting or a conference or even in a personal encounter without a focus on that person’s story and needs and a possible opportunity to help.
Within the first nine days of sobriety, however, things changed. I had three grand-mal seizures, the first at an A.A. meeting, the second in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and the third in the Emergency Room. And these, in turn, took me to a 28-day treatment program—in all cases, with no significant mention of the importance of turning to God for help. Hence I didn’t. I put abstinence and A.A. first—just as they seemed to be urging.
In no time at all, I faced the wreckage of the past—sober, but stuck as well with a relentless District Attorney, State Bar investigations, a series of ponderous tax audits and levies, divorce outcroppings, loss of my Law License, lack of means of support other than that remaining from my own earlier investments, and a terror and depression and despair that far exceeded that in my drinking period. Without booze or sleeping pills, I went sleepless for months and months. I felt like a zombie. I shook for five years. They called me “Shaky Dick.” And my mind was seemingly only a shadow of its former self—producing mostly forgetfulness, confusion, bewilderment, incessant and irrelevant chatter, and tangential talk patterns. Added to that was the unpleasant fact that I was wetting my pants regularly in A.A. meetings.
By the end of the second month of my sobriety—the period just after I was discharged from the treatment program—I couldn’t handle any of these problems any longer; so I checked into a VA psychiatric ward in San Francisco and there remained for two months. I wasn’t as looney as some of the patients, but I was twice as jittery, anxious, and talkative as most of them. I was diagnosed as having some form of “hypomania.” I now believe it was “fear” mania!
But I had definitely caught the A.A. bug. I didn’t drink. I didn’t take sleeping pills. I suffered miserably from fear and insomnia. I went to A.A. meetings devotedly, called my sponsor regularly, and followed the crowd. Very importantly, I was made to feel wanted. I sought A.A. companionship in meetings and retreats and conferences and studies. I chased newcomers and tried to help them—even dragging alcoholics from the VA psych ward with me to A.A. meetings all over the San Francisco Area. But terror and despair still plagued me at every turn.
I faced prison, financial ruin, a lost reputation, unbearable physical consequences of delayed withdrawal, incredible mental incapacity, insomnia, depression, uncontrolled anxiety, loneliness, and a seemingly-hopeless state of fear. I briefly wanted to take my life—in sobriety! Neither abstinence nor A.A. nor the psych ward were cutting it for me. And God was not part of the A.A. program in which I was so eagerly involved in Marin County, California
But two factors dramatically changed both the circumstances and my entire life at about eight months of sobriety. These came into play while I was in the psychiatric ward in San Francisco. One of my sons kept insisting that I needed to study the Bible and get back into what I had learned about the availability of help from my Heavenly Father and the accomplishments of His son Jesus Christ. He sent me tapes to which I began listening. And then, almost every day, an elderly friend from our Bible fellowship kept calling me long distance and listening to me wail. Finally, he asked why I didn’t stop trying to program my life and instead let God guide it. He cited the story of Peter’s walking on the water. When Peter believed, said this man, he walked. When he became afraid, he sank. And it took Jesus to pull him out of the water. I quickly saw that I had a choice—to learn and believe what God had to offer, or to yield my thinking to the seeming disasters the world was offering. I chose the former. Already a born-again believer since my trip to the Holy Land in 1979, I dived into the Bible. I believed. Peace came. And without a doubt, I can say that my almost-instantaneous response to these events was to believe that, no matter what might lie ahead, God had the answers to life; and that I had better seek Him first. Later I was to learn that A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob had stated clearly that the slogan “First Things First” came directly from Matthew 6:33 – Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.
On weekend passes from the psych ward, I began attending my elderly friend’s Bible fellowship. I stuck with A.A., I stuck with prayer to God and the Bible, and I stuck with the Bible fellowship also. And I got well. Quickly! Nurses noticed it. Family members noticed it. And even my attorney announced that I was ready to bite the bullet—facing whatever the courts, the State Bar, and the newspapers had to throw at me.
The result? I was buttressed with solid sobriety, the A.A. program, and the Word of God. I had a Big Book and a Bible. And my sponsor jokingly observed: Dick is armed, but not dangerous. The fear vanished. I faced and dealt with court hearings, imprisonment, financial problems, divorce problems, tax problems, and reputation problems. I was released from the VA and began A.A. life in earnest. I studied and learned A.A.’s Big Book. I studied, practiced, “took” the Steps, and learned how to take others through, the Twelve Steps. I sponsored newcomers. I served the Fellowship as a speaker, chairperson, secretary, treasurer, General Service Representative, greeter, chair carrier, and floor sweeper. I went to A.A. meetings, gatherings, retreats, conferences, birthday parties, dances, and campouts. It was then time to grow in my relationship with, understanding of, and fellowship with my Heavenly Father, and to change my emphasis to serving and glorifying Him. But I hadn’t fully grasped the fact.
Nonetheless, I began bringing newcomers to Christ, and into our Bible fellowship, while not in any way diminishing their participation in and service to Alcoholics Anonymous. Today some of these newcomers are more than 18 years sober, are married, have a family and a job, and are blessed with strong believing. I thanked God daily for what He had done for me. I asked God daily for His directions as to how to serve Him. I studied the Bible daily and read Bible-based literature daily. I prayed to God daily for myself and others. I affirmed the clear evidence that God could and would and did rescue me.
I began fellowshipping with like-minded believers—many of whom had been completely cured of alcoholism and addiction without even having heard of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. But I stuck to them, to A.A., and to helping others in A.A. I still do. Today, however, I devote many many hours to researching and reporting the Christian predecessors, Christian upbringing, and Christian Fellowship of early A.A.
I had done all things without any knowledge of the fact that my behavior much resembled the behavior of the pioneers in A.A., and of those in numerous movements that came into existence before A.A., and even the actions of First Century Christians as reported in Acts. And what had my “predecessors” done?
Here is how I found out. I had been sober and very active in A.A. for about four years. One night, a young man named John—now dead of alcoholism—walked up to me in a Step Study meeting in San Rafael, California, and asked if I knew that A.A. had come from the Bible. John was in the Bible fellowship I was involved with and knew of my interest in Scripture. I responded that I had been to hundreds and hundreds of meetings; that I had been to many conferences; but that I had never heard such a thing. John suggested that I read the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book, DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980). John said it would provide details about the biblical roots of our A.A. Fellowship. He pointed out that the Book of James had been so popular in early A.A. that members had wanted to call their Society, “the James Club.” I jumped at the suggestion and began reading as much A.A. historical material as I could find. There was actually relatively little. Yet, sure enough, the Bible was mentioned frequently. Also the James Club account. Also Dr. Bob’s statements that the basic ideas of A.A. had come from the pioneers’ study of the Bible; that the old-timers believed the answers to their problems were in the Bible; and that the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 were considered absolutely essential to the program’s success. [See the A.A. General Service Conference-approved pamphlet, The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches; Their Last Major Talks (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975), 11-14, 18-20.] I was later to learn that most of the material in Dr. Bob’s talk was incorporated into the DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers book I had previously read.
And success there had been for sure. The A.A. basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as the Big Book), stated that, of those alcoholics who really tried, 50% got sober and remained that way; and 25% sobered up after some relapses. [See Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), xx.] It also said of the A.A. members whose stories were included in the book: “Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 29). DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers pointed out on page 261: “Records in Cleveland show that 93 percent of those who came to us never had a drink again.” And the early Cleveland A.A. fellowship used the same principles that had been used successfully in Akron, together with the Big Book (first published in 1939), the Bible, the Twelve Steps, and the “Four Absolutes” of the Oxford Group (absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love) as moral standards for testing behavior.
Then came a further turning point—an event which was to change my life pursuits, my interests, and my service to the Creator and His son Jesus Christ. I had never heard anything significant about God, or Jesus Christ, or the Bible in the many A.A. fellowship meetings I had attended. Yet A.A.’s own General Service Conference-approved literature contained much to suggest there was more to the picture than most knew. For example, I had read that early AAs in Akron had called themselves a Christian fellowship. (See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 118.) I had read that they stressed Bible study and old-fashioned prayer meetings. I had read that Christian literature was distributed to them by Dr. Bob for reading and study. And I had read that Dr. Bob always insisted that newcomers in the hospital profess a belief in God and surrender their lives to Christ. [See Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc. 1998), 177-78, 181-86, 187, 188-215. And see also DR. BOB, 144, for the specifics of what I later found.]
I still knew very, very little about what the A.A. pioneers actually did, where they got their ideas, and why their program produced such a high rate of success.
In almost every meeting I attended, there was incessant chatter about some “higher power.” One man insisted his “higher power” was Ralph. A scholar wrote that his higher power had been “Gertrude.” A newspaper reporter in Akron said “it” could be a “radiator.” Many AAs insisted that “it” was a rock. Another insisted that “it” was a chair. One pamphlet showed “it” was called a “light bulb.” And still another AA in our Wednesday night meeting insisted that “it” was the Big Dipper. These remarks were made regularly in meetings I attended in Marin County, California. There was also bizarre talk about “spirituality” that was foreign to my ears. Where, I thought, did such nonsense come from? To make matters worse, my own friend and sponsor began telling me that people who read the Bible got drunk. His sponsor convened a meeting where he and my own sponsor “warned” me that I was getting ready to drink because I had brought my sponsees to a Bible fellowship. But there was still more to be experienced and endured. Not for long in Marin County, however. I moved to Hawaii.
I myself have never been the slightest bit concerned about the fact that many of my A.A. friends are Roman Catholics and Jews and that they talk about their faith in meetings. But I began picking up at A.A. meetings some A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature which seemed to endorse, and even encourage, unbelief—the idea that you didn’t need to believe in anything at all to get well. The following are but a few of many examples:
“A.A. is not a religious society, since it requires no definite religious belief as a condition of membership. . . . Included in its membership are Catholics, Protestants, Jews, members of other religious bodies, agnostics, and atheists. . . . A.A. suggests that to achieve and maintain sobriety, alcoholics need to accept and depend upon another Power recognized as greater than themselves. Some alcoholics choose to consider the A.A. group itself as the power greater than themselves; for many others, this power is God—as they individually understand Him; still others rely upon entirely different concepts of a Higher Power” [44 Questions, 19].
“The majority of A.A. members believe that we have found the solution to our drinking problem not through individual willpower, but through a power greater than ourselves. However, everyone defines this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the A.A. group, still others don’t believe in it at all. There is room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and nonbelief” [A Newcomer Asks . . .].
“While some members prefer to call this Power ‘God,’ we were told that this was purely a matter of personal interpretation; we could conceive of the Power in any terms we thought fit” [This is AA: An Introduction to the A.A. Recovery Program, 15].
“Many people in A.A. talk about ‘God’ or a ‘Higher Power,’ but A.A. is not connected with any religion. A.A. is a spiritual program, not a religious one. Faith is a personal thing and it is not necessary to believe in God or in any form of religion to be a member of A.A. . . . Atheists, agnostics, and believers of all religions have a place in A.A.—provided they wish to stay away from the first drink.” [AA and the Gay/Lesbian Alcoholic, 16].
The foregoing statements were not consistent with A.A.’s Big Book text as I read it. A.A.’s Steps said it was about “coming to believe.” (See Step Two.) Neither were those statements consistent with Bill Wilson’s message that the Lord had cured him of his terrible disease (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191). Neither were they consistent with Dr. Bob’s statement that he felt sorry for the atheist and the agnostic because “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181]. Nor were they consistent with Dr. Bob’s insistence that newcomers profess a belief in God before they were released from Akron City Hospital (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 144). Granted, such statements are not today considered mandatory, any more than opening the parachute is when you jump out of an airplane. But they represented to me the wisdom of the winners—our founders. In fact, my son and I recently published a title “Stick With the Winners” which shows specifically how many times “God” and descriptions of Him are used in today’s Conference-approved A.A. literature.
I didn’t have a problem with the diversity and varieties of believers and unbelievers I met in the rooms of A.A. But I had a big problem with the ever-increasing vocalizing by a few “bleeding deacons” (as some call them) who said that you could not mention the Bible or God or Jesus Christ in a meeting; that the Bible and other religious literature were not “Conference-approved” and therefore could not be brought to a meeting; or that it was a violation of the Twelve Traditions of A.A. for a person to share his or her own experience about how he or she established his or her relationship with God. And the “official,” “A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature” quoted above, combined with the vociferous and seemingly-irrepressible outbursts of some at meetings, seemed to me to be at great variance with the program I entered, the program I had learned from the Big Book, and the encouragement I had received from A.A. members and meetings when I needed it most—even when I talked much about looking to God for help in my life.
I wondered how one could reject God in a program which spoke so much about God. Stewart C., has shown that the word “God”—when considered together with synonyms and pronouns referring to Him--can be found more than 400 times in A.A.’s Big Book. [Stewart C., A Reference Guide to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (Seattle, WA: Recovery Press, 1986), 115-16)]. So I resolved to go to the Seattle International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1990 in order to try to find out what role, if any, the Bible had really played in the founding, development, program, and successes of Alcoholics Anonymous. There I met Frank Mauser, the General Service Archivist from New York. But I was able to discover very little about the role of the Bible in early A.A. And upon my return, my older son and I had a discussion about launching a real effort to discover what role, if any, God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible had played in the tremendous successes of early A.A.
With encouragement from Frank Mauser, Dr. Bob’s children (Sue Smith Windows and Robert R. Smith), Ray G. (archivist at Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron), and later Ozzie and Bonnie L. (the managers of the Wilson House where Bill Wilson was born in East Dorset, Vermont)—I devoted the next 24 years to learning details about A.A.’s use of the Bible. I investigated what its early program really did; where the reliance of members on God really fit in; what proof there was of the early success rates; and what institutions, principles, practices, and Bible studies had impacted on early A.A., on the Big Book and Twelve Steps, and ultimately on the literature of today. I’ll let those who would like to know more about what I have discovered so far learn the details from my 46 published titles and over 1600 articles on the subject. (See http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml.) But, to say the least, there is far more to A.A., its roots, its successes, and its early reliance on the Creator for healing and help than virtually anyone involved in present-day treatment, therapy, professional groups, 12-Step groups, or religious fellowships knows.
Simmered to its essence, the program’s strength really rests on the method the first three AAs used to get sober before there were any Big Books, Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, War Stories, or meetings as we know them today. The elements were simple. They had been used by the Salvation Army, the Rescue Missions, the YMCA, the evangelists like Moody, and Congregationalism. They were: (1) Renounce liquor for life after admitting you are licked. (2) Turn to God for help. (3) Help others get well the same way.
Today I believe there is “A New Way Out” of the wilderness. “A New Way Out” for children of the living Creator who are awash and adrift in the sea of gossip, speculation, and unbelief that exists in most of today’s recovery scene. What wilderness? It is a wilderness that A.A. “cofounder” Rev. Sam Shoemaker called “self-made religion” and “absurd names for God.” A wilderness of outright idolatrous thinking and amateur psychological introspection. Let me illustrate “A New Way Out” with my own experiences.
The alcoholic: The “wilderness” I am speaking about concerns the alcoholic’s own plight—not the nature or shortcomings of A.A., of N.A., or of other 12-Step or recovery-oriented fellowships. As I have told above, I had become a full-fledged drunk and sleeping pill addict by the time of my entry into A.A. Smitten by a seemingly-uncontrollable intention to drink too much regardless of the consequences. Driven by a desire to return to the mire again and again, despite the known and predictable self-destructive disasters. Bill Wilson wrote: “Many do not comprehend that the alcoholic is a very sick person” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., xiii]. I was! The Bible called the sickness a sin. The Bible did clearly command “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; . . .” (Ephesians 5:18a, KJV). But I did just that! Later, in sobriety, I came to see what I had actually been doing. I drank. I got drunk. I produced disaster. Yet I returned to that same pattern over and over—always seeing the disasters get worse. Many have called this “lunacy.” Perhaps the Apostle Peter best described the behavior when he spoke of the proverb, “The dog is returned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:21, KJV). But I got tired of hearing in A.A. that I was “powerless” over alcohol, even over “people, places, and things.” Such doleful “acceptance” didn’t sit right with what I knew was my own need for responsibility, believing, control, and accountability. In fact, however, Dr. Bob’s wife Anne made plain in her journal that a stronger power than mine was needed achieve victory. (See Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939; http://dickb.com/annesm.shtml.) And when--as a child of the one, true, living God--I utilized that power and did what God commanded in the Bible, I neither drank again, nor wanted to. There remained, however, a very real and destructive condition and illness still to be dealt with—brain damage, withdrawal, fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, despair, legal troubles, imprisonment, hospitalization, confusion, forgetfulness, sleeplessness, bewilderment. I didn’t want to drink. I just wanted it all to go away—immediately! I just wanted out. But I found for myself that God provided the power, the strength, the healing, the forgiveness, the guidance, and the rescue. I could and did face the multiple problems believing the truths in biblical promises like these:
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. (Psa 32:8, KJV)
I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psa 34:4, KJV)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psa 46:1, KJV)
In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me. (Psa 56:11, KJV)
In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion. (Psa 71:2, KJV)
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies. (Psa 103:2-4, KJV)
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Pro 3:5-6, KJV)
The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” (Pro 29:25, KJV)
To me, these were not simply quaint or catchy sayings. They were promises of God. And, true to His promises, God produced the results when I put the words in my mind and consistently repeated and believed them. That, I believe, is what the Bible assures us.
There were more pertinent verses. They were specifically addressed to the born-again believer, and based on what Jesus Christ had come to do and make available. I learned, believed, and saw that his work and sacrifice had made me free. I had to claim that freedom. Some of the Bible verses that helped me include the following:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God: Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. (Rom 3:23-25, KJV)
There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom 8:1, KJV)
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (Rom 8:35, 37, KJV)
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Rom 10:9, KJV)
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:2, KJV)
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. (2 Cor 5:17, KJV)
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you: that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. (2 Cor 9:8, KJV)
Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor 10:5, KJV)
Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of Christ in them that are saved, and in them that perish. (2 Cor 2:14, KJV)
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us. (Eph 3:20, KJV)
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. (Col 1:3, KJV)
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7, KJV)
My experience, then, was that—by reading these and many other verses over and over and over; by putting them in my mind (renewing my mind with them) as frequently as possible and whenever negative claims were made over me; and by believing them—my release, my deliverance, and the peace of God came into my life. The accomplishments of God’s own son had delivered me from the wilderness, not merely of being an alcoholic (sick and sinful with excess), but from the status of a beaten-down child of God filled with guilt, shame, anxiety, despair, fear, bodily maladies, and a sense of hopelessness. And I know that, as one of God’s kids, I still am and can be rescued.
When sober and instructed, the choice is mine. And I try to tell others that--through becoming a child of God, through learning the truth about Him and His will, and through walking in fellowship with Him and His son Jesus Christ--they too can be delivered from their drinking problem and from much, much more as well. Service to and glorifying God by helping others is a sine qua non. That is my testimony.
The message: There is a simple message that I carry today to those willing to listen and who want my help. It is this: God wants all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). We can be saved—born again of the Spirit of God—by confessing Jesus as Lord and believing that God raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 10:9; John 3:1-16). When God’s kids then seek Him out by studying His Word and communicating with Him, they can walk from darkness to light as and when they walk in fellowship with Him and His son, and keep His word (1 John 1:1-10; 2:1-6).
Still “A New Way Out” today: For centuries, believers have pointed to the way out and rescue for those who wanted help. These laboring believers have included workers in the YMCA, in Christian Endeavor Society, in the Salvation Army, in Gospel Rescue Missions, and in revivals. Even workers in the Oxford Group with which Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob were briefly associated. Whatever their particular technique, their message was salvation and a new life in Christ. There was the additional stipulation that the message be carried to others. The founder of the YMCA took young men off the streets of London and into his basement, brought them to Christ, and held Bible studies—rescuing them from destruction. Evangelists in and out of the YMCA followed suit. Christian Endeavor Societies formed young people’s groups in the churches themselves and taught them confession of Christ, Bible study, prayer, Quiet Hour, obedience, and the principles of love and service. Salvation Army workers dove into the slums of London and brought the wretched to Christ and into God’s Army to help others. Gospel Rescue Missions furnished food, shelter, and brotherhood, but their unswerving objective was to bring men to the altar, a decision for Christ, and a changed Christian life. So too the old-time revivals and tent meetings. And so too the Oxford Group people who were focused on changing lives through surrender to God. This was the way alcoholics were helped in the early days of A.A. as well.
Once informed of God’s way, suffering souls flocked to the rescue, confessed belief in God, accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, fellowshipped together, and grew through Bible study, prayer meetings, and Quiet Times. Love and service to others was the only demand made of them.
Today, when someone in an A.A. meeting tells a person, as they did me, that people get drunk if they read the Bible, I feel disappointed that they know so little about the real Way out. When someone tells a person in A.A. or some recovery fellowship that they can’t mention or study the Bible in A.A., I feel equally disappointed that hurting souls may soon be deprived of what the early solution was. When someone says that the Bible and religious literature cannot be read because they are not “Conference-approved,” I wonder how many newcomers are being driven away from a relationship with and reliance upon God. When someone talks of some nonsense god that God can be a tree, a radiator, a light bulb, or a group, I think of the clear-cut descriptive language in Psalm 115 about the impotence of false gods. And I regret that a newcomer is hearing that he can pray to a light bulb and get well. I’ve yet to see that happen.
For me, it is about telling my story, reporting the facts about the role our Creator has played in the YMCA, in Christian Endeavor, in the Salvation Army, in Gospel Rescue Missions, in the Oxford Group, and in the early Akron A.A.’s Christian Fellowship. There are other ways, of course. But the one with unquestioned success is the Way, Jesus Christ (John 14:6). With increasing fervor, I try to tell people how God’s liberation, power, and guidance worked in my life, how it worked in the lives of others, and what an appealing alternative it is to the way of idolatry, apathy, acceptance, and institutionalized meeting attendance. I point out that eternal life and the abundant life do not lie in meeting attendance. See John 3:16 and John 10:10. They spring from a relationship with God and His son Jesus Christ.
An answer today: I believe there is “A New Way Out”—a way out of the wretchedness of alcoholism and addiction, out of the bondage of worldly wisdom and opinion and condemnation, out of the prisons of the mind that come from depression, fear, physical illness, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, and resentment. There is “A New Way Out” for people—not just for people attending Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-Step fellowships—but for those who are homeless, imprisoned, physically disabled, mentally impaired, at risk, cowering in fear and self-loathing, drinking and drugging to excess, and encountering major barriers and defeat at every turn. Those people should not be herded into “centers for self-centeredness” where they keep confessing how sick and hurting they are. “A New Way Out” is not a way out of A.A., or 12 Step fellowships, or therapy, or meetings, or groups, or churches, or psychiatric wards. It starts with a decision by an individual to stop his or her self-destructive behavior(s).
The path starts with a determination to “stay stopped,” to change, to abstain. It starts with a discipline that guarantees change for those who go to any length to bring it about. For those in deep holes, as I was, it may take time. But the way out starts by looking up from the hole--not out or down. The way out begins by believing that “with God nothing shall be impossible” when God gives the revelation. (See Luke 1:37.) The way out begins by recognizing that God wants children and enables people to become His children by acknowledging what Jesus Christ did to make that new birth possible. (See 1 Peter 1:23.) The way out—the path to deliverance and freedom—continues when a child of God sets his or her mind, thoughts, and outpouring words on what God reveals—not on what the world says. (See 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.) The way out—the path assuring deliverance and freedom—is followed by walking in the light of God’s Word and the revelation He chooses to give His family members. The way out is assured by obeying God, talking with Him, and staying in fellowship with Him, His son Jesus Christ, and other believers. And that way out is just as available today as it was when Peter urged, after the miracle at Pentecost:
. . . Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. (Acts 2:38-39)
This, and the messages from other messengers in the Book of Acts, changed the lives of millions and millions of those who believed throughout the following centuries.
I continue to find it a joy and a privilege to introduce myself to a newcomer, wherever he or she may be. Then to ask if that person would like to become a child of God. I invite the new person simply to confess with his or her mouth that Jesus is Lord and to believe in his or her heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. (See Romans 10:9.) And I’m seldom turned down. Then, with them, as it did with me, the healing and growth can begin. Freedom is certain to follow for those who walk in fellowship with our Heavenly Father. It did for me. That’s my story.