The Guide for Beginners’ Recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction Today
By Applying "Old-School" Akron A.A. in Today’s Recovery Scene
By Dick B.
© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Some Key Concepts and Events That Influenced Early A.A.
· Summary of the Stages of Healing Techniques, Beginning with the Apostles, and How They Lived Their Lives—including praying, witnessing, converting others, healing, fellowshipping in homes and temple, and breaking bread together
· How Recovery “Christian techniques” Began to Be Employed in the Manner of First Century Christian Fellowships
· The Turning by Christian Groups in the 1850’s to Ministering to the “Unworthy”
· The Christian Entities That Led the Way
· Christian Revivals in the Upbringing of A.A.’s Co-founders
[Especially, the “Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury]
· Congregationalism in Vermont and in the Families of A.A.’s Cofounders
· Participation of Bill W.’s and Dr. Bob’s Grandparents and Parents
· Church, Sunday School, Sermons, Reading of Scripture, Hymns, Prayer Meetings, the Young Men’s Christian Association, and the United Society of Christian Endeavor
· The Congregational Domination of Academies Attended by Dr. Bob, Bill W., and Ebby Thacher; and the Christian Practices Required of Students
· The Spiral Downward (glass in hand) by Dr. Bob and by Bill W. as They Departed for College
The Early Formative Days for Alcoholics and Addicts Involved in Alcoholics Anonymous
How the First Three AAs Got Sober
A.A. Number One, Bill W. Future A.A. cofounder Bill W. became born again at Calvary Mission in New York around December 7, 1934, after his old Burr and Burton Seminary schoolmate, Ebby T., shared the message of “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (also known as “the Oxford Group”) with him in late November 1934. Shortly thereafter, Bill was cured of his alcoholism in his hospital room at Towns Hospital around December 14, 1934, when he cried out to God for help, had an experience in which his hospital room “blazed with an indescribably white light,” and had the “blazing thought”: “Bill, you are a free man. This is the God of the Scriptures.” Bill never again doubted the existence of God, and he never drank again.
A.A. Number Two, Dr. Bob. About March or April 1935, Henrietta Seiberling arranged a meeting of participants in the Oxford Group at the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams in Akron for the purpose of seeing future A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob delivered from his alcoholism. After Dr. Bob (the alcoholic) confessed at that meeting that he was “a secret drinker,” and at his request, he joined the small group of friends in prayer for his deliverance from alcoholism on their knees on a rug on the floor of the Williams’s home. Shortly after that prayer, on May 11, 1935, Henrietta Seiberling received a seemingly-miraculous phone call from Bill W., a stranger from New York who was on a business trip in Akron, seeking a drunk to work with. The next day, May 12, 1935 (Mother’s Day), she introduced Dr. Bob and Bill W. to each other at her home; and, after a six hour talk, the two men were bound to the principle of serving others. But Dr. Bob had yet to be cured. After beginning to work with Bill W. in helping other alcoholics in May and early June, Dr. Bob went on a bender on the way to and at the American Medical Association convention at Atlantic City, New Jersey. Upon his return to Ohio from the A.M.A. convention, Dr. Bob undertook a scheduled surgery. Bill and Bob’s family were concerned that Bob was too shaky to operate. But at four o’clock in the morning on the day of the operation, Dr. Bob told Bill: “I have placed both operation and myself in God’s hands.” Bill W. gave Dr. Bob a bottle of beer that morning before the operation. Dr. went ahead with the surgery that day, and it was a success. That bottle of beer--which Bill W. and Dr. Bob both said Dr. Bob had on June 10, 1935--was Dr. Bob’s last drink. He was cured of alcoholism and never drank again for the rest of his life. “. . . [I]t is generally agreed that Alcoholics Anonymous began there, in Akron, on that date: June 10, 1935.” [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 75]. (The actual date of Dr. Bob’s last drink, however, may have been closer to June 17, as the A.M.A. convention in Atlantic City was held from June 10-14 that year.)
A.A. Number Three, Bill D. On June 26, 1935, Akron attorney Bill D. checked into Akron City Hospital, following seven earlier hospital stays for alcoholism within the preceding six months. A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob visited with Bill D. in the hospital and persuaded him to admit to his seemingly-hopeless alcoholism. Bill D. got on his knees and gave his life to God. He also promised to help others get well. And he walked out of the hospital a free man. He never drank again. Bill W. later announced that July 4, 1935—the date on which Bill D. was released from the hospital—marked the founding of the first Alcoholics Anonymous group in the world, “Akron Number One.”
All three men had renounced liquor for good. They had believed in God and were students of the Bible. They were Christians. And in their darkest hours, they sought God’s help for their ascent from the abyss and received it.
The First Program of Recovery
The A.A. pioneers in Akron soon developed an effective recovery program for working with alcoholics. An agent of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., named Frank Amos went to Akron in late February 1938 to investigate the early Akron A.A. program on behalf of Mr. Rockefeller. Based on Amos’s investigation, he prepared a report for Mr. Rockefeller. Parts of that report were published in the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book, DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, including a seven-point summary of the Akron program found on page 131. Both Amos’s seven-point summary of the early Akron A.A. program as of February 1938, and the 16 practices the pioneers used to implement that seven-point program, are included in our book, Stick with the Winners! How to Conduct More Effective 12-Step Recovery Meetings Using Conference-Approved Literature: A Dick B. Guide for Christian Leaders and Workers in the Recovery Arena (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2012), by Dick B. and Ken B. The documentation for Amos’s seven-point summary of the early Akron program and for the 16 practices of the early Akron AAs is set forth on pages 27-38.
The Next Major Program Development Was
the Remarkable Cleveland Program Offshoot and Its Top Success
There are several reliable summaries of the Cleveland application of “old-school” A.A., including:
· 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, compiled and edited by Dick B. (Winter Park, FL: Came to Believe Publications, 2005). The three author-couples were sponsored by Clarence, sponsored many others, put on retreats organized by Clarence, and were at his side for many years until his death. And, after Clarence died, they later devoted almost a year to interviews, phone calls, correspondence, and manuscript work with Dick B. in order to develop this guide. It is widely used by AAs, at the retreats, and by hundreds who use it as a guide to A.A. and how to take its 12 Steps.
· Dick B., That Amazing Grace: The Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics Anonymous (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1996). Dick B. spoke at many retreats with Grace S. He and his son Ken B. interviewed Grace extensively, and reviewed such books, papers, and records owned by Clarence as Grace made available when Dick and Ken spent a week with Grace at a home in Florida.
· Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland (1991). Mitchell was sponsored by Clarence, gained possession of most of Clarence’s papers, and wrote the authoritative biography of Clarence and his founding of A.A.’s third group in the world in Cleveland on May 11, 1939.
There were some principal points that Grace S. and Mitchell K. made clear to me concerning the A.A. fellowship Clarence S. founded in Cleveland. For example, that Clarence brought with him to Cleveland from Akron important parts of A.A. history, including: the requirement of belief in God; study of the Bible; visiting newcomers, particularly in the hospital; and participating in a great deal of fellowship—including sports, choir, braking bread, dances, and group prayer.
Clarence “. . . concluded that, by keeping most of the ‘old program,’ including the Four Absolutes and the Bible, ninety-three percent of those surveyed [two years after Alcoholics Anonymous (“the Big Book”) was published in April 1939] had maintained uninterrupted sobriety.” [Mitchell K.’s How It Worked, 108]. Here is what Bill W. wrote as to what Cleveland had done with “most of the ‘old program,’ including the Four Absolutes and the Bible”:
We old-timers in New York and Akron had regarded this fantastic phenomenon with deep misgivings. Had it not taken us four whole years, littered with countless failures, to produce even a hundred good recoveries? Yet here in Cleveland we now saw about twenty members, not very experienced themselves, suddenly confronted by hundreds of newcomers as a result of the Plain Dealer articles. How could they possibly manage? We did not know. But a year later we did know for by then Cleveland had about thirty groups and several hundred members. . . . Yes, Cleveland’s results were of the best. [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A., 21-22]
Bill W.’s New Book, Alcoholics Anonymous,
and Its “New Version of the Program, now the ‘Twelve Steps’”
Right after Bill W. and Dr. Bob counted the noses of the recoveries to date in November 1937, “Bill began to think of setting up a chain of profit-making hospitals, of raising money, of subsidizing missionaries, and of writing a book of experiences that would carry the message of recovery to other cities and other countries.” [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 123]. Dr. Bob backed up Bill during a meeting of 18 A.A. members in Akron, and the group approved Bill’s whole package of ideas by a slim, 11-to-9 vote. [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 123-24]. With that approval in hand, Bill returned to New York; and Bill began writing Alcoholics Anonymous in May 1938. [Lois Remembers, 111] But he began writing untethered as to its contents. Dr. Bob had merely commented: “Keep it simple!” Bill, however, came up with a whole “new version of the program, now the ‘Twelve Steps.’” [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 162] Soon after Bill wrote the Twelve Steps to be included in “the famous Chapter 5,” it was decided that “[t]here would have to be a story or case history section. We would have to produce evidence in the form of living proof, written testimonials of our membership itself.” [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 164]. By the end of January 1939, 18 stories from members of the Akron group and 10 stories from the New York group had been completed, as well as 11 initial chapters. [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 164]. 400 copies of 20 of those personal stories, together with the 11 initial chapters, were then published as “the mimeograph issue ‘Alcoholics Anonymous,’” [better known as “the Multilith Edition” or “the Original Manuscript”], and it was sent out far and wide for comment. [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 165].
But there was dissension. For example, Fitz M., the Episcopal minister’s son and Bill W.’s second success (after Hank P.) to recover at Towns Hospital, constantly traveled to reinforce the position that the book ought to be Christian in the doctrinal sense of the word and should say so. Fitz favored using Biblical terms and expressions to make this clear. But the atheists and agnostics, said Bill W., were still to make a tremendously important contribution. The protesters, led by Bill W.’s friend and business partner Henry P., were for deleting the word “God” from the book entirely. Henry had come to believe in some sort of “universal power.” He wanted a psychological book. [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 162-64].
There was still argument about the Twelve Steps. Bill wrote:
All this time I had refused to budge on these steps. I would not change a word of the original draft, in which I had consistently used the word “God,” and in one place the expression “on our knees” was used. Praying to God on one’s knees was still a big affront to Henry. He argued, he begged, he threatened. . . . He was positive we would scare off alcoholics by the thousands when they read those Twelve Steps. [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 166-67; emphasis added].
A detour was fashioned. Bill pointed out that the steps could be made suggestive only.
And the totally-compromised draft of the first edition manuscript was chopped up by a committee of four—Bill W., Hank P., Fitz, and the secretary, Ruth Hock. And then an endless number of parties took a crack at the working manuscript (known as “the Multilith Edition” and “the Original Manuscript) when 400 copies of that version were circulated “to everyone we could think of who might be concerned with the problem of alcoholism.” Then came “the printer’s manuscript” version containing “accepted” changes, “rejected” changes, the marginalia, and the “proof sheet” changes. Later editors insisted that “the printer’s manuscript” was badly mangled. But a bidder at an auction at Sotheby’s paid almost a million dollars for “the printer’s manuscript” in 2007. That “printer’s manuscript” version of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous is now available for public viewing in the form of high-resolution scans of each of its pages included in The Book That Started It All: The Original Working Manuscript of “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2010).
And, though there are suspect additions, and many hand-written opinions and suggestions, one can look at the Hazelden publication and see the manuscript that contained the first edition of the Big Book, published by Works Publishing Company in New York in April 1939.
Bill W.’s “new version of the program, now the ‘Twelve Steps,” contains a huge and obvious compromise when it is compared to the original, highly-successful “old-school” Akron A.A. program Bill and Dr. Bob began developing together over the summer of 1935. [See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 166-67]. And regardless of how one views that great compromise, it resulted in major changes being made to Bill W.’s original draft of the Twelve Steps in which Bill himself said he had consistently used the word “God.” Changes such as describing God as a “Power greater than ourselves” in Step Two and inserting the modifying phrase “as we understood Him” following the word “God” in Steps Three and Eleven.
So the real “new version of the program” and its Twelve Steps were compromised in tenor and purpose. In Bill’s language:
Such were the final concessions to those of little or no faith; . . . so that all who suffer might pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief.
God was certainly there in our Steps, but He was now expressed in terms that anybody—anybody at all—could accept and try. . . . [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 167; emphasis in original].
The Present Program Has Left God in the Dust
Was God a “power?” Could He merely be described as a “Power greater than ourselves?” Was He “a light bulb” or “the Big Dipper” as some have frequently said? Could you—with the stroke of a pen—change God into someone or something, anyone or anything, and expect that/it to heal him?
Jim H., probably the A.A. with the most sobriety when he died, once said to me: “Dick, if you take God out of A.A., you have nothing.”
Should a newcomer hear that he should pray to nothing for help? That he need believe in nothing for rescue? That A.A. is just about “not-god-ness”? That he can select a rock, a chair, a door knob, a table, or some undefined “higher power” for healing?
We think the newcomer needs to hear the whole story and not just about rocks and tables, higher powers, light bulbs, or “nothing at all.” For a newcomer to be told or to expect that “nothing at all” is going to cure them of alcoholism is, of course, absurd. Or should the newcomer hear the rest of the story and believe or affirm what his “basic text” (i.e., the Big Book) claims: that the Creator of the heavens and the earth has more power than any product of man’s mind or hands? More than enough power (and love and forgiveness) to cure that newcomer of their alcoholism.