Archive for the ‘Dick B.’s A.A. Writings’ Category

A.A. Big Book and 12 Step Sources

May 20, 2011

A.A. Big Book and 12 Step Sources

Identifying the Roots and the References


Dick B.


P. O. Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837

Ph/fax: 808 874 4876

Email:; URL:


© 2011 Anonymous. All rights reserved.



Summary of the Identifiable Sources


My materials which have covered in much detail the seven major Bible sources will be referenced in this article. Those which cover the other sources will refer to my own limited writings, to other studies, and to the areas where further research and writing are appropriate and very much needed.

The identifiable sources, in substantial totality, are:

The Seven Major Bible Roots:


  • The Bible (King James Version) which AAs called the “Good Book.”


  • Quiet  Time – the period of prayer, Bible study, seeking of guidance,

                        reading from sources such as Anne Smith’s Journal and devotionals                              such as The Upper Room, and discussing of thoughts and ideas.


  • Anne Smith’s Journal – a booklet written between 1933 and 1939 in the     hand of Dr. Bob’s wife, with discussions of Bible, Oxford Group,         recommended literature, and practical ideas for Christian living.   Whose contents Anne Smith shared each morning at the Smith home    with AAs and their families.


  • Oxford Group Principles and Practices – some twenty-eight ideas that        impacted on the A.A. fellowship, were codified into its Big Book and            12 Steps, and are contained primarily in a large number of writings            by various Oxford Group activists—beginning with the book Soul       Surgery published in 1919.


  • The Teachings of Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. – Rector of Calvary       Episcopal Church in New York in A.A.’s formative years, a close    friend of and teacher of Bill Wilson’s, and the author of over 30 titles,   many   sermons, and frequently published articles whose language can be found in the Big Book, Steps, and fellowship jargon. Called by Bill             Wilson a “co-founder” of A.A.


  • Religious literature widely circulated among and read by Pioneer AAs —   books, pamphlets, and articles, primarily Christian and Protestant, by           such popular authors as Henry Drummond, Oswald Chambers,          Glenn Clark, E. Stanley Jones, Charles Sheldon, Harry Emerson       Fosdick, Emmet Fox, James Allen, Harold Begbie, Samuel          Shoemaker, Victor Kitchen, Stephen Foot, and A. J. Russell. Also,   daily devotionals such as The Upper Room, My Utmost for His Highest,          The Runner’s Bible, The Meaning of Prayer, Victorious Living,    Practicing the Presence of God, and the Imitation of Christ


  • The Young People’s Christian Endeavor Society—

It was this group (founded in Maine in 1881) in which A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob Smith was active as a youngster in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. And this society of young people had the following principles and practices which became a major pillar of the original Akron Christian Fellowship program founded in 1935: (1) Confession of Jesus Christ. (2) Conversion meetings. (3) Prayer meetings. (4) Bible study meetings. (5) Quiet Hour. (6) Discussion of Christian literature. (7) Furthering the two important sets of mottoes (For Christ and Church; and Love and Service). Of course, A.A. was not—like Christian

Endeavor—aligned with any sect, church, or denomination.


Other Significant Influences on Bill’s Big Book and Steps:


  • William Duncan Silkworth, M.D. — the psychiatrist in charge of Towns Hospital in New York, who frequently treated Bill Wilson for alcoholism, seems to have fostered A.A.’s “obsession and allergy” theories about the so-called “disease” of alcoholism, and who wrote the Doctor’s Opinion contained in each edition of Bill’s Big Book. Silkworth also advised Bill Wilson that the “Great Physician” Jesus Christ could cure Bill of his alcoholism.


Carl Gustav Jung, M.D. — the world-renowned Swiss psychiatrist who     treated Rowland Hazard, recommended affiliation with a religious       group, and opined there was no cure for Rowland’s chronic, alcoholic     mind, except through a religious conversion experience—the solution     thought by Bill Wilson to have been the source of his own cure and       to be the foundation for the later Twelfth Step “spiritual experience”

idea in A.A.


  • William James, M.D. –- called by many the father of American        psychology, long dead before A.A. was founded, a Harvard Professor          whose focus was on psychology, experimental psychology, and   philosophy, whose work impacted the writings and beliefs of Rev.         Sam Shoemaker, Jr. and whose book The Varieties of Religious    Experience was, to Bill Wilson, a validation of his “white light”    experience and also a foundation of Bill’s First Step idea about       “deflation in depth.”


  • Richard Peabody – an alcoholism therapist whose title The Common           Sense of Drinking was owned by both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob and    who, though he did not teach reliance on God and died drunk,          appears to have influenced Bill’s writings and language with such         ideas as “powerlessness,” “once an alcoholic always an alcoholic,” “no          cure for alcoholism,” “surrender,” “half measures availed us

nothing,” and a few other therapeutic ideas.


Other significant religious influences on either Akron A.A. or Wilson’s Big Book:


  • The United Christian Endeavor Society –a worldwide organization, numbering in the tens of thousands, consisting primarily of young people supporting their particular church. Espoused most of the principles and practices that characterized the unique Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship program—conversion to Christ, reliance on the Creator, Bible study, prayer meetings, Quiet Hour, fellowship, witness, love,     and service. Its ideas have simply vanished from A.A. historical discussions yet Dr. Bob’s participation as a youngster seems to have poured into many specifics of the Akron program, items that bore little or no resemblance to Oxford Group practices.


  • Also the following five groups of organizations or people who more directly contributed to A.A. founders the effectiveness of: (1) Salvation, the Bible, and Witnessing. (2) Curing alcoholics by conversion. (3) Doing personal work with the afflicted without denominational or church affiliation. (4) “Rescuing” the down-and-out in their earliest days by “soup, soap, and salvation in missions, (5) Testimonials brining about transformations and rebirth.


The Salvation Army, Gospel and Rescue Missions, the famous evangelists like Dwight L. Moody, the “Great Awakening of 1875 in St. Johnsbury Vermont, and the personal work of YMCA lay brethren.


  • The New Thought Movement –a unique spinoff from conventional

            Christian denominations that includes Christian Science, Unity,             Science of Mind, Divine Science, Religious Science, Psychiana, Society       for the Study of Metaphysical Religion, and Process New Thought—         probably contributing unusual “spiritual” words to A.A. language        such as “Higher Power,” “Fourth Dimension,” “Universal Mind,” and other metaphysical terms differing substantially from Biblical words    used by A.A. pioneers from their King James Version Bibles- words             such as “Creator,” “Maker,” “Father of light,” “God of our Fathers,”             “Heavenly Father,” and “Our Father.”


  •  New Age Ideas – though identification of “New Age” as a “Movement” is            difficult and controversial, the movement is said to focus on “One World Government” and “One World Religion” substituting its             apparent new definitions for words that have long established       biblical meaning—words changing “Jesus” and “Yahweh” to “the

Christ,” “the Lord,” and “the One” and then defining a new theology that tells us we all have Christ in us, that there is “a new god,” and that man can be “saved” by a “message” in which he “believes” rather than through        believing on Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Just read certain Big Book language that implies that “faith” in the “idea of God” can be found deep within us; or the contemporary writing that fashions spirituality” out of a “not-god-ness”thesis, and that “Something” saves, but not Jesus Christ.


The Bill Wilson Legacy


Bill Wilson was the author of the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous and of the Twelve Steps of recovery suggested therein. Questions have been raised about the authorship of the chapters “To Wives” and “To Employers” in theBig Book; butWilsonsaid he had asked Dr. Bob’s wife to write the chapter to the wives, that Anne Smith declined, that Lois Wilson (his wife) was angry about the slight, and that he wrote the chapter. As to the “To Employers” chapter, I leave that authorship quandary to someone else’s research and conclusions.

Some A.A.-related shibboleths to be discarded.

  • First, that there were “Oxford Group Steps.”  No!  Non-existent. Both Bill Wilson and his wife Lois suggested that the Oxford Group (an A.A. source) had six steps. But the Oxford Group did not have “six steps.” They had no steps at all, no six steps, and no twelve steps, whatever you may have heard.


  • Second, that the Twelve Steps were derived from the Exercises of St. Ignatius Exercises or John Wesley’s Principles of Holiness. No.  Not involved. As to Father Ed Dowling, S.J., who met Bill Wilson after the Twelve Steps were written: According to one writer, Dowling “was interested in the parallels he had intuited between the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Exercises of St. Ignatius. . . . That . . . Wilson wearily confessed ignorance of the Exercises at once endeared the diminutive cleric to Bill” (Kurtz, Not-God, p. 88). Parallels, not  product. And the same may possibly be said of some of Wesley’s ideas on works on grace and mercy. But I have found nothing in the accounts of A.A. or its Biblical progenitors that suggests any significant relationship at all between early A.A. and either Ignatius or Wesley. In fact, as we will point out, the Steps bear an unmistakable Oxford Group imprint and more precisely the imprint and language of Rev. Sam Shoemaker, who, Bill said, had taught Bill almost every step idea.


  • Third, that A.A. originally had an alleged six “word –of-mouth” steps. Bill suggested that there were six word-of-mouth steps being used before the Twelve Steps were written (Pass It On, p. 197). That’s possible, but these steps, if there were any, were certainly not well defined or consistently described. Lois likened them to a supposed six Oxford Group steps (Lois Remembers, pp. 113, 92). Today, it’s quite clear that the Oxford Group had no such six steps (Pass It On, pp. 197, 206 n. 2). Moreover, there is no convincing evidence to support Bill’s assertion of a supposed six steps. Sometimes, they were referred to as the Oxford Groups six steps—which, as we have said—did not exist. On other occasions, Bill described these “word-of-mouth” steps in varying and inconsistent ways (See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 160; The Language of the Heart, p. 200; Lois Remembers, p. 113; and my review in Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., pp. 256-260).


And Bill added his own disclaimer as to any fixed steps in any form, stating that the six were subject to considerable variation—which they were (The Akron Genesis, supra, p. 256). In fact, long after Bill’s death, his secretary and long-time aid Nell Wing personally handed me one of the versions in Bill’s own handwriting. But this version in no way resembled Bill’s other descriptions.

The final myth about the “six steps” seems to stem from a personal story in the Big Book’s later edition which purportedly was the story of Earl Treat of Chicago. There is a description there of a supposed six steps used by Dr. Bob (Alcoholics Anonymous 3rd ed., p. 292; Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, pp. 22-23).  However, Dr. Bob was then dead and the procedure attributed to him uses words like “Complete deflation” and “Higher Power” that were simply not characteristic of the descriptive words such as “God” and “Heavenly Father;” the need for abstinence; and the references to “sins” accurately attributed to Dr. Bob and his technique by Frank Amos (See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 131). I therefore strongly believe, that the descriptive words were not those of Dr. Bob and that that portion was most probably written or edited and changed by someone other than Earl Treat. Even a cursory glance shows that Treat himself spoke of a number of other “Oxford Group” procedures that Dr. Bob used in Bob’s session with Earl in Dr. Bob’s office. And the first two of the supposed Bob Smith six steps employ language that I have never found in any records of what Dr. Bob said in those days—deflation in depth and “higher power.” These were phrases and ideas that came from Bill Wilson, and they were used byWilson long after the earlyAkron days in which Dr. Bob and Bill formulated the seven-point program reported to John D. Rockefeller by Frank Amos and specifically set forth in A.A.’s Conference Approved biography of Dr. Bob.

In describing his actual writing of the Twelve Steps, Bill spoke of six ideas then in use, and he and Lois both indicated he expanded the six to twelve so that there would be no “wiggle room” for those taking the steps. The problem is that all of the major ideas that Bill incorporated into the twelve steps were long previously in Bill’s reservoir from what his own sponsor Ebby Thacher had taught him in 1934—at least four years before the steps were written. (See Alcoholics Anonymous 4th ed., pp. 13-16; also my extended treatment and review of the Stepping Stones manuscripts and what Bill originally wrote about the Oxford Group teachings from Ebby and others, as found in my title, Dick B., Turning Point: A History of the Spiritual Roots and Successes of Early A.A. They were also in Bill’s reservoir of what the Oxford Group had been teaching since 1919—(1) the five C’s of “Soul Surgery,” (2) the “Four Absolutes” borrowed from Dr. Robert E. Speer, (3) the moral inventory ideas that came from the Oxford Group and Matthew 7:1-5 of the sermon on the mount, (4) the confession ideas that came from James 5:16, (5) the restitution ideas that came from many parts of the Bible, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, (6) the Quiet Time ideas that began in the previous century with the “morning watch” and writings of F. B. Meyer, as well as the materials in the first chapter of the Book of James, (7) the “spiritual experience,” “pass it on,” and practice of spiritual principles that came at the very least from 1 Corinthians 13, the Ten Commandments, and portions of the Sermon on the Mount.

Some have objected to my specific footnotes and citations which abound in my books; but they are the foundation of my writings. When I find something, I identify its source if I can. Then I identify its link to A.A. if I can. And then I specify my sources so that others can check them out and discuss or dispute them if they wish. The end result during the past twenty years has been heart-warming. This despite occasional sarcastic remarks now and then about my supposed “preaching,” my supposed “agenda,” my alleged status as a “hobbyist.” All this nonsense may keep me out of the hair of some revisionists and bleeding deacons. But the perpetrators seldom if ever offer documentation of any kind whatever that discusses, disputes, or analyzes the sources. Therefore I stick to the evidence and let the nay sayers throw stones if they care to. And a few do.

Now let’s get down to cases. Let’s see what Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Ripley Smith had to say about the sources embodied in theBig Bookand Twelve Steps. Then we can get specific about those sources, the documentation, and the references. And the references to those specifics are described here only in limited and in outline form.

Some enlightening statements by the founders as to sources:

  • Bill Wilson wrote the following:


                        [I’ve compacted them into the following, though they were written at                                 different points in time:]  (1) A. A. was not invented. (2) Nobody invented               Alcoholics Anonymous. (3) Each of A.A.’s principles, every one of them,                                     has been borrowed from ancient sources. (4) Having now accounted for                              AA’s Steps One and Twelve. . . . Where did the early AAs find this                                   material for the remaining ten Steps. . . . The spiritual substance of the                                remaining ten Steps came straight from Dr. Bob’s and my own association                  with the Oxford Groups, as they were then led in Americaby that                                        Episcopal rector, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. (5) The early A.A. got its ideas                                   of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for                           harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups and                                     directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from                               nowhere else. (6) [As to] the “co-founder” tag [Bill wrote Shoemaker] . . .                               I have no hesitancy in adding your name to the list. (7) I’m always glad to                              say privately that some of the Oxford Group presentation and emphasis on                         the Christian message saved my life. (8) Now that Frank Buchman                                      [founder of the Oxford Group] is gone and I realize more than ever what                                   we owe to him, I wish I had sought him out in recent years to tell him of                          our appreciation” (See Dick B. Turning Point, pp. 12-13).

  • Lois Wilson wrote the following:


                        [Here again compacted:]  (1) Alcoholics Anonymous owes a great debt to                          the Oxford Group. (2) Bob already understood the great opportunity for                                   regeneration through practicing the principles of the Oxford Group. He                                 stopped drinking. (3) God, through the Oxford Group, had accomplished                               in a twinkling what I had failed to do in seventeen years. One minute I                               would get down on my knees and thank God. . .  and the next moment I                            would throw things about and cuss the Oxford Group. (4) Finally it was                            agreed that the book [Big Book] should present a universal spiritual                             program, not a specific religious one, since all drunks were not Christian”                                (Lois Remembers, pp. 92, 96, 99, 113).

            Dr. Bob said quite plainly in his last major address in 1948:       

                        In the early days, there were no Steps, no Traditions, no basic text

materials, no drunkalogs, and no meetings as we know them today.

Dr. Bob said the oldtimers felt that answers to all of their problems were in the Bible (which he almost always called “the Good Book”)

He said the parts which oldtimers considered “absolutely essential” were Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians.

Bob stated explicitly that he did not write the Twelve Steps and had nothing to do with the writing of them. He went on to say that he was

certain the basic ideas for the Steps had come from the study and effort in the Bible that had been going on since the founding of A.A. in 1935—the Big Book and Steps not having been published until 1939.

The foregoing statements by Dr. Bob can be found in A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature: DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, and The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (Pamphlet P-53).


A.A.’s Bill W. and Dr. Bob with some Quotable Remarks

October 30, 2008

A.A.’s Bill W. and Dr. Bob and Some Quotable A.A. History Remarks

About the Matter of “Cure”

Dick B.

© 2008 by Anonymous. All rights reserved

  • Bill Wilson said: “By the fall of 1937 we could count what looked like forty recovered members. One of us had been sober three years, another two and a half, and a fair number had a year or more behind them. As all of us had been hopeless cases, this amount of time elapsed began to be significant. The realization that we “had found something” began to take hold of us. No longer were we a dubious experiment. . . . If forty alcoholics could recover, why not four hundred, four thousand – even forty thousand?” (The Language of the Heart (NY: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1988), p. 10.

  • Bill Wilson said: [about meeting A.A. Number Three]: “Two days before this, Dr. Bob had said to me, ‘If you and I are going to stay sober, we had better get busy.’ Straightaway, 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. . . . Knowing Dr. Bob of old, she jokingly replied, ‘Well, Doctor, I suppose you’ve already tried it yourself?’” (The Language of the Heart, p. 361).

  • Dr. Bob said about his first meeting with Bill Wilson: “But this was a man who had experienced many years of frightful drinking, who had had most all the drunkard’s experiences known to man, but who had been cured by the very means I had been trying to employ, that is to say the spiritual approach.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 180).

  • Bill Wilson said to Henrietta Dotson, wife of AA Number Three: “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., p. 191).

  • Bill Wilson had the following conversation with Cleveland newcomer Al. G.: “ [Al G. related]. . . when I cam home Clarence [Snyder] was sitting on the davenport with Bill W. I do not recollect the specific conversation that went on but I believe I did challenge Bill to tell me something about A.A. and I do recall one other thing: I wanted to know what this was that worked so many wonders, and hanging over the mantel was a picture of Gethsemane [Jesus praying in the garden] and Bill pointed to it and said, “There it is. . .” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., pp. 216-17 – a story that A.A. World Services has removed from the later edition).

  • Bill Dotson [A.A. Number Three] said: “I thought, I think I have the answer. Bill 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 golden text for the A.A. program and for me” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 191).

  • Frank Amos reported to John D. Rockefeller, Jr.: “Dr. Howard S—, general practitioner at Cuyahoga Falls, aged about 35. S— had been an alcoholic and had been cured by Smith and his friends’ activities and the Christian technique prescribed” (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 1980, p. 129).

As documented in A.A. literature, accounts by pioneer AAs, newspaper articles across the U.S., and the founders themselves: Early A.A. had a 75% to 93% success rate among seemingly hopeless, medically incurable, real alcoholics who went to any lengths to establish their relationship with God.

Gloria Deo

An A.A. Appraisal by an Appreciative Insider

October 30, 2008

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An A.A. Appraisal by an Appreciative Insider

Dick B.

PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837;

Ph/fax: 808 874 4876

© 2008. Anonmous. All rights reserved

An Insider?

There have been lots of drifts, trends, and changes in Alcoholics Anonymous since Bill and Dr. Bob founded the society on June 10, 1935. Most of them took place before I entered the rooms on April 23, 1986 after two days of sobriety, some fifteen years of chronic alcoholism, and sixty years of natal birthdays. I was a late bloomer in more ways than one. But I haven’t had one drink from the first day forward. My life has really changed, and I’m one very happy, thankful dude as I approach my eightieth birthday.

I’ve done the whole A.A. gig—everything but climb into the leadership or employed service ranks. That is to say that I detoxed in A.A. I shook and shivered in A.A. I was ashamed and terrified in A.A. I came early to, and left late from, meetings. I attended thousands of meetings. I served as a greeter, a chair-setup person, a group secretary, a group treasurer, general service representative, frequent speaker, and hands-on sponsor of over 100 men in their recovery. I put my shoulder to the wheel in learning things to pass on—compassion, transportation, communication, Big Book study, step coaching, and camaraderie. Also participating in important sobriety-related side-activities: conferences, conventions, gratitude nights, service nights, unity nights, phone calls to other AAs and A.A. newcomers, newcomer netting, retreats, campouts, dances, study groups, sober club activities, and so on. It was an appealing way of life for someone who had felt disgraced, disgruntled, discouraged, depressed, and down-trodden. And I have never left Alcoholics Anonymous.

Just to make sure you know I’m a veteran insider, I’ll tell you I’ve done the treatment center thing, the therapy thing, the psych ward thing, the jail and penitentiary thing, the probation thing, and all the wreckage-of-the-past sidelights from divorce to tax problems to financial difficulties to health problems to unwanted publicity.

I’m not a professional worker for A.A. or anyone else. I don’t work for a treatment center, a rehab, or a detox unit. I’m not a therapist, psychologist, counselor, facilitator, coordinator, government or non-profit employee, or academic. I don’t lead or belong to a para-church group, self-help group, mutual support group, Christ-centered ministry, other anonymous fellowship, moderation management program, rational recovery group, or any kind of secular support group. I’m just a drunk who got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous and stayed that way because I wanted to (and because I had help)!

All the foregoing just to establish that I’m writing about, and appraising A.A. today from, the inside, from within its rooms, from the fellowship itself, and as one who is—in today’s parlance—“recovered” and—in the commendable parlance of early A.A.—“cured” of alcoholism. I speak for myself and my opinions do not necessarily represent those of A.A. itself or any of its groups or members. I don’t write articles or books to or for A.A. or for any organization at all. I just write what I find.

This will not be a comprehensive review of every nook and cranny, or of every benefit to be found, in A.A. It is intended to be an anniversary summary of where I believe A.A. to be today.

A.A.’s major accomplishments for which I am appreciative

Let’s keep this simple and free of controversial facts.

Ø A. A. has grown to about one million members in America and maintained that number.

Ø A.A. is as close as the school or church next door. You can find meetings in almost any community and offices or telephone contact in most communities.

Ø A.A. is easy to find. You look in the yellow pages and phone. You look in newspapers, and there’ll be an ad. You look on the internet, and you can find A.A. in your area.

Ø A.A.’s basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous, is available everywhere—at A.A. meetings, in major bookstores, in libraries, in treatment programs, on ebay, on internet book sites, in the offices of professionals, and in used book sites.

Ø A.A.’s basic text—in four editions—now numbers tens of millions of books in print.

Ø A.A.’s basic recovery program—consisting of Twelve Steps—can be found in its basic text, in innumerable books about A.A., in printed posters on the walls of most A.A. meeting rooms, and widely mentioned and discussed on websites and in a host of guides describing how to “take” those Steps. See Twelve Steps For You

Ø In the last twenty-years, excellent seminars have been conducted all over the United States by members who review and explain the basic text and the Twelve Steps in detail.

Ø Despite language suggesting otherwise, there is no formal membership in A.A. No rosters, no roll-calls, no attendance records, no prohibited behavior, no prohibited people or groups, and no enforced requirement for membership.

Ø Meetings of A.A. usually begin with a prayer, a moment of silence, a preamble that explains what A.A. is, a welcome to newcomers, and a reading from the basic text that explains details of the program of recovery.

Ø Meetings, except for a few “closed” meetings for alcoholics only, are generally open to anyone wishing to attend, visit, support, or learn.

Ø At its best, every meeting of A.A. is focused on the new person—the person who still suffers from alcohol. That person is welcomed, recognized, and assisted to the extent he seeks help. Telephone numbers are usually given to enable cries for further help. Sponsorship in the program is often volunteered by seasoned members who focus on service.

Ø Membership is free. Coffee and refreshments are free. Some literature is free, and the rest is reasonably priced and often provided free to a newcomer by some well-wishing and knowledgeable existing member.

Ø At the meeting level, the groups are self-supporting through donations by those able to provide support. The expenditures are minimal, consisting primarily of a very low-cost meeting place rental, purchase of coffee and refreshments, and purchase of inexpensive meeting schedules and literature.

Ø As much A.A. goes on outside the meetings as goes on in its meetings. Sponsors work with newcomers to support them and teach them the program of recovery. Fellowship at dances, conferences, seminars, conventions, special events, retreats, picnics, “birthday” parties, ball games, and holiday marathon meetings is the norm. Supportive phone calls among members are common. Transportation to meetings and events is usually offered by one member to another. The “meeting after the meeting” often occurs in cars, restaurants, and meeting halls near the regular meetings and sometimes in homes of members. Opportunities to serve as greeters, set-up people, clean-up people, coffee and refreshment tables, literature tables, and leadership as a secretary, treasurer, group representative, speaker, or chair-person are available for the asking and provide a genuine feeling of worthiness and belonging..

Ø There is a genuine emphasis on mutual love and support.

Ø There is a genuine recognition of the “moral” or “spiritual” aims of the program, challenging members to honesty, tolerance, patience, kindness, love, helpfulness, unselfishness, and service to others.

Ø Those who take the Twelve Steps seriously will usually find a path—either to a relationship with God as the basic text suggests, or to a set of moral principles designed to free the taker from resentment, self-seeking, dishonesty, and fear. The program still suggests religious affiliation and practices, the reading of religious literature suggested by members of the cloth, and the practice of “spiritual” principles which originally were sifted from the Oxford Group’s “Four Absolutes”—honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love; and from Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians 13, and other portions of the Good Book such as the Ten Commandments. See Turning Point: A History of the Spiritual Roots and Successes of A.A.

Ø The element of “filling your hours” with sober, A.A.-related activities is very important in helping the shaking, twisting, lonely, fear-filled, guilt-ridden, shame-faced, bewildered, forgetful, and often despairing person who now—stone sober–must face huge chasms of “empty time” that used to be filled with bad habits, bad places, bad companions, bad ideas, and bad examples. And trouble!

Ø The emergence of interest in A.A. history has, for me, signaled a real change for the better in moving the increasingly amorphous, porous, uninstructed, leaderless mass of new members toward some of the solid, successful, pioneer ideas that originally produced sobriety and a new life. In slightly more than two decades, A.A. has grown from a society which had virtually forgotten where it came from to a society which is more and more being supplied with its history from outside sources—both good and bad. These include books, articles, lectures, seminars, exhibits, museums, libraries, collections, internet presentations, audio tapes, movie and video presentations, and conferences. See Making Known the Biblical Roots and History of Early A.A. I count this development as one of the major, welcome achievements of A.A. today. It offers a real prospect of preventing the irreparable schisms in the fellowship, the pointless secularization of its program, and the departure of tens of thousands of disenchanted people who have come to feel like powerless by-standers. Often Christians and adherents to other belief-systems who don’t enjoy the religion-bashing they hear day in and day out in some quarters of their own fellowship.

Any negatives? Of course!

Ø The importance of learning, reporting, and respecting A.A. history becomes clear only to those who see and concede that present-day A.A. is awash in a variety of conflicting tugs—hostility to religion, intimidation of religiously inclined members, promotion of idolatry and nonsense gods, manufacture of ill-defined “spirituality” and “spiritual ideas,” intrusion of mystical and atheistic doctrines, spill-over of therapy and treatment language, the entrance of a wide-variety of members from different sects, denominations, races, creeds, sexes, sexual preferences, atheist leanings, new age influences, new thought popularity, and enforced attendance brought about at the insistence of courts, probation officers, correctional people, professional therapists, and treatment programs. There is much much more. The success rates in A.A. have plummeted from the original, documented 75% to 93% cures to less than 5% today—a reluctantly admitted fact known to anyone who is active in the program. There has been a recalcitrant outflow to other “anonymous” and “self-help” support groups—hundreds of them. There has been a strong constitutional challenge to the practice of government enforcement of A.A. attendance. There has been a widespread shift in the attitudes in the government, academic, and scientific community—a shift from enthusiasm for A.A. to a diversionary focus on surveys, statistics, “prevention,” “spirituality,” grants, funding, “treatment” and development of new and conflicting definitions of alcoholism. There has been a decided hostility by some in A.A. to its acceptance of addicts and others suffering from life-controlling problems even though most entrants suffer from all of these. Tremendous opposition has arisen in religion where A.A. used to enjoy its endorsement. Some churches and clergy condemn A.A. as anti-Christian and idolatrous. Some urge formation of, and attendance at, “Christ-centered,” or Bible-oriented groups such as Alcoholics for Christ, Teen Challenge, Celebrate Recovery, Overcomers, Overcomers Outreach, Inc., NACD, and Alcoholics Victorious, as well as a host of independent Christian groups, ministries, programs, and prison outreach communities. On the opposite end, there are those in Rational Recovery, atheist organizations, secular recovery groups, as well as advocates of medicinal or psychiatric treatment and experimental profit and non-profit entities who see and declare A.A. as an ineffective, confused and undefined religion of sorts, conducted by untrained non-professionals.

Ø Some think the conflicting forces will divide or destroy A.A. In fact, they often foster divisive meetings, studies, and ideas. I’m not a sociologist, but I don’t agree that A.A. is on a one-track road to oblivion. I point to the Y.M.C.A., Freemasonry, the Salvation Army, the Roman Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, the innumerable proliferating Protestant denominations, the two major political parties, the Service Clubs, the lodges, and the secret college fraternities. All have had better or different days. Most have been buffeted with the loss of charismatic leaders, successful and dynamic programs, large memberships, and popular support. Yet these large organizations adapt, resist, modify, struggle, change, and even vigorously overcome opposition. Their very size and funding have meant formidable armies of victory. More important, they survive whatever change may be seen in their form and programs. A.A. will also be likely to survive. A few think the “Washingtonians” are an example of what could happen to A.A. Or they point to the “Oxford Group’s” virtual demise. Or to the temperance movement. But they can’t see the differences, and they dote on a parade of horrors. But the Washingtonians rejected God and went into politics. That may never happen in A.A. The Oxford Group depended largely on the vitality of one man—Dr. Frank N.D. Buchman—long dead. But the A.A. founders worked hard to see that their society survived their individual deaths. The temperance movement is another story, but I haven’t seen any decline in pubs, bars, cocktail parties, or beer factories. And I’ll let others deal with the significance of that part of our history. See Why Early A.A. Succeeded

Ø Regrettably, a host of critics ignore, distort, misreport, and modify A.A. history. See Real Twelve Step History

Morever, they toss in their respective prejudices against church, clergy, religion, particular denominations and creeds, the Bible, Christianity, Jesus Christ, and even the Creator Yahweh. Sometimes, you wonder how close they are or have been to the things they most criticize and how long it’s been since they’ve seen or helped a wet drunk They intentionally omit mention of early A.A., God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, Quiet Time, Christian literature, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Anne Smith, Christian Endeavor, or other elements that shaped the very form and content of the present-day program. The secularism that is rampant in America is rampant among some revisionists in the recovery community, particularly among those who don’t believe in much of anything, who have cast off their prior affiliations, who certainly don’t seem to believe in the efficacy of Divine Aid—of which Bill and Bob spoke so often, or who claim that neither the Oxford Group nor the Bible nor Christianity had any effective role in the A.A. program or its early successes. They seem paranoid about losing book sales, clients, government support, insurance company money, grants, support from secular-minded colleagues, and the supposed legions of people who might be driven away by the very mention of God. There is no answer to this trend or the efforts or the opinions other than the facts themselves. And within A.A., there is a minority group of angry, prejudiced, authoritative speakers and writers—Bill Wilson years ago called them “bleeding deacons”—who write (without authority) on the stationary and in the name of A.A. intimidating manifestos, who threaten litigation, or who intimidate individuals and groups daring to read something other than recent A.A.-published materials, or daring to study or discuss the Christian roots of the A.A. program, or hold meetings which discuss the religious history and origins of A.A., its steps, and its literature. Don’t kid yourself about the existence of these powerful, negative agents and efforts. Many of us have files of such letters and remarks. And some informative websites have detailed the obstreperous activities

So What!

Line up and take your potshots at this insider if you care to.

But I don’t think A.A. is going down the tubes in terms of program, or support, or members. It’s too venerable. It has too many good features. And its governing forces—such as they are—just don’t have the power or support to junk the day-by-day enthusiasm and activities in favor of some universalized, secularized, sanitized hand-holding society of “opinion-less” newcomers and ex-drunks. That’s just not the history of alcoholic “tolerance.” Most of us have preferred breaking laws and windows and throwing chairs to tolerating intrusive authority figures. We didn’t always just drink to solve our problems—no matter how ineffective the attempted solutions may have been.

The government agencies, researchers, grant-makers, and scholarship programs may continue to search for some scientific cure for alcoholism—a drug, a war, a community awareness program, a government-sponsored educational campaign, new types of rehabs and treatment facilities, drug courts, TV ads, posters, new therapies, and new genes.

But nobody stops drinking until he wants to. Nobody has eliminated temptation since the Serpent introduced himself to Eve. Nobody can ban temptation. And nobody has eliminated the great Tempter—at least not yet. Most importantly, God has never seen fit to remove free will from our menu.

We can be stinkers. We can be drinkers. We can be smokers. We can be abusers. We can be liars and cheats and thieves. We can be angry. We can be afraid. We can deny God. We can ignore the Bible. We can refuse to confess Jesus Christ. We can refuse to go to the doctor, the lawyer, and the priest. And we can fail to listen to the host of critics around us—friends and family who alternately enable us yet warn and scold us; society which alternately educates and punishes us; religion which alternately condemns and ministers to us; and scientists who conclude we have bad genes, bad behavior, bad diet, bad vitamin programs, insufficient exercise, mental problems, secrets, and that catch-all ogre: self-centeredness. Boy do those labels let us off the hook of responsibility.

I think we have free will. In fact, I know we do. It’s God-given. See God and Alcoholism: Our Challenge in the 21st Century

Nobody in my family ever stopped me from drinking, though some prayed for me, warned me, belittled me, and ignored me. One even joined Al-Anon—proclaiming that she didn’t cause it, couldn’t control it, and couldn’t cure it. That seemed to let both God and me off the hook.

Nobody in my church ever stopped me from drinking. Some of them were alcoholics too. The minister had a father who had been a drunk and apparently saw the same disgusting behavior in me, but did nothing to quell it even though his dad had gotten sober in A.A. That group finally ignored me when the going really got tough. But they didn’t stop my drinking and probably didn’t even think it possible.

I give a lot of credit for my sobriety to the San Francisco Chronicle and its devastating publicity about me. I give a lot of credit to the District Attorney’s office across the Bay and its relentless but unsuccessful quest to imprison me for a good long time. I give a lot of credit to a State Bar investigator who zealously pursued my pursuits and influenced my resigning my lawyer credentials. But I give the greatest credit to fear, to nine months of depression, to a week’s blackout, and even to my former wife—who nudged me into A.A. in the face of my final, bewildered despair and illness.

Most of all, I give the credit to A.A. Alcoholics Anonymous was there. It was a phone call away. It was a few blocks away. It never shamed, judged, or excluded me. It never even silenced me. It was there, and I gave it all I had. I didn’t like saying: “I’m Dick. I’m an alcoholic.” But I finally concluded I must be an alcoholic because I quacked the same way all the other ducks in the room quacked. And I’d just been in the same puddles most of them had waddled into. They didn’t really care what I decided, and I found they worried more about their own problems than my shortcomings. And they had a common understanding that drinking was a “no” “no” that could lead to death, insanity, or jail—true or not.

Temptation had been my problem. Early A.A. saw that problem in its frequent study of the Book of James and the dire consequences of giving in to temptation. See The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials Submission to God for help had been my problem. And early A.A. saw that problem in its frequent urging that we submit ourselves to God for guidance, obedience to His commandments, forgiveness, love, and healing—all in the Book of James, and elsewhere in the Good Book. Failure to resist the devil had been my problem. And early A.A. saw that problem in its explicit quotation of the verse in James that said: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

I did, and he did.

For me, the first step was complete abstinence—just as it was in early A.A. The second step was resisting temptation—just as it was in early A.A. The third step was turning to Almighty God for help: in prayer, with thankfulness, in obedience, in trust, and in study. That was a big one in early A.A.; and you started it with an initial and mandatory acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Way. And after eight months of suffering in A.A. without a drink, I set my own and similar course within A.A.—objections or no—learning the A.A. program, helping newcomers, relying on God, studying the Bible, applying the principles of restitution, praying often, and sticking with the ship.

No matter that it was named Alcoholics Anonymous. That’s the one I chose to sail on.

Top that. I can’t, and I haven’t found it necessary to try. Life is too good to spoil it with booze. God is too good for me to turn my back on Him.


Dick B. is an active A.A. member and uses his pen name to conform to A.A. Traditions. He is a writer, historian, retired attorney, Bible student, and recovered AA. He has published 33 titles, and over 170 articles, on all aspects of early A.A. history. He can be reached through his website or by email:

He frequently speaks on panels and at seminars, conferences, and conventions all over the United States.

The Recovery Program of Alcoholics Anonymous

October 30, 2008

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The Recovery Program of Alcoholics Anonymous

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”

Dick B.

Can You Succeed Today with the Big Book, 12 Steps, and Original Program?

I have, and so can you

The Success of Early A.A. as Reported in

Alcoholics Anonymous

“Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement.” [Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, 4th ed. (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), page xx]

The Alcoholics Anonymous Original “Program”

as Was Reported by Frank Amos in

DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers

· An alcoholic must realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and that he must never drink anything with alcohol in it.

· He must surrender himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope.

· Not only must he want to stop drinking permanently, he must remove from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery, and others which frequently accompany alcoholism. Unless he will do this absolutely, Smith and his associates refuse to work with him.

· He must have devotions every morning–a “quiet time” of prayer and some reading from the Bible and other religious literature. Unless this is faithfully followed, there is grave danger of backsliding.

· He must be willing to help other alcoholics get straightened out. This throws up a protective barrier and strengthens his own willpower and convictions.

· It is important, but not vital, that he meet frequently with other reformed alcoholics and form both a social and a religious comradeship.

· Important, but not vital, that he attend some religious service at least once weekly. [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc, 1980), 128-36—especially 131.]

There’s not one suggestion in the Big Book, the Twelve Steps, or the highly successful original program as summarized by Frank Amos to Rockefeller that won’t assure your recovery if you thoroughly follow that path. They did it from 1939-1950. I did it, and you can do it. Just come with us, go where we go, do what we do, and get what God has to offer.

Ask an oldtimer today who believes in God, asked for His help, went to any lengths to get it, grew in spiritual understanding and love, and gave himself to others in love and service.

Gloria Deo