A.A. Origins--Beginning Facts for an A.A. Newcomer:
Start with “Old-School” Akron A.A. of 1935
By Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Orientation Needs to Be Given
A newcomer in recovery needs a simple explanation of the fellowship he or she has chosen to enter. Call it “orientation.” Call it “beginner’s facts.” Or call it “a beginner’s meeting.”
And that beginner orientation offers the least controversial presentation if and when it comes right out of Alcoholics Anonymous “General Service Conference-approved Literature.”
The article following this orientation on “old-school” A.A. origins will present beginning facts for an A.A. newcomer explaining the “new” 1939 Twelve Step program which Bill W. wrote and then published in 1939.
“Old-School” A.A. Began Taking Shape over the Summer of 1935
Much of the understanding of the simple program of early Akron A.A. lies with the requisite account of how the first three AAs got sober just before Akron Group Number One--the original “Christian fellowship”--was founded in June 1935. Regrettably, this vital information was never adequately researched or reported until I began my 23-year trek into the roots--the origins--of A.A.
Each of the first three AAs played a specific role in shaping the essentials of the old program. For a study, see Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide: Historical Perspectives and Effective Modern Application, draft of 4th rev. & exp. ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2012), 167-73.
In a sense, Bill W.’s contribution came first with his new birth at Calvary Rescue Mission where he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in early December 1934. Next with his “vital religious experience” (as it was first called) when--during his December 11-18, 1934, stay at Towns Hospital—when he cried out to God for help and experienced his hospital room blaze with an indescribably white light, after which he never drank again. And then with the beginning of what Bill believed was his “commission” to carry the message to all the drunks in the world. The message commenced with what Bill called the great thought: “Bill you are a free man! This is the God of the Scriptures.” See Bill W.: My First 40 Years (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), 145-46; The Language of the Heart (NY: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1988), 284.
Dr. Bob’s contribution came later but began much much earlier. In his Christian upbringing in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, Dr. Bob had received what he called “excellent training” in the Bible. It was coupled with what he learned from his parents, his church and Sunday school, the program of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, Bible studies, and the Young Men’s Christian Association. Years later, Bob surrendered. He dropped to the floor with his friends at the home of T. Henry Williams and prayed with them for his deliverance from alcoholism. The prayer, all believed, was answered when the stranger Bill W. from New York soon showed up in Akron, met with Dr. Bob for six hours, hit it off with Bob, and convinced Bob that he had never grasped the idea of “service” that Bill had acquired through the Oxford Group.
Finally, the contribution of Bill D., A.A. Number 3 of Akron, was much more simple. Deep in the throes of alcoholism, Bill D. was persuaded by Bill W. and Dr. Bob that there was a solution, that he must give his life to God, and that he must then help others. Bill D. did just that. He was immediately cured. He emerged from the hospital a “free man,” as Bill W. put it. And Bill W. announced that the date on which A.A. Number Three, Bill D., was discharged from the hospital, July 4, 1935, marked the founding of the first A.A. group in the world—Akron Number One.
Where to Learn the Simple, Seven-Point Summary of the Early A.A. Program of 1935
With the following A.A. publications before him, a speaker, leader, or sponsor can enlighten the beginner with the following:
1. Pioneers were guided by, studied, and recovered with the Bible: Dr, Bob stated in 1948: “In the early days . . . our stories didn’t amount to anything to speak of. When we started in on Bill D. [A.A. Number 3], we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions. But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book.” The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biblical Sketches Their Last Major Talks (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975,) p. 13. [The “Good Book” was what the early AAs called the King James Version of the Bible that they used.]
2. Their seven-point biblical program was summarized and published in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980,) p. 131. See the precise language also in: Dick B. and Ken B., 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), 25-37.
3. By November 1937, about 40 pioneers had been astonishingly successful. The details of precisely how a cross-section of those early AAs had recovered were printed and published in the personal stories in the first edition of their Big Book, published in April 1939. See Alcoholics Anonymous: The Original 1939 Edition. With a New Introduction by Dick B. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2011), 10-26, 180-396. Almost all of those stories were removed from future editions. For a study, see Dick B. and Ken B., Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous: God’s Role in Recovery Confirmed! (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2012.) Years after these stories had been removed, A.A. finally restored them in Experience, Strength and Hope: Stories from the First Three Editions of Alcoholics Anonymous (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2003).
4. Each of the first three AAs succinctly told, in his own words, the solution he had found, and these words and the solution were then recorded it in various editions of their Big Book. Here is what they said, as reported in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001):
Bill W. said: “Henrietta [wife of A.A. Number 3], 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,” p. 191.
Dr. Bob said: “. . . [W]e know that we have an answer for you. It never fails. If you go about it with one half the zeal you have been in the habit of showing when you were getting another drink. Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” p. 181.
Bill D. [A.A. Number 3] said: “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 a golden text for the A.A. program and for me.” p. 191.
In its chapter ‘There is a Solution,’ the 4th edition of the Big Book said: “The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward our fellows and toward God’s universe. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.” p. 25. See Dick B. and Ken B., Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous: God’s Role in Recovery Confirmed!, 75-86.