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Come of Age
Ohio, July 28-30, 1950
A.A.s 15th Anniversary everybody knew that we had
grown up. There couldnt be any doubt about it. Members,
families and friendsseven thousand of themspent
three inspiring, almost awesome days with our good hosts
theme song of our Conference was gratitude; its keynote
was the sure realization that we are now welded as one,
the world over. As never before, we dedicated ourselves
to the single purpose of carrying good news of A.A. to those
millions who still dont know. Mid, as we affirmed
the Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous, we asked that we
might remain in perfect unity under the Grace of God for
so long as he may need us.
what did we do? Well, we had meetings, lots of them. The
medical meeting, for instance. Our first and greatest friend
Dr. Silkworth couldnt get there. But his associate
at Knickerbocker Hospital, New York, Dr. Meyer Texon, most
ably filled the gap, telling how best the general hospital
could relate itself to us. He clinched his points by a careful
description how, during the past four years at Knickerbocker,
5000 drunks had been sponsored, processed and turned loose
in A. A.; and this to the great satisfaction of everybody
concerned, including the hospital, whose Board was delighted
with the results and specially liked the fact that its modest
charges were invariably paid, money on the line. Who had
ever heard of 5000 drunks who really paid their bills? Then
Dr. Texon brought us up to the minute on the malady of alcoholism
as they see it at Knickerbocker; he said it was a definite
personality disorder hooked to a physical craving. That
certainly made sense to most of us. Dr. Texon threw a heavy
scare into prospective "slippees." It was that
little matter of ones liver. This patient organ, he
said, would surely develop hob nails or maybe galloping
cirrhosis, if more guzzling went on. He had a brand new
one too, about salt water, claiming that every alcoholic
on the loose had a big saltdeficiency. Fill the victim with
salt water, he said, and youd quiet him right down.
Of course we thought, "Why not put all drunks on salt
water instead of gin? Then the world alcohol problem might
be solved overnight." But that was our idea, not Dr.
Texons. To him, many thanks.
the industrial meeting: Jake H., U.S. Steel, and Dave M.,
Dupont, both A.A.s, led it. Mr. Louis Selser, Editor
of the Cleveland Press, rounded out the session and brought
down the house. Jake, as an officer of Steel, told what
the company really thought about A.A. - and it was all good.
Jake noted A.A.s huge collective earning powersomewhere
between 1/4 and 1/2 billion of dollars annually. Instead
of being a nerve-wracking drag on societys collective
pocket book, we were now, for the most part, top grade employables
who could contribute a yearly average of $4,000 apiece to
our countrys well being. Dave M., personnel man at
Dupont who has a special eye to the company s alcohol
problem, related what the "New Look" on serious
drinking had meant to Dupont and its workers of all grades.
According to Dave, his company believes mightily in A.A.
By all odds the most stirring testimony at the industrial
seminar was given by Editor Louis Selser. Mr. Selser spoke
to us from the viewpoint of an employer, citizen and veteran
newspaper man. It was about the most moving expression of
utter confidence in Alcoholics Anonymous we had ever heard.
It was almost too good; its implications brought us a little
dismay. How could we fallible A.As ever measure up
to Mr. Selsers high hope for our future? We began
to wonder if the A.A. reputation wasnt getting far
better than its actual character.
came that wonderful session on prisons. Our great friend,
Warden Duffy told the startling story of our original group
at San Quentin. His account of A.A.s 5-year history
there had a moving prelude. We heard a recording, soon for
radio release, that thrillingly dramatized an actual incident
of A.A. life within the walls. An alcoholic prisoner reacts
bitterly to his confinement and develops amazing ingenuity
in finding and drinking alcohol. Soon he becomes too ingenious.
In the prison paint shop he discovers a promising fluid
which he shares with his fellow alcoholics. It was deadly
poison. Harrowing hours followed, during which several of
them died. The whole prison was tense as the fatalities
continued to mount. Nothing but quick blood transfusions
could save those still living. The San Quentin A.A. Group
volunteered instantly and spent the rest of that long night
giving of themselves as they had never given before. A.A.
hadnt been any too popular, but now prison morale
hit an all time high and stayed there. Many of the survivors
joined up. The first Prison Group had made its mark; A.A.
had come to San Quentin to stay.
Duffy then spoke. Apparently we folks on the outside know
nothing of prison sales resistance. The skepticism of San
Quentin prisoners and keepers alike had been tremendous.
They thought A.A. must be a racket. Or maybe a crackpot
religion. Then, objected the prison board, why tempt providence
by freely mixing prisoners with outsiders, alcoholic women
especially. Bedlam would be unloosed. But our friend the
Warden, somehow deeply convinced, insisted on A.A. To this
day, he said, not a single prison rule has ever been broken
at an A.A. meeting though hundreds of gatherings have been
attended by hundreds of prisoners with almost no watching
at all. Hardly needed is that solitary, sympathetic guard
who sits in the back row.
Warden added that most prison authorities throughout the
United States and Canada today share his views of Alcoholics
Anonymous. Hitherto 8O% of paroled alcoholic prisoners had
to be scooped up and taken back to jail. Many institutions
now report that this percentage has dropped to one-half,
even one third of what it used to be. Warden Duffy had traveled
2000 miles to be with us at Cleveland. We soon saw why.
He came because he is a great human being. Once again, we
A.A. s sat and wondered how far our reputation had
got ahead of our character.
we men folk couldnt go to the meeting of the alcoholic
ladies. But we make no doubt they devised ways to combat
the crushing stigma that still rests on those poor gals
who hit the bottle. Perhaps, too, our ladies had debated
how to keep the big bad wolf at a respectful distance. But
no, the A.A. sister transcribing this piece crisply assures
me nothing of the sort was discussed. A wonderfully constructive
meeting, she says it was. And about 500 girls attended.
Just think of it, A.A. was four years old before we could
sober up even one. Life for the alcoholic woman is no sinecure.
were other special sufferers overlooked, such as paid Intergroup
secretaries, plain everyday secretaries, our newspaper editors
and the wives and husbands of alcoholics, sometimes known
as our "forgotten people." Im sure the secretaries
concluded that though sometimes unappreciated, they still
love every moment of their work. What the editors decided,
I havent learned. Judging from their telling efforts
over the years, it is altogether possible they came up with
many an ingenious idea.
agreed that the wives (and husbands) meeting was an eye
opener. Some recalled how Anne S. in the Akron early days,
had been boon companion and advisor to distraught wives.
She clearly saw alcoholism as a family problem. Meanwhile
we A. A.s went all out on the work of sobering up
incoming alkies by the thousands. Our good wives seemed
entirely lost in that prodigious shuffle. Lots of the newer
localities held closed meetings only, it looked like A.A.
was going exclusive. But of late this trend has whipped
about. More and more our partners have been taking the Twelve
Steps into their own lives. As proof of this, witness the
12th step work they are doing with the wives and husbands
of newcomers, and note well those wives meetings now
springing up everywhere. At their Cleveland gathering they
invited us alcoholics to listen. Many an A.A. skeptic left
that session convinced that our "forgotten ones"
really had something. As one alkie put it - "The deep
understanding and spirituality I felt in that wives
meeting was something out of the world."
from it, the Cleveland Conference wasnt all meetings.
Take that banquet, for example. Or should I say banquets?
The original blueprint called for enough diners to fill
the Rainbow Room of Hotel Carter. But the diners did much
better. Gay banqueteers quickly overflowed the Ballroom.
Finally the Carter Coffee Shop and Petit Cafe had to be
cleared for the surging celebrants. Two orchestras were
drafted and our fine entertainers found they had to play
their acts twice, both upstairs and down. Though nobody
turned up tight, you should have heard those A.A. s
sing. Slap-happy, they were. And why not? Yet a serious
undertone crept in as we toasted the absent ones. We were
first reminded of the absent by that A.A. from the Marshall
Islands who, though all alone out there, still claimed his
group had three members, to wit: "God, the book Alcoholics
Anonymous and me." The first of his 7,000 mile
journey to Cleveland had finished at Hawaii whence with
great care and refrigeration he had brought in a cluster
of floral tributes, those leis for which the Islands are
famous. One of these was sent by the A.A. lepers at Molokai
- those isolated A.A.s who will always be of us, yet
never with us. We swallowed hard, too, when we thought of
Dr. Bob, alone at home, gravely ill. Another toast of the
evening was to that A.A. who, more than anything, wanted
to be at Cleveland when we came of age. Unhappily he never
got to the Tradition meeting, he had been carried of f by
a heart attack. His widow came in his place and she cheerfully
sat out that great event with us. How well her quiet courage
will be remembered. But at length gaiety took over; we danced
till midnight. We knew the absent ones would want it that
thousand of us crowded into the Cleveland Music Hall for
the Tradition meeting, which was thought by most A.A.s
to be the high point of our Conference. Six old time stalwarts,
coming from places as far flung as Boston and San Diego,
beautifully reviewed the years of A.A. experience which
had led to the writing of our Tradition. Then I was asked
to sum up, which I did, saying:
touching all matters affecting A.A. unity, our common welfare
should come first; that A.A. has now human authorityonly
God as He may speak in our Group Conscience; that our leaders
are but trusted servants, they do not govern; that any alcoholic
may become an A.A. member if he says sowe exclude
no one; that every A.A. Group may manage its own affairs
as it likes, provided surrounding groups are not harmed
thereby; that we A.A.s have but a single aimthe
carrying of our message to the alcoholic who still suffers;
that in consequence we cannot finance, endorse or otherwise
lend the name Alcoholics Anonymous to any other
enterprise, however worthy; that A.A., as such, ought to
remain poor, lest problems of property, management and money
divert us from our sole aim; that we ought to be self-supporting,
gladly paying our small expenses ourselves; that A.A. should
forever remain non-professional, ordinary 12th step work
never to be paid for; that, as a Fellowship, we should never
be organized but may nevertheless create responsible Service
Boards or Committees to insure us better propagation and
sponsorship and that these agencies may engage full time
workers for special tasks; that our public relations ought
to proceed upon the principle of attraction rather than
promotion, it being better to let our friends recommend
us; that personal anonymity at the level of press, radio
and pictures ought to be strictly maintained as our best
protection against the temptations of power or personal
ambition; and finally, that anonymity before the general
public is the spiritual key to all our traditions, ever
reminding us we are always to place principles before personalities,
that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This
to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us;
that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of
Him who presides over us all."
summing up, I then inquired if those present had any objections
to the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous as they
stood. Hearing none, I offered our Tradition for adoption.
Impressively unanimous, the crowd stood up. So ended that
fine hour in which we of Alcoholics Anonymous took our destiny
by the hand.
Saturday morning we listened to a panel of four A. A. s
who portrayed the spiritual side of Alcoholics Anonymousas
they understood it. What with churchgoers and late-rising
banqueteers, the Conference Committee had never guessed
this would be a heavy duty session. But churchgoers had
already returned from their devotions and hardly a soul
stayed abed. Hotel Clevelands ballroom was filled
an hour before hand. People who have fear that A.A. is losing
interest in things of the spirit should have been there.
hush fell upon the crowd as we paused for a moment of silence.
Then came the speakers, earnest and carefully prepared,
all of them. I cannot recall an A.A. gathering where the
attention was more complete, or the devotion deeper. Yet
some thought that those truly excellent speakers had, in
their enthusiasm, unintentionally created a bit of a problem.
It was felt the meeting had gone over far in the direction
of religious comparison, philosophy and interpretation,
when by firm long standing tradition we A.A.s had
always left such questions strictly to the chosen faith
of each individual. One member rose with a word of caution.
As I heard him, I thought, "What a fortunate occurrence.
How well we shall always remember that A.A. is never to
be thought of as a religion. How firmly we shall insist
that A.A. membership cannot depend upon any particular belief
whatever; that our twelve steps contain no article of religious
faith except faith in Godas each of us understands
Him. How carefully we shall henceforth avoid any situation
which could possibly lead us to debate matters of personal
religious belief." It was, we felt, a great Sunday
afternoon we filed into the Cleveland Auditorium. The big
event was the appearance of Dr. Bob. Earlier we thought
hed never make it, his illness had continued so severe.
Seeing him once again was an experience we seven thousand
shall always treasure. He spoke in a strong, sure voice
for ten minutes, and he left us a great heritage, a heritage
by which we A. A. s can surely grow. It was the legacy
of one who had been sober since June 10, 1935, who saw our
first Group to success, and one who, in the fifteen years
since, had given both medical help and vital A.A. to 4,000
of our afflicted ones at good St. Thomas Hospital in Akron,
the birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous. Simplicity, devotion,
steadfastness and loyalty; these, we remembered, were the
hallmarks of that character which Dr. Bob had well implanted
in so many of us. I, too, could gratefully recall that in
all the years of our association
had never been an angry word between us. Such were our thoughts
as we looked at Dr. Bob.
for an hour I tried to sum up. Yet how could one add much
to what we had all seen, heard and felt in those three wonderful
days? With relief and certainty we had seen that A.A. could
never become exhibitionistic or big business; that its early
humility and simplicity is very much with us, that we are
still mindful our beloved Fellowship is really Gods
successnot ours. As evidence I shared a vision of
A.A. as Lois and I saw it unfold on a distant beach head
in far Norway. The vision began with one A.A. who listened
to a voice in his conscience, and then said all he had.
a Norwegian-American, came to us at Greenwich, Connecticut,
five years ago. His parents back home hadnt heard
from him in twenty. He began to send letters telling them
of his new freedom. Back came very disquieting news. The
family reported his only brother in desperate condition,
about to lose all through alcohol. What could be done? The
A.A. from Greenwich had a long talk with his wife. Together
they took a decision to sell their little restaurant, all
they had. They would go to Norway to help the brother. A
few weeks later an airliner landed them at Oslo. They hastened
from field to town and thence 25 mile down the fijord where
the ailing brother lived. He was in a bad state all right.
Unfortunately, though, everybody saw it but him. Hed
have no A.A., no American nonsense. He an alcoholic? Why
certainly not! Of course the man from Greenwich had heard
such objections before. But now this familiar argument was
hard to take. Maybe he had sold all he had for no profit
to anybody. George persisted every bit he dared, but finally
surmised it was no use. Determined to start an A.A. Group
in Norway, anyhow, he began a round of Oslos clergy
and physicians. Nothing happened, not one of them offered
him a single prospect. Greatly cast down, he and his wife
thought it high time they got back to Connecticut.
Providence took a hand. The rebellious Norwegian obligingly
tore of f on one of his fantastic periodics. In the final
anguish of his hangover he cried out to the man from Greenwich,
"Tell me again of the Alcoholics Anonymous,
What, oh my brother, shall I do?" With perfect simplicity
George retold the A.A. story. When he had done, he wrote
out, in his all but forgotten Norwegian, a longhand translation
of a little pamphlet published by the White Plains, N.Y.
Group. It contained, of course, our Twelve Steps of recovery.
The family from Connecticut then flew away home. The Norwegian
brother, himself a typesetter,
to place tiny ads in the Oslo newspapers. He explained he
was a recovered alcoholic who wished to help others. At
last a prospect appeared. When the newcomer was told the
story and shown the White Plains pamphlet, he, too, sobered
instantly. The founders to be then placed more ads.
years after, Lois and I alighted upon that same airfield.
We then learned that Norway has hundreds of A.A.s.
And good ones. The men of Oslo had already carried the lifegiving
news to other Norwegian cities and these beacons burned
brightly. It had all been just as simple, but just as mysterious
the final moments of our historic Conference it seemed fitting
to read from the last chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. These
were the words we took home with us:
yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults
to Him and your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your
past. Give freely of what you find, and join us. We shall
be with you, in the Fellowship of The Spirit, and you will
surely meet some of us as you trudge the road of happy destiny.
May God bless you and keep you -until then."