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Houck and Alcoholics Anonymous
Wally P. Archivist, Historian, and Author
the past five years, I have been asked on numerous occasions
to answer specific questions about James Houck. The three
questions that come up the most are:
James Houck a member of A.A.?
James Houck a recovering alcoholic?
James Houck a member of the Oxford Group?
there are no easy answers even when the questions seem to
be simple and straightforward. This is certainly the case
when trying to explain the relationship of James Houck,
the Back to Basics Beginners' Meetings, and
there are now more than 2,000 Back to Basics
Beginners' Groups throughout the world which have produced
more than 100,000 recoveries, there are still people within
the A.A. community who are unfamiliar with this "original"
meeting format or the role James Houck has played in bringing
this highly successful "design for living" back
to the fellowship. James is the last living link to the
spiritual roots of the Alcoholics Anonymous program that
produced a 75% recovery rate from alcoholism.
people today know very little about the early days, except
for what they have read or what they have heard from some
"old-timers" (actually newcomers compared to James
Houck) who sobered up in the 1970's. They don't realize
that the program of the 1970's was quite different from
the "original" program of the 1940's. The program
has continued to change over the years and has reached a
point where today A.A. has only a 5-10% recovery rate, depending
upon which study you read.
published by GSO show that the fellowship peaked in 1992
at 2.2 million members and has declined 20% since then.
Prior to the 1990's, the fellowship doubled in membership
every ten years. The objective of Back to Basics
is to reverse this decline by reintroducing the "original"
Beginners' Meetings that worked for three out of every four
people who entered the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Houck is truly a unique individual. He is ninety-five years
old, sixty-six years sober, and one of the greatest "life-changers"
of the past one hundred years.
like Bill W., Dr. Bob S., and the other "Big Book"
authors, James Houck found God and sobriety in the Oxford
Group. And, just like Bill W., Dr. Bob S., and the other
"Big Book" authors, James had his spiritual awakening
as the direct result of taking the Oxford Group Four Steps
of Surrender, Sharing, Restitution and Guidance.
attended Oxford Group meetings with Bill W. in Frederick,
MD from 1935-1937. The Oxford Group considered all addictions
to be equally detrimental in terms of cutting a person off
from God. There was no more emphasis on alcohol than there
was on smoking, womanizing, or drug addiction. All of these
behaviors left us in the dark relying on self-will, rather
than God's will to solve our problems. The Group believed
that self could not overcome self. Only God could remove
our addictions and afflictions, provided we established
an intimate two-way relationship with Him. In 1937, Bill
left the Group to work full time with alcoholics.
James explains it, when Bill W. left the Oxford he didn't
take all the drunks with him. James remained in the Oxford
Group, as did Rowland H., Cebra G., Victor K., and Charles
C. among others. In fact, Dr. Bob didn't leave the Group
until 1940; almost a year after the "Big Book"
is the only person alive today who has first hand knowledge
of the material Bill W. and the other "Big Book"
authors used to write the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
On numerous occasions, he has stated that the "Big
Book" is Oxford Group literature written for a specific
segment of the Oxford Group fellowship.
James stayed in the Oxford Group, he did have contact with
the early A.A. fellowship through Sam Shoemaker, a mutual
friend of his and Bill W.'s. Sam Shoemaker was the rector
of the Calvary Church in New York City, which was the United
States headquarters of the Oxford Group. Bill W. attended
Oxford Group meetings at the Calvary Church and Sam was
instrumental in assisting Bill W. with the writing of the
"Big Book" Bill acknowledged this linkage when
he wrote on page 39 of A.A. Comes of Age:
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."
the Oxford Group had been responsible for his spiritual
awakening, James remained with the fellowship even after
it changed its name to Moral Re-Armament in 1938. He didn't
attend A.A. meetings until the 1980's when he was working
with a grandson who had a drinking problem. At these meetings,
he saw people practicing a program that did not even remotely
resemble the "original" program of the 1940's.
That's when he started to speak at A.A. events about the
early days of the fellowship.
Houck does not consider himself to be a recovering alcoholic.
The term "recovering" is belittling, it refers
to someone still struggling with the problem rather than
living in the solution. It is an expression that evolved
from the treatment centers in the 1970's. This is how James
describes his recovery:
me 'recovering' means you haven't made the grade yet.
You're still not sure of your position.
am absolutely sure of my position. God took alcohol out
of my life on December 12, 1934, and when God took alcohol
out of my life, He took it out forever."
is a recovered alcoholic, which is the term used
by Bill W., Dr. Bob S. and the A.A. pioneers. The word can
be found seventeen times in the first 164 pages of the "Big
Book." In addition, James sometimes refers to himself
as an ex-alcoholic. This expression was used in the
first ten printings of the first edition of the "Big
Book." In 1947, "ex-alcoholic" was
changed to "ex-problem drinker."
does not identify himself as an alcoholic from the podium.
Here again he follows the precedent set by Bill W., Dr.
Bob S. and the A.A. pioneers. Neither Bill nor Dr. Bob ever
identified themselves as alcoholics when speaking at A.A.
meetings. To verify this all you have to do is listen to
the audio tape recordings of their speeches. The ritual
of identifying oneself as an alcoholic, followed by a chant
from the audience of "Hi _______," also came from
the treatment centers decades after the fellowship came
into being. It is not a part of the "original"
does not claim to be the oldest living member of A.A. because
he does not want, in any way, to overshadow those who have
maintained continuous sobriety after the fellowship was
formed in the spring of 1939. Therefore, Duke P. of Jacksonville
Florida is the oldest member of A.A. with a sobriety date
of 8/15/40, even though Duke's sobriety date is almost six
years after James=.
is also the reason James uses his last name when speaking
at A.A. events. He downplays his membership in A.A. to avoid
being considered the oldest living member of the fellowship.
in mind that James Houck, Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. all found
permanent sobriety in the Oxford Group. If we say that James
Houck's sobriety date isn't important because he sobered
up in the Oxford Group, then we must say the same thing
about Bill and Dr. Bob.
has been a lengthy explanation of several very simple
questions. In summary:
Is James Houck a member of A.A.?
Yes, he is as much a member of A.A. as anyone else who
has a desire to stop drinking. However, for James the
compulsion to drink was successfully removed on December
12, 1934. He has not had a drink of alcohol or taken
a mood altering substance (including nicotine) since
James has an A.A. home group. It meets on Thursday nights
at the Towson, MD Methodist church.
James Houck a recovering alcoholic?
No. James Houck, Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. all had drinking
problems, which they overcame in the Oxford Group as
the direct result of taking the Four Steps of Surrender,
Sharing, Restitution, and Guidance. Since December 12,
1934, James has been a recovered alcoholic or
James Houck a member of the Oxford Group?
James Houck was a member of the Oxford Group in the
1930's and is a member of Moral Re-Armament today. He
is also a member of the Hunt Valley Rotary Club and
the Towson, MD Methodist Church.
the Oxford Group, as such, does not physically exist anymore,
the principles of the Group are just as valuable as a "design
for living" today as they were in the 1930's. Both
James Houck and I apply the Four Standards of Honesty, Purity,
Unselfishness and Love to our thoughts, words and deeds;
use Restitution to become life-changers; and rely upon the
Guidance of God to direct every area of our lives. In this
sense, the Oxford Group is alive within each and every person
who practices the "original" A.A. program in order
to witness once again the miraculous results obtained by
our A.A. pioneers.