16 thru 31
Date: Thu Apr 4, 2002 6:36am
Subject: SERENITY PRAYER, ITS ORIGIN.
thanks to Charles and Doug of AA History & Trivia for permission to
copy this from their website.
Origin of our Serenity Prayer
give me the detachment to accept those things I cannot alter;
the courage to alter those things I can alter;
and the wisdom to distinguish the one thing from the other."
words were attributed, the correspondent wrote, to an 18th century
pietist, Friedrich Oetinger (1702-1782). Moreover, the plaque was
affixed to a wall in a hall where modern day troops and company
commanders of the new German army were trained "in the principles
of management and . . . behavior of the soldier citizen in a democratic
at last, thought A.A. researchers, was concrete evidence -- quote,
author, date -- of the Serenity Prayer's original source. That conviction
went unchallenged for fifteen years. Then in 1979 came material,
shared with G.S.O.'s Beth K., by Peter T., of Berlin. Peter's research
threw the authenticity of 18th century authorship out the window.
But it also added more tantalizing facts about the plaque's origin.
first form of the prayer," Beth wrote back, originated with Boethius,
the Roman philosopher (480-524 A.D.), and author of the book, Consolations
of Philosophy. The prayer's thoughts were used from then on by "religious-like
people who had to suffer first by the English, later the Prussian
puritans . . . then the Pietists from southwest Germany . . . then
A.A.s . . . and through them, the West Germans after the Second
Beth continued, after the war, a north German University professor,
Dr. Theodor Wilhelm, who had started a revival of spiritual life
in West Germany, had acquired the "little prayer" from Canadian
soldiers. He had written a book in which he had included the prayer,
without attribution, but which resulted in the prayer's appearance
in many different places, such as army officer's halls, schools
and other institutions. The professor's nom de plume? Friedrich
Oetinger, the 18th century pietist! Wilhelm had apparently selected
the pseudonym Oetinger out of admiration of his south German forebears.
in 1957, another G.S.O. staff member, Anita R., browsing in a New
York bookstore, came upon a beautifully bordered card, on which
God, our Heavenly Father, give us Serenity to accept what cannot
be changed, Courage to change what should be changed, and Wisdom
to know the one from the other; through Jesus Christ, our Lord."
card, which came from a bookshop in England, called it the "General's
Prayer," dating it back to the fourteenth century! There are still
other claims, and no doubt more unearthings will continue for years
to come. In any event, Mrs. Reinhold Niebuhr told an interviewer
that her husband was definitely the prayer's author, that she had
seen the piece of paper on which he had written it, and that her
husband -now that there were numerous variations of wording - "used
and preferred" the following form:
"God give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot
be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."
all of these searchings are intriguing, challenging, even mysterious,
they pale in significance when compared to the fact that, for fifty
years, the prayer has become so deeply imbedded into the heart and
soul of A.A. thinking, living, as well as its philosophy, that one
could almost believe that the prayer originated in the A.A. experience
made this very point years ago, in thanking an A.A. friend for the
plaque upon which the prayer was inscribed: "In creating A.A., the
Serenity Prayer has been a most valuable building block-indeed a
speaking of cornerstones, and mysteries and "coincidences"-the building
where G.S.O. is now located borders on a stretch of New York City's
120th St., between Riverside Drive and Broadway (where the Union
Theological Seminary is situated). It's called Reinhold Niebuhr
long version of the Prayer)
grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change;
COURAGE to change the things I can; and WISDOM to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did,
this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it: Trusting that
He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I
may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. Amen
(Another long version of the Prayer from Ireland)
God take and receive my liberty, my memory, my understanding and
will, All that I am and have He has given me.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace,
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to his will
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy in the next. AMEN
Date: Thu Apr 4, 2002 7:08am
Subject: SERENITY PRAYER, MORE ON ITS POSSIBLE
source of this piece unknown.)
SERENITY PRAYER HISTORY
A note from the correspondence of the Washington D.C. Group on the
surrounds the origins of our little prayer
The Serenity Prayer is one of the bits of our A.A. heritage that is
Probably no one knows the true origin of the prayer, although it has
periodically been attributed to any number of "authors." We may never
discover the origin of the prayer, but it is of interest to know how
it became a part of the A.A. way of life. An authoritative account
of this has been provided in the correspondence files of the Washington
In the spring of 1948 Henry S., a member of the Chevy Chase Group,
to write a history of the Washington Group. Whether he did or did
a history of the group is unknown. As a part of this project he contacted
Margaret B., [Bobbie Burger] secretary for the Alcoholic Foundation,
for any information she might have concerning the origins of the Washington
Group. He also asked her if she had any information on the history
of the Serenity Prayer.
"... I think the true story of the little serenity prayer would be
interesting to everyone. I can only tell that, too, from my standpoint,
but we've heard some very interesting data from all over the world.
We first saw those few potent lines in the obit column of the Herald
Tribune in June of 1941. It was addressed "To Mother," and signed,
"Good bye, Your Son." We tried to dream of the story in back of it
and came up with one which made a little sense. We thought perhaps
it was put in the paper by a boy who was leaving home suddenly and
wanted to get a message to his mother on some difference of opinion
they had had. One of the members, Horace C., took the clipping from
the papers and had 100 cards made up. Those of us who were there the
night we first saw it, each got a card and I have my original one.
The balance Horace gave to Ruth Hock to send out to the A.A.'s with
whom she was corresponding. Not long ago, one of those original cards
came in the mail to me here from a man in Japan, who said someone
gave it to him while he was in the Army and he thought that Alcoholics
Anonymous might be interested in the saying. Quite a few of these
little cards have been returned to us from time to time, as "originating"
elsewhere. Only last week, one of our members wrote and said that
his young daughter had found this little prayer in her Catholic Sunday
School book. We've also heard that it appears in an early Episcopal
One of our members in New York says that he can trace it back to Aristotle.
Someday, it might be fun to really find the background of this prayer,
can give you its introduction into A.A. in the spring of 1941.
The Washington Group was instrumental in a number of A.A. practices
development of traditions. The 100 little cards mentioned in Margaret's
letter were made possible by Henry S., whose family owned a printing
business. This was the same Henry who in 1948 started to write the
Washington Group history. There is also reason to believe that the
Twelve Steps as we know them and the little cards that they are printed
on were, in part, the product of Fitz M. and Henry S. of the Washington
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 8:34am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill," #1 --
Is alcohol an illness, or a moral responsibility?
series was originally posted to AA History Buffs by Jim Blair.
These excerpts from various talks and articles by and on Bill W. reveal
a wealth of the thinking and insight of the co-founder of A.A.
Q - How do you justify calling alcoholism an illness, and not a moral
- Early in A.A.'s history, very natural questions arose among theologians.
There was a Mr. Henry Link who had written "The Return to Religion
(Macmillan Co., 1937). One day I received a call from him. He stated
that he strongly objected to the A.A. position that alcoholism was
an illness. This concept, he felt, removed moral responsibility from
alcoholics. He had been voicing this complaint about psychiatrists
in the American Mercury. And now, he stated, he was about to lambaste
Of course, I made haste to point out that we A.A.'s did not use the
concept of sickness to absolve our members from moral responsibility.
On the contrary, we used the fact of fatal illness to clamp the heaviest
kind of moral responsibility on to the sufferer. The further point
was made that in his early days of drinking the alcoholic often was
no doubt guilty of irresponsibility and gluttony. But once the time
of compulsive drinking, veritable lunacy had arrived and he couldn't
very well be held accountable for his conduct. He then had a lunacy
which condemned him to drink, in spite of all he could do; he had
developed a bodily sensitivity to alcohol that guaranteed his final
madness and death. When this state of affairs was pointed out to him,
he was placed immediately under the heaviest kind of pressure to accept
A.A.'s moral and spiritual program of regeneration -- namely, our
Twelve Steps. Fortunately, Mr. Link was satisfied with this view of
the use that we were making of the alcoholic's illness. I am glad
to report that nearly all theologians who have since thought about
this matter have also agreed with that early position.
While it is most obvious that free will in the matter of alcohol has
virtually disappeared in most cases, we A.A.'s do point out that plenty
of free will is left in other areas, It certainly takes a large amount
of willingness, and a great exertion of the will to accept and practice
the A.A. program. It is by this very exertion of the will that the
alcoholic corresponds with the grace by which his drinking obsession
can be expelled.
(N.C.C.A. 'Blue Book', Vol.12, 1960)
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 8:43am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill," #2 --
Do alcoholics as a class differ from other people?
|| From Jim
Q - Do alcoholics as a class differ from other people?
A - Some years ago the doctors began to look at Alcoholics Anonymous
and they got about thirty of us together and they said to themselves
"Well, now that these fellows are in A.A., and they won't lie so badly,
and maybe for the first time we'll get a good look at what the interior
of a drunk is like." So a number of us were examined at great length
by psychiatrists, and all sorts of tests taken, and the object of
this particular inquiry was to see whether alcoholics as a class differed
from other people, and if they did, just why and how much.
A number of us were invited to attend the conclave, and a number of
learned papers were read, and finally one of these physicians (a very
noted one -- the meeting took place at the New York Academy of Medicine)
began to sum up what he thought the conclusion which they had arrived
at was this: that the alcoholic is emotionally on the childish side.
That the alcoholic is a person who is more sensitive emotionally than
the average person. And then, they ascribed another quality to us
-- they used the word "grandiosity," they were grandiose (meaning
by that that as a type we were what you might call "All of nothing
people.") Someone once described it by saying all alcoholics hanker
for the moon when perhaps the stars would have done just as well.
As a class, we're like that, said the doctors. (Memphis, Tenn., Sept.
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 8:49am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill," #3 --
Are Alcoholics neurotic?
|| From Jim
Q - Are alcoholics neurotic?
A - It is possible that about half our members, had they not been
drinkers, would have appeared in ordinary life to be normal people.
The other half would have appeared as more or less pronounced neurotics
(N.Y. State J. Med., Vol.44, Aug. 1944)
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 8:52am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill," #4 --
What is alcoholism?
Q - What is alcoholism?
A - Alcoholism is a malady; that something is dead wrong with us physically;
that our reaction to alcohol has changed; that something has been
very wrong with us emotionally; that our alcoholic habit has become
an obsession, an obsession which can no longer reckon even with death
itself. Once firmly set, one is not able to turn it aside. In other
words, a sort of allergy of the body which guarantees that we shall
die if we drink, an obsession of the mind which guarantees that we
shall go on drinking. Such has been the alcoholic dilemma time out
of mind, and it is altogether probable that even those alcoholics
who did not wish to go on drinking, not more than five out of one
hundred have ever been able to stop before A.A. (Yale Summer School
of Alcohol Studies, June 1945).
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 9:07am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill," #5 --
What is meant by mental obsession?
Q - What is meant by mental obsession and the obsessional character
A - Well, as I understand it, we are all born with the freedom of
choice. The degree of this varies from person to person, and
from area to area in our lives. In the case of neurotic people, our
instincts take on certain patterns and directions, sometimes so compulsive
they cannot be broken by any ordinary effort of the will. The alcoholic's
compulsion to drink is like that. As a smoker, for example, I have
a deeply ingrained habit - I'm almost an addict. But I do not think
that this habit is an actual obsession.
Doubtless it could be broken by an act of my own will. If badly enough
hurt, I could in all probability give up tobacco. Should smoking repeatedly
land me in Bellevue Hospital, I doubt that I would make the trip many
times before quitting. But with my alcoholism, well, that was something
else again. No amount of desire to stop, no amount of punishment,
could enable me to quit. What was once a habit of drinking became
an obsession of drinking -- genuine lunacy.
Perhaps a little more should be said about the obsessional character
of alcoholism. When our fellowship was about three years old some
of us called on Dr. Lawrence Kolb, then Assistant Surgeon General
of the United States. He said that our report of progress had
given him his first hope for alcoholics in general. Not long before,
the U.S. Public Health Department had thought of trying to do something
about the alcoholic situation. After a careful survey of the obsessional
character of our malady, this had been given up. Indeed, Dr. Koib
felt that dope addicts had a far better chance.
Accordingly, the government had built a hospital for their treatment
at Lexington, Kentucky. But for alcoholics -- well, there simply wasn't
any use at all, so he thought.
Nevertheless, many people still go on insisting that the alcoholic
is not a sick man -- that he is simply weak or willful, and sinful.
Even today we often hear the remark "That drunk could get well if
he wanted to."
There is no doubt, too, that the deeply obsessional character of the
alcoholic's drinking is obscured by the fact that drinking is a socially
acceptable custom. By contrast, stealing, or let us say shop-lifting,
is not. Practically everybody has heard of that form of lunacy known
as kleptomania. Oftentimes kleptomaniacs are splendid people in all
other respects. Yet they are under an absolute compulsion to steal
-- just for the kick. A kleptomaniac enters a store a pockets a piece
of merchandise. He is arrested and lands in the police station. The
judge gives him a jail term. He is stigmatized and humiliated. Just
like the alcoholic, he swears that
never, never will he do this again.
On his release from the jail, he wanders down the street past a department
store. Unaccountably he is drawn inside. He sees, for example, a red
tin fire truck, a child's toy. He instantly forgets all about his
misery in the jail. He begins to rationalize. He says, "Well, this
little fire engine is of no real value. The store won't miss it."
So he pockets the toy, the store detective collars him, he is right
back in the clink. Everybody recognizes this type of stealing as sheer
Now, let's compare this behavior with that of an alcoholic. He, too,
has landed in jail. He has already lost family and friends. He suffers
heavy stigma and guilt. He has been physically tortured by his hangover.
Like the kleptomaniac he swears that he will never get into this fix
again. Perhaps he actually knows that he is an alcoholic. He may understand
just what that means and may be fully aware of what the fearful risk
of that first drink is.
Upon his release from jail, the alcoholic behaves just like the kleptomaniac.
He passes a bar and at the first temptation may say, "No, I must not
go inside there; liquor is not for me." But when lie arrives at the
next drinking place, he is gripped by a rationalization. Perhaps he
says, "Well, one beer won't hurt me. After all, beer isn't liquor."
Completely unmindful of his recent miseries, he steps inside. He takes
that fatal first drink. The following day, the police have him again.
His fellow citizens continue to say that he is weak or willful. Actually
he is just as crazy as
the kleptomaniac ever was. At this stage, his free will in regard
to alcoholism has evaporated. He cannot very well be held accountable
for his behavior. (The N.C.C.A. 'Blue Book', Vol. 12, 1960)
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 9:24am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill," #6 --
Is A.A. based totally on your own experiences?
Q - Is A.A. based totally on your own experiences?
A - Let's look. Dr. Bob recovered. Then we two set to work on alcoholics
in Akron. Well, again came this tendency to preach, again this feeling
that it has to be done in some particular way, again discouragement,
so our progress was slow. But little by little we were forced to analyze
our experiences and say, "This approach didn't work very well with
that fellow. Why not? Let's try to put ourselves in his shoes and
stop this preaching and see how he might be approached if we were
he." That began to lead us to the idea that A.A. should be no set
of fixed ideas, but should be a growing thing, growing out of experience.
After a while we began to reflect: "This wonderful blessing that has
come to us, from what does it get its origin?" It was a spiritual
awakening growing out of adversity. So then we began to look harder
for our mistakes, to correct them, to capitalize on our errors.
Little by little we began to grow so that there were 5 of us at the
end of that first year; at the end of the second year 15; at the end
of the third 40; and at the end of the fourth year, 100.
During those first four years most of us had another bad form of intolerance.
As we commenced to have a little success, I am afraid our pride got
the better of us and it was our tendency to forget about our friends.
We were very likely to say, "Well, those doctors didn't do anything
for us, and as for these sky pilots, well, they just don't know the
score." And we became snobbish and patronizing.
Then we read a book by Dr. Carrell (Man, The Unknown). From that book
an argument which is now a part of our system. Dr. Carrel wrote, in
effect; The world is full of analysts. We have tons of ore in the
mines and we have all kinds of building materials above ground. Here
is a man specializing in this, there is a man specializing in that,
and another one in something else. The modern world is full of wonderful
analysts and diggers, but there are very few who deliberately synthesize,
who bring together different materials, who assemble new things. We
are much too shy on synthetic thinking -- the kind of thinking that's
willing to reach out now here and now there to see if something new
cannot be evolved.
On reading that book some of us realized that was just what we had
been groping toward. We had been trying to build out of our own experiences.
At this point we thought, "Let's reach into other people's experiences.
Let's go back to our friends the doctors, let's go back to our friends
the preachers, the social workers, all those who have been concerned
with us, and again review what they have got above ground and bring
that into the synthesis. And let us, where we can, bring them in where
they will fit." So our process of trial and error began and at the
end of four years, the material was cast in the form of a book known
as Alcoholics Anonymous. (Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies, June
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 9:32am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill," #7 --
Is A.A. a new religion? A competitor of the Church?
|| From Jim
Here is another installment from the "Let's Ask Bill" series. This
one has two responses to the question.
Q - Is Alcoholics Anonymous a new religion? A competitor of the Church?
A - If these misgivings had real substance, they would be serious
indeed. But, Alcoholics Anonymous cannot in the least be regarded
as a new religion. Our Twelve Steps have no theological content,
except that which speaks of "God as we understand Him." This means
that each individual AA member may define God according to whatever
faith or creed he may have. Therefore there isn't the slightest interference
with the religious views of any of our membership. The rest of the
Twelve Steps define moral attitudes and helpful practices, all of
them precisely Christian in character. Therefore, as far as the steps
go, the steps are good Christianity, indeed they are good Catholicism,
something which Catholic writers have affirmed more than once.
Neither does AA exert the slightest religious authority over its members.
No one is compelled to believe anything. No one is compelled to meet
membership conditions. No one is obliged to pay anything. Therefore
we have no system of authority, spiritual or temporal, that is comparable
to or in the least competitive with the Church. At the center of our
society we have a Board of Trustees. This body is accountable yearly
to a Conference of elected Delegates. These Delegates represent the
conscience and desire of AA as regards functional or service matters.
Our Tradition contains an emphatic injunction that these Trustees
may never constitute themselves as a government -- they are to merely
provide certain services that enable AA as a whole to function. The
same principles apply at our group and area level.
Dr. Bob, my co-partner, had his own religious views. For whatever
they may be worth, I have my own. But both of us have gone heavily
on the record to the effect that these personal views and preferences
can never under any conditions be injected into the AA program as
a working part of it. AA is a sort of spiritual kindergarten, but
that is all. Never should it be called a religion. (The 'Blue Book',
A - Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization; there is
no dogma. The one theological proposition is a "Power greater
than one's self." Even this concept is forced on no one. The new corner
merely immerses himself in our society and tries the program as best
he can. Left alone, he will surely report the onset of a transforming
experience, call it what he may.
Observers once thought A.A. could only appeal to the religiously susceptible.
Yet our membership includes a former member of the American Atheist
Society and about 20,000 others almost as tough. The dying can become
remarkably open-minded. Of course we speak little of conversion nowadays
because so many people really dread being God-bitten. But conversion,
as broadly described by James, does seem to be our basic process;
all other devices are but the foundation. When one alcoholic works
with another, he but consolidates and sustains that essential experience.
(Amer. J. Psych., Vol. 106, 1949)
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 9:45am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill" No. 8 --
Just how does A.A. work?
|| From Jim
Q - Just how does A.A. work?
A - I cannot fully answer that question. Many A.A. techniques have
been adopted after a ten-year period of trial and error, which has
led to some interesting results. But, as laymen, we doubt our own
ability to explain them. We can only tell you what we do, and what
seems, from our point of view, to happen to us.
At the very outset we should like it made ever so clear that A.A.
is a synthetic gadget, as it were, drawing upon the resources of medicine,
psychiatry, religion, and our own experience of drinking and recovery.
You will search in vain for a single new fundamental. We have merely
streamlined old and proven principles of psychiatry and religion into
such forms that the alcoholic will accept them. And then we have created
a society of his own kind where he can enthusiastically put these
very principles to work on himself and other sufferers.
Then too, we have tried hard to capitalize on our one great natural
advantage. That advantage is, of course, our personal experience
as drinkers who have recovered. How often the doctors and clergymen
throw up their hands when, after exhaustive treatment or exhortation,
the alcoholic still insists, "But you don't understand me. You never
did any serious drinking yourself, so how can you? Neither can you
show me many who have recovered."
Now, when one alcoholic who has got well talks to another who hasn't,
objections seldom arise, for the new man sees in a few minutes that
he is talking to a kindred spirit, one who understands. Neither can
the recovered A.A. member be deceived, for he knows every trick, every
rationalization of the drinking game. So the usual barriers go down
with a crash. Mutual confidence, that indispensable of all therapy,
follows as surely as day does night. And if this absolutely necessary
rapport is not forthcoming at once it is almost certain to develop
when the new man has met other A.A.s. Someone will, as we say, "click
As soon as that happens we have a good chance of selling our prospect
very essentials which you doctors have so long advocated, and the
drinker finds our society a congenial place to work them out for himself
and his fellow alcoholic. For the first time in years he thinks himself
understood and he feels useful; uniquely useful, indeed, as he takes
his own turn promoting the recovery of others. No matter what the
outer world thinks of him, he knows he can get well, for he stands
in the midst of scores of cases worse than his own who have attained
the goal. And there are other cases precisely like his own -- a pressure
of testimony which usually overwhelms him. If he doesn't succumb at
once, he will almost surely do so later when Barleycorn builds a still
hotter fire under him, thus blocking off all his other carefully planned
exits from dilemma.
The speaker recalls seventy-five failures during the first three years
of A.A. -- people we utterly gave up on. During the past seven years
sixty-two of these people have returned to us, most of them making
good. They tell us they returned
because they knew they would die or go mad if they didn't. Having
tried everything else within their means and having exhausted their
pet rationalizations, they came back and took their medicine. That
is why we never need to evangelize alcoholics. If still in their right
minds they come back, once they have been well exposed to A.A.
Now to recapitulate, Alcoholics Anonymous has made two major contributions
to the programs of psychiatry and religion. These are, it seems to
us, the long missing links in the chain of recovery:
1. Our ability, as ex-drinkers, to secure the confidence of the new
man -- to "build a transmission line into him."
2. The provision of an understanding society of ex-drinkers in which
the newcomer can successfully apply the principles of medicine and
religion to himself and others.
So far as we A.A.s are concerned, these principles, now used by us
every day, seem to be in surprising agreement. (N.Y. State J. Med.,Vol.44,
Aug. 15, 1944).
A - On the surface A.A. is a thing of great simplicity, yet at its
core a profound mystery. Great forces surely must have been marshaled
to expel obsessions from all these thousands, an obsession which lies
at the root of our fourth largest medical problem and which, time
out of mind, has claimed
its hapless millions. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol. 50, July 1950.)
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 10:01am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill" No.9 --
What is the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous?
|| From Jim
This question has 5 responses from various documents.
Q - What is the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous?
A - Of those sincerely willing to stop drinking about 50 per cent
so at once, 25 per cent after a few relapses and most of the remainder
improved. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol. 44, Aug., 1944)
A - As of 1949 our quantity results are these. The 14 year old society
of Alcoholics Anonymous has 80,000 members in about 3,000 groups.
entered into about 30 foreign countries and U.S. possessions; translations
are going forward. By occupation we are an accurate cross section
of America. By religious affiliation we are about 40% Catholic; nominal
and active Protestants, also many former agnostics, and a sprinkling
of Jews comprise the remainder. Ten to 15% are women. Some negroes
are recovering without undue difficulty. Top medical and religious
endorsements are almost universal. A.A. membership is pyramiding,
chain style, at the rate of 30% a year. During 1949 we expect 20,000
permanent recoveries, at least. Half of them will be medium or mild
cases with an average age of 36 - a fairly recent development.
Of alcoholics who stay with us and really try, 50% get sober at once
and stay that way, 25% do so after some relapses and the remainder
show some improvement. But many problem drinkers do quit A.A. after
a brief contact, many, three or four out of five. Some are too psychopathic
or damaged. But the majority have powerful rationalizations yet to
be broken down. Exactly this does happen, providing they get what
A.A. calls a "good exposure," on first contact. Alcohol then burns
such a hot fire under them that they are driven back to us, often
years later. They tell us that they had to return; it was A.A. or
else. Such cases leave us the agreeable impression that half of our
original exposures will eventually return, most of them to recover.
(Amer. J. Psychiatry Vol. 106, 1949)
A - About two thousand recoveries now take place each month. Of those
alcoholics who wish to get well and are emotionally capable of trying
our method, 50 per cent recover immediately, 25 per cent after a few
backslides. The remainder are improved if they continue active in
A.A. Of the total who approach us, it is probable that only 25 per
cent become A.A. members on the first contact. A list of seventy-five
of our early failures today discloses that 70 returned to A.A. after
one to ten years. We did not bring them back; they came of their own
accord. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol.50, July 1950)
A - As we gained in size, we also gained in effectiveness. The recovery
rate went up. Of all those who really tried A.A., 50 per cent made
it at once, 25 per cent finally made it; and the rest, if they stayed
with us, were definitely improved. That percentage has since held,
even with those who first wrote their stories in the original edition
of "Alcoholics Anonymous."
In fact, 75 per cent of these finally achieved sobriety. Only 25 per
cent died or went mad. Most of those still alive have been sober for
an average of twenty years.
In our early days and since, we have found that great numbers of alcoholics
approach us and then turn away -- maybe three out of five, today.
But we have
happily found out that the majority of them later return, provided
they are not too psychopathic or too brain damaged. Once they have
learned from the lips of other alcoholics that they are beset by an
often fatal malady, their further drinking only turns up the screw.
Eventually they are forced back into A.A., they must or die. Sometimes
this happens years after the first exposure. The ultimate recovery
rate in A.A. is therefore a lot higher than we at first thought it
Yet we must humbly reflect that Alcoholics Anonymous has so far made
scratch upon the total problem of alcoholism. Here in the United States,
we have helped to sober up scarcely five per cent of the total alcoholic
population of 4,500,000. (N.Y. Med. Society on Alcoholism, 1958)
A- A.A. members can soberly ask themselves what became of the 600,000
alcoholics who approached the Fellowship during the past thirty years
but who did not stay.
How much and how often did we fail all these? When we remember that
in the 30 years of A.A. existence we have reached less than 10 per
cent of all those who might be willing to approach us, we begin to
get an idea of the immensity of our task, and of the responsibilities
with which we will always be confronted. (G.S.C. 1958.)
A - I took note of the fact that in the generation which has seen
A.A. come alive, this period of twenty-five years, a vast procession
of the world's drunks have passed in front of us and have gone over
the precipice. Based on figures I was careful to get, it looks like,
worldwide, there was something like 25 million of them and out of
that stream of despair, illness, misery and death -- we fished out
just one in a hundred in the last 25 years. I think we're fishing
somewhat bigger and better.
Our numbers are considerable. We have size. There is great security
in numbers. You can't imagine how it was in the very first two or
three years of this thing when nobody was sure that anybody could
stay sober...Then we were like the people on Eddie Rickenbacker's
raft. Boy, anybody rock that raft, even a little, and he was sure
to be clobbered, that's all, and then thrown overboard. But today
it's a different story.
Along with greater security in numbers, there has come a certain amount
liability. The more people there are to do a job, it often turns out,
the less there are. In other words, what is everybody's business is
nobody's business. So size is bound to bring complacency unless we
get increasingly aware of what's going on. (Transcribed from tape.
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 10:06am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill" No.10 --
Wouldn't too rapid growth be bad ...?
|| From Jim
Q - Wouldn't too rapid growth be bad, both for the new alcoholics
and for Alcoholics Anonymous itself?
A - Some of us used to think so, but several experiences of quick
expansion have largely dissipated that fear. We had a striking example
at Cleveland, Ohio. In the fall of 1939 Cleveland had, perhaps, 30
members. Most of them had become Alcoholics Anonymous by traveling
to the nearby city of Akron where our first group had taken root in
the summer of 1935. At this juncture the Cleveland Plain Dealer
published a striking and forceful series of articles about us. Placed
on the editorial page, these pieces told the people of Cleveland that
Alcoholics Anonymous worked; that it cost nothing; that it stood ready
to help any alcoholic in town who really wanted to get well. Cleveland
quickly became Alcoholics Anonymous conscious. Hundreds of inquiries
by phone and mail descended upon the Plain Dealer and the expectant
but nervous members of Alcoholics Anonymous. The rush was so great
that new members sober themselves but a week or two, had to be used
to instruct the still newer arrivals. Several private hospitals threw
open their doors to cope with the emergency and were so please with
the result that they have cooperated with us ever since. To the great
surprise of everyone, this rapid growth, hectic though it was, did
prove very successful. Within 90 days the original group of 30 had
expanded to 300; in six months we had about 500; and within two years
we had mushroomed to 1200 members distributed among a score of groups
in the Cleveland area. Although we have no precise figures, it is
probably fair to say that 3 out of 4 who came during that period,
and who have since remained with the groups, have recovered from their
alcoholism. (Quart. 3. Stud. Alc., Vol.6(2), September 1945)
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 10:16am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill" No. 11
-- How can A.A. best assure its continued existence?
|| From Jim
This installment in the series is a very powerful response by Bill
Q - How can A.A. best assure its continued existence?
A - Since the beginning of recorded time, many societies and nations
of civilizations have passed in review. In those great ones that have
left their mark for good, in contrast with those who have left their
mark for evil, there has always been a sense of history, a true and
high constant purpose, and there has always been a sense of destiny.
In the societies which failed to leave a bright mark in the annals
of the world, there was always a false or boastful sense of history,
always a mistaken or inadequate purpose and always the presumption
of an infinite, a glorious and an exclusive destiny.
In the societies that left their mark of goodness on time, the sense
of history was not a matter for pride or for glory; it was the substance
of the learning of the experience of the past. In the purpose of such
a society there was always truth and constancy, but never a supposition
that the society had apprehended all of the truth -- or the superior
truth. And in the sense of destiny there was no conceit, no supposition
that a society or nation or culture would last forever and go on to
greater glories. But there was always a sense of duty to be fulfilled,
whatever destiny the society might be assigned by providence for the
betterment of the world.
This is the crossroads at which we in A.A. stand. This is a good time
to re-examine how well we have looked upon our A.A. history and how
have profited by it, what false insights or false glories we may have
been extracting from history -- to our future detriment. It is a moment
to examine the purpose of this Society. Indeed, we are very lucky
to be able to state as the nucleus of that purpose a single word:
Quite early we saw, however, that sobriety in abstinence from alcohol
could never be attained unless there was sobriety and more quietude
in the false motivation that underlay our drinking.
When the Twelve Steps were cast up -- without any real experience
and therefore under some Guidance, surely -- we were given keys to
sobriety in its wider implications. We have been blessed with a concrete
definition of purpose but, for all its concreteness, we could still
abuse it and misuse it in a very natural way.
Some times we begin to think that perhaps, according to Scriptural
promise, the first shall be last and the last -- meaning us -- shall
really be first. That would indeed be a very dangerous presumption
and never should we indulge it. If we do, we shall compete in history
with other societies who have been ill-advised enough to suppose that
they had a monopoly on truth or were in some way superior to other
attempts of men to think and to associate in love and in harmony.
We may look out upon our destiny with no violation of our principle
that we are to live one day at a time. We mean that, emotionally,
each in his personal life is never to repine upon the past glory too
much, in the present, or presume upon the future. We shall attend
to the day's business but we shall try to apprehend ever more truth
from the lessons of our history, not the lessons of our successes
but the lessons of our defections, failures and the awful emotions
that can set us loose upon us. For these, indeed, are the raw materials
that God has used to forge this still rather little instrument called
Alcoholics Anonymous. So we may look at destiny and we may ask ourselves
about it and speculate upon it a little -- if we do not presume to
play God. (G.S.C., 1961)
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 10:28am
Subject: "Let's Ask Bill" No.12 --
What contribution did Dr. Carl Jung make to A.A.?
|| From Jim
Q - What contribution did Dr. Carl Jung make to A.A.?
A - Few people know that the first taproot of A.A. hit paydirt some
thirty years ago in a physicians office. Dr. Carl Jung, that great
pioneer in psychiatry was taking to an alcoholic patient. This is
in effect what happened:
The patient, a prominent American businessman, had gone the typical
alcoholic route. He had exhausted the possibilities of medicine and
psychiatry in the United States and had then come to Dr. Jung as to
a court of last resort. Carl Jung had treated him for a year and the
patient, whom we shall call Mr. R., felt confident that the hidden
springs underneath his compulsion to drink had been discovered and
removed. Nevertheless, he found himself intoxicated within a short
time after leaving Dr. Jung's care.
Now he was back, in a state of black despair. He asked Dr. Jung what
the score was, and he got it. In substance, Dr. Jung said, "For some
time after you came here, I continued to believe that you might be
one of those rare cases who could make a recovery. But I must now
frankly admit that I have never seen a single case recover through
the psychiatric art where the neurosis is so severe as yours. Medicine
has done all that it can for you, and that's where you stand."
Mr. R.'s depression deepened. He asked, "Is there no exception, is
this really the end of the line for me?"
"Well," replied the doctor, "there are some exceptions, a very few.
Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called
vital spiritual experiences. They appear to be in the nature of huge
and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once
the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and
a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate
them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some emotional rearrangement
within you. With many types of neurotics, the methods which I employ
are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic
of your description."
"But," protested the patient, "I'm a religious man, and I still have
To this Dr. Jung replied, "Ordinary religious faith isn't enough.
What I'm talking about is a transforming experience, a conversion
experience, if you like. I can only recommend that you place yourself
in the religious atmosphere of your own choice, that you recognize
your own hopelessness, and that you cast yourself upon whatever God
you think there is. The lightening of the transforming experience
may then strike you. This you must try -- it is your only way out."
So spoke the great and humble physician.
For the A. A -to-be, this was a ten strike. Science had pronounced
Mr. R. virtually hopeless. Dr. Jung's words had struck him at great
depth, producing an immense deflation of his ego. Deflation at depth
is today a cornerstone principle of A.A. There in Dr. Jung's office
it was first employed on our behalf.
The patient, Mr. R., chose the Oxford Groups of that day as his religious
association and atmosphere. Terribly chastened and almost helpless,
to be active with them. To his intense joy and astonishment, the obsession
to drink presently left him.
Returning to America, Mr. R. came upon an old school friend of mine,
a chronic alcoholic. This friend -- whom we shall call Ebby -- was
about to be committed to a State Hospital. At this juncture another
vital ingredient was added to the synthesis. Mr. R., the alcoholic,
began talking to Ebby, also an alcoholic and a kindred sufferer. This
made for identification at depth, a second cardinal principle. Over
this bridge of identification, Mr. R. passed Dr. Jung's verdict of
how hopeless, medically and psychiatrically, most alcoholics were.
He then introduced Ebby to the Oxford Groups where my friend promptly
sobered up. (N.Y. City Med. Soc. Alcsm., April 28, 1958)
Date: Fri Apr 5, 2002 10:38am
Subject: Let's Ask Bill" No.13 -- What
effect did Ebby's message have on you?
Here is installment No. 13 in the series. It has multiple responses.
Q - What effect did Ebby's message have on you?
A - Well, by this time I knew how hopeless my alcoholism was, and
yet I still rebelled -- the idea of a dependency on some intangible
God who might not even be there. Oh, if I could swallow it, but could
I! I went on drinking for a number of days and gradually I got jittery
enough to think about the hospital and then it came to me "Of a sudden"
one day -- "Fool! -- why should you question how you're going to get
well, why should beggars be choosers? If you had a cancer and you
were sure of it and your physician said "This is so malignant that
we can't touch it with our art and even if your physician came along
with the improbable story that there were many who got over cancer
by standing on their head in the public square crying 'Amen' and if
he could really make a case that it was so, yes Bill Wilson, if you
had cancer, you too would be out in the public square ignominiously
standing on your head and crying 'Amen'- anything to stop the growth
of those cells and that would be the first priority, and your pride
would have to go."
And then I asked myself "Is my case different now? Have I not an allergy
of the body; have I not a cancer of the emotions -- yes, and maybe
I have a cancer of the soul which has resulted in an obsession which
condemns me to drink and an increasing tolerance of liquor which condemns
me to go mad or die? Yes, I'm going to try this. And then there was
one more flicker of obstinacy when I said to myself, "But I don't
want any of these evangelical experiences, I mean it will have to
be a kind of intellectual religion that I'll get, so just to be sure
that I don't go into my emotional tizzy, I believe I'll go up to see
dear old Dr. Silkworth and have him dry me out.
(Memphis, Tenn., Sept. 18-20, 1947)
A - What then did happen at that kitchen table? Perhaps this speculation
were better left to medicine and religion. I confess I do not know.
Possibly conversion will never be fully understood.
My friend's story had generated mixed emotions; I was drawn and revolted
by turns. My solitary drinking went on, but I could not forget his
visit. Several themes coursed in my mind: First, that his evident
state of release was strangely and immensely convincing. Second, that
he had been pronounced hopeless by competent medicos. Third, that
those old-age precepts, when transmitted by him, had struck me with
great power. Fourth, I could not, and would not, go along with any
God concept. No conversion nonsense for me. Thus did I ponder. Trying
to divert my thoughts, I found it no use. By cords of understanding,
suffering, and simple verity, another alcoholic had bound me to him.
I shall not break away. (Amer J. Psychiat., Vol.106, 1949)
A - He first told me his drinking experience, accent on its more recent
horrors, Of course his identification with me was immediate, and as
it proved, deep and vital indeed. One alcoholic was taking with another
as no one except an alcoholic can. Then he offered me his naively
simple recovery formula. Not one syllable was new, but somehow it
affected me profoundly.
There he sat, recovered. An example of what he preached. You will
note that his only dogma was God, which for my benefit he stretched
into an accommodating phrase, a Power greater than myself. That was
his story. I could take it or leave it. I need feel no obligation
to him. Indeed, he observed, I was doing him a favor by listening.
Besides it was obvious that he had something more than ordinary "water
wagon" sobriety. He looked and acted "released"; repression had not
been his answer. Such was the impact of an alcoholic who really knew
the score. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol.50, July 1950)