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CATHOLIC WORKER, Vol. 14: (6), 4, September, 1947
Anonymous Now 40,000 Strong
Member of A.A.
note: The author of this article is an ex-GI, Catholic,
40, member of A.A. and dry nearly five years. As usual in
A.A., anonymity is preserved by the use of initials instead
of the name.)
the late winter of 1934, Bill W. was just another super-souse.
Through the kindness of relatives he was in a New York City
Hospital for alcoholism and narcotic addicts, under medication
to head off delirium tremens. Then occurred the instantaneous
and vital religious experience known facetiously in A.A.
circles as Bill's "hot flash." This experience
in the mind of a sick man has been, like the Concord farmer's
shot in 1776, something heard 'round the world. Bill's "hot
flash" consisted in the indubitable awareness of God's
presence - and a God-given assurance of His help to remain
sober. For six months, Bill attempted to transmit this infused
confidence of sobriety into another alcoholic's soul, without
success. In the summer of '35 he found someone, a drunken
doctor. In the next four years they gathered the first hundred
members of Alcoholics Anonymous - a slow growth of two a
month - chiefly around New York City, Bill's home, and Akron,
Ohio, the home of the doctor S.
these apostolic days of A.A., the program assumed a definite
pattern leading up to the publication of the book, "Alcoholics
Anonymous" in the spring of 1939. In the eight years
since, the membership of A.A. has risen from one hundred
to forty thousand. Today there are over one thousand groups
in the U.S.A. and others in Canada, Mexico, Australia, England,
Cuba, Bermuda, and one "anzio beachhead" in Dublin
Eire, within artillery range of Guinness' Brewery itself.
this saga of salvaged soaks? The A.A. answer included:
2.The A.A. book, and other literature including a well edited
and cartooned monthly magazine, "Grapevine."
3. The group.
program consists of twelve suggested steps:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives
have become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could
restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to
the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being
the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our short comings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing
to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,
except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were
wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our
conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying
only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry
12. Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these
steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and
to practice these principles in all our affairs.
twelve steps are suggestions only. None is told which steps
to work first, nor at what rate of progression. The sole
requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to attain sobriety
as the result of having a drinking problem.
A.A. book is the four hundred page Bible of the ex-drinking
class. The first half has eleven chapters on the disease
of alcoholism. Here is the "distilled" wisdom
of many bottle scarred veterans with years of combat duty
against John Barleycorn. Come ye of the early morning shakes,
the palsied hand, the throbbing aspirin-defying noggin,
the "reverence" digestive system: read these pages
and the twenty-six thumbnail biographies of A.A. case history
lushes in the book's second section. Even within the compass
of these "biographies" its clear that alcoholism
is no respector of persons. They are rich and poor, young
and old, Catholic and Protestant and agnostic, all giving
testimony how A.A. brought them out of the hard-sauce fog
back to sanity.
a time when the alcoholic is faced with a terrible dilemma:
to attain permanent abstinence, or go along with the progressive
deterioration of alcoholism. For an alcoholic, there is
no regaining the status of sociable drinker. Once an alcoholic
always an alcoholic. A.A. groups instruct and re-instruct
in this harsh truth, which kills the self-deception of the
alcoholic that he will some time, some how be a controlled
drinker. This is a very cruel truth, akin to the no sugar
edict to diabetics or the physical exertion taboo of the
tubercular. Most A.A.'s are beaten into A.A. by booze. No
alcoholic welcomes his classification "alcoholic."
Nor does e a life sentence to sobriety. But the A.A. group
shows an alcoholic how he can attain sobriety twenty-four
hours at a time, in a pleasant, sociable, useful way.
A.A. group is an enormous ingredient in the A.A. recoveries.
Groups meet at least once a week and vary in size from three
persons to forty or fifty. They include young and old, men
and women. Meetings last an hour or two, located in homes,
stores, rectories, community houses, hotel rooms, lodge
halls. The meeting opens with a brief quiet time of recollection
or silent prayer. The theme of the meeting varies, but usually
includes personal histories of drunks, illustrative taproom
dramas, elucidation on some of the twelve steps, and considerable
advice to the novices. Though fundamentally serious, the
dialogue supplies a full quota of laughs and banter. The
A.A. fellowship is not grim but very mirthful. When the
Tyro abstainer realizes he is surrounded with his own kind
he overcomes his feelings of guilt and shyness and after
a meeting or two gives forth uninhibitedly his past and
present struggles for sobriety. A secret of; the fine fellowship
of A.A. is that each is both teacher and student, both speaker
and listener. Education is blended with self expression.
Talk is releasing and creative. The weekly meeting which
in the beginning seems an obligatory measure soon becomes
a gladly anticipated opportunity for growth and friendship.
Everybody is both patient and doctor; meetings conclude
with the group recitation of the Lord's Prayer.
the three major weapons of the twelve steps, the group meetings
and the A.A. book, there are other items of defense against
the next drunk. Each A.A. has an A.A. sponsor, as Catholics
do in Confirmation. Any day the going is rough and the craving
tortuous, the member phones or visits his sponsor. A heart
to heart talk generally kills the compulsive urge to drink.
New members are urged to carry candy bars because chocolate
cuts the whiskey yen. Various A.A. literature is procurable;
short pamphlets; reprints of A.A. speeches; and a monthly
magazine, "The Grapevine." In some cities there
are A.A. clubs to which members may go; they sit in for
cards, talk, or absorb a few coffees and cokes and take
recess from the pressure of daily life. Many members, long
years drunks, resume their religious affiliations when on
the path to sobriety. Catholics, of course, enjoy profound
and rich advantages on the spiritual steps of the program
because we have all the sacraments, masses, and prayers
of the Church to use in maintaining sobriety. Religious
differences are never stressed in A.A. The common desperate
need for sobriety is is the heart and soul of A.A. We Catholics
supply our full share of alcoholics in the U.S.A. and are
also a sizeable fraction of the A.A. membership. Through
A.A. any Catholic alcoholic can attain sobriety and in good
time help others now in alcoholic drunkenness and despair.
it be understood, A.A. is not a "cure." No alcoholic
is cured in a final sense any more than any Christian is
"saved" in a final sense while alive. A.A. is
a way of life whereby sobriety for alcoholics is made possible,
and palatable. Every twenty-four hours (or oftener) the
A.A. man or woman re-dedicates himself or herself to one
more day of sobriety, with God's help. This daily rededication
should be very familiar to, and easy for Catholics who practice
it in all walks of ordinary life as well as in the strictest
monastic orders. A.A. like the good life is only for those
who sincerely desire it. For an alcoholic, A.A. may well
be the instrument of his salvation in this life and the
next. In A.A. an alcoholic's recovery chance is better than
50-50. Outside A.A. the individual alcoholic is generally
a poor risk, a long shot, a casualty with a slim chance
of permanent recovery.
address nationally is:
Central Annex, Box 459,
York City 17.
will answer questions, supply literature, tell you of the
group nearest you. If you are an alcoholic, write now. If
you are a priest, doctor or social worker, A.A. can supply
great resources in your professional work.