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June 10, 1950
by Edward Duff
Harry M. Tiebout, psychiatrist at Blythewood Sanatarium,
Greenwich, Connecticut, faced his professional confreres
34th Annual Meeting of the American Psychopathological Association
held in New York City five years ago this spring. There
interest in professional circles in a dramatic new cure
alcoholism. The ingenuity of psychiatrists had been exercised
explain the success of the program in terms of "homosexual
outlet," "dependency upon a father person,"
exploit exhibitionistic, narcissistic trends" and the
all-encompassing efficacy of "group therapy."
must be some "X-factor" explaining the success
of this amateur
technique that duplicated so much of the standard - but
fruitless - recommendations of medicine and psychology.
Tiebout identified this "X-factor" for his fellow
It was, he said, "a religious component, a spiritual
a belief in God - a conversion."
Tiebout was appraising the program of Alcoholics
Anonymous, an informal fellowship of arrested alcoholics,
numbering nearly 15,000 men and women. If he were addressing
psychiatric profession this year, he could count on a much
understanding of his theme. For 96,475 people in 34 countries
tell you today that they have stopped drinking through A.A.
fraternity and sorority of ex-drunks is increasing at the
more than 20,000 a year - an achievement that has won the
and the applause of prominent spokesmen for medicine and
a matter of fact, Alcoholics Anonymous had been in
existence for a decade before it became the subject of discussions
before medical societies. Its beginnings go back to a night
November, 1934, with a former Wall Street broker sitting
kitchen wondering where, before his wife returned, he could
the bottle of gin needed to tide him over till morning.
desperately desired to stop drinking but found himself helpless.
Promising business opportunities he had ruined beyond remedy.
Continuous trips to hospitals and sanitariums had at last
the verdict that he faced no more than a year of life before
inevitable heart attack during delirium tremens. Blank,
despair coupled with an insatiable, murderous craving for
made the hiding of that bottle the most pressing concern
reverie was interrupted by the visit of an old school
friend, a familiar drinking companion of former days, rumored
have been committed as an alcoholic psychotic. The rumor
obviously mad, triumphantly false. For here was the former
drinking companion with hew health, a new and strange serenity
a new and curious idea: God could manage our lives if we
only allow Him. It was an idea he had learned from the Oxford
Group, the disciples of Dr. Frank Buchman, with their teaching
Surrender, Sharing, Change, Quiet Time and Witnessing, and
four imperatives - Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute
Unselfishness and Absolute Love. That had been enough to
Barleycorn and supply a new vision of a God-centered way
prejudices against religion were mocked by evidence
of the buoyant happiness that came from someone's saying
simply that God had done for him what he could not do for
The protestations of the ex-stockbroker that he knew little
God and believed less were met with the suggestion that
willingness to believe in a Power greater than one's self
suffice. A trip to the hospital to dry out provided an opportunity
for a complete surrender to God. A determination to make
reparation for wrong done to others brought a wonderful
victory, a fresh confidence and a resolve to bring to other
hopeless alcoholics the encouraging and saving message of
nearness to those who want Him.
business trip to Akron the following spring gave the
sometime broker an opportunity - indeed a compulsion - to
out his resolve. Tense because of a setback in a dragged-out
suit, he felt he must help someone or lose himself in self-pity
and, consequently, in alcohol. Providentially, he was introduced
to a surgeon, a despairing victim of drink, who responded
message of hope - that God exalts the humble and strongly
those who put their lives in His keeping. In the local Catholic
hospital the doctor and the businessman brought fellow alcoholics
the assurance that there is a way out for those who want
drinking. The two were soon five, then a group overflowing
doctor's home for the weekly gatherings, then a fraternity
across the country by salesmen who carried with their lines
goods a new and compelling idea.
April, 1939 there were a hundred whose pooled experience
was set down in a book that reached Dr. Tiebout at his Greenwich
sanitarium in its provisional multilithed form. He gave
it to a
thirty-four-year-old woman alcoholic whose character structure,
confessed, defeated all of his skills and all of her own
resolves. The book she read contained a collection of case
histories of people who had conquered their addiction to
It contained also a good deal of hard headed advice, and
outlined a Program of Recovery. The way out of the squirrel-cage
of shakes, night sweats, jittery nerves and horrible dreams,
read, consisted of twelve steps, none of which could be
The ladder to sobriety for a hundred ex-drunks had been
these ex-alcoholics said, when:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives
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
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
exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing
make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,
when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were
promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our
contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for
of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these
we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice
principles in all our affairs.
the Twelfth Step "spiritual awakening" was substituted
phrase "spiritual experience" employed in the
first printing of
the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. An overwhelming and sensible
emotional upheaval, it was learned, did not always accompany
acceptance of the Twelve-Step Program of Recovery. Nor was
needed: an inevitable alteration of attitude followed gradually
any honest determination to give the greater Power management
Tiebout's patient was impressed by the book he gave her.
She attended a meeting of a group of Alcoholics Anonymous,
listened to personal accounts of how the program had worked
others and soon became an active member of the group. The
psychiatrist described the consequent personality change
patient as a dissolving of the character structure which
blocking all help.
research over the past several years has failed to
establish a common "character structure" in people
for whom one
drink is too much and a thousand not enough. Perhaps, as
scientists hold, there is a physical rather than a psychic
deficiency afflicting our three million problem drinkers.
excessive drinking produces or is the product of personality
disorders, there is certainly an emotional immaturity noted
alcoholics of which addiction to the bottle is only a symptom.
There is a rooted dissatisfaction with life, manifesting
festering resentments, flight from responsibility, displays
grandiosity, all operating in a penumbra of fear, concealed
self-doubt and whining self-pity. Spiritual writers have
labeled such self-centeredness as "pride," and
that pride can flourish in a person who is not all vain.
classic cure for pride, religion teaches, is humiliations.
engendering humility are inevitable for anyone
attempting the A.A. Twelve Steps. There is the initial
acknowledgment of helplessness, jettisoning the protestation
the alcoholic can somehow by some ingenious change of habits
the ranks of America's 60 million "social drinkers."
The false and
grasping self, getting in the way of God's management, must
cauterized by ruthless self-examination, the smothering
resentments and the honest reparation of all injuries to
whatever the cost to self-esteem. Prayer to keep one's mind
responsive to God is imperative, despite all ridicule of
religiosity. Apostolic activity on behalf of other alcoholics,
however inconvenient and unpleasant, is held essential as
expression of gratitude to God and a self-strengthening
the Twelve Steps are to be a new way of life, a kind of
living that counts on God's incessant interest and expresses
reliance by unconcern for the future. Living is reduced
manageable Twenty-Four-Hour Plan, with "Easy Does It"
as the motto
of a trust that relaxes tensions.
is the program that an A.A. will explain when called to
help a fellow alcoholic. There will be no talking down to
inebriate (the A.A. realizes that he is only one drink away
sharing the same plight). There will be no moralizing (the
will freely give him another drink if needed to steady him).
will be no excuses putting off the central point of the
discussion: does the drinker want to stop drinking? The
phone service that will gladly supply information and, if
Anonymous, as all its literature is labeled, "has
no opinion on any controversial subject, nor does it oppose
anyone." It is neutral on the "Wet versus Dry"
is deliberately and officially neutral on the question of
religious affiliation, leaving that matter to the personal
of each member. It rather expects that the A.A. "Way
of Life" will
make a member a more ardent believer in his personal faith,
better Protestant, a more faithful Catholic, a more loyal
this its claims are reminiscent of its Oxford Group heritage,
its emphasis on "the simple message of Christianity"
preoccupation with moral effort. Whatever danger there is
Catholics that a vague moralizing and subjective feeling
omnipresent guidance might be substituted for dogmatic belief
the Church and the spiritual resources of the sacraments
readily forestalled. Alcoholics Anonymous welcomes the interest
and cooperation of the Catholic clergy. It urges its Catholic
members to use the full spiritual supports of the faith.
A.A. carries in his pocket (or in her purse) this
prayer : "God grant us the serenity to accept things
change, courage to change things we can, and wisdom to know
difference." That expresses a spiritual stance helpful
peace of soul for non-alcoholics as well.