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OF PASTORAL PSYCHOLOGY, 1957
FREDERICK G. LAWRENCE, M.S.SS.T.
title of this paper is very important. I have been asked
to give one Clergyman's viewpoint on Alcoholics Anonymous.
endeavour to do just that. Not any other clergyman's viewpoint.
Just mine. It shall differ, I am sorry to say, from what
have heard or read expressed as the viewpoint of other clergymen
on this subject. But I can speak for no one save myself.
opinion, my viewpoint is the result of many years of close
association with Alcoholics Anonymous, a little formal education
in regard to the problem of alcoholism, but mostly, it has
formed by the edification and inspiration, the veritable
I have seen wrought, in the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship.
the end of the paper, I have listed some of the chief references
to the work of Alcoholics Anonymous.
ANONYMOUS BEST THERAPY
of all, therefore, let me express my viewpoint on
Alcoholics Anonymous. Then will follow the "why"
of this opinion.
TO ME, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS IS THE BEST THERAPY EXISTING
ASSISTING MOST ACTIVE ALCOHOLICS TO A MAINTAINED AND A HAPPY
say that it is the "best" therapy, because there
that have achieved, if even in a lesser degree, some success
the treatment of sick alcoholics. And the adjective "most"
precedes the words "active alcoholics" because
some, due to a
neurotic condition, a deep-seated psychosis, or definite
damage, need professional medical care, which A.A. as such,
offer. Finally, the words "maintained" and "happy"
noun "sobriety," for I see little value in sobriety
that is not
lasting, and even less value in sobriety that is not enjoyed
- an explanation on why I entertain such a viewpoint. May
I beg your indulgences as I tell you how my interest in
to be? It was born of gratitude; gratitude to God for an
a seemingly insoluble problem. One year after ordination,
with the zeal of St. Paul, I was placed in charge of a
geographically large, numerically small parish in southeastern
Alabama. Of the 65,000 souls who lived in the 3,500 square
serviced by our parish, only some 35 to 40 were Catholics.
into this small number God tucked one very, very sick alcoholic.
tried to help her to correct her problem. Every spiritual
could think of was suggested and tried - the pledge, novenas,
rosary, aspirations, spiritual communions, frequent visits
Blessed Sacrament, even daily Mass and Communion. Nothing
to effect the desired results. As a matter of fact, the
grew worse instead of better. Six months after I had been
introduced to this poor woman, she, on her own, joined A.A.
after a period of a month's sobriety, she invited me to
open meeting, I was so grateful to God for the success she
having, and so curious to see what had caused it, that I
was definitely a case of "I went; I saw; I was conquered,"
have been going to A.A. meetings ever since, and that first
was in January of 1946. And - lest you wonder - my parishioner
joined at that time is still sober and active in A.A.
in speaking with clergymen about my interest in
Alcoholics Anonymous, I am asked a series of questions.
I feel the
answers to these questions will very well cover my viewpoint
Alcoholics Anonymous, and therefore I would like to present
to you today.
of all - Did I find anything new in A.A.? Not exactly.
What I heard, read, and saw had a very familiar note in
beginning. Later I realized that the A.A. philosophy was
nothing more than a Christian way of life, presented in
different fashion, perhaps, and disguised in a new vocabulary,
fundamentally the teachings of Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly,
what made it, from the very outset, so attractive to me.
I find A.A. some overpowering, perplexing philosophy?
Again the answer is "no." It is a simple program,
simple suggested steps, and simple mottoes, such as "Think"-"Easy
Does It"-"A Day at a Time"-"Live and
Let Live"-"But for the grace
of God." I found the members to be as simple as children,
sincere as saints, and I remembered that a requisite for
is that we become as little children.
I find anything un-Christian, or un-Catholic about A.A.?
Most decidedly not! Rather did I find in A.A. a wonderful
specific alignment of Christ's teachings as applying to
PROBLEM. This program not only does not contradict any Faith
any adherent, it actually complements their faith. I found
Catholics who lived the A.A. program were better Catholics
of A.A. As a matter of record, I might say I have never
virtue of charity, the great commandment of love of neighbor,
universally practiced than I have seen it lived by the members
has A.A. been so successful when so many other programs
have failed? I believe that the first among these reasons
recognition on the part of A.A. that alcoholism is a threefold
sickness. For centuries, the human race has considered,
and discussed alcoholism as being basically, essentially,
exclusively, a moral problem; an evidence of lack of will
the part of those afflicted. It is my considered opinion
people still view it in this light.
Anonymous, on the other hand, maintains that
alcoholism is a sickness of the body and mind, as well as
soul. Thus the A.A. therapy suggests a correcting and eliminating
of the spiritual problem that afflicts all alcoholics to
or lesser degree. A.A. members further maintain that neither
physiologist, nor the psychiatrist, nor the clergyman alone
the answer, but all three must work together. A threefold
correcting must be affected or no lasting results can be
draw an analogy with the famous story of "The Leak
Dike," had there been three leaks, instead of one,
lad's finger could not have averted the disaster. Three
would have been necessary or destruction would have ensued.
do I think A.A. works? Because it is a positive program
of rehabilitation, and every alcoholic needs, in some degree
rehabilitated, not imprisoned or incarcerated, not condemned
ridiculed, not shunned or over-protected. A.A. does not
the alcoholic to stop drinking, as we do when we administer
pledge. A.A. suggests a new way of life to the alcoholic,
makes suggestions as to how he may follow it. Sobriety is
essential, a "sine qua non," if you will, but
like Baptism - it is
only the beginning. The twelve suggested steps lead to a
for which the Alcoholics Anonymous members plead in the
line of their so-called "A.A. Prayer;"-"God
grant me the
serenity." And the effectiveness of the A.A. program
in the life
of its members is in direct proportion to the success they
accepting, understanding, and applying these twelve steps
is a simple program, but it definitely is not an easy
program. "Easy does it," but the alcoholic has
to do it! The
twelve steps are but tools to be used by the alcoholic in
sculpting from the clay of a broken life, a new existence.
must do it! No one can do it for him. He is simply presented
the tools. He produces their effectiveness. Gathering dust
lack of use, growing dull from lack of understanding, the
are useless. But taken one by one, and applied to daily
they can make of the most desperate derelict, an edifying
the God who dwells within us all.
is the nature of the A.A. therapy? A.A. is a program of
education, or introspection, if you will. It borrows from
ancient Greek philosophers the admonition,"Know thyself,"
suggests each member take a "searching and fearless
inventory." Being creatures of habit, it is important
members of A.A. recognize the habits that rule his life.
decide which habits are good, and which are evil; how the
be developed, and the evil eliminated. Thus A.A. members
removing "wrongs, short comings, defects of character."
desired goal is the habit of sobriety. It is aquired only
practice, much determined action, much accentuation of the
positive and elimination of the negative.
study of the twelve suggested steps will reveal that each
required the practice of a virtue where once vice or imperfection
ruled. Thus the first step suggests humility be substituted
pride; the second, faith in God for self-conceit; the third,
in God for despair; the fourth, truthfulness for falsehood;
fifth, simplicity for duplicity; the sixth, sincerity for
the seventh, meekness for arrogance; the eighth, love of
love of self; the ninth, honesty for hypocrisy; the tenth,
fortitude for insincerity; the eleventh, prayerfulness for
godlessness; and the twelfth, love of neighbor for intolerance.
what is the secret of continued success in A.A.? I
think it depends upon the member's ability to maintain his
of awareness." He cannot afford to forget. For him,
it takes a
lifetime to be a success, just a second to suffer a relapse.
creed is:"Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic."
His is a
sickness that can be arrested, but never cured. One drink
always be too many, a thousand never enough. And this "sense
awareness" is best maintained, all A.A. members will
tell you, by
attendance at meetings; associating with other members;
the A.A. literature; applying the twelve step program to
lives twenty-four hours of every day, a day at a time.
therefore, is my viewpoint on Alcoholics Anonymous. It
is the best therapy existing today for assisting most active
alcoholics to a maintained and a happy sobriety. I hope
reasons given have been sufficiently sound to induce you
with me. If so, then my admiration and enthusiasm for this
Christlike fellowship will have won it new friends among
clergy. If so, then more alcoholics will receive the understanding
sympathy and counsel that they need from those of us who
ordained to help all men attain their eternal destiny -
happy with God forever. It is my prayer that all of you
the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous to assist you in
all alcoholics achieve this goal.