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Vol. 14(7): 6, July 6, 1985
Instrument of Healing Grace
by Harry C. Kiely
August 1934 Bill W., a formerly successful Wall Street
business man, lay once again in a New York City hospital
from his most recent drinking binge. He had been hospitalized
many times his doctor felt compelled to speak a sad truth
wife: Bill was hopelessly addicted. He would "have
to be locked up
or go mad or die."
hundreds of miles away in Akron, Ohio, Dr. Bob, a
distinguished surgeon, had lost most of his practice and
experiencing the disintegration of the remainder of his
life as he
rapidly drank himself toward oblivion.
in May 1935, Bill W., who was on business in Akron and was
still struggling to master his alcoholism, made a phone
call to Dr.
Bob, having obtained the surgeon's name from a mutual acquaintance.
That call led to a dramatic turnabout in the desperate lives
these two men and, subsequently in the lives of millions
W. and Dr. Bob, as they shared their struggles and tried
to support each other, discovered a means to achieve and
sobriety. So it was that 50 years ago Bill W. and Dr. Bob
co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), a movement that
destined to bring light into centuries of alcoholic darkness.
moralism and ignorance had contributed to the
darkness. The general public had regarded chronic drinking
as a sign
of a character defect, while many in the medical profession
diagnosed it as a neurosis and, in some cases, as a psychosis.
founders of A.A., however, discovered a truly effective
means of treatment based on neither of these assumptions
but on the
premise that alcoholism is a medical disorder: a disease
addiction. While it cannot be cured, it is amenable to treatment.
This was later confirmed by the American Medical Association,
all contemporary alcoholism treatment programs have evolved
this basic wisdom pioneered by the A.A. founders.
the dawn of the new era for the alcoholic, the A.A.
movement has spread abroad with a religious fervor. Rapidly
across national borders, A.A. has become a worldwide movement,
conservatively estimated at more than 62,000 groups, with
1,500,000 members in 114 countries. The program has proven
effective among all classes, cultures, and nationalities
been found adaptable to many religious orientations.
principles of A.A. have proven so basic that they have been
successfully applied to the treatment of obesity, narcotics
addiction, mental illness, and other problems. Al-Anon and
are two spin-off groups - not related to A.A. organizationally
that have evolved to provide much-needed support for families
secret of A.A.'s effectiveness lies in the adherence to
certain principles known as "The Twelve Steps of Recovery."
essence of these principles is that the way of wholeness
alcoholics lies in their first confessing their powerlessness
alcohol. At the same time, they entrust themselves into
the hands of
God - as they understand God - a liberating phrase that
alcoholic move beyond theological arguments on to the more
issue of personal faith. Finally, recovering alcoholics
in a ministry to other alcoholics.
act of confessing and professing is not a solitary act but
is made within a community of other sufferers. This community
there to judge or condemn but to affirm and support. In
years of criticism from others and intense self-loathing,
member experiences in an A.A. meeting the total absence
coupled with understanding and acceptance - as a bewildering
is a single-issue movement: helping alcoholics stay sober.
By design, the program avoids dealing with other personal
and will not become involved in political or social controversy,
even on so germane an issue as liquor control laws. The
and single-minded purposefulness of A.A. has been maintained
recovery program and is exemplified in the famous A.A. slogan
Day at a Time" and in its organization.
a self-help, ministry-of-the-laity program, A.A. has no
bureaucracy, no hierarchy, and no professional counselors.
committee chairs and clerical staff are regarded always
and not as authorities. A.A. declines all large donations
- accepting only small contributions from members so as
operating expenses. It owns no real estate and has refused
into such activities as hospital care and alcohol education.
Recognizing early on the potential for parlaying their success
a vast and powerful enterprise, the founders remembered
mission, realized they had been given all they needed to
it, and opted to remain faithful to a vision that had already,
essence, been fulfilled. History has vindicated the prudence
internal strength of A.A. is its spiritual foundation. The
odyssey of the alcoholic within A.A. is a journey in faith,
traversed in the company of others who are struggling, moving
God's promise of a new life as the replacement of the surrendered
old life. Alcoholism is such an insidious, treacherous,
disease that recovery from it is, for many, akin to a resurrection.
It is something that cannot possibly happen, yet it does.
everyone who comes to A.A. experiences recovery, and those
cases are the tragedies that remain shrouded in mystery.
any recovery an even greater mystery, a mystery of a healing
And A.A. has been a significant instrument of this healing.
in 1985, A.A.'s 50th year, we salute this remarkable
movement and praise God for such an amazing and healing