By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997
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Index of Chapter 8

8.1 - Back to the Basics 8.3 - New York and Mid-West A.A. - Coming of Age
8.2 - Henrietta Seiberling Speaks Her Mind Chapter 9: A Prophet in His Own Town - Clarence's Life After the 60's

Chapter 8.3


New York and Mid-West A.A.

Coming of Age

I explain this at some length because I want you to be successful with yourself and the people with whom you work. We used to pussyfoot on this spiritual business a great deal more out here (New York City) and the result was bad, for our record falls quite short of the performance of Akron and Cleveland, where there are now about 350 Alcoholics, many of them sober 2 or 3 years, with less than 20% ever having had any relapse. Out there they have always emphasized the spiritual way of life as the core of our procedure... [Personal correspondence from Bill Wilson. mid 1940.]

Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION - Modern Wisdom from Classic Stories (Bantam Books, 1992) p. 109f.

Clarence summarized to the author his view of the difference between New York and Mid-West A.A. Clarence felt that the approach in Ohio was, "Trust God, Clean House, and Help Others." He felt that the approach in New York was, "Don't Drink and Go To Meetings.

Clarence felt, the emphasis on spirituality was what had made Ohio A.A. so successful. He pointed out that New York A.A. had but a few members who were maintaining any sort of abstinence from alcohol, and that most Ohio members had achieved what was to become permanent sobriety and had numerous, strong A.A. meetings in evidence.

Clarence felt that if the primary purpose of A.A. were only to stop drinking and, in order to maintain that abstinence, only go to meetings, A.A. was doomed to failure. Clarence remembered that Dr. Bob was once saying:

"There is an easy way and a hard way to recovery from alcoholism. The hard way is by just going to meetings."

Clarence stated that nowhere in the Steps of A.A. does it say one has to stop drinking. He was speaking of the A.A. statement that the only REQUIREMENT for membership is "a desire to stop drinking."

If an A.A. member puts the steps into their lives, beginning with the first three steps, they have admitted that they were powerless over alcohol, they could not manage their own lives, and that they had made a decision to turn their lives and their wills over to the care of God. They were no longer in charge. A Power Greater than themselves had been asked to take over.

If an A.A. member is constantly, on a daily basis, fighting taking a drink, there is no one in charge but the A.A. member. There is no power greater than oneself. The A.A. book states:

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone - even alcohol.*

*Alcoholics Anonymous (New York; Works Publishing Company, 1939) p. 84

Mid-West A.A. puts the reliance on God, a Higher Power, and not the A.A. meetings or other A.A. members. New York places reliance on a human power. The A.A. book clearly states,

That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.*

*Alcoholics Anonymous (New York; Works Publishing Company, 1939) p. 60

Bill Wilson made numerous trips to Ohio to try and find out what they had that worked so well. He spoke with Clarence and with Dr. Bob and attended meetings. He tried to bring back the program of recovery as it was in Ohio to the New York members, but they would not assimilate the spirituality into their brand of A.A.

Clarence felt that what Ohio had was special. He spent the rest of his life speaking around the country and the world relating what A.A. and God had done for him. Many people seemed to find Clarence's personality abrasive, and he occasionally stated that he was the one who had started A.A. This might have been a reason, that many refused to listen. They placed what Clarence said, and his way of saying things, before the importance of what A.A. had been. They were more concerned with the messenger's personality than with the principles of his message.

In the late 1940's and early 1950's, A.A. was beginning to come of age. Meetings were growing both in the number of meetings and in the number attending the meeting. Members were attaining sobriety and retaining it for long periods. Even today, A.A. continues to grow in numbers far beyond the dreams of the early members. However at what cost?

Is the purpose of A.A. to have the greatest amount of membership, making A.A. available to all those who claim to want it at any means possible, including the watering down of the steps and quality of recovery? Is the purpose of A.A. to help others recover from "a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body" by following the "prescription for a miracle" as written down in the basic text?

Where is God in A.A. today? Is it only "Don't drink and go to meetings," or is it the promise of a changed life? Are A.A. members "going to know a new freedom," merely by not drinking? The promises in the A.A. book are stated to come to fruition "before we are halfway through" the ninth step. According to Clarence, simplistic abstinence could never call these promises into being.

There are vast differences in A.A. today. Tolerance demands of A.A. members to allow other members to follow the path they have chosen for themselves. What type of recovery does the alcoholic wish to have? Which are his choices today? Are the alcoholic's choices limited by the location of meetings? All brands of A.A. should be offered to regular and prospective members.

The main difference between New York A.A. and Mid-West A.A. is the emphasis which is placed on spirituality. The basic text and the Steps are completely identical. We stood at the turning point*: What kind of recovery is it, that the A.A. member wants to achieve?

*Alcoholics Anonymous (New York; Works Publishing Company, 1939) p. 60

A.A. as a whole stands at that turning point. It is once again "Coming of Age," coming to the point of merely not drinking alcohol, or having a program of recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.

Should there be a New York A.A., a Mid-West A.A., a California A.A., or just an Alcoholics Anonymous Fellowship, available to those who not only need it, but for those who want to recover?

Growth and change are necessary parts of life. However, but to what end?

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