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For Thirty Years
of the earliest members of the first New York AA group;
he was also its first "self-proclaimed atheist."
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., May 1968
noted in my story, "The Vicious Cycle," in the
Big Book, I came into the Fellowship in New York in January
1938. At that time AA was just leaving the Oxford Group.
There was one closed discussion meeting a week, at Bill's
home in Brooklyn, attendance six or eight men, with
only three members who had been sober more than one year:
Bill, Hank, and Fritz. This is about all that had been accomplished
in the four years with the New York Oxford Group.
those early meetings at Bill's, they were flying blind,
with no creed or procedure to guide them, though they did
use quite a few of the Oxford sayings and the Oxford Absolutes.
Since both Bill and Dr. Bob had had almost-overnight experiences,
it was taken for granted that all who followed would have
the same sort of experience. So the early meetings were
quite religious, in both New York and Akron. There was always
a Bible on hand, and the concept of God was all biblical.
this fairly peaceful picture came I, their first self-proclaimed
atheist, completely against all religions and conventions.
I was the captain of my own ship. (The only trouble was,
my ship was completely disabled and rudderless.) So naturally
I started fighting nearly all the things Bill and the others
stood for, especially religion, the "God bit."
But I did want to stay sober, and I did love the understanding
Fellowship. So I became quite a problem to that early group,
with my constant haranguing against all spiritual angles.
of a sudden, the group became really worried. Here I had
stayed sober five whole months while fighting everything
the others stood for. I was now number four in "seniority."
I found out later they had a prayer meeting on "what
to do with Jim." The consensus seemed to have been
that they hoped I would either leave town or get drunk.
prayer must have been right on target, for I was suddenly
taken drunk on a sales trip. This became the shock and the
bottom I needed. At this time I was selling auto polish
to jobbers for a company that Bill and Hank were sponsoring,
and I was doing pretty well, too. But despite this, I was
tired and completely isolated there in Boston. My fellow
alcoholics really put the pressure on as I sobered up after
four days of no relief, and for the first time I admitted
I couldn't stay sober alone. My closed mind opened a bit.
Those folks back in New York, the folks who believed, had
stayed sober. And I hadn't. Since this episode I don't think
I have ever argued with anyone else's beliefs. Who am I
finally crawled back to New York and was soon back into
the fold. About this time, Bill and Hank were just beginning
to write the AA Big Book. I do feel sure my experience was
not in vain, for "God" was broadened to cover
all types and creeds: "God as we understood Him."
feel my spiritual growth over these past thirty years has
been very gradual and steady. I have no desire to "graduate"
from AA. I try to keep my memories green by staying active
in AA a couple of meetings weekly.
the new agnostic or atheist just coming in, I will try to
give very briefly my milestones in recovery.
1. The first power I found greater than myself was John
2. The AA Fellowship became my Higher Power for the first
3. Gradually, I came to believe that God and Good were synonymous
and were found in all of us.
4. And I found that by meditating and trying to tune in
on my better self for guidance and answers, I became more
comfortable and steady.
J.B., San Diego, California
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., May 1968
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