+ Last updated:
May 29, 2009
Relapses & Successes
By Dick B.
Relapses & Successes
Thorny Business With Limited Tools
The Most Important Question
Can a very very sick person with an overloaded
boatful of troubles enter the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous, get well,
and move forward into a new, useful, and happy life? My answer is:
Without a doubt! And I’ll share my own experience.
I entered the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous on April 23, 1986, just two
days after quitting drinking. I then not only had seizures and other
violent results in acute withdrawal; but I shook and shook for about
five years. So much so that, when he shared the podium with me at The
First Nationwide A.A. History Conference in Phoenix a couple of years
ago—shortly before his death—A.A. co-founder Dr. Bob’s son, Smitty, came
up to me smiling, gave me a hug, and asked if I was the “Shakey Dick”
from Marin County that he met many years back. And I was. But it’s not
my purpose here to tell you how my life was changed with God’s help, but
rather to tell you three words I heard from an A.A. speaker early on.
That man said you could only make it in A.A. if you pursued “Three
D’s.”—Decision, Determination, Discipline. As the years passed, I began
to understand his view and coincidentally to believe in its accuracy.
I joined A.A. at about sixty years of age. I had previously had a
week-long blackout and had been drinking outrageously for the previous
nine months. I brought with me a packet full of legal, financial,
marital, depression, and criminal difficulties which I had somehow tried
to drown with booze and sleeping pills. But I tried the new A.A. route
in desperation, and I decided never to drink again; and I have not. I
did find, however, that I knew little about my own drinking problem,
about alcoholism, and about Alcoholics Anonymous. But I was determined
to go to any lengths to get relief. I learned too that success in A.A.,
like my previous successes in high school, college, and law school, as
well as in the Boy Scouts and the Army, would require my submitting to a
disciplined life—whatever that might require.
Let’s therefore again return to the same question posed at the
beginning. Can any alcoholic, though very very sick, though very very
burdened with the wreckage of the past, and though very uninformed about
his drinking problem, alcoholism, and Alcoholics Anonymous, nonetheless
make the grade without ever drinking again and thus without ever having
a relapse. Again, the answer is “Yes.”
Now what do the experts, the statistics, and the critics have to say
about that answer?
Who are the people best qualified to tell us the
facts about how soon and how many AAs relapse or leave the rooms? Leave
in the first 30 days, 90 days, 6 months, year, five years, etc.? And,
for sure, I don’t fit the following expert categories: I’m not connected
with academia; nor in a position to get government grants, university
funding, the research assistance of Fellows; nor to obtain other
resources to do the job right from the standpoint of scholarly research.
I don’t have a Ph.D. in psychology, medicine, or religion. I don’t work
for or with a treatment facility, research group, or government agency.
I don’t even have easy access to “peer review” of my findings, analyses,
and publications. By contrast, a goodly number of other folks do fit in
the research mold.
There are those connected with universities like Stanford, New Mexico,
Brown, Rutgers, Columbia, Harvard, and elsewhere. There are those
connected with the acronym outfits like NIDA, NIAAA, NIH, WHO, or with
Health and Human Services, the Drug Control Office, and others. There
are those connected with large treatment facilities like Hazelden. There
are those connected with the Veterans Administration and its vast
resources and interest in recovery. And there are those who belong to
societies like Research Society on Alcoholism, Association for Medical
and Educational Research on Substance Abuse, Christian Association for
Psychological Studies, Substance Abuse Librarians, and the Alcohol and
Drugs History Society. There are those Ph.D.’s and M.D.’s who contract
out for grants and subsidies that enable them to research and be funded
by governments and by charitable foundations.
There are those who call themselves “two-hatters.” They may have been
drunks. They may fit in one of the categories above. They may very
possibly have been through treatment centers or rehabs or therapy for
their own addictive problems. And they are involved to a greater or
lesser degree in both the A.A. fellowship and in professional work in
treatment, hospital, medical, psychology, or religious fields. I
suspect, too, from my personal observations of and acquaintance with
quite a few, that there are many more than you think or that choose not
to reveal their past substance abuse and participation in recovery and
Anyone else who’s an expert? I think so.
I believe many who have recovered and been cured of alcoholism through
continuous active participation in A.A. itself have a unique set of
qualifications. We have worked with wet drunks and dry drunks. We’ve
neither asked for, nor received compensation. We have attended hundreds
if not thousands of meetings, conferences, seminars, flings, round-ups,
retreats, assemblies, and other activities common in the A.A.
fellowship. We have sponsored men and women. We have “taken them through
the Steps.” We have helped them study and learn the Big Book; introduced
them within the fellowship, and participated in their sobriety birthday
parties. We’ve helped them establish a relationship with God.
We are pretty good at spotting a drunk when we see one because we’ve
been one. We tend to know how deceptive, grandiose, confused,
recalcitrant, or inaccurate a drunk’s story may well be. We soon see and
learn who among us is still going to meetings and who is not. We soon
see and hear who is full of baloney as to their purported but
non-existent actions and beliefs. We watch newcomers like a hawk—whether
they succeed or fail. And we simply must know and concede that there are
rim-runners today as there were in the 1930’s—people who just dip their
feet into our rooms but never follow through. There are those too who
give A.A. a real try and yet succumb to temptation, fear, pressure,
excitement, romance, depression, despair and all the rest and then
“deal” with them by returning to drink.There are those who don’t even
want to qui drinkingt; but they offer quite a presence because they
attend as commanded to go by a probation department or judge, or because
bussed to meetings by a treatment center van or because told by a
therapist or welfare agency or family member that they won’t get help or
money or an inheritance or job unless they show their face in A.A.
Furthermore, I’m inclined to believe that most of the other
well-intentioned “experts” often have very little information,
knowledge, or understanding of “Who’s Who” in our million-member A.A.
mass at any given point in time.
The professionals do have tools—hopefully bona fide random samples. But
they have difficulty lassooing the people to be sampled. They have
difficulty getting the right mix. They don’t have the exit-polls so
common among political pollsters today. They don’t necessarily have much
information about liars, drunks, religion, A.A. practices and
yardsticks, faked success figures, or the individual alcoholics
meandering through A.A. meetings traveling through city after city,
state after state, and group after group.
Their tools are not the tools that early AAs had in Akron and in the
early Cleveland Fellowships. In those pioneer days, members used full
names. They exchanged addresses and phones numbers. They kept membership
rosters. I have seen the written documentation. And the AAs were on a
personal friendship, first-name basis. And they certainly had more
disciplined groups and members and leaders than A.A. has today.
Experts today often dispute the early A.A. success rates of 75% to 93%.
Yet those experts have rarely, if ever, seen the early rosters, photos,
interviews, or the survivors who have supplied the facts and records of
the original program.
Statistics—And Do They Matter?
Actually, statistics about successes and relapses
do matter. A great deal.
And I’ll be so bold—based on personal experience—as to say that the
statistics matter most of all to the drunks themselves. That said, I’ll
tell you my experiences that demonstrate the interest and concern of AAs
about their own success and relapse rates.
Many many many times, newcomers and not-so-newcomers have come up to me
in A.A. meetings and asked, “How many make it?” Or, “What is the success
percentage?” Also, more often than not, old timers speak up in meetings
and tell those present that “very few” make it—a declaration that
arouses further interest among members. Time and time again there are
“roll calls” at conferences and retreats and other meetings where people
are asked, in their turn, to stand when the years or months or days of
their sobriety are called off; and we see who is still around and the
countless number of people who are not. Time and time again, people in
A.A. pick up “chips” or other medallions at meetings which hand out
these symbols to those who have, in the order called, achieved this or
that period of sobriety. Time and time again, people in A.A. will tell
you their “belly button” birthday date and their “sobriety” birthday
date and draw a proud distinction between the two. In fact, a number of
websites today provide space for recording and receiving congratulations
on sobriety attainments. Time and time again, someone will ask an A.A.
“How much time have you?” And the long and short of it is that the
people who seem to care the most about successes and relapses are the
members of our fellowship. They want to succeed themselves. They want
others to succeed. They want to know how many do succeed. They want to
know what their own chances are. They want to join the ranks of those
who have more “time.” They want to pick up the “chip” that shows they’ve
made 24 hours, thirty days, 60 days, 90 days, six months, one year, and
so on; and these events happen all the time all over the United States.
Thus A.A. may be “one day at a time” to some treatment people and
counselors. But few of us would still be sitting in meetings over long
period of time just thanking God for “today.” Achieving and announcing
long-term sobriety that equals or exceeds that of others is a big, big,
big, deal to the members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
And the thing that matters about AAs’ own statistics is that they are
derived from eye-witness observation and continuous exposure. AAs go to
meetings all the time. They hear the foregoing comments all the time.
They announce their own status all the time. And they keep track of the
time their sponsees and friends have logged in. It’s a big, big, deal.
They also see the departures of hordes.. At one year of sobriety, they
can look around them to find the gang they got sober with; and they see
the multiple missing faces. At five years, they notice the mssing faces
everywhere. At ten years, they begin to find themselves standing alone.
Now there are plenty of old-timers who initially will tell you this is
not the case. They’ll sometimes tell you that the people in their
“group” have been around for years. And the reason? If the assertion is
actually true, first of all, these people have usually stuck to the
groups where there is sobriety equal to, or greater than their own.. You
don’t see them frequenting the many “beginners meetings.” Second, they
really don’t want to own up to the fact that they have long-since
stopped observing and working with newcomers. This is quite often the
case with the closet expert who has long since given up active
membership. Third, they may well not be in attendance in the areas where
A.A. is hot—areas where mobs are pulled in from courts and treatment and
hence swell the numbers, but don’t swell the substantial sobriety count.
Finally, there is the new trumpeting that “relapse is OK.” And this may
cause some modern-day old timers (twenty-five years sober or less) to
excuse the absences rationalize the failures, and decline to make the
failures an example.
What Do The Statistics Show?
Let’s get honest, as so many of the experts and
statisticians really do.
Many wisely point to the very factors that leave them with inadequate
tools. One is the inadequacy of A.A.’s own triennial membership surveys.
One is the anonymity factor which makes it difficult, they say, for them
to pin-point and identify specific members. One is the fact that many
AAs belong to several groups, attend several “home groups,” and have
several different types of meeting routines. Hence any survey of a given
group, home group, or meeting crowd may well be surveying the same
people more than once. And I have personally seen that happen in the
variety of meetings I have attended. One is the fact that not all that
many AAs are particularly willing participants in “surveys”—whatever
their reasons. How often we see newcomers and even old timers hiding out
in large meetings in the hope that no one will see or identify them. One
is the fact that plenty of AAs are game-playing and pretending to
attendance to satisfy a court, a sponsor, friends, family, a counselor
and others while in fact dodging the whole thing. One is the fact that
the person who relapses and goes out on the street looking for drugs or
into a bar looking for a drink is not one who is likely to be
advertising his relapse. More than likely, he is just as sneaky about
his return to drink as he was about his original secretive behavior—a
secret way of living so well known to us AAs.
Do the experts issue these caveats before they opine? I’ve certainly
seen a number of instances where they have. Also a number where they
haven’t. And, in the case of researchers who are trying to be objective
instead of being subsidized to prove or dispute success, their surveys
are very often couched in despairing comments about the inadequacy of
the tools. Sometimes even accompanied with an apologetic plea or
challenge for more and different tools and research.
See Research on Alcoholics Anonymous, Edited by Barbara S. McCrady and
William R. Miller (NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1993).
Given Their Own Cautions, What Do
The Experts Tell Us?
Flawed, inaccurate, apologetic or not, there are
plenty of rather similar success estimates on the table today. Here are
In the title Research on Alcoholics Anonymous edited by Barbara S.
McCrady and William R. Miller (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center of
Alcohol Studies, 1993), the two scholars state at page 6:
Relatedly, it is clear that a majority of those
who attend AA do not continue. The AA (1990b) triennial surveys reflect
a steady decline in the percentage of people remaining in AA over the
first year of contact. By three months, 50% have dropped out, and by 12
months the attrition rate appears to be closer to 90%. . . . Clearly
long-term sobriety occurs within a select minority of those who
initially attend AA.
Confirming such an observation, there was a very
large A.A. history meeting in Mill Valley, California, in 1990. A.A.’s
General Service Office Archivist Frank Mauser (now deceased) said to the
800 or so AAs who were present:
Fifty percent of those who come to A.A. are out
the door in 90 days.
Alan C. Ogborne wrote in Research on Alcoholics
Anonymous, supra, p. 339:
As a community based fellowship, Alcoholics
Anonymous (AA) presents many challenges to its evaluation as a
therapeutic resource. Unlike many of the other “treatments” evaluated by
social scientists, AA’s philosophy seems unscientific and its ways
incompatible with the dominant paradigm of controlled experimentation. .
To some extent these challenges have been overcome in a number of
published research studies; and as shown by Emrick (1987; Emrick,
Tonigan, Montgomery, & Little, 1992) and other reviewers (e.g. Institute
of Medicine, 1989, McCrady & Irvine, 1988), the accumulated results
challenge claims of AA’s remarkable potency and superiority to other
forms of treatment.
In the same research volume, scholars Moos,
Finney, and Maude-Griffin wrote:
Between 50% and 75% of new members apparently quit
AA after only brief contact with it (Emrick, 1987). Research on
Alcoholics Anonymous, supra, p.270.
Stanton Peele, J.D., Ph.D., a frequent commentator
on A.A., published the following on his website
http://www.peele.net/lib/commentary.html and titled it “Commentary on
‘The Lay Treatment Community’”:
The various components of Bean-Bayog’s analysis do
not fit well together. For example, research does not clearly indicate
that AA is effective. The best evaluation of AA’s effectiveness among
the papers included in the Review (McLatchie & Lomp, 1988) finds that
those who attend AA most regularly and those with the least involvement
in AA have the best outcomes following alcoholism treatment. These
results agree with the 5- year follow-up of George Vaillant (1983). . .
In these analyses, alcoholics whose attendance at AA was sporadic or
short-term clearly had the worst outcomes. These data suggest that
compelling patients with little sympathy or aptitude for AA to attend
this kind of group has substantial potential for damage. Furthermore,
those who do not respond to the AA approach seem to comprise by far the
largest percentage of alcoholics. Brandma, Maultsby, and Welsh (1980)
found that almost 7 in 10 alcoholics assigned to AA dropped out before
Enoch Gordis, M.D., head of NIAAA, wrote me on
June 23, 1995 and said this:
Only half of those coming to A.A. for the first
time remain more than three months; twenty-nine percent have been sober
over five years; those with 10 or 15 years of sobriety amount to 6.8%;
and those with more than twenty-five years of sobriety represent less
than one-half of one percent.
J. Scott Tonigan, Ph.D., deputy director of the
Research Division, Center on Alcoholism, in New Mexico, was quoted as
follows by the Akron Beacon Journal, Friday, June 9, 1995:
It is an axiom in the field that about 75% of
those who turn to AA drop out by the end of the first year.
Joan Matthews-Larson, Ph.D., wrote in THE PHOENIX,
April 1997 issue:
Would you sign up for surgery that had a 75%
failure rate? . . . In 617 independently done follow-up studies,
conventional treatment has an average success of 24%, The Rand
Corporation, which followed 900 males from six NIAAA Treatment Centers
over a four- year period, found only 21% sober after the first year, and
7% still sober in the fourth year.
Professor Herbert Fingarette wrote in Heavy
Drinking, University of California Press, 1988:
Among A.A. members “slipping is a normal and
frequent activity.”. . . there is no evidence that the particular way of
life advocated by A.A. is the only, or even the most effective
application application of this theme [the theme that a new form of
social organization and communication might lead heavy drinkers to a new
way of life]. The A.A. way of life is one way, but the proposition that
alcoholism is one all-encompassing and selfsame disease to be defeated
only by one all-healing alternative is a barrier to progress for most
A.A. Critics Are Far Less Generous
In Their Appraisals
Author Jack Trimpey wrote in Rational Recovery,
AA doesn’t work! Abstinence rates for people in
the recovery group movement are astonishingly low, under 10% (p. 303).
A.A. is intensely religious (p. 304). I tried a number of HP’s (Higher
Powers), theirs and mine, and they all turned out to be flops at keeping
me sober (p. 7)
Susan Powter wrote in Sober… and Staying That Way:
This Missing Link in the Cure for Alcoholism, 1997, p. 15:
One date at a time, fine, but please, experts
contend that AA has a 12 percent recovery rate. What happens to the
other 88 percent of us?
For more equally tart criticisms by William L.
Playfair, M.D.; Ken Ragge; Martin and Deidre Bobgan; Bill Pittman and
Charles Bishop, Jr. See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam
Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed., (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications,
Inc., 1999, p. 571-572.
In his Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?, 2d ed. Rev. and exp.
(Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998), Charles Bufe included an entire
chapter, titled “How Effective is A.A.?” I shall not detail his remarks
or quoted sources, but I do call attention to these observations by
Based on my attendance at AA meetings in San
Francisco in the late 1980’s, I would estimate that over 50% of those
attending meetings in that city at that time were members for less than
a year and, in fact, that a majority were members for only a few months.
The situation appears to have changed little in recent years (The
discrepancy between my observations and AA’s claim that only 27% of its
members have less than one-year’s abstinence is probably accounted for
by AA’s astoundingly high dropout rrate; because of it, one constantly
sees faces showing up at AA meetings, with many of them sticking around
for relatively few meetings. My estimate, however, isn’t too far out of
line with the figures given by Bill C. in a 1965 article in the
Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol. In it, he reports that of 393
AA members surveyed, 31% had been sober for more than one year; 12% had
been sober for more than one year but had at least one relapse after
joining AA; 9% had achieved a year’s sobriety; 6% had died; 3% had gone
to prison; 1% had gone to mental institutions; and 30% had stopped
The success rate calculated through analysis of the 1996 membership
survey is hardly more impressive. . . . Using the figure of five years’
sobriety as the criterion of success, one arrives at an AA success rate
of approximately 2.6% to 3.5% (in comparison with the total number of
“alcoholics in the U.S. and Canada). And the success rate is lower than
that if one defines “success” as AA does—as lifelong abstinence (p. 90)
[Quoting AA’s Triennial Surveys] In terms of new-member dropout rate,
all five surveys were in close agreement. . . . In other words, AA has a
95% new-member dropout rate during the first year of attendance. If
success is defined as one-year’s sobriety, on the face of it this 95%
dropout rate gives AA a maximum success rate of only 5%; and a great
many new members do not remain continuously sober during their first
year in AA, which causes the apparent AA success rate to fall even lower
What Can We Learn About Successes And
Relapses That Answers The Initial, Vital Question?
I said at the beginning that one question was
paramount. The question is: Can you get well in A.A. today even if you
are very very sick and very very burdened with the wreckage of the past.
If you look at what the experts say, what the statistics show, and what
the critics proclaim: Your chances are very very poor. And that,
regrettably, is what any of us honest enough to report what we see would
have to say also. But our question has nothing to do with rates or
percentages. It has to do with YOU. Can you get well? Even if you’re
sick and in lots of trouble. The answer is: Yes, if you want to.
First of all, as the experts concede, there is plenty wrong with their
surveys and their statistics. Even the way they measure A.A. activity
has often to do only with the number of meetings attended, whether you
have a sponsor, whether you yourself sponsor people, whether you have
worked Steps 6 to 12, etc. Moreover, I can confirm, as can most of us,
that there are innumerable lousy meetings, lousy sponsors, and lousy
ways of “taking” any of the Steps. But such measures are simply
materialistic yardsticks. They don’t tell us whether the AA has had a
conversion, been born again, claimed a spiritual awakening or spiritual
experience, or operated the manifestations of the gift of the Holy
Spirit. They don’t even tell us whether an A.A. believes in God or not,
whether an AA studies the Bible, whether an AA goes to church, whether
an AA prays, or whether the AA has accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour.
I personally know many many relapsed AAs who have attended hundreds and
hundreds of meetings, been speakers, chaired groups, studied the Big
Book, been taken through the Steps, sponsored others, participated in
all kinds of A.A. activities and yet are drinking buckets, smoking pot,
and snorting cocaine this very day. So the first and most common
measuring stick—attendance and involvement—doesn’t tell us anything
about an individual’s chances. It doesn’t deal with the problem. Then
the experts talk about the problems of anonymity, poor survey tools, and
a floating membership. Those identification problems, inadequate survey
tools, and floating population problems still don’t address the people
involved. Finally, some of the best researcher comments point to the
immense diversity within A.A. and the need in any survey to look at the
people and their backgrounds and not just what they do in A.A. Amen!
Next, in the worst, most marred, and weakest research arena, some
experts endeavor to measure “spirituality” as if that word personifies
recovery. And that test is hogwash. It is subjective. It has no common
definition. Bill Wilson defined spirituality as reliance on the Creator.
Several decades later, historian Ernest Kurtz re-defined it as a
spirituality of “imperfection” and of not-godness. Still others assert
that spirituality merely requires that you get a focus outside of
yourself which may be called a “higher power.” And this departure from
reason has spawned “higher powers” called a light-bulb, the Great
Pumpkin, Santa Claus, a rock, Ralph, a chair, the group, good orderly
direction, a Coke bottle, the Big Dipper, the Great Pumpkin, Gertrude,
Something, Somebody, or “it.” Now, with those research criteria (which
no intellectual of integrity and no sensible A.A. as his length of
sobriety increases could possibly define or quantify), what has that
“spirituality” yardstick to do with success. Moreover, among those
subject to being “tested” for “spirituality” are atheists with a belief,
agnostics without a belief, Muslims with a belief, Hindus with a belief,
Roman Catholics with a belief, born again Christians with a belief,
Protestants who have been taught that A.A. is “not of the Lord” and is
“of the devil,” and our New Age friends that think a “personality change
sufficient to overcome the disease of alcoholism” defines the “spiritual
aim.”And most of these don’t subscribe to a Coke bottle as being what to
And researchers expect to find useful results from that mess?
I said at the beginning that you can get well in A.A. today. Now I will
tell you what I did, and then I will tell you what the early AAs did.
I came into A.A. and learned that I was not to pick up a drink—no matter
what! “Don’t drink, and go to meetings” was stated so often you were
prompted to obey. So I adopted permanent abstinence as my first
yardstick. I was licked. I knew it. They (the ever-present spokespeople
in meetings) convinced me that alcohol, whether a cause, a depressant, a
disease, a sin, a sickness, a spiritual malady or some religious
shortcoming, was to be resisted at all costs. That made sense to me. It
was consistent with James 4:7. Temptation was out. Sobriety was in. I
wanted deliverance, and they told me things would get better if I did
what they did, went where they went, and believed what they believed.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get me medical help, and I had seizures. They
put me in a treatment program, and I sure belonged there for 30 days.
They told me to get a sponsor, and I did. They told me to go to 90
meetings in 90 days, and I did. They told me to study the Big Book, and
I tried. My sponsor tried to take me through the Steps, was simply not
qualified, and cut me loose after Step Five. I was told to help others.
And I helped, in whatever way presented itself, every alkie that walked
or crept or crawled. They told me to participate in my own recovery, and
I did. I did it by giving service and a quarter to meetings, attending
meetings daily, attention to newcomers at meetings, prompt and regular
attendance, speaking at meetings when asked, chairing meetings when
asked, frequently calling my sponsor and other AAs, and being willing to
do whatever it took. I participated in every conceivable kind of A.A.
activity—frequent phone calls for support, frequent fellowship with
other newcomers, frequent reaching out to the new people, going to
county-wide Unity and Gratitude meetings as well as A.A. seminars,
conferences, retreats, dances, recreational events—and almost always in
company with my family or my friends in A.A. I heard talk of a “higher
power” and was sufficiently crazy that I thought and said that I had two
“higher powers”—God and the Fellowship. Another detour!
Midst it all, I realized that I was not drinking, was “dry,” was busy,
was participating, was crazy and confused and forgetful, and was trying
to find out where God—the God mentioned in the Big Book over 400 times,
the Creator, the Maker, the Father, the Spirit mentioned therein—fit in
the program. What about guilt, shame, disgrace, fear? Where was prayer?
What was the standard for real spiritual truth? Where did A.A. come
from? How was I going to face courts, jail, tax liens, divorce problems,
financial disaster, loss of my law license, day-to-day expenses, and
These gems followed me into early sobriety. And they almost got me. I
became frightened, anxious, despairing, and even suicidal. Yet whenever
I mentioned the Bible among AAs, I was told not to read it—just to
confine myself to the Big Book. Whenever I mentioned my Bible
fellowship, I was told I was not ready for that yet. Even when someone
mentioned Emmet Fox, I was warned away from him (thank goodness). And
nobody, just nobody, made it clear that God had the answers to life. And
how did that measure up to the expression, “Let go and let God.” Nobody
showed me page 181 of the Big Book where Dr. Bob wrote “Your Heavenly
Father will never let you down.” Nobody showed me page 191 of the Big
Book where Bill Wilson and Bill Dotson (AA Number Three) both said the
Lord had cured them. Nor did they show me where, just a few pages back,
Dr. Bob said he had found a cure for alcoholism. Nobody, except a few
Roman Catholics, ever mentioned church. Few mentioned God. One
bald-headed guy used to say every Friday night at the beginner’s meeting
that his “Higher Power” was Ralph. And we just laughed. Nobody ever
mentioned any prayer but the Serenity Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer at
the end of the meeting. Nobody ever mentioned the literature—including
Emmet Fox—that early AAs read. In fact, nobody mentioned A.A. history.
But, thank God in heaven, about four important events occurred in the
first few months amidst all the terror and confusion. And they truly
pointed toward victory.
First, one night I was so frightened I phoned my A.A. Jewish friend
Seymour who talked a lot about God. I told him I was scared to death. I
told him I didn’t know how or what to pray. And he said, “Then, tell God
just that.” And I realized I didn’t have to have a theologian with me
when I prayed.
I phoned a young AA man who had befriended me. I called in the middle of
the night and ranted on about my fears; and he said, “Man you are in bad
shape. Get to the hospital and do so quickly.”
In the meantime, I had heard from a young man, now dead of alcoholism,
that A.A. had come from the Bible and that the early members wanted to
call it “The James Club.” He told me to read DR. BOB and the Good
Oldtimers, and I did even though nobody had ever called my attention to
this piece of A.A. literature. I’d never heard it mentioned. But I will
still frightened and in despair. I checked into the VA Psych ward in San
Francisco. I was an anxious, crazy, despairing mess.
Finally, my older son insisted that I start reading the Bible and
listening to Bible tapes. And I did just that. Then, in addition to
taking other patients with me to AA meetings in San Francisco, I started
attending a Bible fellowship back in Marin which consisted of some older
people. One of them called me every day and told me to stop trying to
program my life and let God guide it.
When I put these events together, I began to see quite clearly that my
only help would have to come from the Creator. And I had to believe
that. I began to see deliverance stemming from my Bible reading and
believing. I studied and sought profit from believing Hebrews 11:6—an
old standby in early A.A.:
But without faith it is impossible to please him:
for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a
rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Almost overnight, the fear, anxiety, and despair
were gone. Salvation had truly become the anchor of my soul, and I felt
secure in God’s everlasting arms. I was one of His kids that He would
surely care for if and when I sought Him first. I became quite willing
to ask Him what to do, where to go, what to say, and how to handle
things. It’s laid out very simply in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean
not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and
he shall direct thy paths.
I could and did do just that to the extent it was
possible for me to renew my mind to that truth, and He (Yahweh, the
Creator) did direct my paths. The rest is history. My history.
The Answer Lies Not With Experts
Or Critics Or Surveys
Early AAs did all the things that I did and lots
more. They had sound guidance from God, from the Bible, from their
devotionals, from Dr. Bob, from Bob’s wife Anne, from Henrietta
Seiberling, and from T. Henry Williams and his wife—all in Akron. I
won’t repeat the early program elements here. You can find them all in
my titles The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute
Essentials and When Early AAs Were Cured and Why.
If you want to stay in A.A. and have all the productive and delivering
experiences I tell about in my title God and Alcoholism, feel free to
pursue your own religious convictions—particularly if you are a
Christian as were the early A.A. pioneers. Use the guidance, words, and
power of God to help yourself and others. For Yahweh our Creator will
never let you down! Just as Dr. Bob assured us all. And you can’t very
easily measure believing by how many times someone prays or reads the
Bible or asks God’s guidance; nor can you measure a spiritual
relationship with God by asking which denomination someone belongs to;
nor can you determine a person’s degree of victorious living by just
conducting surveys. God knows the answers. So can you. And so can your
brothers and sisters in Christ if God chooses to give them revelation.
That’s the early A.A.way. It worked for 75% in Akron and later 93% in
early Cleveland A.A.
Contact the author at
http://www.dickb.com/index.shtml; PO Box 837, Kihei, HI
96753-0837; 808 874 4876. For his audio talks, see
For the author’s A.A. history books in bulk and at
a discount, contact our new bookstore:
http://aa-history.com/bookstore and Terry at