Alcoholics and Addicts – Helping Them the Old School Way
With God’s Power: Compassionate, Sustained, Personal Action
© 2007 by Anonymous. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission
A Challenge to Take the Best, Give the Best, and See the Best
Recently, I was asked to return to a Men’s Step Group meeting on Oahu and lead its retreat for a group of men who spend two years meeting weekly and learning all they can about the Big Book, the Twelve Steps, real Twelve Step Fellowship history, the Bible, prayer and meditation, and the role of Christians in 12 Step Fellowships today. This I love to do because these men, under the leadership of one of the members of our nationwide history fellowship, are given the tools, the information, the challenges, and the collateral facts about why the early A.A. Christian Fellowship achieved its documented 75% to 93% success rate. This was achieved with seemingly hopeless, “medically incurable” real alcoholics who relied on their Creator and were cured of their dreadful malady. The A.A. pioneers went for the best, gave the best, and saw the best that God offers to those who come to Him through His son. And then abstain and resist temptation; rely on Him for strength, guidance, and deliverance; obey Him by eliminating sinful conduct and replacing it with the love of God and service to God; grow in their relationship with Him, His son, and other believers through prayer, Bible study, seeking His will, reading Christian literature; fellowshipping together and witnessing to others; and devoting substantial time and effort helping others get straightened out. This discussion will address the question of what Christians in A.A. can do today, and how such actions can bring to newcomers, alcoholics, and addicts the same deliverance that was received in early A.A.
You should avoid being entrapped by the novel yet frequent contentions of some in and out of A.A. that a discussion like this seeks to Christianize A.A. Or to return A.A. to Christianity. Or to make A.A. the special encampment and hunting preserve of Christian evangelists. The problem with such arguments is that those who make them leap before they look. They don’t look for or see the fact that early A.A. was a Christian Fellowship. Or that it was then uniquely and astonishingly successful. Or that A.A. changed dramatically when its Big Book was published four years after its founding. Or that people of all and many faiths began entering A.A. almost as soon as it began. Or that there was a calculated effort at or after the publication of the Big Book to secularize and universalize the Society; to construct a religious approach that would allow people to begin with idolatry and come to find the one, true God by following some Oxford Group precept; and to revise Christian and Biblical phrases to palliate the few who objected to and influenced removal of most observable references to the Creator, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. In other words, there is no logic in assuming that a look at history and early success constitutes a crusade to reverse course and return to long-gone fellowship practices. Such argumentation is suspect from the start. It is fallacious, and it should be rejected as an idea that throws the baby out with the bath water. It seems to have its birth in anger, ignorance, and personal prejudice. Moreover, it tends to make Christians feel ousted, uncomfortable, and out of step where they have every right to hold to their faith, utilize the power of God, and tell others what God has done for them. The warning here is that this article claims there is a very real place and service for Christians to perform in 12 Step Fellowships today. And the thoughts come largely from successful pioneer sources, principles, and practices. Neither Jesus nor Peter nor Paul received much earthly support; but they had a far greater ministry and purpose for the Creator they loved.
Here are Some Practices that Closely Define the Old-School Akron Program
The suggestions are taken largely by fleshing out the summary of the early program which was given by A.A. trustee-to-be Frank Amos after he had been sent to Akron to examine and report on the program that was founded by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in the summer of 1935. The program itself was developed and practiced largely by Dr. Bob, his wife Anne, and Henrietta Seiberling over the next two years. Then Bill, Bob, and Anne gathered in late 1937 to measure its numbers and successes. This resulted in their proclamation of thanks to God that He had shown them how the message could be passed along to others.
The Starting Gate
Qualifying the newcomer: From the outset, a real effort was made to find out as much as possible about a newcomer, his beliefs, his family, his drinking, and his willingness to believe in God and do whatever it took to get well. This sometimes involved visits with the family. It sometimes involved swapping stories. It definitely involved getting the newcomer to concede to his innermost self that he had been licked by a life-controlling problem that neither he nor any other human being could overcome.
Hospitalization or medical help: I can attest to the accuracy of the statement that many do not realize that the alcoholic is a very sick person—some, not all. In my case, I suffered detoxification and heavy sweating, three grand mal seizures, lack of bladder control, physical pains, numbness in my legs, memory problems, concentration problems, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, confusion, and uncontrollable shaking that lasted for some five years. Others, of course, have severe mental problems; and still others come in with broken bones, liver problems, throat problems. Many more with seemingly insurmountable legal, criminal, domestic, tax, insurance, court, debt, housing, nutrition, dental, and other disaster-ridden burdens. I too had many of these. Fortunately, the Akronites were led by a physician—Dr. Bob. Fortunately also, Bill, in New York, had been hospitalized and grounded in some medical aspects from his psychiatrist Dr. William D. Silkworth at Towns Hospital. Today, I know my earliest problems could have been prevented or lessened had someone sent me to a doctor first, instead of trying to suggest amateur remedies like orange juice and honey. Better still, had they sent me to a treatment detox facility such as the one I entered after my initial bout with seizures, ambulances, and the ICU. A.A. pioneers were almost uniformly hospitalized in Akron, first at Akron City Hospital, and later at St. Thomas. There they were given medications; they were visited daily by Dr. Bob—often for hours; they were visited by groups of pioneers who shared experiences and the solution; they were allowed only a Bible in their rooms; and after a five to seven day stay, Dr. Bob visited them, asked them if they believed in God, and then had them surrender on their knees aside their hospital bed. And then they were released.
Focus on pioneer homes: On release from the hospital, the pioneers were given a Bible and urged to begin helping others. Most also received a copy of the Upper Room to assist them in daily prayer. A large number went to what might be called the first half-way houses. In most cases, they lived with Dr. Bob and Anne Smith at the Smith Home on 855 Ardmore in Akron. There they were sheltered, fed, bedded, and “indoctrinated” in a very real sense.
Morning Quiet Time—A Must: Each morning Anne Smith would hold a Quiet Time at the crack of dawn. It was for alcoholics and their families. She would open with prayer, read from the Bible, conduct group prayer, conduct a brief quiet period, and then discuss the Bible, or material from Anne Smith’s Journal, or devotionals like the Upper Room. Anne’s Journal contained recommended reading, discussion of Oxford Group precepts, Bible verses, materials on love, practical suggestions for alcoholics and their families, and Anne’s own recipe’s for health and prosperity.
Individual and group activity: Individual prayer and quiet time and reading were all encouraged. There were almost unceasing get-togethers daily in the Smith home. It is quite clear that several things were being stressed: (1) Bible study. (2) Prayer. (3) Quiet Time. (4) Adoption of a few Oxford Group ideas such as the Four Absolutes as moral standards and their Five C’s for life-changing. (5) The Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 were read, studied, and re-read. (6) Dr. Bob began circulating religious literature to the end that it would be studied and returned—followed by actual questioning about the book by Dr. Bob. These included devotionals and the many books specified in my title, The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth and Dr. Bob and His Library. (7) Individuals were counseled, cared for, and encouraged by Dr. Bob, by Anne Smith, by Henrietta Seiberling, and Mr. and Mrs. T. Henry Williams.
Surrenders and failures: All were expected to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; and all were expected, if able, to visit newcomers in the hospital. As with today, there were rim-runners—those who wouldn’t profess belief in God, wouldn’t accept Christ, didn’t think they had a problem, were unwilling to accept the discipline, were just plain crazy, and those who managed to blame others for their problems and leave. Those who stuck were the ones who achieved the remarkable cures and said so.
More homes added: As the need for more homes increased, so did the homes where the newcomers were housed—homes of Wally Gillam and Tom Lucas, for example. One historian who neither accepts nor endorses nor adequately describes the Akron pioneer program nonetheless correctly observed that the Akron fellowship seemed to be one continuous series of meetings. He just didn’t describe what they were. Dr. Bob alluded to them and their content.
The Bible emphasis: First Dr. Bob spoke of the fact that the old timers were convinced that the answer to their problems was in the Good Book. He said that James, the Sermon on the Mount, and First Corinthians were found to be absolutely essential. He added, “We used to have daily meetings at a friend’s house” See the Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical sketches Their last major talks, 1972, 1975, p. 15.
The “Regular” Weekly Meeting
Once each week, alcoholics, their wives, and their families met with several Oxford Group people at the home of T. Henry Williams in Akron. The meeting was unlike a regular Oxford Group meeting. The Creator’s role was prominent. At a prior set-up meeting, the leaders asked God for guidance as to who should lead the regular meeting and what its topic should be. One wife called the regular meeting an “old fashioned prayer meeting.” Dr. Bob’s son characterized it as an old-fashioned “revival meeting.” Even T. Henry, himself an ardent Oxford Group member, called it a “clandestine lodge” of the Oxford Group. In short, research in recent years, makes it clear that these weekly meetings far more resembled the principles and practices of the United Christian Endeavor Society of Dr. Bob’s youth than they did any typical Oxford Group meeting. Thus: (1) “Drunkalogs” were not given, whereas “sharing for witness” was a major part of most other Oxford Group meetings. (2) There was no literature but the Bible, Anne Smith’s Journal, and a devotional such as the Upper Room, whereas Oxford Group literature poured out all over the world and particularly from Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary House in New York. (3) Bible study, prayer, and seeking guidance—so common and important in united Christian Edndeavor meetings and far more stressed than in the Oxford Group. For prayer and Bible study were the heart of the early meeting. (4) The focus of the group was helping alcoholics; and that was never an Oxford Group focus. (5) There was no concern for life-changing or world-changing per se though these were the hallmarks of Oxford Group writings, talks, teams, and travels. (6) As was the case with Christian Endeavor meetings, the Akron group [and later the A.A. groups themselves] was self-governing and self-supporting with no principal leader or teacher like Dr. Frank Buchman or Rev. Samuel Shoemaker, as was the case in the Oxford Group. (7) Literature that was passed around included many more than Oxford Group books—for there were well-known books on prayer, healing, love, faith, service, psychology, the Bible, Jesus Christ; and on daily devotions laid out in The Runner’s Bible, the Upper Room, Daily Strength for Daily Needs, My Utmost for His Highest, The Greatest Thing in the World, The Meaning of Prayer, as well as leading books by Christian writers like Harry Emerson Fosdick, Glenn Clark, Emmet Fox, E. Stanley Jones, Oswald Chambers, Norman Vincent Peale, and others.
Surrenders to Jesus Christ
Possibly the best-kept secret during the middle A.A. years was the fact that every single pioneer was required to go upstairs with two or three “elders” like Dr. Bob, T. Henry Williams, and perhaps an Oxford Group member. These men held a prayer session that was called a “real surrender.” It took me many years of research to come up with solid evidence of the conversion ceremony that took place and which also followed the lines of James 5:16. The newcomer would kneel on the floor. The elders would gather round him. He was asked if he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. He was asked if he would live by the cardinal teachings of Jesus Christ. And he and the elders all joined in praying that alcohol be taken out of his life.
I spent a good deal of time with different witnesses and records. And the foregoing surrender facts were unearthed and confirmed by me as follows: (1) The surrenders are widely mentioned in A.A. literature. (2) They were specifically mentioned to me by Nell Wing, Bill Wilson’s secretary, who sent me several pages of A.A. literature where they were covered. (3) I have seen no evidence such surrenders took place in Oxford Group meetings. (4) They were common-place in the United Christian Endeavor conversion meetings—though not involving the alcohol removal prayer
The following four independent sources (all A.A. original pioneers) verified what happened at the surrenders. And what happened was a conversion—a new birth by surrender to Jesus as Lord: (a) Ed Andy, in a phone conversion to which I was a party, said: “They wouldn’t let you in unless you accepted Jesus.” (b) Clarence Snyder told four of his sponsees that I have talked to, as well as his wife, Grace, exactly what occurred with respect to Jesus in the surrenders. (c) Larry Bauer both phoned me and wrote me to relate that they had taken him upstairs and got him “born again.” (d) J. D. Holmes wrote, in a negative tone, that he had been hounded about accepting Jesus.
Though Bill certainly surrendered, in the conversion sense, his story was somewhat different. It took me years to find the reports of eyewitnesses to Bill’s conversion at the altar at Calvary Rescue Mission before he ever met Dr. Bob. Then I discovered Bill’s own written statements that he had been born again. Also his statement at page 191 of the Big Book that the Lord had cured him of his terrible disease. See Dick B. The Conversion of Bill W. Finally, I realized that Dr. Bob had covered the point in his last major address in December, 1948, saying: “You recall the story about Bill having had a spiritual experience and having been sold on the idea of attempting to be helpful to other drunks. Time went by, and he had not created a single convert, not one. As we express it, no one had jelled (Co-founders, pp. 9-10).
Identifiable Oxford Group Practices
Oxford Group literature, both by Rev. Sam Shoemaker and others, was available on tables at the early weekly meetings. Some of it was specifically recommended by Anne Smith in her journal, and some of it was specifically read and circulated by Dr. Bob. There was also much mention of the Four Absolutes—honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love—by the Akron pioneers and later by Clarence Snyder as to Cleveland A.A. Anne wrote about them as “moral standards.” Dr. Bob called them “yardsticks.” There is some evidence that the equivalent of 4th and 5th Step inventories and confessions on moral shortcomings were followed. And there is some evidence that restitution was a principle that was adhered to even before Bill wrote the Twelve Steps.
Other Practices That Were Developed
Frank Amos reported that social and religious comradeship were favored but not required. He also said that attendance at a church of one’s choice was favored but not required. It is not clear to me just how much work with newcomers as such was involved by individuals until after they left Akron and spawned the major new A.A. groups in Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Houston. They certainly did visit newcomers in the hospital and meet and converse with them in the homes. Sponsorship as such did not seem to count for much until Clarence founded A.A. in Cleveland and then wrote his pamphlet on sponsorship.
But it was in Cleveland that the four elements of fast-growing A.A. developed—Big Book, Twelve Steps, Bible, and Four Absolutes. And use of these four tools took off like a rocket. That combination produced a documented 93% success rate, a growth from one group to thirty in a year, and a beehive of indoctrinations of newcomers in the principles of the new program.
Clarence Snyder Innovated Important Principles of Co-existence
One still-living former trusted servant and trustee in the A.A. hierarchy has seemed to spend much of his sober life driving a wedge between Clarence Snyder and Alcoholics Anonymous. He has not been alone. Several historians have joined those ranks. Several employees at A.A. headquarters have fostered continuing distaste for Clarence. And while there are many possible explanations for their positions, the fact remains that Bill Wilson himself acknowledged that the greatest growth in A.A. came from the Cleveland crowd. And, in that sense, Clarence proved himself to be a great example of how to combine the old and the new and achieve the best results. Dr. Bob’s daughter told me, when I asked about Clarence, “He was all for Dr. Bob.” And Clarence never stopped talking about what Dr. Bob and his wife had done for him.
Moreover, he openly, frequently, and clearly spoke of the Akron roots, the Bible emphasis, the Oxford Group influence, and the Big Book and Twelve Steps. This can and should be the model for co-existence today.
Why cover up history? Why reject the basic text? Why ignore success? Why drive a wedge between the Akron program and the Big Book program? Why censor all literature but that written by Bill Wilson or the New York hierarchy? Why censure those and exclude listings of those who mention God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christian literature? Why extend recognition to atheists, doctors, gays, women, lesbians, policemen, doctors, lawyers, airline pilots, firemen, dentists, and other special groups but refuse to list or publicize the existence of a group, its meeting schedule, its activities, or anything that is deemed “religious” but not “spiritual?” Why try to exclude afflicted people who were not excluded in early A.A.?
Let’s take a look at some major ideas promoted by Clarence Snyder—ideas that can offer help and hope for successful co-existence with and among idolatrous factions in A.A. and other 12 Step fellowships today.
The Big Book: Clarence Snyder taught from the Big Book. His Cleveland meetings began only a month or so after the Big Book was published. He readily grasped its ideas and quoted them frequently. He instituted retreats still surviving today where the Big Book is treated for what it is—the basic text of A.A. I’ve personally heard his tapes and seen his video renditions on “How It Works,” after which he asks his listeners, “How does it Work?” Their loud reply is “real good!”
The Twelve Steps: Just as he immediately embraced the Big Book on its publication in the Spring of 1939, so also did Clarence begin taking people through the Twelve Steps—following the instructions of the Big Book. He wrote a pamphlet still in circulation called Going Through the Steps. He wrote a pamphlet called My Higher Power the Light Bulb. There he inserted the words “light bulb” for “God” wherever the word “God” appeared in the Steps and demonstrated the absurdity of turning your will and your life over to the care of a light bulb, admitting to your light bulb the exact nature of your wrongs, and asking your light bulb to remove them, etc. He devised a way to take people through the Steps in no more than two days; and he was so inundated with newcomers, that he began to take them through the Steps in classes—something that is done at his surviving retreats today and is set forth in detail by his three old timer sponsees in the new workbook Our A.A Legacy to the Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide for Those Who Want to Believe.
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