A.A.’s & G.S.O.’s take on Prayers at Meetings


A recent query to the Literature Desk of G.S.O. about approved prayers in A.A. meetings had this response:

Warm greetings from the General Service Office in New York.  Your email was forwarded to my attention because I currently have the privilege of coordinating the Literature assignment at G.S.O.  It’s good to have this opportunity to be in touch.  By way of introduction, my name is Sandra and I am an alcoholic who found sobriety in A.A.

Thank you for taking the time to write us.  As you may know neither A.A. literature nor G.S.O. gives suggestions about which prayer to use while closing a meeting.  A.A. as an organization neither endorses nor opposes use of the Lord’s Prayer, or any other prayer.  Page 15 of the pamphlet “The A.A. Group” states that ‘many meetings close with members joining in a moment of silence followed by a prayer, or perhaps by reciting the Responsibility Declaration or other A.A. text.  This sharing reflects the experience of many groups in the U.S. and Canada, but is not instructive or directive in nature.   This is purely a matter for the informed group conscience to decide, as stated in Tradition Four.

It is mentioned in Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers that the Lord’s Prayer was used from the very beginning in the Fellowship (see pages 141, 148, 183, and 261), at least as early as 1938 and 1939. In those days there was no A.A. literature, so the early groups relied heavily on the Bible and Oxford Group literature for inspiration and guidance.

Bill W. also commented several times in his correspondence about the early use of the Lord’s Prayer. He wrote a letter to a member in 1959 in which he stated:

“This practice probably came from the Oxford Groups who were influential in the early days of A.A.  You have probably noted in A.A. Comes of Age what the connection of these people with A.A. really was.  I think saying the Lord’s Prayer was a custom of theirs following the close of each meeting.  Therefore it quite easily got shifted into a general custom among us.”

Bill also wrote, in 1955:

“Of course there are always those who seem to be offended by the introduction of any prayer whatever into an ordinary A.A. gathering. Also it is sometimes complained that the Lord’s Prayer is a Christian document. Nevertheless, this Prayer is of such widespread use and recognition that the argument of its Christian origin seems to be a little far-fetched. It is also true that most AA’s believe in some kind of god and that communication and strength is obtainable through his grace. Since this is the general consensus, it seems only right that at least the Serenity Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer be used in connection with our meetings. It does not seem necessary to defer to the feelings of our agnostic and atheist newcomers to the extent of completely hiding ‘our light under a bushel.’

However, around here, the leader of the meeting usually asks those to join him in the Lord’s Prayer who feel that they would care to do so. The worst that happens to the objectors is that they have to listen to it. This is doubtless a salutary exercise in tolerance at their stage of progress.”


In fellowship,


Sandra Wilson

General Service Office Staff

A.A. in A.A.


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has a new A.A. group — the first Amharic-speaking group in the African nation. Like most A.A. groups, it was founded out of desperation — and nurtured on hope.

Evolving out of a hospital program — a specialized mental hospital, and the only hospital in the country addressing alcoholism, a number of patients clung together trying to stay sober. In correspondence with G.S.O., Mekonnen Y. tells their story:

“Ever since we were discharged from the hospital, we have been sober for periods ranging from one month to fifteen months. During all this time we have been meeting frequently — some of us daily and others two to three days a week — and we have been trying to form a group, meeting informally at different places including the hospital compound and at different members’ homes for more than a year.

“In January 2016 we were able to get a meeting place outside the compound with the help of a doctor and a psychologist we know at the addiction department of the hospital.

“Now, with a permanent meeting place, we are on a good start with not less than fifteen regularly attending members. We continue to get together outside meeting hours and above all we are ready to provide Twelfth Step help for the still-suffering alcoholic.

“Among the challenges we have faced are the lack of a meeting place (which is now solved), and the fact that most of the alcoholics we could reach till now were those admitted to the hospital, most of whom had little resources to rent a place with members’ contributions. The other challenge we faced was lack of available A.A. literature in Amharic (our local language). Most of our members do not fully understand English. We conduct meetings in Amharic and needed to provide literature for newcomers.

“This is now solved after our coordinator who took the initiative to form the group (and is now sober fifteen months), was able to translate to Amharic the pamphlet ‘Frequently Asked Questions About A.A.,’ which we downloaded from the website. We now use it as starting material for group discussion and give it out to newcomers.

“This letter, then, is to announce our presence as the first A.A. group open to the community in the African nation called Ethiopia, having more than 90 million people with hundreds of thousands of problem drinkers (according to estimates from hospital sources) — a country in which no one seems to have heard of A.A.!

“At last, we are very much hopeful in you, our friends at G.S.O., in providing us much-needed support in areas such as providing A.A. literature in Amharic in order to help us fulfill our primary purpose — to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

“It is our pleasure to tell you that we have named our group ‘A.A. Addis,’ after the short form of our city Addis Ababa.”


From the Fall Issue of Box 459, the A.A. Quarterly Newsletter.

A Brief History…


A Brief History of the Conference

From the Summer 2016 issue of Box 459

It’s been with us for so long now, providing guidance and stability throughout the Fellowship, that there may be some within the A.A. universe who have forgotten — or never knew — that not everyone thought creation of the General Service Conference was a good idea. It could be said that nothing comes easy in A.A. — not the price many have paid to get here, the sacrifices necessary in keeping our groups together, or the ongoing maintenance of the very services that hold us in unity today. So, it should be no surprise that getting the Conference up and running as “the actual voice and the effective conscience for our whole Society” itself took some doing.

A.A. had grown tremendously in the years since the Alcoholic Foundation had been created in 1938, when there were barely 100 A.A. members. In 1946, when membership had reached about 30,000, Bill had begun formulating a plan for some kind of conference with delegates from A.A. groups around the country.

In the beginning, though, there was little enthusiasm for the project. As almost all the 15 trustees on the board of the Alcoholic Foundation saw it, the Alcoholics Anonymous movement had flourished in the 10 years since the Foundation had been created, and they saw no reason to endorse what looked like a radical change. Bernard Smith, who joined the board as a nonalcoholic trustee in 1946, was alone in supporting the plan. A businessman and a lawyer, Smith’s backing over the next few years was to prove crucial.

One angry faction that opposed the conference called itself the Orthodox Group, and included Henrietta Seiberling among its few members. In a letter she wrote at the time she charged that Bill was motivated by greed and suffering from delusions of grandeur, and that, “we want the people in the Groups to know just what the dangers are.”

One nonalcoholic trustee, Leonard Harrison, resigned over the issue, saying in a February 1948 letter to Bill: “I have felt that a degree of isolation of the Foundation from the main currents of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement has been, and would continue to be, a stabilizing factor in dealing with the necessary ‘housekeeping,’ legal, and financial affairs of the A.A. headquarters. The somewhat intricate relationships envisaged in your plans… will invite more troubles than solutions, I believe.”

Harrison later rejoined the board and was credited by Bill with being a calming influence that helped the Foundation weather the controversy.

Essentially, Bill feared that after he and Dr. Bob passed on, the Alcoholic Foundation would eventually suffer a loss of legitimacy. As Bill saw it, such a development would hurt A.A. in various ways, including diminished financial support from A.A. groups for the New York office.

Writing to an A.A. member in San Diego at the end of 1947, Bill said: “We shall have to do something… about the New York Headquarters. A self-perpetuating Board of Trustees unknown to most A.A. members could never stand up over the long future. So we shall have to have some kind of annual conference in which out-of-towners delegated for the purpose would sit down and talk things over with the Trustees, the office, and the Grapevine, and make a joint annual report to the Groups.”

As Bill noted, however, in a July 1955 article from The Language of the Heart (p. 162), “It was one thing to say that we ought to have a General Service Conference, but it was quite another to devise a plan which would bring it into successful existence. The cost of holding such a Conference was easily dismissed. Even though the outlay might be $20,000 for each yearly session, this would be only fifteen cents apiece extra for each A.A. member, and mighty well worth it. What member wouldn’t give that much to be sure that A.A. didn’t collapse at its center in some future day of great need or crisis?

“But how on earth were we going to cut down destructive politics with all its usual struggles for prestige and vainglory? How many delegates would be required and from where should they come? Arrived at New York, how could they be related to the Board of Trustees? What would be their actual powers and duties? Whatever the plan, it had to be sound enough to work well on the first trial. No blunders big enough to create a fiasco could be allowed.”

And work well it did. Like other not-so-popular-at-first ideas (think Big Book and Twelve Traditions), in the 66 years since its “experimental” appearance on the A.A. landscape, the General Service Conference has proven to be an indispensable thread woven firmly into the fabric of A.A., a worthy successor to the Fellowship’s founders and early members.

You can download this issue at:

Other articles include: A call for resumes; Openings for various non-trustee Directors and Class A Trustees; Budget Highlights; and the Bulletin Board — Items and Ideas on Area Gatherings for AAs.

“The Man on the Web”


Online Intergroup of A.A. Nears 20-Year Anniversary

“Today’s counterpart to the ‘man on the bed’ is the trembling, sick alcoholic in cyberspace,” writes Dennis M. of the Bronx, N.Y. in a Grapevine article titled AA in Cyberspace. “And we see a good number of them looking for help for the first time. We see them coming back from slips; we see them finding A.A. at a time and a place where we can feel their desperation and share our hope, just as we do in f2f (face-to-face) meetings.”

Excited about today’s expanding ability to reach out to suffering alcoholics, A.A. members around the world continue finding new ways to carry A.A.’s message of hope.

One helpful development in this effort has been the growth of the Online Intergroup of A.A. (O.I.A.A.), an organization nearing its 20th anniversary. First formed to help unify the growing number of online meetings that began to mushroom in the late 1980s, many starting as bulletin board meetings and email groups, the O.I.A.A. was legally incorporated in 1996, giving online groups a forum for exchanging information and ideas and for helping one another carry the message of A.A. online.

Online meetings come in a variety of formats: real-time chat, email meetings, telephone chats, audio-visual meetings using video streaming applications, message boards/forums, and discussion board meetings. Some are targeted toward specific groups: women, military, deaf/hard-of-hearing, and there are meetings available in a number of languages. Many have regular schedules, and some are “catch-as-catch-can,” with members posting when there is time and a burning desire.

Many A.A. members use the online medium to supplement their f2f meetings or vice-versa, depending on each member’s own situation, and most online groups encourage attendance at f2f meetings. There are many A.A.s, however, who cannot attend f2f meetings (geographically-isolated members, members with physical disabilities, members living in a foreign country, members in the military or at sea, older A.A.s, shift workers, parents with young children) and online A.A. may be the best or only resource available to allow these members to participate fully in the A.A. Fellowship.

One of O.I.A.A.’s chief services is an online meeting directory posting an up-to-date list of online A.A. groups on its website (www.aa-intergroup.org). On average, the directory lists about 170 groups. It also directs an estimated 22,600 online visitors a month from more than 100 countries to meetings held in 14 languages and to meetings with formats that make A.A. accessible to people with vision, speech, or hearing problems. A little more than half of O.I.A.A.’s visitors access their information on mobile devices (phones or tablets), with others using desktop computers. O.I.A.A.’s directory does not include every A.A. group in cyberspace, however — only those that choose to be listed and subscribe to the Twelve Traditions of A.A.

Keenly aware that “personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity,” as the First Tradition says, O.I.A.A. also encourages communication among online groups as well as with local intergroups, areas, G.S.O., and other A.A. service bodies. This is done chiefly through the work of its committees. In addition to a Twelfth Step Committee, which is comprised of approximately 40 members worldwide, speaking multiple languages and fielding between 350-400 requests for help per month, O.I.A.A. has formed committees for: Public Information, Cooperation With the Professional Community, Unity and G.S.O. liaison, Conventions, Finance, Policy and Admissions, and World Wide Web — all of which are described on O.I.A.A.’s website.

O.I.A.A.’s governing body, the Intergroup Assembly, is made up of an Intergroup Representative and alternate from each registered group, plus its committee chairs, their alternates, and five officers: a chair and co-chair, treasurer, historian, and secretary. With the lessons learned over nearly 20 years working together, they strive to practice the principles of A.A. in all web affairs, so that the hand of A.A. will always be there in cyberspace as well.

From the Holiday issue of  Box 459, the quarterly “News and Notes from the General Service Office of A.A.®”
To download the PDF version, click here.

Bill W. and His Critics…


“Concerning those cracks about me—you shouldn’t be too much bothered… You see, people have been trying to save A. A. from me for years.”

—Bill W.

In the above excerpt, from a 1961 letter written to a couple of A.A. friends, Bill W. used self-deprecating wit to address the criticism that had been coming his way almost from the moment he and Dr. Bob cofounded the A.A. program in 1935.
(Bob, less of a controversial character, managed to avoid the worst of it.) Even if Bill became somewhat inured to it over the years, such criticism rankled, and he could and did defend himself and Alcoholics Anonymous vigorously. But at the same time, he used it as occasion for self-inventory: “Were it not for my severe critics,” he wrote, “I might have got off track lots of times.”


These quotes and more can be read in the Fall-2015 issue of Markings – Your (AA) Archives Newsletter.

75 years of Brotherly Love


Alcoholics Anonymous began in Philadelphia on March 6, 1940, started by traveling salesman Jimmy B. (whose Big Book story is “The Vicious Circle” and who had been instrumental in convincing Bill W. to tone down the “God” references in the Big Book). In mid-February of that year, Jimmy B. had gone to Philadelphia to take a new job. Once there, he contacted Charlie B., whom he had known in New York, and together they hooked in two Oxford Group alcoholics whom Charlie knew, Bayard B. and Edmund P. Next came George S., who had written to the New York office seeking help (George S. had sobered himself up after reading the September 1939 article in Liberty magazine entitled “Alcoholics and God”).

All of these men needed, as Jimmy B. put it, “a few fellow alcoholics around…to stay sober. [And] thus I found myself in the middle of a brand-new group.” The first open meeting of the Philadelphia Group of Alcoholics Anonymous was held March 6, 1940, in George S.’s house. Bill and Lois W. were present (among an automobile load of alcoholics who had come down from New York) and coffee and donuts were served.

The newly formed A.A. group attracted the attention of two Philadelphia physicians, Dr. C. Dudley Saul and Dr. A. Weise Hammer. Saul, who had lost two sons to alcoholism, was chief of staff at St. Luke’s hospital, and began allowing the Philadelphia A.A.s to hold their meetings there. Even more importantly, Saul and Hammer were friends of Judge Curtis Bok, the owner of Curtis Publications, which was the parent company for The Saturday Evening Post. Bok was impressed with A.A. and by December of 1940 he was writing a letter of support to the Philadelphia Group that read in part: “My interest in A.A. is very sincere and you can count on me for as many good words and good deeds in connection with it as I can give.”

True to his word, Judge Bok called in a reporter named Jack Alexander and asked him to investigate this new program for an article for the Post. To aid Alexander, Drs. Saul and Hammer wrote a list of the first names and last initials of 28 alcoholics who had stayed sober through the program. When the Post article appeared on March 1, 1941, A.A. in Philadelphia exploded, as it did in New York and the Midwest. A bigger clubhouse was needed and the Philadelphia Group contacted Ruth Hock, Bill’s secretary, at the Central Office in New York to order 10,000 reprints of Alexander’s piece (at a cost of $175.00).

Only a year had passed since Jimmy B.’s arrival in the City of Brotherly Love, but already A.A. had firmly taken hold.

From the Spring of 2015 issue of Markings, Your Archives Newsletter.

A Profound Spiritual Task


A.A. Copyrights and Literature Licensing: ‘A Profound Spiritual Task’

Excerpts from Winter Issue of Box 459

With A.A. activity in approximately 170 countries around the world, the Big Book and other A.A. literature has been translated into a multitude of languages — from Afrikaans to Vietnamese, with materials as varied as the Big Book in Urdu, Living Sober in Bulgarian and “A Newcomer Asks” in Swahili. As the guardian of this diverse and lifesaving collection of A.A. literature, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., the publishing arm of A.A.’s General Service Board, holds numerous copyrights and licenses in trust for A.A. as a whole, protecting the integrity of the writings and preserving the continuity of A.A.’s message of recovery and hope.


It is a shared undertaking, and the G.S.O. staff member on the International assignment, along with the archives director, have been utterly invaluable, assisting with research and history on specific countries’ translations, and helping to move projects forward. This work involves real collaboration, often across departments, with many employees contributing helpful assistance in the daily process of publishing and distributing A.A. material.


A.A.W.S. has a deep moral and legal responsibility to insure the integrity of all A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature no matter who does the translation and no matter where in the world the material is printed or distributed. Generally, A.A.W.S. licenses for the translation, printing and distribution of A.A. literature to General Service Offices in other countries, and all translations submitted to A.A.W.S. are sent to independent translation review services for reporting on their accuracy and quality.

When G.S.O. receives a request from someone wishing to translate A.A. literature on his/her own initiative, the Publishing Department will determine if there is an existing, authorized translation in the U.S. or overseas. If such a translation exists, the request will be denied. If a translation does not exist, the requesting party will be asked to translate some representative portions of the work, like Chapter 5 of the Big Book for example, so that the translation may be reviewed by a professional translation service for its consistency with the original text.


Particularly noteworthy and exciting of projects currently underway at G.S.O., is the first-ever audio/video translation of the Big Book into the Navajo spoken-language.


Some recent success stories include: the new Arabic translation of the Big Book; the Czech language translation of Daily Reflections; a new German translation of the pamphlets “Is A.A. for Me?” and “A.A. at a Glance”; and just printed is a new Hungarian version of “A.A. for the Older Alcoholic.” A new translation of the Twi language Big Book from Ghana is nearing its completion; and the Rarotongan translation of the Big Book (Cook Islands) is in its final round of editing and formatting, as well.

The process of producing material in multiple languages is not always smooth. Efforts on the Haitian/Creole language have admittedly experienced many fits and starts in recent years; actively recouping and researching various threads of communication and contacts in that region to evaluate where the projects stand and to discern the next steps for making further progress.


Regardless of the inevitable ups and downs encountered, every piece of literature written and produced by A.A. is owned and controlled by the Fellowship itself. Only in this way can we preserve the integrity of our message and ensure that it is passed on ungarbled to future generations of suffering alcoholics. A profound spiritual task, indeed.


Link to BOX459 for the article in its entirety.

…nameless bunch of alcoholics.


This month’s Box 459 includes a new 32-page booklet, “A Brief History of the Big Book.”
The following is an excerpt from the book.  Please see explanation from GSO at the end.

In May 1938, when Bill W. began work on the first draft of what is now the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, in New York City and Newark, New Jersey, he had been sober about three and a half years. Dr. Bob was sober a few months less than three years, and the other 100 early members who contributed in one way or another to the writing of the book had been sober for periods ranging from a couple of years to a couple of months.

The early members realized the book would need a “story” section. “We would have to produce evidence in the form of living proof, written testimonials of our membership itself. It was felt also that the story section could identify us with the distant reader in a way that the text itself might not.”

Dr. Bob and the members in Akron, Ohio led this effort. One member of the Akron Group was a former Newspaperman with two years of sobriety, named Jim. He and Dr. Bob “went after all the Akronites who had substantial sobriety records for testimonial material. In most cases Jim interviewed the prospects and wrote their stories for them. Dr. Bob wrote his own.” By January, the Akron Group had come up with 18 stories.

In New York, where there was no one with writing expertise, they decided that each member with substantial sobriety would write his own story. When Bill and a fellow member turned to edit these “amateur attempts,” there were objections. “Who were we, said the writers, to edit their stories? That was a good question, but still we did edit them. The cries of the anguished edited taletellers finally subsided and the story section of the book was complete in the latter part of January 1939. So, at last, was the text.”

The book still lacked a title. “The Akron and New York groups had been voting for months on possible titles. This had become an after-the-meeting form of amusement and interest. The title ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ had appeared very early in the discussion…. We do not know who first used these words. After we New Yorkers had left the Oxford Groups in 1937 we often described ourselves as a ‘nameless bunch of alcoholics.’ From this phrase it was only a step to the idea of ‘Alcoholics Anonymous.’”

More than 100 titles were considered, but in the end, it came down to “Alcoholics Anonymous” or “The Way Out,” and when the two groups voted, “The Way Out” received a slight majority. At this point, one of the A.A.s visited the Library of Congress to research the number of books titled “The Way Out” versus those called “Alcoholics Anonymous.” There were 12 with the former title, none with the latter, and since nobody wanted to make the book the thirteenth “Way Out,” the problem was solved. “That is how we got the title for our book, and that is how our society got its name.”

So, this somewhat shaky, often fearful group of men and women somehow brought to publication, on April 10, 1939, the book Alcoholics Anonymous.

This book became a blueprint for recovery from alcoholism that has been followed successfully for nearly 80 years—and something of a publishing phenomenon. The Big Book has been translated into 68 languages and is read by millions of people in approximately 170 countries around the world. Approximately 35 million copies of the first four editions of the Big Book (in English) have been distributed. It sells about one million copies per year, worldwide.

An Email from GSO Staff for this region explains:
“I am a G.S.O. staff member and my duties include serving as a correspondent for inquiries from the Pacific region. Thank you for writing, I am glad to be in touch. The booklet, “A Brief History of the Big Book” (item no. F-166) was printed to be sent out on a complimentary basis with the Fall 2014 issue of Box 4-5-9. It will be posted on the www.aa.org website, as is other free literature, available for viewing online. At this time, it is not for sale and is not listed in our literature catalog.”

For a direct link to the booklet, click here.

Bill W goes to Congress


With over 34 years of experience behind him proving A.A.’s ability to help alcoholics get and stay sober, in early 1969, Bill W. accepted an invitation from U.S. Senator Harold Hughes — a great supporter of A.A. — to address a special subcommittee of the Senate’s Labor and Public Welfare Committee. Called the Special Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Narcotics, and chaired by Senator Hughes, the subcommittee was to hold public hearings on the Impact of Alcoholism over the course of three days in July 1969, bringing broad and unprecedented national attention to the subject.

Perspectives on alcoholism were shifting in the late 1960s, and many Americans, both within and outside the scientific community, were beginning to see benefits in extended research on alcoholism as a precursor to possible solutions. Public health organizations such as the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization were addressing alcoholism in health care settings, and by the 1960s, the American Psychiatric Association had declared alcoholism an illness. Many of the government ef­forts to address alcoholism, however, were underfunded and underdeveloped and it was felt by many that in order to make an impact, there would have to be a concerted Federal effort, with considerable national resources devoted to the problem.

As a part of this groundswell of national attention on the problems of alcoholism, the subcommittee of Senator Hughes solicited public testimony from scientists, religious leaders, politicians, and alcoholism treatment providers. Additionally, a number of people in recovery testified, including Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes M., National Council on Alcoholism founder Marty M., and A.A. co-founder Bill W.

As the hearings began, Senator Hughes expressed in his opening remarks that the main objectives of his subcommittee were threefold:

  1. To dramatize to the Congress and the public the magnitude and urgency of these problems;
  2. To develop new approaches to helping people afflicted by alcoholism and drug abuse; and
  3. To develop practical legislation on a realistic financial scale not previously envisioned by the current government.

Hughes called for open-mindedness on new approaches to alcoholism, saying, “this means we cannot settle for window dressing. This means that we must disengage ourselves from the old ruts and prejudices of the past.”

He then called on the professionals in the field of alcoholism to get together for a solution to the problem, noting, “we can unite effectively if we simply keep our eyes on the main objec­tive — to save and help human beings.”

Following the testimony of Marty M., who spoke about the founding of the National Council on Alcoholism in 1944, Bill W. kept his focus on A.A. — its history and basic approach to recov­ery as exemplifed in his own experience, strength and hope.

Before Bill began his testimony, however, in recognition of A.A.’s Tradition of anonymity, Senator Hughes announced to the Senate chamber, “For the next witness there will be no television. There will be no pictures taken. The next witness is Bill W. , co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Audio is fine. Yo u may photograph the Senators or you may photograph Bill W. from the back of the head if you want.”

With these ground rules articulated — the kind of ground rules that have kept A.A. members out of the public eye since the Fellowship’s earliest days — Senator Hughes continued: “Bill, you may proceed with your statement as you desire.”

Thanking the members of the subcommittee for the opportu­nity to appear before them, Bill added, “For me this is an ex­tremely moving and signifcant occasion. It may well mark the advent of the new era in this old business of alcoholism.

“I think that the activities of this committee and what they may lead to may be a turning point historically. This is splash­down day for Apollo. The impossible is happening. Like my dear friend Marty, who has just spoken to you, I share with her the opinion that in this feld of alcoholism we are now seeing the beginning of the achievement of the impossible.”

Opening his remarks with a recitation of the A.A. Preamble, as “a brief and simple statement as to what A.A. is,” Bill cited some general statistics in terms of numbers of A.A. groups and estimated membership, adding, “Those statistics are of interest, but they are scarcely inspiring, because they are not as yet con­nected with the flesh and blood of human experience. I think the best way of presenting some of that experience would be to re­late to you certain fragments of A.A. history that have a particu­lar bearing upon this occasion.”

Tracing A.A.’s history from Rowland H.’s attempts to get so­ber with the help of Carl Jung and the Oxford Groups in the early 1930s, to Rowland’s connection with Ebby T., who ultimately reached out to Bill, Bill offered the subcommittee a con­densed version of A.A. history — a history quite familiar to most A.A.s — punctuated by some of the details of Bill’s own drinking: “I had been in a drying-out emporium in New York City, and there my doctor, who was to make a crucial contribu­tion to A.A., had said to my wife, ‘Lois, I am afraid, my dear, that I can do nothing. . . . He is the victim of a compulsion to drink against his will, and, as much as he desires, that compul­sion I don’t think can be broken; and this compulsion is coupled with what I call an allergy.’

“‘…There is something wrong with this man physically. Therefore, the eternal dilemma has been this compulsion to drink, to the point almost of lunacy, coupled with the physical allergy that guarantees insanity and death. I think you will have to lock him up.’”

It was at this point, Bill described, that Ebby had come to visit him in Brooklyn. “At once it struck me that he was in a state of release, this was not just another drunk on the wagon. …I was deeply impressed,” Bill told the Senators, “because here was somebody that I knew had lived in this strange world of alcoholism, where I, too, was a denizen.”

Following a description of his “white light experience,” Bill explained, “With the experience came this thought, why can’t this be induced chain style? In other words, if I can identify myself with another alcoholic through this kinship of suffering, then why can’t that infate him and perhaps he will be motivated and one can talk to the other.”

Continuing with the story of A.A.’s early history, his trip to Akron and meeting Dr. Bob, publication of the Big Book, and the Fellowship’s astounding growth, Bill began to sum up his testimony with some additional statistics.

“Figures tell us that we have 5 million alcoholics in America,” he told the Senators. “This means 5 million poor souls who are in all stages of this dissolution and in the early years scarcely one of these people can be brought to believe that he is actually beginning to be sick.

“This rationalization can exist through all sorts of evidence of sickness right down to the undertaker himself. It is this mass capability of the alcoholic to rationalize himself out of this pre­dicament. This is one of the great obstacles to bringing alcohol­ics toward treatment. In fact this is the obstacle that all of the remarkable agencies we now have at work are running against, how do we get these people in?”

In closing, Bill detailed that many people in recovery were working in the alcoholism feld — as recovering alcoholics, not A.A. members — and could be a resource for the future delib­erations of the subcommittee. He also offered the names of some nonalcoholic friends of A.A. as potential resources.

Ending his testimony by calling for any questions there might be, Bill noted, “Of course, it ought to be observed at this point, that the virtues of A.A. are not really earned virtues. It is a matter of do or die. . . . So our dedication is first based on the fact that our lives and fortunes have been saved and we want to share this with the next fellow, knowing that it is part of the maintenance of our own recovery and life or death.”

As Bill’s segment of the hearings came to a close, in recognition of A.A.’s principle of anonymity, Senator Hughes thanked Bill W. — and the media — for the efforts undertaken in keeping anonymity in the forefront of the subcommittee’s deliberations. Said Senator Hughes, “Bill, I thank you kindly for your willingness to come forward as a co-founder of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and express the basis of its founding, its willingness to cooperate, and the hope of people over the last few decades who have found their way through this. The subcommittee and the committee are indebted to you for your will­ingness to do this. I want to express also the Chair’s appreciation to the press for their cooperation in honoring the tenets of your institution to retain the anonymity of the alcoholic.”

Following the conclusion of the hearings, nearly a year later Senator Hughes introduced the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Act of 1970 into the Senate — also known as the Hughes Act — that would focus federal resources to address the prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Considered a “ma­jor milestone,” the law also established the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, now the largest funder of alcohol research in the world.

Guided by the principle of anonymity and the words of the A.A. Preamble, which were entered into the public record of the subcommittee hearings — that A.A. is not allied with any orga­nization or institution and neither endorses nor opposes any causes — Bill W. was able to participate in the public discourse on alcoholism and to share with the Senate subcommittee the experience, strength and hope garnered by A.A. that recovery from alcoholism is possible, a message to still-suffering alcoholics that is as welcome today as it was then.


From the Summer 2014 issue of Markings — Your Archives eNewsletter.
For complete issue, visit A. A. Digital Delivery.