Cebra Graves Biography
From AA history
New Article By AA By
AA Historian Dick B
Alcoholics Anonymous Effective?
A.A. Success Rates to Consider
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Alcoholics Anonymous Effective?
A.A. Success Rates to Consider
By Dick B.
© 2008 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Is Alcoholics Anonymous Effective? There is no simple answer to that question
relative to today’s A.A. In fact, several problems immediately pop up. The first
concerns the question whether conventional and present-day surveys of the
Alcoholics Anonymous Society can or do establish whether the A.A. Program of
recovery itself effectively offers permanent sobriety to those alcoholics who
still suffer and enter the A.A. rooms. The second concerns the critical issue as
to whether, like A.A. cofounder Robert
H. Smith, M.D. (“Dr. Bob”), the present-day survey has asked the afflicted
person, “Do you believe in God, young fella?” The third asks the further
question of the surveyor as to just which program, which belief system, and
which A.A. era is involved in the path that has been followed by the new person
The Effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous
Let’s look first
at the early A.A. program founded in
and the evidence
of its successes
After 19 years of research and writing, and also by building on the recent and
splendid research and writing of Richard K., I
believe the following facts can be sustained and documented:
1. Who were the first 40 A.A. pioneers? The statement (albeit infrequent)
that all, or most of, the 40 early A.A. pioneers got drunk or died drunk is
without any foundation whatever. The reason is that this statement deals
primarily or exclusively only with those whose personal stories were included
either in the multilith manuscript or the First Edition of the Big Book. People
mentioned in those personal stories may well have gotten drunk or even died
drunk. But the people named in the personal stories were not listed because they
had been members of the first 40 real pioneers. Careful research in recent years
has disclosed exactly who the first 40 real AAs were and what their successes
were or weren’t. Plainly stated, people whose personal stories were selected for
publication in the First Edition of the A.A. Big Book in 1939 were not those
people whose data was surveyed by A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1937.
The two groups are not identical.
2. How can we know the names of the first 40 and the names of the Cleveland A.A. pioneers
who followed them? In early Akron A.A., and then in early Cleveland A.A.,
names, addresses, phone numbers, and data about sobriety, relapses, and ultimate
outcomes were commonplace. I have
copies of the address book of Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne Smith. It contains data on
many of the pioneers. On the walls at Dr. Bob's Home
at 855 Ardmore Avenue
in Akron, there are pictures of a number of these
pioneers. I have in my possession several written rosters of each and every
early AA pioneer with the names, dates of sobriety, dates of death, and ultimate
sobriety outcome. There is a written list of the early Cleveland AAs, and the
several Cleveland A.A. groups kept rosters naming these members. I have a
four-page roster titled, “First 220 members of A.A.” That roster includes the
names, street addresses, cities, and phone numbers of pioneers well-known to
most historians of A.A. I either
have copies of all of these or have sent them on to the Griffith Library at Bill
Wilson's birthplace“the Wilson House”--in East Dorset, Vermont.
3. The evidence from the A.A. cofounders themselves as to the successes of
the pioneers. There is lots of eyewitness evidence about the first 40 A.A.
pioneers who had achieved the astonishing 75% success rate as calculated by Bill
Wilson and Dr. Bob in the late fall of 1937. Bill’s
writings record the day he sat in the living room of Dr. Bob’s home with “Doc”
and his wife, Anne Smith, counting recoveries. Bill said:
A hardcore of
very grim, last-gasp cases had by then been sober a couple of years. All told,
we figured that upwards of 40 alcoholics were staying bone dry.
In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age,
There had been
failures galore, but now we can see some startling successes too. A hardcore of
very grim, last-gasp cases had by then been sober a couple of years, an
un-heard-of development. There were 20 or more such people.
In the memorial issue of the A.A.
Grapevine, “RHS,” published on Dr. Bob’s death, Bill W. described the
juncture I spent a week visiting Dr. Bob. We commenced to count noses. Out of
hundreds of alcoholics, how many had stuck? How many were sober? And for how
long? In that fall of 1937 Bob and I counted forty cases who had significant dry
timemaybe sixty years for the whole lot of them! Our eyes glistened. Enough
time had elapsed on enough cases to spell out something quite new, perhaps
something great indeed. . . . God had shown alcoholics how it might be passed
hand to hand.
Bill’s biographer Robert Thomsen added this as to the counting by Bill and Bob:
They were both
conscious of their failures as they settled down in Bob’s living room and began
comparing notes. But as the afternoon wore on and they continued going over
lists, counting noses, they found themselves facing a staggering fact. In all,
in Ohio and in New York, they knew forty alcoholics who were
sober and were staying sober, and of this number at least twenty had been
completely dry for more than a year. Moreover, every single one of them had been
diagnosed as a hopeless case.
“Pass It On”
adds as to the
care of the count:
carefully rechecked this score, it suddenly burst upon us that a new light was
shining into the dark world of the alcoholic. . . . We actually wept for joy,
and Bob and Anne and I bowed our heads in silent thanks.
There have been a number of writings about the original 40 pioneers. The most
careful review was done by Richard K. of
whose books are cited below. Some of the other discussions of this topic have
contained serious inaccuracies. In
summary, it is not very difficult at this late point to verify with certainty
not only the fact of 40 pioneer cases but also virtually to verify the name of
each person constituting one of the 75% referred to by Bill W. and by the Big
Book statement in Alcoholics Anonymous,
4th ed., 2001, page xx.
Concerning the relative successes of Bill Wilson as compared to those of Dr. Bob
in Akron, A.A.’s “Pass It On”
There are also
some indications that Dr. Bob was the more effective sponsor. There is certainly
no denying that in the first few years, A.A. grew more rapidly in
than it did in New York,
and there were those who attributed this success to Dr. Bob’s strong leadership.
Bill and Lois
had permitted some of the men to live with them for as long as a year; they
apparently stopped the practice when they realized it did very little to help
the men actually stay sober. During this time, Bill was overoptimistic about the
effectiveness of the work he was doing.
In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age,
Bill Wilson wrote:
The first Cleveland meeting started
in June, 1939, at the home of Abby G. and his wife Grace. . . . But Abby’s
presently ran out of space. . . . These multiplying and bulging meetings
continued to run short of home space, and they fanned out into small halls and
church basements. . . . We old-timers in New York
and Akron had
regarded this fantastic phenomenon with deep misgivings. . . . Yet there in Cleveland we saw about
twenty members, not very experienced themselves, suddenly confronted by hundreds
of newcomers. . . . How could they possibly manage? We did not know. But a year
later we did know; for by then
had about thirty groups and several hundred members. . . . Yes, Cleveland’s results were
of the best. Their results were in fact so good, and A.A.’s membership elsewhere
so small, that many a Clevelander really thought A.A. had started there in the
first place. . . . Many of the essentials of A.A. as we now understand them were
to be found already in the pioneering groups in Akron,
New York, and Cleveland as early as 1939.
Documenting the extraordinary Cleveland results
(a 93% success rate), A.A.’s DR. BOB and
the Good Oldtimers quoted Cleveland
founder Clarence H. Snyder as follows:
They take it
so casually today. I think a little discipline is necessary. I think A.A. was
more effective in those days. Records in
show that 93 percent of those who came to us never had a drink again. When I
discovered that people had slips in A.A., it really shook me up. Today, it’s all
watered down so much. Anyone can wander in now.
4. In counting those who were, and those who were not, successful among the
early AAs, the surveyor must necessarily eliminate a number of potential
candidates. For example, there definitely were those who floated in and out and
never really tried the rigorous program that Dr. Bob conducted in Akron and that Frank Amos, the agent of John
D. Rockefeller, Jr., reported.
Recently, a new argument has appeared denigrating the successes of the original
40. It rests on the thesis that these 40 were pre-screened. It is enough of an
answer to suggest that they certainly were pre-screened in order to become
effective members of the Christian Fellowship. Most were hospitalized. All were
required to profess belief in God. All accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and
Savior. As the reporter of the early
must realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and
that he must never again drink anything with alcohol in it. He must surrender
himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope. . . .
[and] he must remove from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery, and
others which frequently accompany alcoholism.
These elements and others were “musts.” To try out for the “team,” and to be
accepted and qualified to remain “in the game,” the successful early AAs
certainly had to prove that they were willing to believe, that they were serious
about quitting permanently, and that they unhesitatingly were putting themselves
in God’s hands.
5. On the other hand, the rosters which I have mentioned contain the names and
other personal informatione.g., addresses and sometimes telephone numbers--of
the successful people in Akron, New York, and Cleveland, many of whom Sue Smith
Windows (Dr. Bob s daughter) knew personally. Sue confirmed the accuracy of
those names, and of that other personal information, to me, and to a number of
other researchers. One sees the names and other personal information of many
people whose names and addresses and signatures are found in Anne Smith's
address book. One sees these same names mentioned with frequency in A.A.
literature--names such as Bill W., Dr. Bob, Bill D.,
T., Bob E., Earl T., Bill Van H., the two Stanley brothers, J.D. Holmes, Wally
G., Ernie G., Jim Scott, Joe D., Bob O., Walter B., Hank P., Fitz Mayo,
and others listed in Richard K.'s title, A
New Light: “The First Forty.”
And, in Cleveland
rosters and the roster of 220 members I mentioned earlier, one can see names,
addresses, and phone numbers of those whose status was actually verified by the
founder of A.A. in Cleveland, Clarence S.
6. Was Alcoholics Anonymous effective in the early daysbefore and shortly after
it became known as “Alcoholics Anonymous”? What were the success rates of the
pioneers in early A.A.? Here is the official statement contained in the current
(4th) edition of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book,
who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way;
25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on
with A.A. showed improvement. [Alcoholics
Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from
Alcoholism, 4th ed. (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,
Inc., 2001), page xx.]
This group is critical because it is the group as to which specific names,
records, and outcomes were kept. In
Cleveland, there was a documented, 93% success rate based
on a specific survey conducted by Clarence S. and reported in A.A. literature.
Now let’s look at the question, “Is Alcoholics Anonymous effective
several factors which make accurate calculations of today’s A.A. success rates
First, the triennial surveys by A.A. itself are anything but reliable as
indicators of success, and many commentators have observed this point. I would
add that the ineffectiveness of these surveys can be attributed to the fact that
only A.A. groups are surveyed whereas many in one group go to several groups and
meetings each week, and are surveyed more than once. I experienced that myself.
Also, most transient AAs, moving from meeting to meeting and moving in and out
of A.A.sometimes in a matter of a few days--are simply never the subject of a
survey and certainly not a survey conducted by statistical standards.
Second, both the statements of deceased A.A. General Service Archivist Frank
Mauser and of other A.A. documents do confirm that one-third of those who come
into A.A. are out of the door in ninety days; and 50% are out of the door in a
Third, most research literature about surveys of professionals make it clear
that the surveys focused on those who chose to be interviewed, rather than on
those who were randomly selected from the ranks of A.A. itself.
Fourth, I believeand believe most AAs who are in the trenches today would
agreethat there are few if any rosters containing the names of members in
almost any group or meeting in A.A. today. Moreover, I believe the status of any
person in A.A. who has been surveyed cannot be pinned to any particular meeting
or group because A.A. today is frequented by people who may go to only one
meeting, or to several different kinds of meetings, or involve an A.A. person
compelled to a meeting by a probation officer or as the rider in a treatment
Fifth, today, the Tradition of anonymity makes an accounting much more difficult
than when early AAs knew each other personally, all belonged to one group (in
Akron), kept rosters with names and addresses and sobriety data, and used full
names in the records and rosters that existed.
Finally, there is the problem of who is an “alcoholic” in today’s A.A.
Alcoholics Anonymous today has a “singleness of purpose” theory, and it seems to
suggest that its meetings are only for those with an alcohol problem but not a
drug problem. But I personally don’t think one in 500 meets that test. Both
young and old today who come to A.A. have experimented with--and have often
become addicted to--every kind of drug imaginable: alcohol, prescription drugs,
cocaine, LSD, the sex-enhancers, marijuana, heroin, after-shave, “ice,” and a
dozen other concoctions. That is certainly the case among the many men I have
sponsored and also among those I have met (but not sponsored) in thousands of
A.A. meetings. Add to this the fact that surveys are scarcely able to
differentiate between a “real” alcoholic, a mental or emotional case, a “shopper
at the pie counter” of several Anonymous Fellowships, or a dually-addicted
person or drug addict.
Possibly, the greatest difficulty with surveys today is that they make the
assumption that A.A. today is not a religious organization and therefore that
the religious beliefs of members are irrelevant, whereas the early Christian
fellowship of Akron most certainly was religious and was founded on a belief in
God and His Son Jesus Christ and that cure of alcoholism was possible through
reliance on God.
existing surveys do show
Professionals have sometimes conducted surveys among veterans, hospital
patients, and selected groups of AAs or members of A.A. The accuracy and
integrity of those surveys is not the subject of my knowledge. But such surveys
do show the following facts about present-day A.A.: (a) A definite 75% fail to
(b) Somewhere between 2.9% and 7% maintain permanent sobriety; (c) As
often as not, those who have chosen the Alcoholics Anonymous path have the same
or an even lower success rate than those who got sober without A.A.; and (d)
To date there has been no adequate survey of success or failure among those AAs
who--like the pioneers--were born-again Christians, relied upon the Creator of
the heavens and the earth for help, and also often joined together in some
Christian church, Bible fellowship, or prayer group.
know the facts
There is no mystery among those of us in the A.A. Fellowship today who are in
the trenches, going to meetings, helping newcomers, sponsoring AAs, and
fellowshipping with other AAs in conferences, outings, dances, retreats, Unity
Days, movies, and the like. If a person is active in A.A., he or she goes to
conferences and meetings where sobriety “count-downs” are very often conducted.
No matter how large or small the number of people attending, the “count-downs”
almost invariably produce the same results: (a) A large number will identify
themselves as having 30 days or less; (b) a fairly large number, 90 days or
less; (c) a fairly limited number, one year of sobriety; (d) a very small
number, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, or 20 years; and (e) only a rare member
will claim 25 or more years. Yes. Old-timers exist. But one won’t find very many
of them in ordinary A.A. meetings today if one compares their number with a
total of the 2 million of A.A. members in the worldwide Fellowship today.
There is an encouraging caveat for enthusiastic A.A. Fellowship members who are
confronted with membership surveys, individual opinions, and published success
rates. I took great heart in the chapter titled “How It Works” beginning on page
58 of A.A.’s “Basic Text,” Alcoholics
Anonymous. The following statement is read and heard at almost every A.A.
meeting. It says: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed
our path.” The paragraph continues, “Those who do not recover are people who
cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program . . .” Even
when, in my earliest A.A. days, I couldn't identify the “path” the Big Book
described, I believed and counted on the veracity of its statement. In the
beginning, to my confused, bewildered, wandering mind, it was not a program
matter; it was my personal determination to follow the path, completely to give
myself to the program, to go where AAs went, do what they did, and expect to get
what they got. I don’t believe any survey can measure the existence or
non-existence of that determination. For me, it was nonetheless a guide to my
A.A. involvement. I thoroughly followed every step of the A.A. path that I was
directed to take. Furthermore, I put my trust in Almighty God; sought Him
through His son Jesus Christ, just as early AAs did; and continued to grow in my
understanding and fellowship with God and other believers through Bible study,
prayer, and witness. And I have not had a drinking or drug problem since two
days before I entered A.A. in the spring of 1986. Nor have a small handful of
the men, whom I have sponsored, who thoroughly followed the same route.
Moreover, surveys seldom measure the elements of perseverance, continuity, and
fidelity to the program at 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years of successful
participation. These elements are probably not even subject to survey. The fact
is well known in A.A. that a large number of successful AAs just don’t show up
any morenot for meetings, not for involvement, and not for service. Sadly, some
of these “old-timers” are known to go out and drink or use after many years of
A.A. has changed
dramatically over the years
Today, there is no homogeneous, close, personally-acquainted, single squad of
“Twelfth Step” workers in the worldwide Fellowship of two million. Detoxes,
rehabs, jails, prisons, mental wards, court supervision, collateral bridge
groups, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, and huge treatment
programs have changed the modern Twelve Step scene. In early A.A., one was
required to believe in God. In early A.A., one was required to make a decision
for Christ. In early A.A., one was required to observe Quiet Time with Bible
study, prayer, and seeking guidance. In early A.A., one was handed Christian
devotionals ad literature to study. In early A.A., one frequently lived in the
homes of like-minded, Christian, pioneer believers. In early A.A., one had the
strong, talented leadership of people like Dr. Bob Smith, his wife Anne Smith,
Henrietta Seiberling, the kindly T. Henry Williams, and the Reverend Samuel M.
Shoemaker, Jr., and his circle of believers. The founders and pioneers believed
that God could cure them of alcoholism, and they frequently said sopublically.
Is A.A. a
religion? And what has that to do with measuring its effectiveness?
The real question in measuring A.A.’s effectiveness yesterday and today does not
center on the question of whether A.A. is or is not a religion. To debate that
point is to ignore the central and controlling question: Is or is not A.A. about
God today? Early A.A. was. When
Bill Wilson started writing the Big Book, he was writing about what God can and
will do for the suffering alcoholic if He is sought.
Patently, the original program, as espoused both by Dr. Bob and by Bill, was a
program about finding and establishing a relationship with God. To emphasize
that point, Dr. Bob’s story in the First Edition of the Big Book concludes at
page 193 with these statements: “If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a
skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from
accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. . . . Your Heavenly Father
will never let you down.”
For the courts who have been called upon to decide the nature of A.A. from a
First Amendment standpoint, the foregoing language about God made the answer
quite simple. Almost all ruled that A.A. was a religion and that government
could not coerce inmates, for example, to participate in a religious program.
In other words, A.A., in the eyes of the judiciary, is, in the language of the
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit: “Based on the
monotheistic idea of a single God or Supreme Being.” Now
whether A.A. is or is not a religion provides little or no light on the question
whether or not A.A. is effective in curing its adherents of alcoholism by the
power of God.
But as I have said, A.A. has changed. Despite court decisions and common sense
observations as to the role of God in recovery, a completely new diversion has
been introduced into the scene and obscures the original A.A. answer that God
could and would relieve the suffering alcoholic if He were sought. Many,
including some writing A.A.’s more recent literature, have argued that: (1) A.A.
is not a religion; (2) A.A. is “spiritual but not religious”; (3) one may invent
some god of one’s own choosing; (4) A.A. is no longer, and is definitely not
today, a Christian fellowship; and (5) one doesn’t have to believe in anything.
Moreover, one cannot be cured, they say. The following pamphlet remarks
exemplify how the A.A. publishing arm describes the Fellowship today:
“We in A.A.
believe there is no such thing as a cure
for alcoholism. . . .
“Is A.A. a
religious organization? No. Nor is it allied with any religious Organization.
“There is a
lot of talk about God, though, isn’t there? The majority of A.A. members believe
that we have found the solution to our drinking problem not through individual
willpower, but through a power greater than ourselves. However, everyone defines
this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the
A.A. group, still others don’t believe in it at all. There is room in A.A. for
people of all shades of belief and nonbelief.”
spirited and complex arguments about God, religion, “spirituality,” and cure
enable us to determine the effectiveness of A.A. todaysuccess rates or not?
The answer is probably “no.”
There is no commonality in the composition of the Fellowship, the views of its
members about the questions, the beliefs about God or no God, the beliefs about
religion or no religion, the beliefs about cure or no cure, the beliefs about
the presence or absence of the power of God in recovery from alcoholism, the
beliefs about what “A.A.” is, or the opinions about whether alcoholism is a
Carry the point further. There are certainly tens of thousands of Christians in
A.A. today. Many, openly or silently, affirm their belief in God, their reliance
upon Him, and the miraculous healing they have received from Him. They haven’t
abandoned their religion, their church, their denomination, their faith, God,
Jesus Christ, or the Bible. I get phone calls, letters, and emails from many of
them every single day. For some of these people, their real problem is timidity,
intimidation, and uncertainty about their status in A.A. It is not about the
power of God or the importance of Jesus Christ or the study of the Bible. For
those, like myself, and many that I meet, know, and communicate with, the
“non-cure,” non-religious, non-belief statements above are not at all
representative of how we view Alcoholics Anonymous, cure, religion, God, Jesus
Christ, the Bible, or belief. We come into A.A. for help, whether it be in being
relieved of alcoholism, or in being able to meet the other problems that face us
as alcoholics. Few, if any, come in looking for argument or opinion or doctrinal
statements about belief or unbelief. Moreover, we seldom, if ever, hear an
accurate statement about early A.A.’s Christian fellowship, its principles and
practices, and its documented, undeniable cures.
That said, how can one measure the “effectiveness” of “A.A.” today? God either
is or He isn’t. Jesus Christ is either the Son of God or he isn’t. The Bible is
either the Word of God or it isn’t. AAs are either free to believe in any or all
of these or they aren’t. And if you don’t or can’t measure A.A. success without
knowing who believes what, what “A.A.” itself is, and what you can or can’t
believe, you have nothing to measure but a selected group of people with all
kinds of backgrounds, beliefs, addictions, and understandings concerning the
However, A.A. is
Effective and Can Be Effective Today
for a Child of
God Who Is Walking in Fellowship with God
The power of
God to heal is not under discussion in this article. Nor is
seeking healing from God in the name of Jesus Christ. Nor is
the evidence of the ages that children of God have successfully healed others by
the power of God. In
short, the effectiveness of healing by the power of God of alcoholics in and out
of A.A. is simply not being measured effectively at all.
no matter what is said about belief or unbelief in today’s A.A., those in the
A.A. Fellowship today should have no inability to echo Bill Wilson’s statement
that they (i.e., those in A.A.) have no monopoly on God. On the
other side of the picture comes the characterization: “A recent Gallup poll
showed (once again) that most individuals quit serious addictions without
counselors, programs, or treatment: People are about 10 times mores likely to
change on their own as with the help of doctors (physicians), therapists, or
self-help groups.” Some
analysts have also said that A.A. today has no special record of success that
cannot be found in many other groups and therapies. Other
analysts assert that many other organizations and disciplines are just as
effective, if not more so, as A.A.
the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous today, looked at as if it were a
homogenous Fellowship of like-minded drunks, is heavily debated. The striking
contrast is that the effectiveness of the Christian Fellowship in Akron, though seemingly
put on the shelf when it comes to surveys, can be proven by convincing,
documented, extant evidence.
recovery within A.A. itself today, the following conclusion seems more than
justified. If a person throws himself or herself wholeheartedly into a life
without the necessity for drinking, remembers what excessive drinking does to
him or her, and counts on God for help in resisting temptation, that person can
have the same success as a member of today’s A.A. Society as a member of early
AA had when he thoroughly followed the path of those who did succeed with
astonishing success in their Christian Fellowship of the 1930’s.
If you would like to see more detailed information on A.A. success rates than I
have presented in this article, please see my titles.
Dick B.: PO Box 837,
See: (a) Richard K., Early A.A.:
Separating Fact from Fiction: How Revisionists Have Led Our History
Astray (Haverhill, MA: Golden Text
Publishing Co., 2003); (b) Richard K.,
So You Think Drunks Can’t Be
Cured: Press Releases by Witnesses to the Cure (Haverhill, MA:
Golden Text Publishing Co., 2003); and (c) Richard K., A New Light: “The First Forty” (Haverhill, MA: Golden Text
Publishing Co., 2003).
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, NY:
Alcoholics Anonymous World Service, Inc., 1980), 145-46.
The names include: Joseph Doppler, William Dotson,
Evans, E. W. Galbraith, Ernest Gerig, Albert Goldrich, Rollie Hemsley,
J. D. Holmes, Silvia Kauffman, Tom Lucas,
Oviatt, John Reese, Jim Scott, Dr. R. H. Smith, Clarence Snyder, Paul
Stanley, Richard Stanley, Earl Treat, A. L. Trowbridge, and Harry
Zellers. Sometimes, the spelling of these names is wrong. Sometimes, the
errors have been corrected. Sometimes, there are notations where a
listed person became deceased. And sometimes, the names of the persons
are written out in longhand with the date of sobriety next to the name.
In many cases, corrections were made by Dr. Bob Smith’s daughter, Sue
Smith Windows, who was present in the early A.A. days and knew many
Dick B., Cured! Proven Help for
Alcoholics and Addicts (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc.,
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 123.
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A.
(New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957 ), 76.
“RHS: Cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Our Beloved Dr. Bob” (New York,
NY: AA Grapevine, Inc., 1951), 8
Robert Thomsen, Bill W. (New
York: Harper & Row, 1975), 266.
“Pass It On” (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984),
For example, there is an article by someone who calls himself
“Barefoot.” The title of his article is “Pioneers of Alcoholics
Anonymous – 1934 - 1939.” (http://www.barefootsworld.net/aapioneers.html;
accessed 11/20/08). The author (“Barefoot”) claims in his article: “The
below listed pioneers are the men and women listed in the Foreword of
the First Edition of the Big Book.” First of all, no names at all are
listed in the Foreword of the First Edition of
Alcoholics Anonymous (pages
vii and viii). Second, in the Table of Contents (called “Contents”pages
v and vi), no names are provided. Only the titles of personal stories
are given, and these titles quite clearly involve personal stories of
people like Clarence Snyder (“Home Brewmeister”) who did not get sober
until February 11, 1938. [See Mitchell K.,
How It Worked: The Story of
Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio
(Washingtonville, NY: AA Big Book Study Group, 1999), 54.]
Another example is Archie Trowbridge, who got sober in September 1938
and whose personal story is titled, in the First Edition, “The Fearful
One.” (Archie’s story was renamed “The Man Who Mastered
Fear” in the Second, Third, and Fourth Editions.
Archie’s story appears at pages 332-35 of the First
Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. My source for his sobriety date is a roster
which I received from A.A. historian Earl Husband, “edited with notes
from Akron Archives as to its members and notes from
Burwell’s diary.” In the collection of Dr. Bob’s daughter, Sue Smith
Windows, the Archie
Trowbridge notation is as follows: “X Archie
Trowbridge 9/38.” With a further notation: “(X---NO SLIPS).”
T. is often credited as the founder of A.A. in Detroit. For further details, see “Transcript
of Archie T.’s Talk on the
History of AA in Detroit”:
http://www.akronaaarchives.org/archieT.htm; accessed 11/21/08.
is no citation for, or documentation for, the “Barefoot” statement about
who the pioneers were. Many of the people on the “Barefoot” list failed
to gain sobriety and were never mentioned in Big Book literature.
However, if one counts the bold-faced names on the “Barefoot” list up to
November of 1937, and the statement that the “bolded names achieved
permanent sobriety,” one comes very close to the 30 out of 40 people who
appear to be those referred to, not in the Big Book, but by Bill W. in
the various accounts of the 1937 “nose counting.”
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 21-22.
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 261. On page 108 of
his biography of Clarence Snyder, Mitchell K. wrote: “Two years after
the publication of the book, Clarence made a survey of all of the
members in Cleveland. He concluded that, by keeping most
of the ‘old program,’ including the Four Absolutes and the Bible,
ninety-three percent of those surveyed had maintained uninterrupted
sobriety.” See: Mitchell K., How
It Worked, 108.
See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers,
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 131.
See, for example: (a) Barbara S. McCrady and William R. Miller, eds.,
Research on Alcoholics Anonymous:
Opportunities and Alternatives (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center of
Alcohol Studies, Publications Division, 1993), 3-11, 41-76, 137-52,
251-99, 339-55; (b) Stanton Peele and Charles Bufe, with
Brodsky, Resisting 12-Step
Coercion: How to Fight Forced Participation in AA, NA, or 12-Step
Treatment (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2000), 44-81; and (c)
Charles Bufe, Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure, 2d ed., rev. & exp. (Tucson, AZ:
See Sharp Press, 1998), 86-104.
This point was also confirmed to me in a letter from Enoch Gordis, M.D.,
N.I.A.A.A., June 23, 1995a letter containing also A.A.’s 1989
Membership Survey. (See Dick B.,
New Light on Alcoholism, 569-74.)
On this point, see again: (a)
Barbara S. McCrady and William R. Miller, eds.,
Research on Alcoholics Anonymous;
(b) Stanton Peele and Charles Bufe, with Archie Brodsky,
Resisting 12-Step Coercion; and (c) Charles Bufe,
Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure.
In Chapter 17 of Research on
Alcoholics Anonymous, Richard L. Gorsuch points up the difficulty
stating, at page 301: “Despite the importance of spirituality in
Alcoholics Anonymous’ (AA) 12 steps, addiction research has seldom
measured spirituality (Miller, 1991). The purpose of this chapter is
first to examine several definitions of spirituality that might be
important for measuring this facet of A.A.” See also pages 301-18.
“It is an axiom in the field that about 75% of those who turn to A.A.
drop out by the end of the first year” (J.
Tonigan, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the Research Division, Center on
Alcoholism, in New Mexico, as quoted in the
Akron Beacon Journal, Friday,
June 9, 1995:). See also Dick B.,
New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed. (Kihei,
HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999), 570-71; Joan Matthews
Larson, Ph.D., Seven Weeks to
Sobriety: The Proven Program to Fight Alcoholism through Nutrition
(New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1992); Charlie Bishop, Jr., and Bill
Pittman, To Be Continued ..... The
Alcoholics Anonymous World Bibliography 1935-1994 (Wheeling, WV:
Bishop of Books, 1994), xiii; and Susan Powter,
Sober . .
. and Staying That Way: The Missing Link in the Cure for
Alcoholism (New York, NY: Fireside, 1999), 15.
Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism,
571-72; see also William L. Playfair, M.D.,
The Useful Lie (Wheaton, IL:
Crossway Books, 1991), 65-66; and Charles Bufe,
Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or
Cure?, 2d ed. (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998), 90-92.
Herbert Fingarette, Heavy
Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease (Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press, 1988), 89.
For documentation that early Akron AAs were, and regarded themselves as,
a Christian Fellowship, see DR.
BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 118. See also: Dick B.,
The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics
Anonymous, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc.,
1998), 187-88, 197-98, 218-21. The quoted pages document these facts:
(1) Dr. Bob described A.A. as a Christian Fellowship; (2) In June of
1991, Dr. Bob’s daughter (Sue Smith Windows) informed me that Dr. Bob
described every King School Group meeting (of A.A.) as a Christian
Fellowship; and (3) Akron A.A. old-timer Bob Evans told A.A. Archivist
Nell Wing, in a letter to her of March 14, 1975, that Dr. Bob told his
business friends that the alcoholic squad were “a Christian Fellowship.”
Bob Evans wrote Lois Wilson to the same effect in a memo to Lois that
was written on an Akron “Four Absolutes” pamphlet. I have
examined copies of each document and lodged them in the Griffith Library
in East Dorset, Vermont.
See Dick B., Cured! Proven Help
for Alcoholics and Addicts; and Dick B.,
When Early AAs Were Cured and Why,
3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise
Research Publications, Inc., 2006).
See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers,
The First Edition of the Big Book is titled
Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of
How More Than One Hundred Men Recovered from Alcoholism (New York
City, NY: Works Publishing Company, 1939). Two or three examples from
that edition will start the ball rolling: (1) On pages 35-36, Bill
wrote: “The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty
that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is
indeed miraculous.” (2) On page 38, Bill wrote: “What seemed at first a
flimsy reed, has proved to be the loving and powerful hand of God. A new
life has been given us or, if you prefer, ‘a design for living’ that
really works.” (3) On page 39, Bill wrote: “Each individual, in the
personal stories, describes in his own language, and from his own point
of view the way he established his relationship with God.” (4) On page
57, Bill wrote: “That means we have written a book which we believe to
be spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are
going to talk about God.” In fact, in A.A.’s “Pass
It On,” the text states at page 198, “The very first draft of the
Twelve Steps, as Bill wrote them that night, has been lost.” The text
then sets forth, “an approximate reconstruction” of the second and third
steps as Bill first set them down: “2. Came to believe that God can
restore us to sanity. 3. Made a decision to turn our wills and our lives
over to the care and direction of God.”
See, for example, Peele and Bufe,
Resisting 12 Step Coercion, 82-129.
Peele and Bufe, Resisting 12 Step
And note this contention by Mel B.,
New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of
the Twelve Step Miracle (Center City, MN: Hazelden Foundation,
1991), on page 5: “AA members have always issued disclaimers when
discussing God: typical is, ‘Our program is spiritual, not religious.’
If pressed for what the program’s actual definition of ‘spiritual’ is,
however, it is doubtful that many AA members could explain.”
A Newcomer Asks . . .
(NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980).
On the topic of the power of God to heal, see, for example: “. . . I am
the LORD that healeth thee” (Exod 15:26b); and “. . . who [the LORD]
healeth all thy diseases.” (Psa 103:3).
On the topic of seeking healing from God in the name of Jesus Christ,
see, for example: “. . . whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my
name, he may give it you.” (John 15:16b); and “. . . In the name of
Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6b).
On the topic of children of God through the ages having successfully
healed others by the power of God, see, for example: “So then after the
Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on
the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where,
the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” (Mark
16:19, 20); “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me,
the works that I do shall he do also; and greater
works than these shall he do;
because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12); the review of miracles not
to be forgotten in Dick B., When
Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 143-159; Dick B.,
Why Early A.A. Succeeded, 175-76, 267-80; and Dick B.,
See Gorsuch, Research on
Alcoholics Anonymous, 301.
So said Bill Wilson on page 95 of the Big Book: “We have no monopoly on
God; we merely have an approach that worked with us.”
James DeSena, Overcoming Your
Alcohol, Drug, and Recovery Habits: An Empowering Alternative to A.A.
and 12-Step Treatment (Tucson, AZ:
See Sharp Press, 2003), 171.
Stanton Peele, Diseasing of
America: How We Allowed Recovery Zealots and the Treatment Industry to
Convince Us We Are out of Control (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Publishers, 1995), 73-79, 199-200.
See Michael Lemanski, A History of
Addiction & Recovery in the United States (Tucson,
AZ: See Sharp Press, 2001),
119-42; and Jack Trimpey, The
small book: A Revolutionary Alternative for Overcoming Alcohol and Drug
Dependence, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Delacourt Press, 1992).
See: (a) Dick B., The Good Book
and the Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible (http://dickb.com/goodbook.shtml), 7-12; (b) Dick
B., New Light on Alcoholism,
569-74; (c) Dick B., The Oxford
Group & Alcoholics Anonymous (http://dickb.com/Oxford.shtml), 1-16; (d) Dick
B., Cured!, 1-18; (e) Dick B., Why
Early A.A. Succeeded (http://dickb.com/aabiblestudy.shtml); and (f)
Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured
and Why (http://dickb.com/alcoholismcured.shtml),
“In the Fellowship’s early days, there
was no A.A. literature, and the young groups leaned heavily on Bible reading for
inspiration and guidance. Meetings usually closed with the Lord’s Prayer
because, as A.A. co-founder Bill W. later explained, ‘it did not put speakers to
the task, embarrassing to many, of composing prayers of their own.’”
Members of the
Clergy ask about Alcoholics Anonymous (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc, 1992), 14.
An Unofficial Guide For the Perplexed
Floyd P. Garrett,
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