An Abbreviated History Of Alcoholics Anonymous

Pierre Fontenot Thursday, December 19, 2019 Comments Off on An Abbreviated History Of Alcoholics Anonymous
An Abbreviated History Of Alcoholics Anonymous

Before Caesar, before Alexander the Great, before Ramses II, before mankind figured out axle and wheel, humans were fermenting grain and fruit and making hooch.  From day one, some people couldn’t stop drinking.  Billions of people, over thousands of years, some percent were predisposed for addiction…

TV Drunks Were Cute When I Was A Kid

Otis, on the Andy Griffith Show.  Dean Martin with a martini glass.  Then in college, walking Bourbon Street in N.O., there’s the not-cute version, a wino lying on cardboard, under an awning.  

‘That was once somebodies’ little kid,’ would’ve been a nice thing to think, but I doubt I did.  I was pretty black ‘n white back then; winners win, losers lose.  Life has sure “grayed” me up since.

From adorable infant to homeless wino, that’s quite the fall.  He’s just one.  How many have there been, out of all the billions who’ve lived?  Gifts and talents, hopes and dreams, friends and family, all derailed by their wiring, until…

…a drunk named Bill W., having considered suicide, did an SOS prayer, “If there be a God, let Him show Himself!”  God showed.  If there was a miracle, it’s not that one was saved, it’s that God seemed to require the saved, to save another.  

Sober for months, Bill W. found himself in a strange city.  Alone at a hotel, the bar just steps away, the temptation great, he realizes, “I need another alcoholic as much as he needs me.”  He opens a phone directory, calls a random church, does the pastor know anybody with a drinking problem…  He’s referred to a “Dr. Bob,” who reluctantly agrees to meet for 15 minutes.  Dr. Bob has the shakes, Bill W. has the hope.  The 15 minutes lasts 5 hours.

After all these thousands of years of no hope, for so many, there it begins, not a cure, but a recipe, a playbook.  It all starts at Step 1, honesty, “We admitted that we were powerless – and our lives had become unmanageable.” 

The 12 Steps

If the 1st Step is knowing you need help, then the 12th Step is knowing that you need to help others.  “Having had a spiritual awakening…we tried to carry this message to alcoholics…”

Working with Dr. Bob keeps Bill “dry.”  When Dr. Bob is dry, they team up, shake the bushes for a third, a guy named Bill D.  #4 is Ernie G.  It’s just-like-that, what Christians immediately recognize as “evangelism”, not holding onto, but sharing, the good news.

A.A. starts in 1935.  Bill W. goes back to New York.  Dr. Bob stays in Akron, Ohio.  Letters back and forth.  In 1937 they visit again, compare notes; between the two, they count 40 people who are now sober.  (A hospital/sanitarium, by comparison, could clean drunks up for days and weeks, but it didn’t last, as in zero.)  Bill W., the dreamer, looks at the 40, and thinks, “…it could one day circle the globe…”

This tiny tribe, this feeble start, they have to figure out the other 10 steps.  It’s all Biblical common sense, the honesty, doing a moral/character inventory, the confessing, the make right with people they’ve wronged…

I particularly admire the 2nd Step.  “Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  It’s the Higher Power clause.  In the early arm-wrestling among the founders, such wisdom, to not use the Christian God as gatekeeper!  It does not exclude.  Come as you are, do your own seeking, for Something greater than yourself.  Seek, and ye shall find.

Imagine that A.A. is the hospital, but there are no doctors, no administrators.  The “patients” have to figure out their own treatment.  It’s chaos, a great noise of personalities, but that’s where the miracle happens.  Take money…

The early founders have no money.  The Great Depression is going on.  Bill W. spends all his time working with drunks.  His wife makes $19 a week at a department store.  Dr. Bob is in danger of his home being foreclosed.  Both of them have taken drunks into their home.  

Money would sure help, or would it?

Early on, a test.  A woman has left A.A. $10,000 (in 1930’s value) in her will.  Should they accept it?  Who wouldn’t?  It looks like an answered prayer.  God’s manna, daily bread, yadda, yadda…  

The founders are in favor, but they listen; the group sees what they don’t, that the minute they become “professional” they will lose their credibility.  There must be no asterisk between them and their cause, the next alcoholic.  It must be all give, give, give, no get.

So they turn down the money, and gain something greater, credibility.  Self-supporting from day one, even today, when they pass the hat, it’s coins and bills, rarely a bill bigger than a dollar.

Journalists, great skeptics by trade, the minute they realize that A.A. is above the taint of money, become their great promoters.

Early on the group embraced anonymity.  At first, to make strangers feel safe in a meeting, but it has a bigger role; the early founders realize that no personality should overshadow the group.  The power of A.A. is the all, not the parts.  Nobody speaks for the group, the group does not lend its name, the group does not get distracted in current events and causes.  A.A. stays A.A. doing the job of A.A. 

Time 100 Persons Of The 20th Century

As Y2K approached, Time Magazine assembled a panel of experts to pick the most important people of the 20th century.  Many need no full name.  Einstein.  MLK.  Ghandi.  Ali.  All defined a century, but the best of them, improved the future.  Quite the list, even at the bottom, there’s Rosa Parks, #95.  Mother Teresa came in at #99.  That last one, #100, Bill W., co-creator of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Where once Bill W. and Dr. Bob delighted in growing from 2 to 40, now it’s all over the world.  The 12 Steps have become the blueprint for ALL addictions. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to the theme of never-too-late.  Bill W. was nearly 40, Dr. Bob was mid-50’s, before sobriety.  All those lost decades…  But look how it turned out.  In researching this story, God’s fingerprints are everywhere.  It just goes to show, no matter how low we go, we plus Him, that’s a serious team.

Comments, questions, or to order a book version of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories, please email

Comments are closed.