Is A.A. For Alcoholics Only?
By Bill W.
Few would argue that A.A. cofounder Bill Wilson was ahead of his time. In this reprint from the September 1947 issue of Guideposts, Bill's first nationally published magazine article, he poses a question that resonates today.
Our most enthusiastic friends think Alcoholics Anonymous is a modern miracle. So they ask, "Why can't A.A. principles be applied to any personal problem?" The world of today is a problem world because it is full of problem people. We are now on the greatest emotional bender of all time; practically no one of us is free from the tightening coils of insecurity, fear, resentment and avarice. If A.A. can revive an alcoholic by removing these paralyzing liabilities from him, it must be strong medicine. Perhaps the rest of us could use the same prescription. Not being reformers, nor representing any particular sectarian or medical point of view, we A.A.'s can only tell the story of what has happened to us and suggest the simple (but not easy) principles upon which, as ex-drinkers, our very lives now depend.
Fifty thousand alcoholics*-the men and women members of A.A.-have found release from their fatal compulsion to drink. Each month two thousand more set foot on the A.A. high road to freedom from obsession-an obsession so subtly powerful that once engulfed, few alcoholics over the centuries have ever survived. We alcoholics have always been the despair of society and, as our lives became totally unmanageable, we despair of ourselves. Obsession is the word for it.
But now, largely through A.A., this impossible soul sickness is being banished. Each recovering alcoholic carries his tale to the next. In a brief dozen years the A.A. message has spread, chain letter fashion, over the United States, Canada and a dozen foreign lands. Obsession is being exorcised wholesale.
What then, is this message whose power can restore the alcoholic his sanity and thenceforth enable him to live soberly, happily and usefully in a very confused world? The A.A. Recovery Program relates it as follows:
Simple, these principles, yet a large order indeed. When one tries to apply them he is bound to collide with a most heavy obstacle. That obstacle is one's own pride.
Who, for example, cares to admit complete defeat? Who wishes to admit to himself and others his serious defects of character? Who relishes forgiving his enemies and making amends to people he has harmed? Who would like to give freely of himself without ever demanding reward? How many can really bow before "the God of their own understanding" in real faith that a Higher Power will do for them what they cannot do for themselves?
Yet A.A.'s find that if we go "all out" in daily practice of our 12 Steps we soon commence to live in a new, unbelievable world. Our pride yields to humility and our cynicism to faith. We begin to know serenity. We learn enough of patience, tolerance, honesty and service to subdue our former masters-insecurity, resentment and unsatisfied dreams of power. We find that God can be relied upon; that our strength can come out of weakness; that perhaps only those who have tasted the fruits of dependence on a Higher Power can understand the true meaning of personal liberty, freedom of the human spirit.
For us of A.A. these are not theories; they are the prime facts of our very existence. The average A.A. member feels that he deserves little personal credit for his new way of life. He knows he might never have achieved enough humility to find God unless he had been beaten to his knees by alcohol. He was once that egocentric, but in the end it had to be God. Yet we of A.A. cannot but feel that great things certainly await those who earnestly try our 12 Steps substituting their own distressing problem for that of alcohol. Nor do we think everyone needs to be so completely beaten as we were. To us, grace is an infinite abundance which surely can be shared by all who will renounce their former selves enough to truly seek it out. We often feel like shouting this ancient charter of men's liberty from the rooftops of thousands of our homes-A.A. homes that would never have been, but for the grace of God.
* Today A.A. has nearly two million members and 100,000 groups worldwide.