The 15,000 men and women who thronged California's Long Beach Memorial
Stadium last week differed from most conventioneers in one major
respect, there was no danger that any of them would get together in a
hotel room to kill a bottle. For this was Alcoholics Anonymous,
mustering its recovered, sworn-off drinkers, their relatives and well-
wishers to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Uncrowned but undisputed head of A.A. is Bill W., a tall Vermonter in
his early 60s who drank himself out of a lucrative career as a high-risk
stock operator. "In 1934," he recalls, "My doctor told
my wife that if I
didn't stop I'd have to be locked up because I'd either go mad or die."
Bill W. didn't stop until he drank himself into a hospital and realized
that he must stop or die. He had to find another drunk in the same
predicament so that by helping each other they would ensure their own
survival. In Akron, in June of 1935, he found his friend, Dr. Bob (who
died of cancer in 1950). Together they founded A.A. and laid out the
basis for its famous twelve tenets.
Neither Chase nor Chastise. Last week, in his unofficial presidential
address, Co-Founder Bill W. noted that the organization today counts
300,000 members in more than 8,000 groups in about 80 countries. Yet
A.A. did not congratulate itself for any wholesale success. "In
alone there are still at least 5,000,000 active alcoholics, and perhaps
25 million worldwide. It is an awesome number that A.A. would be glad
help, said Bill W. We are not going to chase them, chastise them or
campaign for them. All we can hope is that they will come to us for help
when help is what they want."
A.A.'s wait-and-accept philosophy is the key to its success to date.
About 50% of those who enroll themselves stop drinking as against 5%
reported by physicians with any pre-A.A. treatment. Of the drop-outs
about half return to the fold. This is not to say that 50% to 75% of
alcoholics will respond to A.A., many of the toughest cases simply never
The Thought of Power. The passion for public anonymity is readily
understandable at the individual level. Every alcoholic needs pals on
whom he can lean for help, and whom he can help to bolster his own ego.
At the organizational level the anonymity is more complex. Bill W., a
forceful speaker with a cutting wit explains: "Identification leads
power drives. The thought of power is one reason we were drunks in the
first place. A.A. takes no denominational, political or economic stands.
It stays out of controversy. We do not claim that anonymity is a virtue.
Rather it is a protection." In proof of his own passion for anonymity,
Bill W. has refused an honourary doctorate from Yale. "A degree
what?" he asks. "For being the world's leading drunk?"
Source: Time, July 11, 1960.Discuss this article