Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has grown to become a worldwide movement, and its principles are now embraced by many religions. But who are the people who started AA?
It all began in Akron, Ohio, in 1935 when Bill Wilson, a stockbroker from New York, met with Dr. Bob Smith, a local surgeon who was also an alcoholic.
Bill Wilson was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, a twelve-step program that has helped millions of alcoholics. Founded in 1935, Wilson’s ideas helped shape the modern world of addiction treatment.
The story of Bill Wilson’s life is remarkable and complex. He suffered from debilitating bouts of depression, was a womanizer, and experimented with psychedelics.
His friendship with Aldous Huxley was also significant. It led to a trip to California in 1956 when he worked with psychedelic researcher Sidney Cohen.
The psychedelic experience and the relationship with Cohen were key to his recovery. Ultimately, Wilson was able to stay sober and help others find their way to sobriety.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step recovery program that helps people overcome alcoholism. Its anonymous, group-based approach works for people of all backgrounds and beliefs.
It is an offshoot of The Oxford Group, a spiritual movement that sought to recapture the power of first-century Christianity in the modern world. As a result, Aa is broader in its religious interpretation than some other addiction support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous.
Founded in Akron, Ohio, Aa is now an international organization with an estimated 100,000 local groups worldwide. The Big Book, its bible, has sold millions of copies.
Bob Smith, born in Buffalo, New York, participated in the Greenwich Village comedy scene in the 1980s and teamed up with out gay comedians Danny McWilliams and Jaffe Cohen to form the trio "Funny Gay Males." They toured internationally and performed at the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993.
The Oxford Group was a nonalcoholic religious fellowship which focused on universal spiritual values in daily life. Its leader, Samuel Shoemaker, was an Episcopal clergyman.
The groupers met in a quiet room at a particular time of day and used pen and paper to ask God’s guidance for the rest of the day. The Bible was their main source, but other literature was read as well.
Alcoholics Anonymous was derived from a combination of many things, but most importantly the Oxford Group and its founder Frank Buchman. It also benefited from the mistakes that the Oxford Group made.
The Oxford Group was a Protestant movement, but it was criticized by some Roman Catholic authorities. In the late 1930s, some denominational spokesmen questioned Buchman’s work and negatively portrayed him in the press. Then, AA decided it needed to be independent of the Oxford Group in order to avoid controversies. It was a good decision. Now AA is active in more than 180 countries around the world.
The Big Book is the most important text in Alcoholics Anonymous and is read regularly at meetings. It provides an honest, helpful and uplifting perspective on the problems associated with alcoholism.
The idea behind the Big Book is to help an alcoholic find a power greater than him that will solve their problem. The book is also full of personal success stories by AA members who have successfully overcome their alcoholism.
During the early days of AA, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith envisioned paid AA missionaries and free or inexpensive treatment centers, but fundraising efforts failed.
As a result, the idea of self-publishing the Big Book was conceived. Initially the book didn’t sell, and 5000 copies sat in the warehouse. However, this did not deter the founders from trying their luck. They succeeded in securing an interview on the radio program, We the People with Gabriel Heather to promote AA and its book sales.