and the Twelve Steps
by A. Orange
Every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting begins with several people reading several standard texts, the articles of faith of the group. One of these articles of faith is of course the Twelve Steps. They are prefaced by a statement like "This is how we achieved sobriety, and if you want what we have, and are ready to go to any length to get it, then you are ready to take certain steps." (Meaning: You are ready to do Bill Wilson's Twelve Steps.)
Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it — then you are ready to take certain steps.Those statements imply that the original members of A.A. looked long and hard for something, anything, that would work to save alcoholics from self-destruction, anything to break the cycle of addiction [quit, relapse, quit, relapse, quit, relapse], and that the Twelve Steps were what finally worked for those pioneering alcoholics.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Bill Wilson, Dr. Robert Smith, and Clarence Snyder had all been enthusiastic, true-believer members of Frank Buchman's Oxford Group cult religion, but the other Group members asked Bill to leave, and to take his shabby alcoholics with him, because Bill was spending too much time with his alcoholics, and not enough time following the dictates of the cult leader, Frank Buchman. Still, Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and Clarence Snyder believed in the religious tenets of Buchmanism so much that they just formed their own independent religious group, with exactly the same beliefs as before. (In fact, it was the same group; Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith and Clarence Snyder simply split off and hijacked and took over the alcoholics' branch of Frank Buchman's cult.)
Bill Wilson had previously been ambushed by his old friend and drinking buddy Ebby Thacher at a very vulnerable moment, in December of 1934, when he was sick and detoxing from alcohol in a hospital, and tripping his brains out on delirium tremens and hallucinogenic drugs. Under those conditions, Ebby succeeded in converting Bill into a believer in Frank Buchman's cult. The conversion worked so well that Wilson continued to believe in Buchmanism even after he was kicked out of it.
There was also one more very important requirement, one that is apparently not listed in these six practices, "Go recruit more members for the Group." Actually, many Oxford Group believers would say, "It is so listed. It's Practice Five. Converting people to the right religious beliefs and 'principles', so that they can get into Heaven too, is definitely helping them. So working all day long to get new converts for the Group is 'helping others selflessly.'" In fact, because the Oxford Groups and Moral Re-Armament had an official policy of never, ever dispensing charity to anybody, recruiting more people into the cult was the only way that the Buchmanites ever "helped others selflessly".
Those were also, essentially, the original six steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, years before the group even had that name — back when it was just "The Alcoholic Squadron" of The Oxford Group. Some of the very early A.A. members mention the original six steps in the "Big Book", Alcoholics Anonymous. These steps are listed in the historical autobiographical story He Sold Himself Short (on page 292 of the 3rd edition the Big Book, and page 263 of the 4th edition):
In December, 1938, while writing the Big Book, Bill Wilson simply rewrote the list of Buchmanite practices, very verbosely, adding enough words to change the six or seven "principles" into twelve. Bill's wife, Lois, allegedly described the process this way: (I say 'allegedly' because the book was probably ghost-written for her by the A.A. faithful. Lois supposedly wrote that book when she was very old and infirm and close to death, so it is hard to say what part of the book is her memories, and what parts their wishful thinking and parroting of the standard party line.)
By this time Bill was ready to start the fifth chapter, "How It Works." He was not feeling well, but the writing had to go on, so he took pad and pencil to bed with him. How could he bring the program alive so that those at a distance, reading the book, could apply it to themselves and perhaps get well? He had to be very explicit. The six Oxford Group principles that the Fellowship had been using were not definite enough. He must broaden and deepen their implications. He relaxed and asked for guidance.
Bill Wilson also described the writing of the Twelve Steps this way:
Well, we finally got to the point where we really had to say what this book was all about and how this deal works. As I told you this had been a six-step program then.
And Bill also wrote:
Where did the early AAs find the material for the remaining ten Steps? Where did we learn about moral inventory, amends for harm done, turning our wills and lives over to God? Where did we learn about meditation and prayer and all the rest of it? The spiritual substance of our remaining ten Steps came straight from Dr. Bob's and my own earlier association with the Oxford Groups, as they were then led in America by that Episcopal rector, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker.
Then Bill presented his Twelve Steps to the other early A.A. members, who promptly freaked out and screamed bloody murder. They clearly foresaw that Bill's dogmatic religiosity was going to drive away many of the very alcoholics whom the program was supposed to help. A loud shouting match ensued, and Bill was forced to compromise.
So Bill Wilson toned down the language somewhat: The word "God" in Step 2 was replaced with "a Power greater than ourselves". The phrase "as we understood Him" was added after the word "God" in Step 3 (and later in Step 11). In Step 7, the "on our knees" phrase was deleted from "Humbly, on our knees, asked Him to remove our shortcomings."
But the rest of the steps were left pretty much unchanged, except for this one giant concession: In the Big Book, the Twelve Steps were preceded by a statement saying that they were only "suggested as a program of recovery." (The true believers laugh, and say, "Yeh, it's only a suggestion. But you will die if you don't follow the suggestion.")
These are the Steps that came out of that process (as printed in the original 1939 multilith edition):
Nowhere in the Twelve Steps does it say that you should actually quit
drinking, or help anyone else to quit drinking, either.
Nowhere in the Twelve Steps do the words "sobriety",
The word "alcohol" was only mentioned once, where it was patched into the
first step as a substitute for the word "sin" —
Bill Wilson wrote,
The Twelve Steps are not a formula for curing or treating alcoholism,
and they never were.
(See this analysis of the Twelve Steps.)
The commandment in Step 12, which is repeated in Tradition 5, was to "carry this message to others, especially alcoholics".
Carry what message?
The message that William G. Wilson's version of Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman's religion is the answer to alcoholism — the message that enthusiastic obsession with Frank Buchman's superstitious occult practices will save people from alcoholism.
Bill Wilson believed that "the only radical remedy ... for
dipsomania is religiomania." Meaning:
the only cure for alcoholism is religious fanaticism — religious mania.
That suggestion allegedly came from Carl Jung,
the famous Swiss psychiatrist, and when Carl Jung said "mania",
he really did mean "mania", as in "maniac".
According to the standard A.A. version of the story, a rich American with a drinking problem, Rowland Hazard, had gone to Carl Jung, in Switzerland, for treatment. He had relapsed in spite of Jung's best treatment. Jung apologized, and said that he felt sure now that Rowland was one of the hopeless alcoholics, one for whom there was no cure. When Rowland asked Jung if there was any sure way for an alcoholic to recover — truly recover, Jung is quoted as saying,
Yes, there is. Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you. With many individuals the methods which I employed are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description.
It seems that Jung's pronouncement that the only hope for Rowland was a "spiritual experience" was the final stage of Rowland's treatment. Rowland felt that such an experience was impossible. He felt so hopeless that he was "deflated" to the point of "giving up." As a result, he had the "rearrangement", and became an enthusiastic new convert to Dr. Frank Buchman's "Oxford Groups" religion.
Rowland Hazard allegedly later explained it to Ebby Thacher, who in turn explained it to William Wilson, who explained it to Dr. Robert Smith. Then Bill and Dr. Bob assembled a religious group of alcoholics, inside of the Oxford Group cult, that years later became Alcoholics Anonymous.
So the Twelve Steps really were, right from the very start, intended to
Bill Wilson believed that religious fanaticism — religiomania — was The Only Answer for alcoholics, and he said so often.
And note that Bill Wilson also wanted to convert non-alcoholics to his new religion, too.22 Alcoholics Anonymous isn't just about quitting drinking. The original wording of Step Twelve commanded A.A. members to "carry this message to others, especially alcoholics." So non-alcoholic "others" were also fair game for being recruited into Bill Wilson's "spiritual fellowship". They go into other branches of the 12-Step religion like Al-Anon — the wives' and families' auxiliary, Alateen — the teenagers' groups, and ACOA — "Adult Children Of Alcoholics".)
Oh, by the way, the "mental rearrangement" and religiomania and cult religion routine didn't work for either Rowland Hazard or Ebby Thacher. Both eventually quit the Oxford Group and went back to drinking.
Last updated 13 February 2013.
Copyright © 2013, A. Orange