July 11, 1960
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
the U.S. 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 to 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% to 75% of all alcoholics will
respond to A.A., many of the toughest cases simply never enroll.
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 to 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
honorary doctorate from Yale. "A degree for
what?" he asks "For being the world's leading
to AA History