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January 4, 2012

Column #1,584

AA Can Fulfill New Year’s Resolutions

By Mike McManus

            Millions of Americans drank too much over the holidays, and have made yet another New Year’s resolution to get sober.  Most resolutions will be forgotten by the weekend. 

            However, if the resolution is coupled with an action step, of going to Alcoholics Anonymous, there are greatly improved odds of success.

            What began 75 years ago with Bill W. and Dr. Bob helping each other stay sober has now reached an astonishing 1.3 million Americans who meet in 58,000 groups. Another 750,000 meet in 49,000 groups in 150 countries. 

            I knew that Jim, a friend, is an AA member and asked if I could attend an AA meeting as a journalist. He showed me a list of 1,400 groups in Metro Washington to could choose from! The meeting we attended in a church had 40 people present. If that was typical, 56,000 are members here.

It’s not always been so easy to attend AA. When Jim began going in 1975 he was a college student at a small school in West Virginia.  The nearest AA group was 30 miles away.  His sponsor, a man with impaired eyesight, would call Jim and say, “I need a ride to the meeting.” Of course, that made the trip longer. Jim later realized, “He was trying to get me to a meeting! He had zillions of people nearby who could have taken him.”

The impact of AA on Jim?  “It restructured my whole life, restored me mentally, physically, and spiritually.  It took the compass of my life and pointed it in a different direction.”

One of his original sponsors was the CEO of a major company.  He inspired Jim to start his own business.  Jim’s group meets at 7:30 am daily for an hour. One day they might pick one of the 12 steps to discuss such as these:

·         Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

·         Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

·         Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

·         Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.


Another meeting might begin with one member telling his story for 10 minutes, sparking

reactions from others.  On a different day, they will read a passage from “Alcoholics Anonymous,” what members call “The Big Book,” the basic text for AA that Bill wrote in 1939.

            Its purpose, written when there were 100 AA men and women “who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body,” was to “show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered.”    

            There are 42 personal stories in the book.  As a physician who treated alcoholics put it in a preface, each of these people “have one symptom in common: they cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon of craving.”  Bill writes, “I began to waken very early in the morning shaking violently. A tumbler full of gin followed by half a dozen bottles of beer would be required if I were to eat any breakfast.  Nevertheless, I still thought I could control the situation, and there were periods of sobriety which renewed my wife’s hopes.”

            In December, 1934 Bill, a failed stockbroker, was in a Manhattan detox center, his fourth stay, when he was visited by Ebby, an old drinking buddy, who had found religion and stopped drinking. “Realize you are licked, admit it, and get willing to turn your life over to God,” his friend urged. Bill was “aghast…shocked but interested.”  

            Though he was an agnostic, who had rejected religion and ministers, he realized he had “always believed in a Power greater than myself,” and then thought that “Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning…I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood Him.  I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost.”

            Bill and his friend made a list of people he had hurt, and pledged to ask for their forgiveness.  Ebby also convinced Bill that it was “imperative  to work with others as he had worked with me.”

Months later Bill took a trip to Akron where he met a surgeon, a closet alcoholic. Bill confronted him, urging him to admit that only God could remove his urge to drink.  Dr. Bob surrendered on June 10, 1935.

That was the founding date of AA, which is now ubiquitous.  Go to AA on the web to find local groups. This could be the first day of your new life. 

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