AA - 60 Years of Success

St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

AA - 60 Years of Success


CORINNE tasted her first drink at 13 during Prohibition, when a friend stole a bottle of wine from her father's stash in the cellar.

That began 20 years of drinking, blackouts and depression. Then, in 1950, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous and her life changed forever.

A phenomenon credited with saving thousands of people, Alcoholics Anonymous is marking its 60th anniversary, enduring despite threats from a host of contemporary issues and competition from other forms of treatment.

"Victimization in culture encourages people to indulge in their drinking," said Radcliffe University sociologist Wendy Kaminer, who wrote the book "I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional."

"If there's a threat to AA, it's an increased interest in alternative programs for alcoholism," she said. "People are different, and they need different kinds of treatment programs."

AA was formed in 1935 by stockbroker Bill Wilson and surgeon Bob Smith, who met in Akron, Ohio. They discovered that leaning on each other for emotional and moral support was crucial to keeping them on the wagon.

AA members gathered recently in San Diego for an international convention to celebrate Wilson and Smith's creation.

Members refer to AA as a fellowship, founded on the notion of healing through helping others combat alcoholism. Veteran members are paired with newcomers, referred to as "babies" or "pigeons" in AA parlance, to support one another.

"It goes right back to the very beginning of our fellowship," said Helen of AA's General Service Office in New York, "one alcoholic talking to another and saying, `I've been where you are, and this is what I've done to not be there anymore.' "

Eventually, Wilson and Smith developed the Twelve Steps, the guiding principles of AA that rely on spirituality and surrendering the problem to a higher power. The Twelve Steps and other principles are contained in the Big Book, the bible of AA, written by Wilson.

The religious aspects have proved to be a vulnerable target for critics over the years and a reason why some may attend their first AA meeting and never come back.

"It began out of evangelical movements," Kaminer said. "The Twelve Step ideology is a popular Protestant ideology - you're saved when you surrender your will and become imbued with God's will.

"For many people, AA is a religion. Some people need something as powerful as religion to keep them from drinking, and some people don't."

Another central tenet, confidentiality, was threatened last year when police were told about two murders that a recovering alcoholic had discussed at an AA meeting.

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