a continuation of
The Links In The Chain
Address by Bill W. in 1956, before the National Committee On Alcoholism
(Bill was introduced to the committee by Marty Mann, the first woman to achieve permanent sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous, and the founder of the National Committee On Alcoholism. )
Now to our narrative and to the first links in the chain of events that has led us to this magnificent hour. I was by no means the first link in this chain and only one of very many. I think the founder business ought to be well deflated and I'm just going to take a minute or two to do it.
As a fact, the first link in the chain was probably forged about twenty-five years ago in the office of a great psychiatrist, Carl Jung. At that time he had as a patient a certain very prominent American businessman. They worked together for a year. My business friend Rolland was a very grim case of alcoholism and yet under the doctor's guidance he thought he was going to find release. He left the doctor in great confidence but shortly, he was back drunk. Said he to Dr. Jung, "What now, you're my court of last resort." The doctor looked at him and said, "I thought that you might be one of those rare cases that could be touched with my art, but you aren't. I have never seen," continued Doctor Jung, "one single case of alcoholism recover, so grave as yours under my tutelage."
Well, to my friend Rolland this was tantamount to a sentence of death. "But doctor," said he, "is there no other course, nothing else." "Yes," said Dr. Jung, "there is something. There is such a thing as a transforming spiritual experience." "Well," Rolland beamed, "after all I've been a vestryman in the Episcopal Church, I'm a man of faith." "Oh," Dr. Jung said, "that's fine so far as it goes, but it has to go a lot deeper. I'm speaking of transforming spiritual experiences." "Where would I find such a thing," asked Rolland. Dr. Jung said, "I don't know, lighting strikes here or there, it strikes any other place. We don't know why or how. You will just have to expose yourself in the religion of your own choice or a spiritual influence as best you can and just try and ask and maybe it will be open to you."
So my friend Rolland joined up with the Oxford Groups, the sometime Buchmanites of that day, first in London and then came to New York and lo and behold the lighting did strike and he found himself unaccountably released of his obsession to drink.
After a time he heard of a friend of mine, a chap we call Ebby, who sojourned every summer in Vermont. An awful grim case, he had driven his father's bright, shiny new Packard into the side of someone's house. He had bashed into the kitchen, pushing aside the stove and had said to the startled lady there, "How about a cup of coffee." The neighbors thought that this was enough and that he needed to be locked up. He was taken before Judge Graves in Bennington, Vermont, a place not too far from my home by the way, and there our friend Rolland heard of it and gathering a couple of Oxford Groupers together, one of them an alcoholic, the other just a two fisted drinker. They took Ebby in tow and they inoculated him with very simple ideas: that he, Ebby, could not do this job on his own resources, that he had to have help; that he might try the idea of getting honest with himself as he never had before; he might try the idea of making a confession of his defects to someone; he might try the idea of making restitution for harms done; he might try the idea of giving of himself to others with no price tag on it; agnostic though he was, he might try the idea of praying to whatever God there was. That was the essence of what my friend Ebby abstracted from the Oxford Groups of that day. True, we later rejected very much of the other things they had to teach us. It is true that these principles might have been found somewhere else but as it happens they were found there.
Ebby for a time got the same phenomenon of release and then he remembered me. He was brought to New York and lodged at Calvary Mission and soon called me up while I lay home drinking in Brooklyn. I will never forget that day as suddenly he stood in the areaway. I hadn't seen him for a long time. By this time I knew something of the gravity of my plight. I couldn't put my finger on it but he seemed strangely changed, besides he was sober. He came in and began to talk. I offered him some grog. I remember I had a big jug of gin and pineapple juice there, the pineapple juice was there to convince Lois that I wasn't drinking straight gin. No, he didn't care for a drink. No, he wasn't drinking. "What's got into you," I asked. "Well," he said, "I've got religion." Well, that was rough on me. He's got religion! He had substituted religious insanity for alcoholic insanity. Well, I had to be polite so I asked, "What brand is it." And, he said, "I wouldn't exactly call it a brand. I've come across a group of people who have sold me on getting honest with myself; who sold me on the idea that I am powerless over my problems, and have taught me to help others, so I'm trying to bring something to you, if you want it. That's it." So, in his turn, he transmitted to me these simple ideas across the kitchen table.
We admitted we were licked.
We got honest with ourselves.
We talked it over with another person.
We made amends to those we had harmed.
We tried to carry this message to others with no thought of reward.
We prayed to whatever God we thought there was.
Meanwhile, another chain of events had been taking place. In fact, the earliest link in that chain runs back to William James who is sometimes called the father of modern psychology. Another link in the chain was my own Doctor William Duncan Silkworth, who I think will someday be counted as a medical saint. I had the usual struggle with this problem and had met Dr. Silkworth at Towns Hospital. He had explained in very simple terms what my problem was: an obsession that condemned me to drink against my will, and increasing physical sensitivity which guaranteed that I would go mad unless I could somehow find release, perhaps through re-education. He taught me the nature of the malady.
But here I was, again drinking. But here was my friend talking to me over the kitchen table. Already, you see, the elements which lie today in the foundation of A.A. were already present. The God of science in the persons of Dr. Silkworth and Dr. Jung had said "No" on the matters of psychiatry, psychology and medicine. They can't do it alone. Your will power can't do it alone. So, the rug had been pulled out from under Rolland Hazzard, and Hazzard, an alcoholic, had pulled the rug out from under Ebby, and now he was pulling it out from under me while quoting Dr. Jung and substantiating what Dr. Silkworth had let leak back to me through Lois.
So, the stage was really set and it had been some years in the setting before it ever caught up with me. Of course, I had balked at this idea of a power greater than myself, although the rest of the program seemed sensible enough. I was desperate, willing to try anything, but I still did gag on the God business. But at length, I said to myself as has every A.A. member since, "Who am I to say there is no God? Who am I to say how I am going to get well?" Like a cancer patient, I am now ready to do anything, to be dependent upon any kind of a physician, and if there is a great physician, I had better seek him out.