Origin of the Idea of the "Home Group"

From: Glenn C.

In many parts of the U.S. in the 1940s, you were lucky if there was any A.A. group meeting in your own town at all. That group would frequently meet only once a week, although once A.A. got big enough in a town like, say, Elkhart IN (pop. 40,000), they would have one open meeting a week where everybody and their spouses went (in a church or some place like that), and divide the A.A. people up into several smaller subgroups, each of which met once a week for a closed meeting in someone's home. In Elkhart, you were simply told by the leaders which subgroup you were to attend (which was your "home group" in the sense in which you are using the word) -- the Wednesday night meeting, or the Thursday night meeting, or whatever.

But in smaller towns, there would not be enough A.A. people to do that. So in western Long Island in the 1940s, you would have one A.A. meeting a week in the town where you lived (your "home group"), and then people would get together in small groups in someone's automobile and go to visit A.A. meetings in other nearby towns on some of the other nights of the week. Two or three of the visitors were often asked to stand up and give short (five or ten minute) mini-leads at the meeting they were visiting.

In my part of Indiana, even in the 1950s, the really dedicated A.A. people were still traveling to visit meetings many miles away, so that everybody in A.A. in north central Indiana knew who people like Brownie and Goshen Bill and Nick K. were.

You and the people who were in your "home group" became very close to one another as a result. Your sponsor would also be a member of that group, who showed up every week without fail. You would drop in on one another's homes just to chat and visit, have picnics together, and that sort of thing. You had the feeling of a really close-knit support group that you could call on instantly if you were hitting any kind of problem -- not just your sponsor, but everybody else in that group.

Over a period of time, the people in that "home group" got to know one another very well indeed. There were no secrets after a while. This was very good. Alcoholism is a disease of isolationism. Also, as Submarine Bill puts it (one of our local good old-timers), "You are as sick as your secrets," and I have seen many people fail in attaining quality sobriety because they closed off other people too much, and wouldn't talk about their real feelings and the real problems they were struggling with in their lives. This "home group" was a small close-knit group where you could finally come to trust a few other people enough to "tell them where it hurts." A medical doctor couldn't help a patient who came to him in obvious enormous pain, but who responded to all his questions about "where exactly does it hurt" by screwing up his face and saying obstinately "Won't tell you!"

All of this helped to produce a high success rate among these early groups. There is an A.A. group in my area which still operates much like that, and I have verified (over the past twelve years) that they have an 81% success rate in getting people sober and keeping them sober: of the newcomers who come to that meeting without fail once a week for a year, 90% are still sober at the end of the year. They get to know the other people in the group extremely well, and vice versa. Even if they later transfer to other meetings, 90% of that group are still sober today.

PRINCIPAL SOURCES:

The Factory Owner & the Convict (pub. 1996, now out of print, but due to be reprinted by the end of this summer, when it will be available on amazon.com and so on), a book about the early years of A.A. in north central Indiana.

Sgt. Bill S., On the Military Firing Line in the Alcoholism Treatment Program (at the typesetters now, will be available through amazon.com and so on in another month or so), a book which contains the memoirs of an old-timer who began attending A.A. meetings in 1945 and got permanently sober on Long Island in 1948. (He also started the first officially sanctioned alcoholism treatment programs on military bases, where he obtained a 50% success rate in his program at Lackland AFB in the 1950s for example.)

The annual Christmas Eve radio broadcasts over radio station WSBT by Ken M., the founder of A.A. in South Bend IN, during the 1940s and 50s: great emphasis upon the way the group bands together to forge its way through hostile territory, where a single person by himself or herself would be overcome. (Contained in the South Bend archives.)

The Higher Power of the Twelve-Step Program: For Believers & Non-Believers (available through amazon.com and so on) contains many statements by A.A. old-timers, some of which are relevant to understanding why the home group concept was so useful in producing real healing.


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