Let's Ask Bill

Q - What led up to the decision to write the book Alcoholics Anonymous?

A - The first A.A. group had come into being but we still had no name. Those were the years of flying blind, those ensuing two or three years. A slip in those days was a dreadful calamity. We would look at each other and wonder who might be next. Failure! Failure! Failure was our constant companion.

I returned home from Akron now endowed with a more becoming humility and less preaching and a few people began to come to us, a few in Cleveland and Akron. I had got back into business briefly and again Wall Street collapsed and took me with it as usual. So I set out West to see if there was something I could do in that country. Dr. Bob and I of course had been corresponding but it wasn't until one late fall afternoon in 1937 that I reached his house and sat in his living room. I can recall the scene as though it were yesterday and we got out a pencil and paper and we began to put down the names of those people in Akron, New York and that little sprinkling in Cleveland who had been dry a while and despite the large number of failures it finally burst upon us that forty people had got a real release and had significant dry time behind them. I shall never forget that great and humbling hour of realization. Bob and I saw for the first time that a new light had begun to shine down upon us alcoholics, had begun to shine upon the children of the night.

That realization brought an immense responsibility. Naturally, we thought at once, how shall what we forty know be carried to the millions who don't know? Within gunshot of this house there must be others like us who are thoroughly bothered by this obsession. How shall they know? How is this going to be transmitted?

Up to this time as you must be aware, A.A. was utterly simple. It filled the full measure of simplicity as is since demanded by a lot of people. I guess we old timers all have a nostalgia about those halcyon days of simplicity when thank God there were no founders and no money and there were no meeting places, just parlors. Annie and Lois baking cakes and making coffee for those drunks in the living room. We didn't even have a name! We just called ourselves a bunch of drunks trying to get sober. We were more anonymous than we are now. Yes, it was all very simple. But, here was a new realization, what was the responsibility of the forty men to those who did not know?

Well, I have been in the world of business, a rather hectic world of business, the world of Wall Street. I suspect that I was a good deal of a promoter and a bit of a salesman, rather better than I am here today. So I began to think in business man's terms. We had discovered that the hospitals did not want us drinkers because, we were poor payers and never got well. So, why shouldn't we have our own hospitals and I envisioned a great chain of drunk tanks and hospitals spreading across the land. Probably, I could sell stocks in those and we could damn well eat as well as save drunks.

Then too, Dr. Bob and I recalled that it had been a very tedious and slow business to sober up forty people, it had taken about three years and in those days we old timers had the vainglory to suppose that nobody else could really do this job but us. So we naturally thought in terms of having alcoholic missionaries, no disparagement to missionaries to be sure. In other words, people would be grubstaked for a year or two, moved to Chicago, St. Louis, Frisco and so on and start little centers and meanwhile we would be financing this string of drunk tanks and began to suck them into these places. Yes, we would need missionaries and hospitals! Then came one reflection that did make some sense.

It seemed very clear that what we had already found out should be put on paper. We needed a book, so Dr. Bob called a meeting for the very next night and in that little meeting of a dozen and a half, a historic decision was taken which deeply affected our destiny. It was in the living room of a nonalcoholic friend who let us come there because his living room was bigger than the Smith's parlor and he loved us. I too, remember that day as if it were yesterday.

So, Smithy and I explained this new obligation which depended on us forty. How are we to carry this message to the ones who do not know? I began to wind up my promotion talk about the hospitals and the missionaries and the book and I saw their faces fall and straight away that meeting divided into three significant parts. There was the promoter section of which I was definitely one. There was the section that was indifferent and there was what you might call the orthodox section.

The orthodox section was very vocal and it said with good reason, "Look! Put us into business and we are lost. This works because it is simple, because everybody works at it, because nobody makes anything out of it and because no one has any axe to grind except his sobriety and the other guy's. If you publish a book we will have infinite quarrels about the damn thing. It will get us into business and the clinker of the orthodox section was that our Lord, Himself, had no book.

Well, it was impressive and events proved that the orthodox people were practically right, but, thank God, not fully right. Then there were the indifferent ones who thought, well, if Smitty and Bill think we ought to do these things well its all right with us. So the indifferent ones, plus the promoters out voted the orthodoxy and said "If you want to do these things Bill, you go back to New York where there is a lot of dough and you get the money and then we'll see."

Well, by this time I'm higher than a kite you know. Promoters can stay high on something besides alcohol. I was already taking about the greatest medical development, greatest spiritual development, greatest social development of all time. Think of it, forty drunks. (Attribution lost)  (Chicago, Ill., February 1951)

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