A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous
Bobby Beach is back! On March 16, 2017, Bobby Beach made his AA Agnostica debut with “The Watering Down of AA”, an angry anti-fundamentalist screed in response to the angry fundamentalist, anti-atheist, anti-agnostic, anti-weak tea drinker screeds of days gone by.
A contrite Bobby B. opens his mind to AA fundamentalism as he ventures back to explore the most golden of golden eras, Akron-Style AA, as it was in the 1940s, and as it’s described in “A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous”. In a multi-faceted mission, Bobby seeks to find, and save, his immortal soul, while making amends for his earlier irreverence.
By Bobby Beach
To the fundamentalist world that loves oversimplification, and is inordinately enthralled by black and white thinking, the Alcoholics Anonymous of the twenty-first century offers little reason for delight. Treatment centers, nonalcoholic drug addicts, court referrals, and overly boisterous agnostics and atheists head a parade of woe-producing scourges leading to deleterious results. Tom Powers Sr. sent out a clarion call of warning in 1976 with the earliest version of “Gresham’s Law of Weak Tea”. Or whatever.
We need to travel back to even earlier times to find the halcyon days of recovered alcoholics frolicking in fields of coffee beans amidst remarkable recovery rates of 100% (or higher), for those “who really tried”. Don’t look to New York, however. The town so nice they named it twice was a fortress of half measures, and “Don’t drink, and go to meetings” sobriety, even in the glory days. For shame.
The Holy Grail of AA is to be found in Ohio, in the post-book era. Obviously, the pre-book era sucked, because there was no book. Actually, there WAS a book, and it was a GOOD one, if you see where I’m going with that, Leviticus?
In April, 1939, AA published its own book. The volume explained PRECISELY what the pioneers had been doing to stay sober, albeit describing, in great detail, things they hadn’t ACTUALLY been doing. If you don’t believe my irreverent heresies, check out the conference-approved Pass It On for accounts of the “What the heck is this?” reaction of the early members to Chapter 5. Biographer Robert Thomsen describes a “violent reaction” that “raged on” for weeks.
Nonetheless, these folks called themselves “recovered”, notwithstanding a return to drinking for a hell of a lot of them. This most enigmatic of enigmas, of course, may stem from our mere misunderstanding of word usages that have evolved over time. Fundamentalists talk in reverent tones about mystical and magical 1939 dictionaries, capable of translating “suggestions” to “subtle commands”. Perhaps these tomes reveal to their possessors that recovery from alcoholism has NOTHING (or little) to do with the cessation of drinking. Maybe being recovered is more about putting your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters.
My momma taught me how to pray
Before I reached the age of seven
When I’m down on my knees
That’s when I’m closest to heaven
Daddy lived his life, two kids and a wife
Well you do what you must do
But he showed me enough of what it takes
To get me through, oh yeh!
Or perhaps one is recovered Tuesday, but unrecovered Thursday, as seems to be the case for “A Feminine Victory” author, Florence R., who was drunk before the ink on the Big Book was dry. God’s grace may indeed be a fickle sonofagun.
Founder Flounders – Second Founder Sounder
Over the past forty years, founder Bill Wilson’s star has fallen somewhat. Various biographers have stifled the Wilson worship, exposing him as a philanderer, depressive, experimenter with LSD, psychiatric patient, entrepreneur, profiteer, dabbler in the occult, author of the dreaded 12 + 12, agnostic-sympathizer.
Fortunately, we have a solid co-founder to fall back on, an uncomplex man capable of expressing himself with great clarity. “If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you.” (BB, p. 181) “Pity the fool!!” – Mr. T.
At the helm of the AA’s best of times, Akron of the 1940s, we have a medical doctor, churchman, solid citizen, husband, father, and pitier of the unenlightened. It was a magnificent era. Shed the damn Catholic nun, and it’s nearly perfect.
Big Book Thumpers get all gooey at the mention of Akron AA, but what enthralls them may be more mythology than the reality. Worshipers of the book would doubtless be disappointed that the Akron folks of the golden era, for the most part, did not worship the book. To the contrary, Alcoholics Anonymous was viewed somewhat cynically as “a New York project.” Many Ohioans were disturbed by the entrepreneurial motives of Bill and Hank, who spearheaded the book venture. Early supporter, Henrietta Seiberling, was aghast that the New Yorkers had commercialized spirituality. Land o’ Goshen!!
Although folks such as Cleveland’s Clarence Snyder lobbied for a selling price of one dollar a book, “stockholders Wilson and Hank P. argued for a price of $3.50”. (Not-God, p. 76) Three dollars and fifty cents was a day’s pay for the working poor. Inflation calculators translate the amount to about sixty dollars in today’s money. The per book printing charge from Cornwall Press was thirty-five cents.
Why the 900% markup?
Profits o’ Goshen!!
The Akron Manual
Less than a year after the publication of the AA Big Book, a pamphlet was produced that came to be known simply as “The Akron Manual.” When the 1940 pamphlet was reformatted and posted on the internet by Barefoot Bob in 1997, he included an editor’s note – “Dr. Bob probably wrote or heavily influenced the writing and distribution of this pamphlet”. (barefootsworld.net) Historian Glenn C. agrees. “We must assume that Dr. Bob himself (and probably Sister Ignatia too) gave their approval to the statements made in this little booklet.” (silkworth.net) The non-entrepreneurial Ohioans sold the brochures for ten to fifteen cents apiece.
“A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous” in many sentences and paragraphs echoes the Big Book. “Alcoholics Anonymous is one hundred percent effective for those who faithfully follow the rules. It is those who try to cut corners who find themselves back in their old drunken state.” (p. 8)
Elsewhere, The Manual disappoints the modernists who choose to promote exclusively the vaunted “First 164”, in that it speaks kind words about the story section of the BB. “It has been the history of AA that no one ever knows where lightning will strike. You may pick up the germ of an idea from the most unexpected source.” (p. 9)
In Alcoholics Anonymous, we like to say, “It’s not a religious program, it’s a spiritual program.” In fact, we don’t just LIKE that little aphorism, we LOVE it!! Our infatuation with that identifying phrase ranks right up there with our affection for “The Lord’s Prayer”. Both are DEE-LICIOUS!! With apologies to Sir Winston, that’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, caged in a contradiction.
Other than in certain areas, modern AA members unite in a love of God that, in most instances, does not prompt a return to church. AA spirituality keeps Sunday mornings free for golf, men’s meetings, or a lovely brunch, following of course, the 4 hours of kneeling morning prayer, meditation, and self-flagellation favored by the diligent.
“There is the Bible that you haven’t opened for years. Get acquainted with it. Read it with an open mind. You will find things that will amaze you. You will be convinced that certain passages were written with you in mind… Read Alcoholics Anonymous… It will become your second Bible.” (p. 11) SECOND??? !!! Well, that’s all a bit churchy, but at least it’s better than today’s half measure artist meeting makers! The Akron folks were enamored of J.C., and we’re not talking J.C. Penney’s.
Fundies love spewing certain phrases, most especially those that chastise the slackers. It has become de rigueur to denigrate “meeting makers”. “It’s the steps we take, not the meetings we make.” Surely the golden era practitioners will confirm this simple truism.
“There may be a meeting of an AA group. Attend it without question. You have no valid excuse, except sickness or being out of town, for not attending.” (pp. 12-13) “In larger communities where there are several groups it is recommended that the new member attend as many meetings as possible.” (p. 22)
“Remember that attendance at meetings is one of the most important requisites of remaining sober.” (p. 23)
There’s even a boxing analogy. ” …The man who trains will be the winner. So let attendance at meetings be your road work.” (p. 17) God willing. Well, at least this Akron Manual doesn’t spew a bunch of treatment center crappola about diet, exercise, and the like!
“Diet and rest play an important part in the rehabilitation of an alcoholic… We now find it is wise to eat balanced meals at regular hours, and get the proper amount of sleep… Fresh vegetables and fruits will help.” (p. 21) “If we are undernourished and lack rest we become irritable and nervous. In this condition our tempers get out of control. Our feelings are easily wounded, and we get back to the old and dangerous thought processes – ‘Oh, to Hell with it. I’ll get drunk and show them all.'” (p. 21)
“Carry candy in your pocket… Eat desserts. Try an occasional ice cream soda or malted milk.” (p. 22)
Human power o’ Goshen!!
Sit Down and Shaddup!!
We hear repeatedly of the harsh treatment of newcomers in the good old days before political correctness ruined everything by demanding that we treat our fellow human beings with a degree of civility. Once more, the 1940 Akron Manual lets us down!
“You feel that you have nothing to say to a new patient? No story to tell? Nonsense! You have been sober for a day, or for a week. Obviously, you must have done something to stay sober, even for that short length of time. That is your story. Definitely you have something to say.” (p. 13)
“After you have attended several meetings it will be your duty to get up on your feet and say something. You will have something to say… Before many months have passed, you will be asked to lead a meeting. Don’t put it off with excuses.” (p. 13)
Taking the Fun out of Fundamentalism
Thumpers can be made to bristle with antagonism while simultaneously foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of “putting sobriety first”. “I CAN’T put sobriety first. Sobriety is out of my hands – it’s in God’s hands!! (Glove size, understandably, remains a divine mystery.) Putting sobriety first would be exercising at the human power gym!!”
Surely, treasured parchment from the greatest generation will put these fools in their place!!
“SOBRIETY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR LIFE, without exception… If you put other things first you are only hurting your chances.” (p. 17) “And remember, the more AA work you do, the harder you train, the less likely it is you will take the first drink.” (P. 17) “Stay sober for one day at a time… Repeat the performance the next day… Try the day by day plan.” (p. 18)
Cake Recipes and Road Maps
Of course, we’re all more than a bit shocked to see the Godlier of the two co-founders and his cohorts lobbying for human power solutions later to be found among the heresies advocated by treatment centers. Does God’s grace need the augmentation of contrived strategies of mortal men?
At least the Manual speaks well of the Big Book, where the dogma of our non-dogmatic program has been recorded, chapter and verse. Like a cake recipe, our sacred book delineates PRECISELY the step-by-step healing prescription, a path to be followed thoroughly and without deviation. It is our duty to attack the shirkers who are killing alcoholics with their failure to promote scrupulous practise of the one true way.
“Don’t criticize the methods of others. (ruh-roh!) Strangely enough, you may change your own ideas as you become older in sobriety. Remember that there are a dozen roads from New York to Chicago, but they all lead to Chicago.” (p. 20)
Liberality o’ Goshen!!
Well, that pretty much ends Bobby Beach’s foray into the world of AA fundamentalism. I’m shocked that it’s all a bit of a jumble of confusion and contradiction, and I’m more than a little disappointed at finding the unified and unifying message to be so disjointed.
Peut-être, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”. [Perhaps, “we need to cultivate our garden”.]
Nonetheless, the hope remains alive in my heart that “A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous” was hacked by the Russkies!
With Father’s Day coming up, please consider warming Dad’s heart with the gift of Key Players in AA History, by my fellow Canadian, bob k., and available at Amazon. Even if Pop’s not an alcoholic, the product of his loins IS! If Dad can’t read, for a reasonable fee Len R. will read him the book over the phone.
From the article:
I didn’t find anything like that in Pass It On – I reread Chapter 11 about the writing of the Big Book… On p. 206 it says the Big Book “presented AA’s experience with alcoholism, plus the Twelve Steps program, in simple direct language”. And on p. 210, Morgan says the Alcoholics Anonymous book “tells precisely how we all came back from a living death”.
Just curious if you have the right book.
P. 199 “Ruth Hock said Bill appeared one day with the steps practically complete. But when he showed the manuscript to local members, there were HEATED DISCUSSIONS
and many other suggestions.”
HEATED DISCUSSIONS = “What the heck is this?”
Never again question Bobby Beach!!!
Now, for your penance, say 10 “Hail Mary’s.”
Okay, I’ll bite: Len says, “10 Hail Marys”. Now what?
Aw yes, I guess I should have included more of the article’s quote:
As for p. 199 of Pass It On, the heated discussions were about "God" in the steps, which was settled by the wording "God as we understand Him".
Carlos/John – Here’s the comment I responded to:
“From the article: Check out the conference-approved Pass It On for accounts of the “What the heck is this?” reaction of the early members to Chapter 5. Biographer Robert Thomsen describes a “violent reaction” that “raged on” for weeks.
I didn’t find anything like that in Pass It On – I reread Chapter 11 about the writing of the Big Book…”
Pass It On describes “heated discussions” when the draft of Chapter 5 was presented to members. “Heated discussions” are neither my words, nor those of Mr. Beach. The words are from Pass It On. “Heated discussions.”
You didn’t find ANYTHING LIKE THAT in Pass It On, so I directed you where to look.
Robert Thomsen, of all the biographers, had the greatest access to Bill Wilson. He writes of the same incident –
“He was frankly pleased with what he had written, and was in no way prepared for the violent reaction when he read his twelve steps to the group a few nights later… As the fights raged on – and these arguments lasted much longer than that first night; some were still at it weeks later…” (pp. 253-254)
Regarding the 10th step, you have the first part – being wrong – down pat. You’re killing it. Promptly admitting it is where you need to improve.
Bill Wilson wrote the 12 steps in December, 1938. Prior to that, no one was engaging in processes to stay sober that had 12 parts. If they had, why the arguing? Wilson later wrote that he expanded the basic ideas garnered from Silkworth, Jung, and the Oxford Group to “take out the loopholes.”
No one had heard of “12 Steps” before Christmas, 1938.
“On the first step of Christmas Bill Wilson gave to me….”
Bob K. – The Bob Beach article implies to me that in “Pass It On” the argument was about whether they were working a process similar to the 12 steps, albeit not in such specific written-down form.
(“The volume explained PRECISELY what the pioneers had been doing to stay sober, albeit describing, in great detail, things they hadn’t ACTUALLY been doing…. check out the conference-approved Pass It On for accounts of the “What the heck is this?” reaction of the early members to Chapter 5”) .
There is nothing at all in “Pass It On” that indicates that that’s what the heated arguments were about (that the 12 steps describe something other than what they had been doing), but rather about the G word. That was what my comment was about. And my first reply has quotes from “Pass It On” indicating that what is in the B.B. is what they actually did.
My comment wasn’t about what any other books say. There could very well be books out there that say all they did at meetings was tell drinking stories and play grabass for all I know. I’m just talking about what is in “Pass It On”.
The Akron Manual followed the release of the BB… 1939. I can just imagine Clarence looking at the new BB and thinking… What a surprise… The Akronites are still pissed about the new kids on the block… The AA boys… and their ” Big Book”.
I cannot thank you enough for this essay. I was having a bit of a mood today and this perked me up back to my comatose normal. It is easy to understand how the rates of the “recovered” exceeded 100% when relapse was around about half of the corners. Go out three times, get “recovered” three times and that is three hundred percent! If we average that with the people who only “recovered” completely once and went back out for good and expired we still get pretty good numbers and maybe they will live to come back and get “recovered” again. I really despise the “fairy tale AA” and its nostalgia for the good old days that never were. No wonder so many in AA are stark raving abstinent and cannot explain how it happened except to pretend they did it all correctly. Thanks again Bob.
That Dr Bob was “Oxfordian” is no surprise, and I love the scepticism with which our author treats AA legend. I am reminded that “weak tea” is exactly the prescription for those who are ill.
Bobby, you had me chuckling all the way through, and yet I was left with a lot of sadness that AA is such a mess, or has become one. I suppose it all goes together, the whole country has become one. Anyway, very entertaining. Thanks.
That Bobby Beach has some “Sand”! The gall! Challenging fundamentalist, intuitional nay sacred, beliefs with FACTS. The nerve of that man! However, as the late, great Robin Williams once said after he got sober, “Reality, What a Concept!”
With that said, where do I get my hands on one of those magic 1939 dictionaries. I like to look up a few phases. Such as, “happily married for 30 years”, “military intelligence”, and of course, “Jumbo Shrimp”.
There have been 6 years worth of essays of the highest caliber on this website. Dozens of outstanding writers have made contributions. Bobby Beach may be my favorite!! I feel a special kinship.
Bobby Beach is great! Quality over quantity is always best. Except for vodka, of course… but there is the conundrum, the quantity is never sufficient regardless of the quality. ?
Was Sandy Beach the black sheep of the family or was it Bobby and Jesse who broke from clan-doctrine? Well, it’s good that there are many voices in the continuing history of addiction, recovery and… even AA sometimes looks young for her/his age.
Bravo Bobby; in the interest of a balanced diet of AA history, you keep meal-time tasty and nourishing.
My fav section in the pamphlet is:
DON’T criticize the methods of others. Strangely enough, you may change your ideas as you become older in your sobriety. Remember, there are a dozen roads from New York to Chicago and they all land in Chicago.
We need to keep in mind we are a bunch of drunks trying, and some succeeding, to stay sober and not a bunch of sinners trying to get in heaven.