Author Topic: A.A. and Oxford Group  (Read 3652 times)

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A.A. and Oxford Group
« on: August 06, 2011, 03:49:56 PM »
A.A. philosophy of addiction treatment

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith.  William Griffith Wilson (November 26, 1895 – January 24, 1971) also known as Bill Wilson,     co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) was a former New York stockbroker, had been a severe alcoholic with a high school education.  Wilson sought guidance from the evangelical Christian Oxford Group to attain sobriety.   Wilson experimented with other possible cures for alcoholism including LSD.   When Bill took LSD, use of the drug was legal and he took LSD as a participant in medically supervised experiments with in California in the 1950s and then also at the Roosevelt Hospital in NY.   The purpose of the research study was to determine whether LSD might produce insights that would serve to remove psychic blocks that were preventing people from feeling more spiritually alive.  

Bill Wilson's "spiritual experience" that was credited in his attainment of sobriety, occurred December 13 or 14, 1934. This spiritual awakening happened after two or three days of detoxing and getting the “belladonna cure”.   Bill Wilson's spiritual experience, or "hot flash," as he would call it, occurred during the second or third night (depending on the source) of the treatment.  Considering his alcohol and chloral hydrate   use upon entering Charlie Towns' hospital in New York City and considering also the hypnotic drugs he received during the first few days of his stay, there is the possibility that his "hot flash," may have been delusions and hallucinations characteristic of momentary alcoholic toxic psychosis.

Based on this experience, Wilson came to believe that alcoholism was a spiritual disease and that for recovery the alcoholic must admit that he or she was powerless and that submission to a “higher power”  was necessary to recover from addiction.  In 1938, a group of alcoholics decided to promote their own program of recovery through the publication of a book, for which Wilson was chosen as primary author.   The book was given the title Alcoholics Anonymous  and included the list of suggested activities for spiritual growth known as the Twelve Steps.   The 12-step program has many critics that contend that it is not effective and is often abusive.   In the mid- 1940’s, Dr. Harry Tiebout, a Connecticut psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of alcoholics and leader of National Council on Alcoholism  had supported Alcoholics Anonymous and published a series of perceptive analyses of alcoholism and of the therapeutic dynamic inherent in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Many others noted that Bill Wilson’s spiritual conversion did not stop his actions as a known womanizer and needed to be watched by others in the founders committee for his behavior during meetings.        

Robert Holbrook Smith MD was a co-founder of A.A.  Dr. “Bob” Smith was a deeply religious doctor who had been a severe alcoholic for 30 years. Dr. Smith received medical training at the University of Michigan and at Rush Medical College. Plagued with alcoholism since his college days, he prayed for recovery with a small group of Christians in Akron.  In the late 1920s, he decided that he wanted to be a surgeon, perhaps because he felt he would be able to control his schedule more easily in this specialty than he could as a general practitioner. The patients wouldn't be calling him for help all hours of the day or night, so they wouldn't catch him when he was drinking.  He received specialist training as a proctologist and practiced medicine in Akron, Ohio. But because other doctors knew he was a chronic alcoholic, the referrals were scarce and his practice small. Dr. Smith met Bill Wilson in 1935 at Oxford Group. Thus their attitude toward how to recover from alcoholism was based on study of the Bible and an evangelical Christian movement known as the Oxford Group.   According to the official A.A. website, "The origins of Alcoholics Anonymous can be traced to the Oxford Group,   a religious movement popular in the United States and Europe in the early 20th Century. Members of the Oxford Group practiced a formula of self-improvement by performing self-inventory, admitting wrongs, making amends, using prayer and meditation, and carrying the message to others." Ebby Thacher (Bill Wilson’s drinking buddy), Rowland Hazard III,  Bill Wilson and Bob Smith were all members of Oxford Group and also involved in the formation of A.A.  

Dr. Bob Smith claimed that when he met Bill Wilson he finally found the kind of help he needed - one alcoholic talking to another.   This was the start of the peer mentoring concept of one alcoholic helping another reach sobriety that is the hallmark of the A.A. program.    But the A.A. concept of powerlessness is different from the Oxford Group. In A.A. the bondage of an addictive disease cannot be cured only controlled and is a departure from the Oxford Group belief, which stressed a spiritual conversion, would bring complete victory over sin.  

These pioneers of the A.A. program (1935 to 1938) based their work on Christian principles of the “Good Book” and stated that they had been cured of alcoholism’s destructive curse by the power of God.  The Oxfords Group's influence can easily be found in Alcoholics Anonymous.  A.A. required conversions, stressed Bible reading and a required reliance on God. The Oxford Group believed in five elements of recovery which were discussed at prayer meetings and devotionals.  They felt that prayer could help alcoholics get straightened out and live successful spiritually correct lives.  

The Oxford Group was criticized by religious leaders including those from the Catholic Church and the Church of England. Frank Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group, was known to associate with Adolf Hilter.  Frank Buchman was quoted in an interview to the New York World-Telegram, as saying, "I thank Heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of Communism."  The anti-Semitic and authoritarian tendencies of the Oxford Group were noted by numerous critics and US President Harry S. Truman distanced himself from the group.    

References and citations:

1.  Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (1984), "Pass it on": the story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, ISBN 0916856127.

 2. Time Magazine Time 100:The most important people of the century, Retrieved December 31, 2007. ... me100.html

 3.  Time Magazine Time 100:The most important people of the century ... me100.html

4.   Faberman, J., & Geller, J. L. (January 2005). "My Name is Bill: Bill Wilson--His life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous". Psychiatric Services 56 (1): 117. doi:10.1176/

5.  Galanter, M. (May 2005). "Review of My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson--His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous". American Journal of Psychiatry 162 (5): 1037–1038. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.5.1037

 6. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (1984), "Pass it on": the story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, ISBN 0916856127. P. 59

7.  Did Bill Wilson use LSD?

8.  Francis Hartigan, Bill W. A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, pages 176 to 179

 9.  Bill W. A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, Francis Hartigan, pages 178 to 179.

 10. Slaying The Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, by William L. White, 1998, pages 84 and 353

11.  The belladonna cure was likely a drug cocktail made up of belladonna, henbane, zanthoxylum (which eases gastrointestinal discomfort), barbiturates, megavitamins, morphine, and some other ingredients. Belladonna is an atropine powder derived from the leaves and roots of Atropa belladonna and is a powerful hallucinogen.  

12.  Bill W. and Mister Wilson — The Legend and Life of A.A.'s Cofounder, Matthew J. Raphael, page 189.  Also see AA: The Way It Began, Bill Pittman, pages 164 to 169.

13.  The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 1, "Bill's Story", page 13.

14.  Flowers in the Blood: the story of opium, Dean Latimer and Jeff Goldberg, page 247.

 15. Towns, C.B. Successful Medical Treatment in Chronic Alcoholism. The Modern Hospital, 1917, 8:6-10.

16.  Lambert, A. The Obliteration of the Craving for Narcotics. Journal of the A.M.A., 1909, LIII(13):985-989.

17.  Wilson, W.G. Those Goof Balls. New York: The Alcoholics Anonymous Grapevine, Inc., November 1945.

18.  Harrison, et al. Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974. 7th edition.

19.  As Bill Sees It. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. 1967. ISBN 0-916856-03-8, Dewey 616.861 ASB.

20.  Bill W. (2000). My First 40 Years. An Autobiography by the Cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden, 55012-0176. ISBN 1-56838-373-8, Dewey B W11w 2000.

21.  Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. 1980. ISBN 0-916856-07-0, LCCN 80-65962, LC HV5278.D62 1980

22.  Hartigan, Francis (2000). Bill W. A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 0-312-20056-0, Dewey B W11h 2000.

23.  Alcoholics Anonymous. The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism (4th ed. new and rev. 2001 ed.). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. ISBN 1-893007-16-2, Dewey 362.29 A347 2001. ('Big Book')
  "The Big Book", really: Alcoholics Anonymous, Third Edition.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. New York, NY.
ISBN: 0-916856-00-3
Dewey: 362.29 A347 1976
Note that the earlier editions of the A.A. book are available for free on the Internet The Alcoholics Anonymous web site is:

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes Of Age     William G. Wilson
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (AAWS), New York, 1957, 1986.
Harper, New York, 1957.
ISBN: 0-91-685602-X
LC: HV5278 .A78A4
Dewey: 178.1 A1c
This is Bill Wilson's version of the history of Alcoholics Anonymous
  Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. 1953. ISBN 0-916856-01-1.

24.  The Effectiveness of the Twelve-Step Treatment
by A. Orange

15.  In 1950, Dr. Tiebout became the leader of the National Council on Alcoholism. A.A. traditions state that A.A. will not engage in any "outside controversy," so A.A. used front organizations like ASAM — the American Society of Addiction Medicine, NCADD — the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and NAADAC — the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors. The NCADD was originally named the NCA (the National Council on Alcoholism), and it was founded by Marty Mann, the first woman to get and stay sober in A.A., and authoress of the Big Book chapter "Women Suffer Too." Ms. Mann saw the need for an organization to publicize and promote Alcoholics Anonymous, so she started NCA, and Dr. Tiebout was chairman of it in 1950.

26.  Susan Cheever, My Name Is Bill; Bill Wilson — His Life And The Creation Of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 231 & 232. Tom Powers found Bill Wilson's behavior to be so objectionable and disgusting that he quit Alcoholics Anonymous and went off and started his own recovery program in Hankins, New York. Powers said, "This sex thing ran through the whole business.  It wasn't just an episode."

27.   Bill W., A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Co-Founder Bill Wilson, Francis Hartigan, 2000, page 192. Bill Wilson was habitually unfaithful to the wife who was supporting him, both before and after sobriety. Bill was such an outrageous philanderer that the other elder A.A. members had to form a "Founder's Watch Committee", whose job it was to follow Bill Wilson around, and watch him, and break up budding sexual relationships with the pretty young things before he publicly embarrassed A.A. yet again. The impression that he was a ladies' man seems to have come from the way he sometimes behaved at AA gatherings. When Bill wasn't accompanied by Lois (or later, Helen), he could often be observed engaged in animated conversation with an attractive young newcomer. His interest in younger women seemed to grow more intense with age. Barry Leach, who knew Bill nearly thirty years, said in the 1960s he and other friends of Bill's formed what they came to refer to as the "Founder's Watch" committee. People were delegated to keep track of Bill during the socializing that usually accompanies AA functions. When they observed a certain gleam in his eye, they would tactfully steer Bill off in one direction and the dewy-eyed newcomer in another. See chapter 25, The Other Woman, page 192, for the Founder's Watch Committee. Also see page 170 for the interview with Tom P.

 28. Cheever, Susan, My Name Is Bill; Bill Wilson — His Life And The Creation Of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 225.   Many people in A.A. worried that Bill Wilson's sexual behavior would be discovered and reflect badly on the movement. Whether or not they were necessary, self-appointed "Bill watchers" usually stayed close to him at meetings and conferences to prevent him from interacting with attractive newcomers in a way that might appear unseemly.

29.  Wynn C. [Corum] was a mistress (one of many) of Bill Wilson according to her biographer Carolyn See .(Carolyn See, Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 58.)  Bill Wilson included her story, "Freedom From Bondage," in the second edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, As the last story in the second edition (1955), "Freedom From Bondage" became the matching bookend for "Bill's Story." The narrative was retained in the third edition (1976) but shifted to the penultimate position. At one point the author quips that her history of multiple marriages (she admits to four) "caused the rather cryptic comment from one of my A.A. friends ... that I had always been a cinch for the program, for I had always been interested in mankind, but that I was just taking them one man at a time" (AA, 548-49). Bill W. and Mr. Wilson; The Legend and Life of A.A.'s Cofounder, Mathew J. Raphael, pages 130, 195.  The "Freedom From Bondage" story is also present in the third and fourth editions of the Big Book at page 544.

30.  Dr. Bob and A.A., (Robert Holbrook Smith and Alcoholics Anonymous) by Dick B., Robert Holbrook Smith, M.D., Cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, “The Prince of All Twelfth Steppers”  Contact: Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837, (808) 874-4876

31.  Robert H. Smith, MD Akron, OH, "Doctor Bob's Nightmare", ‘the story of Robert Holbrook Smith, M.D., of Akron, Ohio. (OM, p. 183 in 1st edition, p. 171 in 2nd and 3rd editions. In the OM and 1st edition, it was titled The Doctor's Nightmare.) ... htmare.htm

32.  Pittman Bill "AA the Way it Began" Glen Abbey Books , 1988

33.  Tom Driberg, The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament: A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, p. 11-12 p.52, Secker & Warburg, 1964.  The Oxford Group was a Christian movement that had a following in Europe, China, Africa, Australia, Scandinavia and America in the 1920s and 30s. It was initiated by an American Lutheran pastor, Frank Buchman, who was of Swiss descent. By 1931 this had grown into a movement which attracted thousands of adherents, many well-to-do, which became known as the Oxford Group. Buchman called the movement the Moral Re-Armament (MRA). By the 1950s the Group was banned by the Catholic Church. Ildefonso Schuster, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, stated that the Moral Re-Armament Movement endangered both Catholics and non-Catholics.  He called the movement dangerous for non-Catholics because it presents a "form of religion cut in half and suggestive, morality without dogma, without the principle of authority, without a supremely revealed faith —in a word, an arbitrary religion, and therefore, one full of errors."  The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano stated that secular and regular clergy were forbidden to attend any meeting of Moral Re-Armament and that lay Catholics were forbidden to serve it in any responsible capacity. A report concerning MRA by the Social and Industrial Council of the Church of England criticized MRA on three counts: theology, psychology and social thinking. The report found theology woefully wanting in MRA. It said, "A certain blindness to the duty of thinking is a characteristic... We have at times been haunted by a picture of the movement, with its hectic heartiness, its mass gaiety and its reiterated slogans, as a colossal drive of escapism from responsible living." The Oxford Group's focus was on personal concerns and placed the entire problem of human existence on self, the idea of personal sinfulness, asserting that individual sin was the key problem and the entire solution was in the individual's conviction, confession, and surrender to God. The Group revived an older 19th century approach in which the focus was on sin and conversion; it practiced a form of ethical and religious perfectionism that was reduced to a call for a renewed morality.

 34. Bill (William G.) Wilson was raised in Vermont near the summer homes of Rowland Hazard and Ebby Thacher. Rowland Hazard III's struggles with alcoholism led to his direct involvement in the chain of events that gave rise to what is today Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), where he is remembered as "Rowland H. In 1961 letter from Dr. Carl Jung wrote to Bill Wilson concerning Rowland Hazard III – (photographic image on the link below) ... obillw.jpg

35."Summarizing Cebra's Recorded 1954 Conversation with Bill W.: Part II: Rowland and Dr. Jung". Culture Alcohol & Society Quarterly (CASQ), Newsletter of Kirk/CAAS Collections at Brown, Vol. III, No. 3: 6. April/May/June 2007.

36.   Alcoholics Anonymous,

37.  Mercandte, Linda A, "Victims and Sinners": p. 61-62 Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press Date 1996-01-01 ISBN 978-0-664-25508-4 ISBN 0-664-25508-6

38.  A New Awakening Recovery Path Today in St. Johnsbury, Vermont,

39.  The New York Times, June 18, 1952, page 8

40.  Time Magazine "Report on MRA” February 14th,1955 ... 24,00.html

41.  Time Magazine 1936, "God Controlled Dictatorship" ... 19,00.html

42.  Driberg, Tom The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, , 1965, pages 68-69.

43.  Miscamble, Wilson D, "From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War", Cambridge University Press, 2006 , P. 14, ISBN 978-0-521-86244-8

44.  Time Magazine August 14th , 1944 "The Candidates and their Churches",8816,775168,00.html
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