Chapter 2: A.A.’s Great Role: A Review of, and Experiences with, the Practices, Principles, and Values of AA.
A Personal Appraisal
Alcoholics Anonymous played an indispensable role in my own life over sixteen years ago. Without any reservation whatever as to the approach, it pointed me to the complete abandonment in my life of alcohol and mind-altering prescription drugs. Dependency on these potential poisons had brought me to ruin in every possible way. Moreover, AA. prescribed for me a welcome discipline, when I had none, for avoiding booze and drugs. AA. enabled me to end the almost unbearable loneliness that had descended upon me for many months, in the company of a gloomy depression. It gave me a purpose in, and technique for, helping others that I had never before grasped or used. It brought back to my mind and actions moral and religious values that had slipped into the gutter with progressive drinking and mind-destruction. And these were values I had seemingly ignored, yet long ago acquired, from my parents, from groups such as the Boy Scouts, from the American Legion’s Boys State, from Sunday School and church, from my schools and colleges, from law school, and from such service organizations as the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary International. Surprisingly, AA. even enabled me to replace a destroyed “normie” reputation with a modicum of self-esteem and significance in our kingdom of drunks! Most important of all, it spawned growing resurgence of my need for, and recognition of, God, the power of God, the commandments of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God, my healing capabilities through God, and the appreciation of His mercy and grace. As the Bible states twice in I John: God is love. And I needed Him in every area of my life. AA. seemed to open the opportunity for me to seek Him and receive His help once again. Did I wind up freed of the drinking problem?” Yes — and from the day I walked in the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous.
After completing 11 years of research on the Biblical roots of early AA. and publishing 17 titles on the subject, I have been deeply motivated to reiterate, primarily in the words of others, some of the major benefits that Alcoholics Anonymous has made available for me. Also made possible for others. And, despite all its warts and blisters, still offers to those willing to search (and without blinders) for all its real roots; to examine and analyze the actual specifics of those roots; and, where deserved, to acknowledge the unique, astonishing, and powerful offer to us all from AA.’s 20th Century program practices.
Let’s first look at some definition problems, and then at some of AA’s very significant and appropriately acknowledged values that were contributed in the last Century.
Some Valuable Ideas and Terminology
Early AA. Relied upon the Creator. Early AA. relied upon the Creator, Almighty God, Yahweh — using unmistakable, descriptive words about Him that were straight from the Bible. Our founders and their early friends all explicitly used such words and clearly did take them from the Bible. This unqualified and clear language referring to our Maker is unquestionably our most valuable legacy — whatever some of today’s AA. detractors may say or believe.
I have already thoroughly discussed and extensively documented the Bible’s and early AA.’s references to the Creator, Almighty God, whose name is Yahweh. (Dick B., Why Early AA. Succeeded: The Good Book in Alcoholics Anonymous Yesterday and Today. [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 2001], pp. 47-72; Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: AA.’s Roots in the Bible, 2d ed. [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1998], pp. 49-88; Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early AA.’s Roots and Successes [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1997], pp. 252-53, 292-96; Dick B., The Golden Text of AA.: God, the Pioneers, and Real Spirituality [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 2000], pp. 5-39; and Dick B., That Amazing Grace [Kihei: HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1996], pp. 35-36, 50-52).
The First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous Frequently Discusses God. In the First Edition of AA.’s Big Book, our basic text, stated: “We never apologize to anyone for depending upon our Creator. . . . All men of faith have courage. They trust their God” (p. 81). Many other specific references to God as Creator can be found at pages 36, 39, 87, 93, 175, and elsewhere. The word “Creator” is used a total of 12 times in the basic text in each subsequent edition of the Big Book (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., pp. 13, 25, 28, 56, 68, 72, 75, 76, 80, 83, 158, 161). And the word “God” or specific references to Him can be found over 400 times in the Third Edition of the Big Book (Stewart C., A Reference Guide to The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous [Seattle, WA: Recovery Press, 1986], pp. 115-16).
Bill Wilson Discussed God. Bill Wilson himself often spoke of his “Father” in Biblical terms. Bill called Him God, Almighty God, Creator, Maker, Father, and Father of Lights, all titles easily located in the Good Book. Dr. Bob frequently spoke of Him as God and Heavenly Father, in terms that were — once again — taken from the Bible. AA. Number Three (Bill Dotson) called Him God and Lord — once again using language from the Bible. Pioneer Clarence H. Snyder (who got sober in February of 1938, was sponsored by Dr. Bob, and later became the AA with the most sobriety) spoke often of God as Creator and Jesus Christ as God’s Son. (See Dick B., That Amazing Grace, pp. 35-36, 50-52.) I believe the impact of these specific descriptions and the beliefs they epitomized was so great that Bill put the following in italicized capital letters in the First Edition of his Big Book, “WHO ARE YOU TO SAY THERE IS NO GOD?“ (p. 69). In the Big Book’s Third Edition, there is an account by an early newcomer (whose name was Abby G.) and who returned from a ball game to see Wilson and Pioneer Clarence Snyder sitting on the davenport. Abby “challenged” Bill to tell him about AA. and “to talk about ‘this cure, this group of anonymous rummies”’ (Mitchell K. How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and The Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio. [NY: AA. Big Book Study Group, 1997], pp. 138-39). Abby “wanted to know what this was that worked so many wonders.” In this man’s own words: “and hanging over the mantel was a picture of Gethsemane and Bill pointed to it and said, ‘There it is”’ (Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., pp. 216-17). The “picture of Gethsemane,” that was hanging on the wall, was, of course, a portrayal of Jesus — whose “transforming power and accomplishments” had in fact worked so many signs, miracles, and wonders — as reported in the Bible. See John 20:30; Mark 16:17-20; John 2:11; Acts 2:22: (“Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know”); Acts 2:43: (“. . . and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles”); Acts 4:29-30: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy hold child Jesus”); Hebrews 2:3-4: (“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him: God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will”); Romans 15:17-19: (“I have therefor whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ”). And there can be little doubt that Bill Wilson himself became fully conversant with such works of the Lord as Bill discussed them nightly with Dr. Bob in the summer of 1935 and listened daily to Dr. Bob’s wife Anne read to Bill and Bob from the Gospels, Acts, Romans, and Hebrews. In fact, it was Anne herself who specifically recommended in her journal and teachings that one should read a book about the life of Christ each year, and study the Gospels, Acts, and the other church epistles daily. (Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939: AA.’s Principles of Success. 3rd ed. [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1998], pp. 81-88.)
The Grapevine Spoke about God. Another AA. publication that spoke of cure by God and God alone was The Grapevine magazine. AA.’s Grapevine later printed an article by the famous medical writer Paul de Kruif who wrote: “The AAs’ medicine is God and God alone. This is their discovery.” Realistically, de Kruif spoke of the medicine and the cure, stating, “It is free as air — with this provision: that the patients it cures have to nearly die before they can bring themselves to take it” (Dick B., The Golden Text of AA., pp. 69-70; see also Volume II: Best of The Grapevine. [New York: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1986], pp. 202-03).
Morris Markey’s Article in Liberty Magazine Spoke about God. Morris Markey had already written a much-quoted article in Liberty Magazine in 1939. The article was Alcoholics and God. The bold-face lead said: “Is there hope for habitual drunkards? A cure that borders on the miraculous — and it works!” (p.6). Quoting Bill Wilson, the article stated: “I’ve got religion. . . . And I know I’m cured of this drinking business for good.” [The article also reported that AAs will almost always say]: “I don’t care what you call the Somebody Else. We call it God. . . . But the patient can have enough confidence in God — once he has gone through the mystical experience of recognizing God. And upon that principle the Alcoholic Foundation rests” (p. 6). As to this Morris Markey magazine article, Bill Wilson said: “To our great delight, Morris soon hammered out an article which he titled ‘Alcoholics and God”’ (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age [New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1958], p. 177; see also Dick B., The Golden Text of AA., pp. 70-71).
Harry Emerson Fosdick Wrote about God. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick frequently wrote about, and at AA.’s own request, endorsed AA.’s Big Book. Proudly quoting Fosdick’s remarks, AA. reported: “They agree that each man must have his own way of conceiving of God, but of God Himself they are utterly sure . . . .” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, pp. 322-23; see also Dick B., The Golden Text of AA.. pp. 69-71).
AA.’s Four Religious Friends Who Championed God. Four friends of Alcoholics Anonymous who were non-alcoholics and from the field of religion had substantial input on the relationship with God that early AAs were enjoined to establish. There were AA.’s later influential Roman Catholic friends who talked of God and God alone — Father Ed Dowling and Sister Ignatia. Their views as to Who was God were also echoed by AA.’s spiritual well-spring — Rev. Sam Shoemaker. Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York (whom Bill Wilson called a “co-founder of AA.”) and AA.’s long-time friend and supporter Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.
Father Ed Dowling
In November of 1940, Bill Wilson met the Irish Roman Catholic Jesuit priest Father Edward Patrick Dowling. Bill came to regard Father Ed as his “spiritual adviser.” Still later, Bill asked Father Dowling to speak at AA.’s St. Louis Convention in 1955. Dowling’s biographer wrote: “Dowling’s talk is remarkable in its explicit Roman Catholic Christianity offered in the steps of God to humanity.” The biographer further quoted Dowling: “We know AA’s Twelve Steps of man toward God” (Robert Fitzgerald, S.J., The Soul of Sponsorship: The Friendship of Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J. and Bill Wilson in Letters [Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 1995], pp. 3, 13, 86-87). There can be no question that Fr. Dowling was speaking only of God as He is described in Scripture.
Bridget Della Mary Gavin had her roots in Ireland. Then, in America, she entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Augustine, completed her postulancy, and petitioned the community for permission to wear their official habit, enter noviceship, and receive a new name, which became Sister Ignatia. She joined the AA. scene about August 16, 1939 — after AA.’s Big Book had been published. Prior to her entry on the scene, Dr. Bob had hospitalized his newcomers in Akron’s City Hospital. However, in about January. 1940, Sister Ignatia was able officially (with the knowledge of her superior and the Chief of Staff) to make hospital care available to AAs as patients of Dr. Bob’s at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio. She worked side-by-side with Dr. Bob for some 10 years thereafter. And she most assuredly talked to AAs about God Almighty during their brief hospitalization under her care. After completing their surrender — admitting defeat — her AA. patients were often told that relinquishing alcohol’s hold released the power of God into their lives. Only spiritual surrender, she said, involving admission of defeat, and acknowledgment of powerlessness, prompted the patients’ search for God. She told them: The next step is to humbly turn to God. “Ask and you shall receive,” she said. (See Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 7:7-8: “Ask, and it shall be given you For every one that asketh receiveth.”). In all her remarks, Sister Ignatia was speaking only of God as He is described in Scripture. (See Mary C. Darrah, Sister Ignatia: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous. [Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1992], pp. 14, 32-33, 42-43, 52-54, 87. 106-07).
Rev. Sam Shoemaker
The Reverend Dr. Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr., was Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York. From the very beginnings of AA. in 1934 to the date of his death in 1963, Sam Shoemaker had the closest touch with Bill Wilson. Details can be found in Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and AA., 2d. ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1999). Bill Wilson called Sam a co-founder” of Alcoholics Anonymous. (See letter from Wilson to Shoemaker, dated April 23, 1963, quoted in Dick B. New Light on Alcoholism, 2d ed., p. 551). Shoemaker’s colleagues called Sam a “Bible Christian” (Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works, 2d ed. [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1998], p. 9). Bill Wilson had Sam address AAs at their International Conventions in both 1955 and 1960. (Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism, 2d ed., pp. 327-35.) And it is scarcely necessary to recount here the tremendous impact, in relationship, in language, and in presence, that Sam Shoemaker had on helping AAs to “find God” — God Almighty, the Creator, as He is described in Scripture.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
The Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was a long-time friend of Bill Wilson’s and a strong supporter of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had an interview with Dr. Peale for about one hour shortly before his death; and Peale stated to me he had never met anyone who did not think that the “higher power” of AA. was God! Later, I was to read, in his best-selling book, many words to the same effect. It was God, as He is known and described in Scripture, that both Peale and Wilson were talking about — even when referring to a “Higher Power” (Norman Vincent Peale. The Positive Power of Jesus Christ: Life-Changing Adventures in Faith [Pauling, NY: Foundation for Christian Living, 1980]; Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking [Pauling, NY: Peale Center for Christian Living, 1978]).
Much has happened since the founding and developmental days of early AA. when the Pioneers talked plainly about their establishment of a relationship with the Creator, their relying upon Him for deliverance, their learning about Him from the Bible, and their praying to Him on a daily basis. These biblical concepts are unquestionably a major part of the legacy bequeathed to us by early AA. In plain-spoken words, therefore, the first and each subsequent edition of AA.’s basic text have said (and with almost identical words each time):
Remember that we deal with alcohol — cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power — That One is God. May you Find Him now! (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st ed. p. 71; bold face added).
Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas: (a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. (c) That God could and would if sought (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st ed., p. 72; bold face added).
I truly believed those propositions about God. AA. had offered them to me right off the bat — and just about every single day after I had entered its rooms. I did seek relief from Almighty God, the Creator. And He has relieved my alcoholism for many many years and has done for me in many other areas of my life those things which I could not do for myself. That is AA.’s great lesson to, and contribution for, me personally! At the time in my life I most needed them.
About Healing, Cure, Deliverance, and Overcoming
The concepts of healing, cure, deliverance, and overcoming predominated in pioneer AA., and they provided a valuable awakening as to what God could do. But they soon took a back seat to the views of those who felt an alcoholic could never be “cured.” The original concepts, however, are still a vital part of the AA. legacy which offers to you, to me, and to all of us a very timely and special opportunity in this 21st Century.
AA. Pioneer groups studied (and many believed) some very simple propositions about the help God can and does make available to those who want it. These propositions were stated over and over and over again in the Bible, from which the Pioneers obtained their basic ideas.
As to Healing. The first proposition is that God could and would and did heal them. The following are just a few of the Bible’s assurances that early AAs read many many times. (For explicit documentation of the sources used by early AAs, including the Bible itself, from which AAs read about healing, cure, etc., see Dick B.: The Golden Text of AA., pp. 23-26.) Key Bible affirmation of their beliefs was and is found in these verses:
I am the Lord that healeth thee (Exodus 15:26b).
Bless the Lord, O my soul. . . . Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases (Psalm 103:1, 3).
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word and healed them. . . (Psalm 107:19-20).
Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father. I have heard thy prayer. I have seen thy tears: Behold, I will heal thee . . . (2 Kings 20:5).
I have seen his ways and will heal him (Isaiah 57:18).
For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord (Jeremiah 30:17).
See also: Matthew 11:5; Mark 10:52; Acts 3:16; James 5:15-16.
As to Curing Them. The second proposition is that God could and would cure them.
Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth (Jeremiah 33:6).
According to your faith be it unto you (Matthew 9:28).
The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them (Matthew 11:5).
And in that same hour he [Jesus] cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight (Luke 7:21).
Then he [Jesus] called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases (Luke 9:1).
And he [Jesus] said unto them, Go ye and tell that fox [Herod]. Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected (Luke 13:32).
Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed (John 5:8-10. Interestingly, in AA.’s Chapter “There Is A Solution,” Bill states: “After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again.” See Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 19).
See also Acts 5:15-16 (as to Peter), Acts 8:5-8 (as to Philip), Acts 10:38 (as to Jesus), and Acts 19:11-12 (as to Paul).
As to Deliverance: The third proposition is that they could claim deliverance.
Who [the Father] hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son (Colossians 1:13).
As to Overcoming: The fourth proposition is that those who were believers had overcome the world.
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them. because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).
For whosoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 5:4-5).
The foregoing propositions were also a part of my own cure, deliverance, and AA. legacy. I firmly believed I would be healed of my alcoholism by sticking closely to the AA. program, studying and learning the Big Book, taking and endeavoring to practice the relevant Steps, participating actively in the Fellowship, and passing on to others what I had received. On top of it all, I definitely relied upon the Creator for deliverance from the host of problems, including the liquor problem, all of which AAs rightly call the “wreckage” of the past. And God most assuredly did heal, cure, deliver, and enable me to overcome these destructive factors of my former life.
The puzzler concerns alcoholism itself: Was it, or is it a disease, a “sickness,” a “spiritual malady,” sin, a genetic disorder, a behavioral disorder, a mental disorder, or what? People are still working on that one, and AA. eventually called it a three-part disease: mental, physical, and spiritual. Those AA. ideas may well be outmoded today when it comes to the etiology of alcoholism. But the wisdom involved in AA.’s description of the cure could serve us very well today if we would just accept it. AA. described, and still describes, the cure as a “miracle.” (See Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 85.) So did its Oxford Group predecessor, with its well-known slogan — “Sin is the disease. Christ — the Cure. The result — A Miracle” (Harry Almond. Foundations For Faith [London: Moral Re-Armament, 1975], pp. 1,2,7, 16; H. A. Walter, Soul Surgery [Oxford: University Press, 1932] p. 86). “It works — it really does,” said the AA. pioneers of their spiritual program of recovery from “alcoholism.” And AA. has repeated that statement in all its Big Book editions. (See Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 88.) AA. worked! What’s the legacy that can come from these simple expressions: Disease,” “Cure,” “Jesus Christ,” “Miracle?” Well, there might have been a legacy if the recovery world had “kept it simple,” but it didn’t. AA. has therefore left a greater legacy in complicating the problem than it has in selling the solution.
The AA. Haven for the Beleaguered Newcomer. Many a physician, clergyman, therapist, counselor, probation officer, judge, and educator says that nothing works as well as AA. As I’ll cover in more detail later, practically the first words I heard from my cardiologist here on Maui was that “AA. is the only thing that works.” I heard a similar idea from my psychiatrist when I first entered AA. He said: “Get a Bible and a Big Book. Put a rubber band around them. And carry them wherever you go from now on. And–whatever the facts may be — Alcoholics Anonymous beckons when no one else knows what can be done for us or perhaps even wants to know.
Many of us, and I certainly was one, are a complete wreck when we walk in the doors of AA. I was in a daze. I could not communicate very well. I had bitten my tongue almost in half from seizures. I was unable to think well or remember even the simplest things. I shook for months-even years thereafter. My legs and feet were numb. My left arm hurt so badly I could barely raise it at times. I wet my pants at AA. meetings. I was severely depressed. And my legal, marital, criminal, financial, tax, and other problems seemed insoluble. I certainly did not know whether I had a disease, a spiritual malady, a sin, or a mental disorder. But I suffered from just about everything the devil could throw my way: fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, dishonesty, anger, remorse — all of these, and more. Serious or not, Bill Wilson expressed it well in his own Big Book story: “If there was a Devil, he seemed the Boss Universal, and he certainly had me” (Big Book. 1st ed., p. 20).
From my sponsor, from repetitive readings from AA.’s Big Book, from endless jargon at meetings — some of it ridiculous and some of it helpful — and also from some good literature I picked up at my treatment center, I began to see and hear some important viewpoints about our plight:
Many do not comprehend that the alcoholic is a very sick person (Foreword to First Edition of the Alcoholics Anonymous quoted at page xiii of the new 4th edition).
Remember that we deal with alcohol — cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power — that One is God. May you find Him now! (4th ed., pp. 58-59).
Probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. That God could and would if He were sought (4th ed., p. 60).
RARELY HAVE we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path (4th ed., p. 58).
If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it — then you are ready to take certain steps (4th ed., p. 58).
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development [moving through the Ninth Step], we will be amazed before we are halfway through. . . . We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves (4th ed., pp. 83-84).
. . . For by this time [completion of the Tenth Step] sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will see that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it (4th ed. p. 85).
You don’t assimilate all those points at once. But you do hear them day after day at meeting after meeting. Soon they become part of your language and that of those with whom you talk. The ideas are not Gospel. You hear them while suffering from all kinds of trouble and physical sickness. In my case, though I did not once or ever want to take a drink, I still wondered how you could possibly get through all the trouble. Ever!
And that’s when God can and should become the most important single factor in your life. They’ll tell you in AA. that staying sober is the most important thing. Maybe it is. However, being healed of the drinking problem is a small victory compared to being cured of all the rest of the consequences — heart, liver, balance, breathing, insomnia, and other physical damage. Overcoming drinking pales in comparison to being delivered from the fears, doubts, worries, shame, guilt, anxiety, confusion, forgetfulness, depression, and endless legal troubles. Without help, it’s too much for us. And that’s when God becomes the most important single factor in your life. At least in my life. Or did I already say that!
Back to the Problem — Alcoholism: What Is It? There is no reliable legacy for us from AA. which satisfactorily answers the question: “What is alcoholism?” Is alcoholism a disease, a spiritual malady, a sin, a sickness, a genetic disorder, a physical addiction, a psychological addiction, a mental disorder, an hereditary burden, an environmental product, or what? And can it be healed or cured or cast out or overcome or reversed, or treated, or what? Or, in today’s AA. language, are we still in bondage, because: “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 85)? And hence, says AA.’s text: “We are not cured of alcoholism” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 85) These are heavy issues, I am sure. Their discussion envelopes tens of thousands of articles. But the issues really don’t matter much to me today or to most of us who think our solution lies with God. They probably matter a great deal to those who spend money on insurance, treatment, grants, research, prevention, correction, TV ads, education, and religious programs. Seemingly looking for some “magic” bullet or formula. But the experts are in total disagreement anyway. Unfortunately, however, that’s where the money seems to be going — just throwing money at alcoholism through insurance, grants, agencies, research, therapy, government wars, Czars, and on and on.
E. M. Jellinek
Since AA. is regarded as favoring the “disease concept of alcoholism,” a good starting place in trying to describe alcoholism is The Disease Concept of Alcoholism by E. M. Jellinek (New Jersey, Hillhouse Press, 1960). To begin with, Jellinek jests: “there are more definitions of definition than there are ‘definitions’ of alcoholism” (p. 33). And his own learned study raises more questions than it answers. Dealing with alcoholism and its species, Jellinek discusses alpha, beta, gamma, and delta alcoholism, stating that gamma alcoholism involves a definite progression from psychological to physical dependence and marked behavior changes with acquired increased tissue tolerance to alcohol, adaptive cell metabolism, withdrawal symptoms and “craving,” and loss of control. Whew! This gamma species, he says, produces the greatest and most serious kinds of damage (pp. 35-41). Discussing various formulations, he covers alcoholism in physiopathological and physical terms, including these: allergy, brain pathology, nutrition, and endocrinology. Jellinek puts AA. ‘ s view under the “allergy” category. In summary, Jellinek can be listed with those who, for one reason or another, and despite all the variations and complexities, regard alcoholism as a “disease.”
But the battle merely begins at that point, and we will mention several of those whose somewhat different and even later views seem to command a good deal of respect in various circles.
George Vaillant, M.D..
The distinguished scientist and professor George E. Vaillant — who has recently won for himself a spot in the AA. hierarchy itself — observes in The Natural History of Alcoholism Revisited. (Mass: Harvard University Press, 1995): “Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power. . . . Perhaps the best one-sentence definition of alcoholism available to us is the one provided by the National Council on Alcoholism (1976, p. 764): ‘The person with alcoholism cannot consistently predict on any drinking occasion the duration of the episode or the quantity that will be consumed.’ As with coronary heart disease, we must learn to regard alcoholism as both disease and behavior disorder” (pp. 1,45).
• Herbert Fingarette
Herbert Fingarette, a much respected professor at the University of California, a consultant on alcoholism and addiction to the World Health Organization, and a Fellow of the Stanford Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, has posted a new mark to shoot at. The title of his book speaks eloquently of his position: Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988). Showing no disinclination to enter controversy, Fingarette writes: “Once we free ourselves of the discredited classic disease concept, we no longer limit our attention to a relatively small group of diagnosed alcoholics whose drinking behavior allegedly derives from a single causal origin and follows a single inexorable course. Instead we perceive a much larger and more diverse assortment of individual heavy drinkers who have little in common except that (1) they drink a lot, (2) they tend to have many more problems in life than nondrinkers or moderate drinkers, and (3) they show a puzzlingly inconsistent ability to manage their drinking” (p. 99). As to alcoholics, he says: “The broad interpretation that best fits the evidence is that heavy drinkers are people for whom drinking has become a central activity in their way of life. . . for the long-term heavy drinker, life has come to center on drinking — life [that] is pervaded by a preoccupation with drinking, shaped and driven by the quest for drink, drinking situations, and drinking friends” (p. 100). The professor makes the following additional points: (1) There is no single entity which can be defined as alcoholism. (2) There is no clear dichotomy between either alcoholics and non-alcoholics, or between prealcoholics and nonprealcoholics even though individuals may have differing susceptibility to both the use of alcohol and the development of alcohol problems as a result of genetic, physiological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. (3) The sequence in which adverse consequences develop appears to be highly variable. (4) There is no evidence to date for a basic biological process that predisposes an individual toward abuse of alcohol. (5) The empirical evidence suggests that alcohol problems are reversible.
(6) Alcohol problems are typically interrelated with other life problems” (p. 106). Finally, he adds: “There is no reason to see heavy drinking as a symptom of illness, a sign of persistent evil, or the mark of a conscienceless will” (p. 111).
Lance Dodes, M.D.
Lance Dodes is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and a Director of the Boston Center for Problem Gambling. He has served as the director of alcoholism and substance abuse treatment unit at Harvard’s McLean Hospital, and as the director of the alcoholism unit at what is now a part of Massachusetts General Hospital. He has just published a very challenging work, titled The Heart of Addiction (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002). Dodes rejects the disease concept of alcoholism and the idea that it is a genetic disorder. He says treatment ideas have become stuck. Of AA., he says: “Considering Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, two studies cited by Fingarette that looked at eighteen-month followups of people in AA found that at most, 25 percent of people were still attending meetings, and that among regular AA members, only 22 percent consistently maintained sobriety. Taken together, these numbers indicate that fewer than 6 percent of people both attended and stayed sober” (p. 9). Dodes advocates a new way of understanding alcoholism and states “of people with alcoholism and other addictions who have been able to take control of their lives by making use of the new way to understand the nature of addiction. . . [and] understood for themselves how the critical kinds of emotional factors worked in them, they were just like anyone else who has discovered the basis for what he or she is doing. Armed with this deeper understanding of their compulsion to repeat their addictive behavior, they were no longer helpless in the face of it” (p. 9; bold face added). He claims addictions are always displacements — substitutions for another, more direct act; and, that without displacement, responding to overwhelming helplessness would mean taking a direct action. Further, “without a displacement, there can be no addiction. The fact that addictions are displacements also explains why people can shift so easily from one addiction to another. They are simply moving the focus of their displacement to a new activity” (pp. 54-55). He continues: “. . . despite their particular form, all addictions are related. . . . The underlying unity of addictions also leads to a new perspective on their names — they are simply the names of displaced focuses. ‘Alcoholism,’ for example, is the title when the purpose and drive of an addiction is displaced to the behavior of drinking alcohol” (p. 56). “Addictions,” he says, “are inherently psychological compromises. The very fact of performing an addictive act means that, for reasons that are emotionally important to you, you did not allow yourself to take direct action. . . . Unlike the common wisdom that addictions are a form of pleasure-seeking, the fact that they are self-imposed compromises indicates how much they are the opposite. Rather than being the simple enactment of an impulse toward pleasure, addictions are a sign of inhibiting an action that would have directly expressed your wish at that moment” (p. 57). Drawing a firm distinction between physical addiction and psychological addition, Dodes states: “Detoxifying (withdrawing) people who are physically addicted to their drugs does not cure them. Not only do people often relapse immediately after detoxification, but it is well-known that addictive behavior frequently returns even many years after the last drug use. Clearly, the essence of the addiction exists separately and independently from the presence of physical effects brought about by the drug itself, or by withdrawal from the drug” (p. 72). “Addiction is a human problem that resides in people, not in the drug or in the drug’s capacity to produce physical effects. . . . Some people, while agreeing that the problem of addiction lies in the person and not in the drug or its physical effects, would attribute the problem to genes, or to brain chemistry, rather than to a person’s psychology. . . . An addiction, then, is truly present only when there is a psychological drive to perform the addictive behavior — that is, only when there is psychological addiction. For this reason, I call behaviors in which this psychology is present true addictions, in contrast to cases in which there is only a physical addiction” (pp. 73-74). “If unquestionable addictions can be present without any physical addiction — as with binge drinkers or compulsive gamblers — and if physical addictions can be present without any true addiction — as in the medically ill patients I just mentioned — then it must be that physical addiction is neither necessary to nor sufficient for an addiction. It can truthfully be said, then, that physical addiction is surprisingly incidental to the real nature of addiction” (pp. 75-76). Dr. Dodes gives a light nod of approval to AA. as being useful for some people while noting its ineffectiveness for most. However, he also gives a light nod of recognition to “higher power” ideas. Yet, adopting his profession’s all too frequent attitude about religion, he makes no mention whatever of God, the Bible, the power of Jesus Christ, or the Christian Fellowship and distinct biblical focus of the early AA. program.
Joan Matthews Larson, Ph.D.
Joan Matthews Larson holds a doctorate in nutrition and is founder of Health Recovery Center in Minneapolis. In consultation with Keith W. Sehnert, M.D., she wrote Alcoholism — The Biochemical Connection: A Biomedical Regimen for Recovery with a Proven 75 Percent Success Rate (New York: Villard Books, 1992). She said: “The more I learned about alcoholism, the more I became convinced that it is not just a psychological disorder or a sign of emotional weakness or flawed character that can be resolved with talk therapy. Instead, I began to see alcoholism as a physical disease, the outcome of a powerful physical addiction to alcohol that gradually inflicts mortal damage to brain and body chemistry” (p. 23). She advocates that alcoholism has many biochemical connections and is not primarily a psychological disorder. Citing dismal recovery rates among those with no treatment, with antabuse only, and even with full treatment including AA., she asserts that relapse is the norm. She observed that the majority of her patients suffered from one or more of five disorders: 1. Nutritional deficits. 2. Food allergies. 3. Thyroid disorders. 4. Hypoglycemia. 5, Candida-related complex. Her biochemical repair program addresses substances like alcohol and other drugs that must be kept out of the alcoholic’s body and substances that must be restored (brain and body chemicals depleted by alcohol). For example, her detox and maintenance formulae involve glutamine, free-form amino acids, DL-Phenylalanine, Triptophan, Vitamin C, Calcium/Magnesium, Efamol. Multivitamin/mineral formula, and pancreatic enzymes. Attention is paid to other factors such as diet, exercise, and so on.
Gerald G. May M.D.
Gerald G. May deals with alcoholism and addictions from his stance as a Christian psychiatrist. His important title is Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. (San Francisco: Harper and Collins, 1988). In brief, Dr. May says that our free will is given to us for a purpose: so that we may choose freely, without coercion or manipulation, to love God in return for His love, and to love one another in a similar perfect way. Our freedom, he says, is not complete. Working against it is the powerful force of addiction. Psychologically, he says, addiction uses up desire. It is like a psychic malignancy, sucking our life energy into specific obsessions and compulsions, leaving less and less energy available for other people and other pursuits. Spiritually, he contends, addiction is a deep-seated form of idolatry. The objects of our addictions become our false gods. These are what we worship, attend to, and to which we give our time and energy, instead of love. “Addiction, then, displaces and supplants God’s love as the source and object of our deepest true desire. It is . . . a ‘counterfeit of religious presence’.” (p. 13). Dr. May gives this as the definition of addiction: “Addiction is any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits freedom of human desire. It is caused by the attachment of desire to specific objects. . . . [and he adds] As we shall see, the relationship between attachment and addiction is not as simple as it might sound. For one thing, the brain never completely forgets its old attachments, so the absence of conscious desire does not necessarily mean attachment is gone. . . it is obvious that still more precision is needed to adequately understand the nature of addiction. We can take a significant step toward precision [May claims] by exploring five essential characteristics that mark true addiction: (1) tolerance; (2) withdrawal symptoms. (3) self-deception, (4) loss of willpower, and (5) distortion of attention” (pp. 24-26).
• William L. Playfair, M.D.
In The Useful Lie (Illinois: Crossway Books, 1991), William L. Playfair, a Christian physician, attacks the “Recovery Industry” and the “Disease Model” of alcoholism and with a much different approach. First, Playfair points to authors like Professor Fingarette who consider unscientific and counterproductive the idea that alcoholism and drug addiction are “diseases” requiring medical treatment. Second, Playfair believes that the “disease” concept has been swallowed by Christians and rendered churches as ineffective as the treatment industry. Third, he states: “Not too long ago Christians and non-Christians alike believed that what is today referred to as ‘alcoholism’ or ‘drug addition’ — ’chemical dependency’ — was the consequence of the regular and long-term ‘sinful’ use of alcohol and drugs. In the case of alcohol, it simply meant excessive drinking.
According to this traditional view, most drug users became addicts by misusing or abusing drugs. It is that simple. The earlier traditional view is called the moral model. The recovery industry’s view is called the medical model. While the moral model recognizes that medical problems often result from or are complicated by substance abuse, it sees addiction as primarily a moral problem with a moral solution.” Stating that he uses the term moral model to refer to the Biblical view, he paints this picture of the Moral Model: (1) The addict became addicted primarily as the result of immoral behavior. (2) The addict is first and foremost guilty of sin. (3) The addict is spiritually and morally depraved. On page 29 and 30, Dr. Playfair musters compelling Scripture to establish that those addicted to alcohol are called drunkards; that the alcoholic or drug addict is a person controlled by his or her habit; that the Christian is to be “controlled” by the Holy Spirit; that we have a choice in such matters; that substance abuse or misabuse has brought these people “under the power,” and that such “uncontrolled lifestyle” is called unrighteousness (sin). Playfair finds company for his views in the work of a number of authors such as Dr. Martin Bobgan and his wife Deidre Bobgan.
• Martin and Deidre Bobgan
Martin and Deidre Bobgan, a husband and wife team, authored 12 Steps to Destruction: Codependency Recovery Heresies (Santa Barbara, CA: East Gate Publishers, 199 1). The Bobgans quote the following: “When man defines disease, alcoholism becomes a disease. Then all manner of sin is labeled as disease, to be cured with chemical, electrical and mechanical treatments. Any sinful habit, from gluttony to fornication, from stealing to bestiality, can become a disease” (p. 86). Firing shots at AA., the Bobgans say: “The influence of AA has been tremendous in promoting the belief that habitual heavy drinking is a “disease” of alcoholism. In spite of the fact that there is no clear etiology for the disease, most people now assume alcoholism is indeed a disease. And, even though the Bible clearly refers to drunkenness as sin, most Christians have hopped onto the AA bandwagon of faith and believe that habitual drunkenness is due to a disease called ‘alcoholism’ or ‘addiction’ rather than to sin” (p. 74).
• Jerry G. Dunn
Jerry G. Dunn is an ordained Baptist pastor. But, much before his ordination, and after completing college, he had sought a promising career in the field of advertising. Then, he “was gripped in alcohol’s unyielding vise.” He lost everything. The road down led to a Texas prison where, through reading the Bible, he was saved. Later he enjoyed a successful career in the newspaper business, did extensive counseling of alcoholics, and finally joined the staff of the Open Door Mission in Omaha where he became Director of Rehabilitation. I personally met him years later. By that time, he had written the very popular title God Is for the Alcoholic. (Chicago, Moody Press, 1965). We shared a podium together at the first International Conference of Alcoholics Victorious. He gave me a copy of his book. And I found he laid his views of alcoholism right on the line and very concisely. “Alcohol,” he said, “is a poison to the nervous system. . . . Beverage alcohol is an intoxicating, hypnotic analgesic, an anesthetic narcotic, poisonous and potentially habit-forming, craving-producing or addiction producing drug or chemical. . . . alcohol itself plays more of a role in the process of alcoholism than just that of causing intoxication” (p. 13). “Alcoholism is a sickness of the soul — a sin sickness, and it must be considered such,” said Jerry (p. 21). He cited some 627 verses in the Bible on excessive drinking. He said: “There isn’t any place in the Bible where it says that you shouldn’t drink. But it does have a lot to say about getting drunk,” he tells a listener. “Then I proceed to show him in the Word that he is a sinner, that he needs a Savior because he has committed a sin against the Holy God by getting drunk” (p. 71).
• Jack Van Impe
In Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy — written by Jack Van Impe, with Roger F. Campbell (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980) — Dr. Van Impe lends much support to Jerry Dunn’s position. Van Impe does a concise and forceful job of setting forth what he believes to be the Bible’s position on drink, drunkenness, and “alcoholism.” He provides lots of data on the destructiveness of drinking and on “the rising tide of alcohol use in America.” He also covers the ineffective results in the Washingtonians, the Temperance Movement, the Anti-Saloon League, Prohibition, etc. But his major platform rests on his answers to these questions: “Do Christians always agree on the booze question? Should they? What does the Bible say about beverage alcohol?” (p. 100). He says that Christians are divided on the question of drinking. In America, he states, the majority of evangelical churches take at least a nominal stand against the use of alcohol; but the move is on to water down this position. In Europe, a great number of professing Christians use wine or beer regularly under the guise of necessity, he claims. Then he asks: Is there no biblical absolute on the alcohol question? First, he tackles “wine in the Old Testament.” He points to authoritative biblical studies he says establish that the Bible speaks of two kinds of wine: good wine and bad wine, unfermented wine and fermented wine, wine that does not intoxicate and wine that does intoxicate. He concludes that wherever the use of wine is prohibited or discouraged it [the Bible] means the fermented wine. Where its use is encouraged and is spoken of as something for our good it means unfermented” (p.118). Then Van Impe covers “Jesus and Wine.” This means wine at the Communion service and the wine given to Jesus on the Cross. In the one case, he says, Jesus remained consistent as to fermented wine “when establishing the Communion service and therefore did not use intoxicating wine as the symbol of His blood” (p. 128). On the cross, he says, Jesus was offered intoxicating wine to make the pain more bearable. Van Impe says: “In His most trying hour, Jesus refused intoxicating wine. And so should we” (p. 129). He then reviews “wine in the church.” Citing a biblical scholar, he says: “In the light of the conclusions drawn earlier that there is no explicit Old Testament justification for assuming that wine drinking is ever appropriate for the saint, even in moderation, it is important to indicate briefly that the New Testament evidence concurs with, or at least is not contrary to, this conclusion” (p. 137). Then, he concludes that, even in the case of wine for the sick, whether it was fermented or unfermented: “In either case, the text provides no encouragement for the use of fermented wine except for the sick. . . In the finest hour of the church, beverage alcohol was shunned by earnest and dedicated believers” (p. 139). Van Impe argues that “everyone who drinks has an alcohol problem” — whether drink simply dulls the senses of the user, or carries with it the threat of dependency, or makes one periodically hazardous to others.” Or causes physical maladies, family problems, behavior changes, law breaking, and so on. And on our basic question, Van Impe concludes: “My belief is that alcoholism is one of the symptoms of a far deeper and more serious disease. . . . The underlying disease is sin. These [things such as bad temper, cruelty, greed, hypocrisy, compulsive promiscuity, fear, etc.] are the outbreaking manifestations of it. As spots go with measles, boils with blood impurities, and certain rashes with emotional stress, these things go with sin. If this is true, we can only have a real cure when the basic disease has been cured. . . . I believe that all those people I mentioned who don’t need to drink anymore have been cured of their real underlying disease, which was sin. Inevitably, the symptom-alcoholism — went away” (pp. 154-55; bold face added).
• Cathy Burns
In Alcoholics Anonymous Unmasked: Deception and Deliverance (Mt. Carmel, PA: Sharing, 1991), Dr. Cathy Burns sets forth a similar view. She says: “Actually, if alcoholism is a disease, it is the easiest ‘disease’ to cure. All one has to do is stay away from alcoholic beverages. Diseases such as cancer, measles, mumps, and tuberculosis certainly are not controlled in any such way” (p. 69). She continues: “No, alcoholism is NOT a disease; it is a sin which is willfully committed by a person” (p. 70). She includes an entire chapter, titled “The Bible And Alcoholism” (pp. 93-105); and she concludes: “The answer to overcoming an alcoholic lifestyle (or any other sin) is not found in attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but confessing your sins to Jesus and asking Him to forgive you” (pp. 103-104). She cites Romans 10:9; Psalm 32:5; Romans 5:1; Philippians4:7; and Matthew 11:28; and then reminds: ” If the Son [Jesus Christ] therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
There are many other writers who have taken a crack at definitions — often with an apparent attempt to attack religion, Christianity, Alcoholics Anonymous, the “recovery industry,” addiction medicine, treatment programs, certain scholars, certain historians, and many other kinds of targets. But most will not receive our attention here. And their writings can be found listed and/or categorized in our inventory of the 23,100 item historical collection I have assembled over the last 11 years and in connection with my 17 published titles. That material is now embodied in my title Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous: An Eleven-Year Research, Writing. Publishing and Fact Dissemination Project (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 2001).
Other Definitions and Viewpoints. Helpful, perhaps, are the following titles containing definitions and viewpoints on the meaning of alcoholism and addiction:
• Ronald J. Catanzaro, M.D.
For the purpose of this book, an alcoholic is defined as a person who has become dependent on the drug alcohol, consequently drinking more alcohol than the socially accepted norm for his culture; his excessive drinking damages his health and his relation to his family, friends and job. Alcoholism is the name of the chronic disease from which the alcoholic suffers (Alcoholism: The Total Treatment Approach [IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1968], p. 6).
Arnold M. Washton, Ph.D. & Donna Boundy, M.S.W.
. . . [A]ddiction is any self-defeating behavior that a person cannot stop despite its adverse consequences. . . (Willpower ‘s Not Enough: Understanding and Recovering from Addictions of Every Kind [NY: Harper & Row, 1989], p. 13).
• James E. Royce, S.J.
Alcoholism was portrayed there [in the previous chapter] as a complex, psychophysiological dependence upon alcohol which ends up being its own obsessive-compulsive dynamism (Alcohol Problems and Alcoholism: A Comprehensive Survey [NY: The Free Press, 1981], p. 159).
• Edward P. Nace, M.D.
Six constructs make up the essential phenomena of alcoholism: Psychological dependence on a chemical, craving, loss of control, personality regression, denial, and conflicted behavior” (The Treatment of Alcoholism [NY: Brunner/Mazel, Publishers, 1987], p. 67).
• Katherine Ketcham, et al.
Alcoholism is a progressive neurological disease strongly influenced by genetic vulnerability. Inherited or acquired abnormalities in brain chemistry create an altered response to alcohol which in turn causes a wide array of physical, psychological, and behavioral problems.. . . Alcoholism is caused by biochemical/neurophysiological abnormalities that are passed down from one generation to the next or, in some cases, acquired through heavy or prolonged drinking (Ketcham, et al., Beyond the Influence: Understanding and Defeating Alcoholism [New York: Bantam Books, 2000], p. 46).
• Anderson Spickard M.D. and Barbara R. Thompson
Because of the alcoholic’s helplessness, and because addiction follows a predictable pattern and has a pronounced inheritance factor, it is not inappropriate to call alcoholism a disease. However, it is never simply a physical disease; rather, alcoholism is the paradigm disease of the whole person. . . the alcoholic, more often than not, loses everything. He is sick in his body, mind, emotions, spirit, and relationships. Unless the alcoholic gets help in all four areas, his chances for recovery are very poor indeed (Dying for a Drink: What You Should Know about Alcoholism [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985], p. 41).
• Wayne Poley, Gary Lea, and Gail Vibe
From the old moralistic perspective, “weakness of will” would probably be held up as a major cause of alcoholism, while a biological-medical model would look for nutritional deficits or metabolic disorders and a psychologist might try to uncover a “personality disorder.” Much closer to providing us with an accurate perspective of how alcoholism develops would be the contemporary multi-disciplinary model: alcoholism is the resultant end-product of a variety of contributing factors, from socio-cultural to biological to psychological (Alcoholism: a Treatment Manual [NY: Gardner Press, 1979], p. 33).
• Martin M. Davis
Addiction — whether chemical, behavioral, or relational — is first and foremost a spiritual disease. It is an attempt to escape the ‘pain, brokenness, and human limitation’ of our existence in this fallen world. Pain, brokenness, and human limitation are spiritual problems that emanate from the atrophy of the soul that characterizes human beings who have been cut off from the life-giving sustenance of the Creator. Chemical dependency and other forms of addiction frequently result from maladaptive attempts to find the solace that comes only from a spiritual relationship with the God who is there. Addiction is often the unfortunate result of innumerable misguided attempts to fill the emptiness of our thirsty souls with chemicals or inappropriate behaviors. Addiction is a spiritual disease because it offers a counterfeit substitute for the soul-healing that can come only from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (The Gospel and the Twelve Steps: Developing a Closer Relationship with Jesus [San Diego, CA: Recovery Publications, 1993], p. 202-03).
• Bob and Pauline Bartosch
Although a portion of the Christian community considers alcoholism and drug dependency to be a “sin” or merely a spiritual problem, we believe addiction to be a disease of body, mind, emotion and soul, and that all aspects of the person need to be addressed in order for quality recovery to occur (Overcomers Outreach: A Bridge to Recovery [La Habra, CA: Overcomers Outreach, 1994], p. 55).
• J. Keith Miller
The idea of referring to Sin as a “disease” troubles some people, who think lam saying that one is not responsible for one’s sinful behavior. In other words, if Sin is a disease and I can’t help myself, why not go on and sin. I’m not saying that at all, but merely stating what biblical theologians have always known: Sin is a pernicious condition that all have (1 John 1:9) and that we can’t defeat on our own. Otherwise why would Christ have to “come and save us from sin”? Sin is like compulsive or addictive habits that seem to control our actions even when we don’t want them to and after we swear we will “never do it again.” Paradoxically, even though we are powerless to defeat Sin on our own, we are responsible for our Sin and for seeking to stop sinning, a seeking that leads us to God. . . . But I finally realized that nobody could help me with my Sin, my control disease, and the fear and pain it was causing me. The source of this pain was inside myself in my invisible and “benevolent,” but self-centered and myopic, “conductor of the local world attitude.”. . . Only God’s power can defeat our Sin, but part of what God’s power does is release the personal power he has given each of us as creatures in his image. As we begin to access God’s power to defeat the Sin-disease and discover and use our own legitimate power to live, we step into the spiritual world, where God shares the keys to life and reality (A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps As a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth [NY: HarperCollins, 1991], pp. 4-6).
David R. Rudy
An Interactionist Definition. . . . Alcoholism is a characterization attached to drinkers by others when these others question the drinkers’ behavior and when the drinkers lack the power or desire to negotiate another explanation…. Before we examine this definition in detail, the reader must be aware that it is not the same to say that alcoholism is a characterization that involves behavior and response as it is to say that alcoholism is sin, moral weakness, crime, or illness. The latter definitions are definitions of phenomena as social problems while the former is a sociological definition (Becoming Alcoholic: Alcoholics Anonymous and the Reality of Alcoholism [IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986], pp. 99-100).
Two Additional, Voluminous Research Works. While not necessarily taking a particular position, these two do illustrate and, in the first case, compound the array of complex and confusing discussions of drunkenness, sin, and the uncontrolled use of alcohol and drugs.
• William L. White. Slaying The Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America (Bloomington, IL: Chestnut Health Systems, 1998). The title contains an immense amount of valuable information, some of which will be quoted here. The problem is that it purports to be a comprehensive history. Yet, like so much of the other historical writing of the last twenty-five years, it completely misses the boat when it comes to describing, analyzing, or covering spiritual roots of Alcoholics Anonymous — the movement it most applauds. Those roots, primarily biblical, are covered comprehensively and in depth in many of my titles, including Turning Point: A History of Early AA. ‘s Spiritual Roots and Successes (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1997), and httn://www.dickb.com/index.shtml. White’s work exemplifies just one more glaring omission by today’s secular writers in their failure to provide accurate data on the Bible, Quiet Time, the teachings of Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, the life-changing program of the Oxford Group, the journal of Anne Ripley Smith (wife of AA. co-founder Dr. Bob), and the Christian literature in such wide use by the AA. pioneers. In other words, a purported history that omits major, early historical elements of its subject matter, can only be called a review of some history, but not a history. Nonetheless, White’s material contains these important and helpful points: “The Swedish physician Magnus Huss introduced the term alcoholism in 1849 to describe a state of chronic alcohol intoxication that was characterized by severe physical pathology and disruption of social functioning” (p. xiv). White closes his chapter on the AA. program by stating: “AA.’s legacies are many. First, AA. constitutes the largest and most enduring mutual aid-society of recovered alcoholics in human history. . . . AA. also constitutes the most fully developed culture of recovery that has ever existed — a culture with its own history, mythology, values, language, rituals, symbols, and literature. . . . AA. has also exerted an enormous influence on the evolution of social policies related to alcohol and alcoholism, and on the evolution of alcoholism treatment. . . . AA. survived the demise of its founders as a ‘stunning innovation in the politics of organizational life’ and a unique ‘democratic solution to the succession problem inherent in charismatic leadership. . . . AA. was the modern beginning of social affiliation based on shared experience. AA. marks the apex of new voluntary spiritual communities that have increasingly taken over the functions of family, extended family, and neighborhood, as well as the social functions of the church and workplace” (pp. 162-163). Wow and Amen! I didn’t realize how important my fellowship of drunks actually is. Yet in response to all the foregoing AA. accolades, I comment in amazement: You didn’t mention God! How, then, can this be called an adequate history of AA! The situation reminds me of one described by a man who is probably the most popular AA. circuit speaker of today. He tells of a sign in Germany which states, “God is dead,” signed “Nietzsche” [referring to the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche].The sentence on the sign, says the AA. speaker, is followed by this statement: “Nietzsche is dead, “signed “God “Is God dead in the alcoholism field? Impossible, but some of its most popular writers talk as if He were. But He isn’t!
• Howard Clinebell. Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictions (Nashvillle, Abingdon Press, 1998 – rev. and enlarged ed.) is one of more than a dozen books by this distinguished Professor Emeritus, School of Theology at Claremont, California. Clinebell has been on the alcoholism scene since the earliest days of AA. His work is a compendium of information and instruction for “Counseling for Recovery and Prevention Using Psychology and Religion.” Clinebell begins this particular work with definitions of addiction and alcoholism: “In traditional psychiatric usage, the term addiction is limited to obsessive-compulsive abuse of substances like alcohol and drugs. . . . The compulsive-addictive uses of alcohol are recognized as an illness by both the World Health Organization of the United Nations and the American Medical Association…. Alcohol addiction is roughly synonymous with alcoholism. . . . Chronic alcoholism usually refers to the advanced stages of the illness. It is during these stages that physiological and psychiatric complications most frequently occur. These complications are the physical and psychological diseases resulting from the prolonged, excessive use of alcohol and include polyneuropathy, pellagra, cirrhosis of the liver, Korsakoffs psychosis, delerium tremens, acute alcoholic hallucinosis, and others” (pp. 24-25). Then, in an extremely useful review of “sin, sickness, alcoholism, and drug addictions,” Clinebell mentions several of a “confusing variety of usages,” applied, as he says, now and again to alcoholism and other substance addictions — several of which are not mutually exclusive: 1. “Addictions are the result of personal sin. At no point are they sickness” [“substance addiction begins as the sin of drinking or using drugs, progresses to the greater sin of excessive use (abuse), and ends as a sinful habit” — a view Clinebell attributes to rescue missions]. 2. “Addictions begin as personal sin that results in an obsessive-compulsive disease process called addiction” [“a widely accepted view among clergy from different denominations”]. 3. “Addictions are sicknesses that are caused by the sin of voluntary excessive drinking or drug use” [“This is the official Roman Catholic position. The sin is the sin of excess involved in becoming addicted”]. 4. “Alcoholism and other substance addictions are sicknesses caused by the convergence of a variety of factors involving both sin and sickness, responsibility and compulsivity” [“approximates the view of AA. . . . a psychological compulsion joined with the physical addiction to alcohol . . . one is driven to drink by selfishness and its symptoms”]. 5. “Alcoholism and drug dependence involve sin in the sense that they have destructive consequences. These include preventing people from developing their God-given capacities for living fully and productively” [“sin in the sense expressed in the New Testament as ‘missing the mark.’ . . If sin is defined as anything that harms persons, whatever the cause, then addiction most certainly involves sin ]. 6. “Addictions are illnesses resulting from social sins” [“Our society contributes in many ways to the causes of addictions. It therefore has an inescapable responsibility for both their prevention and treatment”]. 7. “Alcoholism and other addictions involve original sin” [“There often seems to be a certain recalcitrance at the very center of human beings that tends to inhibit doing what we know to be good for ourselves and others. This has been described, in traditional theological language, as the ‘bondage of the will.’ In even our best acts, we humans seem to have an inescapable self-centeredness that causes us to deify ourselves, our cultures, our religions, institutions, sacred books, the things we make. . . . By making ourselves the center of the universe, we cut ourselves off from our own fulfillment — a fulfillment that is possible only by the self-transcendence that enables us to establish mutually enhancing relationships with other people, the Creator, and the rest of the natural world, God’s creation”] (pp. 287-91). Dr. Clinebell tells us a great deal more, also providing a clarification of his own position on the foregoing points. But there is not time here to repeat it here. Further, many of his comments have to do with the opportunities he and we believe are present for the 21st Century — a matter to be discussed later.
My Own Summary of AA.’s Major Virtues
I’m not very interested in the great applause, and the reasons accompanying it, that author White extends to AA. White’s points seem more likely to justify the continuing referrals to AA. from treatment centers, therapists, clergy, and courts than they are, or might be, in proving any present-day successes in AA. In fact, those of us who are active AAs, and those in the treatment community who open their eyes, must almost inevitably affirm the very low success rates in today’s AA. and the tremendous difference between the AA. of today and the AA. of the 40 pioneers.
Nor am I intensely enthused over the various definitions of, and proclamations about sin. Or about the Oxford Group’s focus on soul surgery that would cut away and eliminate sin. I suppose I’m against sin, but I can see the word “sin” driving far more suffering alkies out of AA. than the alleged possible exodus that is supposed to result from use of the word “God.” When most of us enter AA., we feel like moral lepers; we look like moral lepers; and lots of times we continue to act like moral lepers — lying, stealing, cheating, and all the rest of the things Paul enjoined in the Church epistles. What AA. certainly does do for those of us who take the program seriously is to call attention to our “sinful” characteristics, behavior, harms, and wrongs — things that most assuredly need substantial change and correction.
I know I won’t win any academic or research medals for stating, and probably repeating others in their statements of, the following virtues of AA. for me personally. But they are compelling, dynamic, personal, and very real:
AA. Is a Fabulous Time-filler
It is a great time-filler for people who have had more than enough time on their hands, used it foolishly, and gotten into trouble as they did. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” someone’s grandma used to say. And the vacuum that accompanies the long hours of early sobriety is unbelievable. What can I possibly do to avoid loneliness and fear and despair now that I’m not drinking or using? That question is probably on all our minds — at the outset and for quite some time thereafter. And the AA. answer: “Don’t drink, and go to meetings.” “Use the telephone.” “Get commitments.” “Go to meetings early, and leave late.” “Go to the meetings after the meetings — for coffee and the like.” “Help another drunk.” “Stick with the winners; go where they go; do what they do; and you’ll get what they’ve got.” “Call your sponsor.” “Read the Big Book.” “Work the Steps.” “Stay away from slippery places and slippery people.” Even, “HALT” — don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.” “Don’t miss any AA. functions — Conferences, AA. Roundups, Unity Days, Gratitude Nights, AA. Retreats, “alkathons,” AA. sobriety birthday parties, AA. dances, ball games with AA. members, movies with members; book and Step studies with members , church with members, playing ping pong and pool with members, and hanging out at sober clubs.” Do these sound like intellectual pursuits? Not to me, but I did them all. And their value was beyond measure. You substitute AA. life, viewpoints, and activities for old unworthy or dangerous or immoral or reckless actions that led to or involved drinking. These AA. ways provide the meandering and lonely newcomer with guides and activities that no jail or judge or drug court or probation officer or correctional system or treatment program or rehab or church group or recovery pastor or government agency can possibly provide. And over a very critical, extended, recovery period. Furthermore, it’s all free. There no Dr. Bob, no Anne Smith, no Bible, no God, no Jesus Christ, no gift of the Holy Spirit, no new birth, no Christian Fellowship — yet! Just plain time-filling. And it’s all free.
AA. Offers to the Newcomer Its “Common Solution”
AA.’s “common solution” requires that the newcomer focus on examining some old and “sinful” conduct and ideas, abandoning some old and harmful behavior, correcting some old and harmful wrongs, learning and practicing some widely recognized and accepted religious virtues, passing on those techniques, and helping others to get well. “We are not saints,” Bill Wilson tells us. He then adds that we claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection. And that’s probably not too shabby a start, provided there is a complete set of standards for truth and moral behavior. “Yardsticks” were what Dr. Bob called the Four Absolutes of the Oxford Group and Pioneer AA. — Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, Absolute Love. “Character defects” were what Bill called his version of moral shortcomings members were instructed to remove (with God’s help); and these were dishonesty, selfishness, anger, fear, inconsiderate sex conduct, and harmful behavior. Then to substitute patience, tolerance, kindness, love, and service. Eventually, these vices and virtues were standardized into Big Book instructions about dealing with them. But our founder Bill did leave out “fornication” and not only engaged in. but probably spawned a new era of “relationships anonymous.” Bill’s step standards, however, did provide a discipline for change. One old timer advocated “three D’s for recovery” — Decision, Determination, Discipline. And, so long as the standards used were appropriate godly standards, these provided a disciplined substitute for an undisciplined life that had led to destruction.
AA. Offers an Invitation to Find God and “Do” His Will.
Though the AA. newcomer may be puzzled by today’s meeting babble and endless literature about a “higher power” and unbelief, he is at least introduced very early to the idea that God has something to do with getting well. Like so many others in today’s fellowships, I had to ignore the irreligious, atheistic, New Age nonsense and phoney “gods” and eventually learned where AA. had originated. I also had to ignore the Christian-bashing, Bible denouncing, and criticisms of religion that abound in today’s meetings. But I can truthfully say that, prior to my AA. days, I had never related recovery from alcoholism with relying on God and trying to live life His way. Nonetheless, this idea became a cardinal part of my later recovery and deliverance — however well I implemented the principle. It came from Increasing return of mental acuity, increasing need for guidance, and increasing awareness that I could obtain my help from Bible study and prayer and, of course, from the Creator. I never regarded AA. as my religion or the Big Book as my Bible. They were no substitute, and I knew it. If drinking represented “displaced” actions of a healthy nature, I found that acting in accordance with God’ swill produced the very results that God promised would be forthcoming. The promises were in the Bible itself and in revelations received from God in other ways.
AA’s Warmth and Brotherhood
You can get screwed and tattooed in AA. just as quickly as you can in church, in school, in business, in government, in the military, and in jail. And many have been. There are skunks in AA. just like there are skunks in the woods. But your very helplessness at the beginning makes you trusting of the hands that are extended, the hugs that occur so frequently, the friendliness and laughter that abound, and the real concern that pops up from unexpected sources at very necessary times. Can you get this elsewhere? Of course, you can. But you probably need it more, expect it less, and receive it in greater measure in AA. than you do from your church, your doctor, your therapist, your treatment program, your vocational associates, and even — at the beginning — from your family and friends.
AA. Offers Applause for a Job Well Done
Nothing in early sobriety quite equals the wild cheers, the hearty applause, and the firm back-slapping that goes on at “chip” or “birthday meetings” that celebrate 24 hours, 30 days, 90 days, six months, a year, and beyond, of sobriety. Nothing! Some of us call them “academy award” meetings because of the clamor and enthusiasm that characterize the events. If a cigarette smoker, a sex addict, or a gambler got that much attention for quitting, it might be a far different country today — at least far different from that arising out of tobacco litigation.
Bill Wilson’s Genius for Describing the Alcoholic and His Behavior
Bill’s own story at the beginning of our Big Book is neither timeless nor a perfect caricature of the alcoholic as far as I am concerned. On the other hand, I’m one of those who believes Bill Wilson was an excellent writer. For example, his descriptions in the early Big Book chapters (“There is a Solution” and “More About Alcoholism”) have become legendary and a regular part of our language. There’s no need to repeat them here. But every AA knows the expressions “We are like men who have lost their legs.” “Here are some of the methods we have tried.” And the story of the old boy who was bone-dry for twenty-five years, who retired at the age of fifty-five — and then, “Out came his carpet slippers and a bottle . . . and [he] was dead within four years.” The story of “Jim.” and his drive in the country, mixing alcohol and milk. The story of the jay-walker who had a passion for skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. And the conclusion by the “staff member of a world renowned hospital” who said of two alcoholics: “There is no doubt in my mind that you were 100% hopeless, apart from divine help.” Whether we accept, and proceed to implement, Wilson’s points or not, his descriptions stick with us, amuse us, are oft-repeated in the Fellowship, and can be unbelievably useful if learned.