A.A. Origins

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.

In the early 1930s, a well-to-do Rhode Islander, Rowland H., visited the noted Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung for help with his alcoholism. Jung determined that Rowland’s case was medically hopeless, and that he could only find relief through a vital spiritual experience. Jung directed him to the Oxford Group.

Rowland later introduced fellow Vermonter Edwin (“Ebby”) T. to the group, and the two men along with several others were finally able to keep from drinking by practicing the Oxford Group principles.

One of Ebby’s schoolmate friends from Vermont, and a drinking buddy, was Bill W. Ebby sought out his old friend at his home at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn, New York, to carry the message of hope.

Bill W. had been a golden boy on Wall Street, enjoying success and power as a stockbroker, but his promising career had been ruined by continuous and chronic alcoholism. Now, approaching 39 years of age, he was learning that his problem was hopeless, progressive, and irreversible. He had sought medical treatment at Towns Hospital in Manhattan, but he was still drinking.

Bill was, at first, unconvinced by Ebby’s story of transformation and the claims of the Oxford Group. But in December 1934, after again landing in Towns hospital for treatment, Bill underwent a powerful spiritual experience unlike any he had ever known. His depression and despair were lifted, and he felt free and at peace. Bill stopped drinking, and worked the rest of his life to bring that freedom and peace to other alcoholics. The roots of Alcoholics Anonymous were planted.

Bill writes to Carl Jung

In a 1961 letter to Swiss-German psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung, Bill expresses his gratitude for Jung’s long-ago message to Rowland H., who was treated by Jung and who would later lead friend Ebby T. to the Oxford Group. Bill wrote, “You frankly told [Rowland] of the hopelessness of further medical or psychiatric treatment,” [and also of the possibility of] “a spiritual awakening or religious experience — in short, a genuine conversion.” Bill described these statements as “beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which [A.A.] has been built.” Jung responds with a gracious letter (right) confirming that the most appropriate antidote to alcoholism is spirituality, which is emphasized in the Twelve Steps.

 

Big Book sales top half a million

By 1961, more than 500,000 copies of Alcoholics Anonymous have been sold, plus editions translated into Spanish, French, and German.

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