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.

Poland’s first steps

A group of alcoholics who have been meeting with physicians and therapists since the mid-1960s in the city of Poznan decide in 1974 to meet on their own and follow the principles of A.A. (Earlier meetings had been organized by therapist Maria Grabowska, who had tried to have the Twelve Traditions and Twelve Steps published in Polish newspapers but was thwarted by the censorship office.) Led by Rajmund F., a Pole who became sober in 1973 and was fluent enough in English and German to translate A.A. literature, the group takes the name Eleusis, after the ancient Greek city the Roman Emperors favored as sanctuary. Growth accelerates, and by June 1985 almost 100 groups will be meeting across the country. The decorative plate shown above was presented to G.S.O. New York by grateful Polish members.

A vote in Uruguay

Pablo L., an actor, undergoes detoxification at Montevideo’s Clinica del Prado in 1966, is given a copy of the Big Book, and in turn seeks out an A.A. group to join. The closest is in Buenos Aires, where he frequents A.A. meetings during an extended stay. Returning home, he visits hospitals to carry the message. He then founds ADEA (for Amigos del Enfermo Alcohólico, or friends of the alcoholic patient), where alcoholics and their families share experiences. While some aspects of the A.A. program are used, others—including anonymity—are rejected. After A.A. Argentina urges ADEA to follow all A.A. Traditions and to take the Fellowship’s name, the issue is put to a vote. The ayes have it, and on March 18, 1974, the first known Uruguayan meeting of A.A. is held in Montevideo.

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