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.

A younger Fellowship

An A.A. survey conducted in 1977 shows that over the previous three years the proportion of young members (those under 30) in the U.S. and Canada has jumped 50 percent and now accounts for almost 20 percent of North American membership. Surveys done by A.A. in Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Finland, France, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and West Germany yield similar results.

Early meetings in Cambodia

In the wake of the 1975 capture of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge, thousands of Cambodians fill refugee camps along the Thai border. In one camp a U.S. aid worker, whose brother is an A.A. member back in New York, recognizes that alcoholism affects many of the refugees, leading her to order and translate A.A. publications. Though up to 60 people attend daily gatherings based on A.A. principles, these meetings cease when the camp closes. Some 15 years later, A.A. reappears in Cambodia when a few members start a group in Phnom Penh. A.A. Australia responds to a request for sponsorship and also helps members to establish Khmer-speaking groups.

About the Author



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