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.

Romania: Two steps to success

In 1988, Fran P., an American A.A. teaching English at Romania's University of Timisoara, attempts to start a group with the help of Rodica, an alcoholic student — but the program's reliance on a Higher Power runs afoul of government authorities. Only in 1991, almost two years after the Communist government has fallen, will an A.A. group flourish in Timisoara. In 1993, Petrica and Damian, alcoholics hospitalized in Bucharest, will start a group in the capital city with the help of Dr. Doina Constantinescu and Patricia and Lee, an A.A. couple from the U.S. This flyer is typical of A.A. Romania's efforts to reach out to struggling alcoholics.

Movement in Southeast Asia

In 1991, around five A.A.s begin to meet in Ubud, Indonesia, auguring the start-ups of small groups in Kuta, Sanur, and Seminyak. The meetings are attended by tourists passing through, but by 2003 some 40 Indonesians will have joined A.A. The early 1990s find stable groups of native speakers meeting in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Canadians cross language barriers

In an effort to carry the message to the Native North American population in the Northwest Territory, who speak seven different languages, A.A.s in the Yellowknife area go about gathering all known Native American translations of A.A. literature. They confirm the translations' accuracy and build files that are easily accessible to A.A. members. Their efforts will continue, paving the way for an Eastern Canada regional trustee and a fellow A.A. to travel to remote communities in northern Quebec in May 2004, distributing A.A. literature in the Inuktitut language to educators, prison officials, attorneys, and mayors.

Missives to the Persian Gulf

After military action begins in the Persian Gulf in 1991, the G.S.O. New York staff member on the Loners/International Desk hears from scores of A.A.s serving in Saudi Arabia. Each is sent a copy of the new book Daily Reflections, a free subscription to the Grapevine, and any A.A. literature that is requested. One letter, from Sgt. John L., is representative. In it, he writes, “A lot of good has come out of my being in this desert. I've finally been forced to really take a good look at my life. As the Big Book says, I'm 'building an arch to walk through a free man [sic].'”

First Native American Convention in 1991

“Living Our Traditions Through Sobriety” is both the purpose of Native American A.A. gatherings and the motto on the emblem they create (right) for the first annual convention for Native American A.A.s from the U.S. and Canada. Among the 800 attendees at the event, held in October 1991 in Las Vegas, are Native Americans from some 100 tribes plus representatives of tribal alcohol programs, halfway houses, and treatment centers. In ensuing years, Washington, South Dakota, North Carolina, and other states will hold their own conventions, leading to the fourteenth National/ International Native American Convention which will convene in Minneapolis in 2004.

European Service Meetings

Meeting in Frankfurt (right), 32 A.A. delegates from 18 countries attend the 1991 European Service Meeting (ESM), the zonal conference that has been held biannually in the German city since 1981. The ESM gives delegates from European groups the opportunity to present progress reports and share their respective countries' problems in the hope of finding solutions.

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