This writing of this book was at the direct request of, and authorized by, Clarence H. Snyder. The author was sponsored by Clarence and is himself a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. In deference to A.A.'s Tradition of Anonymity, members of Alcoholics Anonymous are identified only with their first name and last initial. Any members of Alcoholics Anonymous who are identified with their full names have given permission to be identified as such.
This is the only biography of Clarence H. Snyder authorized by him. Any other biography relating to Clarence H. Snyder has no affiliation with this authorized and commissioned version. Permission to utilize materials entrusted to this author by Clarence H. Snyder, including archival documents from Cleveland, Ohio A.A., recorded interviews and other related materials has not been given, either expressed nor implied, to any other author publishing a biography of Clarence H. Snyder.
Permission to quote brief passages from this book for review purposes or historical research is granted as long as the source is acknowledged. The contents of this book may not be copied, transmitted or otherwise quoted by any means other than as stated above without the expressed written permission of the author.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
Mitchell K., when some years ago he shared with me his treasure of mementoes and materials from Clarence Snyder, urged that I also write another book on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, updating Not-God in light of recent discoveries. I declined, then and now, for it is up to another generation to produce the focused works that may lead another historian eventually to attempt a comprehensive new history of Alcoholics Anonymous, one incorporating the research of Mary Darrah, Robert Fitzgerald, Kathi Flynn, Mel B., Bill White, Maria Swora, and _ in a prominent place _ Mitchell K.
In this biographical study of Clarence Snyder and especially his role in and understandings of early Alcoholics Anonymous, Mitchell gives us both facts and interpretations _ Clarence's, those of contemporaries and commentators, and of course his own. Some readers, both Mitchell and I hope, will be led by his work to check out some of those facts, in which process they may turn up still more information that will enrich us all.
Others will disagree with some of the interpretations _ I know that I do. But that disagreement is a salutary invitation to think about the lifesaving and life-enhancing program and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, which may be one of the best uses of our time available.
Mitchell K. has given us a gift very much like himself: a gem with some rough edges that can challenge our ability to evaluate, but a truly rich jewel well worth our notice and contemplation. This book will not get anyone either drunk or sober, but it will aid the progress toward sobriety of those fortunate enough to be on that wondrous journey.
Whatever leads us towards truth leads us towards its Author.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
February 22, 1998
PREFACE by the Author
Thus began my journey into the world of recovery. At 28 years old it appeared that I was the youngest person in the room. I sat down and was immediately surrounded by a couple of older gentlemen who placed their arms around me and held me throughout the meeting. I am not sure about what was said at the podium that night, but I remember the conversations after the meeting had closed.
They told me all I needed to do was, "Don't Drink and Go To Meetings." Each and every time I said, "BUT," they told me the only but I had was the one I sat on. They told me to make 90 meetings in 90 days, get a sponsor and that it will get better.
My sobriety date became May 15, 1975, the first full day without a drink. I followed directions, didn't drink, and went to meetings, got a sponsor who listened to my tales of woe and went to more meetings. I was no longer drinking but nothing else in my life changed.
Life was still unmanageable for me; I still exhibited almost all the same behaviors as in the past, only this time without the benefit of beverage alcohol. I continued to lie, cheat, steal, lose my temper and worst of all, be unfaithful to my wife. The very same wife who had stood by me throughout my drinking the six years we had been married.
Most of that behavior continued until one evening in 1980. I was attending my then home group, a young people's meeting, when the walls came crashing in. The speaker that evening began his talk by stating: "I had a bad day at work, came home, slammed the door, yelled at the kids, kicked the dog and almost hit the wife." He continued with, "But I didn't take a drink!"
Everyone in the small room clapped and told him he was a winner. "Just don't drink, no matter what." Tears rolled down my cheeks, he was describing my life and everyone affirmed the insanity of it as long as I didn't drink. There HAD to be more to recovery than that. If all I had to do was not drink and it would get better, why then was my whole life falling apart? I then decided that there were only three choices left; drink, die or find a better way. I wanted to drink every day. I didn't want to die and I knew of no other way to get better. I picked up a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book and began to read it.
I discovered the better way within the pages of A.A.'s Basic Text. I read about a program of recovery, much different from the one I had and different from the one I was hearing at the meetings. I wanted what those hundred men and women who had recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body had discovered. I wanted to be happy, joyous and free!
I then set out upon a spiritual search, reading everything I could on spirituality and religion. I spoke with long-term members of A.A. and members of the clergy from various religions and denominations; no one had the answer I was seeking.
At that time I was a member of A.A.'s Loners Program, meetings by mail. I was corresponding with a long-term member in Elyria, Ohio who was helping me to understand the history of A.A. and what it was that worked so many wonders for the original members. He told me that there was only one surviving member of the original 100 men and women. Roger gave me his address and suggested if I wanted to "get it from the horse's mouth," that I should write to this man.
I went one step further, I called this man and immediately knew, from the timbre of his voice and the serenity I felt over the phone that I wanted what he had. That man was Clarence H. Snyder, the Home Brewmeister of the Big Book.
Clarence and I spoke on the phone and corresponded throughout that year. I had not asked him to be my sponsor as yet but knew I was going to. How could he be my sponsor? He was living in the State of Florida and I was in New York. I arranged for him and his wife to come to New York to lead a spiritual retreat.
Upon his arrival in New York I immediately knew that this was going to be a turning point in my life. I wanted what he had and during the retreat, asked him to be my sponsor. He did not immediately accept my request. In fact, it took several requests before he felt I was ready.
That weekend, Clarence took me through the Steps, just as he had taken hundreds, if not thousands of others before me. He instructed me and introduced me into the program of Alcoholics Anonymous just as his sponsor, Dr. Bob had done back in 1938. When I got up off of my knees in that hotel room on April 4, 1981, I was a new man. The old had been washed away and I had been reborn
In 1983, Clarence asked me if I would write his biography and the history of A.A. in Cleveland, Ohio. The book, Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers had been out for three years but Clarence felt that there was more to the story that needed to be told. He instructed me as to how he wanted the book to be written. He wanted a book that could be read by the average A.A. member, not a tedious scholarly work. He wanted to impart the flavor of the Big Book. He told me that this was to be a book written about an A.A. member, for A.A. members. He told me never to apologize for God, the personal God we both had shared together - the God he had introduced me to that evening at the retreat. The God Dr. Bob had introduced him to that day in February 1938 in Akron City Hospital.
Clarence reminded me, and told me never to forget that I was saved not in a church, but in Alcoholics Anonymous and never to mix the two together. He told me that my ministry was to "fix rummies." I was told that if a rummy wanted what I had, I was to tell them about, and introduce them to that Power greater than myself. The same Power Dr. Bob had introduced him to. The same Great Physician, Dr. Silkworth had told those alcoholics who were declared hopeless could "cure" them. That Power, that Great Physician, was the Christ - Jesus.
Clarence told me that if someone wanted what I had, I could only give away what I had. He told me that I should never force Jesus down someone's throat and that if they wanted Him, they would have to come willingly of their own accord. He told me that this was to be a book about Alcoholics Anonymous.
I was asked by my sponsor to write this book as a testimony to the hundreds of "founders" of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was told that if the readers of this book wanted the program of recovery that those early members had, they would come willingly, of their own accord. I promised my sponsor that I would write this book.
I wrote this book not as an author, but as a drunk who made his sponsor a promise to allow the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous the opportunity to understand what it was like during the early years of A.A., the struggles and the triumphs. To give the reader a better understanding of:
HOW IT WORKED
To the dozens of other "special" people I have met as I "trudged the road," and who have helped me along the way. Some are "civilians," and some are members of A.A. You are all my friends. It would take another book to thank you all and if I have left anyone out please forgive me.
Edward R. A., Liz B., Larry B., Alan Beder, Charlie Bishop, Jr., Mary Darrah, Helen dePrado, Richard Dunn, D.D., Steve and Sue F., Marjorie H., Earl H., Bill Komisar, Gail L., Paul L., Frank Mauser, Merton M., III., Michael O'Hara, Ingrid O., Wally P., Bill Pittman, David Aaron Roth, Grace Snyder (Clarence's widow went home to be with her beloved Clarence on March 9,1998), Buddy T., Mauri Waldman, Bill White, Dan and Denise Whitmore, Lois Wilson, Sue Smith Windows and Nell Wing.
A further debt of gratitude is owed to all of the archivists, historians, researchers, collectors and members of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous who hold A.A.'s history dear to their hearts. No acknowledgement would be complete without mentioning some of the other "friends" and "founders" of Alcoholics Anonymous: Frank N.D. Buchman, Ruth Hock, Henry G. Parkhurst, Henrietta Seiberling, Samuel M. Shoemaker, Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, T. Henry and Clarace Williams and William G. Wilson.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes by Clarence H. Snyder were taken from a series of interviews conducted by the author with Clarence in Casselberry, Florida and New York between April 1982 through February 1984. Other quotes by Clarence H. Snyder are taken from Archival Documents, audio and/or video recorded talks or transcripts of aforementioned talks made by Clarence H. Snyder from 1962-1983. Other quotes attributed to Clarence H. Snyder are likewise noted as such.
Any quotes by Lois W. were taken from audio taped interviews conducted by the author at her home in Bedford Hills, New York on August 21, 1988. Any quotes by Nell Wing (non-alcoholic) who was Bill W.'s secretary from 1947 until his death in 1971 and A.A.'s first Archivist were taken from a series of taped and telephone interviews conducted from 1988-1992 at her home in New York City or in the A.A. Archives Office in New York City. Quotes By Sue Smith-Windows (Dr. Bob's daughter) were taken from an interview conducted in October 1988 at her home in Akron, Ohio. Quotes by Mary C. Darrah were taken from conversations either on the telephone or in person in Ohio, West Virginia or Providence, Rhode Island. Other quotes were taken from various audio taped talks and/or transcripts of talks by long-term A.A. members or from original archival materials given to the author by Clarence H. Snyder or as noted below.
The author is indebted to the following archival repositories for their assistance and for allowing him to view archival materials relating to the history of Alcoholics Anonymous:
The Archives at the New York A.A. World Services Office
The Archives at the Stepping Stones Foundation in Bedford Hills, N.Y.
The Rockefeller Archives in Tarrytown, N.Y.
The Archives at the Cleveland, Ohio A.A. Central Service Office
The Chester H. Kirk Collection on Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous housed at the Brown University Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Studies in Providence, Rhode Island
The Providence, Rhode Island Historical Society
A.A. Archival repositories located in Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma and West Virginia
Private collections of A.A. memorabilia owned by several A.A. members throughout the United States and Canada.
This book is dedicated to Him who reigns over us all and to the thousands of alcoholics who have recovered, and will recover by His loving mercy.
You, your closest friend, and your father are on vacation together, hiking in a remote jungle. Your two companions stumble into a nest of poisonous vipers and are bitten repeatedly. You know neither will live without an immediate shot of anti-venom, yet there is only a single dose of anti-venom and it is in your pocket. What would you do?
Gregory Stock, Ph.D., The Book of Questions (New York; Workman Publishing, 1987) p.79
While I was listening to Joe, thinking of what he's become, all of a sudden it took me that I'd find God and get Him to make me like Joe. It took me like that. I just felt, all of a sudden, determined to find God. Determined! he repeated, with energy astonishing in this broken and hopeless creature of alcoholism. 'And,' he went on, 'while I was kneeling, while I was praying, I felt the spirit come upon me. I said, 'Oh, God, make me like Joe! and while I prayed, I felt the Spirit come upon me. I knew I could become like Joe. I know I'm saved.'
Harold Begbie, Twice Born Men, A Clinic in Regeneration (New York; Fleming H. Revell, 1909) p.99f.
A.A. continues to grow with phenomenal numbers. A myriad of 12 Step self-help fellowships have branched off, copying the original Fellowship.
However, is this rapidly expanding "self-help" fellowship conveying the original message? Was the original intent "self-help?" Or was it "God's Help?"
What of the original rate of recovery, as it was recorded in the beginning? What has become of the "Fellowship," not to mention Sponsorship?
It has been said that, in the beginnings of A.A., there were only "low-bottom drunks." They were desperate for recovery; for they had lost or almost lost, all of their worldly and spiritual values. In today's A.A., there are many who come into the rooms of A.A. as people who have lost virtually nothing. Or have they?
Most experts in the field of recovery agree that the first thing to leave an alcoholic or addict is his spirituality. Also that the spiritual life is the last part of one's life to return.
Alcoholics entering A.A. today vary in both economic and social status. There are many, who come into A.A., forced by the courts and treatment centers. They are required to do 90 meetings in 90 days.
Nowhere does it say in the A.A. literature that there is such a thing as "90 in 90." This concept was dreamed up by the treatment field. Many who come into A.A. are not, nor can they be, classified as alcoholics. Clarence always said that, "Every alcoholic is a drunk, but not every drunk is an alcoholic."
It was up to the prospective member and his sponsor to determine whether or not the prospect was indeed an alcoholic, or just someone who drank to excess.
Perhaps we know where A.A. has come from, and of its history and experiences. We know where it has been, through its literature, and through local, state, and national archivists. However, do we know where it is going? What does the future hold for this movement, born of the desperation of two men, who met one Mother's Day in Akron, Ohio.
In many ways, A.A. is expected to become all things to all people. And in its efforts to accommodate everyone, people with widely divergent ideas, has its original intent been watered down? Has the message of hope, healing, and recovery been diluted?
Many of long-term A.A. members no longer attend meetings. The author has spoken with several dozen of them. They all appeared to be disgusted and disillusioned with the proliferation of drug stories, the discussion of co-dependency, and of dysfunctional families, and with "psychobabble" heard at meetings.
These oldtimers are tired of hearing participants discussing their counselors and their therapists. Their "relationship sponsors," and their "inner child." The oldtimers most desire to hear about sponsorship, recovery, and the hope for a permanent solution to the problem of alcoholism. Many long term members, people no longer found at A.A. meetings, have "retired" from the "new program." Where have they gone?
There appears to be a growing movement in A.A. in the 1990's. There is what has become known as "underground" meetings. They have sprung up around the country. They exist in New York, Denver, California, Boston, Wisconsin, and Florida - just to name a few. And we mention only the ones that have been discussed. Many others exist, but only their members, and those they choose to tell, know of their existence.
These "underground" meetings are not advertised; and attendance at them is by invitation only. One has to be "sponsored" into them, much the same as people had to be "sponsored" in the beginnings of A.A. These meetings are open for alcoholics and their families only.
The sharing that one hears at these meetings is related only to recovery from alcoholism. Speakers talk of the solution rather than of the problem. "War Stories" are usually not heard at these gatherings. Speakers tell how they got well and how they are staying on the path of recovery. Members talk to the newcomer with stories of experience, yes. But they also impart their strength and hope. For hope is what the still sick and suffering alcoholic needs to hear.
Participants in these meetings fellowship together and carry the message as it was given to them. Their numbers are growing, both in strength and in size. Their recovery rate is climbing to a point beyond that of the treatment centers and, unfortunately, that of A.A. meetings themselves.
A.A. has been in existence for almost sixty-three years. Yet, where are the long-term members? Does one see them at meetings. Seldom are they to be found in and around the rooms of A.A.. Ever so often, they are heard at conventions and conferences, on "Old Timer's" panels.
What is to become of A.A.? What is to become of the floors of headquarters office space with high rentals, expensive books and therapeutics? What of the high salaried employees, and of the "professionalism" in an organization of which it was said, it "shall remain forever non-professional?"
What of the message of recovery that one drunk carries to another as an avocation, a way of life? Has monetary gain become an evil necessity? Has selfishness replaced self-caring? Has the desire to help the greater number of people, led to lower expectations and to diluting of the message to make it more palatable to those sought to be "attracted?" Has A.A. focused on adding meeting rosters to show growth which, to some, equals success?
The A.A. preamble - read at almost every meeting - states:
Alcoholics Anonymous is a Fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other, that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism... Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
This preamble states all that A.A. was supposed to have been. But A.A. has diverted itself from its primary purpose in the guise of "helping" as many people as possible and has all but forgotten the individual who still suffers.
There are plenty of groups in existence which care with, and care for the needs of narcotics addicts, cocaine addicts, sex and relationship addicts, overeaters, bulimics, pathological gamblers, those with emotional disorders, families, agnostics, atheists, rational thinkers, women, men, gays and lesbians, doctors, lawyers, air line pilots and musicians, etc., etc.
The author believes there is a cry in the wilderness for a different approach. One that worked in the past for thousands upon thousands of alcoholics, drunks, dipsomaniacs and inebriates.
The approach meant and means, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Meetings in fellowship for alcoholics, and by alcoholics. Groups of people meeting together to deal with recovery from the disease of alcoholism.
Clarence H. Snyder believed in the premise that recovery from alcoholism can be permanent, and that the primary purpose of A.A. was not to keep the alcoholic away from a drink, "a day-at-a-time." He believed in an A.A. which was a bridge back to life for the alcoholic, in order that they might LIVE a "day-at-a-time."
Bill Wilson once stated, in a letter to Clarence, dated November 9, 1955:
After all, A.A. is a sort of kindergarten - It's something we pass through to a better way of life and a wider usefulness.
Bill often after repeated this statement.
It has been the purpose of this book to help the reader, both member and non-member of Alcoholics Anonymous, to have a better understanding of how people can "...pass through to a better way of life and a wider usefulness." The book has also been written to the general reader, no matter what his problem, to provide an understanding of a life changing program of recovery. A program, which can be utilized for all of life's concerns and afflictions, to the betterment of humanity.
Hopefully, those who have read this book will now have a better understanding of the A.A. program, its history, its growth and of -
The retreats which Clarence started are still held today. Though somewhat changed in format from the original retreats, Clarence's message of permanent sobriety is still carried by those who knew him.
These retreats are being held in New Jersey, Florida, Wisconsin, California, Alaska and England. New retreats are starting as the thirst for the program of recovery as outlined in the Big Book grows.
Clarence's recorded talks are available through many independent recovery audio tape companies.
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