Volume IV Number 2 February, 1997
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"Shoemaker, stick to thy last!" "Our common welfare should come first ..."

Table of Contents for This Issue

  1. Newsletter Committee Meetings
  2. "Gresham's Law and Alcoholics Anonymous"
  3. Possible Fourth Edition
  4. To the editor
  5. "Problems Other Than Alcohol"
  6. Getting in Touch with OPPF

OPPF Newsletter Meetings

Since some of the opinions printed in OPPF may be of a controversial nature and since full names are used [but edited out in the web edition], in accordance with our Tenth and Eleventh Traditions all views expressed in this publication are confidential and not for quotation outside the Fellowship.

OPPF is guided by a Newsletter Committee (Back to Basics) made up of interested and concerned members of our Fellowship. We hold regular monthly business meetings, usually on the last Friday of the month.

Our next business meeting is Friday, February 28, 1997, at the La Mina Mexican Restaurant, 16060 Saticoy St., (at Woodley) in Van Nuys, CA. The meeting starts at 7:00 pm with an optional pre-meeting dinner at 6:00 pm.

Membership in the OPPF Newsletter Committee (Back to Basics) is open to all active members of the Fellowship who attend. We invite your support and participation!

OPPF Jim, Editor

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Dr. John has sent along to us the original version of the article, "Gresham's Law and Alcoholics Anonymous", an article which appeared in the July, 1976 issue of the "24 Magazine", author unknown. This is the original article, which was updated by members of the Big Book Study Group in Germany -- from whose updated version we have been reprinting. We now have both versions available to anyone who wants a copy. Just request it along with a modest amount to cover postage and copying. E-mail copies in either ASCII or WordPerfect (6.0) versions are available without charge. So, from the original, 1976 version: (No longer available at this source -4/20/09)


There are three ways to work the program of Alcoholics Anonymous: (1) The strong, original way proved powerfully and reliably effective over 40 years; (2) a medium way - not so strong, not so safe, not so sure, not so good, but still effective; and (3) a weak way which turns out to be really no way at all but literally a heresy, false teaching, a twisting corruption of what the founders of AA clearly stated the program to be.

As an eleven-year member of AA, I am still awed by the combination of simplicity, practicality and profundity built into the 12 steps, the AA recovery plan.

An AA friend of mine recently summarized the Steps in a way that gives a good, quick overview of the spiritual principles embodied in them:

  1. Admission of powerlessness.
  2. Reliance on a higher power.
  3. Surrender to God.
  4. Moral inventory.
  5. Admission of exact nature of wrongs.
  6. Commitment to change.
  7. Prayer for wholeness.
  8. Willingness to amend.
  9. Making amends.
  10. Continuing inventory.
  11. Prayer and meditation.
  12. Spiritual awakening, carrying the message.

What achieves a special clarity when the Steps are epitomized like this is that they aim, not at "normalcy" but at full spiritual regeneration.

This audacious blueprint for life change was drawn up in 1939 by a former dead-end drunk serving as spokesman for an unknown, unproven society of 100 reformed problem drinkers, many of whom were still in the relatively early stages of recovery from alcohol addiction.

Yet for all their boldness of scope, the Steps are so plainly worded, and so well-explained in chapter five and following chapters of "Alcoholics Anonymous," the AA "Big Book," that they can be done by anyone. And therein lies their greatest genius. There is no prior requirement of purity of life or advancement of learning. Just a willingness to admit personal defeat and a sincere desire to change.

The Twelve Steps sharply contradict the secular psychological axiom that where the level of performance is low you must set a low level of aspiration in order to gain a positive result in life. By this view, the proper approach for the early AAs would have been to put together a program aimed certainly no higher than alcohol abstinence and a return to life as it had been in the pre-alcoholic days, life as ordinary men and women of the world. But these newly-sobered-up drunks set out to become totally committed men and women of God.

The authors of the Big Book knew that this radical recovery plan was apt to jar many of the newcomers they were trying to reach with their message, and they made two moves to sugar-coat their pill. First, they put the following declaration immediately after listing the Twelve Steps in chapter five: "Many of us exclaimed, 'I can't go through with it.' Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection."

That short paragraph was a stroke of inspiration, especially the phrase, "We are not saints." It has eased thousands of new, half-convinced AA members (myself included) past the fact that we were headed, under the guidance of the Steps, in the completely unfamiliar direction of spiritual perfection.

Most of us began practicing the Steps without realizing their full implications. Experience quickly taught us that they worked. They got us sober and enabled us to stay sober. From our intensely pragmatic standpoint, that was what mattered. We were content to enjoy our sobriety and leave all debates as to why the Steps worked to non-alcoholic theorizers whose lives did not hang in balance if they got them selves confused and came to some wrong conclusions.

AA's founders did something else to keep the spiritual rigor and power of the Twelve Steps from scaring off new prospects. They put the Steps forth as suggestions rather than as directives. The sentence which introduces the Steps in chapter five of the Big Book says, "Here are the steps we took which are suggested as a program of recovery."

This idea had enormous appeal throughout the AA movement from the time the Big Book was first published. We drunks hate to be told to do anything. The freedom to take the Steps at their own pace and in their own way quickly grew to be deeply cherished among AA members.

Before we explore the results of this permissive approach to the Steps, there is one oddity worth noting. AA existed already for four years before the Steps were put in their final written form. During that time there was a program and it was sobering up Alcoholics. It consisted of two parts: a six-step word-of-mouth program, and the Four Absolutes -- absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love -- taken over from the Oxford Group, the evangelical Christian movement out of which AA was born. The six steps of the word-of-mouth program from the early pioneering years of Alcoholics Anonymous as given in "Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age" [page 160] are:

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol.
  2. We made a moral inventory of our defects or sins.
  3. We confessed or shared our shortcomings with another person in confidence.
  4. We made restitution to all those we had harmed by our drinking.
  5. We tried to help other alcoholics with no thought of reward in money or prestige.
  6. We prayed to whatever God we thought there was for power to practice these precepts.

In those early days of AA there was no talk of suggestions. The basic points of the program were regarded by all the older members as directives, as indispensable essentials, and were passed on to newcomers as such.

When Bill first formulated the Twelve Steps, he conceived of them, too, as instructions, and not as suggestions. When the idea of presenting the Steps as suggestions came up, Bill for a long time flatly opposed it. Finally -- and reluctantly -- he agreed. In "Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age," he related how this concession enabled countless AAs to approach the fellowship who would otherwise have been turned off AA and back to active alcoholism.

Still, Bill was a man whose watchword was prudence and who went out of his way to steer clear of destructive controversy. One cannot help wondering if his feelings on the decision to present the Twelve Steps in the form of suggestions were not a bit more ambiguous than he was willing to let on in public once the compromise had been reached. There is no denying that the paragraphs of chapter five of the Big Book which introduce the Twelve Steps are full of language that would be utterly appropriate as a preamble to a set of action directions, but is not nearly as fitting as an introduction to a group of suggestions. Here is the beginning of chapter five, with the key words and phrases in bold print:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has "thoroughly followed our path". Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not "completely give themselves to this simple program" usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing "a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty". Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest. Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. "If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it -- then you are ready to take certain steps".

At some of these we balked. "We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely".

Remember that we deal with alcohol -- "cunning, baffling, powerful!" Without help it is too much for us. But "there is One who has all power--That One is God. May you find Him now!"

"Half measures availed us nothing". We stood at the turning point. "We asked His protection and care with complete abandon". Here are the steps we took ... etc.

Granting that Bill ended up fully reconciled to the compromise his initial misgivings may turn out in the long run to have been prophetic. At the time, however, there were no indications whatsoever that the permissive suggestions only approach was anything but a boon to the movement.

In 1938 and 1939 when the Big Book was being written, there were 100 members in the fellowship. By 1945 active AA membership was up to 13,000. The primary reason for this explosive increase was that the program -- the Twelve Steps -- were a winning formula; they worked, and there was a big need for them out there in the population. America was boozy and was spawning a great many alcoholics.

Highly favorable press coverage of the AA story was also a major factor in the spectacular growth pattern. A series of enthusiastic articles on AA appeared in the fall of 1939 in the Cleveland "Plain Dealer." These pieces produced a flood of new AA members in the Cleveland area. This sudden expansion was the first tangible evidence that AA had the potential to grow into a movement of major proportions.

The sequence of events during this period is significant. The Big Book was published in April of 1939 and in it the suggestions-only approach to the Steps was disseminated for the first time. A few months later the "Plain Dealer" articles ran, and Cleveland AAs found themselves relating to new prospects on an unprecedented scale. It suddenly became attractive, in a way it had not been before when the fellowship was smaller and more intimate, to ease up a bit on the idea that all the principles should be practiced all the time by all the members. More and more emphasis began to be placed on the point of view that the Steps were to be considered as suggestions only. At this time, and through this set of circumstances, the "cafeteria-style" -- take-what-you-like-and-leave-the-rest-out -- approach to the Twelve Steps came into practice.

And it seemed to work. It turned out that many newcomers could get sober and stay sober without anything like the full and intensive practice of the whole program that had been considered a life-or-death necessity in the early years. In fact alcoholics in significant numbers began to demonstrate that they could stay off booze on no more than an admission of powerlessness, some work with other alcoholics, and regular attendance at AA meetings.

This is not to say that all AAs began to take this super-permissive approach to the Twelve Steps. A great many continued to opt for the original, full-program approach. But now for the first time the workability of other, less rigorous approaches was established. A tendency had emerged which was to become more and more pronounced as time went on.

At first this seemed like an unmixed blessing. After all, those who chose actively to practice all of the Twelve Steps were as free as ever to do so. Those who preferred working with some, or just a couple, of the Steps were staying sober too. And AA was attracting more and more new members and more and more favor able recognition. In 1941, Jack Alexander's article on Alcoholics Anonymous was published in the "Saturday Evening Post." AA membership at the time stood at 2,000. In the next nine months it jumped 400%. [More to follow in subsequent issues.]

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The recurrent problem of a possible Fourth Edition of the Big Book is still with us. We have heard rumors that the Fourth Edition is a fore-gone conclusion, a fait accompli, in spite of Conference disapproval of the project. Check with your Area Delegate on this issue. As we have been saying, lo these past three years, nothing good can come from a new edition that wants to stress the "universality" of AA (that is, that it can be all things to all people).
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To the editor:

I just couldn't not respond to a couple of items in the latest issue [January 1997].

I can appreciate the frustration felt by Peggy Y. regarding so-called "alcoholic/addicts". I question, however, the wisdom of any move by the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, or by members of the Fellow ship, in promoting "SPECIAL PURPOSE GROUPS". I believe that to be an issue outside of A.A. If some of our members wish to start such Groups, they certainly may; but I don't believe that the idea should be endorsed, either actively or passively, by our Fellowship. I believe that the best thing we can do is to commit ourselves to our own Home Groups, and keep them strong.

And then there is the article by Dennis M. I especially noticed the reference to "free" meetings at the International A.A. Convention. That sounds like a "Welfare State" view. Who pays for "free" meetings, Dennis? Is it possible that the "free" meetings were paid for by the raffle of the First Edition Big Book, which was promoted through the use of confidential A.A. mailing lists? And by the way, how much money was raised by that raffle? Or were the "free" meetings paid for by profits from the sale of what I call "drunk junk"? C'mon, Dennis, you know that nothing is free. Someone pays. Do you think it should be someone other than you? And what were you doing in San Diego anyway? You could have stayed home and gone to lots of "free" A.A. meetings. Do you ever put money in the basket at your "free" meetings at home, Dennis? I assume that you do, and that you really are in favor of "self-support... through our own voluntary contributions".

Thanks to all who make this Forum possible.

Al H.

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"Our first duty, as a society, is to insure our own survival. Therefore we have to avoid distractions and multipurpose activity. An AA group, as such, cannot take on all the personal problems of its members. Sobriety -- freedom from alcohol -- through the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps is the sole purpose of an AA group.

"We have to confine our member ship to alcoholics, and we have to confine our AA groups to a single purpose. If we don't stick to these principles, we shall almost surely collapse. And if we collapse, we cannot help anyone."

The pamphlet, "Problems Other Than Alcohol"

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Updated: 22 September 1998