On June 10, 1935, Dr Bob Smith had the drink of alcohol that seems impossible for every alcoholic. Dr Bob had his last drink.
Long before June 10, Dr Bob’s wife had become increasingly desperate. She had reached out to friends, doctors, clergy and family concerning her husband’s drinking. Everyone offered help and support but none of their ideas or efforts had any impact on Dr Bob’s drinking. If anything it frustrated him and he drank more. A well known doctor in Akron, Ohio, Bob was beginning to lose respect among his peers and trust among his patients. Alcohol seemed to have an unrelenting grip on Dr. Bob.
In May, Dr Bob’s wife and reached out one more time. A series of events, coincidences it seemed, transpired and a meeting was set up between Dr. Bob and a business man from New York who happened to be in town. A self proclaimed alcoholic, Bill Wilson was newly sober himself and on shaky ground. Dr. Bob agreed to see Bill but made it clear to his wife he would only meet with him for a few minutes. Bill’s sobriety was fragile when he met Dr Bob. It was reported that conversation went on for several hours.
Bill W. told Dr. Bob his story. He talked about his drinking. He told stories demonstrating to progression of the disease, the negative consequences, the emotional and spiritual devastation. Bill W. talked about his demoralization, his despair, his shame and his fear. Dr. Bob identified. He proclaimed his alcoholism and Bill felt himself embrace a stronger resolve to continue sobriety as a way of life.
With no more than their experience, one alcoholic talking to another sharing his story, the fundamental concept of helping alcoholics was born. And paradoxically, they discovered in helping someone else, they too were helped.
Sadly, Dr Bob’s drinking was not over. Based on what each man knew from their experiences with the Oxford Groups, they knew there was restitution ahead of each person making an effort at sobriety. Dr Bob resisted this tenant. Fearful of what this type of admission to people in town would do to his already diminished reputation, Dr Bob continued to refuse to make amends. Out of town at a medical conference, Dr Bob went on what would be his last drunk.
On June 10, he returned to Akron and immediately upon getting off the train, without even contacting his wife, Dr. Bob set about making his amends with no regard to the personal consequences.
June 10 would become the birthday of Alcoholics Anonymous and Bill W and Dr Bob would be its co-founders.
Bill W and Dr Bob worked tirelessly talking to other heavy drinkers. They told their stories to men and women not in efforts to sell them the idea of sobriety but in order to stay sober themselves. They learned a great deal the summer of 1935. Lessons were often from their failures as well as their successes.
Men and women shared their stories. They talked about what it was like as problem drinkers, described the escalation from the fun drinkers experience to the fun and problems that begin to identify alcoholism to the life of problems that can only be successfully addressed by a moment of grace, a divine intervention. Men and women willing to share with one another the despair and the demoralization that finally results in a moment of clarity when the drinker can clearly see his past and present and he is able to put that moment in words. Men and women talking to each other about the work that is required to stay sober and change their lives. These conversations about their desire to confront their past and face their demons, to replace character liabilities with strengths would keep Bill and Dr Bob and a small group of men and women sober and provide them with a solution to not only stop drinking but amend relationships and provide successful lives for themselves and their families.
In 1939, 100 men and women’s stories culminated into the publishing of a text describing precisely how they had recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of body and mind. In the text, they offered a formula to every alcoholic as a way to be free of the bondage of alcoholism.
Over the 4th of July weekend, close to 80,000 alcoholics will gather in Atlanta, Georgia to celebrate AA’s 80th birthday. Hundreds of those will each have over 60 years of sobriety demonstrating success of the formula Bill and Dr Bob discovered that one afternoon when Dr Bob agreed to meet with Bill for a few minutes. A formula outlined in 12 steps that has a powerful impact on men and women who have no control over the amounts they drink, men and women who cannot honor a promise no matter how badly they want to, men and women more interested in what they can steal from life rather than what they can add to life, men and women uncomfortable in their own skin, men and women without conscience.
Along with members sober over 60 years will be men and women sober less then 30 days. Each of the 80,000 men and women will share a gratitude for a life beyond their wildest imaginations.
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