I don't even know if I'd call this a first draft. Writing is a thing for me to do and I need something to do lately. This is more constructive than being a smartass on Twitter which is maybe what I'd have done instead. But I'm learning some of what I thought were my coping mechanisms for stress are stressful themselves. Writing and art are work if you want to produce something decent. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Whatever, I'm off track. Sorry this isn't cited or anything. I'm confident I'm right about this stuff but I wrote it off the top of my head except for some details of the Oxford Group so I could be wrong about some things. This is not a first draft, it's a raw draft. Thanks for keeping me motivated with the first response.
According to the mythology of the program, what would come to be known as Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 when an alcoholic named Bill Wilson serendipitously came in contact with another alcoholic named Bob Smith through the use of a phone book in an Akron, Ohio hotel and the guidance of a church. Bill had had a religious vision about six months prior that he accredited his new found sobriety to but part of the vision was sharing this revelation with other alcoholics in order to maintain his own sobriety by helping others.
Bill Wilson’s story is the first chapter in Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially known as The Big Book, the text which was written by committee in 1939 and gave the group its name. In it he details his life and struggles for sobriety. Fighting in World War I, flying high as a stock broker in the twenties, how that all worked out for everyone involved, being a miserable drunk that could not function whatsoever to the point that his wife worked to support him in a time when women did not work. Some of the details of Bill being an insufferable piece of shit are obfuscated by history such as the fact that a woman taking a job is not scandalous ninety years later. Some details are no doubt obfuscated by Bill intentionally to save face as he was an egotistical maniac in addition to a useless alcoholic. Some details are not clear due to subsequent history which is not mentioned in the AA program as Bill and Dr. Bob are canonized in the pantheon of a group where questions are ignored, brushed off, rationalized away or met with hostility.
Bill and Dr. Bob (the nickname for Bob Smith) were involved in an early twentieth century fringe Christian movement called the Oxford Group and AA is directly patterned after the philosophy of this movement. The Oxford Group was a movement founded by a Christian missionary named Frank Buchman in 1908. Simply put, it believed that all sin and all of the world’s problems could be attributed to the character defects of fear and selfishness, ideas that would reappear in AA doctrine thirty years later. Buchman did not lead a church. The Oxford Group was organized informally and meetings among members were more likely to be held in a living room than a worship center. The goal of the group was essentially to infiltrate churches throughout the world and draw parishioners into the group through the charisma of its members and the results of its philosophy that would presumably be magnetic due to the absolute truth and effectiveness of its practices. The solution to selfishness and fear is to give one’s life over to God. Whatever that means.
At one point Bill Wilson got a surprise visit from an old drinking buddy named Ebby Thatcher who had used the Oxford Group methods to cease drinking for a (short) period. Bill claims in his story in the Big Book that he brushed off Thatcher because Bill was an agnostic and had no interest in “the God thing.” Which is either an outright lie or a redefinition of the word agnostic. The latter is not unlikely because there’s an entire chapter in the Big Book that can be seen as an attempt to frame everyone who is in active addiction as an agnostic, but I’ll come back to that chapter later. Of course Bill isn’t 100% dismissive. He was probably just an asshole at the time because he was full of cheap gin. He claims that he noticed a change in Ebby Thatcher that stuck with him.
Bill was in and out of sanitariums in the early thirties for alcohol withdrawal and possibly delirium tremens, the worst expression of withdrawal which can lead to hallucinations and death if not medically treated. Today severe alcohol withdrawal is treated with anti convulsants, fluids and vitamins but also a not dissimilar experience of being locked in a hospital. There were no benzodiazepans in the thirties so aside from literal medical use of alcohol, the treatment was spotty involving sedatives or experimental treatments. Experimental is the experience Bill had after his meeting with Ebby Thatcher. Bill was given the belladonna treatment, a quack method involving a poisonous plant that can itself induce hallucinations And what happens? Bill has a ‘spiritual experience’ and comes to accept the Oxford Group’s methods as being an effective treatment for alcoholism. There is no mention of his prior experience with the group in the book. What exactly the ‘Belladonna Method’ is has been rendered unclear by history and AA makes no attempt to clarify eighty years later. Ebby Thatcher is never mentioned again but is arguably canonized for delivering the spark of a message to Bill. He was sober for about six months and after the success of AA Bill supported him for the rest of his life out of gratitude (I guess). Don’t let that fact paint a rosy picture of the man. He sobered up but remained a complete piece of shit.
So into this confluence of events that seems at this point remarkably easy to attribute mystical involvement if one doesn’t read any source but Bill’s own word, Bill stumbles into an Akron hotel on a business trip. He’s about six months sober but has not been able to put into practice what he believes is the answer outside of the halls and rooms of the sanitarium. He has a bar on one side and a phone booth on the other. He knows he needs to help other alcoholics in order to help himself because the hallucination, ahem vision, in the hospital told him so. So he calls around various churches in order to find someone to help rather than go to the bar which is something he desperately wants to do. And he is connected with Dr. Bob Smith, who is coincidentally part of the Oxford Group as well, and the two spend a night talking each other through the throes of craving. This was this first meeting of alcoholics anonymous.