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15,000 men and women who thronged California's Long Beach
Memorial Stadium last week differed from most conventioneers
in one major respect, there was no danger that any of them
would get together in a hotel room to kill a bottle. For
this was Alcoholics Anonymous, mustering its recovered,
sworn-off drinkers, their relatives and well- wishers to
celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Uncrowned but undisputed head of A.A. is Bill W., a tall
Vermonter in his early 60s who drank himself out of a lucrative
career as a high-risk stock operator. "In 1934,"
he recalls, "My doctor told my wife that if I didn't
stop I'd have to be locked up because I'd either go mad
or die." Bill W. didn't stop until he drank himself
into a hospital and realized that he must stop or die. He
had to find another drunk in the same predicament so that
by helping each other they would ensure their own survival.
In Akron, in June of 1935, he found his friend, Dr. Bob
(who died of cancer in 1950). Together they founded A.A.
and laid out the basis for its famous twelve tenets.
Neither Chase nor Chastise. Last week,
in his unofficial presidential address, Co-Founder Bill
W. noted that the organization today counts 300,000 members
in more than 8,000 groups in about 80 countries. Yet A.A.
did not congratulate itself for any wholesale success. "In
the U.S. alone there are still at least 5,000,000 active
alcoholics, and perhaps 25 million worldwide. It is an awesome
number that A.A. would be glad to help, said Bill W. We
are not going to chase them, chastise them or campaign for
them. All we can hope is that they will come to us for help
when help is what they want."
A.A.'s wait-and-accept philosophy is the key to its success
to date. About 50% of those who enroll themselves stop drinking
as against 5% reported by physicians with any pre-A.A. treatment.
Of the drop-outs about half return to the fold. This is
not to say that 50% to 75% of all alcoholics will respond
to A.A., many of the toughest cases simply never enroll.
The Thought of Power. The passion for public
anonymity is readily understandable at the individual level.
Every alcoholic needs pals on whom he can lean for help,
and whom he can help to bolster his own ego. At the organizational
level the anonymity is more complex. Bill W., a forceful
speaker with a cutting wit explains: "Identification
leads to power drives. The thought of power is one reason
we were drunks in the first place. A.A. takes no denominational,
political or economic stands. It stays out of controversy.
We do not claim that anonymity is a virtue. Rather it is
a protection." In proof of his own passion for anonymity,
Bill W. has refused an honourary doctorate from Yale. "A
degree for what?" he asks. "For being the world's
Time, July 11, 1960)