Fragments of AA History – Origin of the Twelve Steps
I well remember the evening on which the Twelve Steps were written. I was lying in bed quite dejected and suffering from one of my imaginary ulcer attacks.
Four chapters of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, had been roughed out and read in meetings in Akron and New York. We quickly found that everybody wanted to be an author. The hassles as to what should go into our new book were terrific. For example, some wanted a purely psychological book which would draw in alcoholics without scaring them. We could tell them about the “God business” afterward. A few, led by our wonderful southern friend, Fitz M., wanted a fairly religious book infused with some of the dogma we had picked up from the churches and missions which had tried to help us.
The louder these arguments, the more I felt in the middle. It appeared that I wasn’t going to be the author at all. I was only going to be an umpire who would decide the contents of the book.
This didn’t mean, though, that there wasn’t terrific enthusiasm for the undertaking. Every one of us was wildly excited at the possibility of getting our message before all those countless alcoholics who still didn’t know.
Having arrived at Chapter Five, it seemed high time to state what our program really was. I remember running over in my mind the word-of-mouth phrases then in current use. Jotting these down, they added up to the six named above.
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol;
- We got honest with ourselves;
- We got honest with another person, in confidence;
- We made amends for harms done others;
- We worked with other alcoholics without demand for prestige or money;
- We prayed to God to help us do these things as best we could.
Then came the idea that our program ought to be more accurately and clearly stated. Distant readers would have to have a precise set of principles. Knowing the alcoholic’s ability to rationalize, something airtight would have to be written. We couldn’t let the reader wiggle out anywhere. Besides, a more complete statement would help in the chapters to come where we would need to show exactly how the recovery program ought to be worked.
At length I began to write on a cheap yellow tablet. I split the word-of-mouth program up into smaller pieces, meanwhile enlarging its scope considerably. Uninspired as I felt, I was surprised that in a short time, perhaps half an hour, I had set down certain principles which, on being counted, turned out to be twelve in number. And for some unaccountable reason, I had moved the idea of God into the Second Step, right up front. Besides, I had named God very liberally throughout the other Steps. In one of the Steps I had even suggested that the newcomer get down on his knees.
When this document was shown to our New York meeting, the protests were many and loud. Our agnostic friends didn’t go at all for the idea of kneeling. Others said we were talking altogether too much about God. And anyhow, why should there be Twelve Steps when we had done five or six? Let’s keep it simple, they said.
This sort of heated discussion went on for days and nights. But out of it all there came a ten-strike for Alcoholics Anonymous.
Our agnostic contingent, speared by Hank P. and Jim B., finally convinced us that we must make it easier for people like themselves by using such terms as “a Higher Power” or “God as we understand him.” These expressions, as we so well know today, have proved lifesavers for many an alcoholic. They have enabled thousands of us to make a beginning where none could have been made had we left the Steps just as I originally wrote them.
Happily for us there were no other changes in the original draft and the number of Steps still stood at twelve. Little did we guess that our Twelve Steps would soon be widely approved by clergy of all denominations, and even by our latter-day friends, the psychiatrists. This little fragment ought to convince the most skeptical that nobody invented Alcoholics Anonymous. It just grew–by the grace of God.
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