As “Charlie & Joe” (see last) had learned and then began sharing during many “Big Book Comes Alive!” seminars during the 1980s, three essential elements came together at the inception of what some of us today still know as “the original A.A.” (where real alcoholics are never told to “Don’t drink!”):
1) Knowledge of our problem (a physical allergy and no defense) from Dr. William D. Silkworth;
2) Knowledge of a solution (a spiritual experience or spiritual awakening) from Dr. Carl Jung;
3) A program of action (applying that solution to remove “no defense”) from the early Oxford Groups.
“I (Bill W.) met a kind doctor (William D. Silkworth) who explained … I had been seriously ill, bodily and mentally.” (“Alcoholics Anonymous”, page 7)
Dr. Silkworth later offered that insight to us all in this way:
“They are restless, irritable and discontented (a troubled emotional-mental state), unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks – drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops (where each drink physically demands yet another), they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over (such as by not drinking one-day-at-a-time until once again ending up drunk), and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his or her recovery.” (“Alcoholics Anonymous”, “The Doctor’s Opinion”, bold typeface added)
At that point, Bill understood the two-fold nature of our alcoholism:
a) We are physically powerless over alcohol while drinking (each drink demands yet another);
b) While yet in our natural states, we are also mentally-emotionally powerless over the first drink … Step One.
“A certain American business man (Rowland H.) had gone to Europe, placing himself in the care of a celebrated physician (the psychiatrist, Dr. Jung) who prescribed for him …”
Said the good doctor: “Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences … huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.'” (“Alcoholics Anonymous”, pages 26-27)
In so may words, Dr. Jung had suggested we alcoholics be willing to “Go see God”, so to speak … Step Two.
“The cheery voice of an old school friend (Ebby, on my left) … told (me, Bill W.) how two men … had told (him, Ebby) of a simple religious idea (Step Three, ‘Trust In God’) and a practical program of action (Steps Four through Nine, ‘Clean House’) … (and) It worked!” (“Alcoholics Anonymous:, pages 8-9, italic added)
Those two men first helping Ebby (Bill’s sponsor) had been members of the Oxford Groups at New York City after Sam Shoemaker – Samuel Moor Shoemaker (1893–1963), past rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City, the USA headquarters of the Oxford Groups during the 1930s – had first learned of and had begun speaking of and sharing with others what we today know as “Let go and let God.”
Sam had also helped start a Chapter of the Oxford Groups in Akron, Ohio, where Dr. Bob Smith had become involved (but could not remain sober) until after being “Twelfth-Stepped” by Bill W. In 1917, Sam had met Frank Buchman (Oxford Groups) who had told him of the four absolutes: honesty; purity; unselfishness; love. Shoemaker later spoke of his meeting Buchman as having been a major influence upon his own decision to “let go of self and let God guide his life.” Bill Wilson occasionally referred to Sam as a co-founder of A.A., but Sam (while not denying Bill’s memory) would reflect the credit to God and the influence of the Oxford Groups. (adapted from Wikipedia)
So with the above having all taken place, we now had (1) knowledge of our problem, (2) knowledge of a solution, and (3) “a practical program of action” together in one set of hands for the first time ever when Bill W. and Dr. Bob got together for the first time ever …
“(Dr. Bob) had repeatedly tried (within the Oxford Groups of that day) spiritual means to resolve his alcoholic dilemma but had failed. But when the broker (Bill W.) gave him Dr. Silkworth’s description of alcoholism and its hopelessness, the physician (Dr. Bob) began to pursue the spiritual remedy for his malady with a willingness he had never before been able to muster.” (“Alcoholics Anonymous”, Foreword to Second Edition, italic added)
Dr. Bob had already known of our solution (a spiritual experience or awakening), and he had even made efforts along the lines of what we today know as our “practical program of action” (Steps Four through Nine). However, the “willingness he had never before been able to muster” had ultimately come about for him only after Bill W. had “smashed home” through his (Bill W.’s) own experience the fact that “the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge (knowing s/he will never be able to drink safely)” (page 39) … and all of that “seemed to prove one alcoholic could affect another as no nonalcoholic could” since Dr. Bob then “sobered, never to drink again up to the moment of his death in 1950.” (Foreword to Second Edition) Here on his own prescription pad is something we have excerpted from his personal story in our A.A. “Big Book”:
“…if you really and truly want to quit drinking liquor for good and all, and sincerely feel that you must have some help, we know that we have an answer for you. It never fails, if you go about it with one half the zeal you have been in the habit of showing when you were getting another drink.
“Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” — “Dr. Bob’s Nightmare”
Update: We have since discovered this brief version of that in Dr. Bob’s own handwriting:
Few people ever hear much about Clarence Snyder and the fact Bill W. and Dr. Bob learned much from him while A.A. was getting started in Cleveland. Clarence helped break sectarian (religious) barriers to open A.A. up to anyone at all, and Clarence placed emphasis on “Trust in God and clean house” (“A.A.”, page 98) over any kind of mere “Don’t drink and go to meetings” type of mantra.
Big Book Sponsorship (an article about Clarence)
My Higher Power – The Light Bulb? (a pamphlet written by Clarence)
Clarence Snyder − 1966
Clarence Snyder − 1975
Clarence Snyder − 1982
We do not have a photo of Wesley Parish to share with you, yet we mention him here because he was a man who had learned and lived this well: “When we are merely ‘thankful’, it is enough to say ‘Thank you.’ But when we are truly grateful, we spend much of our spare time in search of suffering alcoholics so we might have the opportunity to pass along to them what has been so freely given us.” (Wesley P.)
In Pompano Beach, Florida, in the early 1980s, Wesley and other A.A. members put a lot of effort into arranging “Big Book Comes Alive!” seminars presented by “Charlie & Joe”. The walls of the assembly halls displayed near-life-size photos from the early days of A.A….and the fresh doughnuts, juice and hot coffee nearby were free for everyone present!
Joe & Charlie Big Book Study History
Charlie P. tells his personal story here:
Joe McQ. tells his personal story here:
“…you may…be asking – ‘What do I have to do?‘
“We shall tell you what we have done.”
(“Alcoholics Anonymous“, page 20)