Lois W, wife of Alcoholics Anonymous’ Co-founder, Bill W, recalls the time in AA when there were few members and no Big Book
In the early days of AA things were really different. For five years there was no Big Book. The only way to communicate with people was to go tell them, so that was what we did of course, all the meetings were held in peoples homes, the homes of those people lucky enough to have them.
Anybody who had one made it wide open to whoever the boys brought in. Our houses, Dr. Bob’s in Akron and ours in Brooklyn were just filled up with drunks, either drinking or stopped temporarily; or well on the way to real sobriety.
Then AA was quite different in those days for many reasons. One was that there were no people in AA except those who had gone to the very bottom. Only those would listen to the story that one drunk was telling another. When AA first started before there was a book, it was more anonymous than it is now, because even the fellowship was without a name. AA did not have a name until the book was written.
Before that it was just a bunch of drunks trying to help each other, a bunch of nameless drunks. They had to be worked with over and over, families and everybody did what they could to help.
There were many sad, sad things that happened, many very humourous things, and inspirational things, too.
Several are coming to mind now. Bill, as you know, came from Vermont and someone sent him some Maple Syrup from there. It came in a Whisky bottle. One of the boys saw this attractive container in the kitchen and he was so drunk at the time that he gulped the whole bottle of syrup, thinking it was whisky.
We had a rule that no one came into the house when drinking. One night one of the boys came home drunk. We would not let him in so he pried open the coal chute and slid into the cellar. Since he was very fat, we were surprised he could slide down, yet he made it. But this same fat man did get stuck in a basement apartment.
Old city houses used to have stationary tubs in the kitchen. He thought he would try to take a bath in one. But after getting in he could not get out so one of us (and I think it was I) had to pull him out.
There were many other things… a man committed suicide in our house after having pawned our dress clothes left over from more prosperous days. These included Bill’s dress suit and my precious evening cape. We have never owned such articles since.
AA was always thrilling. The families were always included in all of our meetings; wives, parents there were not many alcoholic women then, and the children came too. The children were vitally interested in what went on. They would inquire about all the members and ask about how they were. They would learn the Twelve Steps and really try to live by them. I do not think that youngsters can be too young to be thrilled by the AA program and be helped by it.
One of the first women to come in was the ex-wife of a friend of Bills. She had been in Bellevue and came from there to our house. At that time there was a wonderful man-I think he was fourth or fifth AA – who was trying to start a group in Washington, DC. This women went down to help him and, stayed sober quite a long time. Then she married a man they were trying to bring into the program. He really did not go along with the idea himself and used to say to her once in awhile, “Florence you look so thirsty.” And so she did something about that. Florence disappeared. Everybody looked for her, everywhere and could not find her. After a couple of weeks they found her in the morgue.
At that time each group used to visit every other group. New York members would go to New Jersey or Greenwich. Philadelphia or’ Washington or even Cleveland or Akron. Those were the groups that were in action in the first five years,
If anybody had a car a bunch of us would pile in and we would go wherever we knew there was a meeting. Families were just as much as part of AA as the alcoholics and we did feel we belonged.
But after awhile the AAs thought that they should have an accessional meeting – at least one a week – of just alcoholics so that they could really get down to business.
When this occurred the wives thought they would meet together, too, at the same time. At first these gatherings of wives did not have any particular purpose.
Sometimes we would play Bridge and sometimes we would gossip about our husbands.
Then a few of us began to see we really needed the AA program as much as the alcoholics. The famous case of me throwing a shoe at Bill started me thinking about myself and realising, I needed to live by the Twelve Steps just as much as he did.
He was getting way ahead of me. I always thought of myself as being the moral mentor in the house. But Bill, who never was a mentor, was certainly growing spiritually while I was standing still. Or perhaps there was no standing still if I was not going ahead, I must be going backwards.
I decided I had better live by the Twelve Steps. Annie S and a number of other people had come to the same conclusion. So, whenever we visited another group, we would tell the wives and families how we found that we too, needed to live by the Twelve Steps of AA. Little groups of wives and families all over the country began the need for something to help overcome the frustrations and, become integrated human beings again. That is the way AI-Anon started. We followed the AA program, in every principle. I want to thank AA for showing us the way. Without your leading us we would still be the unhappy folks we were.
In our meetings we tell our own experiences just as AAs do. We tell’ how we came to find we needed Al-Anon and what Al-Anon has done for us. And we seek to help other families that were, or are having the same sort of experience.
In I950 Bill travelled all over Canada and the US to see how AAs would react to the idea of a General, Conference for Alcoholics Anonymous, and in doing so he discovered quite a few types of groups of the families of alcoholics. He thought that they should have a central office here in New York, just as AA did, so they could be unified in their purpose of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions – a place where inquires could be received, literature be prepared and the public informed so that those in need would know where to turn.
A good friend and I started a small office in Bedford Hills. By then AA had had eighty-seven inquires from wives and groups who wished to register. AA was not equipped to handle the families of alcoholics it handed over this list to us and we wrote to them. Fifty groups responded and were registered with us. That was in
The numerical potential of Al-Anon is greater than AA because it is composed not only of mates of alcoholics but children, parents and other relatives and friends. It is estimated that five people are seriously affected by one alcoholic.
Though we have scarcely scratched the surface, the future is bright, thanks to you AA for your wonderful example and support.
From Lois W