Coincidence – When God does a miracle and remains anonymous.
It is so easy to take the existence of Alcoholics Anonymous for granted. We either forget or are unaware of the many coincidences or improbable situations and occurrences that formed the path that led to the miracle of the Fellowship from which came the Program of recovery from the deadliest disease known to mankind. While there is a lot of folklore and romantic stories regarding our history, there is no doubt that exceptional circumstances surround our beginning.
Probably the first such event was the efforts Rowland Hazard’s parents extended in trying to find a solution for their son’s drinking problem. After every domestic effort failed, they contacted the highly acclaimed psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, M.D., to learn if he would be willing to try to help their son. He informed them that he was too busy with a project to devote the necessary time to their son so they went to their second choice; Carl Jung, M.D. Dr. Freud was a cocaine addict and an atheist. Dr. Jung was a man of faith and believed our only hope was in a spiritual experience; a complete change in the way we think and the way we feel.
After Rowland found sobriety through his association with the Oxford Group in New York, his folks sent him to their summer home in Manchester, VT for a vacation at their expense. Being known as a “town drunk”, those who knew him well were impressed with his recovery. One of his friends mentioned that there was a drunk in Shaftsbury, a small community a few miles south of Manchester, who was trying to make a living painting houses and when not working, was shooting pigeons off the roofs of the homes and barns. Did Rowland have any idea how to help this poor soul? Rowland drove down to where Ebby Thatcher was “having fun” and had no trouble locating him. Rowland told Ebby how he had suffered miserably from his drinking and how he had found his Solution. Ebby was interested until he heard that it had something to do with God and then he wanted to end the visit. Rowland returned to Manchester, finished his vacation and returned to New York.
Ebby was a fun loving, happy alcoholic most of the time. On one of his escapades, and trying to make it home before daylight, he had some difficulty making it around a corner and drove his auto through a dining room of a home and stopped in the kitchen where the lady was preparing breakfast. Ebby jumped out of his car and said, “Good morning Maam. I thought I’d drop in for a cup of coffee. Two sugars and a little cream please.” She and her husband didn’t see the humor in it so they called the police who took Ebby to jail. When Ebby appeared in court, he found himself in front of a Judge who had seen him too many times for drunkenness. The Judge informed Ebby that he appeared to be a hopeless case and would therefore draw up the papers for commitment to an insane asylum for alcoholic insanity. The Judge mentioned this to some friends, one of whom was Rowland Hazard who asked the Judge if he might not consider letting him have another visit with Ebby before finalizing the commitment. The Judge released Ebby to Rowland’s custody with the assurance that if Ebby ever showed up in his court for drunkenness, there would be no further consideration. It would be the “Funny Farm” for a very, very long time. Of course, Ebby, with Rowland’s endorsement, joined the Oxford Group in New York and found that he too could stay happily sober by adopting their way of living.
As we know, Ebby two months sober heard that his old and very dear friend and drinking buddy, Bill Wilson, was in very serious trouble with his drinking. Ebby went to the trouble to learn where Bill was then living and gave him a call. Bill eagerly invited Ebby to come see him and to celebrate their reunion after a number of years apart, Bill purchased two quarts of “bathtub gin” and prepared for a catching up visit with Ebby. There is no question that Bill was very disappointed when Ebby refused to drink but was willing to listen to what Ebby had to report on how he had found contented sobriety. While Bill initially rebelled at the idea of a loving God as the Solution to his alcoholism, he finally surrendered to that concept and lived the rest of his thirty-six years of life sober and very active in trying to help other alcoholics. Where would we be today if Ebby had not inconvenienced himself to try to help his alcoholic friend, Bill Wilson? Or do you think that hard headed Bill Wilson would have accepted the experience of anyone except the one he knew to be a really serious problem drinker? In their earlier days of drinking together, Bill would often look at Ebby’s drinking and would say to himself, “If I ever get as bad as Ebby, I’ll quit.” When they met this time, Ebby was sober and happy. Bill was looking forward to death.
After Bill left Townes Hospital on December 18, 1934, he spent a part of almost every day seeking another serious drinker to tell his story to. After four months of complete failure to “get another drunk sober”, he decided he was wasting his time and would become a more responsible husband. When his wife Lois came home from work, he announced that he was going to quit wasting his time chasing drunks. He was going to get a job and get Lois out of that department store. They were going to become a respectable couple again. We would expect her to have said, “Well, it’s about time. You haven’t done anything to help in over two years.” But, to his surprise, Lois looked at him and said, “Bill, for the first time in our seventeen years of marriage, you have been sober for four months. I so love you sober. You are not wasting your time. You are staying sober. You keep on trying and I’ll continue to earn our living.” Really? Yep, really!
Bill was an entrepreneur and had formed a little combine to take control of a machine company in Akron Ohio. Through Bill’s research, the members were convinced that they had purchased a sufficient number of shares of this Company that when they held the Stockholders Meeting on May 11, 1935, they would be able to vote their shares, which would represent a majority vote, and they therefore would gain control of the Company. Bill was to become President of the Company so he and Lois would move to Akron and he would take up his duties. The Company would flourish and they would all profit from the venture. Bill had developed a reputation for being very good at analyzing companies and learning more about them then they would care to have known by those who trade in stock. Unfortunately, on this occasion, Bill failed to learn that the Chairman of the Board of the Company owned a large block of stock that he had not registered. The result of which was that their plans to gain controlling interest went down the toilet. The investors were exceedingly upset and returned to New York, leaving Bill stranded with a two week unpaid hotel bill, Ten dollars in his pocket and an admonition to get the mess straightened out before he returned to New York. So far as we know, this is the only time Bill failed to do a good job in his analysis of a company. Coincidence? Maybe! And had they been successful in their “take over” effort, would Bill have had the determination to devote the amount of time that was necessary to produce the book ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS? And without the success of the Big Book, there would have been no reason for the Twelve Traditions. In fact, if they had been successful, there would be no Alcoholics Anonymous, as we know it, today. Yes, just another coincidence.
The disappointment of his failure almost cost him his sobriety, but he remembered that when all else failed, work with another alcoholic would save his day. So he got on the telephone and after twelve telephone calls, found a person who said she knew of a serious drinker who they had prayed would find a solution for his drinking problem. While Bill believed the twelfth telephone call to be a waste of time, the response he received was, “Oh yes, you are manna from heaven. You are the answer to our prayers. Please come on out.”
Bill’s efforts led him to Robert Halbrook Smith, MD, a prominent rectal surgeon in Akron. But Dr. Smith wasn’t very eager to meet this rummy from New York on Mother’s Day, 1935. If fact, his first thought as he came to on that Sunday morning was to get himself a badly needed drink. His wife, Ann, intercepted him as he headed to his bottle and told him that the man from New York was looking forward to meeting him. Dr. Bob informed his wife that he very desperately needed a drink so she replied that he would not drink and he said he would and she said no you are not and he said yes I am and finally they cut a deal where she would say nothing more about his drinking if he would not drink until after they had gone to the Seiberling Estate to meet this man from New York and spend no more that fifteen minutes with him. When they met at the screen door of the Gate House, Bill looked into the blood shot eyes of the sweating, shaking, Doctor and said, “Dr. Smith it is so good to meet you. I’ve been looking forward to this.” And Dr. Smith looked at the Bill and said, “Yes Mr. Wilson. It is good to meet you too but we must be very brief. I have but a few moments.” And Bill Wilson said, “I understand Dr. You must be very thirsty. You look as if you need a drink.” And that is the magic of the “Language of the Heart.” The magic is that the prominent surgeon listened to a stranger whose only qualification was that he was a recovered alcoholic and the fifteen minutes lasted a lifetime for both men.
Reflecting a moment, we can see a great indebtedness to two wonderful ladies. Lois who would not let Bill quit and Ann who would not let the Dr. miss a very important meeting with a rummy from New York. If the two alcoholics had had their way, we wouldn’t be here today?
In the Fall of 1937, Bill Wilson made a trip back West and stopped in Akron to visit with Dr. Bob. While they had stayed in touch since they first met, they had not taken time to analyze what they were accomplishing. While sharing the success they had experienced, and putting their respective numbers together, they came up with forty hopeless alcoholics who had significant sobriety. They looked at each other and realized they were on to something of tremendous significance. They immediately began exploring ways and means of propagating this vital information. They came up with a number of what would appear to be great ideas. To get support for these wonderful suggestions, Dr. Bob called a meeting of the Akron and Cleveland AA’s. When the twenty some were assembled, Bill began presenting these propositions and one by one they were shot down. The final idea was a book that would outline the Problem – Alcoholism; the Solution – God as we understood Him and the Program of Action that would produce the Solution – victory over alcohol. That idea was about to be eliminated when Dr. Bob spoke up in favor of it stating that the vital information they had developed had to be preserved so it would not be garbled by word of mouth. It was reported that a vote of the “slimmest majority” approved the idea. Had the Big Book not been approved and put into circulation, there would be no Alcoholics Anonymous today, as we know it. Only since April 1939 has the hopeless, helpless alcoholic had a chance to escape death or insanity from drinking. Prior to that time, only a few, a very few did not wind up in the morgue or an insane asylum.
There are many more examples of “God doing a miracle and remaining anonymous” in the structuring of this fantastic Program that came from a handful of alcoholics of the hopeless variety. Isn’t it tragic that so many have paid the price of admission and are told, “Don’t drink and go to meetings,” thereby being denied the Power that comes from following the clear-cut directions in the Basic Text for Alcoholics Anonymous that have rarely failed any of us who have put it to the test.