THE OCTOBER 1944 GRAPEVINE was notable for two reasons: it announced the formation of the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (now the National Council on Alcoholism); and it presented what were then regarded as good reasons for the first important deviation from the principle of anonymity at the public level. Not until 1946 did this experiment--along with several others which had been tried in all good faith--clearly reveal that "the good is often the enemy of the best." It took that much time to demonstrate the fact of AA life that any departure from anonymity at the public level opens a Pandora's Box from which both the individual AA and the movement as a whole can suffer badly.
It was in the light of such experience that Bill W., one of AA's co-founders, wrote two subsequent articles (in 1946) on both the spiritual and the practical aspects of anonymity, which became the basis of AA's now widely observed. Traditions Eleven and Twelve.
For the historical record, however, here is what Bill wrote in October of 1944. . . .
CENTRAL OFFICE NOTES: A DATE WITH DESTINY?Reprinted from The Grapevine, October 1944By Bill W.
SOMEBODY ONCE SAID, "As much as you may grow, as many recoveries as there may be, I think the eventual by-products of AA will be greater than AA itself."
Everywhere now, we hear such remarks. They come from all kinds of people. Doctors think of applying our methods to other neurotics; clergymen wonder if our humble example may not vitalize their congregations; businessmen find we make good personnel managers--they glimpse a new industrial democracy; educators see power in our non-controversial way of presenting the truth; and our friends wistfully say, "We wish we were alcoholics--we need AA too."
Why these stirrings? They must mean, I am sure, that we have suddenly become much more than recovered alcoholics, AA members only. Society has begun to hope that we are going to utilize, in every walk of life, that miraculous experience of our returning, almost overnight, from the fearsome land of Nowhere.
Yes, we are again citizens of the world. It is a distraught world, very tired, very uncertain. It has worshipped its own self-sufficiency--and that has failed. We AAs are a people who once did that very thing. That philosophy failed us, too. So perhaps, here and there, our example of recovery can help. As individuals, we have a responsibility, maybe a double responsibility. It may be that we have a date with destiny.
An example: Not long ago Dr. J. E. M. Jellinek, of Yale University, came to us. He said, "Yale, as you know, is sponsoring a program of public education on alcoholism, entirely non-controversial in character. We need the cooperation of many AAs. To proceed on any educational project concerning alcoholism without the good will, experience and help of AA members would be unthinkable."
So, when the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism was formed, an AA member was made its executive director: Marty M., one of our oldest and finest. In this issue, she tells the Grapevine of her new work. As a member of AA, she is just as much interested in us as before--AA is still her avocation. But as an officer of the Yale-sponsored National Committee, she is also interested in educating the general public on alcoholism. Her AA training has wonderfully fitted her for this post in a different field. Public education on alcoholism is to be her vocation. Could an AA do such a job? At first, Marty herself wondered. She asked her AA friends, "Will I be regarded as a professional?" Her friends replied, "Had you come to us, Marty, proposing to be a therapist, to sell straight AA to alcoholics at so much a customer, we should certainly have branded that as professionalism. So would everybody else.
"But the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism is quite another matter. You will be taking your natural abilities and AA experience into a very different field. We don't see how that can affect your amateur status with us. Suppose you were to become a social worker, a personnel officer, the manager of a state farm for alcoholics, or even a minister of the gospel? Who could possibly say those activities would make you a professional AA? No one, of course."
They went on, "Yet we do hope that AA as a whole will never deviate from its sole purpose of helping other alcoholics. As an organization, we should express no opinions save on the recovery of problem drinkers.
That very sound national policy has kept us out of much useless trouble already, and will surely forestall untold complications in the future.
"Though AA as a whole," they continued, "should never have but one objective, we believe just as strongly that for the individual there should be no limitations whatever, except his own conscience. He should have the complete right to choose his own opinions and outside activities. If these are good, AAs everywhere will approve. Just so, Marty, do we think it will be in your case. While Yale is your actual sponsor, we feel sure that you are going to have the warm personal support of thousands of AAs wherever you go. We shall all be thinking how much better a break this new generation will have because of your work, how much it might have meant to us had our own mothers and fathers really understood alcoholism."
Personally I feel that Marty's friends have advised her wisely; that they have clearly distinguished between the limited scope of "AA as a whole" and the broad horizon of the individual AA acting on his own responsibility; that they have probably drawn a correct line between what we would regard as professional and amateur.
HEADLINED ON PAGE 1 of the October 1944 Grapevine was a signed article by Dwight Anderson, then Director of Public Relations for the Medical Society of the State of New York.
THOSE WHO READ THIS ISSUE of the Grapevine are privileged to be present at what may very well prove to be an historic event. The birth of the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism, first publicly announced in this issue, means far more than the mere name would imply. It is the beginning of a new public health movement. It is the first step toward getting the alcoholic out of the jail and into the hospital; toward making it possible for the medical man and the psychiatrist, the social worker and the lay therapist, to pool their skills with Alcoholics Anonymous in modifying the ravages of an illness to which society has been indifferent almost until this very moment. . . .
Excerpted from The Grapevine, October 1944
AND FINALLY, the very though editor of the 1944 Grapevine presented, in the same issue, an interview with Marty M.
A NEW COMMITTEE HAS BEEN FORMED. It's to be nationwide in scope. Although it's not an AA baby, it's to have a lot to do with AA. The name of it is The National Committee for Education on Alcoholism, and its executive director is Marty M., one of our leading AAs in the New York Group, and one of our finest speakers. Marty plans to go all over the country lecturing on alcoholism, and more than this--she hopes to help get local committees started wherever she goes. These local committees in turn will educate their communities on the problem of the alcoholic, and teach the whole public, throughout the country, what we in AA already know. That alcoholism is a disease, and a public health problem. That the alcoholic needs to be brought out in the open and helped, not hidden away in shame.
As you see by this article, Marty has shed her anonymity. She talked it over with a great many other AAs, and they felt that in view of this larger non alcoholic field she was entering, she'd have to.
As Marty said in an interview with us yesterday: "I'm going to lecture to non-alcoholics about alcoholism. I could be much more convincing, and give them much more understanding, by speaking as an alcoholic--from the inside--and they would be much more likely to listen and believe. That left me with two choices. To say that I was an alcoholic and had recovered, period. And not mention AA. Or to give AA full credit for my recovery and break the anonymity rule. I couldn't conceive of not publicly giving AA all the credit."
Excerpted from The Grapevine, October 1944
Ed. note--For readers who'd like to hear the end of the story, and to keep the record straight on the history of the friendly but entirely separate relationship of AA and NCA (now a potent, and flourishing educational force throughout this country and many parts of the world) . . .we'll skip a few issues, to March of 1947.
Dangers in linking AA to Other Projects
By Bill W.
. . .Therefore it seems to me that some of us must heed the call from other fields. And those who do need only remember first and last they are AAs; that in their new activities they are individuals only. This means that they will respect the principle of anonymity in the press; that if they do appear before the general public they will not describe themselves as AAs; that they will refrain from emphasizing their AA status in appeals for money or publicity. . . .
Several years ago, I believed that we might, in a limited and cautious way. lend our name to selected outside ventures. One of these was a very promising educational project. I was asked by faculty members of Yale University sponsoring the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism whether they might hire an AA. And could that AA, for this special purpose, break anonymity? My answer was that of course an AA could be engaged. . . . Though there has never been much question that this was sound enough policy, the same could not be said for my reply on the matter of dropping anonymity, to which, in this instance, I gave approval.
That course has since proved mistaken. A good AA friend of mine took this particular post and then dropped anonymity. The first effect was good. It brought AA a considerable amount of publicity and many members. . .(and) the public was made conscious as never before that alcoholism is a sickness and that something could be done about it. . . .
But of late some confusion has arisen. Because of the large amount of publicity linking the AA name and that of the educational project, the public tends to think AA as a whole has gone in for alcohol education. And when the AA name became associated in the public mind with a fund-raising campaign, there was still more confusion. . . . Hence a long-term liability of dropping anonymity is beginning to offset its short-term advantages. As experience makes this more clear, not only to me, but to my friends of the university and of the educational committee. they agree perfectly and are now endeavoring to correct the situation.
Naturally. . . I hope that none of those involved or the work of the committee will suffer to any degree from our mistake. Such, after all, is the purpose of trial and error by which we all learn and grow.
(Excerpted from March 1947 Grapevine)
1Reprinted on page 25.