Time Line

Buchman, a Lutheran minister, has a powerfully transformative religious experience, which leads him to eventually form the Oxford Group. This experience of Buchman’s contains all of the elements that would later be codified as the Twelve Steps. (more)

Howard Walter, missionary in India and friend of Buchman’s, collaborates with Buchman to publish Soul Surgery. The booklet is both a criticism of mainstream evangelical technique and an effort to forward a new approach to working with others. (read soul surgery)

The Oxford group is formed from Buchman’s post-conversion efforts and develops its own unique evangelical style. This style is characterized by an emphasis on personal change and the practice of Guidance. (more)

While under treatment at Towns Hospital , Bill Wilson experiences a flash of white light and an overwhelming sense of well-being that frees him from his alcoholism. Bill’s “hot flash,” as he would later call it, leads him to associate with the Oxford Group. It should be noted, however, that Bill’s experience is quite different from the typical Oxford Grouper’s experience, and these differences have their effect on the way he relates to the Group’s practices. (more)

Bill’s failure to transmit his experience to other alcoholics leads to a conversation with Dr. William Silkworth. After this conversation, Bill approaches alcoholics with a medical description of their shared condition, and saves the “God stuff” for later. (more)

While on a trip to Akron , Ohio , Bill is hit by the desire to drink. He makes some phone calls and sets up an appointment to meet with Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, a member of the Oxford Group in Akron who is also an active alcoholic. The encounter results in Dr. Bob’s sobriety and is considered the founding moment of Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Bob’s work in Akron and Bill’s work in New York City lead to the growth of two fellowships of recovered alcoholics. Though the fellowships consider themselves to be two halves of a whole program, in practice Akron is far more religious and New York more social. (more)

Alcoholics Anonymous,
commonly called the Big Book, is an attempt to collect and codify all knowledge gained by the new fellowships. Because of the differences between New York and Akron, the result is not a perfect description of either group’s program but represents a middle ground between the two, less religious than Akron, but still less social than New York. The final manuscript shows that, whatever the program of Alcoholics Anonymous may actually be, it is much removed from the Oxford Group. (more)

In Bill’s struggle with depression, he looks for help outside of the Twelve Steps. What he finds in psychotherapy and his relationship with Father Ed Dowling will change his perspective on the Steps. (more)

Hazelden, a center whose treatment plan is based on the Twelve Steps, becomes extremely successful. As Hazelden grows, it replaces a strictly Big Book approach to treatment with the multidisciplinary approach that will come to be known as the Minnesota Model. The Hazelden version of the Steps becomes increasingly psychological. As the Minnesota Model establishes a hegemony in the United States , it has a growing influence on Step practices within AA and other organizations. (more)

As AA grows and its population changes, Bill feels the need to reinterpret the Twelve Steps in a way that is responsive to the new membership of AA, and more accurately reflects the program of the New York fellowship. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions presents Bill’s new interpretation of the Twelve Steps. The new interpretation is both more social and more psychological than the Big Book. (more)

When it is founded in 1953, Narcotics Anonymous adopts the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions from AA with minor changes. The founding of NA sets a precedent for other fellowships to adopt the Steps and organize around problems other than alcoholism. NA’s literature shows that it has a social style of Stepwork, reminiscent of the interpretation of the Steps found in AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. (more)

Hazelden’s Twelve-Step based Minnesota Model soon becomes the dominant form of addiction treatment in America . In the mid 70’s the National Council on Alcoholism launches a campaign to decrease the stigma associated with addiction. These factors contribute to a swell in popularity of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Step style treatment. The popularization of the Twelve Steps and the influx of people attracted to them give rise to a “recovery culture”with its own values and assumptions, separate from traditional understandings of the Steps. (more)

In reaction to secular and psychological influences many more traditional Twelve Step members, particularly in AA, begin to make distinctions between “true” and “false” interpretations of the Twelve Steps. The conservatives generally advocate an earlier version of the Twelve Steps, such as that which appears in the Big Book, or one that more closely resembles the practices of the Oxford Group. Conservatives tend to support their views with a depiction of the program as adrift from its spiritual roots. (more)

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

the conversatives saved my life. I’m already finding that talking the “12 step nazi” talk is getting me strange looks in some meetings and outright hositilty in others. I was told this would happen – but I’m committed to sharing my experience and recovery with others who are suffering in traditional AA>

Comment by Marlin

Great read. Wanting to learn a bit more about the history

Comment by Dar

Big Book is where it is at.

Comment by amber Kim

I find it interesting because people were getting sober before the book was written and Bill tried to document the process of change, i.e. admit there is a problem and that for psychological (mental/emotional/spiritual) reasons a person is often powerless to change on their own without outside help of some kind (the group support, outside counselling, sponsorship and/or “God” – then the steps to reveal the inner defects of character, patterns of thinking, emotions that keep us stuck in the same behaviours, responses to life, etc., the release that comes from an awareness that we can change if we work at it – then 10-11-12, continuing the process and attempting to help others with “like” minds (or emotional difficulties).

I think Bill continued his personal journey and wrote the 12 and 12 to expand on the steps in a more psychotherapeutic way as well as to introduce the 12 traditions. Bill had realised that he could not just “hand over” but had to do more work of a psychotherapeutic nature to address his own defects which kept arising.

Those that only focus on the Big Book or on the earlier versions of the steps that were edited and changed by the “group conscience” are refusing to see that AA is ever evolving and will need to continue to change as new information, or clearer thinking comes about over time. Joe and Charlie and their ilk, even though they did some good things with step four inventory sheets have made a huge mistake in going back to earlier version of the steps and putting the “set of directions”, “musts” etc., back onto the public arena as these were taken out and “suggested programme” was put in so as to enable as many rebellious alcoholics as possible into the rooms. Through their behaviour these step guru’s are damaging Unity in AA by attempting to be “right”.

I think I would have belonged to the New York group of AA, never the Akron group which according to the history time line was more Oxford Group and Bible/God oriented. I think the Cleveland Group inadvertently in attempting to deal with the large influx of new members by “taking people through the Big Book and Steps and then having those people take still others through the process” have taken an incorrect path in that they have used the book as the letter of the law rather than following the spirit of the law that the Big Book and other literature are meant to be a guide to. In other words each person needs to come to their own spiritual awakening and own path by whatever route their own life takes them, rather than a prescribed set of “rules”. Funnily they have made the process “sponsor and big book directed” rather than God or spiritually directed. I believe that because of their deep seated fear of not knowing all the answers they centre on a “directed” process rather than having faith that God/the universe will show each person the way.

The Akron/Cleveland groupies do not realise that their “God-directed programme” is actually more man-made and fear driven than an “open programme” which allows for all the other literature, the 12 and 12, and even outside psychological counselling or religious/ministerial counselling (in fact anything that produces internal growth and wholeness in a person).

Psychology has moved on from “instincts” yet this was the term originally coined and in use at the time the big book was written for the inner drives of any human being. For instance, as you would know Maslow calls them the hieracy of needs of a human being, starting with the basics for safety, food and shelter and moving up to self-actualisation. To me the steps are a means of unpacking the dysfunctional ways I have developed through my life of getting my “needs” met so that I can move more toward “self-actualisation” and a happy and healthy life of meaningful relationship with myself and others and the natural universe/God – I can put this into any psychological “model”.

I agree with you that the fundamentalists lack faith and live in fear – they forget the God they speak of is Love, whether personified in Christ, the Budda, etc., and that Love is Kind, Love is Gentle, Love is Caring, Love is Accepting, etc., and that to live tune with God is to practice these things – which I do miserably but with Hope given by the phrase – “we are not saints . . . we practice these principles in all our affairs” – practice makes perfect – so I cannot ever completely DO the steps, I practice the principles embodied in them.

Rick H

Comment by Rick Henshaw

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