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This month our selection is a look back at the first five years of A.A. as told from Lois Wilson’s perspective. This was originally published in the January 1967 AA Grapevine.

Lois Wilson, wife of AA’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, recalls the time in AA when there were few members and no Big Book. From the January 1967 AA Grapevine. In the early days of AA things were really different. For five years there was no Big Book. The only way to communicate with other people was to go and tell them, so that’s what we did. Of course, all of the meetings were held in people’s homes, the homes of those who were lucky enough to have them. Anybody who had one made it wide open to whomever the boys brought in. Our houses, Dr. Bob’s in Akron and ours in Brooklyn, were just filled with drunks, either drinking, or stopped temporarily, or well on the way to real sobriety.

Yes, 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 these 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 didn’t 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, many sad things that happened, many very humorous things, and inspirational things, too.

Several are coming to mind right now. Bill, as you know, came from Vermont and someone sent him some maple syrup from there. It came in a whiskey 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 whiskey. We had a rule that no one could come into the house when he was drinking. One night one of the boys came home drunk. We wouldn’t let him in so he pried open the coal chute and slid into the cellar. Since he was very fat it was surprising that he could slide down it, yet somehow he made it. But this same fat man did get stuck one night in the washtubs. He lived in the basement apartment. Old city houses used to have stationary tubs in the kitchen. He thought he’d try to take a bath in one. But after getting in he couldn’t 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 again.

AA was always thrilling. The families were included in all of the meetings; wives and parents (there weren’t many alcoholic women then), and the children came too. The children were vitally interested in everything that went on. They would inquire about all the members and want to know how they were. They’d learn the Twelve Steps and really try to live by them. I don’t think youngsters can be too young to be thrilled by the AA program and be helped by it.

One of the first women who came in was the ex-wife of a friend of Bill’s. She had been in Bellevue and had come from there to our house. At that time there was a wonderful man – I think he was the fourth or fifth AA – who was trying to start a group in Washington, D.C. This woman went down to help him and she stayed sober for quite a long time. Then she married a man they were trying to bring onto the program. He really didn’t go along with the idea himself and used to say to her every once in a while, “Florence, you look so thirsty.” And so she did something about that, Florence disappeared. Everybody looked for her everywhere and couldn’t 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 I recall were in existence in the first five years.

If anybody had a car a bunch of us would pile in and we’d go wherever we knew there was a meeting. Families were just as much a part of AA as the alcoholics and we did feel we belonged. But after a while the AA’s thought that they should have an occasional meeting – at least one every week – of just alcoholics so that they could really get down to business. When this occurred the wives thought they’d meet together, too, at the same time. At first these little gatherings of wives didn’t have any particular purpose. Sometimes we’d play bridge and sometimes we’d gossip about our husbands. Then a few of us began to see that we really needed the AA program just as much as the alcoholics. The famous case of my throwing a shoe at Bill started me wondering about myself and realizing that 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 is no standing still – if I wasn’t going ahead, I must be going backwards.

I decided I’d 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 to feel the same need for something to help overcome their frustrations and help them become integrated human beings again.

That’s the way Al-Anon started. We followed the AA program in every principle. I want to thank AA’s so very much 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 AA’s do. We tell how we came to find that 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 1950 Bill traveled all over Canada and the United States to see how AA’s 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 family of alcoholics. He thought that they should have a Central Office here in New York, just as AA did, so that they could be unified in their use of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions – a place where inquiries could be received, literature 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 inquiries from wives or groups who wished to register. As 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 ’51. Today (1967) there are over 3,000 Al-Anon groups. The numerical potential of Al-Anon is greater than AA’s 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 barely scratched the surface, the future is bright, thanks to you AA’s for your wonderful example and inspiration.

AA Traditions Banquet 2018

Learn More!

Upcoming Tradition Banquet Planning Meetings

Tickets Available for purchase at the Harbor Area Central Office!

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In one way, taking part in the Hospitals and Institutions Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous, better known as H & I, is like everything else I do in AA. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say at a meeting, or said yourself, “I really didn’t want to come to the meeting tonight. I had a long day at work and I’m tired (or the big game is on, or whatever). But now that I’m here, I’m really glad I came. I always feel better after a meeting.” I had gone on a few panels here and there. For some of the first ones, I have to admit I wasn’t even sober. But after I got sober and was badgered into taking a panel of my own, I look forward to it every month. And in two years, I’ve never had a problem finding two or three alcoholics to join me and share their hope, strength and experience. It gives meaning to our tradition that states ours is a program of attraction rather than promotion. And we always enjoy it, and feel better afterwards.

On Behalf of the Harbor Area H&I team, we want to thank everyone who supported and attended the event Sept 22nd. We know many of you worked hard at cooking chili, decorating booths and donating Auction Items. Thanks again for your commitment to help Carry the Message of AA to those in need.

2018 Chili Cook Off Awards!

Best Chili

  • 1st Place Lucky 13- Saturday morning Sunset beach meeting
  • 2nd Place Nomads Mens Meeting Sunset Beach at Thursday
  • 3rd Place Paramount Speakers Sunday night at the Snake Pit
  • Best Alternative Chili

  • 1st Place Thursday Night at the fights- Long Beach
  • 2nd Place Bellflower Big Book
  • 3rd Place Marina Pacifica Morn Meeting
  • Best Decorated Booth

  • 1st Place Killer Chili- chili you would die for!
  • 2nd Place Bellflower Big Book Disco
  • 3rd Place MArina Pacifica – Neanderthal/Cave Man and Woman

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    EDITORIAL: On Simplicity, of Faith, of Living, of Outlook

    The A.A. program itself is simple. Why do too many of us try to read complexities and mysteries into the 12 steps? In our drinking days our lives were complex and confused. We were unable to be honest with ourselves and we rationalized our wrong position with all the tricks of evasion and equivocation.

    We added jealousy, resentment and intolerance to the tangled pattern of our lives. Our greatest longing was for relief, for deliverance from a way of living that had become too complex to endure without the treacherous aid of alcohol.

    Our introduction to A.A. at once offered that freedom, if we desired it without reservation and were willing to follow a few steps whose greatest appeal to our bewildered spirits was their simplicity.

    One of the main differences between A.A. and other programs of sound living is the ease with which a newcomer can grasp its principles, and with which the oldest member can live each day in harmony with himself and his neighbors by practicing the simply stated 12 steps.

    Kipling might have written this expressly for A.A.:

    Not as a ladder from Earth to Heaven,
    not as a witness to any creed,
    But simple service simply given to his
    own kind in their common need

    If each individual member wholeheartedly and unquestioningly accepts the program in the simple form it was given us, without straining for effects and methods of practice to elaborate it, we will have even-tempered groups with only enough organization to insure against over-organization.

    Earl T. of Chicago

    Veterans Day AA Meeting Marathon, at MWA - Flyer 2018

    MWA (Memorial West Alumni) is Hosting a Veterans Day AA Marathon.

    • Nov 9, 2018 – 6:00pm – 10:00pm
    • Nov 10, 2018 – 8:00am – 10:00pm
    • Nov 11, 2018 at 8:00am – 6:00pm

  • The Historical Documents contains the new Document — Lois Wilson in January, 1967, AA Grapevine. This month our selection is a look back at the first five years of A.A. as told from Lois Wilson’s perspective. This was originally published in the January 1967 AA Grapevine.
  • We Need the help of AA Groups in our area to tell the Harbor Area Archives Committee about their group history.
    Please visit our Archives Page, for more details.
  • The June 2018 Harbor Light is published and posted to our Harbor Light Pages.
  • The Historical Documents section has been improved, to show easily accessible pdf documents.
    Please visit our Documents Page, for more details.
  • Speaker Tapes, in mp3 format, have been posted to our website.
    Please visit our AA Speaker Archives Page, for more details, including new speakers Alabam C., Anthony H., Donna E., Kip C., Norm S., Ron S., Tom B.

  • listen to aa speakers

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    Recently I spent a delightful afternoon with Flossie Lewis’ daughter, Beverly O’Neill when she graciously donated to the Harbor Area Archives some wonderful new memorabilia. For this month’s selection please enjoy an original poem from Hal Moffett, founding president of Memorial West Alumni (MWA). It is presented here in its original ‘work in progress’ form.

    Fun, Food, Fellowship!

    Many groups are donating items for the auction gift baskets gift cards or bake sale items which help to raise money for buying. Discover the high of H & I!

    • Raffles!
    • Speakers – 9am & 2pm
    • Bring your Beach Chairs, Limited Seating Provided
    • Live & Silent Auctions
    • Kids Games
    • Face Painting
    • Bounce House
    • Food
    • Entertainment

    H&I Chili Cook-Off 2018

    Fun, Food, Fellowship! Raffle! Speakers - 9am & 2pm Bring your Beach Chairs, Limited Seating Provided Live & Silent Auctions Kids Games Face Painting Bounce House Food Entertainment

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    This coming August 8th marks the birth of one Robert Holbrook Smith, “Dr. Bob” to the millions of AA members throughout the world. This month we present a memorial tribute from Bill Wilson to his old friend and co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
    A meeting was held at the 24th Street Club House in memory of Dr. Bob. A recording of Dr. Bob’s last talk was played and a portrait of Dr. Bob was unveiled. Bill W. then addressed the meeting.Dr. Bob’s recorded voice has come down to us across the air since he died in 1950. Some may say that his actual voice is still forever, but you and I know that is not so and that his spirit will be with us so long as this well loved society of ours endures. Now, I happen to be one who believes that people never die, that on beyond death there is another life and it could be that Dr. Bob is looking down upon us now, seeing us, hearing what we say and feel and think and have done in this meeting. I know his heart will be glad.

    Dr Bob was a chap who was modestly and singularly against taking any personal acclaim or honor but surely now that he is no longer with us he can’t mind, I don’t believe and for him I wish to thank everyone here who has made this occasion possible and the unveiling possible, with all the work and love that that has entailed. Again, I wish to thank each and everyone.

    In A.A. we always deal in personalities, really, this thing is transmitted from one to another and it isn’t so much what we read about it that counts, it’s what we uniquely know about of ourselves and those just around us who have us and who we would help. Therefore, I take it that you folks would like it better than anything else if I just spun a few yarns about Dr. Bob and that very early part of A.A., which we so often call the period of flying blind.

    Of course you’ll remember my little story about how a friend comes to me with the idea of getting more honest, more tolerant, making amends, helpingothers without demand for reward, praying as best I knew how and that was my friend Ebby.

    As you heard Dr. Bob say, he had heard those things too from the same source, namely the Oxford Groups which have since as such, passed of f the scene and have left us with a rich heritage of both what and what not to do. Anyway, a friend comes to me and I go to other alcoholics and try to make them my friends and some did become my friends but as you heard Dr. Bob say, not a darn one got sober.

    Then came that little man that we who live in this area saw so much, him with kind of blue eyes and the white hair,’ Doc Silkworth. You’ll remember that Doc said to me, “Look Bill, you’re preaching at these people too much. You’ve got the cart before the horse. This ‘white flash’ experience of yours scares these drunks to death. Why don’t you put the fear of God into them first? You’re always talking about James and the Varieties of Religious Experience and how you have to deflate people before they can know God, how they must have humility. So, why don’t you use the tools that we’ve really got here, why don’t you use the tool of the medical hopelessness of alcoholism for practically all those involved? Why don’t you talk to the drunk about that allergy they’ve got and that obsession that makes them keep on drinking and guarantees that they will die? Maybe when you punch it into them hard it will deflate them enough so that they will find what you found.

    “So, another indispensable ingredient was added to what is now this successful synthesis and that was just about the time I set out for Akron on a business trip. It had been suggested by the family that it was about time that I went back to work. I went out there on this venture, which as Dr. Bob said, “fortunately fell through.” You heard him tell about the story in the hotel after I had taken a good beating and I was tempted to drink and needed to look up another alcoholic, not this time to save him but to save myself, for I had found that working with others had a vast bearing onmy own sobriety.Then, how we were brought together by a girl who was the last person on a long list of people I ‘d been referred to. The only one who had time enough and who cared enough and that was a girl in Akron, herself no alcoholic, her name was Henrietta Seiberling. She invited me out there and she became interested at once. She called Smiths and we learned Smithy had just come home with a potted plant for dear old Annie and he put it on the dining room table but as Annie said that just then he wason the floor and they couldn’t come over at that minute.

    You’ll remember the next day how he put in an appearance. Haggard, worn, not wishing to stay and how then we talked for hours. Now I have often heard Dr. Bob say and I thought he said it on the recording that “it was not so much my spirituality that affected him,” he was a student of those things and I certainly know that he was never affected by any superior morality on my part. So, what did affect him? Well, it was this ammunition that dear old DocSilkworth had given me, the allergy plus the obsession. The God of science declaring that the malady for most of us is hopeless so far as our personal power is concerned. As Dr. Bob put it in his story in the book “here came the first man into my life whoseemed to know what this thing alcoholism was all about.

    “Well, if it wasn’t the dose of spirituality I poured into Dr. Bob, it was that dose of indispensable medicine to this movement, the dose of hopelessness so far as one doing this alone is concerned.The bottle of medicine that Dr. Silkworth had given me that I poured down the old grizzly bear’s throat. That’s what I used to call him.

    Well, he gagged on it a little, got drunk once more and that was the end. Then he and I set out looking for drunks, wehad to look some up. There is a little remembered part of the story. The story usually goes that we immediately called up the local city hospital and asked the nurse for a case but that isn’t quite true. There was a preacher who lived down the street and he was beset at the time by a drunk and his name was Eddie and we talked to Eddie and it turned out that Eddie was not only a drunk but something which in that high faluting language we now call a manic depressive, not very manic either, mostly depressed. Eddie was married with two or three kids, worked down at Goodrich Company and his depression caused him to drink and the only thing that would stop the depression was apparently baking soda. When he got a sour stomach, he got depressed so he was not only drinking alcohol but we estimated that in the past few years he had taken a ton of baking soda. Well, we tried for a while, of course, we thought we had to be good Samaritan’s so we got up some dough to try to keep the family going, we got Eddie back on thejob but Eddie kept right on with alcohol and baking soda both. Finally, Dr. Bob and Annie took Eddie along with me into their house, a pattern which my dear Lois followed out to the nth degree later and we tried to treat Eddie and my mind goes back so vividly to that evening when Eddie really blew his top. I don’t know whether it was the manic side or on the depressive side but boy did he blow it and Annie and I were sitting out at the kitchen table and Eddie seized the butcher knife and was about to do usin when Annie said very quietly “well Eddie, I don’t think your going to do this.” And he didn’t. Thereafter, Eddie was in a State asylum for a period I should think of going on a dozen or more years but believe it or not he showed up at the funeral of Dr. Bob in the fall of 1950 as sober as a judge and he had been that way for three years.

    So even that obscure little talk about Eddie made the grade. So then Dr. Bob and I talked to the man on the bed, Bill Dotson, who some of you have heard, A.A. number three. Here was another man who said he couldn’t get well, his case was too tough, much tougher than ours besides he knew all about religion. Well, here it was, one drunk talking with another, in fact, two drunks talking to one. The very next day the man on the bed got out of his bed and he picked it up and walked and he has stayed up ever since. A.A. number three, the man on the bed.

    So the spark that was to become Alcoholics Anonymous was struck. I came back to New York after having taken away a great deal from Akron. I never can forget those mornings and those nights at the Smiths. I can never forget Annie reading to us and the two or three drunks who were hanging on, out of the bible. I couldn’t possibly say how many times we read Corinthians on love, how many times we read the entire book of James with loving emphasis on that line “Faith without works is dead.” It did make a very deep impression on me; so from the very beginning there was reciprocity, everybody was teacher and everybody was pupil and nobody need look up or down to the other because as Jack Alexander put it years later “we are all brothers and sisters under the skin.

    “A group started in New York, but let’s turn back to Akron. Smithy, unlike me and the man on the bed was bothered very badly by a temptation to drink. Smithy was one of these continuous drinkers. He wasn’t what you would call one of these pantywaist periodic’s. He guzzled all the time and apparently by the time he got to be sixty odd, which was when he got A.A. He was so soaked in rum that he just had a terrible physical urge to drink. Long after he told me that he had that urge for something like six or seven years and that it was constant and that his basic release from it was in doing what we now call the twelfth step. So Smithy, greatly out of love and partly by being driven began to frantically work on those cases, first in City Hospital in Akron and then as they got tired of drunks in the place, finally over at St. Thomas where there is now a plaque which bears an inscriptiondedicated to all those who labored there in our pioneering time and describing St. Thomas in Akron as the first religious institution ever to open it’s doors to Alcoholics Anonymous.

    Ah, how much of drama, how much of struggle, how much of misery, how much of joy lies in the era before the plaque was put there. No one can say. There was a sister in the hospital, a veritable saint if you ever saw one. Our beloved Sister Ignatia. Dr. Bob mentioned her. He told how she would deny beds to people with broken legs in order to stick drunks in them. She loved drunks. She was a sort of female Silkworth, if you know what I mean. So finally a ward was provided and you remember that Dr. Bob was an M.D. and a mighty good one. Now you know that quite within the A.A. Tradition Dr. Bob might have charged all those drunks who went through that place for his medical services. He treated 5,000 drunks medically and never charged a dime, even in that long period when he was very poor. For unlike most of us to whom it is a creditto belong to Alcoholics Anonymous, it was no credit to a surgeon at that time. “It was lovely that the old boy got sober” his patients said, “but how the hell do I know he’ll be sober when he cuts me up at nine o’clock in the morning.” And so that franticeffort went on out there and it went on here and we got back and forth a little bit between Akron and New York. You haven’t any conception these days of how much failure we had. How you had to cull over hundreds of these drunks to get a handful to take the bait. Yes, the discouragements were very great but some did stay sober and some very tough ones at that.

    The next great memory I have is that of a day I shared with him in his living room in the fall of 1937. I, you remember had sobered up in late ’34 and Bob in June 1935. Well, we began to count noses, we asked ourselves “How many were dry and for how long,” Not how many failures, how many successes were there in Akron, New York and the trickle to Cleveland and in the other little trickles to Philadelphia and Washington. How much time elapsed on how many cases? We added up the score and I guess we had maybe forty folks sober and with real time elapsed. For the first time Dr. Bob and I knew that God had made a great gift to us children of the night and that the long procession coming down through the ages need no longer all go over into the left hand path and plunge over the cliff. We knew that something great had come into the world.

    Then it was a question of how we would spread this and that was answered by the publication of the book and the opening of the office here. It was spread by our great friends who rallied about us. There were friends in medicine, friends in religion, friends in the press and just plain but great friends. They all came to our aidand spread the good news.

    Meanwhile drunks from all over Ohio, all over the Middle West flocked into the Akron hospital where Dr. Smith and Sister Ignatia ministered to them. And I have no doubt that two out of three of those drunks are sober, well and happy today. So that achievement certainly entitles Dr. Bob to be named as the prince of all twelve steppers.

    That was the end of the flying blind period; next we needed to discover whether we could hold together as groups. We had learned that we might survive as individuals but could this movement hold together and grow. On a thousand anvils and after a million heartbreaks the tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous was also forged out of our experience and what had been a tiny chip, launched in the flying blind time on the sea of alcoholism now became a mighty armada spreading over the world, touching foreign beachheads. Of all that, this meeting here in this historic place in commemoration of Dr. Bob is a great and moving symbol. I know that he looks down upon us. I know that he smiles and we know that he is glad.

    About A.A.

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