Aa history Lovers 2006 moderators Nancy Olson and Glenn F. Chesnut page

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having been a grateful member of AA for over 25 years,

I know who this James H is but he is a non-entity to Baltimore or

Towson AA.

He does not go to meetings and the old timers don't know him (except

by the odd story about him).

I learned more about him from the Time Magazine article last year then

anything else.

I say God Bless him- but don't look to him for anything other than an

eccentric old fellow that has some interesting stories.

But he is no AA icon around here or anywhere else.
Rob W.
>>> glennccc@sbcglobal.net 1/3/2006 4:50 PM >>>

A report from JM to Dr. Ernest Kurtz (author of *Not-God: A History

of Alcoholics Anonymous*) on James Houck and the Thursday night AA

meeting at Towson United Methodist Church in Towson, Maryland, which

was recently passed on to me.
James has been called upon frequently as an "expert witness" by

certain people in AA, to talk about "how different" early AA was


modern AA.

In the 1930's James did not identify with the early AA people in the

Oxford Group. His name shows up on no early lists of people who were

participating in their special meetings for alcoholics. So there is

no sign that he had any accurate inside information about how early AA

actually worked with alcoholics. All he would have known was what was

being said by the Oxford Group members who were hostile to the special

mission to alcoholics, and were trying to push the early AA people out

of the Oxford Group. We already knew that.

What JM's report does is to raise some interesting questions about

James H.'s claims of being deeply involved with modern AA, and of

being an expert witness on the way modern AA operates. James says

that he has "spoken at numerous AA meetings and conferences,"


means that Wally P. and others have taken him around to give talks to

AA groups. But speaking in front of a large group of people does not

give anyone any inside information about how a modern AA group

actually works with alcoholics.
James H. also says however that "I attended AA meetings at the

Towson Methodist church," which is one of his few claims to know

anything about how a real AA meeting would operate in the modern

JM, before visiting the Towson AA group, had first read the material

in the Back to Basics website about James Houck and Wally P., and the

way Wally has been using a carefully structured questioning of Houck

to back up his own claims about the history of early AA. See


In response to Wally's questioning in


rjamesh.html James Houck said:


"Much of the AA program came directly from the Oxford Group. The AA

program of the 1940's was similar in many ways to the Oxford Group

program of the 1930's. AA has changed over the years -- today's

program is very different from the "original." For the past 20


I have been speaking at AA meetings, workshopps and conventions about

the "original" program of recovery. My Sobriety date is 12/12/34.

I am

a recovered alcoholic. I got sober in the Oxford Group as did many

other alcoholics including Bill W., Dr. Bob, Fitz M., Rowland Hazard,

Victor Kitchen, Charles Clapp, Shep Cornell. I have worked with

alcoholics as well as non-alcoholics for the past 70 years. I took my

granddaughter to AA meetings in the 1980's. By then AA had already

changed. It wasn't anything like the original program. While I was

able to drive, I attended AA meetings at the Towson Methodist church.

There are 3-4 groups that meet there. Over the years, I have spoken at

numerous AA meetings and conferences. Today, I carry the message

primarily by telephone. I take people through the Steps, and I share

guidance with them. From time to time, AA's visit me at the retirement

home where I am living."

When JM told Dr. Ernest Kurtz that he was visiting that part of

Maryland, at Ernie's suggestion he paid a visit to the AA group in

Towson to see what that AA group was like, and to see how closely

connected James H. actually was to the AA program there. Are the

Towson AA people typical of modern AA people in the United States?

Was James H. actively involved in their activities, and did he know

lots of ordinary everyday modern AA people there in Towson from going

to regular meetings with them? Was James H.'s description of Towson

AA accurate?
What JM found was fairly troublesome, in terms of the claims that

James H. has been making. Although James H. claims that he has

attended numerous AA meetings at the Towson United Methodist Church,

and is very familiar with the way their AA meetings function, JM could

not find anybody at the AA meeting there who even knew who James was.
He found the Towson AA group to be a smoothly functioning AA group

which was doing a good job, and getting (and keeping) an awful lot of

people sober. It was most definitely NOT some group of ignorant,

ineffectual, and demoralized people who knew nothing about AA's

Historic Heritage, and who were achieving only a 1% to 3% success

rate. Since this was James H.'s only claim to know anything about

modern AA practice, it seems very difficult to see where he has been

getting all of his negative attacks on modern AA.

There may be explanations which could partially rehabilitate James

H.'s testimony, but it seems to me that what JM and Dr. Kurtz have

discovered needs to be posted in the AAHistoryLovers. So I am simply

going to give JM's report to Kurtz as he wrote it:

Hi, Glenn!
Friends in AA recently sent me biographical information on one James

Houck, authored by Wally Paton on the Back To Basics web site, asking

my opinion about his role in the development of AA out of the Oxford

Group. In the past, I have read a lot of the history, but I am NOT an

authentic or accredited historian! I rely on my old friend, Ernie

Kurtz, for any needed expertise. Thus, I passed the item along to

Ernie, asking for comment, especially on the inconsistency between the

claim that Houck has never wanted to be considered an historic figure

in AA, yet his long standing involvement in AA in Towson, MD,

Methodist Church is emphasized.

I am semi-retired, and am now near the end of a three week stay in

Bethesda, MD, spending the Holiday Season with our three children, all

of whom live in this area. Ernie and I decided I should drive up to a

meeting of what Wally presented as Houck's "home AA group", to


the old guy up in person, or at least learn a bit more first hand. On

receiving my report, Ernie feels you might find this information of


I am reporting in as your cub reporter concerning my field trip to

"James Houck's home AA group." I had hoped to report this material


a maiden voyage onto the AAHistoryLover list. Glenn Chesnut has

provided information, and I have joined, but I haven't figured the

interface out just yet. I might send the information I'm sending you

now, but maybe next week, if you think anyone else on the list might

be interested. It's possible this is all just nincompoopery, and I

should just drop this whole matter, instead of sustaining the


I attended the Towson United Methodist Church AA meeting on

Thursday, December 27, 2005, 8:30 PM. There were 39 in attendance, of

which 8 identified themselves as "home group members." Most of the

rest were young newcomers, as the meeting is a newcomers meeting,

rotating weekly through discussion of the first three Steps. There

were 10 minutes of traditional starter material, e.g. How It Works,

Promises, Traditions, announcements. A young woman had been invited in

to give a 20 minute lead. One fresh newcomer, one person with a year

of sobriety, and one 17 year member talked for 10 minutes each, and

that was it.

I sought out members with 4, 17, 28, and 35 years of sobriety for

conversation. None had ever heard of James Houck, Wally Paton, or the

Back to Basics movement.
They all told me I must be looking for "_____," age 47, former

member until he recently went back to drinking after 20 years in the

group. He has apparently come back to AA elsewhere now, but no one

knew for sure.

They all postulated that perhaps [the elderly gentleman whom I was

asking about] might be _____'s father or uncle or other relative.

The 35 year man offered to put me into contact with a 41 year group

veteran who can no longer make it to the meeting, but who "might know

something about all this." I declined, as I needed to get back to

Bethesda, and, frankly, I saw little utility to pursuing this matter

any more.
My own personal conclusion is that Wally's very low success rate

numbers cited for AA seem completely off base and at odds with my own

extensive experience in traditional AA in Minnesota and Florida. AA is

clearly alive and well, at least in my own environment ....

That a man named James Houck put the cork in the jug a day after

Bill Wilson did likewise, and that they both found spiritual guidance

through the Oxford Movement, is a minor curiosity.
I hope you can find something of interest in this report. Thank you,

again, for steering me toward the historical sites you pointed out for

me. And I hope you have had a pleasant and uplifting Christmas and New


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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++++Message 3035. . . . . . . . . . . . Early Triennial Survey Reports (?)

From: ny-aa@att.net . . . . . . . . . . . . 1/7/2006 8:30:00 PM

I have collected the Triennial A.A. Membership Survey pamphlets (P48)

from the 1983 "The A.A. Member" thru the "2004 Membership


I doubt any of you will be able to send me the actual pamphlets but

I would appreciate help getting the contents the 1968, 1971, 1974,

1977, and 1980 Triennial Survey results in whatever form is available.

For direct e-mail to me:




En2joy! Tom En2ger
++++Message 3036. . . . . . . . . . . . Re: Data on 3 and 5 year survival


From: Jon Markle . . . . . . . . . . . . 1/7/2006 8:54:00 PM
As a clinician, I measure the "problem" by NOT how much or how

often a

person drinks, but rather, the consequences . . . What happens when alcohol


taken into the body?

If there is significant disruption in any one area of a person's life (can


say "unmanageable"?), then there is a problem.

A "heavy drinker" may function without any problems. Where as a

very light or

occasional drinker (social?) may experience distinct difficulties that


their life in negative ways, not attributable otherwise to any other thing


the use of alcohol -- yet they continue to drink.
I believe the DSM-IV-TR is pretty clear about this definition and is not

dependent upon a specific "amount" or "frequency" as

criteria for diagnosis.
This fits with your summary of the noted passages from the AA literature.
Jon Markle

> From: ArtSheehan (ArtSheehan at msn.com)

> Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2006 10:21:14 -0600

> To:

> Subject: RE: [AAHistoryLovers] Data on 3 and 5 year survival rates


> The chain of messages on the term "real alcoholic" seems to


> straying away from history. There are certain terms that are likely

> best to avoid in this forum since they tend to lead far more to

> endless un-retractable debate over semantics rather than clarity.

> Among those tedious terms are "recovered vs recovering",

"spiritual vs

> religious" and "real alcoholic vs problem drinker or vs



> Now having said that, let's try to provide a historical perspective

> that culminated in the 12and12 (1953) and originated in the Big Book

> (1935-1939). It is the matter of AA laying out the welcome mat for

> those prospects who were not low bottom drunks (as were the very early

> members).


> In the 12and12 essay on Step One (page 23) it states:


> "Alcoholics Anonymous," published when our membership was

small, dealt

> with low-bottom cases only. Many less desperate alcoholics tried A.A.,

> but did not succeed because they could not make the admission of

> hopelessness.


> It is a tremendous satisfaction to record that in the following years

> this changed. Alcoholics who still had their health, their families,

> their jobs, and even two cars in the garage, began to recognize their

> alcoholism. As this trend grew, they were joined by young people who

> were scarcely more than potential alcoholics. They were spared that

> last ten or fifteen years of literal hell the rest of us had gone

> through. Since Step One requires an admission that our lives have

> become unmanageable, how could people such as these take this Step?


> There are quite a few mentions of the term "real alcoholic"

in the Big

> Book as noted below --[in brackets for emphasis]--


> Page 21: But what about the --[real alcoholic]--? He may start off as

> a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard

> drinker; but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose

> all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink.


> Pages 23-24: The tragic truth is that if the man be a --[real

> alcoholic]--, the happy day may not arrive. He has lost control. At a

> certain point in the drinking of every alcoholic, he passes into a

> state where the most powerful desire to stop drinking is of absolutely

> no avail. This tragic situation has already arrived in practically

> every case long before it is suspected.


> Page 30


> MOST OF us have been unwilling to admit we were --[real alcoholics]--.

> No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his

> fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers

> have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could

> drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will

> control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every

> abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing.

> Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.


> We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that

> we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion

> that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.


> We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control

> our drinking. We know that no --[real alcoholic]-- ever recovers

> control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but

> such intervals-usually brief-were inevitably followed by still less

> control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible

> demoralization. We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type

> are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable period

> we get worse, never better.


> Page 31: Despite all we can say, many who are --[real alcoholics]--

> are not going to believe they are in that class. By every form of

> self-deception and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves

> exceptions to the rule, therefore nonalcoholic. If anyone who is

> showing inability to control his drinking can do the right- about-face

> and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him. Heaven knows, we

> have tried hard enough and long enough to drink like other people!


> Page 34: As we look back, we feel we had gone on drinking many years

> beyond the point where we could quit on our will power. If anyone

> questions whether he has entered this dangerous area, let him try

> leaving liquor alone for one year. If he is a --[real alcoholic]-- and

> very far advanced, there is scant chance of success. In the early days

> of our drinking we occasionally remained sober for a year or more,

> becoming serious drinkers again later. Though you may be able to stop

> for a considerable period, you may yet be a potential alcoholic. We

> think few, to whom this book will appeal, can stay dry anything like a

> year. Some will be drunk the day after making their resolutions; most

> of them within a few weeks.


> Page 35: We told him what we knew of alcoholism and the answer we had

> found. He made a beginning. His family was re-assembled, and he began

> to work as a salesman for the business he had lost through drinking.

> All went well for a time, but he failed to enlarge his spiritual life.

> To his consternation, he found himself drunk half a dozen times in

> rapid succession. On each of these occasions we worked with him,

> reviewing carefully what had happened. He agreed he was a --[real

> alcoholic]-- and in a serious condition. He knew he faced another trip

> to the asylum if he kept on. Moreover, he would lose his family for

> whom he had a deep affection.


> Page 92: If you are satisfied that he is a --[real alcoholic]--, begin

> to dwell on the hopeless feature of the malady. Show him, from your

> own experience, how the queer mental condition surrounding that first

> drink prevents normal functioning of the will power. Don't, at this

> stage, refer to this book, unless he has seen it and wishes to discuss

> it. And be careful not to brand him as an alcoholic. Let him draw his

> own conclusion. If he sticks to the idea that he can still control his

> drinking, tell him that possibly he can-if he is not too alcoholic.

> But insist that if he is severely afflicted, there may be little

> chance he can recover by himself.


> Page 109: Two: Your husband is showing lack of control, for he is

> unable to stay on the water wagon even when he wants to. He often gets

> entirely out of hand when drinking. He admits this is true, but is

> positive that he will do better. He has begun to try, with or without

> your cooperation, various means of moderating or staying dry. Maybe he

> is beginning to lose his friends. His business may suffer somewhat. He

> is worried at times, and is becoming aware that he cannot drink like

> other people. He sometimes drinks in the morning and through the day

> also, to hold his nervousness in check. He is remorseful after serious

> drinking bouts and tells you he wants to stop. But when he gets over

> the spree, he begins to think once more how he can drink moderately

> next time. We think this person is in danger. These are the earmarks

> of a --[real alcoholic]--. Perhaps he can still tend to business

> fairly well. He has by no means ruined everything. As we say among

> ourselves, "He wants to want to stop."


> Cheers

> Arthur
++++Message 3037. . . . . . . . . . . . Re: "Bill formally divorced AA in


From: Jim . . . . . . . . . . . . 1/8/2006 1:02:00 AM
"... Bill formally divorced AA in 1955."
This is erroneous information. Bill was involved in AA at many and

various levels until he died. He was writing for the AA Grapevine

until 1970. He died in January 1971.
The following articles were written in December 1955 and December

1970, respectively.

The Finest Gift of All

Christmas, 1955

Volume 12 Issue 7

December 1955

EACH of us in AA has received the gift of sobriety. All of us have

found a new usefulness and most of us have found great happiness. This

adds up to the gift of life itself--a new life of wondrous possibility.
What then are we going to do with this great gift of life?
Because our experience has taught us, we are quite sure that we know.

We shall try to share with every fellow sufferer all that has been so

freely given us. We shall try to carry AA's message to those who need

and want it, wherever in the world they may be. We shall daily

re-dedicate ourselves to the God-given truth that "It is by

self-forgetting that one finds; it is by giving that one receives."

For us of AA, this is the Spirit of Christmas. This is the finest gift

of all.
Lois joins me in our warmest greetings. May the New Year of 1956 be

the greatest time of giving and of receiving that we in AA have ever

Bill W.

Copyright (c) The AA Grapevine, Inc. (December 1955). Reprinted with


Christmas Message

Volume 27 Issue 7

December 1970
GRATITUDE is just about the finest attribute we can have, and how

deeply we of AA realize this at Christmastime. Together, we count and

ponder our blessings of life, of service, of love.
In these distraught times, we have been enabled to find an

always-increasing measure of peace within ourselves. Together with all

here at AA's General Service Offices, Lois joins me in warmest

greetings to each and all of you, and me share our confident faith

that the year to come will be counted among the best that our

Fellowship has ever known.

Bill W.
Copyright (c) The AA Grapevine, Inc. (December 1970). Reprinted with


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