An Instrument of Healing Grace | Sojourners

An Instrument of Healing Grace

In August 1934 Bill W., formerly a successful Wall Street businessman, lay once again in a New York City hospital recovering from his most recent drinking binge. He had been hospitalized so many times his doctor felt compelled to speak a sad truth to Bill's wife: Bill was hopelessly addicted. He would "have to be locked up or go mad or die."

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in Akron, Ohio, Dr. Bob, a distinguished surgeon, had lost most of his practice and was experiencing the disintegration of the remainder of his life as he rapidly drank himself toward oblivion.

Then in May 1935, Bill W., who was on business in Akron and was still struggling to master his alcoholism, made a phone call to Dr. Bob, having obtained the surgeon's name from a mutual acquaintance. That call led to a dramatic turnabout in the desperate lives of these two men and, subsequently, in the lives of millions of other alcoholics.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob, as they shared their struggles and tried to support each other, discovered a means to achieve and maintain sobriety. So it was that 50 years ago Bill W. and Dr. Bob became the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a movement that was destined to bring light into centuries of alcoholic darkness.

Misplaced moralism and ignorance had contributed to the darkness. The general public had regarded chronic drinking as a sign of a character defect, while many in the medical profession diagnosed it as a neurosis and, in some cases, as a psychosis.

The founders of AA, however, discovered a truly effective means of treatment based on neither of these assumptions but on the premise that alcoholism is a medical disorder: a disease known as addiction. While it cannot be cured, it is amenable to treatment. This was later confirmed by the American Medical Association, and all contemporary alcoholism treatment programs have evolved from this basic wisdom pioneered by the AA founders.

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