The Legacy of Recovery
Twelve Steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if
practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the
sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.
Many of us, upon first seeing those words, asked ourselves the question
"Can it be just that simple?" -- and then heard a voice inside us
Bill's application of AA principles to ever-changing circumstances was another
of his remarkable talents. Day in and day out, letters would arrive at his desk
asking for his "last word" on a matter of AA policy. And, in answer
after answer Bill would fall back upon the basic principles of AA's three
Legacies, tempered by wisdom, humor, perspective, and regard for the feelings of
One warm example occurred in 1968 when a well-meaning AA wrote to Bill, in deep
concern, about an influx of youthful hippies or flower children to local AA
groups, along with their distinctive manner of dress, sexual mores, and other
unorthodox behavior, including the use of drugs. The writer feared that this
particular invasion might be "a very real threat to our wonderful,
Bill's reply was typical of his use of AA principles to meet new challenges.
"Your letter about the hippie problem, so-called, was mighty interesting to
me. I doubt that we need to be alarmed about this situation, because there have
been precedents out of the past. All sorts of outfits have tried to move in on
us, including communists and heroin addicts, prohibitionists and do-gooders of
"Nearly all of these people, who happened to have an individual problem
with alcohol, not only failed to change AA, but, in the long run, AA changed
them. I have a number of them among my closest friends today, and they are among
the best AA's I know.
"You also have some people who are not alcoholics, but are addicts of
other kinds. A great many AAs have taken pity on these people, and have actually
tried to make them full-fledged AA's. Of course, their identification with
alcoholics is no good at all, and the groups themselves easily stop this
practice in the normal course of AA affairs.
"Thoughtful AAs, however, encourage these sponsors to
bring addicts to open meetings, just as they would any other interested people.
In the end, these addicts usually gravitate to other forms of therapy. They are
not received on the platform in open meetings unless they have an alcohol
problem, and closed meetings are, of course, denied them. We know that we cannot
do everything for everybody with an addiction problem.
"There has also occurred lately a new development centering upon
hippies who have LSD or marijuana troubles -- not so much stronger stuff. Many
of these kids appear to be alcoholics also, and they are flocking into AA, often
with excellent results.
"Some weeks ago, there was a young people's convention of AAs. Shortly
thereafter, four of these kids visited the office. I saw one young gal prancing
down the hall, hair flying, in a mini-skirt, wearing love beads and the works. I
thought, 'Holy smoke, what now!' She told me she was the oldest member of the
young people's group in her area -- age twenty-two! They had kids as young as
sixteen. I was curious and took the whole party out to lunch.
"Well, they were absolutely wonderful. They talked (and acted) just about
as good a kind of AA as I've seen anywhere. I think all of them said they had
had some kind of drug problem, but had kicked that, too. When they first came
around, they had insisted on their own ideas of AA, but in the end they found AA
plenty good enough as it was. Though they needed their own meetings, they found
interest and inspiration in the meetings of much older folks as well.
"Perhaps, as younger people come into AA, we shall have to put up with some
unconventional nonsense -- with patience and good humor, let's hope. But it
should be well worth the attempt. And also, if various hippie addicts want to
form their own sort of fellowship along AA lines, by all means let us encourage
them. We need deny them only the AA name, and assure them that the rest of our
program is theirs for the taking and using -- any part or all of it.
"For these reasons, I feel hopeful and not a bit scared by this trend. Of
course, I'm no prophet. I may be mistaken, so please keep me posted. This is a
highly interesting and perhaps significant development. I certainly do not think
it ought to be fought. Instead, it ought to be encouraged in what we already
know to be workable channels.
In affection ... Bill"
© AA Grapevine, March, 1971
reprinted with permission of the AA Grapevine, Inc.