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 answer "Yes."
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 others.
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, God-given program."
Bill's reply was typical of his use of AA principles to meet new
"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 other
"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
In affection ... Bill"
© AA Grapevine, March, 1971
reprinted with permission of the AA Grapevine, Inc.