Magazine & Newspaper Articles
During the past two years, the book, Back to Basics--The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners' Meetings has been reviewed by various Newspapers and Magazines. some of these articles follow:
If a review of Back to Basics has been run in your local newspaper or Recovery magazine, please send along a copy and we will post it on the web site.
The problem, he says, was that none of the treatments helped him work through the 12 steps toward sobriety that form the bedrock of Alcoholics Anonymous.
"It was a long, drawn-out process with a lot of psychological analysis." says Ron. "And none of it stressed God." Then he met up with Wally P., a Tucsonan who's come up with a book on and a return to the way AA meetings used to be held - quick and to the point.
Published in September, "Back to Basics" serves as the guide to a weekly series of "classes" that allows beginners to take all 12 Steps in four one-hour sessions. Once done with the sessions, members then sponsor other people. Within six to eight months, they're teaching the classes themselves.
That's where Ron, another Tucsonan, is today. "I'm teaching the "classes" now in my home," he says. "There are three people I'm working with. They seem to be doing real well."
During the last couple of years, Beginners' Classes have spread to some 50 groups across the country, including the Local Alcoholism Recovery Center (LARC) in Phoenix. Wally and wife, Ellie, commute there weekly to teach the class.
"It really introduces the 12 step philosophy in a quicker, more efficient way," says Steve Miskell, lead counselor in the psychiatric health facility of the Maricopa East Treatment Alternative, the parent company overseeing LARC in Phoenix. And it is that quicker method that keeps people in AA, says Wally, who is highly critical of what he says AA has become today.
"A lot of the 90s AA revolves around a 'Don't drink, and go to meetings' philosophy," says Wally. "Some groups practice one step a year. Another treatment is don't take any steps until you've had one year of sobriety."
"We lose them between 90 days and a year." says Wally, who adds that 50 years ago, many AA groups were claiming a 75 % success rate. By comparison, a study of 227 alcoholics published in the Sept. 12, 1991, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine showed a 16% recovery rate among AA members during a 24 month period.
Besides getting members onto a fast track 12 step program, AA meetings of 50 years ago also stressed God much more than is done today, says Wally. "When the treatment centers turned into moneymaking operations, that's when the spirituality went out the window," says Wally. "They tried to convert a spiritual program into a psychological program."
It was while researching his first book, "But For the Grace of God," which deals with the explosive growth of AA in the 1940s, that Wally learned about AA's Beginners' "Classes." What he found during his research, conducted in the spring of '93 in Washington, D.C., was a 20 page pamphlet published in 1944 that described Beginners' "Classes" then being taught in the nation's capital. Wally's own sponsor had attended similar classes in the early '50s.
With the pamphlet and his sponsor's recollections as a springboard, Wally would for the next two years research the old "classes," which were held across the country. He also learned that the classes started falling into disfavor in the late '50s and early '60s. "Old-timers" told him how groups started extending the time period for taking the 12 steps from four weeks to as much as 16 weeks. What had once been a simple program taking a few hours evolved into a complicated burden that overwhelmed many newcomers to sobriety.
"It happens in every movement," say Jim H., 92, who lives in Baltimore and says he may "possibly be the last guy" who worked with Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Wally also blames the demise of these simple classes on the proliferation of alcohol treatment facilities, financed by insurance company plans. As a result, he says, medical and psychological approaches pushed out the more traditional AA tenets that called for total surrender to a higher power, coupled with service to others.
"What Wally is trying to do is bring the spiritual values back to AA." says Jim, who goes to AA meetings and "tells them what it was like with Bill Wilson. "Going to meetings to keep sober, noble as that is, isn't enough," says Jim. "It (has to include) help(ing) other people as well."
Ironically, insurance company cutbacks in the early '90s that reduced treatment center stays to less than a week may have led to the resurrection of Beginners' Classes. "There have been 500 to 700 primary treatment center closures in the last five or ten years," says John Curtiss, executive director of the Hazelden Renewal Center in the Center City, Minn. The center, which has been in existence since 1949, has 57,000 alumni around the world.
Last month, Wally, who has been giving presentations around the country since 1995, gave workshop at Hazelden. Although the center offers the sort of 26 day residential treatment center that Wally seemingly abhors, it already has invited him back for another presentation in December.
"What Wally is doing is not treatment, but helping us to beef up our orientation process," says Curtiss, who sees the Beginners' Classes as more of a "handoff" from treatment into AA. "In the early years there was a much tighter orientation process for newcomers." says Curtiss. "They really did go through the steps, not just learn about them."
But, says Curtiss, "Recovery, as is life, is long and drawn out. It's much more than just getting dry. Chemical dependence is multifaceted, and the solutions need to be multifaceted too."
One who has totally taken to the idea of Beginners' Classes for the newly sober is Lt. Richard Reuer, Salvation Army chaplain at the Herberger Harbor Light Rehabilitation Center in Phoenix. Reuer recently attended the Beginners' "Classes" that Wally teaches every Wednesday at the Phoenix LARC facility and was immediately taken with the program.
"It gives people just starting out in AA the basics. They have to make a commitment," says Reuer, who has asked Wally to train his staff to present the program at Harbor Light beginning in January.
Some who've already gone through the classes speak of the experience with almost evangelical zeal. "It's changed my life," says Kurt L., 58, a Phoenix resident who last February attended a class Wally and Ellie were teaching at an Episcopal church in Phoenix.
Though he'd been sober and going to AA meetings since 1994, Kurt says, "I still had not worked my way through the steps, still not had my spiritual awakening.
"The surrender to a higher power is the hardest thing to do. Your ego keeps you from doing that." By the end of the four Beginners' Classes. Kurt had experienced his spiritual awakening. Within a few months, he and his wife, Carol, were teaching the classes at LARC.
"A spiritual awakening and service work - it's the only way to stay sober," says Kurt.
Techniques of Past Offer Insight into
A new recovery book which surfaced in 1997 should be a useful tool for years to come. It's called "Back to Basics: The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners' Classes." And now, soon after its publication, it is already being used in various parts of the country to help more seasoned recovering alcoholics guide newcomers through the Twelve Step process in four one-hour classes held weekly.
The book is based on the way classes were conducted in the '40s when many groups achieved a 75 percent recovery rate. During the four-week training period, the early classes used both Alcoholics Anonymous (the "Big Book") and "The Little Red Book."
In the '40s and '50s beginners' classes flourished in the U.S. and Canada, enhancing recovery. Then in the late '50s, after publication of AA's Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, these classes became "Step Study" groups. Author Wally P. explains, "during the process of converting to Step Studies, the groups extended the period of time for taking the steps from four weeks to 12 or even 16 weeks. The Fourth Step inventory was modified and became a much more laborious and detailed process. What originally had been conceived as a very simple program, taking a few hours to complete, evolved into a complicated and, for many newcomers, an overwhelming burden."
The author points out, "Studying the Steps is not the same as 'taking' the Steps. The Big Book states, 'Here are the Steps we took,' not 'here are the Steps we read and talked about.' The A.A. pioneers proved that action, not knowledge, produced the spiritual awakening that resulted in recovery from alcoholism."
In this return to basics, Session #1 includes an overview and Step 1, admission that one has become powerless over alcohol and that life has become unmanageable.
Session #2 covers Step 2, 3 and 4, believing that a Higher Power can restore sanity, turning to God in an act of surrender, and making an intensive moral inventory.
In Session #3, the newcomer covers Steps 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, admitting the nature of wrongs committed, preparing to have God remove these defects of character, asking God to remove the shortcomings, listing persons who have been harmed and making amends.
Finally, in Session #4, the beginner takes Step 10, 11 and 12, entering on a life of ongoing personal inventory, prompt admission of wrongs, and improved conscious contact with God through prayer and meditation. At Step 12 this statement is made: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."
This book is very well written, and serves as an excellent tool when introducing newcomers to the Twelve Step way of life. Also, this book will clarify the Twelve Step process for any other interested person. In addition, by changing the words "alcohol" or "alcoholics" to other designations, a member of any Twelve Step program can use this guide to review fundamentals.
All readers who explore "Back to Basics" by Wally P. will gain a much greater understanding of the thinking of the pioneers of this mutual help movement that has helped millions toward life-changing spiritual awakenings and quality recovery.
Contact: Faith With Works Publishing Company, 2581 W. Camino Llano, Tucson, Arizona, 85742-9074. Phone: (520)297-9348. ISBN: 0-9657720-0-4. (Note: new ISBN: 0-9657720-1-2)
Back to Basics: Reducing the Body Count
By Ann E.
The Phoenix: Recovery-Renewal-Growth
St Paul, MN
This year, I'm celebrating a milestone. I'm the same age my father was when he died on a drinking binge. The difference? I'm sober, thanks to A.A. But this summer, here in Minnesota, land of 10,000 treatment centers, a friend's son died of alcoholism. I was angry. No one should have to die of this disease today. It gave me renewed hope to talk to Wally P. about his book, This year, I'm celebrating a milestone. I'm the same age my father was when he died on a drinking binge. The difference? I'm sober, thanks to A.A. But this summer, here in Minnesota, land of 10,000 treatment centers, a friend's son died of alcoholism. I was angry. No one should have to die of this disease today. It gave me renewed hope to talk to Wally P. about his book, Back to Basics. - Ann E.
Wally P.'s book, Back to Basics: The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners' Meetings, describes a four-meeting approach to starting a beginner on the 12 Steps - the approach used in A.A.'s early days. This isn't new information, but it was rediscovered not long ago when Wally did some extensive research on early Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Ten years ago, at Wally's one-year sobriety anniversary, his sponsor said to him, "If you remember this one thing, you might stay sober the rest of your life. If you don't know where we came from, you'll never know what a miracle this program truly is."
Wally became the area archivist for the state of Arizona. After a presentation made to the managers of Intergroup and Central Office (AA service bodies) in 1993, he was asked to write a book on the history of the Intergroup Offices. He began to travel all over the United States and Canada to study the archives of individual Intergroups, including those in Akron, Minneapolis and over 35 other cities. He also talked with the old-timers like Earl H., who knew Bill W. (founder of AA) and James H., a member of the predecessor to AA, the Oxford Group. "During my research," says Wally, "I found something I wasn't looking for, a lost piece of AA history."
Newsletters and records of AA groups in the early 1940s explained how to conduct beginners' meetings. The beginner was to complete the 12 steps within a month at four one-hour meetings. It was known that new members didn't really understand the Steps and stories in the Big Book, titled Alcoholics Anonymous, until they had to explain them to someone else. Beginner meetings were reported in Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Minneapolis, Washington D.C. and, in 1945, discussed in "The AA Grapevine," AA's official newsletter.
A significant difference then was that the 12 steps were done as a group. What Wally P. rediscovered was that the group added something to the process. After experiencing it, one psychiatrist said it was consistent with the Experiential Model of Recovery. One anthropologist said it was like ritualistic healing. Most importantly, the group process seems to increase the sobriety success rate.
The old-timers who Wally talked to insisted that the Fourth Step was a verbal step, or one written only by the sponsor. The example of how Dr. Bob did a Fourth Step, the moral inventory, is given on page 292 of Alcoholics Anonymous, and it describes discussing a moral inventory at length - not writing it. For the Seventh Step, the Seventh Step prayer in the Big Book was used just as written on page 64.
The Eleventh Step, "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him," was a written and shared step. With the roots of AA in the Oxford Group, John E. Batterson in 1939 wrote a short guide, "How to Listen to God." This belief that God "as we understood him" is within us and talks to us if we are still and listen was carried into AA by Bill W. Further, with a simple four-point check list anyone can decide if the inner voice is self-talk or God-talk, from the dark side or the sunlight. The Eleventh Step is then shared with another who is in two-way communication with God. Wally refers to this as "sharing guidance". An early member of the Oxford Group, Ann Smith, used a triangle to show prayer when God speaks through me to you and God speaks through you to me.
Most importantly, being "on" the program meant finding a God as we understand him, trusting him to remove our shortcomings, and then expanding our conscious contact with him. It was, and still is, first and foremost, a spiritual program. It's founded on the belief that only the combination of God and keeping one's personal house in order can save an alcoholic.
Wally learned a great deal in studying the histories of the Intergroups. It seems the Oxford Group that first got Bill W. sober began to become politically oriented after World War II and now has all but disappeared. The group lost its nondenominational spiritual center. Today, some accuse AA of having too much emphasis on psychology, costing AA its spiritual center. Back to Basics reminds AA of its spiritual core.
Wally has used the rediscovered beginner group method with Native Americans of the Tohono O'Odham nation in Arizona. Introducing the 12 steps over the course of four beginner meetings: Surrender (step 1,2 and 3), Inventory (steps 4,5,6 and 7), Restitution (steps 8 and 9) and Guidance (steps 10,11 and 12), is consistent with the Native American four-part medicine wheel. The Big Book also uses the word Creator, an acceptable term to the Native Americans.
Wally has also introduced this approach in prison settings, where it is not possible to have a sponsor/sponsee relationship putting one prisoner over another. So, Wally has taken the inmates back to the Big Book word "partner" that comes from the term "sharing partner" used by the Oxford Group. Prisoners who would never write down an inventory that could be used against them in court are now doing verbal Fourth Steps as it was done during the early days of AA.
Back to Basics Back to Basics describes how to run a beginner meeting. Today, groups using this format are starting up around the country. In the Twin Cities area, the Minneapolis Alano at 2218 has held a beginner workshop. So have Hazelden and Upland Farms treatment facilities. Wally says he has heard of Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Al-Anon, Co-dependents Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous groups also using the approach successfully.
Wherever the Back to Basics workshops and meetings are being held, the recovery rate seems to be increasing, according to Wally. He believes a 75% recovery rate is attainable by using the early AA methods. Wally p. puts it this way, "I was in Viet Nam, I've seen people die both inside and outside the rooms of AA from untreated alcoholism. The only body count due to alcoholism I can accept is zero. If we're not out saving lives, we're not practicing Alcoholics Anonymous."
Back to Basics is available at Barnes & Noble, amazon.com, and Minneapolis Intergroup (612-922-0880).