History of 12-Step Recovery
To appreciate the roots of the 12-Steps recovery, as we know them now, we need to spend a moment to look into the personal history of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson.
Wilson, who along with co-founder Dr. Bob, began using the 12-Step process in working with alcoholics; however, the roots of 12-Step date back to the turn of the century, and the Oxford Group, founded by a Lutheran pastor, Dr. Frank Buchman.
In 1908, Buchman went through a spiritual experience while in Kenswick, England. During that profound experience, Buchman recalled that he saw the face of the suffering Christ, and in a moment had realized how far away he had wandered from God’s grace and forgiveness. Buchman would found a movement called the First Century Christian Fellowship, later renamed the Oxford Group in 1921.
Four Guiding Principles for 12-Step Recovery
The Oxford Group had four guiding spiritual practices, which later found their way into the 12-Step recovery as we now know it.
1. The sharing or our sins and temptations with another Christian life given to God, and to use Sharing as Witness, to help others, still unchanged, to recognize and acknowledge their sins.
2. Surrender our life past, present and future, into God’s keeping and direction.
3. Restitution to all whom we have wronged directly or indirectly.
4. Listening to and requiring God’s Guidance, and carrying it out in everything we do and say, great or small.
Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, was touched by that movement, as his friend Ebby Thatcher had been helped by the Oxford Group and shared the principles with Bill W., who would later write about that experience in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of AA, where on page 63 he recalls,
“My depression deepened unbearably and finally it seemed to me as though I were at the very bottom of the pit. I still gagged badly ad the notion of a Power greater than myself, but finally, just for the moment, the last vestige of my proud obstinacy was crushed. All at once I found myself crying out, ‘If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!’
“Suddenly, the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up into ecstasies which there are no words to describe. It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness.
“All about me and through me there was a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, ‘So this is the God of the preachers!’ A great peace stole over me and I thought, ‘No matter how wrong things seem to be, they are still all right. Things are all right with God and His world.’”
Bill W. would not continue in the Oxford Group movement, as that organization was heavily evangelical, and Bill wanted to be sensitive to the needs of Catholics and other Christians and non-Christians as well.
But the Oxford Group made an obvious impression on him for its interpretation of Scripture and sound Biblical teaching. That is why we know the 12-Step recovery and why this methodology has been so popular and so effective over the years.
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