AA Jung

Everybody knows about Bill W. and Dr. Bob. But there was another pivotal figure in the creation of AA. Do you know who he was?

Creation of AA

Alcoholics Anonymous may be a secular (non)organization, but its roots lie in an evangelical (small “e”) Christian outfit called the Oxford Group. In fact, AA founder Bill Wilson credits "the O.G." for the worldwide fellowship's methodology. Specifically, "their large emphasis upon the principles of self-survey, confession, restitution, and the giving of oneself in service to others." It was the Oxford Group's theology which made its way into many of AA’s basic principles. And it was the OG's original 7 Steps which begat AA's indelible 12.

But for the recovery group's genesis, good ol' Bill Wilson cites a more secular authority. That authority is Carl Jung.

Seems the famous Swiss psychiatrist took a keen interest in alcoholism back in the early 20th century. And that keen interest put Jung in touch with a certain Rowland Hazard.

Rowland H. (as he'd come to be known) was an investment banker and former state senator from Rhode Island. He was also a hardcore alcoholic. By the time Rowland H. had met Jung he was desperate to cure what ailed him. And after seeing Jung daily for a period of several months, he did indeed stop drinking.

Then Hazard relapsed and the proverbial you-know-what really hit the fan. Jung told Hazard that his case was hopeless. And that nothing short of a religious conversion could cure his alcoholism. Then Jung went back to treating the people he believed he could help. He also apparently forgot all about Mr. Rowland H.

Then Jung received a letter from Bill W. attesting to the truth of his diagnosis, as well as the effectiveness of his prescription. Bill W.'s letter also credited Jung with helping set the stage for AA.

"You frankly told [Rowland H.] of his hopelessness, so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned," wrote Bill W. "This candid and humble statement of yours was beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which our Society has since been built."

Rowland H. would find The Oxford Group. And there he'd experience his religious conversion. He'd also stop drinking once and for all. And Jung's conversation with Hazard would "play a critical role in the founding of" AA. That's what Bill says anyway. And how could we not believe Bill W.?

God of Our Understanding

Jung had indeed prescribed a religious conversion. But he'd also told Hazard that conversion experiences were incredibly rare. In other words, he should simply "place himself in a religious atmosphere and hope for the best." But Jung didn't specify any particular religion. He didn't specify any particular atmosphere either.

As far as Jung was concerned, Hazard could have met God as he understood it anywhere. "His craving for alcohol was the equivalent of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness expressed in medieval language," wrote Jung. In other words, Rowland was already seeking "the union with God." He just needed to find it.

Jung used religious language allegorically. AA however took the idea of conversion more literally. And while the Big Book concluded that even the agnostic must eventually see the light if they're to stop drinking, AA realized that any strictly religious interpretation of said conversion would exclude people who need help.

In enter AA's 'God of our own understanding.'

A spiritual awakening "can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a higher understanding," wrote Jung. "A higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism." In other words, a higher power. That higher power could be God, in the traditional monotheistic sense. It could also be Buddha or Zeus or Odin. A higher power could even be a teacher or a mentor or a family member or a friend. Or it could simply be your sponsor. Whatever it took to get a person on that path to sobriety.

h2>AA's Open Mind Policy

An open God policy meant an open mind policy. It also meant AA would always have an open door. AA members represent every world religion. Some represent no religion at all. AA also represents, at least culturally, a synthesis of behavioral science and spirituality that translates into scores of different languages, beliefs, and practices. Just check your local bookstore's self-help shelves. For there you'll find AA’s 12-Steps being incorporated into Buddhism, Yoga, Catholicism, Judaism, Indigenous faith traditions, shamanist practices, Stoicism, secular humanism, and, of course, psychology.

Bill W always believed multiple paths might bring alcoholics to the same goal. He'd even taken multiple paths himself. Bill W's own mystical "white light" moment led him to William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. Later, he'd try LSD under supervision of British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond and vitamin therapy through the influence of Aldous Huxley.

Bill W also included standard modern medicine. Specifically the medical opinion of Dr. William D. Silkworth. Dr. Silkworth theorized that alcoholism was in part a physical disease. He called it "an allergy." And that disease model lives on in addiction treatment to this day.

Nevertheless it was Jung who encouraged Bill W to emphasize the spiritual aspect of recovery. And that spiritual aspect is what gets the addict or alcoholic into everlasting sobriety.

"Show me a drunk and I'll show you someone in search of God," runs the adage. It's as true then as it is now.

Saluting The Founders of AA

Bill W. may be the unequivocal founder of AA. And Dr. Bob may have helped him write the Big Book. But it's safe to say that there'd be no AA without Carl Jung. Bill W even says so. And it's clear Bill W would've never gotten to Jung had the psychologist not directed Rowland H. to have some kind of religious conversion -- or else. Of course The Oxford Group helped. So did Dr. Silkworth and William James. Yet without that crucial link to Jung, AA would've become a very different kind of fellowship.

We at Recovery Boot Camp would like to salute Bill and Bob and Rowland and Carl and everyone else who had a hand in the creation of AA, including the good Dr. Silkworth. We and our adjacent Healing Properties are both long-time proponents of AA's recovery model. In fact we've been applying and practicing AA's principles for nearly two decades. So we know what AA can do for an addict and alcoholic. And we know what AA continues to do for those who suffer from addiction and alcoholism.

We mean the miracle of sobriety. And for that we'll be forever grateful.

Read more about Carl Jung's influence on AA over at Open Culture, Aeon and/or in Ian McCabe's Carl Jung and Alcoholics Anonymous: The Twelve Steps as a Spiritual Journey of Individuation.

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