Jim W.

Archives: Personal History

Name: Jim W.
Date of Interview: 9/20/2006
Sobriety Date(s): 11/25/1974
Current Home Group & Location: Maple Shade, NJ
Locations lived in during sobriety: Marlton, NJ & Southampton, NJ

How and when did you get started in A.A.? Where did you sober up and go to your first meeting?
My employer gave me an ultimatum; Do something about your drinking or you’re fired! At that point I said “no more.” Entered Carrier Clinic 11/25/1974.
First meeting outside of rehab was Barclay Farms Thursday Night. Meeting was in church basement. Low ceiling, lots of columns, 40 people all smoking.
How did you first learn about A.A.?
First meetings were in rehab. Outside speakers came in. Rehab strongly suggested AA as the ‘only way to learn to live without drinking.’
Did you have a sponsor when you first came in? What type of sponsorship did you have?
As they said in the meeting: ‘Stick with the winners.’ The old-timers made a lasting impression on me. I simply tried to do what they did.
How many groups or meetings were in existence? Can you recall the formats used at some of these early meetings? How were they run?
There were plenty of meetings (about 1/2 the number we have today.) Mostly speaker and discussion meetings.
When was A.A. started in your town or area? How often were meetings held? Who were some of the people playing important roles in the formation of new groups? Can you explain the differences that led to new groups being formed in your area?
Medford meeting started in 1972 when Warren M. and George C. found an air conditioned church library available. Summer meetings were very uncomfortable in those days.
What else do you know about the growth of A.A. during that period of time?
A lot of new meetings started with a resentment and a coffee pot. Just like today!
What contributions did you, yourself, make to the growth of the Fellowship? (Don’t be unnecessarily modest!)
Became an active member of Maple Shade Group. Never missed the Business meeting and always had an AA job.
Active at Assembly level. Held office four times, helping to establish many of the current financial practices of the assembly. Served on the Unity Committee of Intergroup, taking service presentations to many local groups.
What controversies over issues addressed in the Traditions can you recall people wrestling with? (How were meeting spaces acquired? Was rent or other funding obtained by gambling sessions, Bingo games, etc? How did the membership resolve these affairs?)
State run DUI License restoration program offered attendance cards to AA groups to be given out to DUI offenders. Many groups chose not to participate as many of these people were not alcoholics and potentially jeopardized the anonymity of members of groups they attended. Other groups participated in the program citing the 5th Tradition as precedent.
What individuals were especially prominent in your sobriety and why?
Old Timers like Warren M., John M., and Bill M. served as walking examples of the Big Book. I wanted what they had so I did what they did. They truly walked the walk.
How were new members contacted? What kinds of Twelfth Step work were going on? Are there any Twelfth Step anecdotes that stick out in your mind that you’d care to share?
We received a lot more requests for 12-Step calls in those days. I probably averaged one every 2-3 months. Also, a lot of rehabs contacted Intergroup when clients were released to get them rides to their first meetings.
Today, A.A. is well known to, and supported by police officers, judges and corrections officials. What kind of relationship did A.A. in your area have with local authorities? How has that changed since you sobered up?
The Maple Shade Group actually met in a room above the police station when it started in 1962.
Judges have always shown respect for AA.
Corrections officials often considered AA meetings in their facilities a nuisance as they disrupted the normal routine. That feeling persists today with many corrections officers.
Treatment facilities nowadays frequently host A.A. and other Twelve Steps meetings. Did any of them use a Twelve Step format or incorporate meetings into their structure?
Carrier Clinic conducted regular beginners step meetings (Steps 1, 2, & 3) which were mandatory for its clients as far back as 1972.
Did you seek the cooperation of other local community or professional agencies?
Our group regularly (each year) contacts doctors, schools, and police. Medical profession seems to want to treat this disease using its own resources.
Today, radio and television public service announcements for A.A., as well as Internet Web sites, are becoming commonplace. When you first got sober, how did A.A.s interact with the media? Have you had any profound experiences sharing your relationship with alcohol with the public? What cautions might you have for young A.A.s today regarding media exposure?
I am concerned that new people today might use the internet in place of an AA meeting. It just isn’t the same! This fellowship thrives on person to person contact. The internet is a poor substitute.
During the early years of your recovery, how did the community receive Alcoholics Anonymous?
With guarded optimism! We still have to earn the respect of others with long term consistent results and behavior.
What do you remember of early conferences, assemblies, and conventions? Can you recall opening intergroup or central offices?
The South Jersey Annual Convention was originally held in Atlantic City. When gambling became legal there, we noticed a significant drop in attendance, and many of those who did attend spent more time in the casinos than at the convention. After 2 years we moved the convention to Ocean City to remove ourselves from temptation.
Today, Conference-approved literature is available to help A.A. members deal with a wide variety of challenging questions. In the early days of the Fellowship all we had was the book Alcoholics Anonymous, common sense and your compassion. How did early A.A.s treat newcomers? How did your group(s) treat constant slippers? Thirteenth steppers? How were people, wishing to talk about multiple addictions during your meetings addressed? How about nonalcoholic drug addicts walking in off the street for their first meeting?
I have always felt that alcoholism is first and foremost an addiction and have accepted those addicted to other substances based on that belief. I must always remember, however, that this is Alcoholics Anonymous and has never claimed to be effective on anything other than alcohol.
In what ways has A.A. changed over the years?
When I first came to AA, the average length of sobriety in most meetings was 2 years. Over the years that average has increased significantly, today being approximately 8 years according to GSO, and often higher than that in some meetings. At a recent group anniversary the results of a sobriety countdown showed 11 1/2 years average length of sobriety.
This is not necessarily good news! We don’t have nearly as many newcomers in our meetings! We must understand that the newcomer is the future of AA and concentrate on attracting them to our fellowship.