Countless A.A.’s at the Convention got to know our Trustees, those faithful alcoholic and nonalcoholic friends who had served us so long. Many a grass-rooter talked with Archie Roosevelt and learned that this exuberant and genial man had recently joined the Board and had taken on the sometimes thankless and always time-consuming job of being its treasurer. Grass-rooters and city people alike began to say, “Well, if our new nonalcoholic friend Archie can spend years looking after A.A.’s general finances, then we guess that we can certainly spare the minute it takes twice yearly to reach into our pockets for those two dollars that Archie needs to balance A.A.’s budget.”
Right up front among the biggest eye-openers of the Convention were Al-Anon Family Group meetings, which bore the titles: “Meet the Staff,” “The Children of Alcoholics,” “Adjustment Between Husbands and Wives,” and “The Twelve Steps.” In St. Louis many a skeptical A.A. had his first look at this movement within a movement and learned with astonishment that the Family Groups had jumped from 70 to 700 in only three years and that right now a brand-new one was popping up in the world about every day. Lois and speakers from many areas told us that the Family Groups had a world clearinghouse much like A.A.’s Headquarters and that already there was literature, the beginning of a magazine, and even a new book.
Many A.A.’s had wondered what these Family Groups were all about. Were they gossip clubs, commiseration societies? Were they coffee and cake auxiliaries? Did they divert A.A. from its single purpose of sobriety? The Family Group meetings provided the answers: These new groups were not also-rans to A.A., nor were they gossip factories. The families of alcoholics—wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, and children—were pointing A.A.’s principles right straight at themselves and at nobody else.
The Family Group speakers asked and answered plenty of questions like these: “Weren’t we just as powerless over alcohol as the alcoholics themselves? Sure we were.” “And when we found that out, weren’t we often filled with just as much bitterness and self-pity as the alcoholic ever had been? Yes, that was sometimes a fact.” “After the first tremendous relief and happiness which resulted when A.A. came along, hadn’t we often slipped back into secret and deep hurt that A.A. had done the job and we hadn’t? For many of us, that was certainly so.” “Not realizing that alcoholism is an illness, hadn’t we taken sides with the kids against the drinking member? Yes, we had often done that, to their damage. No wonder, then, that when sobriety came, the emotional benders in our homes often went right on and sometimes got worse.”
As the A.A.’s listened, the Family Group speakers continued: “Could we find an answer for all of this? At first, no. The A.A. meetings sometimes helped us, but not enough. We got a better understanding of the alcoholic problem but not enough of our own condition. We thought A.A.’s Twelve Steps were wonderful for alcoholics, but didn’t think we had to take them too seriously. After all, we had been doing our best. There was nothing much wrong with us. So we reasoned, and so we complained when things continued to go badly at home. Or often, if things went well, we turned complacent or maybe rather jealous of all the time our partners thought they had to spend on A.A.
“But when the Family Groups were formed, these notions and attitudes began to change, and the change was mainly in us. The transformation really set in when we began to practice A.A.’s Twelve Steps in daily living, in all our affairs, and in the company of those who were able to understand our problems as no alcoholic partner could.
“In the Family Groups we see men and women, even those with active alcoholics on their hands, shake off their miseries and begin to live serenely, without blame or recrimination. We have seen many a partner, whose mate was sober in A.A. but still hard to live with, completely alter his or her thinking. Finally we have seen badly bent children straighten around and begin to respect and love their parents once more. We have seen many kinds of pride and fear and domination and nagging and maddening possessiveness just melted away by the Twelve Steps as we practice them in the home. Like our A.A. partners, we Family Groupers are now getting the tremendous dividend which comes from the practice of Step Twelve, ‘carrying the message.’ And the message of our Family Group is this: ‘You can have more than alcoholic sobriety in your own family; you can have emotional sobriety, too. Even if the rest of the family about you hasn’t yet found stability, you can still have yours. And your own emotional sobriety often can hasten the happy day of change for them.’ ”
Many an A.A. member who saw the Family Groups in action in St. Louis said afterwards, “This is one of the best things that has happened since A.A. began.”
When they saw the Convention’s pressroom, many visitors realized for the first time that good communications, within and without, were the actual arteries in which A.A.’s life-giving blood circulates among us and thence out to brother and sister sufferers everywhere. Something more than slow word-of-mouth message-carrying obviously has been required. Certainly not much Twelfth Step work ever could have been done until the sick ones and their families had been reached and persuaded that A.A. might offer hope for them. This kind of communication often required the good will of clergymen, doctors, employers, and friends—indeed, the good will of the public at large. For years A.A.’s Headquarters had used every possible means of enlisting such good will, and in addition to our own efforts our friends of the press—newspapers, magazines, and later radio and television—had told our story faithfully and often and had reported eventful A.A. occasions whenever they occurred. Thus they had drawn thousands of alcoholics into our membership and were still doing so.
They had not done this, of course, without help from us. Years ago we found that accurate and effective publicity about A.A. simply does not manufacture itself. Our over-all public relations couldn’t be left entirely to chance encounters between reporters and A.A. members, who might or might not be well informed about our fellowship as a whole. This kind of unorganized “simplicity” often garbled the true story of A.A. and kept people away from us. A badly slanted press could prolong preventable suffering and even result in unnecessary deaths.
When in 1941 the Saturday Evening Post assigned Jack Alexander to scout A.A. for a feature story, we had already learned our lesson. Therefore nothing was left to chance. Had Jack been able to get to St. Louis for the Convention he himself could have told how skeptical he had been of this assignment. He had just finished doing a piece on the Jersey rackets, and he didn’t believe anybody on a stack of Bibles a mile high.
After Jack checked in with us at Headquarters, we took him in tow for nearly a whole month. In order to write his powerful article, he had to have our fullest attention and carefully organized help. We gave him our records, opened the books, introduced him to nonalcoholic Trustees, fixed up interviews with A.A.’s of every description, and finally showed him the A.A. sights from New York and Philadelphia all the way to Chicago, via Akron and Cleveland. Although he was not an alcoholic, Jack soon became a true A.A. convert in spirit. When at last he sat down at his typewriter, his heart was in it. He was no longer on the outside of A.A. looking in; he was really inside looking out. As soon as the article appeared, 6,000 frantic inquiries hit our New York post office. Jack’s piece made Alcoholics Anonymous a national institution, and it also made him one of our greatest friends and, finally, one of our Trustees.
The kind of help we gave Jack Alexander—our organized service of public information—is the vital ingredient in our public relations that most A.A.’s have never seen. But in the St. Louis pressroom the visitors did see one aspect of it, working this time for the Convention itself. There sat A.A.’s Ralph, handling our contacts with the press. He was surrounded by phones, typewriters, piles of releases, clip-sheets, telegrams in and out—all the gadgets of his trade. Now what was he doing and why? Could this be a ballyhooed promotion stunt, something quite contrary to A.A. Traditions?