Celebrating 50 years of passing on a message of hope

Just think for a minute that the problem of alcoholism has been around since the days of the Old Testament and in all that time there was no place that an alcoholic, or people affected by alcoholism could go for help where people had a program of recovery.

Yet in America, in the 20th century, the very century in which we were born, it happened that two men, Bill W of New York and Dr Bob from Akron Ohio, met in June 1935, towards the end of the depression and found that they could stay sober by helping others. These two developed a program of recovery for alcoholics.

The development of Al-Anon followed that of Alcoholics Anonymous, as naturally as spring follows winter, because where the alcoholics met, the wives met too, made the tea and shared their terrible secret of living with alcoholism. It was while they talked to each other that they realized that they too had been affected and also needed a program of recovery.

At the end of 1950 after Dr Bob had died, Bill W took a trip around America and was amazed at the number of wives groups that had formed alongside the AA groups all over the country. He asked his wife Lois, who was sixty at the time, to start a clearinghouse for the post that was coming in. The founding of the fellowship called Al-Anon dates from May 1951 when two extraordinary, ordinary women, Lois W and her friend Anne B, posted 87 letters to addresses given to them by the Alcoholic Foundation in New York.

Only one of these letters was posted to an address outside the North American continent, and that one came to Cape Town. It has been written after someone off a ship, had brought information that wives groups existed in America, to the Cape Town AA group. In Nov 1949 Irene D volunteered to write for more information, making South Africa the only country outside America and Canada to be part of Al-Anon from its very beginning.

At Al-Anon's headquarters in New York, volunteers answered questions, sent out newsletters, printed pamphlets and shared their experience, strength and hope. They even wrote books, sharing with so many who were seeking solutions to the effects they suffered from living with alcoholism.

Later the Twelve Traditions were formulated to ensure unity and Twelve Concepts of Service spelled out principles to guide our service structure. Lois W lived to the age of 97. She was a visionary and a tireless worker, beloved by alcoholics and Al-Anons alike.

But where does the regeneration force in Al-Anon come from? It is gratitude mobilized into action. Though trying to live by the Twelve Steps to recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous, we not only receive solutions to coping with our own lives, but are filled with gratitude, which we put into action by seeing to it that Al-Anon is there for the next person who reaches out for help.


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