Thursday, October 05, 2006

The History Of AA - Joe And Charlie

Welcome to week 24! This week we have the History of AA which we will be walked through by Joe and Charlie. When I found this mp3 it was acctually in 4 different sections but this is those four files merged into one. In this mp3 we hear Joe and Charlie walk through the first part of the Big Book and tell the History of AA, how it came about and give us the background which can help us to work the tweleve step program. So enjoy! As always this mp3 came from and you can contact me at and also thanks for the encouraging email :)


At 10:04 AM, Blogger Jim F. said...

The first time I ever listened to the Joe & Charlie’s "Big Book Comes Alive" tapes was back in the early 1990's. I was a patron of the Westside Club in Washington DC at that time and was about four or five years sober. The Alano Club I mentioned had just held a group conscience meeting that granted permission to a couple of the club’s member to hold a Big Book Study that centered around playing these non-conference approved Joe & Charlie tapes and holding a discussion based on them afterwards. Although there are many things I liked about Joe & Charlie’s presentation, there are also many things I really did not like and don’t agree with.

The main thing that disturbed me about Joe & Charlie’s tapes is that on the tapes there are some derisive and wholly inaccurate statements made concerning modern A.A.'s success rate. In addition the tapes speakers seemed to imply that "treatment concepts" are allegedly responsible for “watering down” the AA message and for having negative impact upon the current A.A. member’s ability to stay sober. In fact the tapes speakers seemed to go far overboard in making sweeping and unproven generalizations about the treatment industry and modern day A.A. There also seemed to be some intent to scapegoat the treatment industry and modern A.A. and to hold them responsible for modern A.A.’s allegedly lower success rate.

These myths and misinterpretations seem to have been derived from a hasty and capricious interpretation of the AA literature. The greatest myth being propagated by these tapes and others is the idea that A.A. once had an overall 50 to 75% success rate which could again be realized by returning to the “original program” as defined by Joe & Charlie. The truth is that early AA never had an over-all success rate of 50 to 75%, what early AA members did have was an estimated 50 to 75% success rate “of all those that really tried”. If you think about it, This qualifying statement “of all those that really tried” is a disclaimer that is large enough to drive a Mac Truck through since it does not tell us how many people there may have been who didn’t “really try”. This crucial piece of missing information remains an unknown figure and is the subject of much speculation. It is thought that perhaps as few
as 2 out of every 5 people that were exposed to A.A. back in the early days felt inspired or desperate enough to “really try”. So if we assume that as few as 2 out of 5 who were approached back then "really tried" that means that perhaps as many as 6 out of every 10 or 60% of these people who were approached dropped out or 'did not really try' to work the AA program. Of the remaining 40% of the people that did "really try", only an estimated 50% of those people got sober right away and an additional 25% of the remaining 50% are thought to have achieved a stable recovery after some relapses.

Regardless of what the actual drop out rate was, what we know for sure is that there was never an over-all 50 to 75% recovery rate that can be recaptured through a Big Book revival or by adopting Joe & Charlie’s Big Book study methods. Also, it seems
obvious that there must have been a very significant drop out rate that was never actually measured or recorded. We will never know for sure because A.A. does not lend itself to the scientific certainty of control groups and double blind studies. Moreover we can’t travel back in time to prove or disprove anyone’s pet theory. This being acknowledged, it is important to keep in mind that all of these so called "statistics" being bandied about by A.A.’s know it all reformers are not really statistics at all. They are simply the best guess estimates or extemporaneous statements of a bunch of recovering drunks, many of whom were ex-salesmen and shameless self-promoters.

Since the beginning A.A. has been full of such types. Early A.A. members were also thought to be given to the use "puffery" which they utilized to promote the Big Book and to attract new members. They did this by exaggerating the number of actual members who had recovered at the time the Big Book was being written. For example, they used this phrase in the forward to the first edition of the Big Book “We of Alcoholics Anonymous are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless condition of mind and body” when in actuality A.A. was comprised of about 40 recovering alcoholics and their spouses at that time the Big Book started to be written and around 73 at the time of publication. So the “one hundred men and women figure” may have included the alcoholic’s spouses in addition to members of the Oxford Group who were sympathetic to our cause in order to be thought of as “more than one-hundred.”.

This tendency to exaggerate should come as no surprise since most of us drunks have never been known for allowing the truth to stand in the way of a real good story. The early AA’s even sold stocks in a non-existent publishing company in order to raise money to get the Big Book published. Can you imagine?

Being no exception to this tendency to use hyperbole and not be inconvenienced by the facts, Joe & Charlie and other AA reformers like the Back To Basics Movement grossly exaggerated the success rates of early AA, and follow up their mythological presentation by using some of the most dismal “statistics” or estimates that one can find regarding AA’s current success rates. They seem to do this in order to create the illusion that early AA was far more effective than modern AA currently is. Typically comparing and contrasting one unreliable set of "statistics" against another in order to persuade us that the enormous and largely imaginary deficit or gap is due to AA being ‘too watered down by treatment concepts’ or ‘not focused enough on the original program as outlined in the first 164 pages of the Big Book.’

The problem with this argument is one, AA’s success rate was never as high as they are trying to make you believe it was and two, AA’s current success rate is not nearly as low as they would like you to believe. In fact according to AA’s latest Tri-ennial Survey in 2007, there has never been a higher concentration of long term recovery in AA than now. The average active member of AA currently has 8 or more years of continuous sobriety. This concentration of long term recovery is unmatched by any other period in AA History!

So while I admire Joe & Charlie for their devotion to the A.A. literature and for their sense of humor and ability to spin a good yarn by using persuasive rhetoric and charm. I cannot overlook the fact that they have achieved their Clancy-like Guru status though an intentional or unintentional distortion of the basic facts. In addition, I believe that Joe & Charlie have a definite agenda to reform AA and to shape it according to their own preferences and beliefs. (And if the truth is to be known I believe in many ways they have been very successful at this.) Overall, I think their influence has been divisive and I sincerely doubt they have done much to raise AA’s success rate in any demonstrable way. What's worse, I suspect they may have actually alienated thousands of alcoholics who would have felt less threatened by a more flexible less dogmatic interpretation and approach to the AA program.

Based on the endless debates that I have witnessed taking place on the internet and in AA related chartrooms and e-mail groups, Joe & Charlie and their ilk, (such as the Back to Basics Group, the Muckers, Dick B. , All Addictions Anonymous and the other endless spin offs that seek to reform A.A.,) seem to have managed to divide AA into many different factions or adversarial schools of thought, while at the same they enjoy their celebrity or Guru status and possibly enrich themselves through the sale and promotion speaker tapes, workshops, videos and books. It seems wrong to me that a fellowship that is supposed to be comprised of equals and who is supposed to place principles above personalities would allow two self-promoters like Joe & Charlie to exert such a disproportionate influence on the A.A. fellowship or to be at the root of so much disagreement.

That’s My Two Cents,
Jim F. DOS Oct. 4th 1987

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Don M said...

While in prison for an OUI, I had some exposure to a 12 step program that was not as fundamentalist as the Big Book Step Study (of which I have attended many), yet it sounded like the Big Book Step in that it used the directions from the Big Book to do the steps.
I want to do the steps again right away and I am looking for some ideas and groups, with which and with whom I might accomplish this with. Please blog idea or send them to my email at

Thank You
Don M

At 1:15 AM, Blogger tex said...

Interesting comments Jim, and though I haven't listened to any Joe and Charlie stuff, what you say tends to have a ring of truth about it, in particular the tendency of some alcoholics to assume that their interpretation of the literature is not only correct, but should be imposed upon others.

I have recently copped some flak for sharing that sponsorship hasn't been a panacea or simple solution FOR ME, and have been told "sponsorship is the core of the program", blah blah blah, and I have no problem with sponsorship if it is done in a humble manner, but I do see quite often people with over inflated egos trying to "fix" others through sponsorship, with extreme dogma, control (such as: "ring me every morning at 8am"), and sometimes abuse and repetition of negative thinking such as "if you do this/don't do this, you'll drink again", which for me, has led to one good lesson: how I can accept the things I cannot change, put in personal boundaries to avoid people like this, and learn how to take care of my own emotions, with help from others in AA, most of whom don't care if I don't ask them to be "my sponsor", yet offer all the assistance, advice and help I need in a gentle and humble manner.

I find it interesting also that I am sometimes counselled to "accept these people I cannot change", which I do my best to do, yet somehow some of these so called "older, sober members" often ignore that advice in regard to their tolerance for newcomers or new and different opinions. Shouldn't it be these OSMs who are making the effort to tolerate new, ill and vulnerable newer sober members, not the other way around?

I do like to be around those who don't spout out what others need to do, but who simply tell me what they did.


Paul S, Sydney, Australia

At 7:33 PM, Blogger grampadave said...

I've known of the Joe and Charlie material for probably close to twenty years. Someone mentioned them recently and I did some searching but wasn't able to find what I was looking for.
I know that Joe McQ passed on in 2007 and I'm wondering if anyone can tell me how many different incarnations of the team there've been over the years. Thanks in advance for any info.

At 5:36 AM, Blogger S.A. Walker said...

This is for Don M. There's a great Step Study on "The Recovery Group" every 90 days called "WTS" (which stands for Working The Steps). They also have a daily Step-study group called "THEBIGBOOK study." You can find both of them at

At 8:01 AM, Blogger S.A. Walker said...

Replying to my earlier post to Don M -- Ooops. The groups I mentioned are for Big Book study, yes, but the Recovery Group is aimed at Overeaters Anonymous, one of the off-shoots of AA. may not serve your purposes since it will be made up of folks with food addictions, not those with alcohol addictions. Sorry to mislead!


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