How did Bill W., AA's Founder, take the 12 Steps before they were written?

How did Bill W., AA's Founder, take the 12 Steps before the 12 Steps were written? This Big Book study article shows where you can find the information in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, that explains how and when Bill W. took what is now known as the 12 Steps

The 12 Steps with No Numbers - How Bill W., took the 12 Steps?

When A. A. Founder, Bill W., took his Steps – the Steps had not yet been written down and numbered. Of particular interest to me, as I studied Bill’s Story, Chapter 1, in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was to take notes of the actions that Bill was taking to produce his Spiritual Experience – and, then comparing his actions which later were written down and numbered, and became our 12 Steps, as we know them today.

Below are some of my notes taken while I was reading Bill’s Story:

This all started as I was searching through the Big Book looking for all of the occurrences of the word “requirement.”

Then, further on, after my study of Bill’s Story – I included some page references throughout different parts of the Big Book, noting references to “Step-work actions” that were not numbered.

Bill's Story -- Chapter 1, Alcoholics Anonymous

~ Page 13-14 , Alcoholics Anonymous: “At the hospital I was separated from alcohol for the last time. Treatment seemed wise, for I showed signs of delirium tremens.”

(Step 3) “There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care AND direction. (second half of Step 1) I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost. (Step 4 & 5 ) I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing (Step 6) to have my new-found Friend take them away (Step 7) , root and branch. I have not had a drink since.

(Step 5) My schoolmate visited me, and I fully acquainted him with my problems and deficiencies. (Step 4) We made a list of people I had hurt or toward whom I felt resentment. (Step 8 ) I expressed my entire willingness to approach these individuals, admitting my wrong. Never was I to be critical of them. (Step 9) I was to right all such matters to the utmost of my ability.

(Step 10, 11) I was to test my thinking by the new God-consciousness within. (Step 10) Common sense would thus become uncommon sense. (Step 11) I was to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my problems as He would have me. Never was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore on my usefulness to others. Then only might I expect to receive. But that would be in great measure.

(Step 10) My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; (Steps 4-9, 10 & 11) that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems. Belief in the power of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish AND (Step 10-12) MAINTAIN THE NEW ORDER OF THINGS , were the essential requirements.

~ Page 14, Alcoholics Anonymous: "Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all. These were revolutionary and drastic proposals, but the moment I fully accepted them, the effect was electric.

There was a sense of victory, followed by such a peace and serenity as I had never known. There was utter confidence. I felt lifted up, as though the great clean wind of a mountain top blew through and through. God comes to most men gradually, but His impact on me was sudden and profound.

For a moment I was alarmed, and called my friend, the doctor, to ask if I were still sane. He listened in wonder as I talked.

Finally he shook his head saying, “Something has happened to you I don’t understand. But you had better hang on to it. Anything is better than the way you were.” The good doctor now sees many men who have such experiences. He knows that they are real.

(Step 12) While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work with others.

(Step 12) My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me. Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the alcoholic! (Steps 10-12) For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his .....

( ~ Page 15,) Alcoholics Anonymous: "spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. IF HE DID NOT WORK, HE WOULD SURELY DRINK AGAIN, AND IF HE DRANK, HE WOULD SURELY DIE. THEN FAITH WOULD BE DEAD INDEED. With us it is just like that. "


This is how Step Three was worded in the original manuscript for the Big Book, prior to final editing and publishing of the book. Note the difference in the wording. The manuscript version, for me, gives me a better understanding of Step Three.

Step 3 (original) : "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care and direction of God as we understood Him."”

~ Page 50, Alcoholics Anonymous: "Here are thousands of men and women, worldly indeed. They flatly declare that since they have (Step 2) come to believe in a Power greater than themselves, to (Step 3) take a certain attitude toward that Power, and (Steps 4-12) to do certain simple things, there has been a revolutionary change in their way of living and thinking. In the face of collapse and despair, in the face of the total failure of their human resources, they found that a new power, peace, happiness, and sense of direction flowed into them. This happened soon after they wholeheartedly met a few simple requirements." (All 12 Steps)


~ Page 60, Alcoholics Anonymous: (second half of Step 1) The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. (See page 52, par 2, “We were having trouble...”)

~ Page 62 , (Step 2) , Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.

~ Page 62 , This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, (Step 3) WE DECIDED that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.

(Note: Up until this point all we have is "self-knowledge" and an awareness of our condition)

~ Page 63 , When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work (Step 12) well. Established on such a footing (Steps 4-9, see Step 10 in 12 & 12) we became less and less interested in ourselves (Step 9 & 10), our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing (Steps 10-11) what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in (Step 5-7), as we enjoyed peace of mind (Step 9), as we discovered we could face life successfully (Step 9), as we became (Steps 10 we have entered the world of the spirit ) ) conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn.

(Note: Reborn, refers to Step 10, "we have entered the world of the spirit" page 84).

~ Page 63 , -- Note: This is one phase of our development.

It starts with Step 3 and runs continuously through Step 7.

This is similar to how Dr. Bob led his pigeons through the Steps. It is how Bill D. AA #3, took his steps with Bill and Bob. It is how Bob led "He sold himself short" through the steps. Bob stayed right with him until he was on his Step Nine.

We were now at Step Three. (Meaning we are now on the 3rd Step of the 12 Step process) We make our decision and state it with a prayer.

NOTICE that there is no AMEN after this prayer.... If you turn to page 76 , which contains the 7th Step prayer... you will see the AMEN.

I believe that this is further evidence that it is intended -- to sit down in ONE sitting -- and do the (4th Step) inventory, (5th Step) confession, and end THIS FIRST PHASE OF OUR DEVELOPMENT with the 7th Step prayer.

This would be precisely the format that William James, Psychologist and author of the book, Varieties of Religious Experience, (Bill was reading this book, while he was detoxing in the hospital under Dr. Silkworth's care) had explained the "conversion experience"e; (which Dr. Carl Jung, and Dr. William D. Silkworth, said -- that it would require a change in the psyche -- a transformation of thought, attitude and personality -- to allow an alcoholic to recover.

Then, notice on page 83 , in Step Nine -- we are referring to another "phase of our development" -- which is Steps 8 & 9, our amends.

Steps 4-9 are to "prepare us" for daily living, the AA way of life, "One Day at a Time." The obsession to drink and the insanity has been removed. In Step 10, we are returned to sanity. In Steps 10-12 we maintain the new order of things -- and we grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is what I believe Bill was referring to, on the first page of the Step Ten chapter in the book -- 12 Steps and 12 Traditions.

On page 63 is the last time we find the word "requirement".

Steps 4-9 are to "prepare us" for daily living, the AA way of life, "One Day at a Time." The obsession to drink and the insanity has been removed. In Step 10, we are returned to sanity. In Steps 10-12 we maintain the new order of things -- and we grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is what I believe Bill was referring to, on the first page of the Step Ten chapter in the book -- 12 Steps and 12 Traditions.

I hope that this has been helpful to you.


Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Recovery Information

A.A. Meeting information for A.A. Meetings in each State of the United States.

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The Promises of A.A. 12 Steps.

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12 Step Recovery