Recovery Stories before AA


In the minds of the public and many helping professionals, the history of addiction recovery in the United States begins with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in the mid-1930s. That view, of course, obscures the long history of pre-AA recovery mutual aid. That earlier history spans the eighteenth century rise of abstinence- based religious and cultural revitalization movements (recovery circles) within Native American tribes and nineteenth century groups such as the Washingtonians, recovery-focused fraternal temperance societies, the Ribbon Reform Clubs and recovery support groups associated with early addiction treatment programs (the Ollapod Club, Godwin Association, Keeley Leagues).

As I investigated such groups over the past decades I was repeatedly struck by the parallels between the story styles conveyed through early recovery narratives and the story styles within contemporary 12-Step groups and their religious and secular alternatives. It was that discovery that inspired the idea of digitizing many of the early recovery stories as they appeared in biographies, autobiographies and magazine articles. Toward that end, I enlisted the aid of Barbara Weiner, Manager of the Hazelden Library in Center City, Minnesota, to assist with this project. Many more are in the process of being scanned and will be added in the coming months and years.

IntemperateCover (3).jpgThe collection will include some of the classic addiction confessionals and recovery biographies, including The Intemperate and the Reformed (1833)--the first collection of American recovery case studies that I am aware of, Confessions of a Female Inebriate (1842--written by a man!), and the biographies of John Gough, John Hawkins, Edward Uniac, Thomas Doutney, Jerry McAuley, Luther Benson and numerous others. The collection will extend into the early 20th century and also include recovery narratives of people who achieved recovery outside of but during AA's early years (e.g, Felix Rinehart's Confessions of a Booze-fighter, I took the Keeley Cure, 1943). Most accounts are of successful recoveries but I have also included some accounts of those of yesteryear who like some today seek but never find stable and lasting recovery.

I hope you enjoy this new library of early recovery literature and are as enlightened by it as I am. Click here to see the first of these documents.