‘If I had heard all this GOD-talk when I first came into these rooms, I never would have come back!’

Reprinted from Mitchell K., author of “How It Worked: The Story Of Clarence H. Snyder and The Early Days Of Alcoholics Anonymous In Cleveland, Ohio” 1991.

Henrietta Seiberling Speaks Her Mind

…and the truth shall set you free…

Henrietta Seiberling was not an alcoholic. In 1933, she was a housewife with three children. But not just an ordinary housewife. She was the daughter-in-law of the founder and one-time president of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. And she had much to do with the founding of A.A.

In January 1933, Harvey Sr. and his son, Russell “Bud” Firestone sponsored an appearance by Dr. Frank N.D. Buchman and his “Oxford Group team” in Akron. And, as part of the day’s events, a big dinner was held at the Mayflower Hotel in Akron.

Henrietta and her son, John Seiberling, attended that first dinner and meeting as well as the balance of the meetings from January 14th through the 22nd; and, when Frank Buchman shouted to those assembled, “Get right with God,” Henrietta decided to get right with God through membership in the Oxford Group.

Well, we’re not out to please the alcoholics. They have been pleasing themselves all these years. We are out to please God.

When Bill Wilson, an Oxford Group member from New York, had come to Akron in 1935, he had phoned Dr. Walter Tunks, a minister affiliated with the Oxford Group. And Tunks, in turn, gave Bill Henrietta’s number. Through that phone call, which was supposedly made with Bill’s last nickel, a meeting was set up at Henrietta’s home, the Gate house of Stan Hywet Hall, her husband’s family estate.

That is where Bill and Dr. Bob Smith first met and Doc. first got his indoctrination into the idea “one alcoholic helping another.” And in the ensuing years, Henrietta worked with both to help in A.A.’s founding.

But Henrietta became disenchanted with A.A.’s development as the years rolled on. According to John Seiberling, Jr., Bill and Bob told her, “Henrietta, I don’t think we should talk too much about religion or God.” But Henrietta responded:

Well, we’re not out to please the alcoholics. They have been pleasing themselves all these years. We are out to please God.

And if you don’t talk about what God does, and your faith, and your guidance, then you might as well be the Rotary Club or something like that. Because God is your only source of Power.

Throughout her association with A.A., Henrietta was always outspoken in her zeal for service to God. She had cautioned that “Money will spoil this thing.” She had complained to Bill that A.A., in later years, was proceeding more on the level of psychology than through spirituality. Bill’s response to her had been, “I know, but they think there are so many people that need this and they don’t want to send them away” by talking about what God has done in their (the early members’) lives. Henrietta felt A.A. people had forgotten their “source of Power,” God.

What are your thoughts on ‘GOD’ talk? Have we been overly sensitive towards the newcomer that we are afraid to talk of spiritual matters? Is our talk of GOD deterring some newcomers from coming to our meetings? Has the onslaught of “Treatment Center” rhetoric to respect everyone’s opinion, no matter what they wish to talk about, watered down our message and turned our meetings into “open disgusting meetings”?

5 thoughts on “‘If I had heard all this GOD-talk when I first came into these rooms, I never would have come back!’

  1. I am ‘old-school’ A.A., that is, "If it ain’t in the Big Book, then it has no business being given out as advice in our meetings." I often come across as being over-zealous and occasionally someone will approach me and say, "If I had have heard you speak of God the way you do when I first came into these rooms, I wouldn’t have come back!" To this I usually reply, "Then don’t come back! Better yet, why don’t I buy you a $20 piece of crack and you can go find some open-mindedness".

    I am not looking to get into any ‘windy arguments’ or ‘frothy debates’ with overly sensitive, treatment center indoctrinated newcomers. If they are not convinced they are beyond human aid, and have not been beaten into some sort of reasonableness by their addiction towards a spiritual solution, then I am not really interested in wasting my time trying to show them a spiritual way out of their predicament."

  2. Well from my experience I can assuredly tell any of you we do not speak of God enough. I was in and out for ten years hearing everyone’s war stories and problems and being told meeting makers make it!. To be quiet honest it almost killed me!

    Here is what is heard in meetings:
    Keep Coming Back!
    Don’t drink or don’t use!!
    Welcome Home!
    You’re in the right place!
    90 meeting in 90 days
    Easy does it!
    No reason to rush anything you will be doing this for the rest of your life!
    You can use a doorknob for your higher power&..

    Here is what is in the Big Book
    &Perhaps there is a better way, we think so. For we are now on a different basis of trusting and relying upon God. We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves. We are in the world to play the role He assigns. Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity.
    The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house.

    When we look back, we realize that the things which came to us when we put ourselves in God’s hands were better than anything we could have planned. Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances!

    Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. (notice not mention of a light bulb here!)

    Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him

    That God could and would if He were sought

    This is the how and the why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, 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.

    God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!" We thought well before taking this step making sure we were ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him.

    God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.

    We never apologize to anyone for depending upon our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spirituality the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength. The verdict of the ages is that faith means courage. All men of faith have courage. They trust their God. We never apologize for God. Instead we let Him demonstrate, through us, what He can do. We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be. At once, we commence to outgrow fear.

    So maybe we should follow what the book says and stop killing Addicts with all of the treatment center BS and let God work through us to heal others or as the book says, become spearheads of God’s ever advancing creation!

  3. My sponsor told me early on "You don’t have to worry about scaring the newcomer off talking about God. Whiskey will bring them back every time." Words to live by.
    What I don’t like is when everyone has to talk in detail about who and what God is to them. I find this discussion does more to divide people than it does to help people find their way. AA never tells us who and what God is, but rather it leads us to God, and God is a better guide than any of us.

  4. When I came into AA 23 years ago, I was told by some not to worry too much about "this God thing". So I didn’t. I made the fellowship my Higher Power. The result was relapse after ten years. Relapse for the next 12 years or so. While laying in my bed at my last detox center I heard a CD of Chris Raymer. God came to me that night through Chris. I now have a relationship with God, and if kept strong, relapse is no longer posible.

  5. When I was totally beaten and also new, I was extremely confused and totally lost and in complete despair. I could not swallow the term “God’s will” because my father, who abused me severely throughout my whole childhood right into my 20’s used that term to control, intimidate, shame and abuse me further. He was also a member of a cult that used the term “God’s will” to control its members. I was a member of this cult from age 15-18. I was terrified by this term, “God’s will”
    While in a detox, a staff person (an AA member herself) helped me with this:

    I was given the Chapter to the Agnostic in the Big Book. There I found myself right away. I was “the bewildered one.” I was so relieved to know that I was not alone in this. Then I was instructed to pray for willingness to believe, which I did immediately. I was desperate for help. To my surprise and relief, I began to feel a slight connection to hope and faith for the first time in over 25 years.

    I joined a group which read the Twelve and Twelve every meeting for three years. I also attended the Big Book group which read from the Big Book every meeting. Later on, I joined the Big Book group for 8 years. This really helped me to absorb the writings of these two primary sources of “instructions” along with countless insights and validations about who I was as a person and as an alcoholic. The Big Book has grown on me, the longer I have stayed sober. I have had several sponsors over the years. Each had a different approach. The one who helped me the most was the one who took me through the steps in an organized and thorough manner, as well as instructing me to read pages 86-88 in the Big Book each morning.
    Another sponsor continued this with me, along with being a a person with good common sense.

    She always emphasizes saying the 3rd and 7th step prayers daily, along with some meditation readings from AA literature. This really makes a difference in my days.
    I have been sober for just over 12 years now. Thanks to the foundation of trusting God and really doing my best to let Go and Let God, my life has transformed completely from one of total despair, sickness, misery, isolation, constant loneliness and severe anxiety…to my life which is now engaged with the people around me in an uplifting way. I am now able to pass on what I have received and experienced to those who cross my path, both in AA and at times, outside of AA.

    I am certainly not perfectly recovered…but I my spirit is alive and connected to the One who gives me life, to complete unconditional Love…this is the God who has shown him/herself to me. This is who guides and holds me in my daily life.

    Without God, I know that I would have died…God definitely has kept me here..I have experienced strongly within my whole being…physically, emotionally, spiritually.

    God does perform miracles. AA is both a program and a community in which to heal and grow. Thank you for letting me share.

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