The Journey as a valuable slogan

It’s one of the terms most over-used in recovery.

Yet it is so apt, so perfectly descriptive of the point they are trying to make that, over-used or not, cliché or not, there is practically no better way to explain.

The journey.

Yours. Mine. We are all on one; at least that is the case if I understand what they who abide by it are trying to tell us.

The Journey … hmmm. It’s not just some band singing about the lights in the city by San Francisco Bay is it? It’s not really a new age term is it?

No. It has some longevity. A wise old concept, if you will.

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great lecturer, philosopher, author and poet. He lived 1803-1882, and was a big fan of the philosopher William James.

Emerson was onto something, but he didn’t go far enough to reach the rooms of recovery. The contemporary use of “the journey” as it applies to the path one is on, began to receive wider use in the last 100 years.

“Life is a journey, not a destination,” was part of a Sunday school lesson written by the Christian theologian, Lynn H. Hough, in 1920.

Hough was no ordinary Sunday school teacher. The Methodist educator, preacher and author would be the president of prestigious Northwestern University, home to such alumni as Charles Horace Mayo (Mayo Clinics), John Paul Stevens, (US Supreme Court Justice), George McGovern (presidential candidate), Charlton Heston, (well…Moses) along with a whole host of others – from Stephen Colbert to Warren Beatty, Hugh Hefner to Meghan Markle. Hough had so large a following his obituary was published in the New York Times in 1971.

Known for his stand against the Ku Klux Klan, Hough’s words had staying power for a society trying to make sense of a World War that had just ended, a mass pandemic of influensia which would kill many millions across the world.  One of his books was appropriately titled “Adventures in Understanding. Hough’s definition of the journey was profound on many fronts, to many types of people, Christian or otherwise.

Years after he died, Hough’s “journey” became a smack in the face for the “right here, right now” crowd. It confronted the attitude many addicts live by, the ones who want what they want, when they want it.The term has become a regular word spoken in meetings all over the world. Many new sober alcoholics came to incorporate his “journey” concept into their mental hard drives.

Similar phrases from writers piled on to Hough’s “journey” idea: Religion is a journey. Reformation is a journey. Education is a journey. Canadian entertainer Tom Cochrane even came up with Life is a Highway. Have a good idea? Let’s see if we can add on to it.

But “Life is a journey” is the one that stuck. Especially with addicts.

Hardly a surprise, really. The metaphorically friendly jingle begs so many questions. What is the significance of our finding recovery at this moment? Why us? What is our path? Our purpose, our destiny? What, what, what, why, why, why?

In October 1935, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a publication with deep significance to the recovery community, published a back pages story which included the sentence “happiness is a journey, not a destination,” – one more not-so obvious knock off expansion on Hough’s “Life is a journey.”

Hardly remarkable for those not in recovery. But if you are one who knows the history of the 12 Step movement, it was an interesting and familiar location to find a quote like that.

It appeared in the same year and same state that New Yorker Bill Wilson traveled for a business venture which would ultimately fail. But on his journey, in 1935 he met surgeon Robert Smith in Akron.

Wilson was a follower of William James and friend of Sam Shoemaker, the rector at his church in Manhattan. Smith was a staunch Christian and devoted member of the Oxford Group. They were both looking for answers to deep questions. And between them, they had a common enemy. Alcoholism.

“The tyrant alcohol wielded a double-edged sword over us,” Wilson would write. “First we were smitten by an insane urge that condemned us to go on drinking, and then by an allergy of the body that insured we would ultimately destroy ourselves in the process.”

Their own journeys would certainly collide, that Mother’s Day weekend of 1935, some say in a merge of great providence. The stockbroker and the proctologist would spark a movement which would become Alcoholics Anonymous.

Four years after Wilson and Smith’s fateful Akron meeting word hope for alcoholics was being publicized. Wilson had written a book titled Alcoholics Anonymous. In Cleveland, less than an hour’s drive south on Highway 77, the city’s reputable newspaper began a series of stories describing the work a group of ex-drunks was doing.

The free publicity resulted in hundreds of phone calls and would further convince the two co-founders to go forward more diligently in their quest to help others find the solution that they were discovering themselves.

By the time Elrick B. Davis’ articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer hit the streets in the fall of 1939, the first group named after the book was held in the city on Saturday nights, launched by one of Dr. Bob’s sponsees, Clarence Snyder.

The long and the short of it was the drive to Akron was getting to be too long for the Cleveland rummies trying to stay sober. Besides, the Pope had not given approval for his Catholic followers to attend the Oxford Group meetings in Akron or anywhere else for that matter. A lot of the men traveling with Snyder were Catholics.

Snyder told Wilson they had a book, they had interested alcoholics. Might as well do the meetings in Cleveland and save the trip down to Dr. Bob’s group.

Snyder’s meeting soon over 50 sober alcoholics showing up. The movement, which had chapters in Akron and New York under the guise of the Oxford Group, now had a name of its own, in Cleveland. This one was based on the new book Wilson was flogging, Alcoholics Anonymous, and affectionately called “The Big Book.”

Snyder and his crowd were the first ones to use the Book as a text book, as the answer to alcoholism. The Cleveland movement flourished.

Alcoholics Anonymous was actually born in that group, some will argue.

Wilson wasn’t so sure, but he didn’t want to rock the boat on the chicken and egg debate.

“Yes, Cleveland’s results were of the best. Their results were in fact so good, and A.A.’s membership elsewhere was so small, that many a Clevelander really thought A.A.’s membership had started there in the first place,” Wilson acknowledged in the book AA Comes of Age, first published in 1957.

The journey of Wilson to Smith to Cleveland was remarkable.

The journey continues, to your eyes, right now.

Included in the Big Book is one of the most fellowship’s oft-recited passages, the last paragraph on page 164, right before the personal stories sections begin.

“Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.”

That road is filled with pertinent moments. Translucent moments, pensive moments, panic moments, painful moments, blissful moments. Whether you walk, drive or Sega, the traverse of that Road of Happy Destiny is, in the end, your own journey.

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