The History of Workaholics Anonymous

Like all Twelve Step groups, there was a time when this fellowship did not exist and had to be started by someone willing to be first in service. It was in the early 1980's that a number of people began to recognize that their pathological use of activity was affecting them like an alcoholic's or addict's abuse of substances. Some of them formed Twelve Step groups modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) as they found each other in the workplace, at home, or on the playing field.

In 1983, one of the first formal efforts to create a fellowship around work addiction recovery began in New York when a corporate financial planner and a schoolteacher met. They formed Workaholics Anonymous (W.A.) to stop working compulsively themselves and to help others who suffered from the disease of workaholism. In their first meetings, spouses joined them and in retrospect were the first Work-Anon group, seeking recovery for family and friends of workaholics.

Over the next several years, people in California (some without knowledge of the New York effort) were also recognizing work addiction as an illness and began to hold meetings in their communities. Over time, several work addiction recovery groups were established in Southern California. Eventually members from Los Angeles and San Diego merged with the New York effort and began collaborating on carrying the message and on the creation of literature. Meetings also started up in several communities in Northeastern and Southwestern areas of the United States. Magazine and newspaper articles appeared about the W.A. meetings.

In the late 1980's an entirely separate Workaholics Anonymous organization developed in the San Francisco Bay Area. A nurse who had been acquainted with A.A. in Tucson, Arizona, noticed that her compulsive, intense working behavior affected her health and her relationships even more severely than alcohol had. She sought help at the Dry Dock, San Francisco's A.A. center. She established W.A. as a nonprofit California corporation in 1987. With the emergence of a coast-to-coast connection, this Bay Area group of fellowships gradually became known as W.A.'s first organization.

Requests for information came in from other countries. Groups formed around the world. However, despite being based on the Twelve Step approach, each group had a different Definition of The Problem, the Characteristics, Tools, Meeting Format, Promises of the Program and what to include on its Literature list. As more members and groups discovered each other's existence—and their striking similarities—many asked for sharing of ideas, development of a unifying meeting format and a uniting approach for responding to public inquiries about workaholism.

On March 31st of 1990, after a countrywide exchange of letters among several of the first W.A. groups, four W.A. members and two of their "Work-Anon" spouses converged to meet for the first time in St. John's Presbyterian Church basement in West Los Angeles. Having come from fellowships in New York, Los Angeles and San Diego, they titled their meeting the "Workaholics Anonymous First World Service Conference."

At this initial gathering, these pioneers shared the history, progress, and future hopes of their respective fellowships, and identified a number of common recovery problems. These included how to reach the practicing workaholic whose spouse is the one inquiring about W.A., how to deal with referrals from medical doctors and psychotherapists, how to substitute telephone support where attendance at W.A. meetings was impractical, how to respond to inquiries from people who had no Twelve Step experience, how to develop a meeting format for fellowships of only two or three people, and how to confront the fact that workaholism was not accepted by traditional American culture as a widespread and serious disease.

Four pioneers assumed the responsibilities of the new organization and mutually pledged to hold their offices until elections could be held at the next nationwide conference, tentatively scheduled for May of 1991. During 1990 these four pioneers of the first W.A. World Service Organization (W.S.O.) sought permission from Alcoholics Anonymous and the A.A. Grapevine to adapt the A.A. Preamble, Twelve Steps, and Twelve Traditions; began to develop new Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws; assembled a starter kit for new meetings, including a suggested meeting format, checklist of Characteristics, Tools of Recovery and the Promises of the Program; compiled a roster of all the known W.A. meetings worldwide; communicated with each W.A. group; began compiling an ongoing list of approved recovery literature and started gathering stories of workaholic recovery for eventual inclusion in a W.A. Book.

On November 7th, 1992, enthusiasm was high as participants, representing many of the 63 fellowships, including ones in Canada, Germany and Japan, came to the Second W.A. World Conference at Summit Medical Center in Oakland, California. About thirty people attended from California, Colorado, Florida, and Pennsylvania. The conference attendees placed all W.S.O. authority in the hands of five co-chairpersons, (1) for registration of groups, (2) for answering telephone and letter inquiries, (3) for outreach, (4) for managing the money and (5) for facilitating communication among these co-chairs and all appointed committees. W.S.O. committees were established to reexamine and officially file bylaws, develop a list of suggested literature, publish a newsletter, raise funds, and circulate announcements.

The early nonprofit incorporation of W.A. in Northern California continued in existence to provide meeting list updates and telephone listings of the ten meetings of W.A.'s only Intergroup. These meetings decreased in number until there were insufficient donations to pay for the services. The corporation was disbanded in the 90's and the small residual treasury was donated to the new W.A.W.S.O.

The effort to further the service structure refocused in the mid 1990's when there was a gathering consensus, from several members of W.A., for the fellowship to establish a home page on the Worldwide Web and start using email. At first a member of the Boston meeting made up an unofficial W.A. web page, put some of our published literature on it, and gave a reply address. This attracted interest, and newcomers occasionally used it to look for meetings and get other information, until it became too much for that one person to maintain.

Since 2002, W.A. has had a full Board of Directors in service. This renewed W.A.W.S.O. Board realized the Internet was a medium worth embracing, and, with the help of members of the Boston meeting and others, a URL was obtained and the web site was launched at
www.workaholics-anonymous.org .
Not only were Board members more easily able to communicate with each other via the website, but also the website became a valuable resource for suffering workaholics attracting interest from many parts of the world. It remains the official fellowship website today.

As of 2008, the W.A. fellowship continues to grow. Our literature has increased in scope dramatically with the publishing of the Book of Recovery in 2005 and with the upcoming Twelve Step Study Workbook (slated for publication by the end of 2008). There are now over fifty meetings of W.A. and over thirty-five of the sister fellowship in Austria and Germany, A.A.S. Telephone and online meetings are also new and popular offerings. Service to others and ourselves keeps our evolution as a fellowship progressing and our individual recoveries alive. Our fellowship history is made up of the collective effort of individuals performing acts of service for others, one at a time. Our fellowship's Higher Power helps guide us to serve in a balanced way. We are relieved one day at a time from the perfectionism, overwork, and procrastination of work addiction while carrying a message of hope to the workaholics who still suffer. We invite you to "take your turn" and join us in this service commitment, as doing so will help strengthen abstinence and insure that W.A. continues to be there for us and for all who wish to recover from workaholism.

Adapted from pages 220-223 in the W.A. Book of Recovery.