Today in 1934 Bill Wilson was lying in Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcohol Addictions in New York City under the care of Dr. William D. Silkworth. Silkworth, pronounced him a hopeless alcoholic and told that he would either die from his alcoholism or have to be locked up permanently due to madness. This lead to a desperate prayer, a spiritual experience and the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous which has helped millions of people and families
His wife Louis was waiting downstairs, remonstrated with the gentle doctor – she knew her husband had will power, he had made money on Wall St – why can’t he stop drinking she asked? The doctor gave them a bit of hope, as he understood that his compulsive drinking was a medical condition rather than just a moral failing. Wilson was to take his last drink by the end of the year and become the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous which now has about 2 million members worldwide belonging to approximately 10,000 groups which help other alcoholics achieve and maintain sobriety. After Wilson died in 1971, his full name was included in obituaries by journalists who were unaware of the significance of maintaining anonymity within the organization. In 1999 Time listed him as "Bill W.: The Healer" in their list of The Most Important People of the Century.
In November that year, Wilson was visited by an old drinking companion Ebby Thacher and was suprised to find that he had been sober for several weeks under the guidance of the evangelical Christian Oxford Group. Wilson took some interest in the group, but shortly after he was again admitted to hospital to recover from a bout of drinking. It was while undergoing treatment that Thacher had visited and tried to persuade him to turn himself over to the care of a Christian deity who would liberate him from alcohol. That evening, as he had reached rock bottom, he had a spiritual experience that changed his life. According to Wilson, while lying in bed depressed and despairing, he cried out, "I'll do anything! Anything at all! If there be a God, let Him show Himself!" He then had the sensation of a bright light, a feeling of ecstasy, and a new serenity. In the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age’ he recounts it in his own words ‘ Suddenly the room lit up with a bright white light. I was caught up in an ecstasy which there are on words to describe. It seemed to me, in the minds eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind, not of air bit of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness. All about me and through me there was a wonderful feeling of presence and I though to myself “So this is the God of the preachers” A great peace stole over me and I thought, ‘No matter how wrong things seem to be, they are still alright. Things are alright with God and his world” He never drank again for the remainder of his life. Wilson described his experience to Dr. Silkworth, who told him, "Something has happened to you I don't understand. But you had better hang on to it".
Wilson would spend the rest of his life trying to understand this foundational experience, and was soon pointed in the direction of the Harvard University psychologist William James classic book “The Varieties of Religious Experience :A Study in Human Nature. It comprises his edited Gifford Lectures on natural theology, which were delivered at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland between 1901 and 1902. The lectures concerned the psychological study of individual private religious experiences and mysticism. Wilson then joined the Oxford Group and tried to help other alcoholics, but succeeded only in keeping sober himself. During a failed business trip to Akron, Ohio, Wilson was tempted to drink again and decided that to remain sober he needed to help another alcoholic. He called phone numbers in a church directory and eventually secured an introduction to Dr. Bob Smith, an alcoholic Oxford Group member. Wilson shared that the only way he was able to stay sober was through having had a spiritual experience. Forming an instant rapport, Wilson and Smith began working with other alcoholics and a few years later after about 100 alcoholics had become sober, the fellowship decided to promote its program of recovery through the publication of a book, for which Wilson was chosen as primary author. The book was given the title Alcoholics Anonymous and included the list of suggested activities for spiritual growth known as the Twelve Steps.
During the early years of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill would meet the Jesuit priest Father Ed Dowling who appeared unannounced late in the evening at his door. Fr Dowling explained to Bill how a friend from Chicago developed a drinking problem after losing his wife. In 1940, Dowling took him to an AA meeting. There, he noticed the similarities between the program's twelve-step program and the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola that all Jesuits undergo in their formation. Following this introduction, Bill and Father Dowling (or Father Ed, as he was known within the community) became close friends, and Dowling served as Bill's spiritual advisor. He continued directing struggling alcoholics to the organization, and by the summer of 1940, with his help, Dowling's native St. Louis had its own AA chapter. Dowling was not an alcoholic himself, but used the twelve-step program to get over his own problems of overeating and smoking.
The following are the original twelve steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous: 1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. 2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 8)Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 10) Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. 11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. 12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.