Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by William Griffith Wilson. Bill grew up in a in a small quarry town in Vermont. When he was ten, his hard-drinking father abandoned him and moved to Canada. Bills mother followed suit when she left him with his grandparents and moved to Boston to study osteopathic medicine. He was educated at the prestigious Burton and Burr academy before joining the Army at the onset of US involvement in W.W. I. It was in the military that he discovered that he didn’t just like alcohol, he loved it. As a soldier, and then as a businessman, Bill drank to alleviate his depression and to celebrate his Wall Street success. Bill met his future wife, Lois Burnham, who was four years older than he, during the summer of 1913 while sailing on Vermont’s Emerald Lake; two years later the couple became engaged. In 1918 he and Lois were married. Soon after the wedding, Bill and Lois began touring the country, evaluating companies for potential investors. From the outside looking in, Bill appeared to have the world in the palm of his hand. However, by 1933 Bill and Lois were living in her parents’ house on Clinton Street in Brooklyn, N.Y. He had become an unemployable individual who had a severe drinking problem. In 1933 he had to be committed to the Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcohol Addictions in New York City on four different occasions. He was eventually told that he would either die from his alcoholism or have to be locked up permanently. According to Bill, while lying in a hospital bed for the fourth time depressed and despairing, he had the sensation of a bright light, a feeling of ecstasy, and a new serenity. He never drank again for the remainder of his life.
Encouraged by a friend who stopped drinking, Bill attended meetings offered by the Oxford Group, which was an evangelical society founded in Britain by Pennsylvanian Frank Buchman. Bill joined the group with the hopes of helping others overcome alcoholism; however, his efforts were less than successful. During a failed business trip to Akron, Ohio, Bill was tempted to drink again and decided that to remain sober he needed to help another alcoholic. He called phone numbers on a church directory and eventually secured an introduction to Dr. Bob smith an alcoholic Oxford Group member.
Their meeting lasted for hours. A month later, Dr. Bob had his last drink, and that date, June 10, 1935, is the official birth date of A.A., which is based on the idea that only an alcoholic can help another alcoholic. Dr. Bob who was familiar with the tenets of the Oxford Group decided to pursue Bills spiritual remedy for his habitual behavior. He achieved sobriety and never drank again up to the moment of his death in 1950. Bill and Dr. Bob began working with other alcoholics. After that summer in Akron, Bill returned to New York where he began having success helping alcoholics. In 1938, after about 100 alcoholics in Akron and New York had become sober, the fellowship decided to promote their program of recovery through the publication of a book, for which Bill 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, which ultimately led to the success of today’s Alcoholics Anonymous movement.
Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith stumbled upon the spiritual aspect of recovery some seventy years ago. And, there is no question that they should be credited with that discover and for helping people overcome alcoholism. However, I believe that up until the last decade or so much of Bill Wilson’s life had been shrouded in secrecy and the success of Alcoholics Anonymous has been often misrepresented! In fact, James Houcks, one of the oldest members of the Oxford Group, commented that “Wilson was never interested in the things we were interested in. He only wanted to talk about alcoholism, he was not interested in giving up smoking, and he was a ladies man! He would brag of his sexual exploits with other Oxford members.” I believe Wilson’s preoccupation with the other sex was a source of problem for him even while attending the Oxford Group. His interest in younger women increased with his age, and motivated Barry Leach and other friends of Wilson to form a “Founders Watch”. People were assigned to keep an eye on Wilson during the socializing that followed AA functions and to separate and steer away those young women who caught his interest. In Susan Cheevers Book “Desire” she describes many of Wilson’s behaviors and characteristics similar to that of that of a person with a sexual addiction. In my opinion, Bill Wilson suffered not only from alcohol addiction, but he also suffered from sexual and nicotine addictions. And, even though he overcame alcohol addiction, he continued with his other habitual behavior until the day he passed away from emphysema and pneumonia on in 1971. It was reported by several sources that Bill continued to suffer from depression for the remainder of his life. It has also been reported by several sources that he even participated in a medically supervised study of the effects of LSD with his wife Lois and several others.
In conclusion, I believe that Bill Wilson should be credited with discovering the spiritual aspect of recovery. However, in regard to his alcohol addiction, I believe that he did nothing more than trade one addiction mask for another. This trading of addiction masks is commonly referred to in the psychotherapy field as a behavioral transference. Obviously, Bill remained very depressed and quite unhappy until his passing in 1971. And because he never actually dealt with the root cause of his alcohol addiction, he used habitual sex and smoking to alleviate his emotional distress. From closely examining the twelve-step process and by attending various meetings, I have come to the conclusion that most members trade one behavior for another. Frequently, they become consumed in religious doctrine, or they adopt another compulsive behavior that may not involve alcohol abuse.
Alcoholics Anonymous often boasts a very high success rate of 80 to 90%, but these statistics have been contraindicated by many studies. In fact, some studies have shown that, at best, it’s roughly 5%. A study by R. G. Smart has shown that between 3 and 5 percent of alcoholics go into a ‘spontaneous remission’ (or quit using), which skews AA’s numbers. There is also much evidence to suggest that many of the members who do achieve sobriety become addicted to antidepressants! Now, I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, this is not a solution for overcoming alcohol addiction or finding true life happiness!
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