Eighty years ago today, a proctologist in Akron, Ohio, took his last drink of booze. As a result of his having gotten sober with the help of another drunk, a businessman from New York, Alcoholics Anonymous was born. More here.
It would be interesting to know how many people owe their lives and the sanity of family members to that happy coincidence, via the rooms of AA and its sister organization Alanon. We will, of course, never know. We can surmise that the figure is in the millions, but there is no real way to tell.
There’s a bunch, though. I know a few myself. Happy Birthday, AA!
Bill Wilson was no saint. He smoked like a chimney and acted like a pig—cheating on his loyal wife and demanding a glass of whisky on his deathbed. Working with him was sometimes so difficult that decades after his death, many colleagues were still angry at his behavior. The January 1971 nurse’s logs for his last days at Stepping Stones, the house in Bedford Hills he shared with his wife, Lois, show an unhappy man struggling for breath—he was dying of emphysema—who repeatedly asked for a drink and was irritated when he didn’t get one.
And yet. If there is a special place in heaven reserved for those who permanently change the world for the better, Bill W. is certainly there.
On Dec. 14, 1934, a failed stockbroker named Bill Wilson was struggling with alcoholism at a New York City detox center. It was his fourth stay at the center and nothing had worked. This time, he tried a remedy called the belladonna cure — infusions of a hallucinogenic drug made from a poisonous plant — and he consulted a friend named Ebby Thacher, who told him to give up drinking and give his life over to the service of God.
Wilson was not a believer, but, later that night, at the end of his rope, he called out in his hospital room: “If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything. Anything!”
As Wilson described it, a white light suffused his room and the presence of God appeared. “It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing,” he testified later. “And then it burst upon me that I was a free man.”
Around me I see many people who make a far better job of relating themselves to God than I do. Certainly it mustn’t be said I haven’t made any progress at all over the years; I simply confess that I haven’t made the progress that I might have made, my opportunities being what they have been, and still are.
Bill Wilson wrote the words above in 1958, just before his 24th AA Anniversary. His honest appraisal of his shortcomings and his willingness to discuss them are a lesson to me, and perhaps to you as well. How many of us, in his position, would have been sorely tempted to simply bask in the glory of being one of the Founders, and forget how to be one of the bozos on the bus?
The AA Grapevine carries articles like this every month. It is an invaluable resource for alcoholics in recovery — and for other kinds of addicts if they are willing to set aside their prejudices and “read between the lines.”