Bill Wilson: Alcoholics Anonymous Founder

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Bill Wilson belongs to the world-famous founders of social phenomenon that have changed the lives of thousands of people. Having suffered from alcoholic abuse and experienced all its negative consequences, Wilson had suggested the ways of dealing with the dependency. Recognized as the Twelve Steps his main principles laid the foundations for the future Alcoholics Anonymous communities and helped thousands of people to deal with this problem.

William (Bill) Wilson was born on November 26, 1895 in East Dorset, Vermont in the family of Gilman and Emily Griffith Wilson (Stepping Stones Org). His first emotional stress was related to the separation of parents. He continued experiencing emotional instability during the high-school age: first incident of depression occurred due to the death of his first school love. Although “a class leader and eventual senior-class president” Bill could not continue his study (Stepping Stones Org). After some time he recovered from that pain and even entered the Norwich University, however, his mental conditions forced him to leave the studying in the second semester.

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In 1913 Bill got acquainted with his future wife, Lois Burnham. Despite the fact that the girl was four years older, young people fell in love and married in 1918 (Cheever 80). A year before that Wilson had been mobilized to US Army forces and had participated in military trainings in New Bedford in Massachusetts. His early service was related to Bill’s acquaintance with the alcohol and the discovery of its impact on human consciousness. Together with other officers he was often invited to dinners and eventually had his first glass of beer (Raphael 41). Having tried some alcohol cocktails, Bill called it “the elixir of life” (Cheever 75). This marked the beginning of his passion towards drinking.

After the World War I had begun Wilson was mobilized in 1919 and served as a lieutenant in England and France. It was during his service when he eventually visited a cathedral in Winchester and had experienced a touch of divine light that later made certain influence on his principles. (Cheever 83). In the same year he had been discharged and he returned to his wife in Brooklyn. There he attempted to start a new and prosperous life, but instead, his drinking was becoming harder and harder. Bill went to a law school but did not finish his studies because “intoxication prevented him from finishing his final exam” (Stepping Stones Org). Nevertheless, Wilson managed to become a stock speculator. New occupation required him to be engaged in numerous trips around the country. Wilson was escorted by his wife who supported this traveling as it distracted her husband from the alcohol. The addiction was too strong and soon Bill lost his position (Stepping Stones Org).


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These ten years of Bill’s life were marked with the deepening of his alcoholism that did a great harm to his physical and mental health. Together with his wife Wilson had moved to her parent’s house and his condition was getting worse. During the 1933 he was admitted to the hospital for alcohol and drug addictive people four times. Later Bill described his condition in the following way: “My depression deepened unbearably and finally it seemed to me as though I were at the bottom of the pit” (Wilson 63). It was his old friend, Ebby, who made Bill acquainted with the Oxford Group (Chesnut 2). It was a public alliance of people who supported and shared “certain principles in daily living, namely honesty, purity, unselfishness and love” (Stepping Stones Org). The effectiveness of their meetings in terms of recovery from addiction was related to the religious matters. And since Bill was skeptical about the existence of God and truthfulness of a number of religious concepts his mind could not subdue to the changes. In turn, Wilson had elaborated own treatment of God and the role of higher forces in human life that later laid the foundation of his worldview.

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1934 was the turning point in Wilson’s life that had opened the door to the new life and significant changes. Bill was admitted to the Towns Hospital to take a course of treatment to recover from drinking. Under the patronage of Doctor William Silkworth his curing procedures included the innovative method of belladonna treatment that caused significant spiritual transformations in the patient’s consciousness. Bill experienced so-called moment of enlightenment when he was hallucinating. This is how he described his feelings after the meeting with heavenly forces: “A great peace stole over me and I thought, ‘No matter how wrong things seem to be, they are still all right. Things are all right with God and His world.” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age 63).

Since that moment Wilson had started new sober life and helped lots of people to step into the path of sobriety. He started working together with Dr. Smith and thank to their efforts till the end of 1938 they had helped approximately 100 men to stay sober. In 1939 Wilson published the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” that referred to the activities needed for spiritual growth and overcoming the addiction. The title of the publication also became the name of the new fellowship (Cheever 265). Wilson became engaged in the great work with the people who suffered from similar alcohol addiction and by sharing his beliefs helped them to deal with the problem.

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Wilson’s main contribution to the society that enables us to recognize him as a humanitarian consists in his activities associated with the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous communities. It was a phenomenon of the time of Great Depression and the market fall “reflected the life course of a particular group of Americans: generational cohort of professional, Protestant, white men born late in the nineteenth century” (Raphael 49). The main kind of activities of this community was the meetings and talks. Wilson believed that talking about the addiction and its negative impact on people’s life possessed the great healing power as it influenced people on the emotional level (McPeake). He acknowledged alcoholism as a disease that destroyed its victims by infusing the feeling of hopelessness. Sharing the spiritual experience was the only cure from this disease.

Bill’s ideas about the recovery process originated from personal life experience and helped a great number of people. Wilson claimed that recovery from addiction is the mental rather than physical matter. He believed that alcoholism could be dealt with only after inner spiritual changes (Stepping Stones Org). Bill’s inner enlightenment was reflected in the “twelve steps”. The steps presupposed admittance of the problem and its detrimental impact, recognition of higher powers that were able to bring person back to the normal condition, overlook of the past mistakes and attempts to fix them, adoption of new lifestyle and help to other addicted people (McPeake).

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Having analyzed Wilson’s ideas and values I have to admit that to great extend I share his views. No individual can deal with the emotional crisis alone. The association founded by Wilson provided people with the feelings of security and belonging. Those who experienced addiction were no longer alone in their struggle – they were supported by those who had already taken the path of recovery. I believe that religion is a good driving force that can prevent people from performing disgraceful deeds and show them the right way. Any kind of addiction appears as a result of losing hope, feeling that life is going out of control. Wilson persuaded people that God is present in everyone’s life and no matter what had happened, it is still under his control.

Bill Wilson was not perfect in his life choices, but he was a truly great man who came the long way of spiritual growth and managed to inspire others to follow him. His main contribution as a humanitarian is based on his being the co-initiator and supporter of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. By means of this association he shared his beliefs and helped a great number of people to overcome the addiction and return to normal life.

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