The Story of Bill Wilson
קבע עוד היום
פגישת אבחון וייעוץ
סיפורו של ביל ווילסון
William Griffith Wilson was born in East Dorset, Vermont, on November 26, 1895 to Gilman and Emily Griffith Wilson in the middle of a snowstorm and behind the bar of his grandparents’ hotel. This inauspicious but curiously suggestive birth would produce the man who decades later both Time and Life magazines would honor as one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century.
Bill had a sister, Dorothy, who was four years younger than he. Bill’s otherwise happy childhood in rural Vermont was shattered when, at the age of 11, his parents divorced. This trauma was accompanied by what he felt was abandonment when his father moved to British Columbia and his mother to Boston where she studied osteopathic medicine and was one of the first females to receive a degree from Harvard University. It was around this time that Bill first experienced what became a series of depressions that he would experience throughout his life.
His maternal grandparents, Fayette and Ella Griffith, prominent in the small New England town, raised him and his younger sister, Dorothy. Fayette doted on his grandchildren. He was especially concerned with Bill whom he realized needed intellectual stimulation and challenges which he encouraged. These ranged from reading literature and teaching himself to play the violin, to the making of a boomerang after Grandfather Griffith told him that no one but native Australians could make and throw one. After a six-month effort, Bill proudly demonstrated to Fayette a bona fide working boomerang.
Bill’s confidence grew as a high-school student at the Burr and BurtonSchool in nearby Manchester , Vermont where he emerged as a class leader and eventual senior-class president. But the unexpected death of a beloved girl he intended to marry sunk Bill into a depression so severe he was unable to graduate. Speaking about this loss years later, Bill wondered how he survived it.
In 1913, Bill’s life took an upward turn when he was introduced to Lois Burnham of Brooklyn Heights , New York , the daughter of a respected physician. Lois, who summered in Vermont with her parents and four siblings, was four years Bill’s senior. Despite this difference, the two were attracted to each other but would not become romantically involved for a few years. Bill eventually enrolled in NorwichUniversity , a military college, which prepared him well for World War I. Bill left shortly before graduation to join Coast Artillery in 1917 and advanced through training in Plattsburg , New York , where he discovered an innate talent for leadership. That led to additional training at Fort Monroe , Virginia , and a commission as second lieutenant.
Shortly before Bill embarked for duty overseas, he married Lois in the Swedenborgen Church in BrooklynHeights on January 24, 1918. Waiting in England for deployment to France, Bill’s regiment was bivouacked near Winchester , England , and Bill one afternoon visited that city’s great cathedral. While there, Bill had an ecstatic experience of an overwhelming presence of God which filled and reassured him as no other experience before had ever done. Upon walking through the cathedral’s cemetery, he saw to the tombstone of Thomas Thetcher who Bill thought might be an ancestor of his friend, Ebby Thatcher. He was so amazed by the epithet written there, Bill remembered it years later when writing his own story for the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. “Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier Who caught his death Drinking small cold beer. A good soldier is ne’er forgot Whether he dieth by musket Or by pot”
Although Bill did not see heavy fighting, he did distinguish himself in service. Upon discharge, he returned to Brooklyn eventually securing a position in a surety company and taking night courses in economics and law. Bill’s potential law career ended when intoxication prevented him from finishing his final exam. (The irony is that years later Bill, being mindful of AA traditions, declined an honorary law degree from Yale.)
Bill chose to work on Wall Street and became quite a success providing critical information about companies to brokerage houses. He was drinking at this time, often heavily, but the brokers were making so much money based on what Bill was filing, they tolerated it. However, towards the end of the decade Bill’s drinking worsened to the point where it alarmed his wife and business associates who eventually avoided him. When the market crashed in 1929, he knew times would get much harder.
In the 1920’s, Lois and Bill moved into the home of Lois’ parents, Dr. Clark and Matilda Burnham where, a few years later living in the house alone with Lois, Bill would descend into chronic and desperate alcoholism. Considered by himself and others to be hopeless, Bill was visited in November 1934 by Ebby T., an old friend who Bill knew to be a severe alcoholic but who was miraculously sober. Ebby told Bill that he had stopped drinking through his association with the Oxford Group, a spiritual fellowship, and that Bill also could get sober with the help of the group.
The Oxford Group
The Oxford Group was a spiritual fellowship popular in the early half of the 20th century. It had no membership, dues, paid leaders, creed or theology. Its appeal laid in the application of certain principles in daily living namely, honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. Oxford Groupers, as they were called, had success with those trying to stop drinking such as Ebby. When he, an incessant drinker, was sober two months, he went to visit the worst alcoholic he knew to pass on his spiritual experience and its result. That alcoholic was Bill Wilson. They sat at the kitchen table in BrooklynHeights (this table is now at Stepping Stones) on which Bill had placed gin and pineapple juice, but Ebby refused to imbibe. He had stopped drinking explaining, “I’ve got religion.”
Bill was resistant to Ebby’s spiritual program arguing the existence of God and certain religious concepts. But when an exasperated Ebby told Bill, “Why don’t you chose your own conception of God?” he could argue no longer and gradually opened to a larger notion of God, of a Power greater than himself. (It was Ebby’s statement, translated later in AA’s steps as, “God as we understood Him,” that has enabled those from all sorts of religious backgrounds and those without any to avail themselves of “this simple program.” AA is spiritual, not religious, and its member’s conception of God is personal and, at times, unique).
Although Bill’s drinking continued, Ebby’s visit opened an avenue of possibility of sobriety. Entering TownsHospital in December 1934, Bill’s life was utterly changed by a transforming spiritual experience that resulted in his never needing to take another drink of alcohol for the rest of his life.
Bill was also aided by Towns psychiatrist William D. Silkworth who believed that alcoholism was a physical allergy to alcohol and not a moral malady. This allergy was triggered by consuming even a small amount of alcohol by some people that caused a compulsion to drink along with a mental obsession to do so. This concept was so new at the time that when Bill asked Dr. Silkworth to expand on it in the Doctor’s Opinion for the book Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Silkworth did so anonymously. It was only years later, when this theory gained acceptance, did he allow his name to be used.