A.A.?First Preview of the Real Facts about A.A.’s Origins
A.A.―First Preview of the Real Facts about A.A.’s Origins
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Bill Wilson’s grandfather William C. (“Willie”) Wilson cured of alcoholism by conversion:
My grandfather Wilson was a very serious case of alcoholism, and it no doubt hastened his death, although some years prior to this he had, to everyone’s great surprise, hit the sawdust trail, to speak figuratively, at a revival meeting in the Congregational Church and was never known to drink afterward.
Bill’s doctor, William D. Silkworth—a devout Christian who believed his patients could be cured of alcoholism by the Great Physician Jesus Christ—so advised Bill at Towns Hospital:
Bill [Wilson] himself referred to Silkworth as a cofounder of A.A.
When Silkworth was a young boy, his father had impressed upon the requirement of
complete abstinence for success in life. . . . Young Silkworth was told quite early of the
need for crisis, reform, and conversion when dealing with alcoholism.
Silkworth’s family remembers him as a deeply spiritual man. . . . A devout Christian . . . For years he attended a church that would also have an impact on the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Calvary Christian (Episcopal) Church.
[H]e wrote, all that we may have that is good comes from God.
He spoke frequently about the need for a reliance upon God and a firm foundation of spiritual strength in order to handle the obsession to drink.
He was a man who believed in a spiritually sound approach to healing.
During his third visit to Towns Hospital, Bill had a discussion with Dr. Silkworth on the subject of the “Great Physician.” . . . In fact, Bill Wilson himself wrote that he had thought about this discussion before he decided to check himself into Towns for the last time. . . . Alcoholism took longer to kill, but the result was the same. Yes, if there was any Great Physician that could cure the alcohol sickness, I’d better find him now, at once.
Silkworth has not been given the appropriate credit for his position on a spiritual conversion, particularly as it may relate to true Christian benefits. Several sources, including Norman Vincent Peale in his book The Positive Power of Jesus Christ, agree that it was Dr. Silkworth who used the term “The Great Physician” to explain the need in recovery for a relationship with Jesus Christ. . . . In the formation of AA, Wilson initially insisted on references to God and Jesus, as well as the Great Physician. . . . Silkworth, a medical doctor, challenged the alcoholic with a spiritual conversion and a relationship with God as part of a program of recovery. His approach with Bill Wilson was no different.
Following his third Towns Hospital visit with Dr. Silkworth, Bill Wilson was visited by his old friend Ebby Thacher who had been living at the Calvary Rescue Mission in Manhattan. Ebby told Bill that some Oxford Group friends had told him he needed to call on God to help him with his problem. Ebby had been to the altar at Calvary Mission and had made a decision for Christ. Ebby told Bill, “I’ve got religion.” Ebby was sober, and Bill concluded Ebby had been born again. Bill wrote this as to Ebby’s visit with him:
Nevertheless here I was sitting opposite a man who talked about a personal God, who
told me how he had found Him, who described to me how I might do the same thing and who convinced me utterly that something had come into his life which had accomplished a miracle. The man was transformed; there was no denying he had been reborn.
Bill actually went to Calvary Church itself just after Ebby’s visit. Bill saw Ebby giving testimony in the pulpit. At the Mission, Bill Wilson told Billy Duvall of the church event. And he felt sure he needed help and could get the help that Ebby had received at the Mission.
After checking Ebby’s testimony by visiting Calvary Church and hearing Ebby witness, Bill decided that he could perhaps be helped in the same way at Calvary Mission. Bill wrote:
I’d figured it was time I did some investigation on my own hook. Remembering the mission where Ebby stayed, I figured I’d go and see what they do, anyway, down there. I’d find out.
Bill went to Calvary Mission, made a decision for Jesus Christ at the altar, wrote that he had “for sure” “been born again.” Desperately he decided he should call on the Great Physician, and went to Towns Hospital for his fourth and final visit to receive help.
Bill’s wife Lois gave a recorded speech in Dallas, Texas, June 29, 1973. Speaking of Bill’s trip to the altar, Lois said: “And he went up, and really, in very great sincerity, did hand his life over to Christ.
[Bill wrote:] For sure I’d been born again.
[Bill wrote:] Yes, if there was any Great Physician that could cure the alcohol sickness, I’d better seek him now, at once. I’d better find what my friend had found.
At Town Hospital, Bill decided to call on the Great Physician. Bill cried out to God for help. Immediately his room was filled with a “white light.” Bill sensed the presence of “the God of the Scriptures,” and never again doubted the existence of God. Bill never drank again. Bill wrote:
But what of the Great Physician? For a brief moment, I suppose, the last trace of my obstinacy was crushed out as the abyss yawned. I remember saying to myself, “I’ll do anything at all. If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him.
Then, with neither faith nor hope I cried out, “If there be a God, let him show himself.” The effect was instant, electric. Suddenly my room blazed with an indescribably white light. . . . Then, seen in the mind’s eye, there was a mountain. I stood upon its summit where a great wind blew. A wind, not of air, but of spirit. In great, clean strength, it blew right through me. Then came the blazing thought, “You are a free man.” . . . I became
acutely conscious of a presence which seemed like a veritable sea of living spirit.
And then the great thought burst upon me: “Bill, you are a free man! This is the God of the Scriptures.”
Shortly after his “white light” experience, Bill was discharged from Towns Hospital. He feverishly set out with a Bible under his arm, witnessing to drunks wherever he could find them. He told them they must give their lives to God. He participated in the Calvary Episcopal Church witnessing processionals which featured a banner proclaiming “Jesus Christ changes lives.” Bill himself witnessed at Madison Square.
In Akron, Ohio, Bill specifically stated his belief that the Lord had cured him of alcoholism. His story is contained in Alcoholics Anonymous to this very day. Bill stated:
Henrietta [Henrietta Dotson was the wife of A.A. Number Three Bill Dotson], the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.
To the listener: There is much much more to this story. Details and specific documentation can be found in The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed., by Dick B. and Ken B. (2010). And now you can see and hear “the rest of the story” in our just-released 4 DVD Class, Introductory Foundations for Christian Recover by Dick B. and Ken B. (2010).
Dick B. is a writer, historian, retired attorney, Bible student, CDAAC, and an active and recovered member of the A.A. fellowship. He has published 39 titles and more than 300 articles on A.A. history and is a much sought-after speaker on the topic–particularly to Christians in recovery audiences.