Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
Series Brief One: Bill Wilson’s Call on God for Help
Dr. William D. Silkworth advised Bill Wilson that Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, could cure Bill of his alcoholism. At the time of Bill Wilson’s third hospitalization in Towns Hospital, Bill had a discussion with his physician, Dr. William D. Silkworth, on the subject of the “Great Physician.” And Silkworth’s biographer Dale Mitchel wrote in Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks:
Ebby Thacher visited his old school friend and companion Bill Wilson shortly after this third hospitalization. Ebby told Bill that he (Ebby) had been lodging at Calvary Rescue Mission, had “got religion,” and that “God had done for him what he could not do for himself.” Ebby had there made a decision for Christ. In a manuscript I found at Stepping Stones, titled, “Bill Wilson’s Original Story,” every line was numbered. The numbers ran from 1 to 1180; and here is how Bill there described Ebby’s approach and Bill’s observation that Ebby had been born again at the Mission:
Bill Wilson shortly set out for Calvary Mission to receive what his friend Ebby had received. Upon his arrival at Calvary Mission, Bill went to the altar just as Ebby had done. And just as Ebby had done, Bill made a decision for Christ. Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s wife was present. She told me on the telephone from her home in Burnside very explicitly that she was present at the Mission and that Bill there “made a decision for Christ.”
In a recorded talk at Dallas, Texas, Bill Wilson’s wife Lois Wilson described the events that took place at Bill’s conversion:
The Rev. W. Irving Harris was Dr. Shoemaker’s Assistant Minister. Harris and his wife Julia lived in Calvary House where Shoemaker lived, and knew Bill Wilson quite well. Rev. Harris typed a memorandum which his wife Julia gave to me, which said of the Mission Conversion:
Then, it was Bill Wilson himself who began to describe his own conversion to Christ at the Calvary Mission altar.. First, while drunk, Bill wrote a letter to his brother-in-law Dr. Leonard Strong, using the same description that Ebby had used regarding his own conversion. Bill said, “I’ve got religion.”
Of far greater importance are the remarks that I found twice in Bill’s manuscripts at Stepping Stones and which are now recorded in his own autobiography published by Hazelden. Bill wrote:
“For sure I’d been born again.”
Even Bill’s wife Lois, having seemingly become resentful of Bill’s victory, wrote: Although my joy and faith in his rebirth continued, I missed our companionship. We were seldom alone now.”
But the decision at the altar did not, at first, produce sobriety. Bill had not yet had quite enough to drink. After his conversion, he wandered drunk in despair and dark depression to Towns Hospital one more time. He was, he said, still pondering “that mission experience.”
Concluding he could no longer defeat alcoholism on his own and still remembering Dr. Silkworth’s assurance that Jesus Christ the Great Physician could cure him, Bill thought:
Bill arrived at Towns Hospital for his last visit as a patient. For Bill, “The terrifying darkness had become complete.” Then he thought, “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,
And here are a few of Bill’s comments about what happened when he “made the call” and had his ensuing “white light experience”—an experience that changed his life forever, an experience that dominated the early A.A. thinking about the importance of Jesus Christ, and an experience that may give strength to the faith of Christians in A.A. today:
A.A.’s official biography of Bill Wilson summarized the results of Bill’s white light experience:
Not only had he quit drinking for good, but he set about feverishly witnessing to anyone who would listen. Dr. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., to whose church the Calvary Mission belonged, encouraged Bill to spread the message of change and spiritual recovery to others like himself. William G. Borchert reports the events as follows:
Yet, as Dr. Bob put it, “Time went by, and he [Bill Wilson] had not created a single convert, not one. As we express it, no one had jelled. He worked tirelessly with no thought of saving his own strength or time, but nothing seemed to register.” But the message was carried to Dr. Bob and simmered to its essence by three months of Bible study and discussion by Bill and Bob in the summer of 1935. The simple Original program, founded in Akron on June 10, 1935, developed by the Akron Christian Fellowship, and incorporating the basic ideas taken from the study of the Good Book, achieved astonishing success by November of 1937.
Bill Wilson’s message, incorporating his view of the importance of Jesus Christ, is recorded in two places in A.A.’s subsequent literature.
On page 191 of the latest edition of A.A.’s Big Book, Bill is quoted as saying:
And, in earlier A.A. years continued to express this basic idea to others still in need of help. One account begins with a visit by Dr. Bob’s sponsee, Clarence H. Snyder, with a Cleveland man:
And this was it. For those in early A.A. who thoroughly followed the path that began with belief in God and surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the path was a path to success. And Bill’s message for those who wanted to hear it was that the Lord had cured him. Dr. Bob confirmed Bill’s message with the last line of Bob’s own personal story when he said, “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!”
 Dale Mitchel, Silkworth The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks: The Biography of William Duncan Silkworth, M.D. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2002), 33-34, 44-52, 63, 65, 78, 96, 100=01, 106-09, 121-22, 151, 159-61, 193-99, 225.
 Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957), 58-9; Bill Wilson: Bill W. My First 40 Years: An Autobiography By the CoFounder of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), 132.
 Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 58.
 Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 11.
 T. Willard Hunter, “It Started Right There”: Behind the Twelve Steps and the Self-help Movement, Rev. ed. (Claremont, California: Ives Community Office, 2006), 6.
 Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes (San Rafael, CA: Paradise Research Publications, 1997). Note: This and other such manuscripts will shortly be published in Dick B.’s latest book with the working title, The Early Manuscripts and Papers I Was Allowed to See and Copy at Stepping Stones Archives in 1991.
 Bill W., My First 40 Years 135-37.,
 Bill W., My First 40 Years, 137.
 Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006), 92-94.
 Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W., 94.
 This quote was discovered by A.A. historian Richard K., who listened to the Lois Wilson recording, wrote down the “Christ” remark, and provided the information to me. See Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006), 11.
 Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., Pittsburgh ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999), 533.
 Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 12.
 Bill W. My First 40 Years, 147; See Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W., 110, reporting the two places (pp. 130 and 103) of the manuscript titled “Wilson, W. G. Wilson Recollections,” dated September 1, 1954, that I personally inspected and was permitted to copy of Stepping Stones Archives in 1991.
 Lois Remembers, 98.
 Bill W. My First 40 Years, 138.
 Bill W. My First 40 Years, 139.
 Bill W., My First 40 Years, 145.
 Bill W., My First 40 Years, 145-46.
 The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine Writings (New York: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1988), 284.
 “Pass It On,” 121.
 William G. Borchert, The Lois Wilson Story When Love is Not Enough: A Biography of the Cofounder of Al-Anon (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2005), 170.
 The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks [Pamphlet P-53] (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1976), 10.
 The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, 13-14
 Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191
 This account was included in the third edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1976), 216-17. It has now been removed from the subsequent edition. The picture to which Bill W. pointed was a well-known depiction of “a place called Gethsemane” where Jesus had gone to prayer and “saith unto his disciples, sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. . . . And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
 Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181.