Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Alcoholics Anonymous History: "Just Before Bill W. Got Sober"

The International Christian Recovery Coalition

Impaired No More Project

Dick B.

Copyright 2011 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Focus Clip Two: “Just Before Bill W. Got Sober”

Decisions for Jesus Christ-- “The Rest of the Story”

1.     Often, the stories regarding Bill W. begin with the escalation of his

drinking problem. Then they turn abruptly to the dramatic story of Ebby

Thacher’s visit to Bill and what Bill did after that. But there is a major   

hole in the story. It doesn’t even hint at what we now know happened

with Bill and Jesus Christ shortly before Bill got sober at Towns Hospital.

2.     And the impact of Bill’s story can only be small, only very limited,

unless and until the reader also learns and understands how God’s role in

recovery fit into the Christian background that so heavily influenced Bill and

our Society.  

3.     That’s “the rest of the story.” That is what will be told here.

4.      The story really begins with Rowland Hazard.  He’s the American

businessman of whom Bill wrote (Big Book, p.  26). He it was who began the

powerful rescue operations helping drunks that became the A.A. of today.

a)    Rowland Hazard treated with the renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Carl

Jung in Switzerland, in order to be freed and released from his alcoholism.  At

length, Dr. Jung told Rowland that he could not help him. Rowland, he said, 

had “the mind of a chronic alcoholic,” (Big Book, p. 27). He did suggest,

however, that Rowland might receive help through a “vital  spiritual

experience” (Big Book, p. 27).  Many years later, in correspondence

with Dr. Jung years, Bill identified this solution experience as “a

spiritual or religious experience—in short, a genuine conversion.”  Bill also

called the cure a “conversion experience.” (“Pass it On” pp. 382-83). At that

time, in responding to Bill, Dr. Jung used the Latin word “spiritus” and

described the cure as “the highest religious experience.” (“Pass It On” p. 384).

b)    Rowland then associated himself with the Oxford Group.  But what

has little, if ever, been noticed or discussed is the fact that Rowland Hazard

also made a decision for Jesus Christ. (A.A. Spiritual History Workshop, Jay

Stinnett, Reykjavik, Iceland, March 11, 2007,  slide 52:)

“1932 New York. Rowland returns and joins the Calvary Church, studies

[with] Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and gives his life to Christ. His obsession to

drink is removed.”

c)     Such surrenders were not uncommon among Oxford Groupers. In

fact, Rowland’s mentor Rev. Sam Shoemaker frequently led people to Jesus

Christ at the first opportunity (New Light on Alcoholism, p. 474

“Conversion”). In processionals from Shoemaker’s church to Madison

Square, Sam in full religious vestment led the group which carried the sign

“Jesus Christ changes lives.” (New Light on Alcoholism, p. 471.)  Even in the

Midwest, it was Shoemaker who, in 1933, led the alcoholic Russell Firestone to

Jesus Christ in a train compartment, facilitating Russell’s immediate,

miraculous relief from alcoholism for a time (The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics

Anonymous, pp. 33-34.). An event which marked the beginning of the whole

Akron chain of events that led to the founding of A.A. in Akron in 1935.

(The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 27-36.)

d)    Rowland Hazard himself made his decision for Jesus Christ

in the backdrop of Shoemaker’s Calvary Church in New York. He became

much involved with Sam Shoemaker’s  Calvary Church. He was a vestryman.

He was a member of Shoemaker’s Oxford Group businessman’s team, and he

was personally mentioned by name in the Shoemaker’s personal journals—

photo copies of which we examined at the home of Shoemaker’s daughter, 

Nickie Shoemaker Haggart. (New Light on Alcoholism, pp. 537,  539,  558-59.)  

e)     We have discovered nothing to date that can answer the question

when, where, or even whether, Rowland was led to Jesus Christ by

Shoemaker himself.  But Rowland made a decision for Jesus Christ

and was relieved of his alcoholism—just as Dr. Jung said might happen.

5.     Rowland and two Oxford Group friends  (Cebra Graves and Shep

Cornell) rescued Ebby Thacher from incarceration for alcoholism. Then

they coached him.

a)     Ebby said: They “told me that they had run into the Oxford Group

and had gotten some pretty sensible things out of it based on the life of

Christ, Biblical times. . . I was much impressed because it was what I had been

taught as a child and what I inwardly believed but had laid aside. . . .

Rowland. . . had had a thorough indoctrination (in Oxford Group teachings). .

. . He passed as much of this on to me as he could. . . he made me believe in

them again as I had as a young  man.” (“Pass It On, 113-14).

b)    Evidence tends to establish that Rowland told Ebby much of

the entire Carl Jung encounter (My First 40 Years, 130-31).

c)     Next, the Oxford Group men lodged Ebby in Calvary Mission – run

by  Shoemaker’s church. And there Ebby made his decision for Jesus Christ

(T. Willard Hunter, “It Started Right There,” p. 6).

d)    In fact, at Stepping Stones archives in the home of Bill and Lois

Wilson, I [Dick B.] found a manuscript titled “Bill Wilson’s Original

Story.” Every line was numbered. The numbers ran from 1 to 1180. . . .

In that manuscript, Bill began by describing Ebby’s first visit and Bill’s

impression of him: “The man was transformed; there was no denying he had

been reborn.” (Dick B., Turning Point, 99-100).

6.     As to what transpired at Calvary Mission services and altar calls, Bill

Wilson himself elaborated on the services where, at the altar in Calvary

Mission, one made his decision for Jesus Christ (My First 40 Years, 136-37).

And Mrs. Samuel Shoemaker herself related to me [Dick B.] on the telephone

that she was present and witnessed Bill’s own decision for Jesus Christ there.

7.     What has only recently been revealed by the biography of William D.

Silkworth, Bill’s psychiatrist at Towns Hospital  (“A devout Christian [who]

attended . . . the Calvary Christian [Episcopal] Church, pp. 11-12) is

Silkworth’s advice to Bill Wilson about Jesus Christ.

a)    Silkworth’s emphasized the healing of alcoholics through the power

of Jesus Christ (Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks, pp. 49-52 ):

“. . . 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.” 

b)    Bill was not the only one to whom Silkworth (the devout Christian) had

recommended the healing of alcoholism by the “Great Physician” Jesus

Christ. See the lengthy and explicit account  in Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s

The Positive Power of Jesus Christ,  pp. 60-62.

8.     Specifically as to Bill, the Silkworth biography explains that on Bill

Wilson’s third visit to Towns Hospital, Silkworth had told Wilson he might

simply be hopeless, that Bill had a serious sickness, and that Bill might be a

“lost cause.” (Silkworth 45-46). Bill was, said Silkworth, showing some signs

of brain damage, and that he might have to “confine him, lock him up

somewhere if he would remain sane or even alive. He can’t go on this way

another year, possibly.” “This was my sentence,” said Bill. (My First 40 Years,


a)    However, Silkworth also told Bill that Jesus Christ, (The Great

Physician), could cure him. (Silkworth, pp. 44-51).

b)    And this was a prognosis—a powerful solution—whose efficacy Bill

confirmed later when he wrote (Big Book at page 191): 

c)     “Henrietta, 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.”

9.     After Bill had heard from Silkworth that he could be cured by the

Great Physician, it was Ebby himself who proved the point to Bill. For then, 

Ebby visited Bill “fresh-skinned and glowing,” and sober. Bill quizzed him as

to what had happened. Bill quoted himself as follows: “Come, what’s this all

about? I queried. He looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said,

“I’ve got religion.” (Big Book, p. 9) [This was an Oxford Group expression

referring to having been changed by Jesus Christ through “conversion.”]

a)    Ebby told Bill the details about Rowland Hazard, the Oxford Group

men, their comments, and their emphasis on God and prayer. (Mel B., Ebby, 

pp. 6, 49-51, 64, 66).

b)    And Ebby told Bill that God had done for him what he could not do for

himself—a phrase that became embedded in Bill’s own Big Book language, 

pp. 11, 84).

c)     Bill could not get Ebby’s rebirth and healing out of his mind (My First

40 Years, 134-35).

d)    But then Bill decided that what had happened to Ebby at Calvary

Mission could possibly help him (My First 40 Years, 136). And off

Bill went to the Calvary Mission and the altar.


Our third focus clip will be on “The Conversion of Bill W. and Bill’s

subsequent  “conversion experience” at Towns Hospital. See Dick B., The

Conversion of Bill W. www.dickb.com/conversion.shtml.

Gunnar MaxeGunnar Maxe

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