The Real Details of Dr. William D. Silkworth’s Views and Advice on the Cure of Alcoholism by the Power of Jesus Christ
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Major Chunks of Reliable Documents: on “The Great Physician Jesus Christ Can Cure You”
Alcoholism can be cured. Permanently.
And that is what William D. Silkworth, M.D. told Bill and Lois Wilson at Towns Hospital in New York. This is the real “Doctor’s Opinion.” It is “the rest of the story.” Furthermore, the real details of what could bring about the cure are available in writing in four written resources now readily available to you!
Silkworth—a devout Christian—told his patients that their “medical incurability” and “seemingly hopeless condition” could be permanently cured by the “Great Physician” Jesus Christ. See the following four titles:
Bill W.: My First 40 Years (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), 6, 133-35, 137-40 145-50, 158; Bill’s remarks in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957), 61-64; the details in Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Positive Power of Jesus Christ (Carmel, NY: Guideposts, 1980), 59-66; and Dr. Silkworth’s reported remarks (remarks now located in the Rockefeller Archives in New York) to a large group of AAs in New York. The group included four Rockefeller people, Bill Wilson, John Henry Fitzhugh M., Henry P., Bill’s brother-in-law Dr. Leonard Strong, Dr. Bob, Clarence S., and other New York and Midwest AAs.
Here’s where you can find the real facts: (1) Bill Wilson: My First Forty Years; (2) Dale Mitchel, William D. Silkworth, MD, The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks (Center City, MN, Hazelden, 2002), 43-52, 225, 33-35, 106, 160, 193; (3) Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ ; (4) Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age; (5) Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006); The Rockefeller Archives in New York City.
The Real Story We Know Today and “The Rest of the Story”
Twelve Step people who study A.A.'s Big Book are, of course, familiar with Bill Wilson's medical mentor, William Duncan Silkworth, M.D. Bill called Silkworth one of the founders of A.A. Bill invited Dr. Silkworth to write the Doctor’s Opinion which opens the Big Book. And, when Bill finally got around to stating the sources of the Twelve Steps, Bill named Dr. Silkworth as to the source of Step One, Professor William James as the source of Step Twelve, and Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. as the source of all the rest of the material—that which comprises Steps Two through Eleven. And Silkworth was the alcoholism expert who, as a psychiatrist, helped thousands and thousands of drunks at Towns Hospital in New York. Bill often called Silkworth the “benign little doctor who loved drunks."
Bill was a patient at Towns Hospital four times. But his third visit was, perhaps, the most important opening to the cure for alcoholism that AAs later sought.
Though Silkworth had explained the disease of alcoholism to Bill, Bill continued to drink until Bill hit a bottom which found him in Dr. Silkworth’s hospital office. There, Silkworth told Bill and his wife that Bill must stop drinking or he would die or go insane. Bill and Lois were devastated. They asked Silkworth if there was any help. And Silkworth told the both of them that the Great Physician Jesus Christ could cure Bill. And, as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale pointed out in his The Positive Power of Jesus Christ, Wilson was not the only seemingly hopeless alcoholic patient that Silkworth advised to the patient that The Great Physician Jesus Christ could cure the man—named “Chuck.” And Dr. Peale lays out all the facts including those that showed “Chuck” was totally and permanently healed once he sought Jesus Christ as Silkworth had advised.
Shortly after Bill’s third hospital visit where Silkworth advised Bill that help could come from the Great Physician, Bill received a visit at his home from the man Bill later called his “sponsor.” The man was Edwin Throckmorton Thacher (known as “Ebby”). The call came on the heels of Dr. Silkworth’s advice to Bill.
Ebby contacted Bill by phone and asked to visit him. On arrival, Ebby was sober, “fresh skinned and glowing,” and ready to witness to Bill. Ebby told Bill he had recovered through the spiritual program of three Oxford Group friends (Rowland Hazard, F. Shepard Cornell, and Cebra Graves). Rowland had told Ebby (and later told Bill) how he had been hopelessly incurable but had received important advice from the famous Swiss psychiatrist, Dr Carl Gustav Jung. Jung told Rowland that he had “the mind of a chronic alcoholic,” that most such people could not be cured, but that there was a possible solution. Jung told Rowland that there might be help if Rowland sought from some religious group and had a “vital religious experience” (which Bill later characterized as a “conversion). Rowland affiliated himself with the Oxford Group and also became born again on his return to the United States and was cured.
Rowland told Ebby about the Christian living standards of “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (the first name for the Oxford Group). He also told Ebby about Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the importance of prayer. Ebby told Bill he had heard these things and believed them from his childhood days. The other two Oxford Group men gave Ebby similar facts and related them to both Ebby and later Bill. Ebby told Bill they had placed him in Calvary Mission—a rescue mission owned and operated by Rev. Shoemaker’s Calvary Episcopal Church, but supervised by a group known as the “Brethren.”
Ebby told Bill of his cure. He told Bill about being born again at the rail in the mission. And he emphatically told Bill that “God had done for him what he could not do for himself.” Bill saw Ebbys transformation and could not get the deliverance story out of his mind. So Bill went to Calvary Church itself to check out Ebby’s story. And there, Bill heard Ebby give the same story from the pulpit at Shoemaker’s church. Bill decided that perhaps the Great Physician could help him if he also went to Calvary Mission and surrendered.
Ebby had also gone to Calvary Rescue Mission, run by Dr. Sam Shoemaker's Calvary Episcopal Church in New York; and Ebby had there made a decision for Christ. Following Silkworth’s advice and Ebby’s path, Bill Wilson went there for the same purpose and, according to a conversation the author had with Dr. Shoemaker's widow (Helen Smith Shoemaker), Bill Wilson made a decision for Christ at the Rescue Mission.
The facts of Wilson’s acceptance at Calvary Mission of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior were specifically verified by four important witnesses. The first was Mrs. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. She told e (Dick B.) on the telephone that she had been present the day that Bill had “made his decision for Christ.” At another time, Lois Wilson was doing a recorded talk at a meeting in Texas; and her words were that Bill had, in all sincerity, gone to the altar and handed his life over to Christ. Rev. Shoemaker’s assistant minister, Rev. W. Irving Harris, related in his book The Breeze of the Spirit and in a typewritten memorandum given to me by Harris’s wife July that Bill had in fact become a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the mission which claimed: “Where Jesus Christ changes lives.” An attendant at the Mission, Billy Duvall, also wrote a memorandum verifying these same facts. I found the memo when I visited the archives at Stepping Stones in New York.
After his new birth at the Mission, Bill stayed drunk for a few days and became more and more depressed and despondent. He wrote that he thought that, if there were a Great Physician, it was time to call on him. Bill then checked into Towns Hospital and again sought help from Dr. Silkworth. And it was during this fourth and final stay, that Bill did the following: (1) In his hospital room, he decided he must call on the Great Physician. (2) He cried out to God for help. (3) His room was filled with a blazing, indescribably white light. (4) Bill sensed that he was on a mountain top on a mountain he had not climbed. He felt a cold wind blow through the room and sensed that it was the spirit of God. He suddenly thought: “Bill, you are a free man. This is the God of the Scriptures.
Bill was cured of his alcoholism instantly. He had doubted the existence of God ever since his girl-friend Bertha Bamford had unexpectedly died in surgery just before she and Bill were each was to graduate from Burr and Burton Seminary. On that occasion, Bill became deeply depressed. He blamed God for Bertha’s death. And he turned his back on God. This despite the fact that Bill had born born and raised a Christian in East Dorset Congregational Church, attended Burr and Burton Seminary—where Bill had attended daily chapel, had taken a required four year Bible study course, had attended events at Manchester Congregational Church with other students, and had been president of the Burr and Burton Young Men’s Christian Association. His girl-friend Bertha had contemporaneously been president of the Young Women’s Christian Association. And the two had attended “Y” functions together.
In his Towns Hospital room, Bill said he had become certain of the existence of God. He consulted Silkworth to ask if he had been crazy; and Silkworth told Bill he had had a conversion experience. Bill then read the book by Professor William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience. And Bill was convinced that his vital religious experience had been valid and that he himself had been cured.
Shortly before the death of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the author (Dick B.) spent an hour with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, friend of A.A., the Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and Bill Wilson. Dr. Peale told me in the interview of the conversations he had with Bill Wilson about Bill's conversion. However, until 1997, I had never heard the following account by Peale about Dr. William Duncan Silkworth. It can be found in Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ (New York: Foundation for Christian Living, 1980), pp. 60-61. It appears under the title "The Wonderful Story of Charles K.":
Charles, a businessman in Virginia, had become a full-fledged alcoholic; so much so that he had to have help, and fast, for his life was cracking up. He made an appointment with the late Dr. William Duncan Silkworth, one of the nation's greatest experts on alcoholism, who worked in a New York City hospital [the Charles Towns Hospital]. Receiving Charles into his clinic as a patient, the doctor gave him treatment for some days, then called him into his office. "Charles," he said, "I have done everything I can for you. At this moment you are free of your trouble. But there is an area in your brain where you may hold a reservation and that could, in all likelihood, cause you to return to your drinking. I wish that I might reach this place in your consciousness, but alas, I do not have the skill."
"But, doctor," exclaimed Charles, "you are the most skilled physician in this field. When I came to you it was to the greatest. If you cannot heal me, then who can possibly do so?" The doctor hesitated, then said thoughtfully, "There is another Doctor who can complete this healing, but He is very expensive.
"That's all right," cried Charles, "I can get the money. I can pay his fees. I cannot go home until I am healed. Who is this doctor and where is he?
"Oh, but this Physician is not at all moderate as to expense," persisted Dr. Silkworth. "He wants everything you've got. He wants you, all of you. Then He gives the healing. His price is your entire self." Then he added slowly and impressively, "His name is Jesus Christ and He keeps office in the New Testament and is available whenever you need Him."
Dr. Peale then describes the healing of the alcoholism of Charles through the power of Jesus Christ.