Sunday, March 01, 2015

How the First Three AAs Got Sober: Part One: A.A. Cofounder Bill W.

How the First Three AAs Got Sober

Part One: A.A. Cofounder Bill W.


By Ken B., based on research by Dick B.

© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved 


How the First Three AAs Got Sober

1.      AA Number One, Bill W.:

a.       During Bill W.’s third stay at Towns Hospital for alcoholism in September 1934, Bill’s doctor, psychiatrist William D. Silkworth, Jr., a devout Christian,[1] had advised Bill and Bill’s wife Lois:

                                                              i.      Bill would die or go insane if he didn’t stop drinking;[2] and

                                                            ii.      The Great Physician (Jesus Christ) could cure Bill of Bill’s alcoholism;[3]

b.      In late November 1934, Bill said that he had received a phone call from Ebby T., Bill’s Burr and Burton Seminary school mate and former drinking companion. Ebby had asked if he could come over to see Bill. And Bill declared: “He was sober.”[4] (emphasis in original)

c.       When Ebby arrived at Bill and Lois’s home at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn, New York, Ebby declared to Bill:

                                                              i.      “‘I’ve got religion.’”[5] (The expression “I’ve got religion” was an Oxford Group “code phrase” meaning that Ebby had become a born-again Christian.[6])

                                                            ii.      “. . . God had done for him what he could not do for himself.”[7]

d.      A few days later, Ebby returned to Bill and Lois’s home accompanied by Shep C., a member of “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (later also known as “the Oxford Group).[8],[9] And Shep shared some of the Oxford Group message with Bill.[10]

e.       One evening shortly thereafter, Bill heard Ebby share his testimony from the pulpit of Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Episcopal Church.[11] (Ebby had made his personal surrender—i.e., had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior—on November 1, 1934, at Calvary Mission, the gospel rescue mission overseen by Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Church.[12])

f.       The next morning (which was about December 7, 1934), Bill headed for Calvary Mission to get the help his friend Ebby had received there; but he also yielded to temptation and managed to get drunk on the way. After having arrived at the mission in the afternoon and having asked for Ebby, Bill was turned away two or three times due to his boisterous behavior.[13] Bill stated:

Just then Ebby turned up, . . . He said, “What about a plate of beans?” After the beans, Alec [a man who had accompanied Bill to the mission] and I were both clearer. Ebby said that there would be a meeting in the mission pretty soon. Would we like to come? Sure, we’d go. That’s why we were there. The three of us were soon sitting on one of the hard wooden benches that filled the place.[14]

The A.A. General Service Conference-approved book ‘Pass It On,’ states:
Billy D., a brotherhood member who was assistant superintendent at the mission, remembered Bill’s visit: 

“John Geroldsek . . . was on the platform and in charge of the meeting. The brotherhood took turns conducting the meetings, selecting the Bible lesson, the hymns, and then leading off with their own testimony. Geroldsek had just finished the Bible and started to witness when Bill [W.] got up from the audience or congregation and started down the aisle to the platform.”[15] 

In My First 40 Years, Bill W. stated his remembrance of the meeting as follows:
“There were hymns and prayers, Tex, the leader, exhorted us. Only Jesus could save, he said. Certain men got up and made testimonials. Numb as I was, I felt interest and excitement rising. Then came the [altar] call. Penitents started marching forward to the rail. Unaccountably impelled, I started too, . . .

“Soon I knelt among the sweating, stinking penitents. Maybe then and there, for the very first time, I was penitent too. Something touched me. I guess it was more than that. I was hit. I felt a wild impulse to talk. Jumping to my feet, I began.

“Afterward, I could never remember what I said. I only know that I was in earnest, and people seemed to pay attention. Afterward, Ebby . . . told me with relief that I had done all right and had given my life to God.”[16]

g.      During the next several days, Bill thought back on his experience at the mission. He stated: “. . . I had seen some kind of light, and . . . I kept pondering that mission experience.”[17] And he stated: “On the morning of the third day [after having going to Calvary Mission,] my wandering thoughts gathered into a sharp focus. . . . [I]f there was a great Physician who could cure the alcoholic sickness, I had better seek Him now, at once. I had better find what my friend had found.”[18] (emphasis in original).

h.      Next, on December 11, 1934, Bill headed back to Towns Hospital for what was to become his fourth and final stay there for help in overcoming his alcoholism.[19] Despondent and defeated, Bill drank four beers on the way. But he greeted Dr. Silkworth at the hospital with the statement: “‘At last, Doc, I’ve found something!’”[20],[21]

i.        About three days into his stay at Towns Hospital, Bill cried out in his hospital room: “If there be a God, let Him show Himself.”[22]

j.        Bill said his hospital room then “blazed with an indescribably white light,”[23] and he was “granted one of those instantaneous illuminations.”[24] He also stated that “. . . the great thought burst upon me: ‘Bill, you are a free man! This is the God of the Scriptures.’”[25] And, he continued: “I became acutely conscious of a Presence which seemed like a veritable sea of living spirit. . . . ‘This,’ I thought, ‘must be the great reality. The God of the preachers.’”[26] He then said: “‘I thanked my God, who had given me a glimpse of His absolute self.’”[27]

k.      ‘Pass It On’ then states: “Bill Wilson . . . always said that after that experience, he never again doubted the existence of God. He never took another drink.”[28]

l.        Bill checked out of Towns Hospital for the final time on December 18, 1934. With a Bible under his arm,[29] he immediately began to seek out drunks wherever he could find them, to tell them that they needed to give their life to God (as he just had), and to share with them the following message: “. . . [T]he Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, . . .”[30] 

Gloria Deo

[1] Dale Mitchell, Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2002), 11.
[2] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 7: “After a time I returned to the hospital. . . . My despairing wife was informed that . . . [s]he would soon have to give me over to the undertaker or the asylum.”
[3] Mitchell, Silkworth, 44.
[4] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 8-9.
[5] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 9. Reflecting back on Ebby’s first visit, Bill stated: “The good of what he said stuck so well that in no waking moment could I get than man and his message out of my head.” [See Bill W., My First 40 Years, 134-35.]
[6] Mel B., Ebby: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W. (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 1998), 65: “Men who came there [to Calvary Mission in New York] also made their personal surrender. Ebby’s surrender date was given as November 1, 1934, about a month before he called on Bill [W.]”
[7] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 11.
[8] The original name of the group founded by Lutheran minister Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman in the autumn of 1922 was: “A First Century Christian Fellowship.” [See: Garth Lean, Frank Buchman: A Life (London: Constable, 1985), 97.] In the summer of 1928, “six Oxford men went to South Africa in the long vacation. . . . [T]his team of young men made a considerable impression wherever they went. . . . Almost from the outset, the newspapers—seeking for a simple catch-phrase to describe them—labelled them ‘the Oxford Group.’” The phrase was first used in the September 10, 1928, edition of the Pretoria News. (See Lean, Frank Buchman: A Life, 137-38.) And see also: Bill W., My First 40 Years, 129; and ‘Pass It On,’ 130.
[9] According to Mel B., over the summer of 1934, three members of the Oxford Group—Cebra G., Shep C., and Rowland H.—had carried the Oxford Group message to Ebby in Vermont. About Cebra and Shep, who were the first two to call on him, Ebby stated: “‘Well, these fellows told me they had run into a group called the Oxford Group and had gotten some sensible things out of it based on the life of Christ, biblical times. . . . I was very impressed because it was what I had been taught as a child and what I inwardly believed, but had lain aside.’” [Mel B., Ebby, 51.] And about the third man, Rowland, Ebby stated: “‘So Rowland came back [from having seen Dr. Carl Jung concerning how to overcome his alcoholism] and was rather dejected [because he had not stayed sober after seeing Dr. Jung], downcast until he ran across the Oxford Group. Religion was the only thing that would help to get rid of his drinking problem. Rowland was impressed by the simplicity of the early Christian teachings as advocated by the Oxford Group, and he really lived them and practiced them himself.’” [Mel B., Ebby, 60]. Ebby got sober that summer while spending time with Cebra, Shep, and Rowland. It was Rowland who had driven Ebby from Vermont to New York City, where Ebby had stayed with Shep C. for a short time, just before he found lodging at Calvary Mission. [See Mel B., Ebby, 62].
[10] ‘Pass It On,’ (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984), 116.
[11]Pass It On,’ 119.
[12] Mel B., Ebby, 65.
[13]Pass It On,’ 117.
[14] Bill W., My First 40 Years, 136.
[15]Pass It On,’ 119.
[16] Bill W., My First 40 Years, 137.
[17] Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957), 61.
[18] Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 61.
[19]Pass It On,’ 119-20.
[20] Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 62.
[21] Later observers have occasionally opined that Bill had “found” a couple of philosophy books. In contrast, the common claim of one who had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and had been born again—as was Bill’s case just a few days earlier at Calvary Mission—was that he had “found” the Lord Jesus Christ and had been saved. And Bill wrote in his autobiography, “For sure, I’d been born again.” [Bill W., My First 40 Years (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2000), 147].
[22] ‘Pass It On,’ 121.
[23] ‘Pass It On,’ 121.
[24] The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine Writings (New York: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1988), 284.
[25] The Language of the Heart, 284.
[26] ‘Pass It On,’ 121.
[27] ‘Pass It On,’ 121.
[28] ‘Pass It On,’ 121.
[29] William G. Borchert, The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2005), 170.
[30] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 191.

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