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How Bill Wilson Got His H.P. On

WARNING TO THE BUCHMANITES:

The following involves LOTS of drugs, drunkenness and debauchery.
This page is NOT for the "powerless"...unless you want to get your H.P. on like Wilson did.
You have the power to choose to use or not to use.
Don't blame me when you decide to tie one on after reading this page.
(...much less any page upon The ARID Site.)

"Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path."
-- William Griffith Wilson, "How It Works", pp. 58 Alcoholics Anonymous

William Griffith Wilson never worked the Steps to get in contact with his Higher Power. He got his from detoxing from a few bottles too many of bathtub gin then getting re-intoxicated with a head full of hallucinogens on top of guilt-inspiring preaching by Ebby Thatcher.

The following is an excerpt from The Orange Papers which details the specifics (you can jump to the end for a quick summary):

Belladonna is an atropine powder derived from the leaves and roots of Atropa belladonna, a poisonous Eurasian plant popularly known as "Deadly Nightshade." Henbane is a similar plant in the same family. It yields the drug hyoscyamus, which sedates the central nervous system. Another well-known member of the family is Datura, also known as Jimson Weed, or Loco Weed, which was popularized by Carlos Casteneda in his book The Teachings of Don Juan. Datura is likewise a poisonous hallucinogen.

All of the plants in the nightshade family get you high the same way: they are all deadly poisonous, and they poison you so much that you end up in a state where you have one foot in the grave and one foot in the land of the living. And you hallucinate your brains out. Dosage is critical. Overdoses are fatal.

One friend who did Datura said, "If you are going to do it, get three of your biggest, strongest friends to lock you in a closet for the duration, because you are going to be completely out of your head, totally disconnected from reality. Whatever you imagine becomes real. If you think of being in a sailing ship, then suddenly, you are. You can look out the porthole, and you can look around and see every piece of wood in the ceiling and walls all around you. It is all totally real."

Fortunately, I passed on that particular one. My friend had the shits for three months after drinking some tea of Datura, and he got off easy. Other people blew out their livers or kidneys. The stuff is just unbelievably toxic. Every part of the plant, including leaves, stems, flowers, seeds, and roots, is poisonous. Don't mess with it.


"Dr. Silkworth's belladonna cure" was actually a joint recipe of the entrepreneur Charles Towns (an insurance salesman from Georgia) and Dr. Alexander Lambert, all three of whom worked together at Charlie Towns' hospital in New York City. It was a drug cocktail made up of belladonna, henbane, zanthoxylum (which eases gastrointestinal discomfort), barbiturates, megavitamins, morphine, and some other ingredients.

The Hospital's Founding: With a background in farming, railroading, life insurance, and the stock market, Charles B. Towns -- according to his own self-constructed mythology -- became interested in addiction through a mysterious stranger he met in a bar shortly after he had left Georgia in 1901 to seek his fortunes in New York City. The unnamed stranger told Towns that he had the formula for a cure for the drug habits that had been discovered by a country doctor, and that he and Towns could make a lot of money selling the cure.36 Intrigued with the possibilities, Towns began reading about addiction and experimenting with the stranger's formula. A racetrack worker whom Towns persuaded to take the cure -- and who was then held against his will until the cure was complete -- became Towns' first success.
      This serendipitious beginning led in 1901 -- the year of Leslie E. Keeley's death -- to the opening of the Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcoholic Addictions.

36. It is impossible not to consider that this "country doctor" was Dr. Leslie Keeley and that the Towns treatment was an adaptation of the Keeley cure.

Slaying The Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, by William L. White, 1998, pages 84 and 353.

So Charles Towns' "belladonna cure" for morphine and opium addiction -- which he later declared was also good for treating alcoholism -- was actually just a quack medicine recipe that he got from a guy in a bar.

      At this point, a mysterious man whispered to him, "I have got a cure for the drug habits, morphine, opium, heroin, codeine, alcohol - any of 'em. We can make a lot of money out of it."156,p.17 Towns was skeptical and asked his own doctor for advice. His doctor stated that the "cure" was ridiculous, but this type of challenge interested Towns and he placed ads seeking "drug fiends" who wanted to be cured.
      Towns found a patient and took the "Whisperer," the "fiend" and himself to the old Abingdon Square Hotel, along with three small vials of medicine. After a few hours of extreme pain, the "fiend" wanted to leave, but Towns physically restrained him and gave him a strong sedative. A doctor and stomach pump were sent for, as the patient became violently ill. After forty-eight hours, the patient was able to leave. Towns and his accomplice decided the "cure" needed additional refinement, so Towns began reading all the known literature on drug addiction and alcoholism. Unable to find any more patients, he kidnapped a racetrack agent and forced him through the treatment, which was successful. His reputation soon spread through New York's criminal underworld and he treated many addicted gangsters. During this time, he eliminated the distressing features of the original formula.
      Towns believed the formula was now ready for more widespread use and he interested Dr. Alexander Lambert, professor of clinical medicine at Cornell University Medical College and a visiting physician to Bellevue Hospital, in his formula. Lambert was one of then-President Theodore Roosevelt's physicians and he began telling various government officials about the "Towns Cure."

156. MacFarlane, P.C. The "White Hope" for Drug Victims. Colliers, November 29, 1913, 16-17, 29-30.

AA: The Way It Began, Bill Pittman, page 84-85.

The belladonna cure started off as a cure for opium addiction, but Charles Towns "turned into a perfect crackpot" and pushed the belladonna cure as a panacea -- a cure-all.15 Note that Towns was "a Georgia insurance salesman who made a fortune dosing middle-class addicts with hyoscyamine and strychnine..." Charles Towns was not a doctor.16

Dr. Lambert then dissociated himself from Charles Towns and his hospital.

... before long [Towns] was billing his cure as guaranteed to work for any compulsive behavior, from morphinism to nicotinism to caffeinism, to kleptomania and bedwetting.   ...   Lambert's defection from the Towns-Lambert Cure was also based on the need to revise his cure estimate significantly downward; as time went on, he began to notice that people kept coming back for the cure, cure after cure, for years on end.
Flowers in the Blood: the story of opium, Dean Latimer and Jeff Goldberg, page 249.

Known as the Towns-Lambert Cure, the belladonna method was first developed in 1906 as a treatment for addiction to opium and other narcotics; a 90 percent cure rate was claimed. Lambert, personal physician to President Theodore Roosevelt, dissociated himself from Towns when "he began to notice that people kept coming back for the cure, cure after cure, for years on end," and when Towns, whose background was in insurance rather than medicine, began "billing his cure as guaranteed to work for any compulsive behavior, from morphinism to nicotinism to caffeinism, to kleptomania and bedwetting."
Bill W. and Mister Wilson -- The Legend and Life of A.A.'s Cofounder, Matthew J. Raphael, page 189.
Also see AA: The Way It Began, Bill Pittman, pages 164 to 169.

It is almost funny that Charles Towns repeatedly, publicly, loudly denounced all other opiate addiction and alcoholism cures as frauds and quack medicine.13


This is the formula for the "belladonna cure":

The exact contents of each ingredient is outlined below:

Belladonna Specific

Tincture belladonnae ________________ 62. gm.
Fluidextracti xanthoryli.
Fluidextracti hyoscyami _____________ .31 gm.

(210)

Belladona - Atropa Belladonna

Deadly nightshade; a perennial herb with dark purple flowers and black berries. Leaves and root contain atropine and related alkaloids which are anticholinergic. It is a powerful excitant of the brain with side effects of delirium (wild and talkative), decreased secretion, and diplopia.(211,p.112)

Xanthoxylum - Xanthoxylum Americanum

The dried bark or berries of prickly ash. Alkaloid of Hydrasts. Helps with chronic gastro-intestinal disturbances. Carminative and diaphoretic.(211,p.269)

Hyoscyamus - Hyoskyamos

Henbane, hog's bean, insane root from the leaves and flowers of Hyoscamus Niger. Contains two alkaloids, hyoscyamine and hyoscine. Nervous system sedative, anticholinergic, and antispasmodic.


210. Lambert, A. The Obliteration of the Craving for Narcotics. Journal of the A.M.A., 1909, LIII(13):985-989.
211. Hare, H.A. Practical Therapeutics. New York: Lea Bros. & Co., 1904. 10th edition.

AA: The Way It Began, Bill Pittman, page 165.

That drug cocktail was administered to the detoxing patients hourly, along with "There is also given about every twelve hours a vigorous catharsis of C.C. Pills and blue mass."12

The vigorous catharsis of C.C. pills and blue mass are outlined below.

C.C. Pills

Extracti colocynthidis compositi ____ .08 gm.
Hydrargyri chloridi mitis ___________ .06 gm.
Cambogiae __________________________ .016 gm.
Resinae jalapae _____________________ .02 gm.

These compound cathartic pills were used to help with perfect bowel elimination, characteristic of this were dark, thick, green mucous stools.(158,p.8)

Blue Mass Pills - pilule catharticae vegetabilis

Extracti colocynthidis compositi ____ .06 gm.
Extracti hyoscyami
Extracti jalapae ____________________ .03 gm.
Extracti leptandrae
Extracti resinae podophylli ________ .015 gm.
Olei mentae piperitae ______________ .008 gm.

When an alcoholic was admitted in the midst of his spree, or at the end of it, the first thing that was done was to put the patient to sleep, and the only medication which preceded his hypnotic was the four C.C. pills. The hypnotic which gave Lambert the best results was the following:

Chlorali hydrati _____________________ 1. gm.
Morphinae __________________________ .008 gm.
Tincturae hyoscyami __________________ 2. gm.
Tincturae zingiberis _________________ .6 gm.
Tincturae capsici ____________________ .3 gm.
Aquae ad _____________________________ 15 gm.

This could be given and the dose repeated in an hour, with or without one or two drachms of paraldehyde. If these were not effective within two hours, or even less, and the patient was of the furious, thrashing, motor type, a hypodermic injection of the following would almost invariably quiet him:

Strychminae suphatis _______________ .002 gm.
Hypseyamin sulphatis ______________ .0006 gm.
Apomorphinae hydrochloridi _________ .006 gm.

(210,p.988)


158. Towns, C.B. The Sociological Aspect of Treatment of Alcoholism. The Modern Hospital, 1917, 8:103-106.
210. Lambert, A. The Obliteration of the Craving for Narcotics. Journal of the A.M.A., 1909, LIII(13):985-989.

AA: The Way It Began, Bill Pittman, pages 166-167.


Dr. Lambert gave these instructions for administration of the drug mixture:

The amount necessary to give is judged by the physiologic action of the belladonna it contains. When the face becomes flushed, the throat dry, and the pupils of the eyes dilated, you must cut down your mixture or cease giving it altogether, until these symptoms pass. You must, however, push this mixture until these symptoms appear, or you will not obtain a clear cut cessation of the desire for the narcotic.
Bill W. and Mister Wilson -- The Legend and Life of A.A.'s Cofounder, Matthew J. Raphael, pages 87-88.

Dr. Lambert and Charles Towns were quite aware of the hallucinogenic properties of belladonna:

Close observation is necessary in treating the alcoholic in regard to the symptoms of the intoxication of belladonna, as alcoholics are sensitive to the effects of belladonna delirium. According to Lambert, it is a less furious and less pugnacious delirium than that for alcohol. The patients are more persistent and more insistent in their ideas and more incisive in their speech concerning hallucinations. The hallucinations of alcohol are usually those of an occupation delirium; those of belladonna are not. The various hallucinations of alcohol follow each other so quickly that a man is busily occupied in observing them one after another. The belladonna delirium is apt to be confined to one or two ideas on which the patient is very insistent. If these symptoms of belladonna intoxication occur, of course, the specific must be discontinued; then beginning again with the original smaller dose.(210, pp. 987-988) Towns believed the attending physician would find it most difficult to differentiate between alcoholic delirium and belladonna delirium.(208, p. 7)

208. Towns, C.B. Successful Medical Treatment in Chronic Alcoholism. The Modern Hospital, 1917, 8:6-10.
210. Lambert, A. The Obliteration of the Craving for Narcotics. Journal of the A.M.A., 1909, LIII(13):985-989.

AA: The Way It Began, Bill Pittman, pages 165 to 166.

In addition, Dr. Lambert liked to put alcoholics to sleep as soon as they came in. He usually used chloral hydrate or paraldehyde, but "Lambert also believed it wise to give most alcoholics 1/60 to 1/30 of a gram of strychnine every four hours."14 Those who remember the psychedelic sixties will remember that LSD was sometimes laced with the poison strychnine because it enhanced the colors and the vividness of the hallucinations.

That's the "alcoholism treatment" that Dr. Silkworth gave to Bill Wilson at Towns' Hospital -- four times altogether, in a little over a year.


Even before the Ice Age, belladonnas were used world-wide in religious ceremonies. The drug promoted babbling trances in shamans and other human oracles...
      Belladonna had two salient advantages for the cure specialists. Because it annulled morphine's mental clarity and euphoria by replacing it with a drowsy, babbling disconnected stupor, it became established in science as morphine anti-toxin (artificial Autotoxin), providing a conceptually elegant framework for ridding the body, once and forever, of every addiction-promoting substance. And belladonna had the important advantage of keeping patients comatose: they wouldn't even think of sneaking out of the ward, being entirely occupied in talking to their ancestors, and flying through the sky with weird animals.
Flowers in the Blood: the story of opium, Dean Latimer and Jeff Goldberg, page 247.


Bill Wilson's spiritual experience, or "hot flash," as he would call it, occurred during the second or third night (depending on the source) of the above treatment. Considering his alcohol and chloral hydrate212 use upon entering Towns and adding this to the hypnotic drugs he received during the first few days of his stay, there is the possibility that his "hot flash," may have been delusions and hallucinations characteristic of momentary alcoholic toxic psychosis.213,214,215

212. Wilson, W.G. Those Goof Balls. New York: The Alcoholics Anonymous Grapevine, Inc., November 1945.
213. Johnson, J. M.D. Personal Interview, Ramsey County Medical Center, St. Paul, MN, May 23, 1981.
214. Carlson, J. Pharm. D. Personal Interview, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, May 21, 1981.
215. Harrison, et al. Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974. 7th edition.

AA: The Way It Began, Bill Pittman, page 169.

Bill's visions or hallucinations were also most likely caused by or enhanced by delirium tremens, which is infamous for making people see pink elephants or zillions of crawling bugs or any other weird things that they might fancy. Bill Wilson wrote in the Big Book:

At the hospital I was separated from alcohol for the last time. Treatment seemed wise, for I showed signs of delirium tremens.
The Big Book, 3rd edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 1, "Bill's Story", page 13.



This is Robert Thomsen's description of Bill Wilson's "spiritual experience" that occurred December 13 or 14, 1934, after two or three days of detoxing and getting the belladonna cure, and having Ebby Thacher, Rowland Hazard, Shep Cornell, and other Oxford Groupers indoctrinating him while he was tripping:

His fingers relaxed a little on the footboard [of the bed], his arms slowly reached out and up. "I want," he said aloud. "I want..."
      Ever since infancy
, they said, he'd been reaching out this way, arms up, fingers spread, and as far back as he could remember he'd been saying just that. But always before it had been an unfinished sentence. Now it had its ending. He wanted to live. He would do anything, anything, to be allowed to go on living.
      "Oh, God," he cried, and it was the sound not of a man, but of a trapped and crippled animal. "If there is a God, show me. Show me. Give me some sign."
      As he formed the words, in that very instant he was aware first of a light, a great white light that filled the room, then he suddenly seemed caught up in a kind of joy, an ecstasy such as he would never find words to describe. It was as though he were standing high on a mountaintop and a strong clear wind blew against him, around him, through him -- but it seemed a wind not of air, but of spirit -- and as this happened he had the feeling that he was stepping into another world, a new world of consciousness, and everywhere now there was a wondrous feeling of Presence which all his life he had been seeking. Nowhere had he ever felt so complete, so satisfied, so embraced.
      This happened. And it happened as suddenly and as definitely as one may receive a shock from an electrode, or feel heat when a hand is placed close to a flame. Then when it passed, when the light slowly dimmed, and the ecstasy subsided -- and whether this was a matter of minutes or much longer he never knew; he was beyond any reckoning of time -- the sense of Presence was still there about him, within him. And with it there was still another sense, a sense of rightness. No matter how wrong things seemed to be, they were as they were meant to be. There could be no doubt of ultimate order in the universe, the cosmos was not dead matter, but a part of the living Presence, just as he was part of it.
      Now, in place of the light, the exaltation, he was filled with a peace such as he had never known. He had heard of men who'd tried to open the universe to themselves; he had opened himself to the universe. He had heard men say there was a bit of God in everyone, but this feeling that he was a part of God, himself a living part of the higher power, was a new and revolutionary feeling.
-- Robert Thomsen, Bill W., 1975, pp. 222-223.

Note the power of suggestion at work. Ebby Thacher had been working on Bill for weeks, trying to get him to join the Oxford Group. Bill had decided to give Ebby's "spiritual" treatment program for alcoholism a try, because he knew that he would die if he kept on drinking. Just a few days earlier, he had gone to Ebby's Oxford Group meeting at Rev. Sam Shoemaker's Calvary Mission, and had "given himself to God" during the service. Then he went to Charles Towns' hospital to detox and quit drinking. Ebby and other Oxford Groupers came and worked on him some more in the hospital, indoctrinating him with more Oxford Group dogma and jabber about God. Then, when the hallucinogens hit, Bill saw "God" -- just what he had been programmed to see.

Also see the description of Ebby Thacher playing guilt-tripping mind games on Bill Wilson to cause him to flip out and have his "experience," in the chapter "The Religious Roots of The Twelve Steps."

In the A.A. book Alcoholics Anonymous Comes Of Age (1957) Bill Wilson described his experience this way:

All at once I found myself crying out, "If there is a God, let Him show himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!"
      Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up in an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed to me in my mind's eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay there on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness... and I thought to myself, "So this is the God of the preachers!" A great peace stole over me...
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes Of Age (1957), William G. Wilson, page 63.

In the book Bill W.: My First 40 Years, Bill Wilson described his religious experience this way:

The terrifying darkness had become complete. In agony of spirit, I again thought of the cancer of alcoholism which had now consumed me in mind and spirit, and soon the body. But what of the Great Physician? For a 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, 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. I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description. I have no words for this. Every joy I had known was pale by comparison. The light, the ecstasy. I was conscious of nothing else for a time.
      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 know not at all how long I remained in this state, but finally the light and the ecstasy subsided. I again saw the wall of my room. As I became more quiet a great peace stole over me, and this was accompanied by a sensation difficult to describe. I became acutely conscious of a presence which seemed like a veritable sea of living spirit. I lay on the shores of a new world. "This," I thought, "must be the great reality. The God of the preachers."
      Savoring my new world, I remained in this state for a long time. I seemed to be possessed by the absolute, and the curious conviction deepened that no matter how wrong things seemed to be, there would be no question of the ultimate rightness of God's universe. For the first time I felt that I really belonged. I knew that I was loved and could love in return. I thanked God who had given me a glimpse of His absolute Self. Even though a pilgrim upon an uncertain highway, I need be concerned no more, for I had glimpsed the great beyond.
      Save a brief hour of doubt next to come, these feelings and convictions, no matter what the vicissitude, have never deserted me since. For a reason that I cannot begin to comprehend, this great and sudden gift of grace has always been mine.
Bill W.: My First 40 Years, William Wilson, pages 145-146.

Note that Mr. Wilson had the power to summon up the Spirit of God, just by demanding that God show himself. Ordinary sorcerers and wizards have to settle for summoning up ordinary demons by name, but not Bill Wilson. Bill waved his arms in the air and commanded God Almighty Himself to appear (and he didn't even say "Please"):
"If there is a God, show me. Show me. Give me some sign."
"If there is a God, let Him show himself!"
"If there be a God, let him show himself!"

Whenever I try that trick, it doesn't work for me. I guess maybe I'm not as spiritual as Bill Wilson was. (Or maybe I need better drugs...)



Baba Ram Dass (the former Professor Richard Alpert of Harvard University) had this to say to people who have religious or spiritual experiences:

Don't be psychotic: Watch it. Watch it.

That psychosis business is an interesting business. If you go through the doorway too fast, and you're not ready for it, you're bound hand and foot and thrown into outer darkness.

You may land anywhere and lots of people end up in mental hospitals. The reason they do is: They went through the door with their ego on, and:

"Wow! I've been invited to the wedding feast.

"I mean dig me! Sam Jones!

"Sam Jones in Heaven! Sam Jones standing on the right side of the Lord. There's the Lord, and there's Gabriel and there's Sam Jones."

They don't understand that you gotta die to be born. That only when you have been born again do you enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So, they've gone in on the first round and what happens is they go on a huge ego trip, and it's called the Messianic Complex. It's called Paranoia, Delusions of Grandeur.
-- Baba Ram Dass, Be Here Now, 1971, pp. 97-98.

As you may have guessed from the above quote of Ram Dass, I am not dismissing Bill Wilson's spiritual experience as just a drug-induced hallucination. No way, José. Being a good child of The Sixties, I believe that you can get real spiritual or religious experiences in quite a variety of ways, including fasting, chanting, meditation, yoga, sitting zazen, or consuming various herbs, fungi, or other organic chemicals. And some people even manage to do it with funny stuff like dancing, surfing, or making love, or -- extremely dangerous -- delirium tremens. To me, anything that works is valid.

Please note that none of those means gives you any guarantees at all; most of the time, none of them, including drugs, really works for getting a spiritual experience. It takes a lot more than just an exercise or a dose to produce such an experience. The person's mind set is critically important, and setting is probably critical too. "Mind set" may include years of preparation, or even a lifetime of accumulated karma. (Some people would say "many lifetimes.") And then there just seems to be an element of luck. (Or, if you don't like the word "luck", then maybe cosmic good fortune, or good karma, or grace, or something.) Anyway, when it happens, it is great.

It seems to me that Bill Wilson certainly had a real religious or spiritual experience. It was totally life-altering. He changed from a drinking-to-die alcoholic to a life-long teetotaler in just one evening. That was a very strong vision. And he was taking a strong enough dose: just delirium tremens alone can have you hallucinating and tripping your brains out, and when you add three or four days of consuming belladonna and henbane on top of it, you have a dose sufficient to have you hallucinating pink elephants of any color or stripe you wish. The accumulated brain damage from his years of drinking is also an unknown factor, and adding the morphine, tranquilizers, barbiturates, strychnine, megavitamins, and unspecified other psychoactive drugs just seems like frosting on the cake, and Heaven only knows what they all did in combination. I'm certainly not surprised that he was tripping and hallucinating.

But as Ram Dass has pointed out, there are some inherent dangers in forcing a visionary experience before its time, like getting cast into outer darkness, paranoia, delusions of grandeur, and a messianic complex.6 He should know. Lots of people were getting a little funny on LSD back in the sixties. (Okay, maybe a lot funny.) So it isn't like we haven't seen it before. If Bill Wilson had been a young friend of mine back in the sixties, I probably would have said to him, "Bill, you've gone and gotten all hung up in a crazy messianic complex. Why don't you take another hit of that Purple Dome, and this time, come down normal?"

(I didn't say that it would be good advice, I just said that that's probably what I would have said. And from what I read, Bill Wilson did try LSD back in the fifties, to see if it was any good for treating alcoholism. Apparently, he liked it. He even shared it with his wife, Lois, and said that she benefited from it. He only stopped because some of the high-ranking people on the General Service Board started grumbling about Bill creating yet another scandal. But that's another story.)

The biggest mistake Bill W. made is precisely what Ram Dass was talking about: refusing to die, refusing to give up his ego. "Going in on the first round with your ego on." Bill fought to live: "He wanted to live. He would do anything, anything, to be allowed to go on living." Bill didn't understand that he was supposed to let go and die. He fought to hold onto his ego and his life as if it were everything. As if it were a matter of life and death, which it usually is, when you start to feel like you are going to die. That is to be expected. Unfortunately, Bill never had any kind of spiritual training, or a teacher to prepare him for a psychedelic experience. He was born in the wrong decade for such knowledge to be common, or "in the air." His spiritual experience happened in the nineteen-thirties, and the psychedelic revolution didn't happen until the nineteen-sixties. Bill's preparation for his visionary experience was nothing but years of guzzling cheap rotgut whiskey and bathtub gin. And that is terrible preparation. So what happened was pretty inevitable: Bill clung to his ego, and fought off ego loss, and ended up becoming a bombastic wet-brain,
"So this is The God of the Preachers! And there is Bill Wilson, hanging out with God... We feel we are walking on the Broad Highway in the sky, hand-in-hand with the Spirit of the Universe..."
And there goes Bill Wilson, on a life-long ego trip, with a big fat messianic complex, bound hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness...


As if things weren't complicated enough already, another critic pointed out a very funny complication in Bill's story about his religious experience. Bill claimed that this happened to him:

      "Oh, God," he cried, and it was the sound not of a man, but of a trapped and crippled animal. "If there is a God, show me. Show me. Give me some sign."
      As he formed the words, in that very instant he was aware first of a light, a great white light that filled the room, then he suddenly seemed caught up in a kind of joy, an ecstasy such as he would never find words to describe. It was as though he were standing high on a mountaintop and a strong clear wind blew against him, around him, through him -- but it seemed a wind not of air, but of spirit -- and as this happened he had the feeling that he was stepping into another world, a new world of consciousness, and everywhere now there was a wondrous feeling of Presence which all his life he had been seeking.
-- Robert Thomsen, Bill W., 1975, pp. 222-223.

But in the biography of Bill that was written by Lois Wilson's personal secretary, Francis Hartigan, we learn that Bill's grandfather, who was also named William Wilson, also had a bad drinking problem. In desperation, he climbed a mountain and had a religious experience of a wind of Spirit blowing through him, and he never drank again:

William Wilson may have preferred inn keeping to quarrying, but inn keeping is seldom the right occupation for a hard-drinking man. His attempts to control his drinking led him to try Temperance pledges and the services of revival-tent preachers. Then, in a desperate state one Sunday morning, he climbed to the top of Mount Aeolus. There, after beseeching God to help him, he saw a blinding light and felt the wind of the Spirit. It was a conversion experience that left him feeling so transformed that he practically ran down the mountain and into town.
      When he reached the East Dorset Congregation Church, which is across the street from the Wilson House, the Sunday service was in progress. Bill's grandfather stormed into the church and demanded that the minister get down from the pulpit. Then, taking his place, he proceeded to relate his experience to the shocked congregation. Wilson's grandfather never drank again. He was to live another eight years, sober.
Bill W.; A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, Francis Hartigan, page 11.

What are the odds that both Bill's grandfather and Bill would have exactly the same dramatic religious experience, almost word-for-word identical,

  • both beseeching God for help,
  • both seeing a blinding White Light,
  • both feeling that they were on a mountaintop with a wind of Spirit blowing through them,
  • and both being so overwhelmed by the experience that they never drank again?

Or did Bill Wilson just appropriate his grandfather's story to embellish his own experience?
Did Bill's grand vision of God really happen at all?

We are still left wondering just what this statement in the Hazelden "autobiography" of Bill Wilson really means:

There will be future historical revelations about Bill's character and behavior in recovery that will be interpreted, by some, as direct attacks on the very foundation of AA.
Bill W., My First 40 Years, William G. Wilson, Hazelden, page 170.

Remember, that "autobiography" was written by Hazelden staff members, using a set of autobiographical tape recordings that Bill Wilson made before his death. So just what are they hiding in the sealed AAWS archives? What else is on those tapes? I am eager to hear those "future historical revelations".

So, if you want to "work it" like Wilson did then (satirically speaking - kids and the self-confessed "powerless", don't try this unless you want to be exactly like Bill back in the day):

  • Obtain and prepare the following:

    • Prepare some bathtub gin by mixing a tiny bit of windshield washer fluid into some cheap gin. One part of washer fluid to ten parts of gin should suffice but I'll leave that up to you to determine its overall "spiritual" strength. Adjust if necessary.

    • Get the drugs mentioned above ready for some H.P. action.

    • Find a shed, shack or some other form of a recovery "clubhouse" and put within in a bed or cot and a copy of Saint Wilson's Bible (a.k.a. Alcoholics Anonymous).

    • Find a Buchmanite willing to administer to your needs. A very psychotic oldtimer from an A.A. meeting will do.

  • Drink the bathtub gin. Let that wonderful methanol kill those neurons off which facilitate critical reasoning as the alcoholic high brings it on home.

  • "Detox" while getting a lecture from the oldtimer and informing yourself of a H.P. by reading Saint Wilson's Bible within the "clubhouse" (or any other occult-inspired text for that matter) and have him administer Dr. Silkworth's belladonna "cure".

  • Lie down and wait for the "white light" experience to take you "well on your way".

  • Go to lots of A.A. meetings afterwards and tell the unsuspecting newcomers of your newfound experience, strength and hope while chain-smoking (and banging women [or men...or both, if you're adventurous] left and right afterwards, even if you are married), of your "religious awakening"...err, I mean, "spiritual experience". A.A. works, y'know? ;->

  • Repeat if necessary. Wilson did. He did this FOUR TIMES in ONE YEAR!

It's just like a comedy sketch from a Cheech & Chong comedy album: You'll see "god" after taking those 500 hits of acid all at once. Who knew that it was so true?

In the end, after all of the drinking, drugging and debauchery, Wilson remained an irresolute drunk, always seeking that next big fix. Whether it was from occult religion, womanizing or his other drug addictions concerning nicotine and acid, he never looked within to liberate himself from his vices. He literally believed he was powerless over everything! But, dammit, he never drank again so the true believers can overlook all of those other details.

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Last updated 2005/04/30

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