Lets Ask Bill W.
Question & Answer # 35
What effect did Ebby’s message have on you?
Well, by this time I knew how hopeless my alcoholism was, and yet I still rebelled – the idea of a dependency on some intangible God who might not even be there. Oh, if I could swallow it, but could I! I went on drinking for a number of days and gradually I got jittery enough to think about the hospital and then it came to me “Of a sudden” one day – “Fool! – why should you question how you’re going to get well, why should beggars be choosers? If you had a cancer and you were sure of it and your physician said “This is so malignant that we can’t touch it with our art and even if your physician came along with the improbable story that there were many who got over cancer by standing on their head in the public square crying ‘Amen’ and if he could really make a case that it was so, yes Bill Wilson, if you had cancer, you too would be out in the public square ignominiously standing on your head and crying ‘Amen’- anything to stop the growth of those cells and that would be the first priority, and your pride would have to go.”
And then I asked myself “Is my case different now? Have I not an allergy of the body; have I not a cancer of the emotions – yes, and maybe I have a cancer of the soul which has resulted in an obsession which condemns me to drink and an increasing tolerance of liquor which condemns me to go mad or die. Yes, I’m going to try this. And then there was one more flicker of obstinacy when I said to myself, “But I don’t want any of these evangelical experiences, I mean it will have to be a kind of intellectual religion that I’ll get, so just to be sure that I don’t go into my emotional tizzy, I believe I’ll go up to see dear old Dr. Silkworth and have him dry me out. (Memphis, Tenn., Sept. 18-20, 1947) .
What then did happen at that kitchen table? Perhaps this speculation were better left to medicine and religion. I confess I do not know. Possibly conversion will never be fully understood.
My friend’s story had generated mixed emotions; I was drawn and revolted by turns. My solitary drinking went on, but I could not forget his visit. Several themes coursed in my mind: First, that his evident state of release was strangely and immensely convincing. Second, that he had been pronounced hopeless by competent medicos. Third, that those old-age precepts, when transmitted by him, had struck me with great power. Fourth, I could not, and would not, go along with any God concept. No conversion nonsense for me. Thus did I ponder. Trying to divert my thoughts, I found it no use. By cords of understanding, suffering, and simple verity, another alcoholic had bound me to him. I shall not break away. (Amer J. Psychiat., Vol.106, 1949) .
He first told me his drinking experience, accent on its more recent horrors, Of course his identification with me was immediate, and as it proved, deep and vital indeed. One alcoholic was talking with another as no one except an alcoholic can. Then he offered me his naively simple recovery formula. Not one syllable was new, but somehow it affected me profoundly.
There he sat, recovered. An example of what he preached. You will note that his only dogma was God, which for my benefit he stretched into an accommodating phrase, a Power greater than myself. That was his story. I could take it or leave it. I need feel no obligation to him. Indeed, he observed, I was doing him a favor by listening. Besides it was obvious that he had something more than ordinary “water wagon” sobriety. He looked and acted “released”; repression had not been his answer. Such was the impact of an alcoholic who really knew the score. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol.50, July 1950)