September 7th, 2015

A Life-Sized Bill Wilson And National Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month, and I can think of no better way to begin it than to focus on Bill Wilson, who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. Because he lived until 1971, there are people still alive today who knew him. I recently had the pleasure of meeting one of them, Lincoln Norton, who was previously interviewed for this blog about having taught Transcendental Meditation (TM) to Wilson in 1969.

I was struck to hear how very open Wilson was to a new and potentially helpful idea relating to recovery, even though it came from a person many years his junior; Lincoln was 24 at the time. Upon hearing about this relatively new technique, he immediately wanted to learn TM and went on to embrace it enthusiastically. He also explained to Lincoln that although he had been the primary author of the 12 Steps, he believed that he had been “given” some of the content, rather than having developed it intellectually. He specifically cited the 11th Step, which is:

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

In an honest and straightforward manner, Wilson reported that he had never really understood that step until learning TM.

The magnitude of Bill Wilson’s accomplishments sometimes creates a larger than life image of him – particularly among members of AA. They often use the phrase “friends of Bill” as a discrete way of communicating publically about being in recovery from alcoholism. What I like about hearing the details of Lincoln’s interaction with Wilson is that I can once again see him in a more human dimension.

Susan Cheever aroused controversy when she included in her 2004 biography of Bill Wilson, My Name Is Bill, her discovery that on his death bed he had demanded alcohol (which he was not given). In addition to providing a dramatic example of the fact that we do not yet have a cure for alcoholism (or any other substance use disorder), this vignette enhances my respect for this very imperfect, internally tortured man who nevertheless managed to improve the lives of so many people.

As we begin our observance of National Recovery Month, we must be reminded that recovery is an imperfect process.

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