Pass it On … The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world.
Courtesy: A.A. Archives …
I’ve been reading from “Pass it on – Bill Wilson and the A.A. message” as of late and I find it incredibly enlightening. I was itching to find something to read from my library lately and this is where I went.
The book is an incredible wealth of history and worth a read during your sobriety to get the real story of Bill Wilson and how A.A. came to be. Where was A.A. founded and by whom, and how Bill came to be the great leader of the fellowship to so many in his lifetime.
My Old Timer friend from the West Island is a wealth of history because he knew Bill Wilson in his early sobriety after coming back from the war, having traveled to New York to visit Bill and to hear him speak on many an occasion. I’ve been reading this book, because it gives us a point of reference to talk about when we see each other on Friday night’s.
Pass it On, Chapter 11 pgs. 190 – 200.
Bill was about to write the very important 5th chapter of the Big Book, “How it Works” and as Bill put it “There must not be a single loop hole through which the rationalizing alcoholic could wiggle out.”
The basic material for the chapter was the word-of-mouth program that Bill had been talking ever since his own recovery. It was heavy with Oxford Group principles, and had in addition some of the ideas Bill had gleaned from William James and from Dr. Silkworth.
Moreover, Bill had worked with Dr. Bob and other alcoholics in testing and sifting the workability and effectiveness of the early program. While he would be the nominal author of the fifth chapter, he was in fact serving as spokesman for all the others.
According to Bill, their word-of-mouth program had thus far been a pretty consistent procedure, containing six steps to achieve and maintain sobriety. There is no evidence that the Oxford Group had such a specific program; yet the Oxford Group ideas prevail in these original six steps, as listed by Bill:
- We admitted that we were licked, that we were powerless over alcohol.
- We made a moral inventory of our defects or sins.
- We confessed or shared our shortcomings with another person in confidence.
- We made restitution to all those we had harmed by our drinking.
- We tried to help other alcoholics, with no thought of reward in money or prestige.
- We prayer to whatever God we thought there was for power to practice these precepts.
Although these steps had helped in the recovery of New York and Akron alcoholics, Bill felt that the program still was not definitive. “Maybe our six chunks of truth should be broken up into smaller pieces,” he said. “Thus we could better get the distant reader over the barrel, and at the same time we might be able to broaden and deepen the spiritual implications of our whole presentation.”
Bill wrote the Twelve Steps, he said, while lying in bed at 182 Clinton Street with pencil in hand and a pad of yellow scratch paper on his knee. He wrote them in bed, said Lois, not because he was really sick, but he wasn’t feeling well, and if he could lie down he did: “He got into bed, that being the best place to think…”
[Bill, it is noted later on in the text, spent a good deal of time sitting and thinking and also for laying down more often than Lois would have liked, Lois was the ‘doer’ in the family, Bill was more the think and sitter].
… As he started to write, he asked for guidance. And he relaxed. The words began tumbling out with astonishing speed. He completed to first draft in about half an hour, then kept on writing until he felt he should stop and review what he had written. Numbering the new steps, he found that they added up to twelve – a symbolic number; he thought of the Twelve Apostles, and soon became convinced that the society should have twelve steps.
The very first draft of the Twelve Steps, as Bill wrote them that night, has been lost. This is an approximate reconstruction of the way he first set them down:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that God could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care and direction of God.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely willing that God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly on our knees asked Him to remove these shortcomings – holding nothing back.
- Made a complete list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people where ever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual experience as the result of this course of action, we tried to carry this message to others, especially alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Bill’s first three steps were culled from his reading of James, the teachings of Sam Shoemaker, and those of the Oxford Group. The first step had to do with calamity and disaster; the second was an admission of defeat – that one could not go on living on the strength of one’s own resources; and the third was an appeal to a Higher Power for help…
In writing the steps, Bill also produced the hard hitting promise of the introductory paragraphs, beginning, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path [‘directions’ in the earlier manuscript]. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”
(According to an apocryphal story, Bill was asked in later years whether there was any change he wished he could make in the Big Book, and he replied that he would change “Rarely” to “Never.” Bill himself said he never considered that change.)
By then end of January 1939, the manuscript was ready for preliminary distribution; 400 copies were Multilithed and circulated to members, friends, and other allies for comments and evaluation.
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If you’ve ever wanted to know how the fellowship came to be, where the original ideas came from and how A.A. formed and how the word-of-mouth fellowship came to pass, then you should read this book. It is a valued piece of history that every alcoholic should read.
Bill did not take to sobriety on the first pass. In fact, it took him several attempts at sobriety to “get it.” In the beginning Bill was stuck in the revolving door of in and out. Drunk, sober and drunk again … And that tasked his marriage to a great detail. And once, at last, he was delivered into sobriety. And his and Lois’ marriage flourished in time.
It being the 20’s and 30’s in America, along with the war and great depression, times were very tough. Bill and Lois lost their home(s) several times, moving from home to home between members and early A.A. clubhouses in New York. Finally in January 1941, Bill and Lois finally found a home in Bedford Hills, New York.
Bill speaks about his spiritual experience in great detail in the book, and it came up every time Bill was asked to share his story. Where ever Bill went, he would always be the focus of attention at what ever meeting he went to. He was celebrated by all of them who came to know him, and for those who were blessed enough to know him and hear him speak at a meeting.
I hope you find this reading as interesting as I have.
“Pass it On”
The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world.