123 years ago today, a man was born who made each of our lives better, whether or not we ever were smart enough to realize it. His name was William Wilson. You might know him better as “Bill W”, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
William Wilson was ironically born behind the bar of his Grandparent’s hotel. His childhood was going smoothly until his parents divorced and abandoned him when he was eleven years old. His father moved to British Columbia. His mother left to become one of the first female graduates of Harvard University. Bill’s grandparents raised him and showered him with attention and love. He was flourishing in high school, and was named Senior Class President. However, things took a sharp downturn when the girl that intended to one day marry died unexpectedly. He became so depressed, he was unable to graduate. He began consuming alcohol to deal with his depression.
Over time, his drinking got worse and worse. He served in World War One, then returned home to work for a brokerage firm on Wall Street. He continued to drink heavily, but was so successful that his superiors looked the other way. While working, he was also taking night courses in economics and law. Unfortunately, he failed to arrive for his final exams because he was too intoxicated.
In 1933 and 1934, Bill was admitted into Towns Hospital in New York City four times due to his alcoholism. Fortunately, he was treated by a psychiatrist named William Silkworth, who believed that alcoholism was a physical allergy and not a moral shortcoming. This was an unheard of concept at the time. When Bill left the hospital for the last time in 1934, he would never touch another drop of alcohol for the rest of his life.
With his new energy and second chance at life, he walked the streets trying to find others who would accept his help. He found no takers. He then moved to Akron, Ohio to take another shot in the business world. If failed. He was close to drinking again when he called another alcoholic he had met in the area, a surgeon named Bob Smith. Dr. Smith agreed to meet William Wilson, the two talked for five hours. On June 10, 1935, Dr. Smith took his last drink, and Alcoholics Anonymous was born.
From the time America was founded, alcohol abuse has been prevalent. However, until Alcoholics Anonymous, there was virtually nothing in the way of care and rehabilitation for those plagued with addiction.
It was simply seen as the person suffering was a moral failure.
Because of the anonymity, statistics are difficult. However, it is estimated that 2 million people today go to AA meetings. There are over 125,000 regular meeting groups in 175 countries across the world today. AA also has spawned dozens of other help groups such as “Narcotics addicts anonymous”, “Gamblers Anonymous”, and others. Many help groups of all kinds use the AA model of 12 steps.
Counting the numbers of people who battle addiction doesn’t do it justice. There is also the family, friends, and others who care about the addicted who suffer. I don’t really know anyone who hasn’t endured watching someone they care about damage themselves.
When someone suffers from addiction, they drag down their spouse, children, family, friends, and co-workers. When that same someone is treated, not only does their life get better, but so does that of all around them. It may be you. It may be a family member or friend. It may be your neighbor, your Doctor, a co-worker, or whomever. If anyone in your life is a “Friend of Bill W.”, you should be too. The ripple effect is immeasurable, but surely mighty.
It is impossible to know how many people AA has saved, but it is doubtless that it is in the millions. Thank goodness for those who founded A.A., those who administer it today, and those who continue in battle to conquer their own demons.
Never forget, there have been a lot of valuable contributions made to the world by people who suffer from addictions.
Giving up on someone who suffers from addiction means giving up on their potential to do great things. Helping them is not easy, and those who work with people suffering from addiction are some of this earth’s truest angels.
Photo Credit: Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland
Thank you to those who continue to fight, you are valuable and important. Thank you to all of those who support them; so are you.
Follow the Unfinished Pyramid on Twitter at https://twitter.com/unfinishedpyr