In 1938, Bill Wilson wrote the Twelve Steps for recovery. At the time, he was simply attempting to codify the principles he and other founding members of the then-nameless society (which became Alcoholics Anonymous) had been using to stay sober. When interviewed later by members of a Catholic diocese about the similarities between the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and the Twelve Steps, Bill modestly stated that he wanted to give the drunks a more explicit program by enlarging upon the original six steps his group had used and eliminate any wiggle room for future alcoholics.1
Many 20th century notables have given high praises to Bill W. and the AA movement. In a 1998 paper quoting M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author, saying “that initial meeting between Bill W. and co-founder Dr. Bob S. (1935 in Akron) was the single most important event in the 20th century. Peck also suggests that AA’s Twelve Steps is the only unique contribution to spirituality from the West.”2
It has also been noted that Peck “credits Bill Wilson with initiating and integration of spirituality and science, as well as originating the self-help and community movements. He even associates AA with divine revelation, proposing that the revolution it started ‘is going to be the salvation … not only for alcoholics but … for us all.’”3
Dr. Abram Hoffer, Canadian biochemist, M.D. and psychiatrist, said of his relationship with Bill W., “I learnt more from him about addiction than from any other single source.”4 Hoffer said he and Bill met together 100 times in the last 10 years of Bill’s life. And when talking about his own work with niacin (vitamin B3) and schizophrenics, Hoffer mentioned that he started the first SA (Schizophrenics Anonymous) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, with Bill W.’s help.
When Bill drafted the Twelve Traditions, he stated “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”5 He lived the AA principles throughout his life and found it necessary for himself to step outside of AA when assisting, guiding and consulting about issues unrelated to alcoholism.
He also encouraged others to branch out and develop programs similar to AA using the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Records show that as of 2006, AAWS (the operations branch of AA) had granted permission over the years to 543 different organizations requesting to use the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.6
When he was talking with AA groups about establishing a General Service Conference made up of delegates so he could turn the affairs of AA over to the fellowship, Bill recognized a need within the AA members’ family. He was quoted having told his wife, Lois: “You know, there were a whole lot of groups of the families of alcoholics, and I think something should be done with them.” According to Lois, “He suggested that I start a fellowship, an office for the families of alcoholics, a place where they could write for information, where they could meet other AA or Al-Anons.”7 The fruit of these conversations resulted in Lois – along with her friend Anne B. – started the Al-Anon Family Groups in 1951.
After Bill sobered up Lois and he spend their entire lives working with others. Their collective contributions the world-over continue to be manifested throughout the recovery communities and branch into social, medical, religious and educational realms. Historians, researchers and authors continue to provide details about many of these ever expanding contributions.
During his 37 years of sobriety, Bill made the following contributions within AA; authored the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, As Bill Sees it, and Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age; over 150 articles to the “AA Grapevine” magazine; created the Twelve Traditions, Twelve Concepts for World Service, and the general service structure for AA; wrote hundreds of letters, many of which can still be found in the Stepping Stones archive.
Bill received many invitations from various branches of society to be commended for his contributions; each time, he refused or declined the recognition. These honors included three honorary doctorial degrees, one of which was from Yale University. The demonstration of the AA principle of self-sacrifice was repeated countless times throughout the life of its co-founder. He would often give credit to others and, when tempted to accept an honor himself, would only do so on behalf of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Imagine looking down toward Earth from space upon the millions and millions of people worldwide who are currently involved in the recovery community joining hands in a collective circle. It would be impossible to distinguish any particular trait of the individuals – age, sex, religion, economic or social background, political views or length of sobriety. Each person would look the same – just another link in the chain that binds them together in unity.
Within their respected fellowships, Bill and Lois were simply links in the chain of recovery that continues to grow today, reaching the untold millions. Perhaps the greatest contribution this couple made to the world was their example of love and service demonstrated with the deeepest humility that extended beyond the fellowship.
Historian / Author
Mike has authored four books: all published by Hazelden:
“We Recovered Too: The Family Groups’ Beginnings in the Pioneers’ Own Words”.
Coauthored “1000 Years of Sobriety” with William Borchert.
Coauthored “Living the Twelve Traditions in Today’s’ World” with Mel B.
Dr. Bob and Bill W. Speak
He may be contacted through this website www.recoveryspeakers.com
1. Speech by Bill W. given at Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY April 1954
2. “My Name is Bill W, and I’m a Counterphobic Six” Michael Huber – March, 1998 The Enneagram and the MBTI –electronic journal
3. The Book that Started it All The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous, Hazelden 2010
4. Video interview with Dr. Hoffer, Beyond talk therapy: New Frontiers in Addiction Treatment, September 27-29, 2007 – CARA
5. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, AAWS 1953
6. Response letter AAWS Archives
7. We Recovered Too: The Family Groups’ Beginnings in the Pioneers’ Own Words, Hazelden 2011