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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: Bill Wilson and the Ouija Board,Bill W. Had Warts, Just Like the Rest of Us.(Updated)
Author: Fraser Trevor
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Cover via Amazon Ever since becoming enamored with A.A. in the early 90s (especially after really getting into AA circa 1980), I ...
Cover of "My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson--H...
Cover via Amazon

Ever since becoming enamored with A.A. in the early 90s (especially after really getting into AA circa 1980), I have thought of Bill W. as quite an interesting fellow.

Unfortunately, some AAs tend to put certain people on pedestals

and this almost certainly applies more to Bill W. than anyone else as far as recovery personalities go. All of us are merely human, and I suppose this post serves as a reminder of just that. Knowing about what might be considered to be weaknesses of others — particularly those who tend to be glorified — can make the person seem more real, even closer to us. None of the comments in this post are meant to be disparaging; to me, they are not. These supposed facts can be found in the books of some of the most significant Bill W. biographers, most notably Susan Cheever.

I find Ouija boards to be pretty darn interesting, honestly, though I have seen too many horror movies to run out and buy one myself! And LSD? Well, I don’t think I’ll be going into much — or any — detail about possible acid experiences I may or may not have had in a previous era, but suffice to say that I agree with Bill on some aspects of the trippy hallucinogen. I believe most, if not all, of us can agree on the following: Thank God LSD did not become a standard treatment for alcoholism and addiction! You probably won’t hear too much about this in AA meetings, but Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, often used a Ouija board to contact spirits. His wife Lois said that Bill would get messages directly from the spirit world without even using the Ouija board. For a while, his participation in AA was deeply affected by his involvement with the “witchboard.” Wilson claimed that he received the twelve step method directly from a spirit without the board and wrote it down. (Source: My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson–His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Susan Cheever)

Personally, Wilson had a lifelong attraction towards mysticism and alternative religions. He was drawn — by its ritualism, not its theology — to Catholicism, and seriously contemplated converting. Later in life, Bill W. flirted with Gerald Heard’s and Aldous Huxley’s West Coast Vedanta and took LSD with the two trippy gurus. Bill was consistently a spiritualist, going through life with AA’s Big Book in one hand and a Ouija board in the other. In the basement, Bill W. had a “Spook Room” where he would communicate with the dead. (Source: My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson–His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Susan Cheever)

Bill W. Had Warts, Just Like the Rest of Us

Cheever’s portrait of Wilson is generally reverent, although she parts company with those who, as she says, see him as a man “chosen by God to carry a message.” In the second half of her book, Cheever goes further and pastes a donkey tail or two on the minor “god” Bill Wilson. Despite his victory over alcohol, Wilson retained his addictive personality and compulsive traits. He chain-smoked himself to death, for one thing. Reportedly, even on his deathbed, Bill W. puffed away as he slowly suffocated. Although he supposedly drank no alcohol for the last thirty-seven years of his life, he always craved it. Those who were around Bill in his last moments know that as he lay dying, he repeatedly requested whiskey; but this request was steadfastly denied by his minions. (Source: My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson–His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Susan Cheever)

"Anyway you look at it", Wilson wrote in 1951, "it's a problem world." His most troublesome problem was sex . He was serially unfaithful to his long-suffering wife, Lois — a woman whose complaisance, as Cheever says, "seemed to constitute a disease of its own". Despite his programme's insistence on "rigorous honesty", Bill W. lived a lie. He had innumerable affairs and a long-term mistress with whom he contemplated eloping to Ireland (the scandal would probably have destroyed Alcoholics Anonymous).

Bill W. and LSD

Bill loved LSD. He urged everyone he knew to try it, including Lois, his secretary, Nell Wing, his friend Dr. Jack Norris, the Reverend Sam Shoemaker, and even Father Ed Dowling! He even thought his own mother might benefit. (Source: My Name Is Bill; Bill Wilson — His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Susan Cheever, page 241.)Also see Francis Hartigan, Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, pages 176 to 179:

When Bill took LSD, use of the drug was legal. He first took it as a participant in medically supervised experiments with Gerald Heard and Aldous Huxley in California in the 1950s. Lois also participated in the first LSD experiments in California. At Bill’s insistent urging, she took LSD herself but always claimed later not to have felt anything. Bill insisted that she did too feel something and that she in fact had a very pleasant time. Nell Wing, who took LSD herself during one of these sessions and was there when Lois tried it, tends to believe Lois. She explains LSD’s lack of impact on Lois by noting that she took much less than the others had. Father Ed Dowling was among the people who accepted Bill’s invitation to join him in these early experiments. Bill also invited Jack Norris, medical director for Eastman Kodak and long-serving nonalcoholic chair of AA’s General Service Board, but Norris declined.

It is hard to appreciate today the enthusiasm with which LSD experimentation was initially greeted. Aldous Huxley wrote Father Thomas Merton that LSD might even be the SOMA he had written about in his futuristic novel, Brave New World, and that it was deserving of the most serious and thorough scientific research. Sam Shoemaker wrote to Bill about the wholehearted endorsement of LSD experimentation by an Episcopal bishop, and Wilson wrote to Carl Jung, praising the results obtained with LSD and recommending it as a validation of Jung’s spiritual work. (Word was received of Jung’s death, and the letter was never sent.)Wilson is thought to have continued experimenting with LSD well into the 1960s. Lib S., a longtime AA member who lived in New York for many years, told me that she participated in LSD experiments with Bill in the late 1950s in New York. Marty Mann, Helen Wynn, and others participated in the New York experiments, which were supervised by a psychiatrist from Roosevelt Hospital. Lib S. said that the alcoholic participants in the New York researches were all sober. The purpose was to determine whether the drug might produce insights that would serve to remove psychic blocks that were preventing people from feeling more spiritually alive. Each participant had to agree to undergo extensive debriefing, and all were urged to make detailed notes about what they were experiencing.

Bill agreed with Huxley’s assessment of LSD’s power to open the “doors of perception.” He described his first experiences of the substance’s effect as being akin to what he had experienced in Towns Hospital the night his obsession with alcohol was lifted. Nell Wing told me that her own LSD experiences were something that she had always valued. Although Nell denies that Bill ever went this far, other people who knew him during this period said that his initial enthusiasm for LSD was so great that he thought it should be available to all alcoholics. (Source: Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, by Francis Hartigan, pages 178 to 179.)

References: Bill Wilson and the Ouija Board

"Bill Wilson never held himself up as a model: he only hoped to help other people by sharing his own experience, strength and hope. He insisted again and again that he was just an ordinary man". An ordinary man who nonetheless did one extraordinary thing.

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