A.A.'s underlying principles

Dr. Silkworth, Bill Wilson’s physician, told him two important things.  First, he told Bill that he was a sick person, he suffered from a genuine illness called alcoholism.  Second, he told Bill that the illness, alcoholism, was hopeless as there was, and still is, no effective treatment.  Thus the person w this illness, if he does not stop drinking, which is highly unlikely because of the loss of control, the obsession w the first drink, and those moments of temporary insanity which precede that first drink, will either be incarcerated, be placed in a mental hospital, or the person will die.  The foregoing is the “ego deflation” part of the message.  The only exception he noted was individuals who had deep, spiritual experiences.  These rare occurrences gave a few fortunate alcoholics access to a power, a spiritual power, a higher power, which freed them from their obsession with alcohol.  This is the hope filled message.

Bill, after traveling around w his old school friend Ebby Thatcher, who had been sober for about two months as a result of his contact w the Oxford Groups, had just such a spiritual experience and the spiritual experience released him from his obsession w alcohol.  After this experience Bill read William James’ book The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature that documented many experiences like Bill’s and offered a framework for understanding personal spiritual experience.  Using what he had learned from the Oxford Groups, Dr. Silkworth, C.J. Jung, and William James, Bill proceeded to try to figure out how he could help other alcoholics have a similar experience.

There are two components to Bill Wilson’s solution.  The first is a method, a technology, the Twelve Steps that aims to produce the spiritual experience that Bill had.  The second component is the delivery of this technology by another alcoholic, who has actually experienced the illness, to another alcoholic who is seeking a solution.  Pretty quickly it was discovered that most alcoholics could not have an experience of sudden spiritual awakening.  Its possible that Bill went back and realized that James book was about a unique group of people at the far end of the normal distribution selected for study because of the special ability to have such experiences.  Other people might have such experiences occasionally, perhaps under particular circumstances, such as Bill himself, but for most people the process of spiritual development if it was to occur would only occur gradually.  

Along the gradual path there might be some minor blips of enlightenment, but what would sustain many was the notion that another alcoholic, a person w the actual experience, was offering support, encouragement, unconditional positive regard, and specific tools and techniques that worked for them.  In this process too, there was a gradual access to power. 
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