Bill Wilson was born in Vermont in 1895. He and his sister were abandoned by their parents when they were young children. He struggled growing up but eventually became captain of his high school football team and principal violinist in the school’s orchestra. When his teenage love died, he suffered from depression. He was trained as a lawyer but never practiced.
Bob Smith was also born in Vermont. Unlike Bill, he was a good student and became a medical doctor.
Bill and Bob shared one thing in common. They were both alcoholics. Both had made efforts to become sober but had failed. Bob’s journey to becoming sober began when he attended a lecture by the founder of the Oxford Group, a Christian group who believed that fear and selfishness are the root of all of society’s problems.
Bill’s drinking had progressed to such an extent that he was hospitalized. That’s when he learned that alcoholism was a disease and not a personal failure. While he tried to stay sober, the stress of his travels created challenges.
On a trip to Akron, Ohio Bill felt the urge to resume drinking. He asked whether there were any local recovering alcoholics that he could talk to. That’s when he met Bob. Dr. Bob, as he was known, was impressed by Bill’s knowledge of alcoholism and invited him to stay with him and his wife.
The introduction was made by Henrietta Seiberling, a member of the founding family of Goodyear Tire. Bob and Bill began thinking about how the message of alcoholism could be spread more broadly. While working together, they began to keep each other sober. That became the genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
AA grew from that working relationship. Over 2,000,000 people now belong to AA worldwide. As membership has grown, so too has AA grown in the sophistication of its programming. But the core principle still remains people helping each other fight through their alcohol addiction.
Peer-to-peer hope is relevant in many more areas of our society today because of what Bill W. and Dr. Bob started
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God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
– The Serenity Prayer