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Alcoholics Anonymous grown from Vermont roots

10/24/03 12:00AM By Mary Barrosse-Schwartz
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(Host) Continuing our exploration of Great Thoughts of Vermont, commentator Mary Barrosse Schwartz examines a deceptively simple idea with the power to literally transform lives.


(Schwartz) At the heart of East Dorset, there's a big red house, with a wide porch lined with old-fashioned rockers. The Wilson House looks like a nice old hotel, but this quiet spot is where a revolution began.

It's the birthplace of Bill Wilson. Born on November 26, 1895, Wilson went on to co-found Alcoholics Anonymous with the help of a St. Johnsbury resident, Dr. Bob Smith. Today the Inn is a meeting place for recovering alcoholics, and a peaceful retreat.

Wilson's early life was marked with the death of - or abandonment by - people he loved, which led him into despair and illness. He joined the army and became a drinking man. His drinking strained his marriage, destroyed his livelihood, and almost killed him.

Finally in 1933, when Wilson hit bottom and lay in a hospital for alcoholics, Dr. William Silkworth helped him understand that his alcoholism was an illness. The idea was unique at the time and it led Wilson to understand that he could not drink at all.

But he couldn't quit until, once again in Silkworth's Hospital, Wilson experienced a vision that released him from his obsession with alcohol. After that Wilson immediately started trying to help alcoholics at a local mission.

In 1935, he was asked to speak with Dr. Bob Smith of St. Johnsbury, a physician with a severe drinking problem. As a result of conversations with Wilson, Smith was also able to quit, and he stayed sober for the rest of his life. The date of Smith's last drink - June 10, 1935 - is considered to be the birthday of A.A., because this event suggested the concept of one alcoholic talking to another, and led the two men to found a society of alcoholics in recovery.

Wilson explained the principles of the society in a letter, "If each sufferer were to carry the news of the scientific hopelessness of alcoholism to each new prospect, he might be able to lay every newcomer wide open to a transforming spiritual experience."

By 1937, Wilson and Smith had established the first, tiny fellowship of alcoholics, and they decided to publish a book explaining how they stayed sober. Known as "The Big Book" today, it lays out the now famous 12 steps to sobriety, which include "an admission of powerlessness, a moral inventory, restitution for harm done, a call to service and surrender to some personal God."

Bill Wilson's vision spread from Vermont around the world and it's still hard at work today in 150 countries - in church halls, school classrooms, and in community centers - transforming the lives of millions.

In East Dorset, I'm Mary Barrosse Schwartz.

Mary Barosse Schwartz ia a mother, a freelance writer and an artist.
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