He was arguably one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century, yet many people today have never heard his name. In most cases, those who have, only learned of him after hitting rock bottom. And while his adherents remain anonymous, they will happily share their stories with others in need. The survivors have found a way that works; they are friends of Bill.
Bill W., a documentary on the life and work of William G. Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, will be screened this Thursday night at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore. Directed by Dan Carracino and Kevin Hanlon, Bill W. uses visualizations, interviews, anecdotes and archival material to trace Wilson’s life from his descent into alcoholism, through the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), and his struggle to forge a way to recovery that other alcoholics could follow. Immediately after the screening, Rafael Alvarez, staff writer from The Wire, and Baltimore Post-Examiner contributor will read from his book, The Tuerk House. Alvarez will then be joined by three friends of Bill: Susan K., Harold G. and Rob W. for a discussion on A.A. in Baltimore.
Bill W. was released to generally favorable reviews in May 2012. The film doesn’t pull any punches as it honestly portrays a talented but flawed man. Re-enactments are meticulously detailed and the visuals aid the voice-over narration. Archived interviews include recordings of Bill W., his wife Lois and Dr. Bob Smith, Wilson’s A.A. co-founder.
Wilson once said of himself, “because of (my) bitter experience, (I) discovered, slowly and through a conversion experience, a system of behavior and a series of actions that work for alcoholics who want to stop drinking.”
With the determined Wilson leading the way, A.A. grew from an intimate circle to an international fellowship – an achievement which made Wilson an icon to his fellow members but ironically an alcoholic unable to return to the anonymity the society demands.
The credo of A.A. may be found in the fellowship’s basic literature. It is often cited during the opening of meetings and it reads as follows:
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship
of men and women who share their experience,
strength and hope with each other that they
may solve their common problem and help
others to recover from alcoholism.
The only requirement for membership is
a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues
or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-
supporting through our own contributions.
A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination,
politics, organization or institution;
does not wish to engage in any controversy;
neither endorses nor opposes any causes.
Our primary purpose is to stay sober and
help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
It is estimated 200 million members worldwide meet regularly in 108,000 A.A. groups.
A spokesperson at Father Martin’s Ashley in Havre de Grace, Maryland, told the Baltimore Post-Examiner that their treatment team recommends the 12-step program, noting it is the cornerstone of their therapeutic system. About 900 clients are admitted to and complete the program at Martin’s Ashley every year. All are required to attend 12-step meetings at the facility and are encouraged to continue daily 12-step attendance after they have completed the in-house 28-day treatment program.
Not everyone is able to remain abstinent through the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and A.A. doesn’t claim to be a cure for alcoholism. In worst case scenarios, rehabilitation at a facility like Martin’s Ashley or the Tuerk House may be recommended. But for the millions who have found a second chance in the fellowship which A.A. offers, the phrase “Keep coming back, it works if you work it,” is more than an empty mantra. It’s the capstone to a new way of life.
For that, they are indebted to a Higher Power, and to Bill W.
Creative Alliance presents the documentary movie Bill W. Thursday May 9 at 7:00 p.m. A panel discussion on A.A. in Baltimore will follow the screening of the film. Tickets and other information may be found here.
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”