Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bill W. (Rhoades)

Are You a Friend
Of “Bill W.”?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

“I’m a friend of Bill W.,” is all the introduction needed for those who belong to Alcoholics Anonymous – or AA for short. But who is Bill?
A new documentary eponymously called “Bill W.” will answer that question. Here is a profile of William Griffith Wilson, cofounder of AA.
We learn that Bill W. was a drunk who overcame his alcoholism and forged a path to help for others with that problem. AA grew from a handful of men to a mutual aid fellowship with over 2 million members worldwide.
Bill poses the question: “Why do these drunks continue to drink in the face of destruction?” This documentary helps you to better understand the “obsession of drinking.”
The actual voice of Bill Wilson acts as narrator to many of these reenactments. We trace his history from being abandoned by his parents to taking that first drink. His “power drive” led him to master the violin, become class president … until he couldn’t win when his first love Bertha unexpectedly died. Eventually he meets Lois Burnham, the woman he marries.
While in the army, he drank a Bronx cocktail and the whole universe changed. It released him from “this gnawing fear of inferiority.” He and Lois were unable to adopt a child because of his drinking.
He was wiped out during the crash of Wall Street. “I was not drinking to dream dreams of power,” he says. “I was drinking to forget.”
Then he had an epiphany, the “room lit up in a great glare,” and he discovered a higher power. He decided one drunk needs another to talk with. Fortunately, he met up with Dr. Bob (Smith) in Akron, Ohio. They agreed to work together. On June 10, 1935, Dr. Bob took his last drink – and Alcoholics Anonymous was in effect born.
Back in New York he decided to publish a book. That led to them formulating a 12-Step program that allows one to conquer the obsession of drinking. The group didn’t even have a name. “We just called ourself a bunch of drunks trying to get sober,” recalled Bill.
“Groups began to spring up everywhere, like mushrooms.”
Bill felt he’d been placed on a “completely illusional platform.” He experimented with LSD. He formed a relationship with Helen Wynn, a woman who helped him deal with his depression. He died of emphysema in 1971, begging for a drink. Doing battle with his personal demons to the end. He had been sober for 36 years.
Along the way, we hear from AA members with parallel stories. They are identified only as Mel B. or Tom W or Mitch K. Note: In the interest of anonymity, AA members interviewed in the film are shown mainly in shadow.
Bill Wilson has been included in Time Magazines’ “100 Most Important People of the Century.” But he spent his life facing his obsession, introducing himself simply as “I’m Bill. I’m a drunk.”

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