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Bill Wilson, AA Pioneer and controversy

Old 11-07-2019, 09:49 AM
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Bill's Experiment Was In A Clinical Setting

Found this which puts in context...His first time was at a VA hospital. This was way before Timothy Leary "discovered" it. Bill essentially went to any lengths and his intentions were good. He was trying to fid a way to help other alcoholics get that spiritual experience.

On August 29, 1956, Bill Wilson took LSD in a laboratory setting. “When Bill took LSD, use of the drug was legal. He first took it as a participant in a medically supervised experiment with Gerald Heard and Aldous Huxley in California.” (Hartigan, p. 178) To return to the point of the early paragraphs, this was a full ten years before Timothy Leary’s “turn on” revolution. There was no incense burning, no Jefferson Airplane on the stereo, and it is highly unlikely that Bill was wearing bell bottoms and a tie-dyed t-shirt.

In a very real sense, LSD wasn’t LSD yet.

Its use was limited to hospitals, clinics, labs and universities.

“Here, then, is one clear reason why Bill Wilson experimented with LSD: he was seeking still further ways of helping alcoholics, specifically those alcoholics who could not seem to attain sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous because, apparently, they could not ‘get the spiritual’.” (Collected Kurtz, p. 42) Support for this research came from a surprising source. When one of his parishioners expressed concern to Sam Shoemaker, the reverend consulted his superior, Bishop Pardue who “declared himself ‘in utmost sympathy with what (Bill) is doing.’ The bishop, Shoemaker reported to Wilson, ‘is convinced that the biochemical factor is of the greatest importance…half our problems are bio-chemical and do not go back to sin and cannot be wholly governed by prayer’.” (Collected Kurtz, p. 43
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Old 11-08-2019, 03:23 PM
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For those interested, below is a link to an article by Ernie Kurtz about Bills LSD involvement. Kurtz had unrestricted access to the AA archives and was one of only a handful of people who could make this claim. As a result his perspective is uniquely valuable. One of the things Kurtz had access to was Bills second letter to Carl Jung where Bill talks about his LSD experience and his thoughts about the drug.

It took me a very long time to get a copy of this letter. It's in the AA archives in New York city but unfortunately my requests for access to this valuable piece of history were turned down. Its considered "restricted". I was forced to spend a great deal of time to obtain another copy but it was worth all the effort. It's a prize . IMO It should be available to the membership, but that's not my call.

Here's the link to the Kurtz article:
http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr...akes%20LSD.pdf
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Old 11-10-2019, 04:46 AM
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Originally Posted by awuh1 View Post
It took me a very long time to get a copy of this letter. It's in the AA archives in New York city but unfortunately my requests for access to this valuable piece of history were turned down. Its considered "restricted". I was forced to spend a great deal of time to obtain another copy but it was worth all the effort. It's a prize . IMO It should be available to the membership, but that's not my call.
I find it interesting that AA considers the letter "restricted". What do they have to hide? Don't they fully understand the idea that we are only as sick as our secrets?

That said the contents of the letter are unlikely to change my opinion of the AA program. Bill was an imperfect person. So what? The AA program's value has nothing to do with the personalities and possible character defects of the founders.
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Old 11-18-2019, 10:50 AM
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Originally Posted by awuh1 View Post
Here's the link to the Kurtz article:
http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr...akes%20LSD.pdf
Thank you for this excellent resource. I've puzzled a lot about Bill Wilson over the years and over what possessed him. The article does shed some light on Wilson's psychological motivations.

Bill Wilson is a strange enigma to me, so it's not a surprise that his program would also seem strange to me. His foray into LSD, even though explained away in the article as "being of another era," must be at least curious to the most devoted AA member today. He wanted people who could not believe in the spiritual to have a spiritual experience by any means possible, so he could help them in his own limited way. And that is to his credit... kind of.

He apparently could not see that he could help more alcoholics if he widened the scope of the program, rather than trying to squeeze all alcoholics, even if it might require drugs to do it, into his spiritual philosophy, and stranger still when one realizes that spirituality is not necessary in treating alcohol abuse.

It is a hopeful sign that equally successful secular programs like SR are available today. Secular defined as not anti religious, but inclusive of all beliefs or lack of beliefs, and even more hopeful that many of those who have been helped by AA can recognize this.
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Old 11-18-2019, 12:23 PM
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Originally Posted by DriGuy View Post
Thank you for this excellent resource. I've puzzled a lot about Bill Wilson over the years and over what possessed him. The article does shed some light on Wilson's psychological motivations.

Bill Wilson is a strange enigma to me, so it's not a surprise that his program would also seem strange to me. His foray into LSD, even though explained away in the article as "being of another era," must be at least curious to the most devoted AA member today. He wanted people who could not believe in the spiritual to have a spiritual experience by any means possible, so he could help them in his own limited way. And that is to his credit... kind of.

He apparently could not see that he could help more alcoholics if he widened the scope of the program, rather than trying to squeeze all alcoholics, even if it might require drugs to do it, into his spiritual philosophy, and stranger still when one realizes that spirituality is not necessary in treating alcohol abuse.

It is a hopeful sign that equally successful secular programs like SR are available today. Secular defined as not anti religious, but inclusive of all beliefs or lack of beliefs, and even more hopeful that many of those who have been helped by AA can recognize this.

When I got sober in 1993 there was no internet. All I learned about AA was from those in my immediate AA circle.

I think it was around 2005 or so I learned from another member that Wilson had experimented with LSD.

I also learned that Wilson while in the hospital had been under the influence of belladonna a drug known to cause hallucinations. And his buddy Ebby Thacher had been to the hospital attempting to get Wilson to turn himself over to God and free him from alcoholism.
https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/health/20drunk.html

All of which leads me to believe it's possible Wilson's spiritual experience was a result of the drug. Of basically being as high as a kite.

Which doesn't change the fact he helped start AA and millions are grateful. However it does help explain why the 12 steps may not provide a spiritual awakening for all.

Still, this doesn't mean one can't get sober in AA without a spiritual awakening... because many do.

Yet, I understand why there are those in AA prefer to keep such a discussion and/or Wilson's flaws as a man under wraps.

Although, I'm not sure that's possible today.
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Old 11-18-2019, 12:28 PM
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Originally Posted by DriGuy View Post
Thank you for this excellent resource. I've puzzled a lot about Bill Wilson over the years and over what possessed him. The article does shed some light on Wilson's psychological motivations.

Bill Wilson is a strange enigma to me, so it's not a surprise that his program would also seem strange to me. His foray into LSD, even though explained away in the article as "being of another era," must be at least curious to the most devoted AA member today. He wanted people who could not believe in the spiritual to have a spiritual experience by any means possible, so he could help them in his own limited way. And that is to his credit... kind of.

He apparently could not see that he could help more alcoholics if he widened the scope of the program, rather than trying to squeeze all alcoholics, even if it might require drugs to do it, into his spiritual philosophy, and stranger still when one realizes that spirituality is not necessary in treating alcohol abuse.

It is a hopeful sign that equally successful secular programs like SR are available today. Secular defined as not anti religious, but inclusive of all beliefs or lack of beliefs, and even more hopeful that many of those who have been helped by AA can recognize this.

When I got sober in 1993 there was no internet. All I learned about AA was from those in my immediate AA circle.

It was years later I learned from another member Wilson had experimented with LSD.

I also learned that Wilson while in the hospital had been under the influence of belladonna a drug known to cause hallucinations. And his buddy Ebby Thacher had been to the hospital attempting to get Wilson to turn himself over to God and free him from alcoholism.
https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/health/20drunk.html

All of which leads me to believe it's not unreasonable to think Wilson's spiritual experience was a result of the drug. Of basically being as high as a kite.

Which doesn't change the fact he helped start AA and millions are grateful. However it does lead me to understand why the 12 steps may not provide a spiritual awakening for all.

Still, this doesn't mean one can't get sober in AA without a spiritual awakening... because many do.

But I understand why some in AA prefer to keep such a discussion and/or Wilson's flaws as a man under wraps.

However, I'm not sure that's possible today.
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Old 11-18-2019, 06:19 PM
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Originally Posted by DriGuy View Post
Secular defined as not anti religious, but inclusive of all beliefs or lack of beliefs.
As a non believer when I arrived, that is exactly how I saw AA, and that is how I would define secular. it is still the same today, everyone is welcome regardless of belief or no belief.

When we get into the possibility of including more options in the AA program, quite a few are included in the big book but unfortunately, for the type of alcoholic they were dealing with, these ideas were rarely, if ever, successful. In a way it was part of the diagnosis.

Interestingly it seems Bill was pretty easy going about the program and even watered it down a bit in an effort to be more inclusive. Bob and Clarence took a much more spiritual approach and were considerably more successful. Cleveland AA was so successful that many people thought that was where AA started.

It is a shame to judge Bill's medically supervised LSD experiments by the standards and knowledge of today. It gets pretty close to character assassination, a polite form of murder to knock him for doing what he did in the times in which he lived. In fact he may have been well ahead of his time, and in any case those experiements were going on with alcoholics all around the world at the time.

The concept of using psychodellic drugs to bring on mystical or conversion experiences is still current in the world of psychiatry. Some experts believe, like Jung, that the only solution for extreme cases is some kind of conversion experience, and they have been trying for years to bring this about through medical means. Their efforts have been largely unsuccessful, but a recent peer review of Bill's case showed that a single dose of LSD may have had a positive effect. More research required they say.

One hopes that any volunteers for future research will not be subject to the level of criticism that Bill has been.
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Old 11-19-2019, 12:47 PM
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Here's my testimony ....

I've never been a big thinker, figure-outer, analyzer or interpreter ...

more of a direction follower.

If I need to think about every damn thing, then I'm not ready.

I've known many, many smart people in AA ...

most of them are long gone.

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Old 11-19-2019, 01:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Ken33xx View Post

Wilson while in the hospital had been under the influence of belladonna a drug known to cause hallucinations. And his buddy Ebby Thacher had been to the hospital attempting to get Wilson to turn himself over to God and free him from alcoholism.

All of which leads me to believe it's not unreasonable to think Wilson's spiritual experience was a result of the drug. Of basically being as high as a kite.
I think it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that because Bill was given a hallucinogen in his hospital stay that this "caused" his spiritual experience. But it's important to understand the distinction between a “hallucinogenic” and "psychedelic" drug. There are three forms of hallucinogenic drugs.

1) Dissociatives "produce a feeling of being unreal or totally disconnected from oneself, or a kind of derealization in which the outside world seems completely unreal".

2) Psychedelics, like LSD "can produce "the warping and distorting of shapes and surfaces, and strange alterations incolor. Some people see repetitive geometric shapes. Some people may experience what they believe to be higher spatial/temporal dimensions" People who take psychedelics claim on some occasions that the drug put them in contact with God, the Infinite, or some other kind of divine realm".

3) Deliriants, like belladona are not at all like psychedelics; they produce a state of delirium in which drug takers fall into a stupor, or a state of complete mental confusion.

Bills white light spiritual experience in the hospital is not consistent with with belladona, which is not a psychedelic.
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Old 11-19-2019, 01:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Gottalife View Post
It is a shame to judge Bill's medically supervised LSD experiments by the standards and knowledge of today. It gets pretty close to character assassination, a polite form of murder to knock him for doing what he did in the times in which he lived. In fact he may have been well ahead of his time
I could not agree more Gottalife. Unfortunately the character assassination seems to be the reason that the AA is so sensitive about all this.

It seems appropriate to echo AAPJs question
Originally Posted by AAPJ View Post
Don't they fully understand the idea that we are only as sick as our secrets?
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Old 11-19-2019, 01:31 PM
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Originally Posted by awuh1 View Post
I think it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that because Bill was given a hallucinogen in his hospital stay that this "caused" his spiritual experience. But it's important to understand the distinction between a “hallucinogenic” and "psychedelic" drug. There are three forms of hallucinogenic drugs.

1) Dissociatives "produce a feeling of being unreal or totally disconnected from oneself, or a kind of derealization in which the outside world seems completely unreal".

2) Psychedelics, like LSD "can produce "the warping and distorting of shapes and surfaces, and strange alterations incolor. Some people see repetitive geometric shapes. Some people may experience what they believe to be higher spatial/temporal dimensions" People who take psychedelics claim on some occasions that the drug put them in contact with God, the Infinite, or some other kind of divine realm".

3) Deliriants, like belladona are not at all like psychedelics; they produce a state of delirium in which drug takers fall into a stupor, or a state of complete mental confusion.

Bills white light spiritual experience in the hospital is not consistent with with belladona, which is not a psychedelic.
Atropa belladonna and related plants, such as Datura stramonium (commonly known as jimson weed), have occasionally been used as recreational drugs because of the vivid hallucinations and delirium they produce. These hallucinations are most commonly described as very unpleasant, and recreational use is considered extremely dangerous because of the high risk of unintentional fatal overdose. The main psychoactive ingredients are the alkaloids scopolamine, and to a lesser extent, hyoscyamine. The effects of atropine on the central nervous system include memory disruption, which may lead to severe confusion. The major effects of belladonna consumption last for three to four hours; visual hallucinations can last for three to four days, and some negative aftereffects are preserved for several days.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atropa...reational_drug

Wilson took the drug under the supervision of a doctor reducing the negative side effects. I don't feel it's unfair to suggest the drug might well have played a role in what Wilson experienced,
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Old 11-19-2019, 01:40 PM
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Originally Posted by awuh1 View Post
I could not agree more Gottalife. Unfortunately the character assassination seems to be the reason that the AA is so sensitive about all this.
The LSD is a sensitive subject and I fully agree it needs to be taken in the context of the times. But then so does the Doctor's Opinion.
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Old 11-20-2019, 06:08 PM
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While I did say we are only as sick as our secrets and I think that hiding the information today is the wrong decision I do understand why AA kept silent about Bill's use of LSD in the last century. If this had come out say 30 years ago their fear was that it would severely damage the AA organization. I recall the old timers from my first time around in AA during the 1990s. They were a bunch of proud drunks who looked down on hippies and druggies. We did not discuss drugs even a little bit in AA meetings back then. Pot smoking was off the table but we could smoke up the room with tobacco so much that one could not see across the room. Can you imagine the old AAers reaction if they found out that their sacred leader BW had dropped LSD?

This was an era when a lot more things were just swept under the rug and not discussed. Remember don't ask don't tell? Or how about those Catholic priests.

One of the problems for any organization that decides to hide information is that it becomes harder and harder to unwind the decision as time passes. Because the secondary scandal of covering up the information often grows to be as big as (or even bigger than) the original sin that was covered up.

Again in the end I really do not care much what Bill did personally. I appreciate the AA program for all that it is. Do I think it's perfect? No but I think it's progress not perfection. That's good enough for me.
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Old 11-21-2019, 06:32 AM
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It first came out in an article by Ernest Kurtz in 1999. He was the author of Not God and had access to the archives while researching the book (it's a "must read "for anyone interested in AA history, at least IMO).

Here's a link to the article: http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr...akes%20LSD.pdf

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Old 11-24-2019, 06:59 AM
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Originally Posted by CousinA View Post
It first came out in an article by Ernest Kurtz in 1999. He was the author of Not God and had access to the archives while researching the book (it's a "must read "for anyone interested in AA history, at least IMO).

Here's a link to the article: http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr...akes%20LSD.pdf

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For those who have not read the article. It is not an attempt to assassinate Bill Wilson's character, it even justifies his actions as acceptable in a time when LSD was not yet recognized as a dangerous drug.
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Old 11-25-2019, 07:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Tatsy View Post
This article was published this year, following a survey:

Naturally occurring and psychedelic drug–occasioned experiences interpreted as personal encounters with God are well described but have not been systematically compared. In this study, five groups of individuals participated in an online survey with detailed questions characterizing the subjective phenomena, interpretation, and persisting changes attributed to their single most memorable God encounter experience.

I find the conclusion interesting. But the problem I see, is that people who suffered adverse side effects, would be unlikely to note and respond to the survey, given the places of recruitment. And there are many puplished reports of adverse side effects.

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/ar...1-27888b4f1734
I had one of those encounters naturally. I was a quasi believer at the time but it did feel like I was connecting to some greater consciousness. I felt this overwhelming feeling of acceptance. It healed me almost instantly of some very deep wounds.

I was under the impression it was common knowledge that hallucinogens are being looked into for the treatment of depression. I'm a big Sam Harris fan and he meditated and got the same experience of connectivity. It can be done without drugs.

Here is him on psychedelics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-jdJ3xlYXE

Wilson may end up being ahead of his time. I can't see this being a good for anyone who has mental health problems unless under a doctor's care though. It might make it much worse.
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Old 11-25-2019, 08:13 PM
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https://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j...4nFkNCx_Dgwq8k

this is an interesting podcast on the past and current research into psychedelics
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Old 11-26-2019, 12:29 AM
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I had an experience like Bills, stone cold sober, no drugs. Laying on my bed 2 days after yet another episode involving yet another car crash and loss of job. Cry out to God, start praying and wham, this feeling of ectasy, love and being in the presence of something indescribably powerful came over me, then a feeling of calm and 'everything is going to be ok' and it was.

The only thing I can think to describe it would be like a hug from a parent when you're small and upset and then that makes everything better, but like 100 times that feeling and like I have since read from others who have had the same experience, a realisation that I had just been in the presence of God.
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Old 11-26-2019, 01:33 PM
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Like yours Derringer, my spiritual experience came stone cold sober and followed a "cry out". I always feel so grateful to hear from others who have had similar experiences. I see these experiences as a response to an earnest, and urgent, request for help.

Though apart from the reality, at least as we are accustomed to experiencing it, the experience for me was more real than real while at the same time being for the most part ineffable.

Silentrun my experience also had that quality of connectedness . Thanks again, I'm grateful to you both.
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Old 11-26-2019, 01:43 PM
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Silentrun,, Derringer and Awuh, your experiences sound wonderful. I’d truly love to have such an experience!
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