After a months-long suicidal drinking binge, and with a prognosis of certain death if he did not quit drinking, Bill W. let his newly converted friend Ebby Thacher take him to an Oxford Group meeting at the home of Rev. Sam Shoemaker. Although he was smashed drunk at the time, they led him in a prayer to give himself over to God before driving him to the Towns Hospital for his fourth belladona cure that year.
Ebby and other recently sober alcoholic Group members stayed by Bill’s bedside for days. As he experienced delirium tremors and hallucinations, they worked him over. Using the Five C’s (confidence, confession, conviction, conversion, continuance) they layed a massive guilt trip on him. To be clear, Bill W. was definitely already tripping without them.
The treatment protocol at Towns Hospital called for the patient to first be sedated using a compound of mostly chloral hydrate. Then “CC pills” containing a tremendously poisonous mercury compound, “blue mass pills” that included a tissue killer so strong its primary use today is removing genital warts, strychnine (rat poison), and of course the hourly dose of belladonna tincture itself. That included belladonna, henbane, morphine, some powerful antiemitics, and multivitamins for good measure.
With people working in shifts to preach at him constantly and enough psychoactive drugs to take down a rhinoceros, it’s no wonder Bill W. hallucinated a vision of God, elevating him to the top of a bright sunny mountain and surrounding him with divine presence. Nor is it surprising that he attributed this vision to godly salvation rather than the liters of poison in his body. Being saved and chosen by the divine creator of all appealed to his narcissistic temperament and to the wishes of the people with him.
All at once I found myself crying out, “If there is a God, let him show himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!”
Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up in an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed to me in my mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay there on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness… and I thought to myself, “So this is the God of the preachers!” A great peace stole over me.
– from Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (1957)
Come back tomorrow for more on Bill W, evangelical alcoholic