The very first people to achieve sobriety by following in the footsteps of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson did so by joining the same cult he had. It was the Oxford Group that taught all compulsions could be cured through confession, the Group which practiced “guidance” as a blend of Christian prayer and occult séances, the Group that had the six steps he made into a redundant twelve. Some AA reformers think the program was more pure and effective during its early days.
Ebby Thacher was the alcoholic Oxford Group member who recruited his old school chum Bill W. Ebby was born to a wealthy family, the son and grandson of successful politicians. He was recruited into the Oxford Group no doubt on this basis. A flashy cult that collected celebrities and liked to flaunt wealth and connections, it actively sought out the wastrel sons of wealthy and important men.
It’s debatable whether Ebby was a true member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He attended meetings periodically, relapsed repeatedly, and resented not being more recognized for his role in converting Bill W., including financial reward. If Bill got to sit pretty on repackaged Oxford Group theology, why didn’t he? In her autobiography Lois Remembers Lois Wilson, wife of Bill, recalled Ebby.
“Beyond that crucial visit with Bill, Ebby seemed to do very little about helping others. He never appeared ereally a member of AA. After his first slip, many harmful thoughts seemed to take possession of him. He appeared jealous of Bill and critical, even when sober, of both the Oxford Group and AA.”
What is certain is that he maintained relationships with Bill and other early AAs for the remainder of his life. His longest stretch of sobriety was seven years. After the sudden death of his girlfriend he relapsed. Ebby spent the last two years of his life at an AA treatment facility in Texas, paid for by Bill Wilson and AA. Official literature insists that he died sober. Bill Wilson referred to Ebby as his sponsor despite these obstacles.
While Ebby was certainly not the first or only Oxford Grouper or AA to resume drinking, he was in many ways the most important. His struggles gave Bill reason to doubt the certainty of his own success. Ebby’s relapses also helped shape AA doctrine regarding “slips” in sobriety: that they are due to resentments and that “relapse is a part of recovery.” We will learn more about the long term sobriety status of other early AA members in upcoming posts.