Bill W., founder of AA, credits three key sources with the inspiration for the 12 steps of Alcoholic’s Anonymous (AA); The Oxford Groups, psychologist William James, and Dr. Silkworth of Townes Hospital. Each of these played a role in helping to lay the foundation of AA.
While the Oxford Group was founded by a Lutheran minister, Dr. Buchman, like AA it eventually became a non-denominational program. But the moral principles at its heart remained the same; 1) Total honesty, 2) Making amends, and 3) Meditation (“quiet time”) seeking the guidance of God.
After finding success with the Oxford Group, Bill W.’s long time friend, Ebby, came to him to share with him the message of the Oxford Group. Ebby explained that he wasn’t even fighting cravings to drink, that he had instead been released from them, a feeling he’d never had before. Bill was intrigued.
When Bill, very shortly therafter, went for his fourth and final hospitalization at Townes Hospital, workplace of Dr. Silkworth. Dr. Silkworth helped Bill to understand that alcoholism was actually an illness. Dr. Silkworth, along with Ebby, encouraged Bill to seek spiritual revelation to save him from the death grip alcohol had on him.
Seeking the help of his higher power, following Ebby’s instructions based on the Oxford Group principles, Bill prayed and worked on himself. Three days later, he experienced a spiritual awakening that shook him from the cords that held him bound.
After being released from the hospital, a changed man, Bill read a book by William James entitled, “Varieties of Religious Experience.” This book rang true to Bill as it spoke of spiritual awakenings happening to people who had lost all hope or capability of fighting something bigger than themselves.
Thus came the inspiration for Step 1 (powerlessness) and Step 3 (turning one’s life and will over to a higher power). All three of these great influences on Bill’s life and recovery have become a part of the fabric of AA, weaved into every part of what AA stands for.