"Al-Anon: The woman behind the movement"
This wonderful story highlights the fact that Lois Burnham Wilson's husband founded Alcoholics Anonymous and she founded Al-Anon. Together they changed the world one day at a time.
St. Anthony Messenger Book Reviews
Reviewed by RACHELLE LINNER, a librarian and writer who lives in Boston.
WILLIAM BORCHERT’S clear, workmanlike prose in The Lois Wilson Story is perfectly suited to its subject: the wife of Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous. In style and substance this biography is characterized by modesty, honesty and empathy, qualities Lois Burnham Wilson possessed to a remarkable degree. Her legacy, as cofounder of Al-Anon in 1951, is the sustained health of those who have used the medicine of the Twelve Steps to recover from the “spiritual illness” that ensnares families of alcoholics.
A “need to nurture” was instilled in Lois from her privileged childhood in Brooklyn and Vermont. Her early life, so rich in opportunity and stability, was in marked contrast to the formative years of her husband’s childhood.
Bill Wilson was nine when his parents divorced. His alcoholic father deserted the family, and the following year his mother left Bill and his sister with her parents and moved from Vermont to Boston. Bill’s childhood and young adulthood were spent battling depression, resentment, low self-esteem and guilt—feelings that would exacerbate the anger, bitterness and grandiose ambitions that fueled his alcoholism.
Bill and Lois married in January 1918, less than a month before Bill was sent to Europe as a second lieutenant. Bill’s drinking began in the Army. By the time he returned to civilian life, it was serious enough to derail what should have been a promising career as a financial research analyst.
The early years of their marriage were shadowed by a series of miscarriages; surgery following an ectopic pregnancy ended Lois’s hopes for a family. In her grief and guilt, she believed that her inability to bear a child was the cause of Bill’s drinking.
The description of Bill Wilson’s descent into the torment of alcoholism is a blunt, humiliating narrative of degradation, capturing both Bill’s physical/ mental decline and Lois’s anguished and futile attempts to love her husband into sobriety. By 1929 he had crossed the “invisible line,” “the point at which,” writes Borchert, “a heavy drinker becomes an alcoholic, when his desire for a drink turns into a craving or an addiction.”
His recovery began in 1934 through an introduction to the Oxford Group, a nondenominational spiritual movement that “focused on the need for people to change.” Although Bill initially resisted its religious focus, his life changed on December 11, 1934. Lying in a hospital bed, in “the deepest, darkest depression he had ever known,” Bill Wilson threw out a challenge: “If there be a God, let Him show Himself!”
The response caused a profound conversion. He was “seized with an ecstasy beyond description. I became acutely conscious of a Presence which seemed like a veritable sea of living spirit. I lay on the shores of a new world.”
On a business trip to Akron after five months of shaky sobriety, Bill Wilson met Dr. Bob Smith, “another failed Oxford Group drunkard.” Together they articulated what would be the central insight of Alcoholics Anonymous, that they “needed the fellowship of other alcoholics to stay sober.”
Borchert’s vivid description of the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous evokes the exhilaration of new ideas coalescing into a quintessentially American movement: democratic, nonprofessional, self-supporting and optimistic.
Lois began her own journey through informal meetings with the wives of alcoholics, a seed that would one day flourish into the organization known as Al-Anon. “When she began to share her innermost thoughts and feelings with others, she came to understand how much she had really believed she could control her husband’s life....She was totally convinced that her love and inspiration was all that was required to fulfill his every need, that her own willpower and steadfast guidance was all that was needed to quench Bill’s thirst for alcohol.
“As Bill often said, alcoholic behavior is ‘self-will run riot,’ and ‘self-centeredness is the root of our problem.’ And the answer? ‘Only through utter defeat,’ he wrote, ‘are we able to take our first steps toward liberation and strength. Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.’”
Bill (who died in 1971 on their 53rd wedding anniversary) and Lois (who lived to be 97 and died in 1988) came to know the contentment such “happy and purposeful” lives bring. Their achievements, justly celebrated in this book, are all the more compelling because of the stark portrayal of the suffering they endured first. It is a story of fidelity and intelligent love, told with skill and suffused with gratitude.
The 700 Club
With Dr. Pat Robertson
Mr. Borchert was interviewed concerning his book, The Lois Wilson Story: When Love is Not Enough, which aired to more than five million people around the world.
The Daily Word
"God in Action"
This story highlights the faith of Lois Burnham Wilson that sustained she and her husband Bill who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Lois went on the co-found Al-Anon and together they helped combat the addition of alcoholism.
Grand Strand Magazine
Unearthing a Treasure
Article By: Sara Sobota
Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
New book by local author William Borchert tells a long-delayed story of loss, love and hope.
We all know the drudgery of unpacking boxes that immediately follows a move to a new home. Occasionally, that chore results in a treasure of some kind – an old letter, a memento, or a lost item suddenly found. For local writer William Borchert, the treasure evolved into his writing of a long-overdue book. …
The Hartford Courant
The Woman Behind Bill W. - Understanding Alcoholism's Grip
By BILL WILLIAMS, Courant Staff Writer
Many books have been written about Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. But his devoted wife, Lois, has received far less attention, even though she co-founded Al-Anon, the respected self-help group for the families of alcoholics.
Now William G. Borchert, a family friend, has written "The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough" [Hazelden, 381 pp., $24.95], a compelling biography of two lives and two movements that transformed society's understanding of alcoholism.
Borchert masterly conveys the ugliness and diabolical grip of alcoholism and how it almost killed Wilson during a 16-year downward spiral that began with his tossing down drinks with Army buddies at the end of World War I. By 1934, he was drinking virtually nonstop and showing signs of brain damage. Finally, in one last desperate attempt to save his life, Wilson checked himself into a Manhattan psychiatric hospital. Alone in his room, he pleaded with God "to give me a sign." Suddenly, the room "blazed with an indescribable white light. Wilson was "seized with an ecstasy beyond description" and felt "possessed by the absolute." From that day on, he never touched alcohol again.
Although Wilson believed that spirituality was central to recovery, he also stumbled on the remarkably effective concepts of one alcoholic talking to another and each staying sober, just one day at a time.
Wilson eventually encountered Dr. Bob Smith, his AA co-founder, drafted the famous 12-step program and wrote the AA bible, popularly known as the Big Book. Meanwhile, Lois Wilson was becoming angry and resentful. Although her husband was not drinking, he was devoting all of his energy to the new movement. One evening at home, while Bill was busy with a group of recovering alcoholics in the living room, she invited their waiting wives into the kitchen for tea. That innocuous session planted the seeds for Al-Anon.
Borchert's splendid narrative is filled with dramatic tension that keeps the reader hooked, but it also is a valuable primer about the nature of alcoholism. People once thought that excessive drinking was a moral issue and a matter of willpower - rather than a serious disease.
The book's subtitle is based on Lois Wilson's belief that her love for Bill would eventually get him to stop drinking. She was convinced that her shortcomings, including two failed pregnancies, caused him to drink. Only gradually did she realize how much her husband's addiction affected her in unhealthful ways.
An estimated 40 million Americans suffer from alcoholism. AA and Al-Anon have been lifelines for countless people. This invaluable historical account may give alcoholics and their family members courage and hope, knowing they are not alone and that sobriety is possible - one day at a time.
The Los Angeles Times
The untold story of founder of Al-Anon
Lois Wilson, the wife of the founder of AA, is the subject of a new biography.
By Lindsay Sandham
Tucked away in a strip mall at the corner of Mesa Verde Drive East and Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa is a small gift store.
From the outside, the store, called The Latest Thing, appears to be nothing more than a typical gift shop. Inside, however, calming incense burns and whimsical trinkets sparkle on every shelf. Among the many books on the shelves, recovery and self-help volumes predominate.
The store, which emphasizes 12-step recovery, was the perfect place to host author William Borchert for a signing of his latest work, "The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough." Borchert signed nearly 40 copies of his book, which was released Sept. 30, and discussed his experiences writing it to a small crowd on Sunday afternoon.
In his book, Borchert tells the story of Lois Wilson, wife of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson.
Although much has been written about Bill Wilson -- including Borchert's screenplay for the television movie "My Name is Bill W," for which Borchert received an Emmy nomination -- Lois Wilson and her struggle with being married to an alcoholic have received little attention.
Years after her husband started AA and created the 12-step program, Lois Wilson co-founded Al-Anon, a 12-step organization for the spouses and family members of alcoholics.
Cindy T., a Newport Beach resident, has been attending Al-Anon meetings for three years. Like other members of AA and Al-Anon, she asked that her full name not be used.
"It's given me an understanding of the disease," she said of Al-Anon. "The first thing is to truly understand that it is a disease. The other thing I like about this program is it's taught me to support sobriety."
Bob Z. of Norwalk belongs to AA and has been attending meetings for 22 years. He said it's easy for him not to drink.
"It's a different lifestyle," he said of sobriety. "The thought [of having a drink] comes and goes once in awhile, but the obsession is gone."
Both Cindy and Bob attended Borchert's book signing and bought multiple copies of the book for friends and relatives.
Borchert spent a lot of time with Lois Wilson before her death in 1988. While he was working on the screenplay about her husband, he taped interviews with her but never used them because the movie focused on Bill Wilson and the founding of AA. Borchert said he came across those tapes a few years ago and realized he needed to tell Lois Wilson's story.
"What a lot of people don't realize is [that] without Lois Wilson, there would not have been Alcoholics Anonymous," he said. "This is the first biography of Lois Wilson, and it's long overdue.... I felt this book needed to be written."
Borchert said he is working on getting the Lois Wilson story made into a movie.
"It's a great event because it's about a woman who was there in the beginning," Bob said. "There's an awful lot of people that don't realize what a historical event this is. A book has been written about a founder of an organization. Not much has been written about Lois Wilson."
Copies of the book are available at The Latest Thing, 1525 Mesa Verde Drive East, suite 113, Costa Mesa. For more information, call (714) 754-7541 or visit www.latestthing.com.
MR BORCHERT HAS MADE SEVERAL HUNDRED RADIO AND TV APPEARANCES
AND GIVEN NUMEROUS NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE INTERVIEWS
TO DISCUSS HIS BOOKS & FILMS