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W.'s letter to Dr. Carl Gustav Jung
psychologist & psychiatrist -Jan 23, 1961
reference is made on page 26 & 27 of the Big Book.
dear Dr. Jung:
letter of great appreciation has been very long overdue.
May I first introduce myself as Bill W., a co-founder of
the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous. Though you have surely
heard of us, I doubt if you are aware that a certain conversation
you once had with one of your patients, a Mr. Rowland H.,
back in the early 1930's, did play a critical role in the
founding of our Fellowship.
Rowland H. has long since passed away, the recollections
of his remarkable experience while under treatment by you
has definitely become part of AA history. Our remembrance
of Rowland H.'s statements about his experience with you
is as follows:
exhausted other means of recovery from his alcoholism, it
was about 1931 that he became your patient. I believe he
remained under your care for perhaps a year. His admiration
for you was boundless, and he left you with a feeling of
his great consternation, he soon relapsed into intoxication.
Certain that you were his "court of last resort," he again
returned to your care. Then followed the conversation between
you that was to become the first link in the chain of events
that led to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.
recollection of his account of that conversation is this:
First of all, you frankly told him of his hopelessness,
so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might
be concerned. This candid and humble statement of yours
was beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which our
Society has since been built.
from you, one he so trusted and admired, the impact upon
him was immense. When he then asked you if there was any
other hope, you told him that there might be, provided he
could become the subject of a spiritual or religious experience
- in short, a genuine conversion. You pointed out how such
an experience, if brought about, might remotivate him when
nothing else could. But you did caution, though, that while
such experiences had sometimes brought recovery to alcoholics,
they were, nevertheless, comparatively rare. You recommended
that he place himself in a religious atmosphere and hope
for the best. This I believe was the substance of your advice.
thereafter, Mr. Rowland H. joined the Oxford Groups, an
evangelical movement then at the height of its success in
Europe, and one with which you are doubtless familiar. You
will remember their large emphasis upon the principles of
self-survey, confession, restitution, and the giving of
oneself in service to others. They strongly stressed meditation
and prayer. In these surroundings, Rowland H. did find a
conversion experience that released him for the time being
from his compulsion to drink.
to New York, he became very active with the "O.G." here,
then led by an Episcopal clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker.
Dr. Shoemaker had been one of the founders of that movement,
and his was a powerful personality that carried immense
sincerity and conviction.
this time (1932-34) the Oxford Groups had already sobered
a number of alcoholics, and Rowland, feeling that he could
especially identify with these sufferers, addressed himself
to the help of still others. One of these chanced to be
an old schoolmate of mine, Edwin T. ("Ebby"). He had been
threatened with commitment to an institution, but Mr. H.
and another ex-alcoholic "O.G." member procured his parole
and helped to bring about his sobriety.
I had run the course of alcoholism and was threatened with
commitment myself. Fortunately I had fallen under the care
of a physician - a Dr. William D. Silkworth - who was wonderfully
capable of understanding alcoholics. But just as you had
given up on Rowland, so had he given me up. It was his theory
that alcoholism had two components - an obsession that compelled
the sufferer to drink against his will and interest, and
some sort of metabolism difficulty which he then called
an allergy. The alcoholic's compulsion guaranteed that the
alcoholic's drinking would go on, and the allergy made sure
that the sufferer would finally deteriorate, go insane,
or die. Though I had been one of the few he had thought
it possible to help, he was finally obliged to tell me of
my hopelessness; I, too, would have to be locked up. To
me, this was a shattering blow. Just as Rowland had been
made ready for his conversion experience by you, so had
my wonderful friend, Dr. Silkworth, prepared me.
of my plight, my friend Edwin T. came to see me at my home
where I was drinking. By then, it was November 1934. I had
long marked my friend Edwin for a hopeless case. Yet there
he was in a very evident state of "release" which could
by no means accounted for by his mere association for a
very short time with the Oxford Groups. Yet this obvious
state of release, as distinguished from the usual depression,
was tremendously convincing. Because he was a kindred sufferer,
he could unquestionably communicate with me at great depth.
I knew at once I must find an experience like his, or die.
I returned to Dr. Silkworth's care where I could be once
more sobered and so gain a clearer view of my friend's experience
of release, and of Rowland H.'s approach to him.
once more of alcohol, I found myself terribly depressed.
This seemed to be caused by my inability to gain the slightest
faith. Edwin T. again visited me and repeated the simple
Oxford Groups' formulas. Soon after he left me I became
even more depressed. In utter despair I cried out, "If there
be a God, will He show Himself." There immediately came
to me an illumination of enormous impact and dimension,
something which I have since tried to describe in the book
"Alcoholics Anonymous" and in "AA Comes of Age", basic texts
which I am sending you.
release from the alcohol obsession was immediate. At once
I knew I was a free man. Shortly following my experience,
my friend Edwin came to the hospital, bringing me a copy
of William James' "Varieties of Religious Experience". This
book gave me the realization that most conversion experiences,
whatever their variety, do have a common denominator of
ego collapse at depth. The individual faces an impossible
dilemma. In my case the dilemma had been created by my compulsive
drinking and the deep feeling of hopelessness had been vastly
deepened by my doctor. It was deepened still more by my
alcoholic friend when he acquainted me with your verdict
of hopelessness respecting Rowland H.
the wake of my spiritual experience there came a vision
of a society of alcoholics, each identifying with and transmitting
his experience to the next - chain style. If each sufferer
were to carry the news of the scientific hopelessness of
alcoholism to each new prospect, he might be able to lay
every newcomer wide open to a transforming spiritual experience.
This concept proved to be the foundation of such success
as Alcoholics Anonymous has since achieved. This has made
conversion experiences - nearly every variety reported by
James - available on an almost wholesale basis. Our sustained
recoveries over the last quarter century number about 300,000.
In America and through the world there are today 8,000 AA
to you, to Dr. Shoemaker of the Oxford Groups, to William
James, and to my own physician, Dr. Silkworth, we of AA
owe this tremendous benefaction. As you will now clearly
see, This astonishing chain of events actually started long
ago in your consulting room, and it was directly founded
upon your own humility and deep perception.
many thoughtful AAs are students of your writings. Because
of your conviction that man is something more than intellect,
emotion, and two dollars worth of chemicals, you have especially
endeared yourself to us.
our Society grew, developed its Traditions for unity, and
structured its functioning will be seen in the texts and
pamphlet material that I am sending you.
will also be interested to learn that in addition to the
"spiritual experience, "many AAs report a great variety
of psychic phenomena, the cumulative weight of which is
very considerable. Other members have - following their
recovery in AA - been much helped by your practitioners.
A few have been intrigued by the "I Ching" and your remarkable
introduction to that work.
be certain that your place in the affection, and in the
history of the Fellowship, is like no other.
William G. W.
Co-founder Alcoholics Anonymous
Read Dr. Carl
Jung's immediate reply to Bill's letter.