Bill Wilson's Fight With Depression
The pamphlet that Bill had published on niacin therapy was a collection of articles by several doctors who had done research in the area. My former sponsor (since moved out of state) had a copy and I believe I saw one at the Akron A.A. Archives, too, if memory serves correctly (always questionable). When searching for information on this, try using "nicotonic acid" and "nicotinamide"; both are forms of niacin and the terms are often used in the research literature.
Sept, at the beginning of the school year at Burr and Burton, Bill W was president of the senior class, star football player, star pitcher and captain of the baseball team and first violin in the school orchestra. (BW-FH 19)
Nov 18, Bill W's schoolmate and "first love" Bertha Bamford, died from hemorrhaging after surgery at the Flower Hospital in NYC. She was the daughter of the rector of the Manchester, VT Zion Episcopal Church. Bill learned about it at school on the 19th. It began a 3-year episode of depression, which severely affected his performance at school and home. (AACOA 54, PIO 35-36, BW-RT 51-58, NG 12, BW-FH 19-20)
Early, at the start of his second semester at Norwich, Bill W hurt his elbow and insisted on being treated by his mother in Boston. She did not receive him well and immediately sent him back. Bill had panic attacks that he perceived as heart attacks. Every attempt to perform physical exercise caused him to be taken to the college infirmary. After several weeks of being unable to find anything wrong, the doctors sent him home. This time he went to his grandparents in East Dorset, VT. (BW-FH 21-22)
Spring, Bill W's condition worsened in East Dorset but doctors could find nothing physically wrong. He spent much of the early spring in bed complaining of "sinking spells." (BW-FH 22)
Later, his grandfather, Fayette, motivated him with the
prospect of opening an agency to sell automobiles. Bill's depression
lifted and he began trying to interest people in buying automobiles. He wrote to
his mother that he nearly sold an automobile to the Bamfords (the parents of his
lost love). (BW-FH 23)
On returning to NY, Bill W and Lois rented a three-room apartment at 38 Livingston St in Brooklyn. Not big enough for Bill's desires, he enlarged it by renting the apartment next door and knocking out the walls between them. (BW-RT 144, LR 71, PIO 80-81)
By the end of 1927, Bill W was so depressed by his behavior and drinking that he signed over to Lois all rights, title and interests of his stockbroker accounts with Baylis and Co. and Tobey and Kirk. (LR 72, PIO 82)
Dec 14, Ebby visited Bill W at Towns Hospital and told him about the Oxford Group principles. After Ebby left, Bill fell into a deep depression (his "deflation at depth") and had a profound spiritual experience after crying out "If there be a God, will he show himself." Dr Silkworth later assured Bill he was not crazy and told him to hang on to what he had found. In a lighter vein, Bill and others would later refer to this as his "white flash" or "hot flash" experience. (AABB 13-14, AACOA vii, 13, BW-40 141-148, NG 19-20, NW 23-24, PIO 120-124, GTBT 111, LOH 278-279)
Summer, Bill W began twice-a-week treatment with Dr Tiebout for debilitating episodes of depression. Some AA members were outraged and castigated Bill for "not working the program," "secretly drinking" and "pill taking." Bill endured the attacks in silence. (BW-RT 299, BW-40 166, BW-FH 6, 160-161, 166, PIO 292-303, GTBT 121)
Bill W started seeing psychotherapist, Dr Frances Weeks (a Jungian) once a week on Fridays. He continued to see her until 1949 for his episodes of depression. (BW-FH 166-167, GB 66, PIO 334-335)
After 1955 the depression that had plagued Bill W for so long, lifted and he regained his bright outlook. However, during 1956, his best friend, Mark Whalon, died. (PIO 359, 364)
There is a link between Bill's LSD and niacin (vitamin B3) experiences:
British radio commentator Gerald Heard introduced Bill W to Aldous Huxley and British psychiatrists Humphrey Osmond and Abram Hoffer (the founders of orthomolecular psychiatry). Humphrey and Osmond were working with schizophrenic and alcoholic patients at a Canadian hospital.
Bill joined with Heard and Huxley and first took LSD in CA on August 29, 1956. Medically supervised by psychiatrist Sidney Cohen of the LA VA hospital, the LSD experiments occurred well prior to the "hippie era" of the late 1960's.
At the time, LSD was thought to have psychotherapeutic potential (research was also being funded by the National Institutes of Health and National Academy of Sciences). The intent of Osmond and Hoffer was to induce an experience similar to the DTs in hopes that it might shock alcoholics away from alcohol.
Among those invited to experiment with LSD (and who accepted) were Nell Wing, Father Ed Dowling, Sam Shoemaker and Lois Wilson. Marty M and other AA members participated in NY (under medical supervision by a psychiatrist from Roosevelt Hospital).
Bill had several experiments with LSD up to 1959 (perhaps into the early 1960's). The book "Pass It On" (PIO 368-377) reports the full LSD story and notes that there were repercussions within AA over these activities. Lois was a reluctant participant and claimed to have had no response to the chemical.
Hoffer and Osmond did research that later influenced Bill, in December 1966, to enthusiastically embrace a campaign to promote vitamin B3 (niacin) therapy. It also created Traditions issues within the Fellowship and caused a bit of an uproar. The book "Pass It On" (PIO 387-391) has a fairly full discussion.
In January 1958, Bill wrote a Grapevine article titled "The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety" commenting that he had a bad episode of depression after 1955. The article also mentions what he did in response to it.
AABB Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book, AAWS
AACOA AA Comes of Age, AAWS
BW-RT Bill W by Robert Thompson (soft cover)
BW-FH Bill W by Francis Hartigan (hard cover)
BW-40 Bill W My First 40 Years, autobiography (hard cover)
GB Getting Better Inside Alcoholics Anonymous by Nan Robertson (soft cover)
GTBT Grateful to Have Been There by Nell Wing (soft cover)
LOH The Language of the Heart, AA Grapevine Inc
LR Lois Remembers, by Lois Wilson
NG Not God, by Ernest Kurtz (expanded edition, soft cover)
NW New Wine, by Mel B (soft cover)
PIO Pass It On, AAWS
Return to the Let's Ask Bill Page
Return to the A. A. History Page
Return to the West Baltimore Group Home Page