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Literature for SELF-Discovery

Bill W., A Strange Salvation

A Biographical Novel Based on Key Moments in the Life of Bill Wilson,
the Alcoholics Anonymous Founder, and
a Probing of His Mysterious 11-year Depression

Bill W. A Strange Salvationby Paul Hourihan
240 pages, 9″x 6″ (Quality paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-931816-02-1
$16.95  Retail Price         

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After Bill Wilson’s supreme achievement in founding Alcoholics Anonymous, why would he have suffered a serious depression that lasted more than a decade?

By attempting to throw light on this question, Paul Hourihan involves the reader in many other themes of vital relevance to everyone―not to those in recovery alone.

This in-depth psychological study of Bill Wilson AA founder, is  generally based on the facts of his life, but not restricted to the literal truththe prerogative of the novel. A number of biographical events in Wilson’s history have been passed over in favor of an intensive, original recreation of its key moments, from childhood to early middle age, when the power of the depression was first felt.

Chiefly a work of the imagination as this is, it is able to probe more deeply into the hidden life of its subject than non-fiction can do. According to the author, Bill W.’s depression may have been his salvation, and saved him from a worse fate.

The story of AA and Bill W.’s own struggles, within and outside the movement, are seen throughout from his standpoint alone.

Written in the glowing, masterful style that is Paul Hourihan’s hallmark, Bill W., A Strange Salvation will introduce new readers to Bill Wilson, one of the seminal voices of our age, and provide a fresh look for those already familiar with his story.

This book asks gut-wrenching, soul-searching questions that reach deep into the psyche of readers, both those who have experienced alcoholism and those that have not. The questions are universally relevant and inspire readers to search for their own truths….

A profound, in-depth study of the subject in an easy to read novel format, this book is enlightening.

– Shirley Roe, Allbooks Reviews

This book is definitely an important contribution to those seeking to unravel and understand the many conundrums that Bill Wilson went through in putting together what some have called “one of the most important reform movements of the 20th century.” …

In the end, however, this book wasn’t so much about Bill W.’s strange salvation, as it was about what his story and depression actually represents. Hourihan, in a masterly and brilliant manner, described exactly what most every seeker of mystical union is up against and must transcend before arriving at their most cherished of goals—having the experience of Divine Union, also known to some as “Self-Realization,” and to others as “God Consciousness.” Dr. Paul Hourihan’s manner of writing this book proved to be an exceptional undertaking with a remarkable result.

– James Lewis Marshall, Cosmic Consciousness Fellowship, For full review: BILL W Review by Jim Marshall in PDF.

Author’s Note

From 1944 to 1955 Bill Wilson suffered a profound and mysterious depression which, when it has been considered at all, has never been satisfactorily accounted for. To explain, or at least understand the causes of this malaise is the purpose of the present volume.

Since the facts of his history as we know them have thrown so little light on the problem, I have not felt bound by a purely biographical or literal approach to his life to find the answer, if such be forthcoming. At the same time Bill W., A Strange Salvation is not entirely a novel either, but rather a creative work based on some of the facts of Wilson’s life, while employing traditional techniques of imagination leavened and focused by the potency of meditative insight brought to bear upon all phases of the subject. Many of the scenes and mental struggles he is shown going through did not happen as far as we know―but they may have. Their inclusion is justified if, to the reader, they convince and illuminate.

1   The Rupture

He never regretted his place of birth in the valley hamlet of East Dorset, folded closely in the Green Mountains of southern Vermont, a womb of a village where life like a fable—among dwellings shaded by sugar maples and bounded by blue-veined marble sidewalks fashioned from the nearby quarries—could magically flower.

But there were signs of other realities at work. They spoke to him a cryptic legend: that everything was interconnected.

In the Wilson house, a popular inn at the center of the village, operated by his grandmother, the widow Wilson, he had been born—in a room next to the bar.

Did that mean that drinking was to play a role in his life? Strange, for he had been warned about it, reminded that alcohol had caused trouble on his father’s side of the family.

It almost seemed that even from the first hours he was being watched.

Then, his birth. His mother had suffered terribly, her protracted cries on that wintry late November night in 1895 alarming to hear. She never forgot that night. Upon delivery, she found him almost dead.

Some power, expressed through his mother’s agony, did not want him in the world? The idea frightened—and thrilled him at the same time. Or she did not want him? This, too, frightened and dismayed but, in a way he could not fathom, intrigued him.

Was his life meant to be something special?

Mark Whalon thought so.

Ten years older than himself, one of the few in the Dorset villages with a college background, and a stubbornly independent thinker, Mark never forgot that night, and always referred to it over the years in the same tone of wonder and conviction:

“—A bitter stormy night-not one to be born in! And what with your mother’s cries, which went on and on and really frightened me, I couldn’t help but feel that something odd was going on. Even though I was only ten I thought that whoever was getting born in that room wasn’t going to live a life like other folks but had some kind of destiny to fulfill—someone who was to hold high office or become a prophet or a great leader of some kind, and it was as if I was being commissioned to keep it in remembrance, never to forget it, perhaps to kind of watch over you. I thought of tales of ancient times, when heroes were born and Nature was convulsed. It was like that—”

And Mark had half-grinned, grimacing in an exaggerated way, all the time looking at him with a peculiar, fixed expression.

Was Mark right? He did feel even in those early days that he was meant to do something special in the world—but what, exactly? Mostly the feeling was like a great store of hidden energy or power that rose up to consciousness from deep within him, making him feel strange to himself and at the same time almost invincible.

How strong his feelings were, how sensitive he was to everything!

•   •   •

He believed he had lived before and would again; did not yet know why, but knew he would find out some day. Meanwhile the conviction, never talked about, hovered over him like a presence.

East Dorset, cradled among the mountains, was like a stage in a theater, where a new life-drama was taking place and where the playwright mysteriously left signs of his intentions.

Life itself was the mystery and he accepted early the challenge to find out what it was, why we were here, why things were the way they were—and why he was the way he was, different from most of the people around him.

His emotional nature, to begin with: composed of extremes, strung with wires that could convey the slightest nuance from the most turbulent to the most sensitive. Often he was carried away in its powerful oscillations.

His capacity to feel was his central rhythm. Life itself was feeling. Without it you didn’t really live. Everything moved him. But he had to find out how to control his responsiveness, the better to learn the secret, find the undiscovered chord playing unheard behind the scenes. He was sure it was through feeling he would find it.

Or lose it?

Sooner or later he had to find a way to handle his emotions.

Until then, hoping it would be only warm and comfortable emotions that filled him, he remained aglow with feeling, like a bee on a flower, burning like a firefly in the night-fields.

Even as he made himself endearing to everyone in the two-room country school and to his neighbors, and adapted to whatever the rules were … standing apart from others through an excess of soul, through his acute feeling nature—which he knew early he must protect from the world.

And from himself.

•   •   •

It was common knowledge that his parents’ families had been acquaintances in East Dorset or neighboring villages for the better part of the nineteenth century. When his mother and father came of age, having known each other all their lives, they were expected to marry, partly because there were so few prospects available.

He saw elements of himself in each. Emily, a schoolteacher until marriage, was disciplined, hard-working, intellectual, devoted to education; while Gilman, manager of one of the Dorset quarries, was a simple, easy-going, humane man with a tendency to heavy drinking. He knew his mother felt superior to him.

Gradually he discovered that people with his mother’s temperament always believed themselves superior to others, especially those of his father’s emotional type.

His father drank too much but was a good man. Often he would sing with the family while his mother accompanied him on the melodeon: “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree,” “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie,” “On the Banks of the Wabash.” … Those were times he would not forget. And they would play ball together in the evening, the two of them. He would call him Christy, like the great pitcher Mathewson: “Put it there, Christy! Three strikes and he’s out!” That was after he returned from the Dorset Quarry. Working in the dust and stone hour after hour must have damaged him, so that when the day was over he would crave a cool glass of ale to make him fit again for his family. Wouldn’t anyone?

Did he think the same way as his mother? He was sure he did not. His father–to whom he felt closer while their family of four was still intact (with his sister Dorothy, three years younger)–did not entertain those kinds of views. People like him had the feeling part of them uppermost. They accepted life, accepted themselves, more than those like his mother, were closer to his own way of being, even though much of his mother’s ways had been passed onto him.

That is what people said–certain traits were passed on as though a child was put together like a piece of handiwork.

Had his parents made a mistake in marrying? If they had not, he would have been unborn–a nothing. That was a curious thought, for he felt as though he had not been created at all, as though he had always been. If his parents had never married he was sure he would have returned to earth in some form, an idea that consoled him, though he had found it was not something other people were comfortable discussing.

Time, it was said, was curved, did not progress in a straight line—it flowed back upon itself. Which seemed to mean that the present was constantly becoming the past and did not really exist at all: only past and future merging together in one uninterrupted current.

That meant that the seeds of endings lay in their beginnings. If you knew how to judge what you saw, a whole life could be glimpsed at its outset, or at least by the age of ten.

His age the year it happened.

Trouble had been building for a long time before that. His mother was ill from something that kept her away from home for extended periods—a stay at a sanitarium and once at the seashore made her better enough to return but she was not as strong as she had been. As his father’s drinking grew worse he was absent from East Dorset increasingly. The grown-ups tried to keep everything from him and Dorothy but they knew enough. Knew that something had to happen soon.

Late in the summer of that year his mother took them to EmeraldLake three miles north of the village and under a favored tree by the shore, where they had gone so often on very different occasions, told them what had happened.

“Children, your father won’t be living with us anymore.”

He would be moving to Canada in the far west, taking with him several men from the local quarry, and would not be coming back.

It was like a death.

He felt like someone who had been suddenly killed and for a short time lingers on, observing the end of things.

The moment separated itself from all the others he had lived, pulsating with a life of its own. It had ceased to be a moment in time and had become a wound of undiminishing pain. He seemed a different person from what he had been before the words were spoken, though he said nothing, and sat without expression. Questions would not cancel the moment, would only intensify its reality and reveal to his mother and sister his helplessness.

He was so alienated from himself, he was sure they must know. But perhaps they did not. Dorothy said a few words, he could not remember them; and his mother added a few, which he did not hear.

He felt he was keeping a pact with himself—or with his father—not to betray his reaction.

The bright day shimmered with unreality, as though he had opened his eyes on another planet….

Paul Hourihan, was born and educated in Boston where he earned a degree from Harvard, and a doctorate in English literature from Boston University. For 15 years he taught dozens of courses and gave innumerable lectures on the subject of great mystics and mysticism in Ontario, Canada. Hourihan, who was committed to the spiritual path for over 45 years, and a serious student of the world’s mystical traditions, brings us unique revelations about the AA founder and Alcoholics Anonymous.
Interviewer: Why did you write this book?

 PH: It is the search for the private life of Bill Wilson, the public life we know. But that wasn’t the whole of it. There were many signs of conflicts in his life and even in the correspondence that we have there are suggestions that what we know about him, although true and genuine as far as it goes, is only half the story. So this will be an attempt to unlock his secret life―the private Bill Wilson. As a famous man we owe it to ourselves and to him to find out what the truth was about him that we may benefit not only by what he gave us publicly but privately too.

We find that individuals who generate these world-saving religious or spiritual movements out of their own life struggles always have periods of regressions and wanderings, backtrackings and conflicts. They never or hardly ever move forward on a straight line and so it would have been with Bill and still more because of his complex alcoholic nature as well.

Finally, this movement that he led was a spiritual recovery movement whose purpose was―as he said in his own words so often―to be led to God, to know God through helping others. And yet he, the founder, was excluded from this knowledge beyond what he could safely handle lest in becoming mystical and spiritual beyond the ordinary he would no longer be able to effectively serve as leader.