Recently, I handed out flyers for my new book, Some Are Sicker Than Others, at the screening of the documentary, Bill W. I didn’t even know this film had been made. But I am so thankful for it. Here’s why.
1. A rich history
As I found with my book, SOME ARE SICKER THAN OTHERS, A.A. is not the most transparent of organizations on which to base a film or story. After all, it is called Alcoholics Anonymous, and not Alcoholics Apparent. In fact, the bylaw states: “A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes.” So, how do you tell a story about the leader of an organization that remains pretty much anonymous to everyone but its members? Well, you either do what I did and become a member, or you do what these filmmakers did and work your ass off researching.
Eight years in the making, this documentary employs the use of dramatic re-enactments spliced with audio interviews and never before seen footage of Bill and his wife, Lois, at their home in Bedford Hills, NY, to paint an engrossing portrait of a man who sacrificed his entire life helping pathetic drunks, such as myself, find a way out of the maddening obsession that is addiction. I certainly wouldn’t be alive today had it not been for Bill and the unconditionally supportive community he built through Alcoholics Anonymous. I owe my life to him and am so thankful to co-directors, Kevin Hanlon and Dan Caracinno, for their exhaustive research and unrelenting devotion to tell this great man’s story. It certainly couldn’t have been an easy film to make.
2. You can relate to the person of Bill W.
This film taught me things about Bill W. that I never knew, even after four years in the program! What I learned is that he and I have a whole hell of a lot in common. Like Bill, I was also wracked by an unhealthy obsession with personal achievement both early on in my childhood and later on during my studies at college. Whereas Bill became obsessed with perfecting the fiddle as a youngster, I became obsessed with perfecting the game of basketball to the point that I let it to determine my entire self-worth. If I played good, I was on top of the world. If I played bad, I was so depressed I could barely drag myself to school in the mornings.
I experienced this same obsessive behavior later on while working on my bachelor’s degree at Auburn University. Once again, I allowed my entire self-worth be dictated by my personal achievements. The only difference was, instead of a basketball, I used a calculator. Now, I’m not saying that studying and getting good grades isn’t important. It is. It’s just not worth isolating yourself from your friends and your family, which is exactly what I did. I wasted a lot of good years hunkered down in my bedroom, reading page after page of engineering textbooks. I didn’t have many friends. I rarely went out to parties. In fact, the only real “fun” I had was drinking by myself in a dark, lonely apartment. And just like Bill, I did very well in school, but at what cost?
This obsession eventually manifested itself in the form of addiction, which makes a lot of sense to me. My inability to get “unstuck” with basketball and studies is the same inability I had getting “unstuck” with drinking. Just like Bill, my drinking became so excessive that I centered my entire life around it. It was the first thing I did in the morning (after throwing up of course) and the last thing I did before passing out in my bed. It got so bad that if I didn’t have at least a fifth a day, I was a shaking, sweating, convulsing mess. I lost many jobs because I couldn’t stay sober and found myself in the hospital more times than I care to remember. I tried several times to quit, but was unsuccessful. My parents, god bless ‘em, nearly went broke sending me to the best rehabs in the country. But still, I couldn’t stay sober. It wasn’t until I was flat broke with no job, no friends, no family, that I finally had what Bill, in the film, calls “a spiritual awakening.”
I remember the day very clearly. I was on the floor of my one bedroom apartment in Houston lying face down in a puddle of red wine and vomit. I hadn’t been to work in a few days and was probably about to get fired. I figured I either had to clean myself up and check back into detox or just end it right there and swallow a bottle of sleeping pills. After a few hours of sucking from the mouth of a bottle of Seagram’s Seven, I crawled to the kitchen and called up my boss (and only friend at the time) and asked if he would take me to the hospital. Fortunately, my boss was a compassionate man and had a lot of experience with addicts and alcoholics. He promptly picked me up and took me to the hospital where I got pumped with a bunch of fluids and phenyl barbituates. The next day, I was transferred to a rehab on the west side of the city where I met what would become my home group for Alcoholics Anonymous. The people in that program were godsends and were what I like to call my “A.A. angels”. They gave me the unconditional love and support I needed to regain my self-confidence, which at that point in time, was about the size of a walnut. Without them I wouldn’t have lasted one day, let alone four and a half years, and would probably either be dead from alcohol poisoning or strapped down to a bed in some mental institution.
So, when I say I owe my life to Bill W. and the community he created, I truly mean it. He was a great man with a great vision of “helping drunks get along” as he likes to say. I urge anyone who has not yet seen this film to go out and grab a ticket. You will not be disappointed. I promise.
For a listing of times and theaters where Bill W. is playing please visit Page 124 [dot] com. Good luck and happy recovery!