While under treatment at Towns Hospital , Bill Wilson experiences a flash of white light and an overwhelming sense of well-being that frees him from his alcoholism. Bill’s “hot flash,” as he would later call it, leads him to associate with the Oxford Group. It should be noted, however, that Bill’s experience is quite different from the typical Oxford Grouper’s experience, and these differences have their effect on the way he relates to the Group’s practices.

Shortly before his final treatment at Towns, Bill is approached by Ebby Thatcher, a former drinking companion of Bill’s who is now sober due to his involvement with the Oxford Group. Ebby introduces a reluctant but curious Bill to the Oxford Group and its program. Bill responds by checking himself into Towns.

The spiritual experience Bill has at Towns is as powerful as it is spontaneous. He is relieved of his need to drink even though he had not yet attempted any of the Oxford Group practices. Bill hadn’t shared, examined himself by the Four Absolutes, or made any restitution, yet he walked away from Towns a new man. And Bill was filled with a passion to help other drunks.

When Bill later begins attending Oxford Group meetings, he does so not so much for the sake of his own soul, as to research how the Group works with alcoholics. Apparently, Bill is not at all interested in anything else the Group might have to offer. James Houck, a surviving Oxford Group member, remembers Bill like this:

He was never interested in the things we were interested in. All he ever wanted to talk about was alcoholism.

Bill W.
by Francis Hartigan

Also, Bill is not interested in the fact that Oxford Group practices can be applied to problems other than drinking.

Bill did not think drinking was a sin and he did not share the OG’s view of other human failings either…he had no interest in giving up smoking, and Bill seems always to have been ladies’ man…he also seems to have been unconcerned about the Group’s views on the subject. Houck recalls that [Bill] often regaled its members with tales of his exploits.

Bill W.
by Francis Hartigan

For Bill, it seems, to be sober is enough. In fact, it is more than he ever dreamed possible. If Bill is only interested in as much of the Oxford Group experience as will help him to help other drunks, it is probably because he sees his own sobriety as an unsurpassed miracle. He is sober. He is going to live. How could anything matter more than saving the life of another?

It is important to note, however, that Bill has only a limited experience with the Oxford Group program, as this will later effect his interpretation of the Twelve Steps. Also, that fact that Bill places a high value on sobriety and a much lower value on moral purity will effect his style of working with others, both in person and in writing, and so Bill’s values will become infused into the structure and character of AA.

15 Comments so far
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This happened to me too. After a case of beer and a WHOLE lot of hurt feelings I was running around the neiborhood acting like a mixed up crazy drunk.
Like on the road to Damascus a White Light appeared above in front of me, I fell to my knees and my hands flew up in the air in praise and a cool fire passed through me and I was immediately sober. Since I’m a Christian drunk I wasn’t blinded but I got a chance to see myself as God sees me without drinking.
I was an upright, straight minded, clear thinking sober person that has a lot of worth to Him. No matter what evil people do or say behind my back, I am special to Him and Jesus.
The same thing happened to my Uncle Albert Weaver. He was going to burn down the Baptist Church in his town in West Virginia and he was as drunk as a skunk. Here was a man totally illiterate (except to write his name) and in a couple of days picked up the Bible and read it from cover to cover, year after year and became a Baptist Minister.

Comment by Shannon H.

Same thing happened to me in June 2021. I was filled with light as was my room, my memory of this experience is really vivid.

Comment by outdooractiveyou

My spiritual experience happened in Landstuhl, GE., in rehab. I was in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Ramstein, GE. However, God had a sense of humor and sent me through the U.S. Army alcohol rehab program at Landstuhl hospital. I walked into the rehabilitation treatment facility (RTF) and met one of the facilitators that would help me tremendously. His first comment of me, he said, “I heard that you are a hard nut to crack.” I didn’t know how to answer that but knew that apparently he had read my file and the comments that had been written by the Captain in Social Actions, that I hated for sending me to treatment, with my wife’s consent. On the first week of treatment, I was adamant and stern that no one was going to change me. In fact, I was challenging the facilitators with my knowledge of treatment, conversion, reform, etc., But what I wasn’t aware of was that actually these smart men and women in rehab allowed me to ramp about what I think I knew and eventually, that psychology started working against me, and ended in me fighting myself mentally. During the second weekend, we usually had the days off, and by then I was totally crazy trying to justify and rationalize everything that I had been saying in therapy, to the point that I started to feel pain and my mind was awash with total reality of my predicament, past, present, and future. By this point the people that I had entered treatment with had a pretty good idea that I had problems, mental problems, because I was displaying many symptoms of mental disorders. But, during this weekend I just could not control myself, something had a hold of me and it was driving me absolutely over the edge, I was going to either explode and go crazy for something else was going to happen, I don’t know what. I was in the recreation room by myself, all the rest of the guys were hanging around with each other. And it got to the point where I was going to scream and I had too much pride to do that, so I went to my sleeping bay and my head was going to explode. I was in the room by myself and got into my bed and I was stirring around in bed and just said: “God help me!” And bang, right there and then, I was taken over and placed into a trance. My body was frozen, I could not move and my body was extended, not in a fetal position. And I lay there in bed with tears rolling from my eyes. In my head, all my thoughts were as if in a tornado, just whipping around in my head. Then I felt something that I had never ever have experience. I felt that my head was clearing, and from head to toe, I felt a spirit, as if like a scanner running over my body from head to toe and all around. Today I interpret it as a cleansing and a purification process. I also have thought of it as the same thing as some people in religious programs have experience, a holy spirit conversion. And as I have said, I cannot tell you exactly what it was, I can only describe it as something spiritual. I remained in that stirring trance without moving for about 20 minutes. I also had my eyes open at first and saw the room spinning around in circles, until I closed my eyes. When it was over, I opened my eyes and felt totally relieved. All of the anxiety and stress that I was experiencing from the depress state that I was in, was gone. I got up from bed and could not believe what happen, but was very glad that whatever took place happened. The other thing I felt was happiness and a change. During all of this time in treatment, I had isolated and not spoken with anyone. Now, after this experience, I walked out of that room a free man and my whole outlook changed. Now I was laughing, joking, and talking with everyone. What goes along with my account of my spiritual experience is that before I had arrived to Ramstein, GE., I had been stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH., and had gotten involved in many religious programs, where I had stop drinking for four solid years, and threw myself in Christianity. But after the fourth year, everything had broken up for me. My religious connection had gone down the drain and I began to drink again. In fact, I remember receiving the change of assignment to Germany and saying: Good, they have good beer in Germany. And second, saying: I will never step into another Church as long as I live. On Jan 1, 2011, I’ll have 24 years of sobriety. Thanks to God. I hope that maybe this will inspire others to share in their experience.

Comment by Mauricio Z

I find the term “hot flash” in AA literature in only one place:in Bill’s talk to a Texas State AA Convention in June of 1954. The talk appears at the end of The Book That Started It All, at the bottom of page 213. Leo H

Comment by Leo H.

Same experience happened to be. I had pretty much gotten through my ninth step. My wife left me and I around that time said I am willing to believe in a Power Greater than MYSELF. Right then things changed for me. And right around that time one night I had been lying in my bed, my light was off then appeared floating in my room on my right hand side above me, was the same white light. In fact I got a clear visual picture of how he looked. It was the Holy Spirit the white light in the shape of a person dove figure. My whole body and mind was what I call overwhelmed and a friend of mine used the word overtaken. I felt about as powerless as an ant getting in a fist fight with the toughest boxer to ever live. And when I see pictures of it it’s pretty much matches up. It was truly incredible and felt like I had been hit by about 300,000 locomotives. I felt so small and knew God is power, increadible power. The only thing that came to my mind was shame for the things that I had done wrong. And the only thing that I could do when he came was instantly quickly flip over onto my face on the pillow and cry my eyes out! But he didn’t hurt me in fact, very shortly after I began reading the Bible. And became extremely loving of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. I’ve had many many more experiences with Jesus none that I could physically see but many times when I’ve known he’s been there because I have read the Bible. He basically has been showing me many things from John 14. And this is where Jesus says he will ask the father and will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus name. Since then Holy Spirit has and does exactly what Jesus said he will do which is remind me of all the things that Jesus has taught and it comes up every day in my life throughout each conversation it’s pretty much my only means of survival. Besides being a sinner. This happened to me about a year ago and I’ve just come to terms with it and been able to accept that what happened actually happened and is happening to me! And to believe that this is all true. Still hard to believe but it’s beginning to get easier thanks to perseverance. I believe it all started back when I had first got off drugs I wanted to be baptized and the funny thing as I grew up Jewish. Half-jewish my mom is Jewish and my dad is Christian. But since that night and even around that time my life has totally changed and I have been given the gift of self-control that I never had. And a peace constantly that I never ever had. It Has made my social situations tolorable. And the hope that I have, and the brand new faith I have received is what keeps me going and sane. It was cool reading your guy’s comments!

Comment by Abraham

Quite a few AAs have investigated the James Houck case very carefully. Even his supporters admit many of his claims don’t meet ‘the sniff test.’

There IS factual evidence Houck was involved in the Oxford Group during the Spring of 1937 in Frederick MD, but that’s about it: nothing he says about early AA is credible. It is impossible that Houck surrendered “in Calvary Church in Manhattan on 12/11/34” (as claimed, sometimes). It’s also very unlikely he socialized w/ any New York OGs 250mi away. So it’s extremely doubtful he ever met Bill, much less knew the A founder as casually and familiarly as pretended.

What’s more:
Despite “knowing Bill W. since 1935” he only appeared at AA’s doorstep in the early 1990s. He himself rejected the label “alcoholic” : when he tried to claim a Sobriety Date at various (archival) AA entities, he was declined. Older Maryland AAs were very unhappy with the fraud he perpetuated, but this sort of thing has happened before.

He did fool some folks, including both TIME Magazine and The Baltimore Sun! Amateur historian Dick B wrote: “James Houck, a nonalcoholic Oxford Group member in Frederick, Maryland, stated that Bill W. went to many Oxford Group meetings at the Francis Scott Key Hotel in Frederick and always centered on alcohol. He was obsessed with the idea of carrying the message. The conclusion is that Bill had a wide acquaintance in Oxford Group circles, not just confined to Sam and Calvary House. Bill told Houck that he worked on 50 drunks in the first 6 months with no success.”

In conclusion, Houck is a outright fabulist – by his own admission he had and “Honesty Problem.” This level and extent of deception betrays symptoms of classic pathological NPD/ Cluster B psychopathy. There are so many contradictions, impossibilities, and insupportable ‘wild’ claims in Houck’s accounts – just don’t bother!

Comment by Bill

This is upsetting to me; Bill missed the mark altogether then.


06/19/17 during this day I was fiending really bad for my DOC and I hit up my guy and he had some so I decided to leave work without anyone knowing to get some 20 minutes away with a car with no brakes. 6 months before my bestfriend died from this awful disease and on my way back from work I told my mother who knew I was an addict I needed help and was ready to go to rehab. I looked into the sky and felt a presence of love and support and shame so I started balling my eyes out it still feels real to this day. I got to rehab and was so motivated to get sober it was unbelievable I checked in at 345 am the nurses told me I had bed pass until past lunch well guess who was up at 10 and in class wide awake writing notes? Me. Around day 6 or 7 we got our 4th edition big books and there was a smoking porch and then a gazebo where no-one really sat at. We had free time so I decided that I was going to crack this book open and get to work. Not but two pages in I felt a huge warmth over me the wind started encompassing me, and for the first time in my life I felt God. It felt like I was hugging my family, and everything was how it was supposed to be. I had a new purpose I was forgiven, I started smiling with happy tears rolling down my face. I’m now 5 months sober I’ve worked all 12 steps fully and I’m waiting for my first sponsee to find me. Thank you God.

Comment by Mitchell F

So much for the twelve steps. What a lie. What happened to me happened without the twelve steps. There is no wrong and there is no right. Everything connected.

Comment by Joe Mccarthy

Didn’t bill w have his awakening whilst on l.s.d. you are all liars. Bill w had his awakening before the steps were wrote. Stick your religion right up your arse

Comment by Joe Mccarthy

Bill Wilson writing in As Bill Sees It, page 182. Entitled”The Reality of Spiritual Experiences”. “Perhaps you raise the question of Hallucination versus the divine imagery of a genuine spiritual experience. I doubt if anyone has authoritatively defined what an hallucination really is.However, it is certain that all recipients of spiritual experiences declare for their reality.The best evidence of that reality is in the subsequent fruits. those who receive these gifts of grace are very much changed people,almost invariably for the better. This can scarcely be said of those who hallucinate .
Some might think me presumptuous when I say that my own experience is real. Nevertheless,I can surley report that in my own life and in the lives of countless others, the fruits of that experience have been real, and the benefacations beyond reckoning.”

Comment by dALE lESAUSKIS

This leaves out the important fact that Bill was getting the Belladonna treatment at Towns hospital which causes pleasant hallucinations regarding recent conversations, as he had with Ebby Thatcher only days before. This is the source of Bill’ “Hot Flash” which he thought was Supernatural. The tactile hallucination of a wind blowing is what evidently had the intended effect of recovery from alcoholism which Bill could never induce or reproduce in others, because it wasn’t Supernatural but was instead delusional! Eventually his writings and the fellowship support of the Oxford members and later of AA inspired others, including Atheists (jimmy Burelk etc) to cease drinking one day at a time.

Comment by Aussie Chuck

Hi Shannon

This same thing happened to me also. It would be great to talk to you about it. I was also filled with light and so was my room, I have a really vivid memory of it. From James, a former mixed up crazy drunk.

Comment by outdooractiveyou

I can attest to the fact that spiritual awakening experiences can happen for some without psychedelic drugs involved and that the obsession with alcohol can be spontaneously cured as a result of a spiritual awakening experience.

Having said that, I think LSD or other psychedelic substances can be very useful in helping addicts (and non-addicts) to open themselves to a spiritual experience that they might not otherwise have access to.

God knows there’s a serious shortage of spiritually awakened souls in this world and anything that creates more is a good thing.

Comment by Dan Farish

Bill Wilson writing in As Bill Sees It, page 182. Entitled”The Reality of Spiritual Experiences”. “Perhaps you raise the question of Hallucination versus the divine imagery of a genuine spiritual experience. I doubt if anyone has authoritatively defined what an hallucination really is.However, it is certain that all recipients of spiritual experiences declare for their reality.The best evidence of that reality is in the subsequent fruits. those who receive these gifts of grace are very much changed people,almost invariably for the better. This can scarcely be said of those who hallucinate .
Some might think me presumptuous when I say that my own experience is real. Nevertheless,I can surley report that in my own life and in the lives of countless others, the fruits of that experience have been real, and the benefacations beyond reckoning.”

Comment by dale lesauskis

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