What’s Missing from Lois Wilson’s Hallmark Biography (and Our Culture)

Lois was the long-suffering wife of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who tried psychedelics and found their ego-reducing properties useful in ending alcohol addiction.Lois was the long-suffering wife of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who tried psychedelics and found their ego-reducing properties useful in ending alcohol addiction.The Hallmark Hall of Fame production of “When Love is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story” premiered Sunday night on CBS, but missed a key element of Wilson’s life.

Lois was the long-suffering wife of Bill Wilson, a raging alcoholic and co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. She founded Al-Anon, a similar group for families of alcoholics.

The film, based on Lois’s autobiography, depicts the moment when Bill has a religious experience while being treated at New York City’s Charles B. Towns Hospital in 1933, a moment that lead to his ultimate success in overcoming drinking.

In his autobiography “Pass It On,” Bill’s description of the experience sounds like an acid trip: “Suddenly, my room blazed with an indescribably white light. I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description.” Wilson had been dosed with belladonna and henbane, two plants with hallucinogenic properties, just before his revelation. After his release, he never drank again.

In his 1957 book Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Wilson wrote of the experience, “All at once I found myself crying out, ‘If there is a God, let Him show himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!’ Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up in an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed to me in my mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay there on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness… and I thought to myself, ‘So this is the God of the preachers!’ A great peace stole over me.”

On August 29, 1956, Bill Wilson took LSD (then legal) under a doctor’s supervision in California. He enthusiastically explored LSD’s clinical use to treat alcoholism and convinced others, including Lois, to try it.

Wilson wrote that it was not “the material itself [that]actually produces these experiences. It seems to have the result of sharply reducing the forces of the ego – temporarily, of course. It is a generally acknowledged fact in spiritual development that ego reduction makes the influx of God’s grace possible. If, therefore, under LSD we can have a temporary reduction, so that we can better see what we are and where we are going – well, that might be of some help. The goal might become clearer. So I consider LSD to be of some value to some people, and practically no damage to anyone. It will never take the place of any of the existing means by which we can reduce the ego, and keep it reduced.”

AA, the organization Wilson helped found, clamped down on his LSD experiments and so, just as modern religion has erased sacramental substances from their ceremonies, we have AA-ers chugging caffeine, sucking nicotine, and trying to talk themselves out of the religious experience they turned to alcohol for.

In a final irony, Winona Ryder, the actress who plays Lois in the film, is the goddaughter of LSD guru Timothy Leary. (Ryder’s parents are drug historians and Leary’s archivists.) Leary was kicked out of Harvard after his April 20, 1962 Divinity School experiment showed several participants had the most religious experience of their lives on psilocybin. Tracking down participants 25 years later for a Journal of Transpersonal Psychology study, MAPS director Rick Doblin said, “Everyone I talked to who had the psilocybin felt after 25 years of reflection that the experience was a genuine mystical experience. It was a clear viewing of some ultimate level of reality that had a long-term positive impact on their lives.”

In other news, Santonio Holmes, the MVP of last year’s Superbowl, has been traded by the Pittsburgh Steelers for a late-round draft pick from the New York Jets. Seems after being suspended from the NFL over a pre-Superbowl incident when he was caught with marijuana in his car, Holmes turned to a harder drug (liquor), leading to an incident last month when he allegedly threw a drink at a woman in a Florida bar.

The NFL has recently re-evaluated its policy towards marijuana, acknowledging to Sports Illustrated that 10 or 11 potential first-round picks have used marijuana. But the NFL does not suspend players over alcohol, at least not until they turn inappropriately violent on it.

A new book Marijuana is SAFER: So why are we driving people to drink? details the ways in which marijuana is healthier to individuals and society than alcohol. In a world where the top day for domestic violence remains the beer-drenched Stuporbowl, it’s time to face up to this reality.

What are we looking for when we turn to drugs or alcohol? A deadening of emotion or a doorway to the soul? At last week’s latest marijuana industry trade show in San Francisco, SF State business professor Mike Whitty said to some 15,000 souls in attendance, “Marijuana and the psychedelics can change the world.” A new documentary film, 2012: Time for Change celebrates the role of the psychedelic experience in connecting us to nature and saving our planet.

It’s our best, if not our only hope.

Ellen Komp is an activist and writer who manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com.