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The Legacy Of Lois Wilson

Updated on December 1, 2013

The Woman Behind The 12 Step Program

Lois Wilson is not a name widely known unless you happen to be a member of or friend of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. She is the steadfast companion of Bill Wilson, founder, co-creator, and author of the AA program.

In the years she experienced as the wife of a hopeless alcoholic, Lois stood by her troubled husband where many would have walked away.

She is one of the unsung heroes of American History.

Without this woman's kindness and self-less dedication, Bill and the originators of the AA program would not have been able to construct the concepts, principles, and publish this life saving guide, Alcoholics Anonymous. This book became the design for living for thousands of people, for whom, like Bill W. were hopelessly lost and alone in their fight. They have overcome their troubles with the drink and moved on to establish meaningful, productive lives.

This woman is the heartbeat that nurtured this program in its infancy.

Without this foundational literature we would not have the other groups that spawned from it: Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Cocaine Anonymous, and many other 12 step programs that help suffering individuals face their personal demons and slowly recover. Survival of substance abuse is possible by trusting this guide, following the directions it provides, and using it to learn how to live once more.

Lois is my hero in this light because she refused to give up on Bill. She knew there was something about his spirit that harbored a humble greatness. In her prayers and her steady loyalty, Bill W. turned his life around in an amazing way, paving a path for others as he blazed his own road to recovery.

Image Amazon - When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story - Winona Ryder Plays Lois In This Film

The Lois Wilson Story - When Love Is Not Enough

In the movie When Love Is Not Enough, Lois Wilson's story comes alive. Unconditional love is what I would describe Lois having for Bill. Though their lives had become a wreck, her dreams of a normal marriage, shattered, Lois held on to her vows and her love for her husband and worked with him and others to create an idea that not only saved his life from the drink but to this day continues to rescue countless others on a daily basis. Love can conquer much, but it cannot conquer all things.

Standing true to her faith, Lois holds on through many trials.

My Name Is Bill W. plays out the troubles Bill got into and the struggles he put Lois through before the AA program was established. This movie also shares some of their more tender moments. It shows how frightening their lives became before Bill's miraculous recovery.

When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story
When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story

The reviews on this film describe it as an accurate portrayal of Lois' life with Bill W. and the birth of the AA program. It is a heart wrenching journey through the trials of alcoholism to the miracle of recovery.

My Name Is Bill W
My Name Is Bill W

The story lines for Bill W. will have you laughing, thinking, and may provoke tears as you watch the struggles of this intelligent man battle the degradation and crippling effects of alcohol. Through it all Lois Wilson stands firm in her chosen place as wife of this hopeless alcoholic. It is the moving adventure of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Bill W. is played by the delightful, James Woods and Jo Beth Williams plays our heroine, Lois.

Marriage Vows - Image:
Marriage Vows - Image:

The Wife

Of An Alcoholic

The wife of an alcoholic can be a frightening, confusing role most of the time. In my knowledge of Lois and from my personal history I know that the burden placed on a partner is unbearable at times. We pray, we cry, we rage, we hide. The people we love are overcome with a desire to self-destruct so strong it holds all of their attention, self-will, and efforts. There is no way to break this vicious cycle unless the individual wants to help themselves and make a complete turn around.

Lois endured humiliating episodes, isolation, abuse at times I am sure, and financial difficulties. The shadow of the disease of alcoholism seeps into every corner of our relationships. The effect distances our friends, our families, and normal thinking, normal life. The routines are energy draining and too often painful experiences. Through all of this, the strength of this proud woman was unwavering.

Committing her husband to a mental ward for what might have been the last moments of his sanity and his life, Bill experienced his spiritual awakening and the miracle of recovery was set on their door step.

In the days when AA was founded, many of these people were hidden away. They were given drug treatments. Often many of them were so violent they were strapped to the hospital beds and locked away. They were incurable.

The Wilson's Share Their Story - A Hopeless Drunk Overcomes Alcoholism

The Wilson's shared their experience many times in speaking engagements and in meetings. Their story is the seed that grew a program that has saved thousands of lives.

Lois Wilson's Biography - And Her Stories

Lois shared many times about how AA and Al-Anon was founded and about her own experiences before, during, and after these programs came about. She is a very dynamic individual and her biography is an amazing testament of recovery both for the sufferer and those who deal with them face to face. Lois's history is important because she was Bill's backbone when he could not stand on his own. We see this too often with people locked in this struggle. They cannot see a way out.

Bill's recovery brought about a new life for both of the Wilson's. While Bill W. was sharing his new found sobriety and experience, Lois was still there in the back ground. She became a comfort to the wives of alcoholics that met with Bill and this new recovery program.

The discussions these surviving partners shared became the seeds of the Al Anon program. As time went by, Lois not only supported Bill in his mission of mercy, she stood as a comfort to the wives of those Bill had brought into the program. They shared their heartbreaks, their stories, their tears, and what they went through with each other.

By listening to her story and countless other alcoholic survivors, we identify with the events in our lives that are similar and know that there is certainly an answer to our dilemma. We laugh in the rooms, because we have been through similar situations and experiences. This gives us a common ground for conversation and growth and connections.

In recognizing we are not alone in the fight against this raging disease we can apply positive means and measures to help remove the anger, the hurt, the resentments and in time go on to lead healthier lives. If these people did and can do this it is possible for us to follow their lead, their example, and walk the recovery road for ourselves as well.

Alcoholism And Addiction - A Life Or Death Struggle

Alcoholism and drug addiction are life and death struggles for those who are in their grips and those that love them. The road they walk is strung with pitfalls and dangerous scenarios and often these people do not make it out of their lifestyle unscathed.

A woman like Lois Wilson is heroic because of her caring nature and her unwavering faith. The prayers she poured out when Bill was in full blown alcoholism certainly were answered when his life received the blessing and miracle of recovery. It takes a big heart to endure a life such as Lois did. I am not sure I would have held on in the midst of so much chaos. The hope she placed in Bill did pay off and her story is certainly an inspiration for anyone going through tough trials with someone they care about.

They and others compiled a written form of this program known in the circles of AA and other 12 step programs as the Big Book. Combined with the manual, The Twelve And Twelve, these valuable writings can be applied to personal recovery through careful inspection of one's life and the acceptance of a higher power. This method has helped thousands recover over the years since it was first printed.

Deluxe Double Alcoholics Anonymous AA Big Book & 12 Steps & 12 Traditions Book Cover Medallion Holder Green
Deluxe Double Alcoholics Anonymous AA Big Book & 12 Steps & 12 Traditions Book Cover Medallion Holder Green

In the chapter "To Wives" found in chapter 8 was the beginning of what was to be known as Al-Anon. It describes the role we take as partners to an alcoholic. Though it is titled "To Wives" it certainly can be applied to anyone who loves someone battling the disease of alcoholism or addiction.

This beautiful combination contains the Big Book and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. The title of the second book is affectionately known as the Twelve And Twelve in the sober circle. It is my favorite of the manuscripts. Chapter 11 dives into the spiritual tools of prayer and meditation and has been a great comfort to anyone who reads it. Even if you are not an addict or alcoholic, these books can place perspective on troubles in our lives or shine light into areas we are lacking spiritually.


The 24 Hour Medallion - A Token Of Remembrance

The chips or medallions given away in AA are a token of remembrance for the individual in recovery. This small chip is a reminder of where they came from and where they want to go.

It is said if you place one of these into an alcoholic drink or in one's mouth and it dissolves, it is permission to have that drink. Of course the medallion won't melt down, but it becomes an icon of why we cannot drink any more.

The medallions are staged in months to years. The first meeting one attends in AA generally will gift a 24 hour chip to a new comer. As time goes by this new comer can gift this chip to another visitor to the rooms and pass on the chain of recovery and hope.

The first 24 hours is an important milestone. With a 24 hour chip in hand a new member of a 12 step program has a little reminder of what they need to accomplish just this day. Stay sober until this 24 hours is through.

GPMT BLUE 24 Hour AA Recovery Medallion - The Great 24 hr Coin Reminder Commemorative
GPMT BLUE 24 Hour AA Recovery Medallion - The Great 24 hr Coin Reminder Commemorative

These medallions are carried in pockets, linked on neck chains, and collected though out the weeks, months, and years in sobriety. They are given as a token of kindness and become a life line to those that carry them.

They are welcome gifts when the new milestone arrives and a celebration of the accomplishment is enjoyed.

We revel in the new comer. Their struggle reminds us of our beginnings and how hard it was to walk in the doors the first time.



Codependency can be an addiction to anything, not just drugs or alcohol. With the 12 step programs there is hope to break away from being dependent on chemicals, things, and even people.

In Need Of Recovery? - For Yourself Or Your Loved One

There is assistance a link or a phone call away if you know anyone who is suffering on either side of the addiction cycle and in need of recovery. There are caring people that will listen to your story and direct you to the help you need if you are only willing to accept it. They will stand by you in your moment of crisis and help you heal.

This list below are some of the many organizations that are designed to take you in and show you a new way of living that can set you on a destination to recovery. Please, don't wait to see the life you have hidden in front of you. It is the life you do deserve!

The Serenity Prayer - White Wash Frame

The serenity prayer is the mantra for a struggling alcoholic in recovery and many praying individuals that call on it for peace in a moment. I am sure this was part of Lois's prayer arsenal while she endured with Bill's drinking.

On a side note, I figuratively met Bill and Lois on October 17, 2004 when I walked into the rooms of recovery and stayed there. Some 8 and a half years later I have a good life, a family that respects and trusts me, a job I love, and a life I never expected to live. There are pathways out of the darkness for anyone who is struggling with life or addiction. Take time to offer prayers for those that are in trials and say one for those that have gone before us and not survived.

Alcoholism and addiction take dozens of people every minute around the world. It is a hopeless disease in a majority of cases. Those that do survive and go on to stable sobriety aren't always the poster children of virtue or principles -- but they do have that one thing that one must do perfectly down pat. They stay sober one day at time even if that is all they can do for the day.

Lois Wilson's name is steeped in the history of AA and Al-anon. She is a testimony of faith and an enduring spirit. She held onto the hand of a husband that held a hopeless outlook and helped him win his personal battle. She is a tribute to marriage and the programs she helped found.

Lois continues to impact lives to this day with her story and her speaking engagements recorded for those that want to share and explore her legacy.

Comments And Review - The Legacy Of Lois Wilson

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    • MBurgess profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Burgess 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      @poutine: Thank you, poutine! =)

    • MBurgess profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Burgess 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      @SheGetsCreative: Thank you! I appreciate your comments. She is a great lady!

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 

      5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I'm so glad you've chosen to shine a spotlight on such a very special and inspiring woman. Blessings for your journey as well :)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I am glad that you wrote this Squidoo lens. I didn't know about Lois Wilson, now I do

    • MBurgess profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Burgess 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      @SteveKaye: It was a tearful journey, certainly. I thought a lens about Lois would be a great addition to the other stories here. She has not been spotlighted anywhere and with all the co-dependency problems in our society, her story needs to be heard. I really appreciate your visit and kind works, Steve!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This is a very important article that everyone needs to read. Thank you for having the courage to publish it.

    • MBurgess profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Burgess 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      @flycatcherrr: I love her story as you can tell by the writings. It moved me very much to see it played out in the movie My Name Is Bill W. Thank you for your visit and comments!

    • flycatcherrr profile image


      5 years ago

      A really powerful tribute to a woman who is not nearly well enough known.

    • MBurgess profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Burgess 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      @junecampbell: Isn't that the truth, nightcats! Following the guidelines set forth in either program helps place things in perspective and sets a person back on a path of healing, both from addiction and the troubles that go with it. Thank you for your visit and sharing your comments!

    • MBurgess profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Burgess 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      @Diana Wenzel: Thank you, RenaissanceWoman2010, for visiting and for your kind words!

    • MBurgess profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Burgess 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      @Faye Rutledge: AA AND Al-Anon can have a huge impact if people are willing to hold on to it long enough to make a difference in their outlook and their habits. It is a life long process. Partybuzz, thanks for visiting!

    • MBurgess profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Burgess 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      @moonlitta: Thank you!

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 

      5 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      Lois Wilson was an exceptional woman. I have had personal involvement in the 12 step programs, and I know that Lois put up with a lot. Sadly, she put up with almost as much after Bill got sober than she did during his drinking. Nevertheless, generations of women have been helped by the Alanon groups that she was instrumental in starting.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      5 years ago from Colorado

      What a powerful testimony. Thank you!

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 

      5 years ago from Concord VA

      My thanks to Lois Wilson. My brother is an alcoholic and has been dry for over 20 years. He still goes to meetings, mentors others, and speaks at meetings. AA changed his life.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Touching story, and very informative for me, I didn't know any of it before.


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