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The Lois Wilson Story: When Love is Not Enough

Book Review

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Updated April 23, 2010

The Lois Wilson Story: When Love is Not Enough

The Authorized Biography of Lois Wilson, the Co-founder of Al-Anon

Book Cover © Hazelden/Cover Photo: Erik Heinila, Hallmark Hall of Fame; Cover Design: David Spohn

The Lois Wilson Story is written in a way that draws you in from the start. The use of vivid language really brings to life the situations that Lois found herself in, and the emotions she experienced. You see what she saw, feel what she felt, and understand why and how she made the decisions she made.

You want to keep reading, not as a voyeur of someone else's misery, but as a cheerleader, wanting this fiesty character to overcome the difficult obstacles life has presented to her. And in the process, you discover what Al-Anon is all about, and why Lois set up these groups for the family members of alcoholics.

Why is Lois Wilson of Interest to Addictions Guidesite Readers?

Lois Wilson was the wife of Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which turned into the world's largest support group for people addicted to alcohol, and subsequently lead to numerous spin-off 12 step groups for people with other addictions, including drug users, problem gamblers, sex addicts, shopaholics, and overeaters. Lois went on to co-found her own group, Al-Anon, providing mutual support to the family members of alcoholics.

To appreciate this book, it is important to recognize the pioneering role that Lois Wilson played in bringing to light the support needs of the partners and families of people with addictions in their own right. Despite her privileged background, Lois recognized the need for people affected by the addictions of their loved ones from all walks of life to reach out for support and to give support to others in the same situation. Al-Anon still provides support to millions of family members of alcoholics today. She also created the Stepping Stones Foundation, to continue to instill hope for recovery from alcoholism.

Lois is also important as a role model to other people affected by the addiction of a loved one, particularly in her eventual focus on her own needs, after years of self-neglect while focusing on Bill. If there is one thing that readers can take away from reading about Lois' struggles, it is that the courage it takes to seek help for yourself pays for itself in your quality of your life, and that of others who care about and depend on you. This is a lesson that family members of people with addictions learn too rarely.

From Despair to Hope

Beginning at a time of deep despair for Lois, when her husband Bill, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was so deeply embroiled in his addiction that they had moved in with her father, a widowed physician, the story meanders back in time to Lois' early childhood, the courtship of her parents, and the origins of her grandparents. Lois' tendency to care for others, coupled with her strong will, was apparent even at the age of five. It progresses to Lois and Bill's courtship as young adults in the idyllic setting of Vermont, the impact of the first world war, their early marriage and happy times, along with the pain of their failed attempts to start a family coinciding with Bill's developing alcoholism, their financial disaster, and eventually the years of Bill's recovery from alcoholism.

Through candid story-telling, the author builds an understanding of the characters of Bill and Lois, so that Bill's descent into alcoholism, and Lois' unfailing support, make sense to the reader.

Yet even while Bill became a model of sobriety, Lois still felt alone, as AA consumed his life, leaving little time for her. The formation of the mutual support group, Al-Anon, was the real beacon of hope for Lois, as she realized that her own fulfillment had to come from attending to her own needs, not just those of her husband.

Deeply Moving

Even the most hard-hearted reader would find it difficult not to be moved by the poignant descriptions of Lois and Bill's feelings for each other, both expressed and unexpressed; the painful losses they endured, and how they shifted from rage and despair to providing loving support for each other; and their generosity in extending support to anyone in the same situation.

There is also a powerful description of Bill's spiritual awakening, which is highly significant in illustrating Bill's ability to turn away from alcohol, and the existential crisis that many people with addictions face. Presented as Bill's personal experience, and not as a requirement for recovery, this manages to avoid being offensive to readers who are uncomfortable with the spiritual component of AA.

The Lois Wilson Story is entertaining as well as informative and inspiring. It does what it sets out to do, providing a stimulating insight into the life of an extraordinary woman. It doesn't answer all the questions that someone struggling with the addiction of a family member would have, but it is valuable if seen as one point of view of one couple's experience.

Who Will Benefit From Reading This Book

People who are struggling with the addiction of a relative or loved one can benefit from realizing that they are not alone in their experience. Whether you are rich or poor, living in chaos, or presenting a "normal" facade to the world, you will be able to relate to Lois' story.

By reading of Lois' struggle with anger, sadness, loneliness and frustration, you will come to realize that these feelings are valid and often inevitable when living with someone with an addiction, and that you deserve and can benefit from support.

Those who have seen the film on which the book is based may enjoy reading more about the background to the story.

In my view, there is only one short-coming of this book, but it is a significant one. It is clear that the author shares the AA perspective on alcoholism, and, at times, the individual and unique experiences of Bill Wilson are generalized to apply to "alcoholics." Given that Bill was a co-founder of AA and author of its manual, The Big Book, Bill's experiences are already a template for the alcoholic experience, which poses the risk that some readers' experiences will be shaped by Bill's. Similarly, there is a danger that the experience of partners of addicts will be shaped by Lois' experiences. A related concern is that others will view both addicts and their partners in terms of Bill and Lois, rather than the individuals they are, perhaps leading to invalid assumptions and the creation or reinforcement of stereotypes.

Although AA has helped countless people, there are other perspectives on addiction which also have validity.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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