Next Frontier--Emotional Sobriety Volume 14
Below you will find the substance of a revealing
letter which Bill wrote
several years ago to a close friend who also
had troublesome depressions.
Bill asks us to note that this letter should
occasion no concern as both
Bill and his friend are today "in the
I THINK THAT MANY oldsters who have put our
AA "booze cure" to severe but
successful tests still find they often lack
emotional sobriety. Perhaps they
will be the spearhead for the next major development
in AA--the development
of much more real maturity and balance (which
is to say, humility) in our
relations with ourselves, with our fellows,
and with God.
Those adolescent urges that so many of us
have for top approval, perfect
security, and perfect romance--urges quite
appropriate to age
seventeen--prove to be an impossible way of
life when we are at age
forty-seven or fifty-seven.
Since AA began, I've taken immense wallops
in all these areas because of my
failure to grow up, emotionally and spiritually.
My God, how painful it is
to keep demanding the impossible, and how
very painful to discover finally,
that all along we have had the cart before
the horse! Then comes the final
agony of seeing how awfully wrong we have
been, but still finding ourselves
unable to get off the emotional merry-go-round.
How to translate a right mental conviction
into a right emotional result,
and so into easy, happy and good living--well,
that's not only the
neurotic's problem, it's the problem of life
itself for all of us who have
got to the point of real willingness to hew
to right principles in all our
Even then, as we hew away, peace and joy
may still elude us. That's the
place so many of us AA oldsters have come
to. And it's a hell of a spot,
literally. How shall our unconscious--from
which so many of our fears,
compulsions and phony aspirations still stream--be
brought into line with
what we actually believe, know and want! How
to convince our dumb, raging
and hidden "Mr. Hyde" becomes our
I've recently come to believe that this can
be achieved. I believe so
because I begin to see many benighted ones--folks
like you and
me--commencing to get results. Last autumn
[several years back--ed],
depression, having no really rational cause
at all, almost took me to the
cleaners. I began to be scared that I was
in for another long chronic spell.
Considering the grief I've had with depressions,
it wasn't a bright
I kept asking myself, "Why can't the
Twelve Steps work to release
depression?" By the hour, I stared at
the St. Francis Prayer. . . "It's
better to comfort than to be comforted."
Here was the formula, all right.
But why didn't it work?
Suddenly I realized what the matter was.
My basic flaw had always been
dependence--almost absolute dependence--on
people or circumstances to supply
me with prestige, security, and the like.
Failing to get these things
according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications,
I had fought for
them. And when defeat came, so did my depression.
There wasn't a chance of making the outgoing
love of St. Francis a workable
and joyous way of life until these fatal and
almost absolute dependencies
were cut away.
Because I had over the years undergone a
little spiritual development, the
absolute quality of these frightful dependencies
had never before been so
starkly revealed. Reinforced by what Grace
I could secure in prayer, I found
I had to exert every ounce of will and action
to cut off these faulty
emotional dependencies upon people, upon AA,
indeed, upon any set of
Then only could I be free to love as Francis
had. Emotional and instinctual
satisfactions, I saw, were really the extra
dividends of having love,
offering love, and expressing, a love appropriate
to each relation of life.
Plainly, I could not avail myself of God's
love until I was able to offer it
back to Him by loving others as He would have
me. And I couldn't possibly do
that so long as I was victimized by false
For my dependency meant demand--a demand
for the possession and control of
the people and the conditions surrounding
While those words "absolute dependency"
may look like a gimmick, they were
the ones that helped to trigger my release
into my present degree of
stability and quietness of mind, qualities
which I am now trying to
consolidate by offering love to others regardless
of the return to me.
This seems to be the primary healing circuit:
an outgoing love of God's
creation and His people, by means of which
we avail ourselves of His love
for us. It is most clear that the real current
can't flow until our
paralyzing dependencies are broken, and broken
at depth. Only then can we
possibly have a glimmer of what adult love
Spiritual calculus, you say? Not a bit of
it. Watch any AA of six months
working with a new Twelfth Step case. If the
case says "To the devil with
you" the Twelfth Stepper only smiles
and turns to another case. He doesn't
feel frustrated or rejected. If his next case
responds, and in turn starts
to give love and attention to other alcoholics,
yet gives none back to him,
the sponsor is happy about it anyway. He still
doesn't feel rejected;
instead he rejoices that his one-time prospect
is sober and happy. And if
his next following case turns out in later
time to be his best friend (or
romance) then the sponsor is most joyful.
But he well knows that his
happiness is a by-product--the--extra dividend
of giving without any demand
for a return.
The really stabilizing thing for him was
having and offering love to that
strange drunk on his doorstep. That was Francis
at work, powerful and
practical, minus dependency and minus demand.
In the first six months of my own sobriety,
I worked hard with many
alcoholics. Not a one responded. Yet this
work kept me sober. It wasn't a
question of those alcoholics giving me anything.
My stability came out of
trying to give, not out of demanding that
Thus I think it can work out with emotional
sobriety. If we examine every
disturbance we have, great or small, we will
find at the root of it some
unhealthy dependency and its consequent unhealthy
demand. Let us, with God's
help, continually surrender these hobbling
demands. Then we can be set free
to live and love; we may then be able to Twelfth
Step ourselves and others
into emotional sobriety.
Of course I haven't offered you a really
new idea--only a gimmick that has
started to unhook several of my own "hexes"
at depth. Nowadays my brain no
longer races compulsively in either elation,
grandiosity or depression. I
have been given a quiet place in bright sunshine.
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