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Letter From Bill W. on Depression
following excerpts from a letter of Bill W.'s was quoted
in the memoirs of Tom P., and early California AA member.
Tom did not use the name of the person addressedperhaps
because he was still living.
Here in part is what
Bill W. wrote in 1958 to a close friend who shared his problem
with depression, describing how Bill himself used St. Francis's
prayer as a steppingstone toward recovery:
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.
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 affairs.
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.
autumn, 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 prospect.
kept asking myself, "Why can't the Twelve Steps work
to release depression?" By the hour, I stared at the
St. Francis prayer ... "It is better to comfort than
to be comforted." Here was the formula, all right,
but why didn't it work?
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.
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.
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 circumstances whatsoever.
only could I be free to love as Francis had. Emotional and
institutional satisfactions, I saw, were really the extra
dividends of having love, offering love, and expressing
a love appropriate to each relation of life.
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 as long as I was victimized
by false dependencies.
my dependency meant demand ... a demand for the possession
and control of the people and the conditions surrounding
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 really is.
we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we
will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependency and
its consequent 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 gain emotional
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.
of wisdom helped and inspired me and many others. To those
who have never been there, it is hard to describe the gratitude
that overflows in men and women who are delivered from the
black depths of depression into the light. As with delivery
from the bondage to alcohol, it is a hosanna of the heart
that never ends."
see: The Next Frontier:
Emotional Sobriety, printed in the AA Gragevine,
January 1958, which is strikingly
similar to this letter from Bill W. on Depression.)