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Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety
by Bill Wilson
© AA Grapevine,
Inc, January 1958
see: A Letter From
Bill W. on Depression, from the memoirs of
Tom Pike, an early California AA member, which is strikingly
similar to this AA Grapevine Article, "The Next Frontier:
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 AAthe development of
much more real maturity and balance (which is to say, humility)
in our relations with ourselves, with our fellows, and with
adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval,
perfect security, and perfect romanceurges quite appropriate
to age seventeenprove to be an impossible way of life
when we are at age forty-seven or fifty-seven.
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.
to translate a right mental conviction into a right emotional
result, and so into easy, happy, and good livingwell,
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. How shall our unconsciousfrom
which so many of our fears, compulsions and phony aspirations
still streambe brought into line with what we actually
believe, know and want! How to convince our dumb, raging
and hidden "Mr. Hyde" becomes our main task.
recently come to believe that this can be achieved. I believe
so because I begin to see many benighted onesfolks
like you and mecommencing 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 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's better to comfort than to be the 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.
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 circumstances whatsoever.
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.
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 dependencies.
my dependency meant demanda demand for the possession
and control of the people and the conditions surrounding
those words "absolute demand" 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.
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
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.
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-productthe extra
dividend of giving without any demand for a return.
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
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 I receive.
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.
course I haven't offered you a really new ideaonly
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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