A Letter From Bill W. on Depression
The 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 addressed—perhaps 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:
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.
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 affairs.
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.
Last 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.
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 is 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.
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.
Then 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.
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 as long as I was victimized by false dependencies.
For my dependency meant demand … a demand for the possession and control of the people and the conditions surrounding 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 really is.
If 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 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.
“Bill’s word’s 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.”