Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

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Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby PaigeB » Wed Feb 11, 2015 10:46 pm

This is the substance of a revealing letter which Bill Wilson wrote several years ago to a close friend who also had troubles with depression. The letter appeared in the "Grapevine" January, 1953.


EMOTIONAL SOBRIETY
"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 and 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 of 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. 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 main task.

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, 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'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 act of circumstance whatsoever.

Then only could I be free to love as Francis did. Emotional and instinctual satisfactions, I saw, were really the extra dividends of having love, offering love, and expressing love appropriate to each relation of life.

Plainly, I could not avail myself to 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.

For my dependence meant demand, a demand for the possession and control of the people and the conditions surrounding me.

While those words "absolute dependence" 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 really is.

If we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependence 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 neither elation, grandiosity or depression. I have been given a quiet place in bright sunshine"
Bill Wilson

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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Duke » Thu Feb 12, 2015 1:07 am

Thanks Paige. I've re-read this one often. Do you think it's fair for me to read "unhealthy dependence" as "expectation"? In any case, I've found that next to last paragraph to help me return to the real problem (the fact that I'm disturbed) on multiple occasions.

Thanks again for posting this.
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Niagara » Thu Feb 12, 2015 4:14 am

Thanks Paige

This is the first time I have read this, and how interesting it is. Once again, I feel like I've had my mind read, by someone who understands me far far better than I do.
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby gary1123 » Thu Feb 12, 2015 8:39 am

Great post. This has given me a lot to think about- I have not read this before.
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Spirit Flower » Thu Feb 12, 2015 8:43 am

Thanks. I probably have seen that but it is pertinent to me today.
I can only offer myself to God conditionally. I can read prayers, but I don't want the visuals I get when I say the prayer. So I don't say the St Francis Prayer.
Thinking about helping others does not give me warm feelings; only annoying feelings.
Only a Higher Power can change that.
Yes, I do say the 3rd step prayer; but at times cringingly.
Clearly however, no matter what I think, my life is not my own.
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby PaigeB » Thu Feb 12, 2015 1:00 pm

Duke wrote:Thanks Paige. I've re-read this one often. Do you think it's fair for me to read "unhealthy dependence" as "expectation"? In any case, I've found that next to last paragraph to help me return to the real problem (the fact that I'm disturbed) on multiple occasions.
Thanks again for posting this.

I totally think that fits Duke!

As for the St Francis Prayer - I found it too long to memorize! So I decided to just write down and memorize all the positive (action) words. Still too long for this atheist, LOL, I decided to just pray one word and often return to this practice of reciting "Love".

My sponsor has me meditating on compassion now... progress, not perfection. :lol:
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Squarelymet » Thu Feb 12, 2015 10:05 pm

When I first read this, I was shocked in many level. The first shock was Bill had depression at 20 plus year sober. I was 3-4 years sober, and I thought all the grave emotional problems should have lifted around 5 year mark. Little I have known. My current sponsor show me sobriety is learn to live reasonably happy despite of those defects.

Second shock was Bill's honesty. I remember my home group almost chase away 2 visitors when they started to talki about their depression. I believe the meeting chair said we only talked about the problems related to alcoholism. What an ignorant fool. Both of us.

I don't know when my alcoholism ends and normal psychology begins. I don't know when my emotional age would catch up to my physical age. I don't know when the Saint Fracis prayer would make sense. I just know the prayer comforts me. I may never be that instruments nor the channel. I just know I wish I could. I may never be able to kick this depression. Maybe, He thought alcoholism wasn't enough for me. I may never know His will.

I stop arguing for the sake of argument. I am not an enforcer of AA's unwritten traditions. I am just another drunk trying my best to stay sober. I don't know when that became ok for me. A lot of things became ok. It became a little dull as well. Time to time, no, most of the times, I can not tell what is dull and what is peaceful. I used to have many edges to cut. My life is round and smooth. No edges to cut. I guess there are a lot of freedom to let go things.

As I read, I realized those changes in me, and I also realized I am still sick. But that's ok. I am good tonight. I am good tonight without vodka. That is good enough for me. I will enjoy this moment. Right here and right now.
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby maurits » Fri Feb 13, 2015 3:18 am


If we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependence and its consequent demand.

Nowadays, my brain no longer races compulsively in neither elation, grandiosity or depression.


Bill W.


Thanks Paige!
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Lali » Fri Feb 13, 2015 9:55 am

Squarelymet wrote:When I first read this, I was shocked in many level. The first shock was Bill had depression at 20 plus year sober. I was 3-4 years sober, and I thought all the grave emotional problems should have lifted around 5 year mark. Little I have known. My current sponsor show me sobriety is learn to live reasonably happy despite of those defects.

I don't know when my alcoholism ends and normal psychology begins. I don't know when my emotional age would catch up to my physical age. I don't know when the Saint Fracis prayer would make sense. I just know the prayer comforts me. I may never be that instruments nor the channel. I just know I wish I could. I may never be able to kick this depression. Maybe, He thought alcoholism wasn't enough for me. I may never know His will.


Don’t be discouraged, Squarlymet. There is situational depression and clinical depression. For people like me, with clinical depression, there are anti-depressants, something that was probably not available in Bill’s lifetime. Clinical depression has to do with serotonin levels in the brain so my belief (which comes from what I have read and personal experience), is that all of the AA in the world cannot “fix” my depression.

Then there are those that have situational depression, such as alcoholics. So take the alcohol away and embark on a positive way of living (i.e., working the steps and incorporating them into your daily life), the depression will likely be lifted.

As I am not a doctor, I think it is important that despite what I believe, and despite what I have said here, and what I have read on the subject, I must say that this is my OPINION and that if you want a more educated opinion, research this subject or, better yet, talk to a psychiatrist.
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Lali » Fri Feb 13, 2015 6:43 pm

Hi all,

Brock brought up in another thread my statement that all the AA In the world would not "fix" my depression. I was apparently not clear. What I meant was were it not for anti-depressants, all of the AA in the world would not "fix" my depression. Big difference. My apologies to anyone who felt discouraged by my statement and thanks, Brock, for pointing it out!
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Spirit Flower » Mon Feb 16, 2015 6:30 am

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 main task.

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, 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.



On Friday afternoon, I printed the whole letter and put it on my desk where I would see it this morning (Monday). As I read it this morning, I resonated with this little bit. Yes, I have emotional difficulties. I completely get how anold timer has to find a way to deal with this "hidden Mr Hyde." Some people go away from AA, shut down any inner work and hope for the best. Some really do need prescriptions. Some/most eventually drink. I feel so hopeless of ever being with this hidden Mr Hyde. I just look at the stark fact of my Mr Hyde and pray.

This morning, it was the 6/7 prayer from the Big Book (slight modification): "My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me both good and bad. I ask that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and others." [May I at last abandon myself utterly to you.]

Bill goes on to discuss the St Francis prayer. I don't like that prayer, but I wonder if I could contemplate it and eventually become it. Bill did.
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Db1105 » Mon Feb 16, 2015 9:54 am

I love this sentence in the last paragraph; "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. "

I've learned and just accepted over the years is that my mind just ain't right. The steps, slogans, and prayers are just the tools I use to get my actions to be right. I've learned to accept myself for who I am (and what a mess that is). The Twelved steps have allowed me to put that monster (alcoholism) locked in a box. Unfortunately, I sometimes like to kick the box or take a peek to see if it's still alive.

I'm grateful I haven't had to deal with clinical depression on top of that. I leave that for the medical professionals to deal with.
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Cristy99 » Wed Aug 23, 2017 10:08 am

PAIGE---
Thanks for posting. I have heard references to this letter, but had not taken the time to search it out.

Someone wrote above that it was shocking that after so many year's sobriety, Bill W. still suffered at times. This surprises me as well, but also reminds me that life as a human being will never be perfect. He sets such a good example of continuing to work through difficulties, reminding me that recovery is a journey that lasts a lifetime. I know that I won't "graduate from AA" until my time on Earth is over.

Thanks again!!
XOX
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby PaigeB » Wed Aug 23, 2017 10:52 am

Life happens to us no matter how long we have. Recently there have been many upsets in the lives of my friends with long term sobriety; death of a parent, death of a pet, divorce. Most have made it through that excruciating pain without a drink - others did not. Some have returned to AA... some have not.

I like to make sure I am doing everything I need to do & more, everything I can do, to stay sober today. I do not know if I am one of those who would make it back again.
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Re: Bill W.'s Letter on Emotional Sobriety

Postby Cristy99 » Wed Aug 23, 2017 11:54 am

Also my biggest fear Paige!!

Do I have another sober left in me??

Thanks!
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