“Letter to Al” Written by Bill W. May 13, 1953

Dear Al,
I think that we oldsters who have put the A.A. booze sure to such severe tests, yet still find we lack emotional sobriety, are probably the spearhead for the next major development in A.A. – the development of something like real maturity and balance (which is to say, humility) in our relations with ourselves, with our fellows, and with God.
Those adolescent urges for top approval, perfect security, and the perfect romance, urges quite appropriate to age 17, prove to be an impossible way of life at 47 or 57.
Since A.A. began I’ve taken immense wallops in all these departments because of my failure to grow up, emotionally and spiritually. My God, how painful it is to keep insisting on the impossible, and how painful to discover that we have the cart before the horse. Then comes the final agony of seeing how damned wrong we are but still finding ourselves unable, seemingly to get off the merry-go-round.
How to translate right intellectual conviction into right emotional results and so into easy, happy, active and good living – well that’s not only the neurotic’s problem, it’s the problem of life itself for all who have got to the point of willingness to hew to right principles. Even then, as we hew away peace and joy still eludes us. That’s the place so many of us A.A. oldsters have come to. And it’s a hell of a spot, literally. How shall the unconscious, from which 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 the final task.
I’ve recently come to believe this can be done. I believe so because I begin to see many benighted ones, folks like you and me, commencing to get results.
Last fall, depression, having no really rational cause at all, took me to the cleaners. I began to be scared that I was in for another five year chronic spell. Considering the grief I’ve had with depression, 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 Francis Prayer – “It’s better to understand than to be understood – it’s better to comfort than be comforted – it’s better to love than to be loved….”. 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 – absolute dependence – on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security and romance. Failing to get them according to my still childish dreams and specifications, I had fought for these things. And when defeat came, so did depression. There wasn’t a chance of making the outgoing love of Francis a workable and joyous way of life until these fatal and really absolute dependencies were cut away.
Because I had undergone a little spiritual development, the absolute quality of these frightful liabilities had never before been so starkly revealed. Therefore, reinforced by what Grace I could secure in prayer, I found that I must exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these emotional dependencies upon people, upon A.A. – indeed, upon any set of circumstances whatever. Then, only then, would I be free to love as Francis could. 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 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 my dependencies. For dependency meant demand; demand of possession and control of people and conditions.
While the words “absolute dependency” may look like a gimmick, they were the ones that triggered my release into my present stability and quietness of mind which I’m now trying to consolidate by having love and offering love, regardless of the return.
This is, Al, the primary healing circuit: our outgoing love of God’s creation and his people, by which we avail ourselves of His love for us. But the real current can’t flow until our dependencies are broken – broken at depth. Only then can we have a glimmer of what adult love really is.
Spiritual calculus you say? Not a bit of it. Watch any A.A. of six months working on a new 12th step case. If the case says “the hell with you” the 12th stepper smiles and turns to another case. He doesn’t feel frustrated or rejected. If his case responds and starts to give love and attention to other alcoholics, but returns none to the sponsor, then the sponsor is happy anyway. He still doesn’t feel rejected. And when his case turns out in later time to be his best friend (or romance) then the sponsor is joyful. But his happiness and joy were by-products, nothing more.
The really stabilizing thing was the having and offering of love to that strange drunk on his doorstep. That was Francis at work, powerful and practical, minus dependency and minus demand.
In my first six months of sobriety, I worked hard with many alcoholics. Not one responded but that kept me sober. It wasn’t a question of their giving me anything. Stability came out of giving, not of receiving.
Thus I think it will work out with emotional sobriety. If we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we can find at the root of it some sort of unhealthy dependency and consequent demand. Let us hack away at these chains, begging God’s help. Then we shall be set free to live and to love. We shall then be able to 12th step ourselves and others into emotional sobriety.
Well, Al, I haven’t offered you a single new idea – just a gimmick that has started to unhook my several “hexes” at depth. My brain no longer races compulsively in either elation, grandiosity or depression. I have been given a quiet place in bright sunshine.
Top best to Hazel and yourself.
Affectionately,
Bill

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