Bill W. a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous writes:
“I think that we oldsters who have put the AA booze cure to such severe tests, yet still lack emotional sobriety, are probably the spearhead for the next major development in AA: the development of something like real maturity and balance (which is to say humility) in our relations with our fellows and with God. Thus 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 AA 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 it is 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, its the problem of life itself, for all who have got to the point of willingness to hew out the right principles. Even then, as we hew away, peace and joy 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 the unconscious – from which our fears, compulsions, and phoney aspirations still stream – be brought into line with what we actually believe, want and know; how to convince our dumb, raging and hidden Mr Hyde becomes the final task.
“I’ve recently come to believe that this can be done. I believe so because I begin to see many benighted ones, folk who like you and me, commencing to get results. Last autumn, 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 began 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 love than to be loved – it’s better to comfort than to be comforted . . .‘ Here was the formula all right. But why didn’t it work?
“Suddenly I realised what the trouble 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 these according to my still childish dreams and specifications. I had fought for these things. And then defeat came, so did 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 really absolute dependencies were cut away.
“Because I had undergone a little spiritual development, the absolute quality of these frightful liabilities had never been before so starkly revealed. Therefore, reinforced by what Grace I could secure in prayer I found I must exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these emotional dependencies upon people, upon AA; indeed upon any set of circumstances whatsoever. Then, only then, would I be free to love as St. Francis could. Emotional or instinctive satisfaction’s, I saw, were really the extra dividends of having love, offering love and expressing love appropriate to each relation in 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 victimised by my dependencies. For dependency meant demand: demand for 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 am now trying to consolidate by having love and offering love regardless of the return.
“This is 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 AA of six months working on a new 12th step case. If the case says ‘to 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, and no more. The really stabilising thing was the having and offering of love to that strange drunk on his doorstep.
“That was St. Francis at work, powerful and practical, minus dependency and minus demands.
“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 them giving me anything……….It wasn’t a question of them giving me anything.
STABILITY CAME OUT OF GIVING, NOT OF RECEIVING.”
This was written by Bill W., one of the co-founders of AA. These are conclusions he reached after nearly 20 years of sobriety. Here is the full prayer of St. Francis of Assisi which Bill refers to in this article.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace,
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury – pardon
Where there is doubt – faith
Where there is despair – hope
Where there is darkness – light
Where there is sadness – joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to consol; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.