Concerning Depression
Bill W's Letter to a Member Concerning Depression
The following excerpts from a letter of Bill Wilson's was quoted in the
memoirs of Tom Pike, and early California AA member. Tom did not use the name of the person addressed -- perhaps because he was still living.
Tom said:
Here in part is what Bill Wilson 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:
Dear ...
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.

Tom said "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."
In Bill's struggle with depression, he looks for help outside of the
Twelve Steps. What he finds in psychotherapy and his relationship with Father Ed Dowling will change his perspective on the Steps.
After returning from a three month tour of the States, during which he
and Lois visited most existing AA groups, Bill collapses into depression
and remains depressed for two years. He suffers from such episodes until 1953. Bill's depression is troubling to many AA's, some of whom accuse Bill of not working the program. Bill himself also wonders if he hasn't failed to practice the Steps. According to the official AA biography of Bill:
Bill believed that his depressions were perpetuated by his own failure to work the AA steps..."I used to be rather guilt ridden about this...I
blamed myself for inability to practice the program in certain areas of
my life.
From: Pass It On
Bill may see his depression as a result of his failure to work the Twelve
Steps, but he does not turn to Stepwork to get him back on his feet. This may be due in part to the influence of Father Ed Dowling.
Bill meets Dowling when the man came knocking at his door in 1940. At the time Bill is down and out, but still four years from serious depression.
Dowling announces that he has sought Bill out to discuss the similarities between the Exercises of St. Ignatius and the Twelve Steps. During their conversation, Bill confesses his personal struggles. Dowling, author of the article, "How to Enjoy Being Miserable," gives Bill a new perspective on depression.
Father Ed quoted to him, "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst."
When Bill asked whether there was ever to be any satisfaction, the older man snapped back, "Never. Never any." Bill was to be a person who would keep on reaching. In his reaching he would find Gods goals, hidden in his own heart.
The Soul of Sponsorship
by Robert Fitzgerald, S.J
Therefore Bill's growing despondency is not a result of his failure to
apply spiritual principles, but a sign of his spiritual depth and
giftedness. According to Dowling, God has blessed Bill with an ambition
and a desperation that cause his suffering, but will also lead Bill to
great things. The solution for Bill, then, is not to search deeper for
moral lapses and confess them, but to press on and accept the suffering as an inevitable fact. Bill does exactly that for four years until his depression becomes intolerable and he seeks help in psychotherapy.
In 1943, Bill enters therapy with Henry Tiebout, who specialized in the
treatment of alcoholics and introduced Marty M. to AA. Tiebout's
diagnosis of Bill was that:
both in his active alcoholism and his current sobriety he had been trying to live out the infantilely grandiose demands of "His Majesty the Baby."
by Ernest Kurtz
The next year, Bill switches therapists, and begins seeing Frances Weeks, a Jungian. Week's opinion of Bill is that his position in AA is causing him to neglect his personal needs. Says Bill in a letter to a friend regarding this insight:
Highly satisfactory to live one's life for others, it cannot be anything
but disastrous to live one's life for others as those others think it
should be lived...The extent to which the AA movement and the individual in it determine my choices is really astonishing. Things which are primary to me (even for the good of AA) are unfulfilled...So we have the person of Mr. Anonymous in conflict with Bill Wilson.
The Soul of Sponsorship
by Robert Fitzgerald, S.J
Bill continues treatment with Weeks until at least 1949.
Bill's experience in psychotherapy has an impact on his understanding of recovery and Stepwork. In two letters written in 1956, Bill suggests a means for the application of psychotherapy to AA principles.
It may be that someday we shall devise some common denominator of
psychiatry...which neurotics could use on each other. The idea would be to extend the moral inventory of AA to a deeper level, making it an
inventory of psychic damages...I suppose someday a Neurotics Anonymous will be formed and will actually do all this.
In the second letter Bill suggests:
an inventory of psychic damages, actual episodes: inferiority, shame,
guilt, anger and relive (them) in our minds to reduce them.
both letters from
The Soul of Sponsorship
by Robert Fitzgerald, S.J
The end result of Bill's relationship with Father Ed Dowling and
psychoanalytic treatment is that Bill moves away from a Religious
Conversion View of recovery and adopts a Psychological View of recovery instead. Bill's Psychological View will greatly influence his thinking as he writes Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions , and so it will also affect the future practice of the Twelve Steps.

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