THE NEXT FRONTIER: 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 ma-jor 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 or 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 our-selves unable to get off the emotional merry-go-round.
How to translate a right mental convention 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 it-self for all of us who got 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. 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, depres-sion, 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 the 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 - al-most 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 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 set of circum-stances whatsoever. Then only could I be free to love as Francis had. Emotional and instinctual satisfactions, I saw, were 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 lov-ing others, as he would have me. And I couldn’t possibly do that so 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.
While those words “absolute dependency” 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 peo-ple, 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.
Spiritual calculus, you say? Not a bit of it. Watch any AA of six months working with a new Twelfth Step case. If the case says “To the devil with you, “the Twelfth Stepper only smiles and turns to another case. He doesn’t feel frustrated or rejected. If his next case responds, and in turn starts to give love and attention to other alcoholics, yet gives none back to him, the sponsor is happy about it anyway. He still doesn’t feel rejected; instead he rejoices that his one-time prospect is sober and happy. And if his next following case turns out in later time to be his best friend (or romance), then the sponsor is most joyful. But the well knows that his happiness is a by-product – the extra dividend of giving without any demand for a return.
The really stabilizing thing for him was having and offering love to that strange drunk on his doorstep. That was Francis at work, powerful and practical, minus dependency and minus de-mand.
In the first six months of my own sobriety, I worked hard with many alcoholics. Not a one responded. Yet this work kept me sober. It wasn’t a question of those alcoholics giving me any-thing. My stability came out of trying to give, not out of demanding that I receive.
Thus I think it can work out with emotional sobriety. If we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependency and its consequent unhealthy 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 Twelfth Step others and our-selves into 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.
1. In what other ways have you applied the AA Program?
2. Do you agree with the idea that to practice these principles in all our affairs that we should work for Spiritual, mental, physical, emotional and social sobriety? Would you share an example of how that works for you?