depression and AA: as bill sees it

bill w. and dr. bobjohn at storied mind recently wrote a post on the intersection between depression and the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous. it just so happens that same evening i was browsing through “as bill sees it”, a compilation of writings by bill w., the founder of that group. it has a few entries on depression. you might find them interesting:

sometimes, we become depressed. … while the surface causes were a part of the picture — trigger-events that precipitated depression – the underlying causes, i am satisfied, ran much deeper. intellectually, i could accept my situation. emotionally, i could not.

to these problems, there are certainly no pat answers. but part of the answer surely lies in the constant effort to practice all of A.A.’s twelve steps. (letter, 1954)

i asked myself, “why can’t the twelve steps work to release me from this unbearable depression?” by the hour, i stared at the st. francis prayer: “it is better to comfort than to be comforted.”

suddenly i realized what the answer might be. my basic flaw had always been dependence on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and confidence. failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, i fought for them. and when defeat came, so did my depression.

reinforced by what grace i could find in prayer, i had to exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these faulty emotional dependencies upon people and upon circumstances. then only could i be free to love as francis had loved. (grapevine, AA’s newsletter, january 1958)

when i was tired and couldn’t concentrate, i used to fall back on an affirmation toward life that took the form of simple walking and deep breathing. i sometimes told myself that i couldn’t do even this — that i was to weak. but i learned that this was the point at which i could not give in without becoming still more depressed.

so i would set myself a small stint. i would determine to walk a quarter of a mile. and i would concentrate by counting my breathing — say, six steps to each slow inhalation and four to each exhalation.

having done the quarter-mile, i found that i could go on, maybe a half-mile more. then another half-mile, and maybe another. this was encouraging. the false sense of physical weakness would leave me (this feeling being so characteristic of depressions). the walking and especially the breathing were powerful affirmations toward life and living and away from failure and death. the counting represented a minimum discipline in concentration, to get some rest from the wear and tear of fear and guilt. (letter, 1960)

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