My sponsor asked me to listen to the talk on “Emotional Sobriety” given by Tom B. Being just a little curious, I began to listen and began to wonder,” So why this talk?” Tom starts with describing the profound transformation that takes place in us through what he refers to as the “real learning” process. This is a permanent change of behavior that comes about through constant repetition of an action. With regards to our sobriety, we continue to transform until we reach the ultimate stage of “purity of heart or clarity of thought.” OK…so far so good. He then went on to give his definition of emotional sobriety as, “What I know to be true about myself and what I feel about myself are mostly consistent with the facts about me. Input from another may have an effect on me, but it does not determine how I feel about myself.” Next he explained emotional unsobriety and this is where I became a bit uncomfortable. As you would imagine, emotional unsobriety is the exact opposite. After answering a few of his qualifying questions, I found out that I had some work to do before I could say I was emotionally sober. Tom stated that these individuals usually depend on others to tell them how to feel about themselves. And to make matters worse, he said that in most cases what is at the root of all of this is a form of self-hate. Not what I needed to hear on a Tuesday afternoon. I’m going to let you all listen to Tom’s talk and hear what he suggests we should do to move closer to emotional sobriety.
Tom mentioned during his talk that this was something Bill W. had wrestled with himself. I grabbed a copy of the letter that Bill wrote for the Grapevine back in January 1958. It was entitled, “The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety.”
Bill went right to work on defining the problem at hand. “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 forty-seven or fifty-seven. Since AA began, I’ve taken immense wallops in these areas because of my failure to grow up emotionally and spiritually.
God, how painful it is to keep demanding the impossible and how very painful to discover finally, that all along we had the cart before the horse! Then comes the final agony of seeing how awfully wrong we have been, but still finding ourselves unable to get off the emotional Merry-Go-Round. How to translate a right mental conviction into a right emotional result.” He went on to share, “Depression having no really rational cause at all, almost took me to the cleaners.”
He thought about it long and hard out of fear that he might be in for another chronic spell. “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 alright, but why didn’t it work?”
After further consideration, Bill believed that he had discovered where the problem may lie. “Suddenly I realized what the matter was. My basic flaw had always been dependence-on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams specifications, I had fought for them. And when defeat came, so did my depression.”
Bill concludes that there wasn’t any chance of making the outgoing love of St. Francis a part of his life until he was able to discard the dependencies. Bill decided that his plan of action was going to be “to exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these faulty emotional dependencies upon people, upon AA, indeed, upon any set circumstances whatsoever. Then only could I be free to love as Francis had.”
Bill also thought back to the days when he was first trying to get sober. “In the first six months of my 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 anything. My stability came out of trying to give, not out of demanding I receive. This I think 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 it 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 ourselves and others into emotional sobriety.”
At this point, I’ve listened to Tom’s talk twice and read through Bill’s letter. I may not be any closer to emotional sobriety than I had been when I started, but now I get it. Now I understand what it is that I need to be working towards and maybe why I have had some struggles at times when all things around me appeared to be going ok. If i have learned one thing during my time in AA, it is that if I’m doing this right, I will never stop learning.