It’s a trap that may endanger anyone. Here’s how two members fought their way back
MY FIRST year within the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous closed on a high note. I had been spared the necessity of taking that deadly first drink. Personal meaning had become associated with the phrase “God as we understood Him,” and His power was beginning to express itself in my life. I had been reunited with my most recent family, and relations with another discarded along the way were greatly improved. A new career in business, based on honesty with my new employers, had been opened to me. Heading the list of other benefits derived from my newfound way of life was a great improvement in personal health.
Year number two began in a flurry of activity directed toward serving others. Twelfth Step work was augmented by “trusted servant” duties within my AA group. Time past seemed to have been relegated to a position of minimal importance; the present was an ever-unfolding joy; and what future might be granted me was eagerly awaited.
Near the end of my fifteenth month of sobriety, disaster struck. Suddenly and inexplicably, I was thrust into a pit of depression which reached unimaginable depths. This depression was accompanied by a lack of physical vitality and an over- whelming feeling that I was doomed to eternal failure. No amount of rationalization could explain such a condition. It was obvious to me that I had much to be grateful for and that the future should hold nothing but promise, yet my despondency only deepened. I knew that my symptoms were those of the “dry drunk,” something older members of AA had tried to describe and warn me about.
As month number eighteen drew to a close, a new member with whom I had been working closely sought advice about a similar problem. The parallels between his symptoms and mine were remarkably close. As the new man unfolded his tale of desperation, I sank to even lower levels of despondency as I realized the futility of trying to counsel him. The biblical admonition “Physician, heal thyself” ran through my mind like a discordant note repeated by a broken record.
However, a portion of Step Twelve, “. . . to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs,” also struck a persistent chord which I could not ignore. As I racked my brain for a solution to our common problem, I remembered something I had read on page 43 of the April 1968 Grapevine, in an article reviewing a report sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health: “Over a period of time he [the alcoholic] habitually reacts to the pressure of his personal needs and to the challenge of social situations with the ‘solution’ of drinking, only to end up with that behavior pattern so fatally imprinted, so tightly incorporated into his character that his whole life still depends on it.” The article also interpreted the report as finding that “The alcoholic or problem drinker gets that way as a matter of learned response.”
At the time of first reading, it had occurred to me how wonderfully devised was the entire AA program as a means of breaking up these patterns of “learned response” and providing the alcoholic with the motivation to develop a new life style. I had certainly been able to recognize this development within myself. Now the article gave me a first clue to the present dilemma of my friend and me. I realized that the dry drunk probably represented an effort of the old life style to reassert itself. It seemed reasonable to assume that complacency, fed by a false sense of security, had lulled both of us into letting our guard down.
The answer to our problem then became obvious. The correct therapy for our condign was to re-examine our attitudes toward and understanding of the basic elements of AA philosophy. If our “medicine” had effected one recovery, there was no reason to expect that we couldn’t use it to take care of a recurring attack, much as the recovered malaria victim reverts to the use of Atabrine when fever again begins to rack his body.
As my friend and I began to rummage through our storehouses of AA lore, the clouds of depression began to lift. In checking out the page references listed under “depression” in Bill’s new book, The AA Way of Life, we were encouraged to find that we were on the right track. On page 30, we learned that Bill had discovered “part of the answer” to getting off a dry bender “in the constant effort to practice all of AA’s Twelve Steps.” On page 148, Bill talks about fighting depression with prayer, ending this reflection with a partial quote from our beloved Serenity Prayer. Page 308 describes a day-to-day approach to the problem of acute depression, which reminded us anew of our AA 24-hour philosophy.
And on page 231, the principle of working with others receives reinforcement as Bill states that seeking out fellow depressives was of great help to him in his own hour of need. I was surely able to agree with Bill on this last point, for it was now plainly obvious that working with another depressive had helped to pull me out of my own despair. When the problem became objective rather than subjective, mental stumbling blocks fell by the wayside.
There was one other recourse: As I lay in bed the night before this terrible burden was lifted from my shoulders, I had humbly implored God to release me from the grips of my depression. I have no choice but to believe that my prayer was answered by my Higher Power.