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November 1956

Closed Meeting

EMOTIONAL FANTASIES

"AFTER LAST WEEK'S CLOSED MEETING," began the leader, "I sought out Roger for a little chitchat. I felt intuitively something was troubling him, which perhaps he found difficult to express, so I asked if I could be of help. Noticing such things is, I believe, part of a leader's job.

"As a result of our conversation, he agreed to place his problem before us tonight. He would like a cross-section of opinion on what he says is one of his emotional fantasies which afflict him and, possibly, other inactive alcoholics.

"Many of us are victims of our emotions from time to time. This was true when we were drinking and, unfortunately, it's still true in a number of instances in AA. I believe it can be a threat to our sobriety. Certainly it is ruinous to our stability and peace of mind. I'll let him explain his difficulty in his own words."

"I'm Roger and I have been greatly disturbed by something I have been unable to fight off successfully. It's a continually recurring desire for revenge, which I characterize as an emotional fantasy. My sobriety has lasted for almost eight months. I like it and am grateful for the miraculous healing powers of AA which have restored me to sanity--except in this one respect.

"I go along on an even keel for days and then I'm obsessed again by a mental picture of myself getting even with several fellow workers who double-crossed me during my drinking days in a job I still retain. I know positively they deprived me of several promotions which were rightfully mine and would have come my way despite my alcoholism.

"Up until now, I have been able to resist this impulse for revenge. It hasn't been a matter of principle or ethics with me. I have resisted squaring accounts only because I know the strength of my sobriety will be in direct proportion to how I control my emotions. Yet, I continue to brood over their wrong-doing and envision exacting 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' Will it pass with time and more practice of the program?"

"Roger," said Mike, "I know exactly what you're experiencing. I understand and sympathize. The contemplation of getting back at another person is a fairly common one for sober alcoholics who think, or know, they've been wronged, betrayed or forced to suffer something beyond a reasonable length of time.

"Fight it off, though, because it is a bad, destructive emotion and you would only defeat yourself in the end. Should you get revenge in this case, it will open the way to other emotional fantasies. Revenge isn't sweet; it becomes gall and wormwood. Believe me, I know. Should you succeed, your feeling of self-satisfaction will be followed by one of extreme unworthiness and, possibly, a compulsion for a drink to escape your accusing conscience.

"My biggest emotional fantasy came from spitefulness and lasted during my first year in AA. I hate to think what might have happened to me. I got the fantastic idea that my wife was so fed up with my tantrums at home, she was secretly wishing I'd get drunk again. Where I got it from, I'll never know. So I resolved to stay sober, come hell or high water, just to spite her.

"After each disagreement (and I was the disagreeable one), I'd slam out of the house, returning in a few hours and saying, 'You thought I'd get loaded at a tavern, didn't you? Well, I'm going to stay sober just to spite you!' Roger, how emotionally unstable can an AAer get? My wife everything to help me not to take the first drink. My advice to you is--concentrate more on forgiving or forgetting your double-crossers and less on your desire for revenge. In a short time, it will pay dividends. Big ones!"

"Let me break in here," interrupted the leader, "to observe that no one knows what goes on in the secret heart and mind of an alcoholic--even a dry one. For that reason, it is always advisable to bring out in a Closed Meeting anything which is giving us concern. We might not have all the answers, but exposure of a problem to the light of rationalization is often helpful to the troubled person victimized by his own fantasies.

"Roger is undergoing somewhat of a dry drunk phase in which the individual continually dramatizes himself, or herself, to the exclusion of common sense. It is difficult at the beginning of our sobriety to think things out constructively. Our tendencies continue toward destructive thoughts and actions as when we drank.

"'Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad' is an old adage and a very true one. Not all emotions are bad ones, but it's the bad ones which can bedevil us into taking the first drink.

"I never thought things out, either, until I started coming regularly to Closed Meetings. I was so confused, I couldn't think clearly and objectively. When that occurred, I'd toss my problem out into the meeting and, in most cases, the older members did my thinking for me--and correctly.

"I had a bitter, hurt, disillusioned I'll-show-'em' attitude about several things in my alcoholic life. Almost everybody has in one way or another.

"Sobriety is a state of mind. Consequently it is essential for us to exclude emotional fantasies which, I think, are definitely a sign of immaturity. Stewing in our own juice long enough gets us nothing but a poisonous viewpoint of life.

"Emotional fantasies are a dramatization of oneself. And how we alcoholics love to picture ourselves as giving someone his come-up-pance; returning to a favorite bar and pointedly announcing we're not drinking; going back to a job from which we were fired and flaunting our sobriety; or playing other roles in which we are heroes, martyrs or self-righteous people. I think it might be interesting to hear a feminine version of an emotional fantasy. Who will volunteer?"

"Well," replied a girl in the front row who obviously had been waiting impatiently to tell her side of it, "my name is Janet and my emotional fantasy was 'Lover Come Back To Me.' I lost the guy because of my drinking and I used to daydream of winning him back with my sobriety. Through mutual friends, I made sure he knew how well I was getting along in AA--my changed attitude, greatly improved personal appearance and more mature outlook.

"I built beautiful castles in the air in which we were reunited, married and living happily together. I really carried the torch and there were many times when the thought of him helped greatly to overcome the desire for a drink. It was a thrilling and romantic emotional fantasy while it lasted--but he never gave me a tumble again. My disappointment was almost unbearable.

"I survived it and other crises since--as Roger can and others in the group have done--because I made sobriety the first and most important thing in my life.

"Sobriety is so much more rewarding than yielding to thoughts of revenge, hatred or any other compulsive and destructive emotion. It was greater than love in my own case and is more desirable to me the longer I stay with AA. I hope I will have many more wonderful years ahead of me in which to enjoy it.

"In other words, I'm not a dreamer any longer. I'm a realist who tries to make every twenty-four hours sufficient unto my sobriety thereof. Indulging in emotional fantasies requires living in the past or the future, and it's not for me. Now I live 'Just for Today.'"

"I've always heard that 'Love Conquers All,"" announced the leader who rose to conclude the meeting, "but in Janet's case the word seems to be sobriety. I sincerely hope we've been of some assistance to Roger tonight. If not, and he's willing, a few of us can get together with him after the meeting for a little more discussion of what he calls an emotional fantasy.

"Shall we close in the usual way?"

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