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April 1976

Just Keep on Going

Nothing works so well as the act of moving toward life

I'VE HAD a lot of depressions during my sobriety. Many have lasted for six months, some for a year, or two or three years. I have stuck to the AA program, also to friends in AA, and this has saved my life. I've tried everything from psychiatry to special diets and megavitamin therapy. Nothing has worked except putting one foot in front of the other and keeping going.

I believe in a Higher Power, and I believe that my Higher Power, if I really turn my depression over, will free me. I am working on this now, because I am beginning to come out of a depression. I am becoming able to change those things I can while accepting the things I can't change, at least for the time being.

I was overwhelmed by money problems, by the death during the last few years of six dear friends, and by a life situation that looked totally unmanageable. But I didn't reach for the bottle; I didn't hit a psychiatric ward; I didn't jump off anything higher than a horse or a New England stone wall; nor did I swallow anything more detrimental to my health than caffeine, tannin, or chocolate sauce.

I know from past experience that sitting around and brooding is the worst thing to do. Trying to figure it all out in my head brings on waves of fear, anxiety, and self-reproach. So I say, "What can I do today for myself and others?" I always write out a list of things, check them off as they get done, and carry those I don't get done over to the next day. When black thoughts come up, I remember that I have already turned them over. They mostly have to do with the past and the future. What I can do now is what counts.

I also try to laugh at my own state of woe. I find something funny to say about my attitude. And laughter is great, even if it's forced at first. By and by, you can really laugh.

I am grateful for a lot of things. The long stretches of good life that I have had. The pleasures of the outdoors with young members of my family. We love each other; we are good friends. Because I have leveled with them about my past drinking, they've been able to unburden themselves about their own problems. This has closed the generation gap, and we are able to talk about everything and anything.

As a writer, I haven't worked as consistently as I might have. But some of my things have been published, and I'm not ashamed of them. I certainly don't write well when I'm depressed, but I do it anyway. Without AA, I wouldn't be writing, because I'd have been dead years ago.

Thank God for all the wonderful people, professional and otherwise, who have helped me or tried to. Even when the help has not succeeded, it has kept me going, kept me trying. And I have been able to use some of the help and advice.

I try to help people, in and out of AA. I speak when I can. I meet with a group of other AAs who are prone to depression, and we help one another. We tell one another to accept the state we are in and to relax and keep going. We encourage one another to regain self-esteem by pointing out the progress we've made. Depression and anxiety can breed all kinds of unpleasant symptoms, such as loss of memory and attention, giddiness, heart palpitations. We discuss this, because we have resolved not to fight these unpleasant feelings, but to accept them and go about our business. We sometimes telephone one another when we are feeling at our worst.

Once a week, I go to a painting class for handicapped people and the nonhandicapped who bring them, and I help set up the paints. I have just joined it and haven't done much yet except help my friend, who founded the group. She has no use of her arms or hands, but she drives her own car with her feet and picks me up.

Spending a whole day alone or eating dinner alone is hard when I'm depressed. This is when "poor little me" really sets in. However, I read the papers, try to watch news programs, and really enjoy reading books. I get to movies and plays and concerts. Walking in the woods or on the beach is a joy, and I do it every chance I get. I always have my car radio on for news and music. I have friends in and cook dinner for them or ask somebody in for coffee. And bless my friends, I'm asked out a lot.

I am immeasurably grateful for the sense of values I have learned from AA and psychiatry. But especially AA. I know that I am not a total loss, even when I think I am. I know that freedom and usefulness, love, outgoingness, and sharing are the important things in life. But even more important, I have to care for me and achieve a sense of self-worth. So I continue to listen. I am still open to suggestions. I continue on my way. And I am on my way up.

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