A sponsee came over earlier. We have a standing appointment to meet face-to-face once a week and go through the Big Book together, as I do with pretty much all the people I sponsor. (We may speak on the phone a lot or a little, but if I can't meet with someone once a week to go through the Big Book how can we go through the Steps?)
We take turns reading paragraphs and comment on whatever resonates for us as we go. In this way a sponsee gets to do the 12 Steps as they're laid out in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. You would think that this process would have become dull to me as the years have gone on. Quite the opposite, strangely. (Though I keep expecting it to.) I almost always get something new out of the book as I go through it with someone -- and since each person is different, the exchange is always fresh for me.
This particular sponsee and I had finished the chapter, "There Is A Solution" and we were going to begin "More About Alcoholism" which comes next.
Before we jump into the book I like to "check under the hood" -- see how AA meetings are going, ask about service commitments, inquire after my sponsees' sponsees, etc. (I'm terribly afraid as I write that I'll sound stuffy or nosy or authoritarian -- while it's difficult to see ourselves as others see us I hope that, however any of the people I sponsor may describe me, those words would not come to mind.) Usually we chat about whatever comes up.
Today my sponsee told me about a call he'd gotten yesterday, from a friend's mother. The friend had passed away. It was, as my sponsee described it, a sad, weird, awkward call -- but in a way no real surprise to either my sponsee or the mother. They both had known for a while that this call was, if not inevitable, then certainly very likely.
My sponsee had known this friend for about ten years -- they'd met on a job. Hitting it off as only a pair of drinking alcoholics can, they became pretty tight. Eventually my sponsee began down the road to sobriety, encountering a few speed bumps along the way (er, poor choice of words, that) but overall, staying the course.
The sponsee's friend had made several aborted attempts at getting sober, doing the whole check-yourself-into-rehab-and-then-check-yourself-right-back-out routine. From what my sponsee described there had been semi-regular phone calls over the years from the friend's mother, asking for advice about interventions or treatment facilities... all the things a desperate parent tries to help their addicted child.
Apparently the last couple of years the friend had been living in their mother's house, pretty much drinking around the clock. The mother had tried whatever you can in those situations. (If, as you read this, you're thinking phrases like "tough love" I would like to humbly suggest that it is one thing, while comfortably sipping your coffee and reading a blog entry on your computer, to think about getting hard-ass with people, even if it's in an attempt to save their life -- but it is quite another to look into a family member's eyes and put them out on the street while they're sick and miserable.)
Years of this kind of drinking had damaged the sponsee's friend's health pretty badly, as one would imagine -- serious trouble with both the liver and the pancreas. And so... the friend died. The friend was 37.
No tears from my sponsee. They weren't best friends, as tight as they had once been. No tears from me. I don't mean to strike a tough guy pose, but this is hardly the first of these stories that I've heard -- let alone been a part of.
So my sponsee and I opened the book, and started reading "More About Alcoholism." Not the first time for either of us, actually.
He's reading aloud, as is our routine, and he comes to this, in the first paragraph of the chapter, on pg. 30:
"The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death."
He stopped reading and we just looked at each other for a long minute.
Then he went back to reading, and we carried on.