Just a week or so ago...
"So then she told me I should quit my job right away and check in to a rehab." She was sitting in the office, telling me of her experiences in meetings and the beginning of her search for a sponsor. And she was clearly troubled by some of what she was hearing from people.
"Well I'm glad you didn't, I'd miss working with you and I'd have a helluva time finding someone to fill out the schedule on short notice." I replied. She got the intended humor and gave a soft, rye chuckle.
"But really, that kind of stuff freaks me out -- and I don't want someone too controlling!"
I could hear both the real fear and the manufactured drama in her statement.
"May I offer some thoughts on this whole thing?" When I had my boss hat on I didn't ask permission to offer anything. I just gave it. I gave guidance, information or instructions about work. But when I had this other, harder-to-put-a-name-to-but-clearly-not-a-boss hat on I was in the habit of asking before volunteering anything. We were sitting in the office and I was counting out the cash drawers while she waited to clock in -- she who used to have trouble getting to work on time and now seemed to come in a little early perhaps just to have this time to talk.
"Well," I made little piles of change as I spoke; clink-clink-clink, and we both looked at the coins as I stacked them. "The suggestion seems pretty extreme on the surface. But I think maybe you should consider the spirit of what they were trying to say."
"The spirit of it." She sounded a little doubtful.
"Yes. If you were diagnosed with 3rd Stage Scary Disease Number 5, and to save your life you needed to get medical treatment right away, you'd pretty much drop everything and get that treatment, yes?"
She considered it. "Well... yes."
"So," now I made piles of singles, 25 per pile, and paperclipped each pile together "the spirit of this suggestion is that the self diagnosis of alcoholism is equally serious, and should be equally attention getting, and treated with the same level of urgency. Even if what they said seems -- to both of us, I might add -- maybe a little extreme, the spirit of this suggestion is worthwhile. This is serious, life-or-death business, and you would be wise to treat it as such."
"Okay. That makes sense."
Money is dirty. I looked at the grunge accumulating on my fingers in disgust as I went on to count out the fives, tens and twenties into their own bundles.
She began tearing open the deposit bags for me and sticking labels on them as we chatted. "Right. Okay. But it freaks me out when people are so... I don't want anyone too controlling. It makes me not want to..." she trailed off, knowing by now my opinion on the importance of going to meetings.
"I understand. But look," I said, filling out the little log and writing in how much change I wanted my opening Shift Leader to order from the bank, "say you went into a bar, and the bartender was a real asshole; intense and weird and trying to tell you where to sit or what to drink or whatever. Would you say, 'Wow, that bartender is a controlling freak! Because I met them I am never going to go to a bar again!'"
She giggled a little at the thought, which was what I was hoping for. "No!"
"Okay," I stopped fussing with the banking and put my hands in my lap and looked at her directly, "then maybe that's what you should do with AA. There are going to be a lot of people who, in their zeal to be helpful to you, might initially come across as 'too much' for you. That's ok, but to use them as a reason not to go back to meetings is as silly and nonsensical as giving up going to bars because of some intense encounter with a bartender."
She smiled, "That makes sense, actually."
"Yes, it does. My experience is that going to AA meetings saved my life. I went to two a day for probably the first whole year." (It was probably two a day for a couple of years, but I didn't want to slide myself into the 'Too Much' Column for her.)
"I'm going to two a day right now." This offered in a small voice.
"Well, in my humble opinion that's wonderful, and I hope you keep on. How do you feel?"
"Can I ask...?"
"9. 9 whole days sober."
"That. Is. Fan. Tastic. Can I give you a hug?" There's a camera in the office, and surely, if someone were to watch us in playback it might be an odd thing to see, but right at that moment I didn't give one flying eff.
She smiled big. "Sure." We were of an age, and a hug between us was clearly a hug between friends, an AA hug and nothing more. I gave her a quick hug and then she pulled her string of Welcome Chips out of her pocket -- I was charmed to see she carried them with her like that -- I'd done the same thing -- and we chatted and cracked wise a little more before she started her shift.
I didn't want to say anything to her yet, but she was already... different. One of the kids at work mentioned it to me the other night in fact, independant of my own observation. A light was coming on in her eyes. Her posture was changing. Certainly this is in no small part due to the physiological effect of detoxing from chronic alcohol abuse -- the body is a marvelous mechanism and given a chance to heal will do so with speed and power. But there was more to it as well. I'd seen it before in others getting sober in AA. We never notice a difference in ourselves -- not for a long time anyway -- but it is apparent to the people around us. Spiritual healing is as visible, as palpable, as real as physical healing. And that's what was beginning to take root in her.
'God puts people together for a reason' is something I've quoted to many sponsees. (If there's a God, and today I vote yes, there Is.)
God creates an opportunity to be of service, for one alcoholic to help another be in the middle of AA's lifeboat, stay sober, and in virtually every way change their lives for the better.
I knew in my heart that this was another one of those opportunities.
But let me be absolutely clear about one thing in this: The person being helped, being saved, being centered in the middle of the lifeboat and getting the chance to change for the better isn't her.