Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I love your blog with its beautiful simplicity, your words of wisdom and your sponsor/sponsee advice. I am close to a year and a half sober, in the fellowship and live in South Africa. I have a sponsor who has a good bit more than two decades of sobriety and I have recently began sponsoring a sponsee. I am also doing active service and redoing my steps. These are some pertinent things happening to me during the week and I feel lost and confused and generally in a rather "grey" space.
1. I began a detailed fourth step (did a glossed over version a year ago) separating my life in seven year segments so that I could go through each with a fine tooth comb. In the process, toxic feelings, pain and despair started to come through. My sponsor had to leave the country for a short while and I feel like I have been deserted (all in my head) during this step. I have increased my meetings, meditation, service and literature work but still feel pretty glum. I invited my higher power into the process. What has helped you when you are deep in grey space?
2. What is the difference between sponsorship and "carrying the message?"
Congratulations on your almost year-and-a-half of sobriety! Each 24 hours sober is a miracle; a reprieve from a shuttered mind stuffed with twisted thinking -- a life driven by obsession and riven by addiction. It is a miracle even on the grey days, and (not to get too far ahead of myself) that's one thing I focus on when I am not at peace.
My first inventory work was what you call "glossed over" as well. That is, I was as searching and thorough as I could be at the time, but I was clumsy with the tools of self examination and still in a bit of a fog. Not to mix my images too broadly but it took me a long time to thaw, and that was not just emotionally, that was mentally as well. So I applaud you for the willingness to go back and use the fine toothed comb approach. Such a foundation will serve you well as life throws what it will at you over the course of the one-day-at-a-times ahead.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity to how the 12 Step world suggests we handle things would have nodded and said to themselves, "good. right. good. good." as you cataloged what you are already doing to address the glum, grey space you feel caught in right now. So I offer you this, to begin with: Keep doing what you are doing! As with any medicine, some treatments require regular application to see a result, and I have found that to be as true for my spiritual malady and my spiritual medicine as it is for any physical illness I may suffer. We often talk about "earning our seat" in AA in reference to the drinking and using and wreckage we created before we got sober, but I often think there is another kind of earning our seat: The purposeful, heroic, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other trudge we sometimes do when we are mired in despair and using AA's suggested tools to walk through it. You cannot fail if you keep close to meetings, continue to be honest, ask for help from your H.P., meditate and lean into service. You cannot fail. It is proven time and again -- simple but not easy, that is true -- but absolutely effective. I offer you this as a supportive hug and a hearty slap on the back across the thousands of miles between us. Keep on keeping on, H. Another part of my answer to you is that basically, I do what you are doing, and while I am doing it I try to remember that my feelings are not facts, they do not define me, I do not have to act on them and eventually, though it may not feel like it at the time, they WILL pass.
But I would also like to offer you something more specific, something more "hand on," across those same miles, in addition to the bit of sincere cheerleading above.
Toxic feelings, pain and despair coming through as a result of looking closely at our past are not uncommon. Even without specifics I deeply understand how that can be. And also, even without specifics I have some thoughts about it -- as I share them please understand I am not saying that all of this applies to you, I am merely offering them as possibilities for you to consider and that may, perhaps, prove helpful during this grey passage.
I think it is always important to remember this point made in the Big Book when the inventory process is discussed: "The world and its people are often quite wrong." The inventory process is in no way an exercise in trying to put a smile on a corpse. Terrible things happen, sometimes to the innocent, and when we detail our resentments, and then try to find our part in them, we may be stymied as to how we might possibly find much of a part for us to have played. So sometimes when doing an inventory we get more enraged and resentful rather than less as we look at how we were wronged and literally cannot find our part because there is not one for us to have had. (Special Note: In the VAST MAJORITY of the time, in my own inventories, I did have a part. This is not about finding a loophole for ourselves.) In such cases, what I find is that there is not a part to have HAD, but there may be a part to have NOW. In other words, my part in the resentment is morbidly hanging onto this wrong from long ago. Be honest with yourself, grieve innocence lost, rage at what is to our mortal perception a deeply unjust Universe, and then... then set it aside. Yes, whatever happened did happen, but there are choices to be made TODAY about what I focus on and how I let my past influence me. I am not talking about ignoring something, I am talking about turning my face to the light, instead of looking always at my wounds, pulling at them and keeping them from healing. Also, as you will discover as you move deeper into being of service, using whatever happened in our past to help another alcoholic transforms our pain into something greater than a wound -- it becomes a way to pass on recovery and in helping others find peace we ourselves find it too.
The main point of the resentment part of the inventory is to determine what our part is in the resentment, which then becomes a catalog of our character defects, which in Steps 6 and 7 I ask God to heal (remove) so that I may be of better service to the people around me. Sometimes my part in the resentment about what happened in the past is that my self obsession prevents me from leaving the past in the past. Denial is not healing, true, but morbid self reflection is not self examination, either. Where the line for each of us is on these things is unique to each situation and to each of us as well. Again, I am throwing out there some things for you to consider, that is all -- they may only partially apply -- or perhaps not at all.
Sometimes the toxicity, rage and despair comes from not being able to forgive those who may have wronged us. Again I look at what the Big Book suggests about these things: That those who wronged us are themselves spiritually sick. We were wounded by the shrapnel of someone else's spiritual land mine exploding under foot. It was not about us -- it was never about us -- and when I work to see others as spiritually sick too I begin to build the foundation for viewing them with a compassionate heart -- and when I can come from that place no suffering from despair can occur. The world and its people are often quite wrong -- and sometimes any feeling of God's Plan is far out of reach. I offer you this, too, if it can be of any help.
Of course sometimes it is crushing guilt which tortures us, and the person we cannot forgive is ourselves. We look at the patterns of our own wrongs, or see the lost opportunities, squandered in the wasteland of our drinking and drug use, and fear we will never have those chances again. And you know what? We may not. If you were a great athelete up to the age of 15 and an illness put you in a wheelchair for ten years and you finally got back on your feet at age 25, you would have lost ten prime years of training and play and you will not get them back. Sometimes my part is wishing for a different path, or a different past. It was what it was and it is what it is. Active alcoholism is about escaping reality. My recovery is about seeing it and accepting it. I raise my head and I act as if I feel better than I do and I turn my focus to helping others and I feel better. Eventually, I heal.
As for the difference between sponsorship and carrying the message, I'm not really sure there is one. A sponsor is carrying the message to a sponsee in some very specific ways, and yet we also carry the message of sobriety to others suffering by the example of our lives, living AA's principles and discovering joy and fellowship we could never have imagined when drinking. It is not my business to know who I may help by carrying the message by being an example -- it is my business to be the example.
I assure you, H., from what I've read of you in your email, you are doing just that.