I sponsored them probably a half dozen or so years ago. Maybe more. While my auditory memory is exceptional, my linear memory gets a little fuzzy past the five year mark.
We've always been friendly -- even actual friends, I would say, though more the run-into-each-other-on-the-street-and-decide-to-grab-a-coffee-and-catch-up type than the think-to-call-and-set-up-a-time-to-catch-up type.
To his credit, he has kept in touch regularly all this time, even after what was an honest, if harsh, bit of feedback from me several years ago when I hit a wall on some alcoholic nonsense and suggested he stop calling me altogether.
I like him. He is smart and funny and very charming. He was a street level hope-to-die dope fiend drug addict alcoholic and now, nearly thirty years later, he is clean and sober and more or less working a program to stay that way. Well... maybe I should say more less than more more, if you follow. While it all starts with physical sobriety, recovery eventually calls us beyond that basic physical abstinence, primarily so that we do not succumb to the mental twists of our addictive thinking and relapse. A side benefit of this process is often that we become healed of a lot of selfish, childish, small-minded thinking patterns, eventually becoming people who are comfortable in our skins and graceful during adversity in a way that we ourselves might never have dreamed of becoming.
It is a slow, subtle, powerful process, but available to anyone who is willing to go the distance.
My friend of nearly thirty years sobriety, however, never quite seemed to be one of the go-the-distance ones, (in my humble opinion) and thus while physically "dry" these many years, has been continually tortured by the same petty, self centered fears pretty much the whole time I've known him.
He called me on the late side the other night, while I was about to make a cup of tea and start a new book I'd been greatly looking forward to reading.
Me: Well hello! This is a pleasant surprise! How's the world traveller?
Him <laughing>: I wouldn't say "world," exactly, but I've been on the road a lot.
He named several nearby countries covering a variety of compass points. I began rooting around the back of my kitchen cabinet for a particular tea I thought I had.
Me: Glad to hear the road is treating you so well. How are things on the home front?
He launched into what was an amusing, if sadly familiar, description of how, while he acknowledged all the bounty in his life -- and he certainly had bounty -- it never seemed like enough, and how he knew on one level that it should feel that way, it just didn't... and he just couldn't... etc., etc.
I "uh huh'd" along, expanding my search for the missing tea by several drawers and now some top shelves. As I stretched waaaay up on tip toe to feel around on the back of the upper part of the cabinet, the cats ghosted into the kitchen, curious as to whether this nighttime pantry investigation might yield anything of interest to them. One soundless leap up to my desktop put them in close proximity to the kitchen counter, and after mistakenly judging me sufficiently distracted, one soft, ginger paw touched gently on the edge of the kitchen counter, which was, as they well knew, Forbidden Territory. "NO." I gently admonished, and the paw withdrew.
Him: No? No what?
Me: Sorry. Sorry. Talking to the cats.
Him: Ah, cool. How are they?
He had known Evil Old Cat and was enough of a pet person to genuinely care how the new felines in residence - who arrived as tiny puffs of fuzz and were now three years along -- were doing.
Me: They're good company. Sweet natured and really make me laugh sometimes. If at all possible when getting kittens from a Cat Rescue get litter mates if you can. I notice a real difference in how they interact because of that. It's a much more peaceful household on the feline front now.
Him: Good! Glad to hear. Evil Old Cat was a handful.
Me: And an earful.
Now he laughed.
Him: True that. So anyway, did I mention I'd asked Southern Charm to be my sponsor?
"Uh oh." I thought. He couldn't possibly be fishing for...
Me: Yes, a while ago, right? I love him. Super guy. I have a lot of respect for his program.
A little awkward silence played out as I deliberately declined to say my next line, which would have been something like, "Oh, so how's that going?" I went back to stretching up to reach the back of the top shelf and my fingertips grazed what might have been a box of tea. I redoubled my stretch, thinking again how I should probably start some kind of yoga practice before gravity and the years combine to require more step stools and less stretching in my life. Or at least in my kitchen.
The silence had made my point that if he was going to try and go down the road I thought he might be, I wasn't going to join him.
Him: So... I'm not feeling really connected like... I mean, I kind of feel he's... well, maybe judging me or is too... I don't know, it's just not...
I had managed to tip the back-of-the-top-shelf box over enough to be able to grab it, and pulled it over the edge. Fumbling to catch it I missed, and it bounced from kitchen counter to desktop, sending my feline audience scattering to observe from a safer distance.
Me: Ah, that's it.
Him: What's it?
Me: Sorry! Sorry again. I was having a helluva time getting something down from a shelf and just managed to knock it down.
I busied myself filling the kettle and such. A bit more silence until...
Him: So...anyway, you know I love talking to you and I really respect what you have to say and...
Me: You listen to what I have to say, you don't really respect it.
Him: Yes I do!
Me: If you did you would... nevermind. Look, where is this going please?
As if I -- or you reading this -- didn't know.
Him: Well, I was wondering if you would consider sponsoring me again.
"Oh, HELL no." I thought.
Me: Oh, HELL no.
Him: Wow, didn't even have to think about it.
I lauged as well.
Him: Seriously, I love your take on things. Come on. Why not?
Me: Listen, I think we do much better as friends than as sponsor and sponsee.
Him: Why? Why can't we be friends and then also you sponsor me? I know you're kind of friends with some of your other sponsees.
Me: True. But... look, we've been down this road before. Let me kind of lay it all out for you and then you tell me if I'm very far off the mark, okay?
Me: Things were great with Southern Charm at the beginning because you brought him your issues and as always you were kind of smart and funny when you talked about them. So he listened, and then he made a number of good suggestions which you really never acted on, or barely acted on for a little bit and then let it fade away. So what you are calling his "judging you" is really him just holding you accountable. Now you want to pull back from that and talk to me about those same things -- which, let me remind you I've been hearing you talk about for years now -- and you think you want my suggestions and input but you really don't, and you're not at all willing to act on them. You'll just use the same byzantine mental filters and justifications as to why none of what I suggest really works for you, and we'll both get tired of hearing you explain why that is.
Half way through this he started chuckling, until by the time I wound down he was outright laughing again.
Him: Well I can't say... listen, I am willing to act on your suggestions now.
Me: Oh come on. How can you even say that with a straight face? Here, let's try this. Without even putting the label of sponsor on it or anything, I suggest that every morning, as you're drinking your coffee or whatever, you write out a gratitude list. You don't even have to call and read it to me or anything. Just sit down and write out ten or twenty things you're grateful for. Are you willing to do that? Try that? And please, for both our sakes, DON'T ask me why I think you should do that.
My kettle came to a boil and I poured the water into my mug, happy for the hundredth time I'd splurged and bought the nicer kettle when I was out shopping for one last year.
I waited, bobbling my tea bag and letting his "Well..." hang there, alone, unaccompanied by further thought or word. After almost a minute I ended his suffering.
Me: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.
This time we both laughed.
Me: Listen, seriously, what do you even think you WANT from a sponsor now? Because it's not direction.
Him: I guess... I don't know. Till you said that I hadn't really...
I could feel the "on a roll" energy begin to surge inside me a little, but rather than quell it I thought, "What the hell. HE called ME, after all..."
Me: You don't want a sponsor. You want someone you can call and talk about yourself kind of endlessly, with a special focus on what you want in life that you don't have, and you want to slap the label of 'Sponsor' on them so you can call them and talk about yourself guilt free. You are nearly THIRTY YEARS SOBER. How many people have you sponsored? Do you even have a service commitment right now?
Him: Well, I just finished being the cookie person for Friday night.
Me: Okay. That's good I guess.
Him: Hey! It was a service commitment.
Me: Yes, it was. And again, tell me please how off base I am to suggest that on the way to the meeting you would buy a package of cookies, get to the meeting shortly before it started because someone was saving you a seat, and you tossed the cookies on the counter and sat down.
Him: I... I...
He laughed again.
Him: Were you watching me or something?
Me: No. Honestly, and I think you're still listening to my little rant now because you know I like you and respect you enough to tell you the truth, all I had to do was imagine the least amount of effort it was possible to put into a cookie commitment and that would probably be how you did it.
Him: Ouch but... come on, nobody wants me to sponsor them.
Me: Oh bullshit. You have managed to build a glamorous and lucrative career, you have asked people on dates, you have put yourself forward in any number or ways in life... YOU don't want to be "bothered" sponsoring anyone. It's not the other way around.
What I had said -- that I like and respected him which was why I was pulling no punches rather than just being polite and inventing an excuse to get off the phone -- was quite true. And over the history of our relationship, whatever label it had worn, he was always willing to listen. The Big Book suggests that if we have the capacity to be honest with ourselves we can get and stay sober. Though he frankly had a shitty program, I would be the first to remind anyone who criticized him in my presence that hey, he was close to thirty years sober and that was no small thing. Yes, he was tortured by a self-centered loop he had the tools to break if he was only willing, but the fact that he could take this candor in and consider its truth was a part of his ability to be honest with himself, and thus, a part of why he was still sober.
Me: So, I'm sorry but... let's just stay friends, and we can talk and stuff but...
Him: But I still don't see why you can't... I mean, I guess you're right, and... you're really making me think about what it is I want from a sponsor now but...
Me: Well, setting aside the fact that my dance card is absolutely, completely full right now, the larger, more important point is that I if I say "Yes, I will sponsor you" then I am taking on a responsiblity to hold you accountable and...
Him: Ummm... you seem to already be doing that.
Me: Fair enough. Call that "Former Sponsorial Privilege." Look, the only difference in me being your sponsor or your friend is that you'll feel like you have taken me hostage -- that you have something like permission -- to go on at length about your problems, and that I sort of "have" to take the call. With the label or without, here's what I think you should do, which, by the way, is the same thing I've suggested to you for going on twenty years now: If you want to be able to appreciate how great your life is, how much bounty you have, how much money you have in the bank, you need to turn the focus away from yourself and towards others. Sponsor people -- not the "cool" people, but real people. Go to [Local Recovery House] meetings and put it out there you are looking for people to sponsor. You'll have three by the end of the night. Get several service commitments and treat them like you do an important work commitment. And...
Him: Enough! Enough!
Me: And write a god damn gratitude list every day for a while.
Him <good naturedly>: Wow. I... well... you've given me a lot to think about, that's for sure.
Me: Oh my god, I want to punch you. I'm not trying to give you things to think about. I'm trying to give you things to DO!
Him: When are you speaking again? I love to come and hear you speak.
Me: Deft subject change, even if the compliment was a little heavy handed.
Him: No, seriously.
I listed off some meetings I had been asked to speak at in the near future. These things usually happen in clumps. Several requests to speak in a short amount of time then a nice, quiet month or two in the mix.
Me: Hey, I'm sorry if I...
Him: No. No. It's kind of why I call.
Me: Are you travelling any time soon?
Him: Only a few local things.
Me: Cool. Well, I hope I see you at that Thursday night Men's Stag. It's still really good.
Him: Oh, I like that meeting. Okay, I'll come by.
We finished off with a few more pleasantries and some thoughts on current movies before hanging up the phone.
The cats wandered back into the kitchen, eyed the counter and then looked at me, the picture of innocence.
I looked down at them, and put my hands on my hips. "I know you jump up there and dance around when I'm not here. You're not the first pair of kittens I've ever shared digs with you know." They tilted their heads in near perfect unison, and gave me the slow blink. "Yes, yes. Me too."
There are more essays like this in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook on Kindle via Amazon. Download the Kindle reader app for free on any device or platform, from PC to Smartphone.