"So I think basically I must be codependent or something."
The newcomer had been listing his various thoughts and fears for the past fifteen minutes. I had tuned out about half way through. We were sitting having coffee -- well, I'd opted for tea -- after he called and asked if we could get together and talk. I listened and bobbled my tea bag and my mind drifted a little. It wasn't that I didn't care. I cared. I wanted to help. But his was not a particularly scintillating or original list of fears. Basically it was what all people are afraid of to one degree or another, but alcoholics and addicts believe our particular fears make us special, and justify self indulgent or self destructive behavior. He wound down. I came back to the moment and tuned in.
"Do you have a sponsor? This is a good thing to hash out with a sponsor."
He looked into his coffee cup. "Well, I noticed you didn't raise your hand at the meeting last Tuesday when they asked who was available for sponsorship, but I was hoping that maybe you..."
I had thought this might partly be where this was going.
"Look," I said, reaching over and grabbing his forearm, "it is not easy to make yourself vulnerable when you're newly sober, and asking somebody to sponsor you is definitely a form of making yourself vulnerable. So I hope you really give yourself some credit for being willing to do the deal. But the reason I didn't raise my hand is that right now I am sponsoring a lot of people, and it wouldn't be fair to anyone -- to you -- to take on more than I can give time to. You deserve a sponsor who is wholly available to you, and I don't think I could be. But I am always, always available for a phone call or grabbing a cup of coffee or something on the fly."
If it sounds like that tidy little speech is a bit rehearsed, it's only because that's not the first time I've had to address having a full dance card with people who wanted a new partner for the Sponsor Samba. And while I fear it may come out a little pat -- like the outgoing message on a business voice mail ("Your call is important to us! Please, stay on the line!") I pray my willingness to be helpful as best I can still comes through; still allows me to be authentic in the moment.
("authentic in the moment" Jesus. If I weren't me and I read me I might roll my eyes at me sometimes. Oh well. I've always been a little too... something. The difference is that today I both love and forgive myself for it. Thanks, Sobriety!)
"Okay." he said. "I guess I can understand that."
I had removed my hand from his forearm and went back to sipping my tea.
He stared out the window for a minute. "So do you think I'm codependent?"
For a moment I considered asking him what the definition of codependent was, because I was willing to bet he didn't know. It's a real thing -- it can be a serious thing -- but people (especially people in recovery) throw the term around very, very loosely.
"Remind me," I said, "what makes you think you're codependent?"
"Because I'm always worried about what other people are thinking about me."
"Oh!" I said, "that doesn't make you codependent."
He brightened a little. "It doesn't?"
"No," I went on, "it makes you self obsessed."
He unbrightened. "What? How's that?"
"Thinking about what other people think of you is not thinking about other people, it's thinking about yourself."
I watched him replay the sentence several times in his head, and then he uttered a slow "ooooh. Okay."
"But AA can definitely help you with that."
"Are you sure you don't want to be my sponsor?" He tilted his head sideways, like a puzzled puppy, and the expression he wore was just innocent enough to be a little manipulative. But there was no malice in his ploy. He was just an alcoholic kid working whatever angles he had to work. Frankly, as a former alcoholic kid who worked the angles, I admired his technique.
"It's not about 'want to' or 'don't want to.' But I do have several sponsees who you might talk to about sponsorship. And again, to the best of my ability I'm happy to talk over coffee or by phone, like I said."
"Okay." This time the expression and the statement were without guile or agenda. "Thanks for meeting with me. People in meetings have been really nice but I didn't think..." he trailed off.
"I get it. It's a lot to take in. But remember, honestly, the only thing you have to do is make it to your pillow each night without taking the first drink. If, by the time your head hits the pillow you didn't drink or use or kill yourself, then you win, and the rest of this crap will just have to work itself out."
"Hey," he said, "didn't you say that when you shared before?"
"Kiddo, I say it a lot. Even after all this time I still need a lot of reminding."
There are more essays like this one in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook via Amazon.