The Skateboard Pup had met a lady friend at an AA Meeting six weeks or so ago. She had about five years sober to his less-than-a-year. Though I've not met her yet, from what the Skatepup described she was not what I would call "in the middle of the lifeboat" when it came to her AA program.
And what was starting to play out was exactly what I was afraid of.
SKATEBOARD PUP: What's up? I thought you had your Home Group tonight -- that Men's Stag you like.
MR. SPONSORPANTS: The building where we meet isn't open tonight... and I needed to talk to you, so that's why I texted and asked you for coffee.
He looked at me sideways for a minute.
SKATEPUP: What's up? You sound... all serious.
MR. SP: I guess I am.
SKATEPUP: So okay then, what's up?
MR. SP: What's up.
He looked at me, unwilling to volunteer anything, which, when I'm in his position, is exactly how I play it: Wait and find out who knows what. Over the course of sponsoring him I have decided that he is a very intelligent young man, and that all the "street" he pretends is both a defensive posture and a conscious misdirection. At one time in my life I was a young man with a lot of secrets, so although I used different smoke and mirrors, I understood the mechanism.
MR. SP: Seriously? That's how you're going to play this? You have no idea why I wanted to talk.
I feel like I can see him deciding whether to bluff or not. Considering and discarding several options in the space of only a few moments. I would like to think it is a testament to some bridges we've built between us that he picks a form of honesty to start, but I'm also enough of an alcoholic to know that addicts can be both truly honest and subtly manipulative at the very same time.
SKATEPUP: It's about me and Girlfriend.
MR. SP: It's about you and service commitments. Or rather, you not showing up for them. I think Girlfriend is... well, you tell me.
He'd started with some honesty, albeit of the "shucks, really?" variety. Now he moved on to bravado.
SKATEPUP: What is the big deal? Girlfriend got tickets for [Big Movie] and we went.
MR. SP: The big deal is that you had a greeting commitment at the meeting and you blew it off.
And now he plays the sarcastic card.
SKATEPUP: Oh my God! Were they able to have the meeting with only three greeters instead of four? Did they cancel the whole thing? Please, no one even noticed that I wasn't there.
MR. SP: I noticed, for starters.
SKATEPUP: Yeah, well I'm not interested in you checking up on me like that. And I didn't think I needed your permission to go to the fucking movies.
I held up my hand.
MR. SP: Two things: Number one, I am not checking up on you. In this whole deal YOU are my priority. Not the meeting, not Girlfriend. You. And your sobriety. So I pay attention where you are, and I pay attention where you're not. Because you matter -- your sobriety matters. That is not checking up on you.
SKATEPUP: Yeah well...
I rode over him.
MR. SP: Up-bup-bup-bup, I'm not finished. Number Two, cut the shit, you know full well I am not talking about permission to go to the movies. I am talking about commitment and priorities. I am talking about boundaries. I am talking about helping you build a foundation in AA which I believe will save your life. Which, not to throw this in your face or anything, was, when I first met you, a life without much hope and on pretty shaky ground. The guy you used to be, the guy who asked me to sponsor him not that long ago, wasn't entirely convinced he was going to still be around for Christmas. And you and I both know that I don't mean "in town for the holiday."
He nodded, if grudgingly. He heard me, I could tell, but I could also tell he was half being polite, while the other half was still up for a fight.
SKATEPUP: Look, Girlfriend said you would be all old school and uptight about this. That's why I didn't say anything.
I put everything I had into keeping my voice neutral.
MR. SP: She did, did she.
It was getting harder and harder to keep an open mind about this gal; to give her the benefit of the doubt.
MR. SP: Look, I get it. I really do. Greeter seems like a stupid, invisible commitment, and what difference does it make anyway, and you had the chance to go to the movies so what's the big deal. I get it! But the fact is...
SKATEPUP: The fact is I'll go back next week and it won't matter.
MR. SP: No. The fact is that once you make an exception in keeping a commitment the next time a choice comes up it's a lot easier to make the exception again. And before you know it, you don't have a series of choices which reflect the value of keeping a commitment, you have a series of exceptions. And haven't we all lived that way enough? C'mon, Pup, you already know what that feels like. Try making different choices and discover what different feelings... feel like.
SKATEPUP: What was I supposed to do? She surprised me!
MR. SP: What you are supposed to do is make your sobriety a priority. It's not up to her to make it a priority.
And I was beginning to think that she never would, actually, for reasons I didn't care to get into with him right now.
MR. SP: Look, I'm not trying to tell you what to do as much as I'm trying to tell you what I did.
He hunched his shoulders, all bravado gone and looking too much like his apt nickname: A sorry puppy. And this, too, can have an element of manipulation in it. Not to sound like a paranoid cynic (too late!) but an alcoholic's capitulation, when too easy, should be held a little suspect. Just in case.
SKATEPUP: I know. I know.
Suddenly, he brightened.
SKATEPUP: Hey! We should all have coffee some time! Me and Girlfriend and you!
Five or so years sober, hardly goes to meetings, trolls the ones she goes to for young, newly sober men to hook up with, and plants poisonous little seeds with my sponsee about me "over reacting" and being uptight. If this were a play or a movie it would be a great scene to watch. Since I have to live it, you can color me nonplussed.
MR. SP: That might be nice.
My smile was a little false, but hey, nobody's perfect.
We talked a while longer, about life and movies and TV and meetings and social inconsequentials. He had a work trip coming up he was nervous about, and we planned a time to sit down and really talk that through.
SKATEPUP: Thanks. I know you're just... you know, being a sponsor. Looking out for me and all.
MR. SP: Now who sounds old school?
MR. SP: Your sobriety is my priority. Please, just don't let me be the only one who thinks of it that way.
SKATEPUP: Fair enough.
We parted, and as I walked away I said a prayer that Girlfriend received all the blessings and love in the world.
After all, AA suggests I pray for the people I resent.
There are more stories like this one in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook on Kindle via Amazon. Download a Kindle reader for free on any device or platform, from PC to Smartphone, and enjoy eBooks anywhere you have time to read.
is not that you fear people might be
thinking negative, critical things about you.
is that you fear they might be right.
Let it go.
Sobriety is a gift
we work to keep and we are privileged to pass along.
It ultimately does not matter what self-criticisms and self-loathing and self, self, self, self we are tangled in.
All that self obsession will eventually
evaporate in the sunlight of the spirit
Don't take yourself so seriously.
It really does.
1. Working the 12 Steps changed me -- profoundly -- for the better; and it continues to do so.
2. AA's focus on service has given me a way of looking at the world which opens my heart on a daily basis -- and that is a powerful antidote to becoming embittered by life, as I feel how easy it is to keep the heart shuttered as I grow older.
3. AA Meetings are often (not always, but very often) a place which renews my faith in people and in something Good in the universe -- and some speakers and some who shared have given me some of the biggest belly laughs I have ever had.
4. AA has taught me to be a good listener.
5. Sponsorship -- both sides of the coin -- has taught me what a privilege it is to set ego aside in an effort to help people -- and it feels like a privilege -- and what a powerful catalyst for personal change that can be.
6. AA has given me friendships which endure.
7. AA gives me a safe place to go when I am troubled or I make mistakes.
8. The practical advice I've been given in AA serves me in all areas of my life.
9. Watching people in AA face life's challenges -- some of the toughest -- has taught me what real dignity and courage look like.
10. AA has shown me that my past is not my future -- that there is no expiration date on the promise of reinventing myself, or starting over, or on God's Grace in my life.
I was walking down the hill, and the car was driving up it. When it came next to me it stopped and the passenger side window lowered. I recognized him from meetings but hadn't seen him in upwards of a year. He didn't look too well, but then, a lot can happen in a year. I remembered him as kind of an angry person; nice, but conflicted.
"Hey, you need a ride?"
"Aren't you going to offer me any candy?" I asked.
He didn't get it, tilting his head sideways and giving me the "huh?" face.
"Never mind. Thanks, but I'm good."
"So... do you still go to meetings?" he asked.
Wow. Right to it. I shrugged. "Sure." I rattled off the current roster of meetings in my orbit. I had a good idea where this was going -- to be honest with you I've been in this same conversation many times over the years, all that changes is who I'm talking to and what reason they use.
"I haven't been to a meeting in... oh, a while now. Close to a year."
"Ah." I nodded noncommittally, and we fell silent for a few minutes, the only sound the cars driving past on the hill.
"Well," I said, "I'm on my way to get cat food and some..."
"I couldn't stand the religousness of it." He blurted it out as if I had asked him -- or accused him.
I nodded again and shrugged a little. There was a time in my sobriety when I would have... I don't know, not argued exactly, but... debated a little. At this point in my life I just... if I'm not your sponsor, then I don't know that it's my place anymore.
We were silent for another minute. Me leaning through the car window.
"I like the Sunday morning meeting." I offered.
"I'll be there this Sunday."
"I can save you a seat if you want."
He looked at me. "That's nice of you to offer."
I shrugged again. "No big deal. It's not like I'm offering to donate one of my kidneys or anything."
"I'll be there, I'll save you a seat. It's a good meeting. Be nice to have you there."
"Thanks. Sure you don't want a ride?"
"Nah, I'm good."
"Okay, well... later."
"'kay" I answered. "See you Sunday."
He drove off.
Maybe. I thought.
There are more stories like this one 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, and enjoy eBooks anywhere you have time to read.
I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.
-- Albert Schweitzer
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
-- Mahatma Gandhi
If you can't do great things, do little things with great love. If you can't do them with great love do them with a little love. If you can't do them with a little love, do them anyway. Love grows when people serve.
-- Mother Teresa
Though my work may be menial, though my contribution may be small, I can perform it with dignity and offer it with unselfishness. My talents may not be great, but I can use them to bless the lives of others... the goodness of the world in which we live is the accumulated goodness of many small and seemingly inconsequential acts.
-- Gordon B. Hinckley
Service keeps you sober.
No, that's not right at all.
Well, I mean it is, in general of course; but for me the art of being happy lies in finding the opportunity to be of service in every situation -- to approach every person, place or thing with an attitude of "What can I bring to this, what can I contribute, what can I give?" as opposed to "What am I going to get out of this?" and the ever popular "Where's mine?"*
That, and gratitude.
For me that's where the art of being happy lies.
*And it strikes me, as I write the above, that the "take" attitude is one sourced ultimately in Fear, while the "giving" attitude springs from Love in some form -- or at least a willingness to act in a loving way -- and doesn't that also speak to a Universal Truth of sorts?
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.
Several Weeks Ago...
There was a problem with the fax machine, and although in this age of iGadgets and Tablet technology a fax sounds charmingly old school, the fact was that we use it quite a bit, so a problem with the fax was a problem I needed to fix.
I muttered and tinkered and cursed, and finally figured that it was potentially a problem on the phone line, which led me to call the phone company and begin climbing up the long tree of automated prompts to get to speak to a live person.
"If you are an existing ATT customer, Press 1. If you are a new customer, Press 2. Para espanol, selecte nueve."
I pressed 1, and climbed from the first branch of the prompt tree to the next, thinking to myself that I should have gotten a fresh cup of coffee before starting this ascent.
"If this call is regarding Home Service Press 1. For Business Accounts, Press 2."
And so on.
What seemed like twenty but was more likely no more than ten minutes later I was closing in on a live tech. (I'd already tried jabbing the zero button and the pound button repeatedly to get kicked to a live person, but the Prompt Tree was not so easily thwarted.)
"For technical support, please stay on the line, a technician will be with you shortly."
And then the door of the office burst open.
"Look!" she said, half in triumph, half in defiance. She thrust her hands out in front of me.
"Please stay on the line, your call is important to us. A technician will be with you shortly."
"Oh. Um. Wow?" I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be looking at.
"This is what two days without a drink looks like." Belatedly I noticed that her hands were shaking.
"Wait, what?" I was dumfounded. She knew I was in AA (most of work now knew I didn't drink, but that was the extent of it) because she had overheard some of my friends talking to me -- discreetly -- but since she'd taken a pass at recovery herself several years ago she knew enough of the language to put two and two together and come up with sober.
"Yes. I... I haven't had a drink in two days."
"And you've got the shakes?!? My God, how much have you..."
"Please stay on the line, your call is important to us, a technician will be with you shortly."
We'd talked about different issues once she'd found out I was in recovery. It's not the first time at a job I've found myself walking the delicate line between co-worker (supervisor) and 12 Stepper, so this wasn't entirely uncharted territory.
(At almost every job I've ever had, from the beginning of my sobriety, there's always one alcoholic or addict or something placed on my path -- once I worked for someone who was a bulimarexic, which means that she starved herself, and the one cracker or whatever she would allow herself in a given week she would then try and throw up. She was a good boss though. Except for her propensity to faint. And leave clumps of hair in the break room.)
All of which is to say that I have had practice in balancing my spiritual journey with my career path -- I swear, I don't go looking for it. I'd rather be a quiet example of sobriety when I'm on the clock than get all involved in 12th Stepping. But when the Universe gives me a Cue... what's a sober guy to do? As Alcoholics Anonymous' Responsibility Declaration states: "I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that, I am responsible."
So she started telling me her story -- or, the most recent chapter of it. Which began with the fact that she's got a long drive home from work, and had apparently been buying a bottle of wine to drink on the way. (Atta girl!) And then once home... so these shakes were the real deal.
"If you've got the shakes then you should really look into maybe a medically supervised..."
"Please stay on the line, your call is important to us. A technician will be with you shortly."
Damn I should hang up. This is important. But I'd been caught completely off guard, and had some resentments about work on simmer in my psychic kitchen and to be honest I was... it was a curve ball I didn't want... I just didn't want to have one more damn thing to manage, especially...
"Please stay on the line, your call is important to us. A technician will be with you shortly."
"I was hoping" she looked down "maybe you could suggest some meetings or..."
I sighed inside.
"Please stay on the line..." I heard a human voice interrupt the recording. "Hello, thank you for calling ATT Technical Support, my name is Daniel, how can I assist you?"
I could climb the tree again. Have a cup of coffee while I was at it, too.
"Thank you, Daniel, but I'll have to call back." I put the phone gently in its cradle. "Of course I can. Do you have a Meeting Directory?"
I know it's all a little pat. I don't blame you for thinking I might be making some of this up. 'fraid not.
I reached into my bag -- and it was too cute that I'd bought a new Directory at the last meeting I'd been to. So funny, that Higher Power. Such a Card. "Here's where all the little abreviations are explained, like a Closed Meeting or Open, or a Women's Meeting or whatever..." I gave her the Directory after we highlighted a few meetings and dog eared a page or two.
I can handle one more thing at work. I have a lot on my plate, but I also have a Primary Purpose (look it up.) It's not my solitary purpose, but it is my Primary one.
Because if I pray to be of service, if I pray for God to use me as God will, then it's a little counter productive to not actually be of service when called upon to do so.
Because when I was newly sober, with my own hands shaking from detox, everyone I met in AA made me feel like helping me was the most important thing in the world to them -- and that it was no trouble at all.
Because I know a little about this person -- we're of an age, and have had some issues on the job -- and I know a little about alcoholism, and I know what it costs to ask the only person you know in AA for help in connecting with AA. And at that moment I was likely the only person they knew who was in AA.
Because when anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to be there.
And for that, I am responsible.