He was pretty broken up about his relapse.
I'd watched him come in to AA and be pretty regular at my home group for close to two years; but then
as sometimes (I won't say often, but I won't say seldom, either) happens, the life AA gave him started to pull him away from AA.
I'm not one to say we need to create little AA boxes around ourselves and live small lives, but keeping one foot planted firmly in Alcoholics Anonymous has allowed me to range pretty far, in the fashion that was right for me (and in the fashion I was capable of. At the end of it all, I suppose we mostly create lives as big as we can handle).
And as I've said (I imagine someone out there going, "...and said, and said and said, Mr. SponsorPants. Jeeze, broken record much?") for me, keeping one foot firmly planted in AA means a regular schedule of meetings, service commitments, sponsees... the whole sober enchilada. (Oh man, "The Sober Enchilada" would be an awesome name for some kind of blazing Mexican wedding band.)
He had stood up as a newcomer at the meeting, and clearly it was not an easy thing for him to do. The leader of the meeting read out, "Is there anyone here in their first thirty days who would like to stand up and introduce themselves so we may get to know you better?" and as he stood, and announced his time sober (4 days) his body language was somewhere between "I'm about to rabbit right the hell out of here" and "I'm a brave patriot about to take a bullet for my country" -- that uniquely heady alcoholic mix of defiance and ego; fear and bravado.
It's a pretty big meeting. The speaker talks for fifteen to twenty minutes, then there's the usual business with chips and sober anniversary acknowledgments and then sharing from the floor.
He was in my line of sight from my usual seat in the front row of a back section (even my seating choices are conflicted!) so I watched him as much as I paid attention to the speaker. I thought maybe I saw his hand flutter up to about thigh height for a moment when they opened the floor for sharing, but it might have just been the shakes. Four days off the sauce (and whatever else) he could certainly still have the shakes.
After the meeting I worked through the usual milling about as people queued up to thank the speaker, arranged after-meeting meal plans, etc. and made my way to his side.
"Hey, I'm glad you're here." I said.
He jumped. I'd inadvertently approached out of his line of sight.
"What? Oh. Oh, thanks. Yeah. Me too. Right. Yeah. Um. Yeah. Right. Me too."
One foot was already pointed toward the door, and he was three quarters turned away from me by his last 'me too.' In the struggle between run like a rabbit and square your shoulders in defiance, the rabbit was clearly winning.
"It was pretty brave to be honest here."
"Yeah. I guess. I just..." he got hoarse and cleared his throat.
"It's not easy." I said.
"No. I just can't stop thinking about the time I lost."
"You didn't lose it." I said.
"I didn't?" he looked confused.
"No. You gave it away."
Confusion started to give way to anger.
"Yeah? What the hell's that mean?"
Ah, here's the defiance coming back around. Better than the scared bunny, but not by much.
"It means that if you want to act all victimized by your alcoholism, you can cast yourself in this weepy, sad 'I lost it...it's gone, it's gone' role. Or, you can own it. And then fight like hell to get your sobriety back. And lemme tell you, if what I've seen is any indication, the first time getting sober's a lot easier than the second time. It can be a real fight." I kept my tone even as I laid it out for him.
"Jesus. Is that supposed to make me feel better or something?"
"No. But on your way home, think about it. And if you want to, call me later." Although most of the time in 2017 it's all about putting our numbers in each others' phones, occasionally it pays to be old school. I had a card with my number on it in my wallet, and I'd slipped it into my shirt pocket earlier with the plan to give it to him regardless of whether I got to talk to him at any length or not.
"There's something important about relapsing that you should remember." I added, handing him my card.
"What?" he asked, guarded as a kid on his first day of school.
"If you get honest, and own it, and share about it, you can help somebody else not relapse. You know as well as I do not everyone is lucky enough to have your second chance. We've both been to those memorial services."
"I... I don't feel like I have anything to offer."
"No one ever does. No one ever does." I shrugged "But what you think is a lot less important than what you do."
I let him chew on that. He'd had a good foundation for his first year -- I'd seen it -- and that was the part I was trying to talk to.
"I have to go," I said "I'm meeting a sponsee in a few minutes for a bite. Call me later, if you want to."
I'm generally more of a hugger than a hand shaker, but the moment felt strangely formal, so I stuck out my hand. We shook.
"Okay, well... thanks, I guess." He moved towards the door and I went back to my chair and retrieved my coat.
On the way to meet my sponsee, I thought about our exchange. I'm usually a little softer with people, but in the moment that's what came out -- and thinking about it, I shrugged, mentally. While I've made plenty of mistakes along the way, when it comes to service I have faith in my instincts. If that's what came out, then that's what came out. I believe if we guard against ego and the only motivation we have is to help, then that is (as the Big Book suggests) the "proper use of the will."
He called late last night, and we talked for a long time.
I sincerely hope it helped him, but I absolutely know
it helped me.