Some are from the Big Book, some from the 12&12, and some from those wise long-timers who helped me so much when I first got sober...
"As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day, 'Thy will be done.' We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves."
"...one of the primary differences between alcoholics and nonalcoholics is that nonalcoholics change their behaviors to meet their goals and alcoholics change their goals to meet their behaviors."
"To be vital, faith must be accompanied by self sacrifice and unselfish, constructive action."
"From experience, I've realized that I can't go back and make a brand new start. But through AA I can start from now and make a brand new end."
"Selfishness! Self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making."
Special Bonus Quote:
"It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. “How can I best serve Thee—Thy will (not mine) be done.” These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will."
"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.
"they did their best"
is as much
(if not more)
as it is about
"they did their best"
is said all in one breath,
like it's one word:
But you know what?
Just because you
just because you
understand that hey,
doesn't mean you can't also
and acknowledge that
I don't want to live in that place
but I don't want to blast
They did their best means
I see their limitations.
I see how hopelessly
unable they were.
It's not that they wouldn't do better.
Through their own
warped ego or
fear induced rage
or baffled depression
they really did
do their best.
Their poor choices were driven by
just like my poor choices were
driven by mine.
Which means that
when I say --
and understand --
they did their best
I don't have to take it personally.
I'm not a victim.
Which means I can
As regular readers know I am always very careful to blur identifying details for anyone who appears in these little online essays with me -- but I assure you the crux of this call is practically verbatim.
Put another way: You think I could make this stuff up?
Call from a newcomer.
I'm not sure how they got my number, but I've been speaking a lot lately so I probably met them then. Or maybe they just put their finger down randomly on a phone list from some other meeting I've been to. It's really not important.
When I first answered the phone they cycled through the usual, "Oh, wow, I expected to get voice mail" and "I'm sorry to call" and "I hope I'm not bothering you." (I have sponsees who still, after a couple of years, are worried that they're bothering me. You're not.)
Mr. SponsorPants: ...making calls to people you don't know that well in AA always feels a little weird... like you might be bothering them or something, but I swear that's not the case. Think of it as you helping me not be self obsessed. You're helping me get out of my head.
41 Days and Counting (doubtful): Well... okay.
Mr. SP: You said you had something like... 50 days?
41 Days: 41 Days. And counting.
Mr. SP: Well that's pretty freakin' awesome. Congratulations! So how's your day going, anyway?
41 Days: Not good.
Mr. SP: What's up?
41 Days: Today's my day off.
Mr. SP: Oh, well that can be...
I stopped myself from immediately asking if they'd planned to go to a meeting, or maybe had already been. 'Chill out, Mr. SponsorPants' I told myself.
Mr. SP: Are you... I mean, what are you going to do with the rest of your day?
It was maybe mid-afternoon when they called me.
41 Days: Well... I was really bummed about the weather.
Mr. SP: Oh?
I look out the window and what had been a pale, dove gray sky earlier in the day had given way to a cliche, robin's egg blue, as far as I could see. The only clouds visible did look a little more silver than white, as if they might have a shower or two left in them, but they didn't seem too serious about it. The only sign of the brief shower we actually had -- maybe all of 30 minutes long -- was that the shrubbery looked a little perkier. There weren't even any puddles on the asphalt.
41 Days: Yeah. You know, on my day off if it's not nice I feel like I'm getting ripped off.
Mr. SP: Well I...
41 Days: Like I deserve... I dunno. Like since it's crappy out I deserve to do whatever I want.
Mr. SP: Well I... I mean it sprinkled for like, all of 20 minutes. Now it's...
It was like he was talking to himself now, as much as to me.
41 Days: Like I deserve to... I dunno, like...
I could practically hear the shrug through the phone.
Mr. SP: But... it sprinkled for all of 20 minutes. It's all blue sky that I can se...
41 Days: Like I should get to shoot up.
Mr. SP: Wait... what?
41 Days: Yeah, I stole some Ketamine from work and I...
Mr. SP: Wait... WHAT?
41 Days: Since it was shitty out on my day off I felt like I deserved to shoot it up.
Mr. SP: IT SPRINKLED FOR 20 MINUTES.
I took a deep breath.
Mr. SP: I'm really glad you called. This is exactly what you're supposed to do if you think you're going to use.
41 Days: Yeah, I guess. But it doesn't feel like I'm going to use exactly. It just feels like... I dunno.
Mr. SP: Well some part of you wants to stay clean -- because you called, right?
41 Days: Yeah, I guess.
Mr. SP: Do you have a Big Book?
41 Days: Yeah. Somewhere I guess.
I reached for mine, handy from a meeting with a sponsee early that morning.
Mr. SP: Can you find it?
41 Days: I... hang on...
41 Days: Yeah. Okay. I've got it.
Mr. SP: Okay, open it up to page... oh hell, let me find it. Okay, here. Page 37. See where it says...
41 Days: I lied.
Mr. SP: What?
41 Days: I lied. I couldn't find my book I just said I did so you would go on.
I laughed a little.
Mr. SP: Okay. Okay. just... just let me read you this one little bit, okay?
41 Days: Okay
Mr. SP: "...but there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink... " Do you see?
41 Days: Yeah, sure. Sorta.
Mr. SP: This is what is happening to you!
41 Days: What is?
Mr. SP: The insanely trivial excuse!
41 Days: The... insanely trivial excuse.
Mr. SP: Yes! Come on! YOU WANTED TO SHOOT UP BECAUSE IT SPRINKLED FOR 20 MINUTES!
There was a minute or two of silence.
41 Days: Okay. Yeah.
Mr. SP: Do you... do you still have the ketamine?
41 Days: Yeah.
Mr. SP: I've never worked anyplace where there was just some ketamine lying around to slip in my pocket or whatever, but... usually something like that goes missing it's... missed. Don't you need to... aren't you going to...
41 Days: Yeah, I guess, but... anyone could have taken it.
Mr. SP: Anyone could have but you did. People like us, we kind of reek of shady behavior you know, no matter how smooth we think...
41 Days: Oh no. There's no way anyone could...
I made the very conscious decision to abandon that point. They'd get caught or they wouldn't.
Mr. SP: You know, usually I would suggest someone flush their drugs down the toilet.
For the first time they sounded genuinely alarmed.
41 Days: What! Down the toilet?
Mr. SP: Yeah, actually, I suggest that I come over -- well, it doesn't have to be me, it can be any sober person you know -- and they help you flush it down the toilet.
41 Days: Oh no. No. My place is a mess and I don't... I mean...
Mr. SP: Well in this case I'm not sure if the better idea isn't that you put it back at work so it was only "temporarily misplaced" rather than gone.
41 Days: Yeah. Maybe... yeah.
My sponsor sense was tingling like crazy.
Mr. SP: You're not going to flush it, and you're not sure you're willing to put it back at work, are you.
41 Days: No, no, I am...
Mr. SP: Okay. It's no big deal if you want to admit you're lying again.
41 Days: I don't really lie a lot.
Mr. SP: Ummm... you stole drugs from work and you've lied twice to me in this brief conversation. Maybe... maybe your self assessment skills aren't so good?
They actually laughed at that.
Mr. SP: Look, do you have a sponsor or a good sober buddy or...
41 Days: Yeah, I have a friend who brought me to my first meeting.
Mr. SP: How about, if you don't want me to come over, you call them and maybe they come over and together you flush the...
41 Days: I thought you wanted me to put it back at work.
Mr. SP: I want you to come out the other side of this foggy mental I'm-thinking-about-using thing you've got going on right now. However we get there isn't that important, actually.
41 Days: But if I flush it and there's trouble at work...
Mr. SP: Okay, so now look at THAT thinking: You're not worried about getting in trouble at work until it comes to flushing the drugs, then suddenly you're worried. That's the addict in you. That's your addiction first working to hang on to the drugs, and then working to get you alone and then...
41 Days: Listen, I have to go.
Damn. I came on too strong or not strong enough or... damn.
Mr. SP: Okay. Are you going to call your friend?
41 Days: Yes. Yes I will.
Mr. SP: Okay. Are you being honest with yourself? Don't even worry about if you're being honest with me, but are you being honest with yourself?
41 Days: Yeah. I am.
If I came on too strong then I might as well go the distance. After all, as dramatic as it may sound, potentially there was a life at stake here. And if I somehow hadn't come on strong enough -- a rare occurrence, I suspect -- then this probably couldn't hurt.
Mr. SP: Okay, I know this is going to sound kind of... well, it doesn't matter how it sounds. What if we said a prayer together, now, on the phone.
41 Days: Uh... well... uh...that's not really my thing...
Mr. SP: I know, that sounds weird and awkward and very... Bible Camp.
He laughed, which was good.
Mr. SP: How about, after we hang up, you try saying a few prayers on your own. You know, the ones you hear at meetings, stuff like that. Or just maybe... kind of put it out there to God to help you stay clean for the rest of the day. And night. To help with your thinking.
41 Days: Okay.
Mr. SP: I know how strange it can seem, to hear that as a suggestion. It felt that way to me. Just try to see it as a way to redirect your thinking -- if you aren't too clear on the God thing.
41 Days: Okay.
A silence played out that moved rapidly from slightly uncomfortable to fairly awkward. I decided to end the suffering -- but I'm still not sure if I meant theirs or mine.
Mr. SP: Well okay then. Hang in there. Are you going to a meeting today? Or tonight? Or like, right now maybe would be good?
41 Days: Yeah, tonight.
Mr. SP: Okay then. Maybe... when you go, maybe it's a good idea to share about this.
41 Days: Yeah, okay.
Mr. SP: Well... I'm glad you called. Call any time. Seriously.
41 Days: I will. Okay. Thanks.
Man, I really, really hope they make it to 42.
Gotta be honest, I don't have a good feeling about it.
AA calls our alcoholism (our addiction) cunning, baffling and powerful. Conversations like that one always bring the phrase roaring to horrific life for me.
With all the criticism of AA I feel like I've been reading and hearing lately, often I think critics might be coming at it from the wrong direction: Sometimes I think that people's own bias twists their approach to the issue. Because after a conversation like that, maybe it's not that AA's solution doesn't measure up.
Maybe it's just that addiction is so huge and powerful and insidious that occasionally AA seems like a parasol in a hurricane.
I would have said candle in the wind, but that's such a tired image.
Still and all, tend that little flame and it will stay lit, regardless of the storm.
I just hope with all that I was able to help light 41's candle too.
And so it goes...
The negative voice -- or the negative scenario -- is not inherently more "real," i.e., more realistic, than the positive one!
Too often we give credence to negativity solely because it is negative -- without even realizing that's what we're doing.
We absorb other people's fear and self-protective cynicism and reflexively shout down (in our heads) the idea that things are just as likely (or even more likely!) to go well as they are to go poorly.
(For sober members of AA, much of this, of course, is dependent upon the "as you understand God" part of the 3rd Step. When I was new -- and when I was not so new, but in doubt and despair -- it kept coming back to this.)
God, I feel so strongly about this.
the most challenging,
are the ones we hold
they're so much more than
woulda coulda shoulda.
they're a deep,
of long held behaviors,
and deeply grooved
(sometimes quite accurately)
ways in which we are not
(because somewhere inside
is still the belief that we should
always always be
strong, sound and capable.
what kind of inventory
can we write, when we
my part IS
what I resent...
first, we must remember that
just because we think we
know whatever it is we
think we know,
doesn't mean we know very much.
putting pen to paper has never,
failed to reveal some new insight
or offer fresh perspective.
(especially if I remove my
spiritual dirty diaper
and approach the page with as
open a mind as I'm able.)
then I try hard
to remember that
I am no less deserving of
forgiveness than anyone.
(and then I shut down the
part of me which shouts
"stop making excuses!"
after all, what am I supposedly
making excuses for?
being flawed? being human?
I am and I am
self examination is
not about self
abuse. its objective is not merely
to find more ammo for the
(you think your hybrid gets good mileage?
you should check under the hood of that baby.
runs forever on just a few drops of
self-centered fear and
which reminds me,
the solution is the same,
whether I resent you,
me, or conjured fantasies and
(since I'm as likely to resent things that have never
and probably will never
happen as I am to resent anyone or
the solution is
service and gratitude and
(often contrary action)
and whether I
"feel like it" or not
makes absolutely not
to its effectiveness.
willingness does not mean
wallow or recover.
grow or go.
same old choice, really,
to go with my
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.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
Can you explain a little about how my Higher Power can be "anything?" In meetings I'm pretending I understand this, but to be honest I'm a little at a loss...
Seeking But Faking It
I have to admit, when I was new this one through me for a loop as well. It's almost like, if you hand me a blank piece of paper and say, "draw a tree!" I can draw you all kinds of trees. I can draw you great trees, ugly trees, badly drawn trees, fantastic trees... whole forests of trees! I may be angry that you're telling me what to do, or think that I'd rather draw clouds or castles or one of the Three Musketeers instead of a tree, but I can draw you one if you want.
(Sidebar: A musket is a gun, right? So why did dudes whose club was named after a gun pretty much always use their swords? Puzzling!)
But if you give me a blank piece of paper and tell me to draw whatever I want, I might just as easily stare at the paper, perplexed and a little blocked by the complete freedom and lack of direction.
This did very, very little to either help or reassure me. And it feels like when I was new I heard this a lot. All the time. I began to suspect that there was a secret doorknob worshiping cult hidden within the 12 Step fellowship. (And of course their High Priestess would be Aunt Clara.)
(sorry. either you get that or you don't. Google it.)
I think the best starting place with this concept of "any HP you want" is to come from the other direction. The point made (eloquently, in "Bill's Story" in the Big Book) is that you don't have to use whatever idea of God you were raised with, or that someone else feels strongly about, when you ask God to help you stay sober.
Frankly, you don't even have to have ANY idea of God when you pray. You can just say, "God, I have no idea whatsoever of who/what/how you are, but here's my prayer anyway..."
I think the main thing to remember is that any concept you've been given that frightens or bothers or angers or intimidates you does not have to be how you think about God now, in sobriety, and that the 12 Steps will work for you regardless of what your idea of God is.
My own concept of how the Universe -- or the Multiverse, for that matter -- and God -- works has gone through many evolutions, much of which I've blathered on about in other essays here on the blog. I invite you to click around and see if anything here is helpful, and I encourage you to explore the concepts of many faiths and spiritual thinkers to find what feels right for you.
There's no "wrong" way to believe, including not believing.
But if you're really, really at a loss, you can always pray to Aunt Clara!
There are more reflections 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.
It is interesting, I think, how much we struggle sometimes
against submitting to
an idea of God or
the requested guidance from a
the ideas contained in a
program of recovery.
It is interesting, because
we were so very
to our addictions.
There is nothing to defy.
Take the suggestion or don't.
You are perfectly welcome to keep your
shitty little addict life
if you want.