Posted at 12:12 AM in Who are you, Mr. SponsorPants, and what is this Blog? | Permalink | Comments (2)
It's an old joke: Alcoholics are some of the only people who think they should get an award for running out of a burning building.
It's funny and true enough in its way, but also a little harsh, since addiction is like a murderous conjoined twin, trying with all its might to stay in the fire.
Not drinking is simple.
You just... don't drink.
But if it were simple as that I wouldn't need these steps, those meetings, and all of you people.
As I remind certain friends as their own milestones roll around, that's a long time between cocktails.
Not too far from where I live is a store which sells what should loosely be called "12 Step paraphernalia." (I had NO idea there was a second "r" in that word.)
I guess this "Sober Store" is the cosmic opposite of what we used to call head shops (before they invented pot dispensaries): Books, chips, speaker tapes, gift cards... all with a recovery theme. For the past ten sober anniversaries or so I go there on my "AA birthday" to pick up a chip for myself to put on my keychain. (Well, as close after the day as I can manage -- but not before! I remember so clearly when I was brand spanking new and someone in the meetings would say something like "I'm so-and-so and in two days I'll have six months" the old timers would shout out, "But you don't have it yet! One day at a time.")
Many meetings give out chips for sober anniversaries, and I think you can reasonably expect your home group, if it's a chippy one, to cough up a one, two or three year chip. But upwards of five the chip person is probably going to say "what the hell am I schlepping all these extra chips around for!" or something, and focus on the newer end of the medallion spectrum. Where I live there's a lot of sober folks with a good amount of time who are very involved in the program, but no meeting is going to burn through a lot of double digit sobriety chips.
So I go to this store, and pick up a simple medallion, as close to the "original" form as I can find (there was a whole thing about AA chips that happened something like fifteen or twenty years ago, all tied in with how AA lost the copywrite on the triangle-in-a-circle logo thing. So for a while they made chips with Bill and Bob's faces on them, which always struck me as lionizing them in a way which ran counter to some of our core spiritual principles; but also, get over it, Mr. SponsorPants, it's a metal disk on a keychain, not a billboard on the side of the Luxor in Vegas).
Regardless, for sentimental reasons I always choose one with the circle-in-a-triangle thing (that copywrite got sorted out). As plain as my first year chip.
Ritual and custom are funny things, and even simple ones make a difference.
Then I walk to this time-warp locksmith several long blocks down the boulevard. I say time-warp because it is perpetually 1982 when I go in there. Their very existence is a testament to... well, I don't want to drag the spectre of outside issues into this essay, but since the rise of the big boxers, little places like this -- funky, competent (mostly), sweet and kooky (four attributes I may put on my next resume. Hell, it's apt.) -- seem fewer and farther in between.
Sometimes there's a customer ahead of me when I walk in. Other times it seems empty, and I give the bell on the counter a soft pat, keeping my fingers on it so the ping is both gentle and brief.
The same fellow saunters out from the back, though he has a rotating staff of some sort that I've seen. The store is caught in a time warp, as is he, in the way that some of us sort of freeze our styling habits from the era which was either our best or our most true. For him: 1974. Shaggy hair and an oversized moustache and a t-shirt advertising a concert that, unlike the ironic posers thirty years his junior who might wear it, he most likely actually attended.
Even though I've been doing this for almost ten years I hardly expect him to remember me on sight. I pull out my keychain with "last year's" medallion on it, and offer my new one, saying, "Could you drill a hole in this please, just like this one?"
He looks at the medallion and reads it, maybe converting roman numerals in his head, or scrying out the Serenity Prayer on the back.
And of course somewhere in this interaction he recalls the last ten years of this exchange.
"We've done this before, right?"
"I'd be happy to. Congratulations."
He wanders towards the back, and there is the clinky-clank of someone rummaging through a box of drill bits, and eventually the sound of drill on metal, like satan's own dentist, and after a minute or two he returns and hands me back my chip, a key-ring-sized-hole drilled neatly through, just a tiny bit in from the edge.
"How much do I owe you?" I ask.
"Forget it. No charge."
"No come on, let me..."
"Nope. No charge."
One of the things I've learned in AA is that it is a circle of love and service, and it is as important to let people be of service to you sometimes as it is important to be of service to others. (Always being the giver can actually be about fear and control.)
"Allright. Thank you very much."
I then leave the store and cross the street to the bank, getting a roll of quarters, and wander up and down the street, randomly putting change into parking meters as I go.
(I don't think if he were to charge me it would cost ten dollars, but I've always been a big tipper.)
I feed the meters as a demonstrable act of gratitude for his kindness, and also because it feels like a pay-it-forward gesture that in this context the Universe appreciates.
Ritual and custom help us.
Naysayers would argue the point but really AA asks nothing of me, only suggests that if I want to stay sober and continue to grow I give back.
It's silly -- I mean really and truly silly, I want you to know that I know it -- but I get a tiny bit choked up as I dole out my gratitude quarters.
Not only is this action, every year, a tangible "thank you" for his annual, no fuss kindness regarding something important to me, but also an acknowledgment that I am part of something bigger than myself: A positive force which can help others - even in small ways - without expectation or fanfare. I don't mean lump-in-my-throat choked up exactly. Maybe pebble-in-my-throat is more accurate. (After all, to see a grown man with tears in his eyes fussing at the meter of your parking space is going to get a "Hey! You! Get away from my car!" a lot quicker than a "How kind! Thank you!")
"Gratitude quarters." My gratitude change. There's a deeper play on words available there, but I'm coming to the end of this essay, so I leave it to all of you to consider and play with.
Thank you for another year clean and sober.
We are all connected through the vast 12 Step family, in ways maybe invisible but sometimes quite powerful, and though we may never physically meet as we "trudge the road of happy destiny," rest assured I am grateful for us being on the journey together.
I quite literally could not do it without you.
And onward. One day at a time.
Posted at 12:12 AM in Who are you, Mr. SponsorPants, and what is this Blog? | Permalink | Comments (12)
I may not have gone where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.
-- Douglas Adams
My first very first post on this blog was April 24, 2008.
(When I go back and read those earlier essays I wince; I was trying so hard...)
And today, this posting marks my 2000th.
With one accidental interruption of a couple of months (fueled by sloth and procrastination) back in 2012, I have been posting something new -- even if it was just a brief observation or quote -- five days a week, Monday thru Friday, for the whole run. (Actually, for the first several months I posted something new seven days a week, but that just about killed me, so I took the weekends off).
I love writing this blog.
In fact, I think it's fair to say writing this blog turned me into a writer. (What kind of a writer is really up to each individual reader of course -- as is true of all writing -- but there are some pieces here I'm pretty proud of, prose-wise.)
In some ways I've been an excellent blogger, in that you could really count on something new every day. (Yes, yes, except for that one brief stretch in 2012. As records go, I still think that's not bad.) And I've always been pretty good about pruning the spam postings out of the Comments Section(s).
In other ways I have been incredibly lazy. The "Subscribe to this blog's Feed" link has never worked properly, and I just never bothered to learn how to fix it.
Also, I vastly overestimated my ability to personally correspond with the Internet, and after a valiant attempt was quickly overwhelmed by email. I randomly posted questions received via the "Email Me" link in the "Questions via Email" section, and hopefully that was a good jumping off point for sober consideration when I did so. My lack of timely responses was its own eventual solution; the inbox volume dwindled. I always felt I over-promised and under-delivered on that front.
I'm working on wrapping up the second Mr. SponsorPants book (I've been saying that for a while, but I really am), and am definitely going to keep the blog up and running.
But I am going to let go of the commitment to post something new, five days a week, Monday thru Friday.
There will continue to be new postings, but they will be irregular. Several in a week sometimes -- other times probably fewer.
After eight years and 2000 posts I need to change it up and redistribute my energy a little.
To the regular readers, those of you who check back daily, I am grateful for your time and attention. At the risk of repeating myself, I'm not stopping. But hopefully this change in commitment will give me time and space to refresh what I do here, and provide maybe a little more quality in exchange for a little less quantity.
The internet is full of excellent recovery blogs, and there are many "daily reader" recovery/spiritual books out there suitable for either the bathroom or your favorite meditation chair. (Lucky me, sometimes the bathroom IS my favorite meditation chair! Woo!) So if you fear your routine is going to be disrupted feel free to come back and enjoy the archives, but probably the far, far better course is to explore new voices while popping back here every couple of days or so to see what's new.
Staying sober in AA has changed my life in such profound, amazing ways; expressing that fully via these bits of online writing has been a sometimes daunting challenge, but doing so revitalized my program when I really needed it, and (not to be too dramatic about it) likely saved my life.
I'm grateful to everyone who has read, corresponded, lurked, challenged, criticized and shared.
It's all made me both a better AA and a better writer.
As always when it comes to recovery, I feel I owe more than I can ever repay.
Posted at 12:12 AM in Who are you, Mr. SponsorPants, and what is this Blog? | Permalink | Comments (23)
Regular readers will know I am pretty committed to the anonymity piece when it comes to AA -- for all the reasons I've discussed here over time.
So when I started writing Mr. SponsorPants the name was not just an attempt to be maybe a little cute, and show I wasn't going to take myself too seriously, it was also a deliberate construct so that I could address AA very specifically but still retain my personal anonymity. And, as other people and events have entered my writing, I have purposely blurred specific details -- dates, places, even genders -- at the cost of some really clumsy sentence construction I fear -- so that there would be no way someone reading might be able to go, "Hmmm... I bet he's talking about so-and-so."
People in my life who know me and know I write this blog -- both in AA and not -- have sometimes observed that I'm a little over-the-top with some of that. And I have considered that while they're likely not far off (though you're always on pretty safe ground when you suggest I'm over the top on anything -- hardly need to be a psychic to make THAT call) I was comfortable doing what was right for me.
This morning, though -- all morning, in fact -- I've felt a little >ping< in the back of my mind that I was being disingenuous not sharing something on the blog today. It felt less than honest with my regular readers to not mark this occasion.
So while it bends, in only a tiny way I hope, my commitment to anonymity online by being quite so specific, I would like to share with gratitude, amazement and near disbelief that today -- this day -- marks 25 years of being clean and sober and honest about it.
March 1, 1988 is my sobriety date. (A friend last night at dinner wished me the cheery sentiment, "Many happy returns of the day!" While I knew what they meant I had to laugh and observe, "God, I hope not. I think I want to turn 25 years sober just once -- I know I can keep moving forward but I'm not sure I've got it in me to do it all over again.")
So I mark this day -- and share it's acknowledgement with whomever is reading -- with a feeling of profound gratitude, and maybe the right-sized amount of humility too. Because I assure you, there is no way I got here without the love and support and wisdom and charity and experience of so many people I know -- and let's face it, many people I've never met. That is the overwhelming beauty which, after a while in AA you begin to perceive. This whole vast, life-saving (life transforming) enterprise is built completely upon the foundation of one alcoholic helping another. That's all. That's all it took at the beginning -- from Ebby to Bill, and then from Bill to Bob -- and that's all it takes today -- among each of us in any given moment on any given day -- to create a tidal wave of healing and miracles.
To be working my own program in AA, and thus to be a part of helping someone else to work theirs, makes me -- makes all of us -- not just links in a chain; maybe the better image is loops in a net. A huge net which caught me in freefall 25 years ago, and continues to save me today.
Dear AA, all of you -- all of us -- thank you for my life. I make a shoddy job of it sometimes, and I am certainly prone to being more than a little sensitive when things don't go my way, but truly, deep down, there is not one single day where I don't know what a gift I've been given, and am grateful for it. Under the occasional tantrums and bouts of self pity there is always now a bright and beating connection to a Power Greater than Myself; and through that, all of you.
Today I am 25 years clean and sober. I know I owe it to the Grace of God and to every single loop in the net -- to every single one of you.
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.
Just in from the theater. Well, not the theater proper, a National Theater Live production, recorded in HD and shown in small movie theaters; so it's a bit like going to see a film but much more like getting to watch a play -- the Brits really know how to do that right.
The Professor and I went to see "Timon of Athens." One of Shakespeare's lesser known and least produced plays. The production was grand, and the Professor's company always delights, but after seeing T of A, I can tell you why it's lesser known and least seen. Shakespeare is Shakespeare, but the Bard's best it ain't.
I'll leave it at that, though. After all, you're not here for theater reviews.
It's late as I write this. Cold and a little windy out, the kind of weather I love. At the theater, when people entered the lobby, big dead leaves, all brown and crinkly, would blow in through the open door around their feet; an image so perfect that if you saw it in a movie you'd think it cliche.
I guess my brain was still crackling from three hours of Shakespearean rhythms, so when I changed into my jammies and curled up on the sofa to let the kittens (now a year-and-a-half old, so cats I suppose is more correct than kittens) scold me for being out so late, the book "Good Poems" by Garrison Keiller was handy and I started flipping through it.
(I know how terribly affected this all sounds. In from the theater, curling up with cats, a book of poetry at hand -- trust me, the book was only handy because I had suffered an all too brief and irregular house cleaning spasm recently, and it was down off the shelf on a pile of others, more in the way than put away after some halfhearted sorting, straightening and swiffering.)
All of which is to say that I found myself with a Bukowski poem in front of me. Keillor snuck a few into the collection, and as I've written about before, C.B. is a dangerous thing for me to read sometimes.
What is it, that dark, wet magic -- literally the opposite of the healing power that happens when people share -- when the right kind of drunk can make the worst kind of alcoholism sound like the best kind of existence? How can it be that as wonderful as my life is most of the time (when I recognize it as such) I can still feel the twang of seduction (and desire. and identification.) thrumm in my gut when, in unguarded moments, drinking and the debasement of an alcoholic life is paraded before me? In the second act of the play tonight, when poor Timon (rhymes with Simon, by the way) is having a tough go, one of the characters hands him a bottle of vodka. The production was one of those modern retellings, so while the language was 17the Century the costumes, setting and props were all 21st. Thus the vodka bottle was one of our era's examples of decanter art: clean and slim with frosted glass framing clear silhouettes of trees. (Google tells me it was probably Belvedere.) The bottle had the shape and scale of something that wants to be held in the palm of your hand. It's certainly a tribute to the lead actor, Simon Russell Beale's talent, that when he unscrews the top and lifts it to his lips you can see all the relief a good swig can bring. But me, sitting there, close to a quarter of a century from my last drink? Absorbed as I was in the performance, when he took that hit my mouth flooded with saliva. Seriously! Still!
I'm very grateful and more than a little overwhelmed by the worries and well wishes posted here in my absence. I'm afraid I'm going to make some of you mad or let others down when I tell you that ... well... nothing happened. I didn't get drunk or suffer a terrible dramatic anything. I think I was a little burnt out, and just missed a day writing. And the day turned into several, which turned into a couple of weeks, which turned into... and when I'm not blogging I don't check the Mr. SP email... and so I was, as usual in my life, a little clueless as to how my actions -- or inactions -- might be effecting other people.
I apologize for any upsetness but really... I just drifted away for a while.
A sponsee a few weeks ago said to me, "Hey, have you looked at Mr. SponsorPants lately? You better check in over there..." and that was how I discovered that there was some concern over my absence. Which led me to feel wholly inadequate when it came to writing anything which didn't involve being kidnapped by extraterrestrials or suffering a blow to the head and forgetting everything which occurred after the sixth grade.
But tonight I came home and thought about the play, and read the Bukowski, and marvelled at the nature of the beast inside me -- which made me think, "well, I might have something to say about that at least."
And so I did.
So I suppose I'm back, mostly.
Thank you again for the well wishes and concerns, I'm embarrassed and grateful.
Posted at 12:12 AM in Alcoholic Thinking, Who are you, Mr. SponsorPants, and what is this Blog? | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack (0)
And so we come to the 1000th post here at Mr. SponsorPants.
Some quite short -- no more than a brief thought with maybe an image -- others perhaps overlong for the blog format -- but with only a handful of missed days Mr. SponsorPants has been a surprising constant -- and comfort -- for me over the last few years.
Frankly, I've struggled terribly in my life with procrastination. I do not think of myself as a particularly disciplined person. (When I first encountered the line in the AA literature "We alcoholics are undisciplined... so we let God discipline us in the way we have just outlined..." I am quite sure I winced).
Has writing Mr. SP taught me discipline? I think it would be closer to the truth to say it has shown me that I am much more disciplined than I give myself credit for. There's plenty of evidence to suggest that an alcoholic's powers of self-assessment are not great, so it's no surprise that I was surprised at my sticking to it. It was important to me to do that.
I take the service aspect of it seriously -- as I do the anonymity of it, too. And, as with everything in my life directly informed by AA's commitment to service, it's been both easier and harder than I thought, and I have gotten things from it I could never have imagined -- not the least of which is a feeling of being a part of something much bigger than myself. That knowledge was always there regarding AA, but the experience of hearing from people in recovery from all over the world has been a profound and humbling thing -- a part of the blogging experience that I really didn't think about when I started.
And as with anything to do with sponsorship in general, I have gotten so much more than I've given -- which of course is the great spiritual paradox of service: Once you start sharing -- your heart, your time, your attention, your experience -- what comes back to you is always immeasurably greater than whatever you think you gave, however much that might be.
So with that I wanted to say thank you. For the emails, the comments, the little blips on the TypePad Overview thingy that tells me someone, somewhere, clicked in for a bit.
Someday I'll make the time to pull some of this blog into a more organized and coherent format and maybe make a little book out of it. You can self publish so easily now. And if that impulse is fueled equally by a desire to continue to be of service and maybe some ego -- well, that certainly wouldn't be the first time such a heady mix was the gas in my car.
Tomorrow will be, without fanfare, #1001. I'll keep plugging away. I'm too old an AA dog to say "...for another 1000 posts..." One Day at a Time refers to blogging, too I think.
Sometimes I sit down to write and I feel empty -- just nothing there -- so I wait. And eventually something comes -- even if sometimes it is just one short sentiment. I turn it over and put it down and figure that maybe someone somewhere needed to read just that thing just at that moment; so whatever it is it's the right thing to write, regardless of how inspired -- or "un" -- I may feel. Ultimately it is my privilege to share in any way -- anywhere and in any fashion -- what was so freely given to me.
There is a passage at the very end of 'Bill's Story' in The Big Book which never fails to choke me up:
"Most of us feel we need look no further for Utopia. We have it with us right here and now. Each day my friend's simple talk in our kitchen multiplies itself in a widening circle of peace on earth and good will to men."
My heart is full of gratitude at being part of that ever widening circle with all of you...
Posted at 01:28 AM in Gratitude, Who are you, Mr. SponsorPants, and what is this Blog? | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)
I received an email over the weekend from someone requesting that entries in the Comments Section which included their name be taken down from the blog.
At first I thought they meant comments they themselves had posted, so I was at a loss because I could not find any.
Then the correspondent directed me to Comments on Mr. SponsorPants which contained their name and some potentially identifying information in the body of the comment.
I removed the Comments, and I believe it was lax of me not to do so when they first went up.
I removed them not because I agree or disagree with what was said. And not solely because they were negative in nature, though that tone is not in keeping with what I hope to accomplish here. But ultimately because I have no way to verify one way or another the truth of such things -- plus, frankly, I do not think the Comments Section of a 12 Step Blog is really the right place for disparaging commentary of third party individuals.
(And I'm sorry, but "It's true! Just ask anyone in [name of town]!" doesn't quite cut it when it comes to veracity.)
To be clear: There is no conspiracy at work here -- no suppression of some "other sentiment." My side of the street is clean as far as allowing dissenting opinions on Mr. SponsorPants -- if you don't think so, then read around. Over the course of my Posts and the Comments I've let the anti-AA people speak their mind, and I let the couple of Fundamentalist people who swung by to tell me that I was going to burn in Hell keep Commenting for a while, until I felt it was abusive and responded in the Comment Section that I would no longer allow them to post if they kept it up -- but I did not Unpublish their original Comments. They were speaking to me about me, or about their personal faith, or about their experience of AA meetings or philosophy in general. They did not identify any other persons or groups.
Third party character assassination is unacceptable, and I will Unpublish Comments I deem to be such as soon as I come across them.
If you know something to be true, or you have a problem with someone in AA (or out of it, for that matter) then start your own damn blog and write to your heart's content about it. Starting a blog is free, and if you keep the "basic" package it remains free -- there are a number of hosting companies for you to choose from.
I'm not a spokesperson for AA (there is no such thing). I'm a silly middle-aged sober alcoholic writing on my personal blog as anonymously as possible a variety of essays about my 12 Step journey -- and when I can I am happy to respond to emails I receive (though my track record for the turn-around time on that is pretty spotty).
I'm sure if someone were crazy enough or small enough they could become a nuisance and spam the Comments -- but it is my hope that while some people might be angry or hurt or afraid they can be bigger than those feelings, and they will understand the point I am making -- and even if they do not agree with my 12 Step world view in general, respect my right to express it here in the manner of my choosing, and no longer put disparaging Comments about third parties on this blog.
In addition, there is a difference between honest anger and mean spiritedness, and a BIG difference between disagreement and abuse. In sobriety, while I sometimes struggle with people pleasing, I have learned that I'm nobody's doormat -- so abusive comments will be deleted as well.
Okay. That's it for the housekeeping.
We now return you to our regular blogging content.
Posted at 12:18 AM in Who are you, Mr. SponsorPants, and what is this Blog? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
An anonymous comment, dated February 15th, on my posting "Is AA A Cult?" has given me food for thought for the past week or so since I read it.
Here it is, copy/pasted in its entirety:
Whatever happened to the Traditions, Mr. Sponsorpants? Eleven protects us all, and Twelve states that anonymity is the, "spiritual foundation." Those words are not chosen lightly. This entire site turns my stomach and gives me the hee-bee-geebies. Thank Heaven this fellowship is self-correcting, but I have to shake my head at this entire endeavour of YOURS, MR. SPONSORPANTS. People might start to think you speak for the Program. uh.... Please, pray on it, and consider taking it down, and keep it in the rooms. "What you hear here and whom you see here, let it stay here when you leave here!!!" I sincerely feel this site violates the spirit of our sacred fellowship.
I've had enough turmoil lately -- and enough fatigue from working some crazy-ass long hours at work now -- that I needed to really take some time before I spoke to this comment -- but I knew I would, since it raises a larger and important question about sobriety, anonymity and the internet.
In thinking about this, and the blog in general (as I close in on almost three years of regular blogging on AA and sobriety), I can see where someone might be very troubled by what I've done here. (And I am going to limit this to what I've done -- what others have, are, or will do is not something I have control over. AA has taught me to try to take responsibility for my side of the street, and although I do it imperfectly, I can say that I do consistently try to do it.)
Out of a combination of laziness and a desire not to be repetitive I do not always state, with every entry in which I discuss other AA's in any way -- or anyone else, for that matter -- that, to preserve anonymity, while everything I write here is, to the best of my ability, 100% true, it is not 100% factual.
That is, I work hard to be true to the spirit of a conversation or an exchange or a person or a share or whatever, without giving identifying facts which would break anonymity. I know I've mentioned before that, to my credit (and the occasional sponsee's chagrin) I have an excellent auditory memory -- that is, I remember what I hear very well. Thus when I talk about conversations, etc., I believe I am telling the truth -- my quotes are fairly accurate, given a margin for human error. I may not get something word-pefect, but I fairly provide context and capture meaning.
But what I write about others is purposely, to preserve anonymity, not factual. That is, if I say I had a conversation with someone (a sponsee, a friend, a co-worker) it might actually (for example) have been two people, blended into one, to convey a point or paint a picture. Or specific descriptives about someone are not at all factual, but are in fact altered to keep the person anonymous -- though I still try to convey to the reader the sense of a person or situation's dynamic. (A crude example of that -- and one I've not used in any story which is why I use it here -- is that I might describe someone who had terrible, terrifying table manners as a person who spoke too loudly, and spit a bit when they spoke, over dinner -- you get the sense of a potentially uncomfortable social dynamic over a meal, but the facts have been changed to preserve anonymity.) I always in some way blur or omit gender, age, time sober, location, etc. (at the cost of some clumsy syntax, but that's the price required to do that.)
If that hasn't been said as often as it should, or been made clear when I've tried to address it, I'll link this entry to the "Who Are You, Mr. SponsorPants?" heading on the right of the site, and hopefully that will feature the information more prominently for anyone who has questions or concerns. I think it a reasonable assumption that a blog reader, if curious about authorship and/or content, clicks around a little bit.
As for people thinking I speak for AA, I feel like my conscience is pretty clear on that front. I've repeated the fact that I do not -- and that in fact no one does -- speak for AA in any way, shape or form on any entry where it is germane to the point(s) being made.
The whole Mr. SponsorPants blog started as an act of service born of my sincere prayer for help. (And one is always in danger, when thinking that they're acting on an answer to a prayer, of being at the least foolish and at the most dangerous, I think that's important to acknowledge too.) As with any act of service I have done in sobriety, my ego has occasionally wormed its way in. At the same time, God gave us gifts to use, and if we're using them in a sincere effort to be of service then using them -- and enjoying using them -- is the right thing to be doing (the "proper use of the will" as the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" says).
My first sponsor had a beautiful singing voice. He was, in fact, a professional singer. Early in my sobriety I told him I was worried that I was "performing" when I shared. That I was "trying" to be funny. He asked me if I thought of things to say before I shared, and I truthfully answered 'not very much.' He asked me if I was trying to be funny on purpose, or it sometimes just came out that way, but I was also just trying to be honest. I said, again truthfully, that I wasn't entirely sure, but it mostly just came out that way. Then he asked me if he should purposely sing off-key when we sang "Happy Birthday" to someone taking a cake for a sober anniversary. Caught off guard by the question I'm sure I said something like 'of course not!' He said that if he was trying to sing louder than everyone to show off, then that was ego, but if he was singing loudly to help the group's song then that was service -- that he was using the gifts God gave him in service to the meeting. He put it better than I am now, but the spirit of that idea has always helped me in sorting out using our abilities for service or for ego. I crack wise when I write to entertain myself more than anything else (also it's just the way my mind works) -- and sometimes it helps people take information in -- or just brighten a day, for God's sake. (And if I'm occasionally taken too literally rather than in the spirit of fun which is intended... well, half on me for not being clear, and half on the literal taker for having a stick up their ass losing their sense of fun.) So although sometimes my ego has stepped in, on the whole I think "the spirit of our sacred fellowship" is as much about service and carrying the message as it is anything else.
And while I do not advocate in any way a change to the Traditions or the customs and principles which the fellowship of AA has developed over time and which serve us so well, in the 21st Century how people find and take in information has most definitely changed.
As I understand my AA history (and I have absolutely no doubt that someone will gently correct me if I am mistaken on this) the motivation for writing the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" was two-fold: First, to accurately record and present AA's 12 suggested Steps and plan for recovery to anyone who might need it, and second, to reach people who might not find their way into an AA meeting -- either from not having one near them or from a fear of being seen at one or whatever. Also, the personal stories in the back of the Big Book (AA's nickname for the book "Alcoholics Anonymous") were so that people could "hear" other people talk about their alcoholism and recovery and possibly identify.
I think virtually any writing about AA and sobriety on the internet has the opportunity to do those same things: Accurately quote and present AA's plan for recovery, and share personal experiences about drinking, practicing AA's principles, and living sober, for others to identify with. (And as anyone with some sober miles under their belt will tell you, the need to identify with other sober AA's -- and be comforted and inspired by them -- does not vanish over time.)
So hopefully this blog can be a part of that larger purpose. While I want to take personal responsibility for anything here that is problematic regarding AA's traditions, etc., I also want to laud the great extended spiritual family of recovering bloggers -- in every 12 Step fellowship -- who share their experience and wisdom in this fashion -- whether it's every day or only occasionally. If someone Googles anything 12 Step related they will find a lot of help out there now -- and that's a moving and wonderful thing.
Again I am certain that someone will be glad to correct me if I am greatly mistaken, but I think that carrying the Traditions forward and applying their spirit to a new and ever-changing world of how people find and take in information is not the same thing as violating them.
Hopefully this post has been more demonstrative than defensive -- I gave the comment, the questions it raised for me, and this writing a lot of thought before I brought it to the table.
A good friend of mine grew up in a rough part of Chicago, and, at the time this little story took place, his mother still lived there.
On his sixth sober anniversary (he was well past that when he told me this story) he picked up his 6 year chip at his favorite meeting, and, feeling a wellspring of good spirit and love for the world, rushed over to his Mother's to show her his chip and tell her about how this marked six years of continuous sobriety for him -- a miracle! While they were not estranged, she was a tough, salty old broad, and not one for sentiment. Or demonstrations of affection. Or leaving the apartment.
He burst in and found her, there in her housecoat, smoking a cigarette and doing some ironing.
"Mom! Mom! Look at this! Look! I'm six years sober!"
According to him, she put down the iron, looked him up and down, took a drag on her cigarette and said,
"So's the cat."
All of which is to say that certain anniversaries, while important and personally significant, may not exactly wow some of the other people in our lives. Those others lack either the context or the interest to feel with quite the same degree of emotion something which might be important to us.
Or in this case, to me, actually.
Today, with this posting of April 24th, marks one year of blogging Mr. SponsorPants.
As I said in the title, I don't think they give chips for this.
A little more than a year ago I was having pretty bad time of it. I felt dry not sober, kind of burnt out on AA and sponsorship and sobriety and spirituality. I was sick of meetings and overwhelmed by what I felt were too many and too much of all things 12 Step. Now, this is a terrible, painful and dangerous state for a sober alcoholic. One of the things I was doing right, however, and something I think that probably saved my life, is that I was talking about this -- in meetings, with sponsees, with my sponsor... I got early on that contrary action was maybe one of the single most important tools to embrace: If you want to save face, open your mouth; if you want to skip the meeting, go to the meeting; if you want to isolate, invite people for fellowship ... you get the picture. So I wasn't hiding this state from anyone -- and certainly, when I shared about it, I felt some relief in the moment.
But in the big picture, I was feeling cynical and miserable. I was not, as they say, "walking in the sunlight of the spirit."
So, as is often the case, when in extreme pain I start demanding God help me. Humbly, of course:
"God, I humbly say that you better help me, damnit, because I'm in a lot of trouble here! I've been selling Your line of bullshit for 20 years now, and I am dried out and used up. Right now I feel like You're a joke and AA's maybe just a bunch of bullshit and that I've wasted a lot of my life -- hours and hours of it -- sitting with people and going through that damn book, listening to inventories, taking phone calls ... over and over and over. Going to meetings and all those damn commitments over and over and over. I remember feeling differently, but I only remember it with my head, not with my heart. I don't believe what I remember is true anymore -- so you better do something right now. Or else!"
Like I said, humble. (My God's pretty big, He can take it.)
Very shortly after I was screaming at praying to God, I was invited to a 12 Step Retreat up in the mountains at a Benedictine Monastery famous for its breathtaking views, gorgeous architecture and serene vibe. It was a Men's Stag Sober Retreat, and as is sometimes the case with these things, there was a registration fee, to cover the cost of food and the use of the facility. Money was especially tight for me at that time, but my spot was paid for with an almost last minute cancellation by someone else, who forfeited their refund and allowed their registration to be used as a scholarship -- hence my invitation to fill the slot at no cost. And a friend of mine who was going offered to pick me up at my place and drive us up.
So of course my initial reaction was, "Blech! Are you kidding? I am so sick of these guys and sharing and blah blah meetings and stuff, and now you want me to be stuck on the top of a damn mountain for a weekend and do nothing but that? Blech!"
Yeah, let's review, shall we?
I tell God I'm in deep spiritual trouble and I demand God help me, and then the phone rings and I get a free, all-expenses-paid spiritual retreat at a gorgeous monastery in the mountains, with -- literally -- door-to-door car service.
And my first reaction to this is "blech."
At the time I didn't even connect the screaming praying for help with this falling into my lap! As the literature says, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. And, occasionally with me, personally, it's not only sometimes slowly, but afflicted by blindness, ignorance, bias, impaired hearing and spoiled, stubborn self-obsession, too.
My reaction was "blech" but my mouth said, "Sure, yeah, I'll go." More than 20 years of saying yes is a hard habit to break. (Thank God.)
So up we go into the mountains, and as promised, the monastery was amazing, the monks ... um, monkish ... and the gardens ... wow. They seemed both wild and tended, with little statues and benches and such in hidden corners. As I meandered through them I kept expecting to stumble across either Mother Theresa or Jane Austen.
(Sidebar: One of the rules of the monastery was that you went "into silence" from 10pm at night -- or maybe it was 11, I'm not sure -- till the next morning when they rang the bell signaling the end of breakfast. They didn't force this on guests, of course, but it was the "way" and people were asked and encouraged to observe this practice. Thus, first thing in the morning, you roll out of bed: No talking. Silence. Silence while you get your coffee, silence while you have your breakfast ... no one's opinions, false cheer, baggage, blather, is voiced while you greet the day and center yourself. Then they ring the bell, and it's talky-time as normal. It is my humble opinion that should countries adopt this as a national policy, we would see world peace within the week.)
The Saturday afternoon of the Retreat some people went hiking, a few drove down into town to shop (Philistines!) and I ... I decided to walk the Labyrinth.
In the entrance hall of the monastery was literature about the founding of the building itself, the Benedictine Order, and the gardens. Among these was a sign and a brochure about a Labyrinth somewhere on the grounds. It went on to describe who put it together, what it was about, and the purpose of a Labyrinth against a spiritual backdrop such as this.
In short, walking a Labyrinth is a form of walking prayer and meditation. On the walk in you ask God (or the universe, or Whomever) your question, or offer your petition, and in the center you sit, and reflect, and then on the way out you try to listen for an answer. Many people write their Need out and leave it at the center, symbolizing their faith in leaving the petition with a Higher Power. Some bring a token with them too, something symbolic, and may take a token back out, though not one of the tokens left by others. That part confused me, but also pleased me, since the Monastery didn't really have a gift shop, and I always like a souvenir. (And I thought they were really missing out on that -- selling those robes would be a cash cow, let me tell you. Move over Snuggie, it's the Benedictine Body Muff!) The confusing part was how to determine what was an appropriate token to maybe take with you -- I'd seen enough episodes of "The Twilight Zone" to know what would happen if you took the wrong token or something. Baaaaad mojo.
So off to Walk The Labyrinth (it had capitol letters in my mind) I went, my prayer written out and my token to leave in my pocket. Not having seen it I pictured a lush maze, sort of like the one in "The Shining" -- all eight foot hedges and pristine gravel to crunch under foot as I Thought my demand question. (Another capitol letter, as I was planning on thinking very loudly).
On the way to find the Labyrinth I ran into one of the monks, who asked if that's where I was going.
"Yes, Fa... Brother." I was doing that all weekend. I kept starting to call them all Father.
He gave me the best advice about a spiritual exercise I've ever heard in my life:
"Don't judge yourself. Don't judge your process. When you catch yourself judging, don't judge yourself for judging. Try not to try. When you catch yourself trying, or trying too hard not to try, don't judge yourself for trying. Just be open to all of it, and decide before you start that everything that happens is the right thing that was supposed to happen -- your thoughts, how you feel -- all of it -- is the right thing to be part of your question and part of your answer, whatever it might be. Have faith that this has worked for thousands of other souls, and so it will work for you, too."
Wouldn't it be cool if he walked on, I turned around and he was mysteriously gone? Yeah, but the truth is he actually had one of those yellow janitorial buckets on wheels and was headed off to mop something. Squee squee squee went the bucket wheel when he left, sort of ruining the moment. I suppose mopping something is very monkish, but I was looking for Big Stuff. Portents! Omens! Spirit Guides!
What I got was bugs.
The Labyrinth was on a patch of dirt, and it looked like something they'd made for an episode of "Sesame Street" and then decided to film somewhere else. Which is not to say it wasn't the real deal, but it was small and pedestrian compared to the magic maze I'd been expecting. Still, I missed the shopping trip and wasn't up for hiking, so ... might as well ...
It was hot. I could feel the place where my hair parted and my scalp was exposed burning in the sun. There were no birds, or shade. Just these rocks in concentric circles, twisting smaller, and the sun beating down, and what felt like a million bugs flying around and buzzing me.
Step step step ... in and turn and follow around and ... here and there I noticed what looked like things people had left not only in the center but along the way, too. I thought, "Wow, they were so moved and connected they knew to leave their little tokens here ... I'm only ..."
Caught myself and went back to staying open and thinking my question.
And my question, as if you hadn't guessed, was, "God, what now? What next? What should I do to change this? I'm on my way Out, I feel like I'm on my way Out and I'm scared because I'm not scared about that at all."
In I go, turn and twist, and judge and try not to and I giggle because I wonder if you can screw up your karma by jumping rows or short circuit the spiritual zap by moving some stones around and then I tell myself to shut up again and I go back to my question.
And I sit in the middle and I think and the bugs buzz me and I say, "You guys, come on, I'm trying to have a spiritual experience here!" And I leave my question and my token and I walk out, thinking, looking for something to take with me, trying not to think, and trying not to look.
And I got out of the maze, and I just reached down and picked up a rock, first one I sort of stepped on outside the Labyrinth.
And Mr. SponsorPants came to me. Not a person, I'm the person -- the idea. And I thought, "Wait, I want less, so I'm inspired to do more? NO. No no no. No thank you."
But as is the way of these things, whether you believe it or not, stuff like that won't let go of you.
So shortly after I got home, I started this thing. I had some pictures in my head of who and how it might help people trying to get and stay sober via Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps. I knew I would do it for a year (at least -- and I'm not stopping now). I knew I would do it every day -- and I did, for a while. Maybe the first three months, though writing it seven days a week just about broke me, so I took the weekends off. It's not what I first thought it would be, it's maybe not going to become what I thought it was supposed to be, but in doing it my Need was answered, and shortly after I started I didn't just remember what I believed, I believed it all again. And the comments and the emails over the past year came just as I needed them to, small things making big differences on the occasional tough day, and I'm grateful for all of them. If they were perhaps small to you, I assure you they were a big help to me.
My mom passed away earlier this past year. She had a good long life, and she was blessed with a good death. All of her kids were around her. Writing this blog kept the spiritual tools we use to deal with Big Things close at hand for me during that time, though I didn't write about her passing specifically here. I had a powerful experience the night I flew home from her funeral, and writing about it in Mr. SponsorPants made it somehow more real and -- knowing there were people that might find some of it helpful -- even more helpful to me. Which of course is the secret of AA anyway.
Whether we want to or not at first, whether our faith feels real or false, free or forced, like water or dirt -- whether we're sober days or years, we try helping other people and in so doing we ourselves are transformed, in an alchemy of love and service which never fails us and never stops healing.
I'm grateful for the inspiration and for the vehicle to share, and I've been by turns humbled and helped myself that anything here has been helpful to anyone reading. Mostly I'm just trying to pass along what was so freely, so generously given to me for the past 20+ years.
And finally, I think I actually was maybe on the way Out a little more than a year ago, and the experience leading up to, and the doing of, this blog was instrumental in revitalizing my faith in a Higher Power and in AA.
So, here we are, a year from when we started, and, one-day-at-a-time, I'm still sober.
And you know what?
So's my cat.
Posted at 01:11 AM in Who are you, Mr. SponsorPants, and what is this Blog? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)