The Skateboard Pup has a sponsee. Although I myself have picked up two more sponsees recently -- which, combined with a recent business endeavor has made my schedule a little tight -- I have been sure to be very available to him as a sounding board; even though I adamantly refuse to tell him how to sponsor beyond the most basic suggestion of going through the Big Book together and working the 12 Steps as they're found there. (Plus the usual stuff about meeting attendance, etc.)
Today's dilemma concerned willingness or the lack thereof, and trying to understand when someone won't do something versus when someone legitimately can't do something...
Mr. SponsorPants: Look, it's one of the hardest things to untangle in ourselves, so you'll go crazy trying too hard to sort it out in others.
SKATEBOARD PUP: I'm not sure I am following you now. What is?
MR. SP: Where "can't" and "won't" leave off with one another.
SKATEPUP: Okay. Sort of following now. But go on.
MR. SP: It's funny, because I just mentioned this with [family member] recently about [family member]. When I look inside myself, sometimes what I think I just can't do is really that I am stuck or frightened, and so it's not that I can't, it's that I won't. But from inside, the division between them gets blurry.
MR. SP: Not all the time, obviously. Sometimes I am just completely defiant.
SKATEPUP: King Baby.
The Skateboard Pup had latched on to that concept and found it truly useful.
MR. SP: Yes. King Baby. But other times... well, it's not so clear.
SKATEPUP: I identify with that.
MR. SP: So then, when you're trying to help, or even understand, someone else... and you find yourself really harshly judging...
I accompanied this with a rather direct look.
SKATEPUP: What? "Really harshly judging?" Maybe I was being a little judgemental, but "really harshly?" A) I don't think that applies and B) I don't think that's very grammatical and C) if it IS grammatical it's still a pretty awkward way to put it.
MR. SP: Nicely done, turning that around to me to deflect from what I suggested about you.
SKATEPUP: Thank you. You've been sponsoring me since, what, like April of last year? I've picked up a little more than Step work from you.
MR. SP: Vile aspersions! Calumny! Slander!
SKATEPUP: Wow, somebody's been binge watching PBS again.
MR. SP: Any slick verbal judo you practice is all you, my young friend. I make no claim and take no credit.
MR. SP: Well... maybe a little. There might be a touch of Fagin in me somewhere.
SKATEPUP: I always saw you more as the Henry Higgins type, myself.
Even after a little more than a year he still occasionally surprises me with his references. Over time we all develop defensive masks -- shtick, if you will -- to present to the world. Although I know him to be extremely intelligent he downplays that more often than not. I filed that thought away to address with him some time down the line.
MR. SP: Anyway, of course sometimes it's pretty obvious when someone you're working with is being stubborn about working the Program, but other times it's good to consider that maybe what looks like defiance is... something else. Fear so big -- or so subtle, yet pervasive -- that it is an insurmountable block, for example. Or at least insurmountable at the moment. Those of us who were self-medicating trauma or issues in addition to our alcoholism may have a kind of legit paralysis on a few things. Though of course if you suggested that to me when I was new I would have seized on the idea and used it as an excuse, convincing myself it was true even when it very much wasn't.
SKATEPUP: Has anyone ever told you that while sometimes you make the complicated things seem simple you also sometimes make the simple things seem complicated?
MR. SP: No. Not like that anyway. And I'm not sure if it is, but I'm going to try and take that as a compliment.
SKATEPUP: It might actually be, but I'm not sure either. So... what should I do?
MR. SP: Look, you have worked all 12 Steps, yes?
MR. SP: And you have had a spiritual awakening as the result of those steps, yes?
SKATEPUP: So you tell me. Some days I completely feel that way, but others...
MR. SP: Are you sober?
SKATEPUP (mildly indignant): Yes!
MR. SP: And do you react to things differently than you used to?
SKATEPUP: Well... mostly. Yes.
MR. SP: Then believe me, you can trust that you've had a spiritual awakening.
SKATEPUP: And how does that... I mean, can't you just tell me what to do, this time, kind of?
MR. SP: Pup, if there's one thing I never doubt it is this: If you have had a spiritual awakening as a result of the Steps, and when working with another alcoholic your whole motivation is to be of service to them, then you are Divinely inspired and you cannot go wrong. Your instincts are right in the moment for how to proceed.
SKATEPUP: That... sounds... right. Sounds great, even. Thank you. But...
MR. SP: But? But? How can there be a 'but?' That is some genuine 100% Primo Sponsorship I just laid on you, backed up by countless years of sober experience across the Fellowship AND the Big Book! There's no room for 'but' there, you heretic!
He laughed, which had been a while in coming during our exchange. I could see that taking his responsibility as a sponsor seriously was weighing on him. Not inappropriately, but not easily, either.
SKATEPUP: Well, I mean, it's inspiring. Thank you. And I do believe you. Mostly. But it's also... well, it's very 'Use the Force, Luke.'
Now it was my turn to laugh.
MR. SP: That's good. That's really good.
MR. SP: But the difference is, the Force is a made up thing, and different people can access more of it than others based on something in their blood... but your spiritual experience, your connection to a Higher Power, your Divinely inspired instincts when being of service to others is REAL. And limitless. Not flawless, we are human. Ego and fear cloud the lens sometimes, and occasionally it is through our mistakes that the Universe is best served, but the times I have been of service to others in AA (and out) have been the times I have felt most closely aligned with a... with Something. Something big and powerful and good. So I trust now. And I promise, you can too.
SKATEPUP: Okay, that helps. A lot. Thank you.
MR. SP: So I can't tell you what to do as much as I can suggest you trust your instincts and lean into them. Use all your intellect and heart to try to carry the message of the 12 Steps and you literally cannot go wrong. Because it will help YOU stay sober more than any single other thing we do.
SKATEPUP: Got it. One more thing though.
MR. SP: One MORE thing?
SKATEPUP: You are like, some kind of super nerd to know all that stuff about the Force right off the top of your head, aren't you.
MR. SP: Yep! <pumps fist in air> Super nerd!
SKATEPUP: You probably even know the name of the blood thing that...
MR. SP: Midichlorians! Woo! <pumps fist again>
SKATEPUP: In certain areas you're really kind of hopeless, aren't you.
MR. SP: Yes! Isn't it great? Woo!
There are more essays like this 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.