As he talked
his brow furrowed and his color ran high.
The rant gained momentum.
I could feel him
At its crest his neck looked like a sunburn and
two scarlet dots painted his cheeks:
as we do,
working himself up to a
declaration of sorts.
All the usual cliches about thunderheads apply.
I will not -- no, I cannot -- surrender!
Disinterested in this performance art piece
having seen it many times and performed it myself
to smatterings of applause and
tepid reviews in my out-of-town tryouts.
(Everybody's a critic.)
I will not -- I cannot -- surrender!
It's not who I am
how I roll
what I do
how I goal
I have achieved and purchased and financed and leased!
I have big and important and special and brand!
I have more than you do -- I am more than you are -- than anyone does than anyone is
in that sad circle of chairs.
As is often the case
in moments like this,
the chin is up,
the shoulders back;
a noble tableaux
of delusion and defiance.
Who, exactly, are you rebelling against? I sometimes want to ask.
But then I think how disinterested I am in their answer, and
leave the question
for them to discover for themselves
if they make it.
You will not -- cannot -- surrender?
Okay, then. Don't.
Huh? Wha? Buh?
Then don't, I shrug, already wishing I was
home with a book and a cup and a cat in my lap.
Their defiance was a warm blanket to them but I've never been much for reruns.
And if you win, then congrats and huzzah and my hat is off to you;
I'll send you a card.
And if you lose,
and if you live,
there is a chair for you there,
in that circle of chairs,
reserved for all those who,
had their ass fully kicked until they realized
the fight was in fact over a long time ago.
Confidentially, I said, leaning in,
I lost pretty much right after I stepped into the ring.
All the rest was just the press release my pride tried to issue,
with my face pressed against the canvas long after the final bell.
(Do not ask for whom the bell... aw hell. Skip it.)
He looked so stunned. Apparently my verbal right cross was the wrong line.
I guess I'd gone off book.
He couldn't process this uscripted opposite in his contempt
I suspect I was cast as salesman for the cause or
sympathy for the rebel.
Sadly, I really
suck at those now.
Don't surrender till you know you've lost.
Cliche, I know, but that is then
the first moment when
have a fighting chance.
He sat there, poleaxed, unsure if I mocked or misunderstood
his brave speech.
I left a tip for the waiter and headed home.
There was fresher company
in my book
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.
I do it for myself, but not by myself.
Saving myself doesn't mean I do everything alone. It means that I, alone, must develop the quality of willingness which will let me reach out to be saved.
And yes, I know, it's very likely Charles Bukowski is spinning in his grave at the fact I reference him here, or that I am such a fan. He was a died-in-the-wool, down-to-his-DNA drunk till the miserable, bitter end, and his writing reflects all a drunk's anger, giddy defiance, brilliance, isolation and desperation.
Who better, I often think, to speak some of my truth?
"Nobody can save you but yourself - and you're worth saving."
New Sponsee: I... I don't think I want to go to meetings anymore.
Mr. SponsorPants: Really?
New Sponsee: Yeah. I just... I'm sorry, I am just not getting anything out of them.
Mr. SponsorPants: Really?
Mr. SP: Ok.
NS: Ok what?
Mr. SP: Ok don't go to meetings anymore.
Mr. SP: What what? Did I mumble? You said you aren't getting anything out of meetings anymore and that you didn't want to go. So don't go then.
NS: That's it?
Mr. SP: Well, is there anything I could say that would change your mind? I'm not selling anything. You know that. You don't want to go, then don't go.
NS: Ok. It's just that... I thought a sponsor would, you know, try and talk me into it or something.
Mr. SP: Oooh. Well there's your mistake.
Mr. SP: I'm not a good sponsor. You should find a good one and they can talk you into going to meetings.
NS: Are you making fun of me?
Mr. SP: Not really. I'm kinda tired so my make-fun-of tank is pretty much on "E." We done here?
NS: We done here?!?
Mr. SP: Yeah. Are we done here? I mean, let's recap: You aren't getting anything out of meetings so you don't want to go, but you think a good sponsor could talk you into going so ... you might go get a good sponsor, but you'll probably just stop going to AA and that will be that.
NS: But... you... I... this is bullshit!
Mr. SP: Yeah, maybe. But the real bad news is that I don't even think a good sponsor can help you.
NS: What? Why the hell... what the hell do you mean?
Mr. SP: Well, somewhere in the literature, I'm pretty sure it's in the 12&12 but it might be in The Big Book (see, now if I were a good sponsor I'd know which one) it says that the one thing we have to develop on our own is the quality of willingness.
NS: I don't follow you. What does that have to do with you not telling me I should go to meetings or getting another sponsor or whatever?
Mr. SP: Well, you want someone to talk you into being willing. I've never seen that work. I'm a bad sponsor, yes, but over the years I've been a very popular sponsor -- probably because I'm so bad. I've sponsored lots of people. Doesn't really matter if they get drunk, I sponsor people so I don't get drunk. So, it's always kind of worked out okay for me, the sponsorship thing. But in all the years I've never seen that talk-you-into-it work, Not really. You want a sponsor to give you willingness but... that just doesn't work. You have to get it yourself.
NS: How can I do that when I don't even... I don't even want to do this shit!
Mr. SP: I dunno. Is there anything a good sponsor could tell you that you think would help you become willing to go to meetings?
NS: I don't know. Stuff about my drinking I guess.
Mr. SP: Like what?
NS: Oh, I see what you're doing.
Mr. SP: You do?
NS: Yeah, you're trying to get me to come up with a solution for my not wanting to go to meetings.
Mr. SP: I am? Holy shit! That's brilliant!
NS: Yeah. And then once I come up with something you'll tell me to try it or go do it or something.
Mr. SP: Really? Oh. Would that work?
NS: I thought you were nice but you're kind of a sarcastic asshole.
Mr. SP: Well hell. Unmasked at last. So, anyway, listen, I'm beat, it was a really long day, I'm going to crash, ok?
NS: That's really it?
Mr. SP: I guess. I really need to get to sleep. I have a wicked early day tomorrow.
NS: So, are you really telling me to get another sponsor?
Mr. SP: I don't know, I don't seem to be doing a very good job. I've only been sponsoring you for [a short time] and you're already giving up on meetings.
NS: Well... I didn't say "giving up." I just said I didn't want to go and that they didn't seem to be helping.
Mr. SP: Oh. I'm confused. Are you drunk?
NS: What? No!
Mr. SP: Then how can you say they're not helping? Look, I really, really have to go to bed. I have to be to work at 5am tomorrow.
NS: 5am? What the hell do you have to do at a restaurant at 5am?
Mr. SP: Inventory.
Mr. SP: Yeah, and if you were sober longer you'd see a fantastic opportunity for a joke right there, but I think today it's gonna get by you. So anyway, I'm turning in.
NS: So, you're not telling me I have to get another sponsor?
Mr. SP: Is this connection bad? I'm telling you I want to go to bed.
NS: I guess I can see how meetings are helping maybe.
Mr. SP: Really? Then why would you stop going?
NS: I don't know. I kinda just don't want to anymore.
Mr. SP: Oooh. So, you want to not do what you don't want to do, and you only want to do what you want to do.
NS: I didn't say that.
Mr. SP: Sounded kind of like it, but maybe this really is a bad connection.
NS: Ok, maybe that's kind of what that means.
Mr. SP: And, that's pretty much how you've always lived, yes?
NS: I guess.
Mr. SP: And... by doing just and only what you want to do your life is great, right? All the stuff you told me all the [bad stuff that happened -- really bad] was just a story you told me for kicks.
NS: No! I mean... wow. Fuck you, Mr. SponsorPants.
Mr. SP: So, rather than try something different and do what you don't want to do you're going to...
NS: Ok! Ok! I get it! I get it! Fine! I'll keep going to fucking meetings for a while more!
Mr. SP: Charming. Kid, you have used up your quota of talking shit to me. I'm going to bed. Actually, you've used up your quota for today, tomorrow, and the next ten times I see you. You want to call someone and talk shit to them call your mother. She'll take it because she doesn't know any better. Yet. Goodnight.
NS: Wait! Are you still my sponsor?
Mr. SP: I really think you need a good sponsor, but till you find one, ok. For now I guess.
Mr. SP: What"
In the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book), the 12 Steps are directly listed in Chapter 5, appropriately entitled "How It Works."
The 3rd Step of Alcoholics Anonymous: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
In the book, after some discussion of the principles behind Steps 1 & 2, the idea of not living our lives based on self-will, but rather turning ourselves over to God (as you understand God) is explored. The 3rd Step Prayer is written out. It is just one suggested prayer expressing this idea, not a mandatory by-rote, Pass/Fail requirement as a way to commit to this concept. In fact, in its usual even-handed and open-minded fashion, the Big Book states that the words of this prayer are "... of course, quite optional so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation." Say it however you like, in whatever way works for you. Say it as a prayer, perform it as a rap, do it like Dr. Seuss might put it. ("One fish two fish red fish blue fish. God's will my will I will Your willl.") The point is to have an open heart and a sincere (or as sincere as possible) willingness to try.
A little farther along we get to this: "Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action..." meaning there was something we had to DO. In fact, the real crux of this point is just a few lines on. This: "Though our decision [meaning, of course, our decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God -- that decision] was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort..." and it goes on to describe the 4th Step, the principles underlying it and ultimately how to do it.
So, what this means to me, is this:
The decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God is just that, a decision. A commitment -- and the 3rd Step Prayer is my pledge to do so. But just as a decision to go to the airport does not magically and instantly transport you to the airport -- you actually have to get in your car and drive to the airport -- so, too, this decision, though "vital and crucial" -- is just another bullshit, self-indulgent, melodramatic performance art piece in (if you're an alcoholic like me) a life filled with such moments -- often well intended and just as often as easily burned away as dew in the summertime -- unless followed by tangible action. And when getting sober, the primary way to execute this pledge-to-action is by doing all the rest of the 12 Steps. (And thus a spiritual experience is created, which is the key component to staying sober).
Once I've gone through the 12 Steps, I still find that I return to the idea of "turning it over," that is, of turning myself or a situation over to God. But again, that decision will require action to make it stick.
God -- if there is one, and today I have to vote yes -- will certainly forgive and love me through making another bullshit promise and then falling down on the action part -- or rather, turning a sincere promise into a bullshit one by not doing anything after I make it.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. It's not like the movies (though I sure wish it were). There's no dramatic swell of music, an uplifting montage and then a whole new deal. Sometimes it's myriad small actions which accrue over time that lead to substantive change. My prayer keeps me stable and gives me both focus as to what I'm supposed to be doing and faith that I am in the right place, doing the right thing -- and reminds me that a benevolent universe has my best interest (not my comfort, but my best interest) at heart.
As always though, it is the footwork I do which is the catalyst to change, far more than the performance art prayer moment which gets my emotional ya-ya's off but can, in fact, be a form of procrastination -- if you wait for God to do the dishes you gonna have one dirty sink, sister.
The prayer IS beautiful, and as the Big Book mentions, very often a real and tangible change can be felt inside. But when they say "faith without works is dead" they ain't lyin'.
Finally, the 3rd Step prayer -- whether we're getting sober, or in sobriety giving another situation to God -- is also my pledge to align myself with whatever results I may get as the outcome. You do the footwork, you accept the result as God's Will -- which of course might be anything from "keep trying" to "hang on, because here's a gigantic Yes!" or it may even be, "Sorry, but hell no." My growth is in the seeking, in the process, anyway.
Helluva way to run a Universe, in my opinion, but there it is.
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 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.
"The Monkey's Paw" is a short story written by W.W. Jacobs and originally published in England in 1902.
The tale, in short: A military man returns from serving in India with a monkey's paw, supposedly enchanted and able to grant three wishes. Though there are the usual dire warnings about consequences and such, a couple uses the paw to wish for money to make their final house payment. Shortly after the wish their son is killed in a horrible machinery accident and the sum they receive in compensation is the amount needed for their final payment. After the funeral, distraught with grief, the mother wishes their son back. A short while later, shambling footsteps drag up the front walk followed by a hollow knocking at the front door. While the mother races to open the door, the father, knowing what horror is likely standing on the other side, wishes their boy away again. Although different tellings and adaptations over the years ascribe high minded language about fate and fortune to the story, I've always thought the more direct "Be careful what you wish for" hit the nail on the head. (Or the paw on the palm, I suppose.)
* * * * *
I've written before about how my current job, while something I'm grateful for -- and a place I completely acknowledge where I've grown and changed in big and wonderful ways -- is not anything even remotely close to what I hoped/dreamt for in life -- especially at this age. Having shared that, let me add that I know gratitude is not a homework assignment. I can be sincerely grateful for something, see and enjoy all the good in it, and still have a vision of something different.
In fact -- and this is important for me -- the idea of seeking gratitude for what I have in my life cannot become a club I use to bludgeon myself into some sorry kind of stagnation. It should neither be a way I blind myself from considering new paths nor an impediment to forward motion. (For the record no one ever suggested it should be. It's what my twisty thoughts and gnarly perspective sometimes take away from discussions about being grateful in sobriety. Sometimes in the back of my mind I discover all kinds of "shoulds" and "shouldnt's" with no idea how they grew there. Quietly, I suppose, like toadstools in the dark.) Wanting more -- or even wanting different -- does not automatically equal being ungrateful for what you have. It can mean that, yes -- so it's something to look at -- but it doesn't always mean that.
For me, gratitude is one important way I keep a conscious contact with a God of my understanding; a healthy perspective on what I have and what I've been given rather than a pointless focus on what I lack (and therein lies the true stagnation). But sometimes the itch is to build on the gifts I've been given, not just to appreciate them. Emmett Fox calls it "Divine Discontent" and uses the somewhat cliche but very apt analogy of the caterpillar and the butterfly to illustrate this concept.
* * * * *
I've been praying to God for help with the work thing. Specifically, I've been praying big, open-ended, "get me out of here is this all there is get me out of here throw me a rope throw me a rope throw me a rope" kinds of prayer. I know I have to do the footwork, but in a big Universe full of wild miracles and crazy opportunities I've built a decent track record for knocking on doors and doing the aforementioned footwork to go through them -- but sometimes I need God to reveal the damn door, and my throw-me-a-rope-God's are my way of asking for that. Certainly AA is wise to suggest that I "pray only for God's will for me and the power to carry that out" as it helps me stay away from resentments and expectations of God and how H/She works, but I think praying for, in essence, other ways to use the gifts I've been given lines up nicely with that. (I know, deeply, that I am a whisker's breadth away from some spiritual lawyering there, weaving rhetoric and warping context to bolster my own bullshit, but I don't think I'm quite there. Of course, we never do, do we?)
And my prayer has been answered.
I'm out of the restaurant I've been managing.
And into a different restaurant for the same company. Busier, much more challenging and far less convenient, commute-wise. Full disclosure: There is a modest raise with this transfer, so there is that.
Now, before the kind hearted and well-intentioned of you gently point out that this might count as some kind of endorsement from the top folks at this fledgling enterprise I'm afraid I must inform you that this is much more akin to a battlefield promotion. They're in a mad scramble to fill the suddenly open spots, not truly rewarding/acknowledging jobs well done.
And I confess, once this was laid on me and I had time to digest it, I had a pretty sour, "Be careful what you pray for" bubble up inside. As if a God who gave me the opportunity to save my life would then spend the rest of it punishing me every time I made an honest request; or would turn my open-hearted prayer into a way to 'teach me a lesson.' Truly, that is superstition, not spirituality: Appease the volcano God or suffer the consequences.
* * * * *
So today the challenge on Planet SponsorPants is to keep an open mind -- or rather, to keep prying it back open after it slams shut under the weight of projection and ego and fear (the usual suspects). My years sober help me recognize these things happening to me -- and maybe fluency with the tools of AA allows me to address them more quickly -- but the years don't prevent them from occurring.
The challenge is to keep faith, and not let my spirituality slip into that subtle but simplistic superstition; that is, a loving God will always give me a good result, there is no "monkey's paw effect" at play once I have "made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God." It is only my head, torturing me again, deciding all is ashes before I've even lit the fire.
I have to work to remember the great AA adage (we probably stole it, but I heard it in AA first), which is roughly this: The worst things in my life never happened to me.
And finally, I have to keep my eyes open to the fact that over and over and over in my life -- and in the lives of the people in Recovery around me -- there is profound evidence that if I can approach each situation as a way for me to give rather than get, as a way to be of service, then my head straightens back out and quiets down and my heart opens back up and the little nuisances in life are just that. Little.
* * * * *
I can get there.
Well, I can get back there. (Not truly there this minute.)
But it's not effortless.
Not yet. (It'll get easier though.)
In the grand scheme of things this is hardly on the same level as bad medical news or unjust jail time or random tragedy striking. I know that. On a basic level it's simply one more time, things are not the way I want them to be. It's just that as an alcoholic sometimes that can be justification for some powerful, foolish, self-destructive decisions. I feel that part of me growling in its sleep.
So I just keep on -- we keep on -- and try not to indulge the worst parts of ourselves; try not to awaken the King Baby of Bridge Burning and Self Destruction, so I can more easily see the miracles which keep coming down the road.
That's my mantra for this morning.
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.