Tag Archives: Alcohol

Pass It On … To Yet Another Guy


This post first appeared on Sobriety Junkie at reneweveryday.com

Just the other day one of the men I sponsor (let’s call him My Guy) wanted to know if he should encourage one of the men he sponsors—a man who had been sober less than 6 months—to “work with” another man who had expressed a desire to stop drinking.

Silly question? I think not, especially in a “recovery culture” that places so much emphasis—wisely or unwisely—on a person’s “time in” recovery as a measure of their ability to help, or work with, others.

First off, I reminded My Guy that Bill Wilson had his last drink on December 11, 1934, barely 6-months before Dr. Bob Smith took his last drink on June 10, 1935—“a soothing warm beer handed to him by Bill W. to steady his hands for surgery” (“Who Really Founded AA,”). When Bill and Bob met, they didn’t have the 12 Steps or a “Big Book” to consult, and they didn’t have a meeting to go to. They were the meeting. All Bill and Bob had on June 10, 1935 was each other.

Second, I reminded myself “practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 89). To suggest that one alcoholic with a desire to stop drinking cannot in some way help another alcoholic with a desire to stop drinking is, of course, ludicrous. The very notion flies in the face of the principles that bind all of us in recovery.

Nonetheless, I understood My Guy’s question the instant he texted me. The question wasn’t really whether His Guy could “help” the Other Guy; the real question was should he “allow” His Guy to “sponsor” the Other Guy.

I don’t know what it’s like in your town or at your meetings, but in my experience the phrase “working with others” is too often equated with sponsorship—as if “To work with is to sponsor” were a spiritual axiom of some sort. For nearly 16 years now, I’ve worn my sponsor like a life jacket. But he certainly isn’t the only person in recovery who has “helped” me or “worked with” me. Many men and women have—some with more sobriety than I have and just as many with less. And quite possibly, those who are new to sobriety help me the most because they challenge me to explain, and remind me time and again, why I do the things I do to stay sober, one day at a time.

The bottom line, always, is that any kind of work I do with other alcoholics, any contact I have with others who are on (or interested in finding) a path to recovery, will only serve to “insure” my own “immunity from drinking.” It’s the primary reason I still go to so many meetings and certainly the reason I take time to write about my experience in recovery. Sharing that experience makes it real, and making it real makes me all the more accountable not only to my self, my sponsor, and the men I sponsor, but also to the very concept of a recovery that happens one day at a time.

So my answer to My Guy was Yes, of course, His Guy should work with the Other Guy. But My Guy and I were not Pollyanna about the situation either. We agreed we needed to remind His Guy that you “cannot transmit something you haven’t got”(164), that His Guy’s first order of business with the Other Guy would be to introduce the new man to the fellowship that has grown up around the rest of us. Somewhere in that shared experience, we can only hope the Other Guy might find the strength to hang around until it’s his time to pass it on to yet Another Guy.

A Quick Challenge


In your opinion, what’s the most important thing you can say to someone who is new to sobriety?

Tough to Love


I can’t imagine too many things more difficult than loving an alcoholic–except maybe loving an alcoholic who has acknowledged his problem but isn’t yet ready to do anything about it. At least, that’s what I tell my non-alcoholic friends when they suddenly find themselves faced with friends, family members, or partners who are clearly destroying themselves with booze.

I have had more than a few non-alcoholic friends tell me in recent years they finally realize the problem in a relationship with either a husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, father, or lover is deeply rooted in alcohol abuse. Their descriptions of their alcoholics, and the issues they face are uncannily targeted and similar.

These poor souls almost always begin with a description of what a good, kind, hardworking, and “otherwise loving person” their alcoholic is. I place “otherwise loving person” (OLP) in quotation marks because my first question to the unsuspecting non-alcoholic friend is, “And how often is he ‘otherwise’ these days?” My family served up the same kind of alibi for me long after alcohol’s deleterious effect on my life was painfully apparent. “He’s really a kind and loving boy,” they’d say. “He just needs to learn to drink more responsibly.” Or, at least responsibly enough to stay in a marriage or at a job and out of jails, hospitals, and institutions.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous (a.k.a. The Big Book) says, “No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows.” True enough. But have you ever noticed the lengths to which our loved ones will go (and often for a rather extended period of time) to help us deny we are damaged goods (i.e. bodily and mentally different from our fellows, or, more bluntly stated, ALCOHOLIC)?

It is usually at this point—early in our discussions—that my non-alcoholic friends try to make excuses for their OLP’s increasingly demonic behavior. “She just went through a really yucky divorce.” (More than 50% of marriages end in divorce, yet 50% of the adult population is not alcoholic.) Or, “He’s having financial difficulties.” (Really? Who isn’t?) Or, “She’s under a lot of stress at work.” (Many would say she’s lucky to have a job!) Or, how about the one I latched onto for nearly 10 years after the fact: “He just lost his father. It’s been hard on him.”

When my friends’ excuses for their OLP become too much to bear, I find a spare Big Book and point them to the passage that says, “Job or no job—wife or no wife—we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on God. Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone.” (98)
Once we’re passed the rationalizations and excuses, the brutal truths are usually quick to surface. My friends acknowledge that, whatever the cause of the excess, their relationship with their OLP will never improve and may very well end if he or she doesn’t stop drinking completely. By the time they’re desperate enough to talk to me about the problem, they usually know in their hearts their OLP’s condition is hopeless. They know instinctually they love someone who will never drink normally again. It just takes them a little while to admit it out loud. Sadly, they also begin to share descriptions of their OLP’s Jekyll-N-Hyde-like behavior. Deeply remorseful every morning-after, their OLP quickly becomes defensive (if not abusive) at the first suggestion they actually do something about the problem (like enter treatment, or God forbid, go to an AA meeting). Or worse, their OLP turns the tables and becomes accusatory, suggesting my non-alcoholic friend and his or her role in the OLP’s life are the very reason they drink so frequently and excessively.

Possibly the saddest part of every encounter I have with friends who don’t understand alcoholism is their willingness to entertain the idea that they are to blame for their OLP’s drinking problem. “Maybe if I acted differently when he promises to stop, he’d be more successful.” If they only knew how absurd that notion is (and if they get help, one day they will know), they might understand why I have the audacity to laugh when I hear them try to blame themselves for outcomes over which we are all powerless. But more often than not in these situations, laughter is scarce, so I reach again for my spare Big Book and point them this time to the chapter titled More About Alcoholism. “Please,” I tell them, “Keep this copy. The first one-hundred-and-sixty-four pages might help you … a lot.”

Until recently, my point of view in these discussions has almost always been that of recovering alcoholic sharing his experience, strength, and hope about the future. I dodge, respectfully, most requests for advice or direction. That is the job of professionals, I tell my friends, or the job of potential comrades at an Al-Anon meeting should they choose to “go there.” Generally, I try to be honest about how formidable, but also how wonderful, it can be to trudge the road of happy destiny if only their OLP can find a way to hop on the path.

That’s usually my tune. But a few weeks ago, when I was contacted by a colleague’s sister—whom I’ve never met and who was struggling with her partner’s alcoholism—I found myself saying, “I know how you feel,” almost as often as I said, “This is what he’s up to.” At some point in our email exchange, I suddenly realized that I’ve spent a good portion of my life on both sides of the fence. From my father to various women I’ve loved to friends who have walked in and back out of the doors of recovery to a life of active use and abuse, I’ve had my fair share of OLPs. And, yes, even with all I know about my own condition, I’ve still found it possible to say things like, “Well, she’s drinking again, but I’ve never really seen her drunk.” Or, “He may drink too much at times, but he certainly isn’t as bad as I was at his age.” Or, best of all, “Maybe she came to AA at a bad time in her life, but now she’s able to handle it.”

And then it really hit me … the reason we make excuses, the very simple reason none of us wants anyone to be bodily or mentally different from their fellows: None of us wants to believe that any substance, alcohol or otherwise, could mean more to someone we love than we do. And maybe the admission is even more painful for those of us who once lived years and years of our lives knowing full well that nothing—and certainly nothing human—could mean more to us than alcohol once we’d taken the first drink.

Relapse: A Means to One End or Another—Part II


This post first appeared on Sobriety Junkie at reneweveryday.com

My sponsor loves to remind me that trying to understand irrational behavior with a rational mind is futile. Relapse, by definition, is irrational (and when repeated often enough presents itself as certifiably insane). Think about it: Most of us do arrive at treatment or the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous kicking and screaming. It’s the last place we want to be. It’s also usually our last hope. The pain has become too great (or the law too persuasive), and we say, “Uncle.” We admit defeat. We admit the problem is bad enough that, despite our pride and prejudice (we are not like those people in there, right?), we do the unthinkable: We ask for help.

For a time, we get clean and sober. Some of us even like it. Some of us love being sober so much we stay sober from the very start until the day they bury us (the sober minority). Some of us like it a whole lot, love it really, but after a while, for reasons beyond reason, we decide that — even though we feel so much better and our lives have gotten so much better and our loved ones love us so much more (or, at least, become much more willing to tolerate us) and we experience all these plusses and very few minuses — we decide that maybe we’ve overcorrected and we should test the waters that have bathed us in pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization just one more time. Why? Because maybe, just maybe (and especially given the volumes of brilliant knowledge we have gleaned nearly overnight about our condition and ourselves), maybe things will be different this time. Now that, to be sure, is the epitome of irrational thinking.

For those of us who make it back, one day the insanity of our relapse may present itself as a source of humor. I often laugh at the comic irony of my last relapse (which resulted in a 90-day drunk). I had been bouncing in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous for 18 months after once having stayed sober nearly three years. One morning, with about three months of sobriety under my belt and nearly two full weeks without a meeting (I planned to go later that day, I told myself), I went out to the pool at the apartment complex where I lived to enjoy my coffee and the morning paper. I was the first to arrive and grab a chaise lounge. Around 10 a.m. a young woman arrived with an inflatable raft and one of those ever-so-quaint 6-pack coolers. She parked her raft at the other end of the pool and slipped a bright silver can out of the cooler before jumping onto her raft. A Coors Light, the Silver Bullet, to be sure.

Now, I want to clarify before going on that I’m a guy’s guy and A Coors Light holds about as much appeal for me as a glass of ice tea. Actually, I’d prefer an ice tea, and I’d be most appreciative of a Long Island Ice Tea before all else. (Let’s get all the white liquors on the bar into one glass; that, my friends, is a touch of class.) But something in my mind told me that a Coors Light might not be a bad idea. If this woman could handle a Coors Light at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, then why on earth couldn’t I? It really didn’t make any sense. She couldn’t have been a day over 25 and probably weighed 90 pounds soaking wet in a winter parka. I was a three-letter high school jock and a man who, at one time, could easily handle a fifth of the finest booze in the bar one night and still make it to work on time the next morning. Surely, I had not tried hard enough to make this drinking thing work.

And so, without another thought, and certainly without even a passing nod to my sponsor’s phone number, I rose from the chaise (leaving my coffee cup, my towel and my newspaper behind because I’d be right back) and drove as quickly and directly as possible to the nearest convenience store where they sold beer, wine and spirits, and stocked up on all three, including a six-pack of my least favorite beer on the face of the earth: Coors Light. Less than 20 minutes after returning to the apartment, I had four of the watery beers down and two left to take out to the pool. No sooner had I repositioned my now mildly-buzzed ass in my previously reserved chaise lounge with the two remaining Coors Lights still in their plastic rings than my little inspiration came floating by on her inflatable pod of heavenliness holding, you guessed it, a bright silver can of Diet Coke.

Irrational minds see things irrationally, too.

I tell that story often at meetings mainly to establish that my Higher Power, for one, has a deliciously twisted sense of humor when it comes to playing tricks on an untreated alcoholic. And at that time, I was truly untreated and resisting everything about my sober life. Luckily, that relapse would lead to what I hope will remain my last surrender.

I wish all my stories of relapse could be so comic and ironic. Unfortunately they are not. About three months after that sunny summer morning by the pool in 1998, I returned to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. At the same time, two friends with whom I had both drunk and been sober for varying lengths of time, and who had also relapsed, returned to meetings. During the first six months of my sobriety, I drove one of them to a meeting nearly every day because his alcohol and meth habits had left him without a wife, without a job, without a car and living at his mother’s house. The other, a woman whom I’d actually known in treatment five years earlier and drunk with on only one occasion because her drinking frightened me, refused to return to the same meetings we went to because she didn’t wish to “be judged.” I share these facts because, although all three of us made some effort to return to a sober life, only one of us survived more than six months.

The young man, not yet 30, would eventually shoot himself in the chest in the front doorway of his mother’s house. A few days later I was a pallbearer at his funeral. A week or so after his funeral, the young woman, not yet 40, would drink a bottle of windshield wiper fluid after being released from detox and never return from the coma it drove her into. I served as a pallbearer at her funeral as well.  For reasons that made absolutely no sense, both had lost the one thing I was and am still able to find in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: HOPE.

It was at the young man’s funeral that my sponsor (who also sponsored the now deceased younger man) first said to me, after I asked the questions why and what could we have done differently: “Don’t try to understand an irrational act with a rational mind, Greg. If you stick around long enough, you’ll see that some of us have to die so the rest of us can stay sober.”

Another one of those disheartening clichés that is so true as to become axiomatic. Some have to die so others can stay sober. If you stick around long enough you do begin to see it. And you become convinced that relapse is a means to one end or another.