Tag Archives: sponsor

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.

Advertisements

Risky Business


It’s almost midnight on a Friday night, and I’m trying to read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity for the 10th time (never seem to make it past chapter 5, and philosophy was one of my majors in college) when I sense a flash from the iPhone carefully balanced on the armrest of my chair. (Yes, it’s become my electronic limb, and I suffer phantom vibrations in its absence. No, really, I do. I feel vibrations in my upper left quadriceps even when the little black box isn’t in my pants pocket.) Anyway, the screen signals a private message sent on Facebook. Yippee!!! Where I’m at in my personal biography (note that I didn’t say, “At my age”), any message sent shortly before or after midnight rarely heralds good news.

This one doesn’t disappoint. The message is riddled from start to finish with F-Bombs targeting me and everyone associated with a particular program of recovery, especially people with double-digit sobriety. The message is from a man who used to frequent some of the same meetings I still frequent and which he, obviously, doesn’t anymore. He begins by saying he’d read one of my recent blog posts about recovery and, to summarize, wants me to know how very “full of shit” we all are, that the people around the tables who criticized him for taking his prescribed medications nearly killed him (and many others) with their “bullshit, AA-PhD advice.”

He admits early on in our exchange that he’s drinking (at that very moment) and enjoying it. But tonight, even that doesn’t diminish his credibility with me. I know, for a fact, he has a truly valid and potentially lethal gripe. He further confesses he’s on a personal mission to destroy AA and everything associated with it so the expletive, expletive, expletives in the rooms that damn near killed him can’t harm anyone else.

My first instinct is to “de-friend” him or simply block his messages. Instead, I decide to see if I’ve grown up enough to respond in a way that will calm him down without becoming incensed myself. I begin by reminding him that I don’t represent AA or any other program of recovery, that I represent only my personal experience, and that my experience has always been to ignore people who’s advice is contrary to what’s in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (a.k.a. Big Book). There, it clearly states that we are not doctors or spiritual leaders:

Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization. Neither does A.A. take any particular medical point of view, though we cooperate widely with the men of medicine as well as with the men of religion.

Alcoholics Anonymous, Second Edition Foreword

And,

God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons. … Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward.

Alcoholics Anonymous, 133

No one, no matter their length of sobriety, should be telling anyone in the context of recovery what to do regarding their medications, especially not a man who is clinically diagnosed with severe depression.

Unfortunately, my friend isn’t having any of it. His F-Bomb-ridden diatribe goes on for some time, until the only thing left for me to do is invite him to join me at a meeting over the weekend to see if he can’t navigate a different path within the rooms that have saved my life and done so much to make the lives of so many others worth living. The invitation—fortunately or unfortunately—ends our exchange.

The following morning, while I’m scanning some of the recovery blogs I check out when time permits, I come across a disturbing post titled, I Quit, which includes the opening sentence, “Not sobriety. AA. I’m an AA drop-out” (novodkaformama.wordpress.com). Apparently the author is at odds with her sponsor over the 8th and 9th steps. She admits she refuses to acknowledge the need to make any amends beyond the living amends she is making to her husband, her kids, her family, and her friends. Her sponsor feels she’s unwilling to go to any lengths for her sobriety because she isn’t willing to extend the list (I presume). Why this means the end of her relationship with her sponsor and why the termination of her relationship with her sponsor means she has to drop out of AA isn’t entirely clear. But again, it doesn’t matter. I know from experience that it happens … all too often.

Clearly, she is working the 9th step with those “to whom [she is] willing to make amends” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 76).  As time passes and her recovery deepens, her willingness may extend to more people, places, and institutions … or not. Either way, allowing people to drop out or slip away because they don’t conform to “our way” of practicing the steps is absolutely contrary to the solution as I’ve learned it … from the Big Book: “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little” (164).

Sponsorship is clearly serious, and often risky, business. I’ve been taught from Day #1 that all I have is my own experience, strength, and hope as it relates to my recovery. I sponsor eight men with varying lengths of sobriety, from one who clearly is not yet sober to another who has nearly as much time sober as I do … and all points in between. Do I refuse to sponsor the man who continues to show up drunk after brief periods of sobriety? No. I continue to work Step 1 with him because he continues to show a desire to stop drinking, the only requirement for membership in our program. Thank God I learned that from the people who continued to work with me during the seven-plus years I bounced in and out of the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous with little more than a desire to stop drinking and oftentimes less than a day of sobriety. Had those patient, loving, and tolerant souls written me off because I “didn’t get it” or “do it” their way right away, you’d be reading a different blogger right now.

Every Sunday before our home group meeting, the men I sponsor and I gather to set up the meeting and then discuss the steps and traditions. Our meeting-before-the-meeting often includes discussions (but only in the context of the steps and traditions) that might be described as spiritual, medical, psychological, political, financial, marital, and as often as not, controversial. I‘ve had medical, legal, and financial problems in my day; I’ve also walked through divorce once as an untreated alcoholic and once as a recovering alcoholic. Nonetheless, I would never play doctor, lawyer, or financial planner with any one of these men, and the closest thing I provide to advice regarding marriage or divorce is the phone number of the counselor or the lawyer I used when I found myself in similar circumstances. That doesn’t mean we don’t talk at length about what I went through or what they’re currently going through on a daily basis; it does mean, however, that our discussions are framed by the steps and how the steps guided me and may guide them through their decisions and their actions.

The suggestions I share with the men I sponsor, like the suggestions I receive from my own sponsor, are never construed as proscriptions, much less ultimatums. In the end, we all make our own decisions on how to behave just as we make a choice every day on whether or not to drink. One can only hope that by working Step 11, both the advice we give and the actions we take are humbly and divinely guided by a power greater than ourselves.

Empathy: A Necessary Ingredient


This post first appeared on Sobriety Junkie at reneweveryday.com

A friend recently told me that I lack empathy. She also hinted that, since I am male, the problem might be endemic, if not incurable. In the old days, and certainly during my drinking days, such a comment would have prompted me to become defensive at best, abusive at my worst.

Not so today. Today, the comment simply prompted me to take stock.

I’ve spent most of my adult life writing, editing, studying, and teaching the English language, so the word “empathy” isn’t foreign to me. At the outset, however, I struggled to understand how my actions communicated a lack of empathy. So, like any good high school student asked to understand an abstraction, I clicked over to Dictionary.com and re-read the definition of the word empathy: “The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

Concerning the matter at hand—the particulars of which really and truly are not relevant here—I was guilty as charged. As a 50-something American male born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, there was no way in hell I was going to intellectually identify with or vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of a 40-something American female. She was absolutely right; I didn’t get it. So, I promptly went to work making amends.  After numerous text messages, two hours Christmas shopping, and a promise to cook dinner on Saturday night, the air between us was—if not clear— at least less cloudy. We both agreed, in the end, it was not difficult to understand why I am twice divorced and living alone.

I can joke about the matter now, but at the time, the criticism hit particularly hard. Not because it so accurately characterizes my long-term inability to live well with others, but rather because empathy is the very word I associate with the people I admire most in sobriety: Men like my sponsor and his cronies, men who—whatever character defects they may still endure and find it necessary to work on—never, ever fail to have empathy for the still suffering alcoholic.

And by still suffering, I don’t necessarily mean those alcoholics who have not yet found a path to recovery. More often than not, I mean those alcoholics who suffer before our very eyes. In many cases, the still suffering alcoholics are those who come in and out of meetings on a consistently irregular basis and never manage to embrace the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at their feet. They are close at hand, yet very far away.

These are the people for whom I cannot fail to have empathy—as distinct from shallow pity or even sympathy. I can’t help but feel their pain because I have had their experience and know what a horrible and frustrating journey they’re on. For the first seven years that I came around the tables, I was just as likely to leave a meeting and drink as I was to go home and call my sponsor or read the Big Book. Surrender simply wasn’t in the cards, though I’d already endured a healthy dose of desperation.

Alcoholics slip away from sobriety long before they have a slip. The warning signs of an alcoholic’s imminent departure from the fellowship are all too easy to identify and equally easy to ignore or rationalize away. In my early attempts at sobriety, whenever I felt the need to change my regular meeting schedule, to ditch or upgrade my sponsor, to read anything rather than read the Big Book, or to find fault with the steps, I was clearly headed for a relapse. This pattern played itself out the same way at nearly 3 years of sobriety as it did at 3 weeks. I simply decided I could not surrender my liberty to drink no matter how good my life had become and no matter how much I loved the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In recent months, I’ve watched more than a handful of people gradually fade away from the program only to drink and then return to meetings, drink and return, drink and return, and drink and return yet again, just as I had done so many years ago. In the even sadder cases, I’ve spoken to those alcoholics who leave the program to drink and report back how wonderful their lives are despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary—evidence so overwhelming they don’t even need a forest or its trees.

It troubles me most, however, when I hear those who are fortunate enough to stay sober boldly judge those who have left. “He wasn’t working a program anyway,” some say, or, “She found her new higher power—a boyfriend who tells her she isn’t alcoholic because he’s a drunk himself.” I’ve heard more; I’ve heard worse. What I don’t hear often enough is, “I pray they make it back. So many don’t.”  I know from my own experience that it was only a matter of one or two drunks before I began longing for the experience, strength, and hope of those I’d left behind in the program. I also know that it was foolish pride and fear of judgment that kept me from coming back sooner than I did. Luckily when pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization destroyed me, I was welcomed back unconditionally by those whose empathy for the still suffering alcoholic never wavers … and the naysayers wisely kept their distance.

Every year around my sobriety birthday my sponsor and I meet for dinner to assess the year gone by and to map out goals for the year to come. Almost every year, he reminds me that the longer we stay sober, the narrower the path becomes and that no matter how secure we may feel, we’re still alcoholics with alcoholic minds that are always plotting ways to escape Alcoholics Anonymous. Without a spiritual defense and a daily reprieve, I’m just as likely to leave the path and drink as I am to stay on it. Passing judgment on, or failing to have empathy for, the still suffering alcoholic isn’t likely to fortify my spiritual defense.

I’ve been around long enough to know there isn’t much I can do for an alcoholic who chooses to leave Alcoholics Anonymous and do what we do best and most naturally—which is to drink and to drink with a passion. The risk for newcomers is particularly high at this time of year when so many of us would like to believe once more that we are not mentally or physically different from our fellows, that things surely will be different this time. And for a time, probably a short time, things might be different. But if they are alcoholics of my type, they’ll quickly experience the progressive reality of our disease, and things will ultimately get much worse. I only hope that if and when they return, I can be there to greet them with empathy and neither ignore my own past nor close the door on it.

A Sponsor’s Guide


This post first appeared in August 2012 on Sobriety Junkie at reneweveryday.com.

Every now and then I have what seems an intelligent notion. This Tuesday evening may have been one of those now-and-thens.

Every Tuesday at 6 PM, I attend a meeting that is a combination Big Book study and meditation group. This Tuesday was special in a number of ways. After the usual meeting protocol (steps, traditions, etc.), the chairperson asked if there were any sobriety birthdays. My sponsor announced that he had celebrated 32 years the day before, on the 20th, and one of the men I sponsor then announced that he’d celebrated one year on Sunday, the 19th.

I couldn’t help but reflect on sponsorship for a moment after that. I tend to fret a lot about whether I do right by the men who have asked me to help them work their way through sobriety one day at a time. (In fact, the only thing I fret about more is whether I do right by the children I’m trying to raise.)

I know that my only real job as a sponsor is to walk my sponsees through the steps as outlined in our basic text. I know that they can always up and find themselves another sponsor if they don’t feel like they’re getting what they need from me. I also know that I have a very experienced and competent sponsor myself who can guide me through most any situation I might encounter as someone else’s sponsor. Still, with all of that knowledge and assurance at my fingertips, I often find myself wishing there were a handy little guidebook (GSO approved, of course) about what to do and what not to do as someone’s sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Every Tuesday evening at around 6:50, the chairperson leads our group into meditation. Those of us who founded the meeting agreed a long time ago that the chairperson would lead the group into meditation by reading, slowly and clearly, all the elements of the Prayer of Saint Francis (a.k.a. the 11th Step Prayer).

Tuesday night was no different, and it was during the recitation of that prayer as we went into meditation that it hit me–my now-and-then a great notion: This, the Prayer of Saint Francis, is exactly the step-by-step guide to sponsorship that I had been looking for. And so, here it is, for all to ponder. Let me know if you agree:

Prayer of Saint Francis

This is the version found in Chapter 11 (Page 99) of the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions“, a book published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;

that where there is hatred, I may bring love;

that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;

that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;

that where there is error, I may bring truth;

that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;

that where there is despair, I may bring hope;

that where there are shadows, I may bring light;

that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;

to understand, than to be understood;

to love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Amen.

More Than a Sufficient Substitute


For years now, I’ve listened to people in meetings describe our program as “a sufficient substitute.” I presume they mean a sufficient substitute for their drinking. And, I suppose, at its most fundamental and basic level, that’s an accurate description. But today, I find it hard to characterize our program as little more than a “sufficient substitute” because, for me, it is so much more.

On Friday, February 10, 2012, I found myself stuck (and heartbroken) at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. I had flown there the day before on our company plane with colleagues for meetings at our offices in Manhattan. We were due to leave from Teterboro at 4:00 pm that Friday and arrive 2 1/2 hours later in Des Moines, Iowa at 5:30 pm–in plenty of time, I had hoped, for me to attend the annual Daddy-Daughter Dance my 9-year-old daughter, Grace, and I have attended each year since she was 6. When we arrived at Teterboro that Friday afternoon for our return flight, however, we were told the company Leer had a hydraulic leak and that our only commercial options were flights leaving from Newark Airport and LaGuardia, the earliest of which would land us in Des Moines at 9:05 pm, exactly 5 minutes after the conclusion of the Daddy-Daughter Dance.

This was not an earth shattering event but one that prompted in me a dream-like desire to somehow circumvent the impossible. There had to be a way, I thought, to make it from Point A to Point B, from Teterboro to Des Moines, by 7:00 pm Central Standard Time. There simply had to be a way. The answer, the critical solution, just hadn’t presented itself to me yet. It was on the tip of my tongue, so to speak, but I couldn’t coax it out, right? There had to be an answer, an option, but what the hell was it? What was I failing to see, remember, consider? What …

I stood there in the lobby of Teterboro for a number of long minutes, oblivious to the conversations going on around me. I stood there in a circle with my colleagues who were carrying on multiple conversations that sounded like they were taking place in another room I was so completely obsessed with inventing a way to circumvent the impossible, when, of course, there wasn’t one.

For two weeks in advance of my trip, I’d feared the possibility of my not making it back in time for the start of the dance.  Who could count on leaving the New York Metro area on a plane–private or commercial–on time on any given Friday afternoon? Luckily, on Monday of that week, I’d had the presence of mind to concoct a plan B. I’d enlisted my daughter’s godfather–a close friend and a man I sponsor–to be ready and waiting for my call on Friday afternoon to confirm whether I’d actually land in Des Moines on time. If it looked like I were to be the least bit late–first for our ritual dinner with three of my daughter’s friends and their Dads at Biaggi’s restaurant on University at 6:00 pm or for the dance itself at 7:00 pm– Uncle Tom, as he’s affectionately known, was to suit up and show up as Grace’s “sufficient substitute.” The thought that I might miss not only the dinner but the entire dance, of course, had never occurred to me at all. Being late would be unfortunate, but the idea of being entirely absent was unfathomable.

Eventually I came to and realized this was the cold hard fact of the matter–I would arrive at Point B that evening moments after the main event had ended. So I began making the requisite phone calls. First, to my ex-wife and her mother, who, at that moment, would be helping my daughter primp and dress for the big event, and then to my daughter’s godfather who would have to step in and do what godfathers are “hired” to do: Play the role of father when necessary and in the father’s absence. To make matters even worse, none of them actually answered their phones, forcing me to leave messages and to wonder if those messages would be received soon enough to put our back up plans effectively in place.

At some point, one of my co-workers and I hoped in a cab and headed for Newark Airport where we’d hop on a plane that would depart at the same time the dance was due to begin and land in Des Moines only moments after the dance would end. Before we actually made it to Newark, my ex-wife called my cell. She’d already broken the news to my daughter who, when she eventually got on the phone, was unable to do anything but whimper and mumble through tears over her daddy’s inability to make it home in time for either the dinner or the dance. The sound of her voice sent me into a sad, gut-wrenching spiral that eventually inspired me to post the following lame video as a feeble attempt at an apology before actually leaving Newark and arriving in Des Moines.

I cannot sleep on planes, no matter what kind of plane, no matter what time of day. Instead, I either read or feign sleep and meditate. I’ve traveled enough to respect other people’s space in flight and rarely engage in conversation unless my seat-assigned fellow wanderer absolutely insists on a little small talk to pass the time.

That night, on the flight from Newark to Des Moines, I sat at the very back of the plane due to my last-minute booking. And thankfully so.  During those two short hours I was able to experience fully a sense of gratitude rather than merely wallow in self-pity over my not-so-surprising dilemma and the disappointment it engendered.  Given my rather raucous youth and the exceptionally reckless nature of my lifestyle before sobriety, I reminded myself once again that I was lucky to be alive, let alone free and gainfully employed. At the tender age of 52 and 13 years sober, I realized I was damn lucky to have children at all, let alone a 9-year-old daughter who was heartbroken her father with two left feet would not be able to accompany her to the Daddy-Daughter Dance that night.  And though divorced, I realized once again I was lucky to have a good enough relationship with my children’s mother, whom I had met in sobriety, that I could count on her to explain to my daughter that I would be as pained and disappointed by the circumstances as she was–rather than a vengeful Ex who would seize the opportunity to trash her former spouse.  And I realized if it weren’t for the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, I might not have had a reliable friend I could call and count on to make every effort in his power to help Grace make the best of an unfortunate situation. And from that point on, I realized once again, as I so often do, that almost all of the good things that have happened in my life have only happened in the absence of alcohol and that Alcoholics Anonymous is the only remedy that has made that possible in my adult life. That, my friends, strikes me as far more than a sufficient substitute.

And there’s more, as there so often is once we’re able to look beyond ourselves and our most immediate loved ones. Once I landed (promptly at 9:05 pm), I called Uncle Tom and Grace, who were just leaving the dance, and suggested we all meet at Maggie Moo’s Ice Cream parlor, a place the kids and I were known to frequent as regulars. And as I drove there, I was reminded that my friend and Grace’s godfather, Tom, had never married and, though close to my age, had never been blessed with children of his own (though he has always fawned over my kids as though they were his own).  And so, if not for my own misfortune this one year (and God willing, Grace and I will have at least 3 more Daddy-Daughter dances to attend), Uncle Tom might never have had the opportunity to dress up in his finest suit and take one of the most naturally grateful little girls in the world to that place where every little girl is always the Belle of the Ball, no matter who accompanies her. When I shared that thought with both Tom and Grace moments later over ice cream, it seemed to bring a smile to everyone’s face and, without a word being spoken between us, reminded Tom and me both how truly blessed we are to possess a means to a life that is far more than a sufficient substitute for the lives we once led.

Uncle Tom and Grace at the Daddy-Daughter Dance 2012

There Is a Solution, Part II


Back on February 24, 2010, I wrote the following paragraph in a post titled “Emotional Pain: A Source of Hope, A Prompt to Love.” To this day, that paragraph offers as much solution as I can muster from my own experience in sobriety (and I’m committed to sharing only my experience):

“As my current marriage inches closer and closer to its own end, I hope to draw some valuable lessons from the losses I’ve both experienced and witnessed these past 50 years. First and foremost, I hope to wake each morning with a firm commitment to ‘trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.’ If past experience has taught me anything, it’s that a failure to rise up and DO is a sure-fire prescription for emotional suicide. I continue to wake each morning at 5 so I have time to meditate and hit the gym before I leave for work at 8. I endeavor each day to leave my emotional issues at home to the best of my ability and commit my focus to work while I’m there. I continue to play, read, laugh, and work with my kids in all the ways they’ve come to expect—as much for my sanity as their protection. And, I hope, to the best of my ability, I continue to respect, and maintain an appropriate level of civility with, my wife, whom I still count as a great friend. None of these efforts is perfect nor do I perform them in absence of that often gut-wrenching pain that accompanies impending loss. I’m not always fun, and I’m not always patient. But I force myself to try to be when I recognize I’m not. I’m far from perfectly civil or perfectly respectful; I’m just as capable of anger and resentment as ever. But any time anger wells up, I try like hell to squelch it (or call my sponsor), knowing full well if I indulge it, I’m the only one who is likely to suffer. I am way beyond those days when I could unleash my own wrath and enjoy it or walk away from it without consequence. Another sign of hope, I think.”

I’m not normally prone to depression … not in the absence of alcohol anyway. But these past 18 months, I’ve woke more than once with little or no desire to “trudge the happy road.” I hadn’t experienced that kind of debilitating malaise (the kind that straps you down and makes getting out of bed seem monumental) for well over 10 years. During the divorce, however, I woke many mornings feeling this way. I would often lie in bed after the alarm went off and play the “maybe-I-don’t-need-to” game. “Maybe I don’t need to meditate today; if I don’t, I can get an extra hour of much-needed sleep.” Bullshit! “Maybe I don’t need to go to the gym this morning; I’ll head to work early and squeeze the workout in at the end of the day.” Bullshit! End of day workouts haven’t “worked out” for me for years. If you’ve had a morning routine that works in sobriety and you find yourself playing the maybe-I-don’t-need-to game during tough times, start playing the NO BULLSHIT game instead. I learned to will myself out of bed and mindlessly back into my routines. They had worked for me in good times for a reason, a reason I didn’t need to understand. I just needed to learn to wake up willing to DO and not question. It’s no different than willing myself to a meeting. I don’t know why meetings work for me. They just do. They work their magic in spite of me, so I mindlessly will myself to meetings on a regular basis.

Some mornings I’d wake up suffering the Great Ache, that low-level ache in the gut that, left untended, could make me nervous and even nauseous with the realization that soon I’d be divorced, soon the kids wouldn’t be in the house with me every morning, soon my life would be a life I no longer recognized as my own. Again, my antidote to the Great Ache was, and still is, the same as my antidote to the maybe-I-don’t-need-to game: Get up fast and DO, do something. Once I’d willed myself out of bed, I’d will myself to meditate. Often times my meditations were worthless, my mind wandering or obsessing, my body failing to relax. Didn’t matter. Going through the motions of prayer and meditation, however mindlessly, was far more effective than staying in bed spinning yarns in my head and nurturing aches in my gut.

Once I’d made it through meditation, getting to the gym was much easier. I was awake and actually hungry for the energy I knew the workout would give me. By the time I shaved and showered, I was ready to be away for the day–somewhere I could give myself a mental and emotional vacation from the heartache. Work, golf, a trip to the park or grocery store with the kids, any of the simple activities that used to weigh me down in my drinking days, proved to be the best antidote to fear of the unknown in those final months before the marriage ended. Finally, as I have for the past 12 years, I hit 4 or more meetings a week and kept current with both my own sponsor and the guys I sponsor. Nothing has done more to insure my sobriety and my sanity than “intensive work with other alcoholics.” Nothing ever has; nothing ever will.

I don’t mean to suggest that doing what I’ve always done to stay sober made divorce any easier or less painful. Only that it did make the process more tolerable. And I certainly don’t mean to suggest for a moment that I “have” the solution. I only wish to remind all of us that there is one. It’s in our basic text, “Alcoholics Anonymous.” (Which reminds me of something I’ve heard Johnny H. from California say almost every time I’ve heard him speak: “If you want to hide something from an AA member, stick it in his Big Book,” implying most of us don’t spend nearly enough time in the book.)

So, the circumstances and challenges life throws at us may change (and certainly are likely to continue to change), but the solution doesn’t seem to waver much from its path. We’re handed a simple kit of spiritual tools when we arrive at AA. All we really have to do is will ourselves to pick it up.

Not A Glum Lot


“We have been speaking to you of serious, sometimes tragic things. We have been dealing with alcohol in its worst aspect. But we aren’t a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life” (“The Family Afterward,” Alcoholics Anonymous, 132).

gkayko

I’m certain I’ve read or heard that passage at least a thousand times since the day I walked into Alcoholics Anonymous. Tonight, however, is the first time I’ve paid attention to the fact that it appears in “The Family Afterward.” Makes sense, I suppose. The family usually bares the brunt of the “serious and sometimes tragic things” that happen when an alcoholic inhabits the home, so it only makes sense that the family be the primary recipient of the joy that often attaches itself to recovery.

But no family should be duped into believing that just because their alcoholic gets sober life’s going to suddenly roll over and be a bowl of cherries. That seems an obvious caution, I’m sure, yet I’ve sponsored more than one man whose wife came to me days, weeks, months, even years after their spouses sobered up to complain that things had gotten worse, not better. Unfortunately, some couples find that, sans alcohol, they’re really not all that compatible. They hooked up because they liked to party together, one partners drinking overwhelmed them and became a problem, yet sobriety made both partners realize the only thing they had in common was the partying before the party finally got out of control. In other cases, the sober party starts off all gung-ho about the 12-steps only to decide that they need little more than an occasional meeting to stay dry, and with that philosophy leading the way, they get dry and miserable as hell and drag everyone down with them. Or, as in my case, two sober members of AA seem to do fairly well together until drinking becomes a priority in one of the partner’s lives again, and the sober partner no longer seems that attractive. The sober partner is not necessarily boring and glum; they’re just not interested in finding fun in the places where they were once reduced to incomprehensible demoralization—the very places the other partner now values again.

So be it. As I look at the photos and videos from this past summer, such as the videos that open and close tonight’s blog, I realize what fun we did have this summer, we had as a family. Usually simple, often silly, but fun nonetheless … fun with no melodrama attached. None of this would have been possible from my perspective without Alcoholics Anonymous, a sponsor, and a God of my understanding. If those three elements and alcohol were absent from my life, I’m certain I would have spent the summer morosely resenting my spouse and plotting ways to seek compensation for what I might deem her failure to show up to the marriage. As it is, I’m willing to accept the things I cannot change and to seek ways to change the things I can. It is not an ideal situation, but every time I begin to think of ways to exact unnatural changes, I realize I’m not the one who wants to change our circumstances, that the one who is working through a difficult set of emotions and valuations is not me but my wife who isn’t sure she loves me and isn’t sure she wants to be in the marriage anymore. I can’t force her to return to counseling; she’s gone with me twice and clearly stated she has no interest in going again. When asked what she wants to do, she repeatedly says, and I believe her, “She doesn’t know.” Immature? Yes. But her reality nonetheless. And I can’t change it.

But while we’re together, I can try to put the best possible game face on for my children and anyone else who happens to be around. Trust me, that doesn’t come natural to this alcoholic. That comes due to a lot of prayer, meditation, and sponsor direction. My will would take me straight to a lawyer and as vengeful a divorce as I could muster. But that only removes any hope for all concerned and leaves lasting scars on two beautiful little kids who tell us far too often how much they love their “family.” It is the family afterward that benefits most from sobriety, and those who are in a period of joy in their family life should cherish it. Cherish it now because life happens—the good and the bad—and at some point it happens to everyone. Just because we’re sober doesn’t mean we don’t have to face life’s trials and natural tribulations just like everyone else. It just means that, if we continue to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools placed at our feet, we have a better chance of dealing with life like adults and without alcohol.