M(3),1/25/16: Because Sometimes Your Brain Needs a Good Washing
Up until about 30 minutes before the start of my meeting, I assumed a snow day was in effect. Having just weathered a blizzard 48 hours ago, I concluded there was no way the parking lot of the building had been plowed, and I started to craft an alternate post in my head.
Which, I need to write this down now so I commit myself: I will get back to writing that post. I swore I’d pen more posts this year, and I’m slow to fulfilling this promise. Yet since my WOTY is calm, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
Here is some pictorial evidence of our the blizzard, as documented by my daughter and featuring our dog Dimple:
When I received the text that the parking lot had been plowed, I have to admit to a pang of disappointment… now I had to get out of my pajamas! Why I would ever begrudge attending something that always makes me feel better than when I started I do not understand, but there you have it.
Today was the first entrance of the new book I have introduced into the literature rotation. It is Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The book is a collection of articles from the AA magazine Grapevine that document how members use the principles of the 12 steps to improve all the different relationships in their lives. There is a chapter on pets that has me question the sanity of the publishers, but I’m keeping an open mind.
Fully anticipating sitting solo, I did not plan one iota, and was pleasantly surprised to see 9 hardy souls make their way out in this weather! Luckily, one of my favorite “regulars” has a passing acquaintance with this book and suggested a reading from the chapter on Sponsorship.
I am always happy when someone else voices an opinion on meeting subject matter, but I had a bit of apprehension on this particular subject. While everything about the 12-step program is a suggestion, and of course there are as many ways to get sober as there are sober members, conventional wisdom strongly suggests availing yourself of a sponsor as soon as possible, and maintaining that relationship throughout your recovery.
It now occurs to me that perhaps readers may not understand what I even mean by the term sponsor. From the AA pamphlet Questions and Answers on Sponsorship:
An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through A.A.
Here’s how the process of obtaining a sponsor was explained to me:
- go to meetings, listen to people
- when you hear a woman speak (sponsor/sponsee should be same sex) who seems to “have what you want,” ask her if she would be willing to take you through the 12 steps of recovery
- follow her suggestions
A little vague, I know… it was for me too! I had transitioned through a few sponsors before I found the relationship that would work in getting me through the labor of the 12 steps. That experience, documented fully in earlier blog posts, was nothing short of transformational.
Here’s where I get apprehensive: in the years since, I have, no better way to say it, fallen off the suggested path of the traditional sponsor/sponsee relationship. It has been many months since my sponsor of record and I have communicated, and even before that, our communication was more on the social side and less on the business side of recovery. A few months back I reached out to another woman, but our schedules just did not gel, and I’ve done nothing about it since.
As far at the other side of the coin, my sponsoring another, the anxiety grows: I had two attempts at sponsoring other women, and if you judge success by actually working through the 12 steps, then each attempt was not successful. Both of these experiences are at least two years old, and there has been no further attempts by me since.
Therefore, the thought of having to comment productively on the subject of sponsorship had me flummoxed. I shared very little, and opened it up to the group.
Turns out, they had quite a bit to say, thankfully. The gentleman who selected the reading believed it to be an apt description of a sponsor: one drunk helping another drunk to stay sober by showing him/her how he/she did it. A sponsor is not your friend or parent; he or she is not there to hold your hand or make you feel better. A sponsor is going to show you how the same failed logic that had you drinking problematically is present in many other areas of your life. It’s often not an enjoyable process, but it’s possibly the most rewarding experience within the 12 steps of recovery.
A second “long-timer” echoed these sentiments, and recalled fond stories of how sponsorship was done “in the old days” (for him, the 1980’s): calling sponsees “pigeons,” setting up rules and tests for the sponsee to pass before he was eligible to sponsor others, speaking in shockingly appalling manners to get their points across.
I’m not thinking I would have done so well getting sober in the 80’s.
A woman new to my meeting raised her hand and said she did not like this topic, and did not want to talk about sponsors. She compares her sponsor/sponsee relationship to those around her, and finds hers coming up short. She spoke for a bit about the different ways she believe it to be true, growing agitated as she compiled her list of grievances. As she wound down, she mentioned she had a habit of placing expectations on relationships, and speculated that perhaps this tendency was contributing to her problem. Finally, she concluded that she might try a little harder to open up more to her sponsor, and in that self-disclosure she will develop the kind of relationship she thinks she ought to have.
Listening to this woman speak, I was reminded yet again of the value in shining a light on the dark thoughts in our heads. In one share she identified, defined and solved a problem, all by opening her mouth. Miraculous.
Finally, a woman shared who is normally reticent. I think I wrote about her recently, for regular readers… she is the one who lost a friend and opened up for the first time at that meeting. I wish I could do justice to the power of her speech. It is so painfully clear how difficult this kind of sharing is to her that there is a magnetic quality to her words. At least that is my experience each of the few times she’s spoken. The part of her share that hit me right between the eyes:
A sponsor is only as helpful as the sponsee is honest
That statement brought back some painful memories. The summer before I got sober I availed myself of a sponsor, went to meetings with her, went to her house, socialized… all while continuously relapsing and refraining from telling her. Thankfully, she stuck with me through it all, and was around in my darkest hours of early recovery.
So I can attest to the truth of the statement above, and its more universal application:
a relationship is only as healthy as the people in it are honest
The last thing she mentioned… she has a skeptical nature, and early on she told her sponsor she felt like she was being brainwashed.
Her sponsor’s response: that’s right, you are, because your brain needs a good washing!
I had a regular attendee call to tell me his driveway was blocked by 3 1/2 feet of snow, and therefore he could not attend the meeting (he is an older gentleman and could not climb it safely). I told him no problem, and he said, “It is a problem, I have not missed your meeting since I got sober, and I’m distressed I have to miss it today.” Heartwarming, and a little guilt-producing, since I was hoping for a snow day!
Posted on January 25, 2016, in Monday Meeting Miracles, Recovery and tagged 12 step program, AA, AA literature, Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholism, forming true partnership, Recovery, Relationships, Sobriety, sponsor, sponsorship, Substance Abuse, Support group, Twelve-Step Program. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.