The Regmaker magazine, often called a “meeting in print”, publishes articles that reflect the full diversity of experience and opinion found within the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA members have been submitting their personal stories, their sorrows and joys, their ups and downs and in betweens to the Regmaker for many years. The Regmaker is your magazine and nearly half of every issue is written by AA members who have never written before.
TAKE THE FIRST STEP
When I took Step one the first time in a rehabilitation centre, I was asked to narrate four situations in length that described how my life had become unmanageable. I described facts which, when objectively looked at by an innocent bystander, shouted "out of control" and "unmanageable".
Years later my sponsor gave me an article to read. This completely changed my understanding of and the way I look at step one. Step one, read in the first person, says: "I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable". It does not say that my work, finances and my relationships had become unmanageable. No it says "MY LIFE".
I came to the realisation that the test for "manageable" is a subjective test which applies to the "inner self". I could no longer manage my own life because I had reached a state where I could no longer help myself. I had reached the proverbial "rock bottom". That is why we find in the rooms many people who still have their families, jobs, and wealth at the time that they embark on the journey of the 12 Steps.
I was not out on the streets when I entered the rooms either. My family still put up with me in the same house although this had become a great burden to them. The point is that I could not help myself and nor could they.
I had hit rock bottom when I realised that I could no longer depend on myself, and that I needed help. I needed it desperately. Alcohol had become my master. It dictated my every thought. It dictated my very next move. Whether it was pouring a drink or making plans to buy alcohol or how to get it into the house without being caught out, or finding a new place to hide my purchase. Everything I did and every thought that entered my mind was about alcohol.
I had crossed the imaginary line. Although I did not comprehend this at the time, I knew I was defeated. I was the victim of a mental obsession so great that to this day the medical science has been unable to find a drug to cure or even manage it.
Once I admitted my powerlessness and my inability to manage my own life, I continued with the rest of the 12 Steps with the help of a dedicated sponsor. I was amazed before I was half way through. For my mental obsession with alcohol was lifted. I was no longer being haunted by constant thoughts of alcohol. But my "life" was still the same. Inside I felt "empty". I did not know how to live life on life's terms. I was still finding comfort by remaining in the shadows. When I ventured out into the world, dark clouds of painful shame immediately descended upon me. I could not see a ray of sunshine anywhere. This is why completing the 12 Steps is so important my dear reader. This is why I want you to discover the miracle for yourself. Because as I proceeded with the steps, the promises of the Big Book started to unfold for me. Gradually as I faced the real me for the first time and "cleaned house", the debris of guilt, shame and estrangement was removed.
I discovered for the first time in my life a sense of inner calm and peace. I learned later that what had happened to me was that I had
a spiritual experience. I had found God. God was inside me and the void was filled. My life had become manageable again. And people "on the outside" was starting to remark on it. For now that "my life on the inside" was manageable, it looked manageable on the outside too. The symptoms of a spiritual malady had vanished. And that is the purpose of our precious Big Book: that one should find God. A God of one's own understanding. But the "Twelve Steps" is a journey that never ends if I want to remain a recovered alcoholic one day at a time.
And for the person who, for today is a recovered alcoholic, one of the most important sentences in the Big Book is that "the alcoholic is like the man who has lost both his legs, they can never grow back". Whether today you have six months of sobriety or sixty years of sobriety behind you, a relapse is only "12 Steps" away. One lady said it so apt one night: "It is a program from which we can never retire".
Everything worthwhile takes work. My sobriety is no different. I do the work and let God do the rest. I have to trust my Director, for self-reliance led me to lose of myself. A.A. led me to the God of my understanding. The God of my understanding gave me back "my life". Today I no longer walk on the dark side of the street. I bask in the sunlight on the other side of the street. My miracle began when I took the first step...
NO LONGER AFRAID
I used to be afraid of anything and everybody. Dogs. Heights. My boss. My girlfriend. The neighbours. The whole village in fact. You see, I had told myself that there are certain things that I have to do and others that I shouldn’t even dream of doing. So all the time I was afraid I was going to do the most shameful and degrading things. I lived in constant fear. But I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was that I was afraid of. I had this general uneasiness. Anxiety, I think they call it. I firmly believed that something was bound to go wrong and I would blamed for it.
The only time this anxiety disappeared was when I had a few good ones behind my belt. Then I became fearless. I was in charge. I became inspired. I talked. But boy! Did I talk! Come tomorrow there I was trembling and wishing that I could disappear. Ashamed. Ashamed because there was no doubt in my mind that I must have done or said something despicable. How can you be unafraid? Especially when THEY look at you the way they do. As though they are secretly playing back a video of all that you said and did last night.
Then somebody in the fellowship told me that she wasn’t afraid of anything. That - I believed to be a lie. How can you be unafraid when this world is so full of them, - yes them. Those who look daggers at you. Those who give you the “we-know-all-about-you” look. Those who smile pityingly. “Poor guy. He’s lost his wife, job, car and house. The only things he owns are the shoes he’s wearing.” You know, THEM. This friend of mine explained to me that she can’t
be afraid because God is in charge of her life. Moreover, God didn’t create her to torture, harass and generally make life unpleasant for her. So why should she be unduly worried? In any case, things always happen the way they are meant to happen. And in fact, accepting this basic fact is not a sign of weakness. It is actually good, practical common sense.
Since joining the fellowship, whenever something scares or even threatens to scare me, I tell somebody immediately. This takes a lot of weight off my shoulders. I sincerely believe we were not made to carry all the problems of the world. Telling somebody helps me because I know now that there are at least four eyes that are watching this monster that is threatening to destroy me with fire and brimstone that gushes out of its gigantic nose. Actually, the monster is usually an unpaid traffic ticket or the fact that I owe two month’s rent. As soon as I tell one of my friends, the problem assumes human dimensions and the monster disappears. Lots of people have unpaid or overdue traffic tickets and some people owe more than four month’s rent.
I am no longer afraid of shadows. If I’m scared, I tell somebody and they explain to me that it is only a shadow. I no longer sit around and sweat blood over imaginary anxieties.
One of the first basic things newcomers are asked to do when they come into A.A. is to find a sponsor. This may seem to be a big stumbling block. What is a sponsor? Who – amongst this bunch of strangers who all look so happy and together – would possible agree to sponsor ME? What do I do if he or she says no… and if he or she says YES, what are they going to make me do? Will it be difficult… will I have to write a test of some kind?
Personally, I was afraid to ask anyone outright to be my sponsor until I was quite a way into the program. I lived with a friend who was two years sober in A.A. and she was my sounding board and unofficial “shoulder to cry on”. I just kept going to meetings (one a week), and for a few years stayed sober like that, and it seemed to be enough.
Now the pink cloud days are over and life is still difficult. When I speak to my sponsor, I usually already know the answers before I ask the questions. I just need to verbalise my difficulties and I get back a confirmation of what I had suspected all along.
I understand now, from literature, that a sponsor’s main objective is to guide the sponsee through the 12 Steps, keep in contact, make sure the sponsee knows the importance of going to as many meetings as possible and just to BE AVAILABLE.
My early efforts (before I knew all these things) with my first sponsee were disappointing. She did all the talking and had her own agenda from the start. I think I probably failed her because I was
not specific enough in what she really needed to do to stay happily sober. She is still out there, who knows where, but I hope that somehow the message was passed. I thought the role of a sponsor was to be sympathetic, to listen and commiserate and never put my foot down to make her realise that alcoholism is a life or death issue.
It was a long time before I was asked again. I have also discovered the difference between Twelfth Stepping and sponsorship. Twelfth Stepping was not difficult, I just told the still suffering alcoholic my life story, told the person where the meetings were, how important it was to attend them, and then I hoped they would show up.
Sponsorship is a huge and ongoing responsibility. I have had three fairly successful experiences up until today. I discovered the importance of anonymity and absolute confidentiality. A sponsee must feel that she can lay bare her very life and inner feelings. Very often to someone she hardly knows (in the beginning), without fear or favour. Things she would not dream of telling family members closest to her. That is the function, I think, I as a sponsor must primarily fulfil… an honest alcoholic, who has walked the path to sobriety before, and made the way ready for those who come after.
I have a sponsee who has outgrown me, and this is a source of some pride to me and does not give me a feeling of failure. Not only has she grown immeasurably in her sobriety, she has moved on, after having shown me also a better way to a happy quality of life. This is the strange (and maybe not so strange) lesson implicit in the act of sponsorship – we say that we cannot keep it until we give it away, and what better way to give it away than through sponsorship?
My first sponsee came to me having done, with the utmost thoroughness, not only Step One, Two and Three, but an extremely extensive Step Four. I was confronted with pages and pages of shortcomings, who had been hurt and how. I was amazed. With me, she proceeded to do her Step Five. She knew exactly what she wanted from me and how to do the work. This was a huge lesson for me. I sometimes had to wonder, “Who is the sponsor and who the sponsee here?”
Only after I began to be involved in sponsorship did I begin to go to the Big Book meetings. I realised the importance of Twelve Step meetings. My sobriety deepened with every meeting with a sponsee. I began to understand how through giving of myself I gained for myself.
Yes, this alcoholism is a life or death business. It is a deadly serious business. Real, quality recovery requires work and participation. This is what a sponsor should impress upon the sponsee. It is more than just attending meetings and reading the Big Book. So much more. It is my responsibility as a sponsor, to bring the sponsee to the realisation that with the help of the Twelve Steps, this is the road to hope, serenity, recovery and happiness.
Life still happens. Life is not for sissies and A.A. does not subscribe to the idea of an easy life. But there is help, help to discover the Higher Power in our lives and the road to a new freedom.
Sponsorship can also be heartbreaking. Some sponsees are just not ready, don’t want sobriety badly enough to do the work, still hold on to their own ways to manage their illness. We can only “lead the horse to water”, we cannot make the horse drink. But sponsorship, when it becomes the two way street between two loving and committed alcoholics, can be an experience of soaring happiness for both sponsee and sponsor.
Sponsor someone. Try it. You will be amazed at the results!