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A Sponsee's Gift

His sponsee returned the favor by teaching him how to live sober one day at a time

One of the first things I learned in AA was that when you are asked to help in the program, it should be considered a privilege. So, when Tom asked me to be his sponsor, even though it was a busy time for me, and I was actively working with several other new members, I agreed.

Tom had showed up at our noon meeting; for a while he did not say too much. Gradually, it came out that he had just moved to Syracuse, N.Y., from Washington, D.C., to be near his daughter and grandchildren. He had also recently lost his wife of over 35 years, retired after a long career in the military, and was soon to remarry—all in the first year of recovery. The changes were difficult, and it was obvious that he was feeling overwhelmed.

Professionally, Tom had done well: he had retired as a Colonel, traveled the world as an Air Force Officer, and directed some important operations. Yet, despite his military privilege and material success, a soul sickness—known to most of us toward the end of our drinking—had darkened his life. With new resolve after his relocation to Upstate N.Y., he started going to meetings daily, working the Steps, and freely sharing with our home group. As AA began to take hold in his life, his outlook brightened, and he loosened up considerably. With the first glimpse of sobriety, Tom seemed to embrace the program, and soon became an active member of the group.

Over the next year we became good friends, went to many meetings, reviewed the Steps together, and shared much. He then asked my help on preparing his Fourth Step, and we set a date for him to take Step Five. On a pleasant spring morning, we sat in our sunroom overlooking a lake, while a slight drizzle brought life to a new season. As I had done in my first year of sobriety, he poured out his heart to his Higher Power, and another alcoholic, and he felt the wonderful sense of relief that we all experience during this crucial Step on our road to recovery.

Tom revealed some long-held secrets, and exposed a number of guilt-laden experiences, and I could sense the comfort and calm this transformational step was bringing to him. He came to understand that the images of his past behavior no longer portrayed a picture of the man he was becoming in recovery. This was a liberating revelation. Toward the end of his Fourth Step, we were both moved. Tom felt a sense of freedom from guilt that often accompanies this healing action. I felt gratitude for being a part of the gift of recovery, and seeing once again the grace and strength of the program.

Tom seemed to have a lighter step after that morning. The following months were good ones for him, his new bride, and family. He became an energetic coffeemaker at our meeting and loved helping others and being with a host of program friends. His wife was an ordained minister and she became enthused about our Fellowship, and the workings of AA, encouraging Tom all the way. This helped bring Tom closer to his church and added another dimension to his unfolding recovery. He mentioned several times that the joy of living was becoming a reality in his life.

When he told me the chronic pain he had been experiencing in his leg had been diagnosed as advanced cancer, I was struck silent. Neither one of us spoke on our way to the meeting that day. Tom broke the news to our home group, and it was a time of love and sharing like I have rarely witnessed in my time in the rooms. Our group literally surrounded him, with caring, and encouragement, from then on.

I took him to meetings as often as his chemotherapy would permit; over the next six months his appearance and energy level diminished greatly. Never once did he complain, but commented often that he felt a blessed man to have found AA, and to be a member of our home group. As he lost ground physically, Tom seemed to grow spiritually. On the way to our last meeting together he told me he had refused further treatment, as the side effects dulled most of his senses, and he wanted to savor all the time he had remaining. Sadly, it was not long.

The church hall was packed at Tom's funeral service. Many pastors from area churches, and the Bishop, were there to support his wife and family. During the eulogy, and the remarks by Tom's life long-friends and family, I was reminded once again how blessed we are to be part of AA. As his sponsor, I had the privilege of getting to know Tom at a deeper, and perhaps more genuine, level than some of those who had been acquainted with him for decades. And many members of our home group shared much of that gift as well. In two short years we had become Tom's true friends and companions on a journey of faith.

The bonds of friendships formed in our Fellowship are only one of the many rewards of recovery. However, it was evident to me at that service how strong those bonds can become. Dr Bob and Bill had come to understand a basic AA truth: that we can help one another in a unique, and very special, way through the gift of sharing, which can produce blessed results. They willed to us that life-restoring legacy. All we have to do is pass it on.

As a member of Tom's home group I had become part of the collective energy and support which had helped him meet his final burden with dignity and quiet courage. Tom had returned our favor by showing all of us how to live one day at a time, and have faith.... no matter what the challenges. It is a privilege to be a part of our wonderful fellowship, and to have people like Tom in our lives.

—Norm H., Cary, NC

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