Helping Others to Recover
AFTER A meeting in a nearby community, I steered a conversation with three other members to the question of how to hold on to new prospects. One of the members, with about two years' sobriety, said, "Just last week, I got a guy to a meeting that I had been working on for over a month. The s.o.b. got drunk the next day, so now I've got to find someone else to twelfth-step."
I had heard the same idea expressed over and over again in my travels over the last three months, but never was it put so succinctly. It brought all the bits and pieces of information together in my mind and pointed straight to the answer that I believe our group has been looking for.
A little over a year ago, we had at most ten members; we now have more than fifty with a month or more of sobriety. We believe that this is good, considering the number that we have worked on; but we are sure that it could and should be better. We have had many group-conscience meetings with the Fifth Tradition as the subject, but we still felt that somewhere we were missing something. Hence, many of us purposely brought the subject up whenever we were visiting other groups.
We have known for some time that our group's sponsorship program was lacking, and even though we have tried to correct it, we believed that we were losing more new prospects after two or three meetings than we should. However, we kept saying (or thinking), "You have to carry the message and not the drunk." When a prospect rebuffed our efforts, we let him go, secure in the thought that we had carried the message to another drunk.
I believe that therein lies the problem, 'not only for our group, but, judging from Grapevine articles over the last several months, for many other groups as well. Without meaning to, each of us (perhaps subconsciously) wants to say, "Here is the drunk that I got sober." We have let the popular conception--or should I say misconception?--of the Twelfth Step call replace the true intent of the Twelfth Step.
We keep looking for and working hardest on the new prospect. In itself, that is as it should be, but we are cheating him later, when after two, three, or four meetings, we say, "Just keep coming back," and put him more or less on his own while we concentrate on someone newer. Thus, we have let the desire for a success rate creep in by looking for quantity instead of quality, forgetting that if we have quality, quantity will come in its own due time.
The Twelfth Step says, ". . .we tried to carry this message to alcoholics. . . ." It doesn't say that we tried to carry this message to drunks, to still-suffering alcoholics, to alcoholics with less than a month's sobriety, or to alcoholics with less than twenty-five years' sobriety. The same can be said of the references in the Preamble: "help others to recover from alcoholism" and "help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety."
I am an alcoholic. I still need to be twelfth-stepped, because I don't believe that I will ever have all of the message, nor true sobriety to the extent that I would like to have it. Furthermore, nowhere in AA literature does it say that I can get the message only from those sober longer than I, nor that I can carry it only to those with less sobriety.
Rosalie's letter in the July 1975 Grapevine said it better than I when she quoted: "We think of 'the alcoholic who still suffers' as the guy who is still out there drunk. But many alcoholics who are still suffering are in this room tonight, and are sober and may have been for some time now. It isn't as easy for some as for others to stay sober. Always keep in mind that the guy or gal sitting at your elbow may still be suffering. And if you sense that he or she is, and you're not, then put out your hand to that person, even though that person may be sober."
The articles on sponsorship in the September 1975 Grapevine show the real need for a strong sponsorship program within a group and the importance of the sponsor to the newcomer. However, I believe that we must go one step further and try to be sponsors to all alcoholics, whether they are in the Fellowship or not, and regardless of the length of their sobriety or the lack of it. We should likewise try to carry the message to all alcoholics. We don't have to sponsor only those who have asked for it, nor do we have to wait for a phone call before we can twelfth-step someone.
I have been sponsored and twelfth-stepped every time I heard something that I needed. What its source was and whether I recognized it as part of a message didn't make any difference.
I think that I have tried to carry the message in all directions, but I know that increasing the quality of my message-carrying is more important than raising the number of times I am able to carry it to active alcoholics. If I can remember to practice these principles in all my affairs, then the Higher Power will give me the chance to carry the message according to His will.
If I put someone else more or less on his own, then some day the Higher Power may put me more or less on my own, and then where would I be? Therefore, it is my duty to carry the message to alcoholics, period, without qualifications. As always, the Higher Power will decide the name, address, and Zip Code of who gets the message. We, as individuals and groups, must forever work on being the best possible messengers and leave the delivery schedule up to Him.