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December 1988

AA - A Way of Life

Has sponsorship changed? Are we doing it like we did "in the good old days"? Is it more or less important?

I can't really answer those questions for anyone but me. Fifty-three years ago two men, who I believe were "chosen," had only each other. They couldn't check out anyone else for more experiences or opinions. I shudder to think where most of us would be today had they not been led to each other.

I look back with gratitude and fondness on the first sponsor I had. She and another beautiful, clean, smiling woman (I felt I was none of those things) brought the message to me on a cold Saturday night in January 1966. I remember two things they said. One was, you don't have to tell us any more than you want to. They also asked if I believed in God; if I did, they said, in the morning I could ask for just one day of sobriety. Somehow they inspired and encouraged me--I knew they understood.

A few nights later, Cathy (no real names used) came and took me to a meeting and said I didn't have to use my real name unless I wanted to--I did. Through her explanation I had my first lesson in anonymity. She also said she would show me around town for one month to meetings and I was to choose a home group. This, she said, was a place where I would become loved and useful and learn to belong. It took a long time for me to figure out how she knew I desperately wanted those things.

Before we started regular meetings I was taken to six beginners meetings. I can still remember, with much chagrin, how I felt when we pulled up in front of this huge Victorian house. The old arrogance returned, and I immediately decided to ask to be put on the decorating committee. Cathy very succinctly explained I wasn't "ready" for that yet. Hurt, but quiet, I was sent upstairs to the beginners group. Halfway through the meeting I realized that it wouldn't be long before they would be asking me to conduct these meetings. You see, I had good grammar. It was still too early for me to have learned that the only requirement for membership was a desire to stop drinking. By the way, my grammar or the quality of my sobriety never got good enough to enable me to "lead" the beginners meetings.

On the way home, Cathy explained more to me about sponsorship and I immediately asked her to be my sponsor. She said I might want to look around, but not me. Quick decisions were my long suit. We talked regularly, she showed me around town, introduced me to other women. She cautioned me about making major changes the first year of sobriety. She loaned me her copy of the Big Book. I took it home and gave it to my husband to read. He wasn't an alcoholic, but in my sick mind it was his fault that I was. He read it the first night. I read all the other books on alcoholism. I learned all I could about the illness, but very little about recovery.

After a few months I found a home group. My first assignment was to make the coffee until I could find someone else that had stayed sober a month and pass the key and the coffeepot to him. I looked and looked and before long another soul like myself came along, who got to be coffee maker. My sponsor didn't go to this group and I found we were drifting apart. In the group was the meanest, sweetest old codger the world has ever seen. His oldest son was three weeks older than I. He began to say things like, "Sit down, shut up, and listen" and "When are you going to become a part of the solution instead of part of the problem?" In our meetings, one of the first discussion groups in that area, I thought it would help my concentration if I knitted. I thought the old codger would have apoplexy. So I learned to listen and not knit--a good lesson for me. I began to look to him as a sponsor, although I don't ever remember actually asking him. I watched and listened and tried to be what he was: tough, and kind to children and animals. Each day at 11 AM I would call him and he would say, "What monumental problem do we have today?"

He dearly loved my husband, and encouraged me to invite him to an open meeting, suggesting that perhaps we could get him to meet some of the Al-Anon ladies (that's all there were then). I did, he did, and wow, did our lives start to change. That's another whole story.

We moved from that town and that group and that sponsor after about three and a half years in the program. Many, many things happened to me during that time. I did not quit taking prescription drugs I had used. The doctor said it was okay. My sponsor would shake his head and suggest that probably I didn't really need them. He said the Steps, the Big Book, the meetings were better. I tried them--but was too frightened to quit. Little did I know that I was full of fear because of the medication. He tried. I said I tried. But we moved and I was lost.

Finding a new sponsor was awful--no one acted or looked or sounded like my old codger. I flew back, I called, he even came to visit. After a few months I overdosed on pills, and not too much later, I got back into the real stuff: booze. After months of pain, pain, pain, I came back to AA. This time a woman I had watched became my sponsor. Not because I wanted her--no, I was flat-out told to ask her to be my sponsor. Her sponsor said she needed a challenge, and I should help her! I have never heard that approach before or since.

For eleven years, one day at a time, we walked the walk together. Steps, Steps, and more Steps. Twelfth-step calls at 2:30 AM were her specialty. She told me she couldn't find her way around town, and I had to drive. (She was a native, for goodness' sake, but I believed her). She took me to the women's prison, and said to remember how it feels when the gates slam shut. She had been there, and told me I could go there, too. We went to conferences and retreats. Her husband and mine trucked along with us. Never a day went by that I didn't learn something new about living the AA way. Her belief in service was strong and she carried out her beliefs: GSR, DCM, area committee and--lo and behold--area delegate. I watched and was so proud to call her sponsor.

But I didn't follow her into service. Instead I became cynical and arrogant again; suddenly no one in my life was "doing right." Before long the tiny resentments became giant ones. No way did I talk to her or anyone about them. Not me--I can handle this. Sure I could. After four pretty good years of sobriety, I bought a bottle of cheap wine and a pint of whiskey. Drank it. Nothing happened. Only the most devastating feeling of disgust, repulsion, and horror at what faced me in my mirror. Of course I didn't call before I took that drink. I knew what she'd say. In that twenty-four hours of hell she called me, but didn't ask if I wanted to quit. She knew it would come in God's time. It did. My surrender a day later was so complete I have never again had that same feeling of dread or the same resentments or anything of those old uglies. That was October 5, 1975. She was there to see me pick up my last white chip--by God's grace. And six years after my last white chip, I made a call to a treatment center some miles from where we live to put my arms around her and tell her, as she told me, it's only the losers that don't come back. She did.

I felt it necessary to find someone with more sobriety than I had to help me along the way. Someone told me, when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear. The teacher appeared. Wouldn't you know, this lady is from my old home town, a thousand miles from here, and we share so much. My learning started all over again on the Steps. Jane has been there when I had to take my husband to the hospital at midnight for what we thought might be a heart attack. When our grandchildren came along, she rejoiced with us. In the sad times she cried with us.

My old codger died about ten years ago. I saw him just a few hours before he died. He was still telling me to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. My sponsor that got drunk will soon celebrate five years, one day at a time. She regularly reminds me not to make AA my life, but my way of life. I love her with the kind of special feeling that will never go to anyone else. The new one and I walk together--not one in front of the other, but side by side.

In 1984 I was elected GSR from my home group. In a little over a year, the GSRs asked me to serve as alternate DCM. When the DCM was elected as an officer of the area committee, I tried to follow her path. The example of my "delegate sponsor" is always there. She cautions me when the old ego gets going. But service has come to mean so much. It's the opportunity to put back, but also to bring along the newer people. If you have never watched a sponsee at her first assembly, in my not-always-humble opinion, you haven't lived.

I also love to be a sponsor. Our book says "to watch someone grow." No one should miss the experience. Patience, kindness, tough love were given to me in giant measure. The only way for me to pay it back is to "pass it on."

Sponsorship--I don't ever want to be without it.

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