Monday, 3 October 2011
The ego's excuses for not working with others
I have heard all of these excuses, and used some of them myself. I believe God is of limitless power. Do any of these 'limitations' really stand in the way? A glance at one's broader acquaintance will reveal people sponsored successfully in matches one would never have anticipated.
"Outward appearances are not inward reality at all." ('Alcoholics Anonymous', 48:3)
The ability for two people to connect derives not from any external factor but from an inward identification which initially surprises—yet how often have we heard people describe how, at their first AA meeting, they heard someone with diametrically opposed biographical circumstances 'tell their story'. I have seen people successfully sponsor people twice their age and half their age; I have seen old-timers successfully sponsor newcomers, relative newcomers sponsor people with many years, and people successfully sponsor near-peers.
There is an old picture of 'The Land of Cockaigne' by Breugel the Elder, Cockaigne being a mythical land of plenty, where pigs run around helpfully furnished with knives stuck in their side so you can carve yourself a slice with ease.
Only rarely will sponsees throw themselves willingly onto the silver platter of sponsorship from a standing start. AA is not Cockaigne.
When I was new, I did not understand what my problem really was or what was on offer through sponsorship or the Steps. I was nervous and hostile and did not, initially, approach people with ease. The phone weighed a ton, and I was nervous of addressing people I did not know.
Like Ebby Thatcher approached Bill Wilson, and in line with the suggestion on page 25 regarding those with a solution approaching those with a problem, I was approached by people who actively wanted to help.
Obviously, sponsorship cannot be forced. However, the opportunities can be created. When I was a couple of years sober (and not sponsoring anyone), I resented my friend Melody, who was sober the same time and had five or six sponsees. Not coincidentally, she was usually to be found shepherding some bewildered newcomer to a meeting or to coffee afterwards. She did not force sponsorship, but she created the conditions in which people felt comfortable enough and familiar enough to ask her to take them through the Steps.
Even if sponsorship per se does not arise out of such attempts to be of help and use to newcomers and anyone, in fact, who is struggling, this activity and the relationships that arise out of it are equivalent to sponsorship in the opportunity they afford to be of service and practise the Twelfth Step.
The service structure also affords opportunities to encounter newcomers or people who have not yet found AA. People who engage in this sort of work will have no difficulty acquiring people to take through the Steps.
This is a variation on (2) above and has about as much validity as sitting at home expecting God to push a job offer or a boyfriend through your letterbox.
An old Jewish story tells of a tailor who was good at his work but slow and lazy. He repeatedly fails to complete a tailoring job for a rabbi by the agreed deadline, each time telling the rabbi, "God willing, it will be complete by next Thursday." Eventually, the rabbi becomes impatient and snaps back, "and if you leave God out of it?"
Similarly, a passer-by ingratiates himself with a monk tending a beautiful monastery garden, saying, "isn't God's bounty magnificent?" The monk, stony-faced, replies, "you should have seen it when he had it to himself."
The only qualification for sponsorship is having been through the process of the Steps yourself.
"Having had the experience yourself, you can give him much practical advice." (96:2)
"Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seem so worth while to us now." (124:2)
We do not need to make anything up; we share the experience and insight we have gained.
If we do not know how to deal with a situation, there are instructions in Chapter Seven and elsewhere and many people who can help us.
In AA, there is a screw for every nut. Anyone who has been sponsored can sponsor.
Luckily, since the invention of the letter, the telephone, email, the Internet, and Skype, this is no longer a difficulty. You can even see your sponsee eyeball-to-eyeball when you are thousands of miles away. Writing sponsees emails or having them call you will give you something to do whilst you are on long train and plane journeys, waiting in airport lounges, and bored in foreign hotels. Just thing of how their little faces will light up when you return, too!
You can also sponsor by post people who are in prison or live in remote places.
This is one of my personal favourites. Beware of any interpretation of any steps whose bottom line is: do nothing beyond what you are already doing.
Moreover, this is like the "I make amends by staying sober" argument—if it is only the grace of a Higher Power that is keeping you sober and removing your defects of character, then God is left to make your amends and, apparently, do your Twelfth Step work for you, too.
Whilst the principle holds that our behaviour is testament to the values we adhere to, the chief value of the Steps as a way of life is not being nice but being useful. If we really are to be a walking Big Book, we must be not niceness personified but usefulness personified, and back we are at the starting point:
One of the most useful tasks we can perform is to carry actively the message of AA to people who will die of or with active alcoholism unless they are shown a way up and out.
The Big Book is about fitting us to be of maximum usefulness to others (77:0)—which, presumably, means actually getting off our arses and being useful. And who can do that but us?
"Both saw that they must keep spiritually active. One day they called up the head nurse of a local hospital. They explained their need and asked if she had a first class alcoholic prospect." (156:2)
The best example of a walking Big Book is an active sponsor—not sponsoring means you have not actually taken all of the Twelve Steps.
Good! For how long? I go to around five meetings a week and share for 4 minutes or so on average. This gives me 20 minutes. There are 10,080 minutes in a week. That is around one-tenth of one per cent of my time.
"Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the alcoholic! For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that." (14:6)
"Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics." (89:1)
"All of us spend much of our spare time in the sort of effort which we are going to describe. A few are fortunate enough to be situated that they can give nearly all their time to the work." (19:1)
If this suffices for you, great! If you're anything like me, your murderous self-centredness is not going to be smashed by 20 minutes a week. I am the kind of alcoholic that needs to be turned outwards to be useful to others on a daily basis to maintain my connection with God and the universe. Perhaps you are too.
I do other service too, but not instead of sponsorship. This is a diversionary excuse—a way of distracting attention from the real issue, which is the reluctance to engage in one-to-one work. Whatever your particular experiences, they will be useful to someone—it is just a matter of finding whom. Anyone can make a cup of tea. But your experiences are unique to you and uniquely fit you to be of service to a particular poor soul who will be lost without you.
The mistake is to believe that we were sobered up and straightened out for our own sakes. I do not believe this to be the case. Individuals can transform the lives of hundreds or thousands in AA. Who is to say you are not one of them?
It is true that many people have heavy commitments, in terms of work, study, family, etc.
If you are anything like me, active alcoholism stripped me of these things. The reason I have these areas of my life back is because of other people giving their time freely to me. "I've got mine; thanks for everything; I'm off now," is a sign of ingratitude and tends to augur badly for the future.
I have become overly absorbed in my concerns and found I had little time for sponsorship. I discovered, to my dismay, that I had plenty of time for upset, anxiety, self-obsession, sleepless nights, unproductive long hours at work etc. When I have been working 70+ hours a week, I really have had to ask myself why I am doing it. Usually (though there were exceptions when I was training) I was concerned chiefly with me and my success (in turn an attempt to overcome a gnawing sense of uselessness).
I have a new employer (p. 63)—and He's not me. There is such a thing as excessively focusing on AA duties and ignoring the other occupations and affairs of my life. But the reverse is just as dangerous for my state of mind.
Twelfth-Step work has removed entirely any sense of uselessness or lack of fulfilment, and ambitions in other areas are now healthy (or healthier). The Twelve and Twelve aim of being a worker amongst workers (on the principle that not everyone can be a leader) is achieved not so much by aiming for that attitude per se but by being of service in this most crucial way and having one's values and perspective brought automatically into alignment.
Furthermore, work for a Higher Power who is, well, all-powerful, you would be amazed at how much more efficient not only the Twelfth-Step work but other activities become, and how the 'reckless martyrdom' in other areas gets tamed as you stop co-dependently doing for others what they frankly should be doing for themselves.
I have stopped being a people-pleaser and become, instead, a God-pleaser, on the grounds that there is only one of Him and His yoke is light, so the job is infinitely easier.
As my AA duties and obligations have mushroomed, my efficiency and effectiveness in other areas have equally burgeoned. God is unusually skilled at scheduling and time management.
This is typically short-sighted argument. The quality of enjoyment lies not in the activity but in the actor. Enjoyment—and joy—are the natural states that are revealed when everything that blocks them is removed.
Fear, resentment, self-pity, self-seeking, a desire to control, and numerous other character defects can render sponsorship an unpleasant experience. It is a mistake to attribute these to the nature of sponsorship itself—when these blocks are examined and let go of, enjoyment—and joy—invariably result, as you see God working through you to achieve in your prospect—and in yourself—what you never could have achieved on your own unaided strength.