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Unwritten Rules of Sobriety.

14 May 2012

Sunday mornings I go to a mixed, closed AA meeting. I’ve been going since I was less than six months sober, which means that I’m coming up on four years that I’ve attended this particular meeting. This makes it essentially a “home group” for me, and my sponsor often attends as well. There are a couple of important structures in AA which are regularly talked about but which do not appear in our founding literature. One is the home group, and the other is sponsorship.

Frequently, when a person is brand new to AA, they will be told over and over again: “Get a sponsor, get a home group, do the steps, keep coming back.” So, what does it mean to have a home group, or a sponsor? How can I find out about these things if they’re not in the book? Well, you have to keep coming back. Frequently, you will hear people say that you can’t work the steps without a sponsor. While I think a person could do so (maybe), I also think that having a sponsor to guide you is critical to thorough work. And thoroughness is crucial to success in AA.

Finding a sponsor is one of those things which can be difficult or simple, and depends largely on the new person’s willingness. There’s luck involved too, of course. I don’t know how the concept of sponsorship evolved, but it goes way way back in AA. But not so far back that it made it into the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” which was written in the 1930s. Much of it is hilariously out of step with modern society, including gender roles, but the core philosophy of how to get sober is undimmed by time.

Sponsorship provides a person who can assess us honestly, from the outside, and guide us through difficult aspects of the program, such as amend-making and character defect identification. Without a sponsor to guide us, it is too easy to overlook the difficult, painful, and ugly aspects of our characters we’d prefer to gloss over. And sometimes, we are simply incapable of seeing ourselves for what we are. Identifying troublesome defects can be like a kind of dysmorphia, looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves as other than we really are.

A home group is not an official thing. Like basically everything else in AA, it’s simply a matter of people kind of deciding for themselves that a particular meeting is one which they will attend regularly, and get to know people, and be accountable, and provide service to, and participate in the group conscience for. Having a home group is like putting down roots in AA. And many people have more than one. In fact, I guess I do. My Sunday mixed and my Wednesday men’s meetings are both meetings which I attend regularly. People there will miss me and look for me if I were to miss them for any length of time.

Like every organization, a penumbra gradually built up around the denotative concepts in AA. There are structures and concepts that were not part of the original program. But they are useful. The core of Alcoholics Anonymous is simply that one alcoholic helps another. We understand each other, so we can participate in each other’s recovery without judgement. Without scorn. We care about feeling our feelings. Unadulterated.

When I was new to the program, I broke. I didn’t know what to do, how to do it. I was lost and confused. But I was in a place where people knew how to help me. And where people told me the truth even if it was hard for me to hear (“Being drunk around a child you are responsible for is abusive.”). And so now, I try to provide that for people who are new to the program. Who are struggling with pain and ache and the onslaught of new emotions that are bafflingly painful, and seem to wrap around and regroup the moment we thought we’d dealt with them.

Because someone at my Sunday meeting said something yesterday that was simple, and deeply profound. I’d never met him before. It was his first time to that meeting. He spoke at some length, with the cadence of a southern preacher, about what it means for him to be moving toward sobriety or moving towards a drink. Standing still is not an option for him. I understand that. But what resonated with me was a simple four word statement: “Now it’s my turn.”

Now it’s my turn. I think that’s partly what I was trying to say when I wrote about Why I Blog. I have been sober a while now. Now it’s my turn to help. Sometimes that’s a glorious and thrilling opportunity. Sometimes that’s a total pain in my ass. But in either case, it’s still my turn. Because my responsibility is related to my capacity. I have been given something incredible. I have been given a chance at life when I had thrown my own life away. And foundationally, in order to keep living the life I want to live, to keep moving toward sobriety instead of towards a drink, it’s my turn to help.

So, here I am.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Penelope permalink
    14 May 2012 10:48

    Being with my father in law in his last months was an amazing opportunity to witness who he was to his AA family. He was sober for 22yrs, and had literally dozens of sponsees, people from all walks of life connected in no other way, all so deeply thankful to the otherwise ordinary fish counter guy at the local grocery store. He was a hero. I was blessed to witness him on his death bed passing on his 22yr coin to a sponsee that he knew would benefit from the inspiration.

  2. Penelope permalink
    14 May 2012 10:53

    So many of the stories I know of him are from before those 22 years started, for any parents who read this blog and struggle with sobriety, please know that after all the mistakes, all the crap, all the drunkenness and wasted time, my father in law died as a hero in his son’s eyes. His years of sobriety and helping others get there completely dwarfed the earlier memories

  3. daimia permalink
    14 May 2012 11:41

    Reading this makes me realize that this should also be a rule of life…having a sponsor and a homegroup- a person who will tell you the truth no matter what because it is in your best interest and a group of people who can provide love, support, encouragement and demand accountability. We may even need more than one of each (personal and professional since many people have friends who can’t offer sound professional advice relating to a specific field) but one is a place to start. There are many of us who may not have issues with alcohol but who’s actions have similar effects on those around them.

    Congratulations on your progress thus far and thank you for sharing.

    • 15 May 2012 07:38

      I have a sober friend who specifically laments there’re no sponsors for sober people.

  4. 15 May 2012 07:12

    Giving it away in order to keep it–that’s what my sponsor told me. That sentiment of “now it’s my turn” is so important.

  5. 15 May 2012 22:43

    “now it’s my turn” is a thing we could all stand to realize in one heck of a lot of contexts.

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