Stuck in the rehab, he met a man who gave him a way out and also a way back in
I was at the beginning of my second year of sobriety. It was late in October and the leaves were falling. The days were cool and the time of year was inviting nostalgia. My drinking friends were long gone and the holidays were approaching. My family would all be getting together soon. They had stayed away my first sober holiday season. Was it because they were willing to give me the time to adjust? Or were they just uncomfortable with what it would feel like around the new me? Or were they just not yet willing to give up their own liquid holiday fest? I started to feel depressed. However, I was about to get a beautiful gift.
Several weeks prior, I had picked up my first-year medallion. I had made it. The countdown was over. Ed, my sponsor, had cautioned me about letting down my guard after the anniversary. I agreed, but how could I not? It had been the longest year of my life. When I thought back to that first 30 days, it seemed like an eternity ago. That 30-day chip represented the worst period of my life. Higher Power? I felt God didn’t know me, and I certainly didn’t know him then. All I had to accompany me during those days were endless thoughts of an uncertain future. Work, which was all I had to hang my identity on, well … that was gone. I remember being in rehab, just going through the motions … no alcohol, no job in my future.
Then one Friday afternoon, I met Ed. Fridays in the rehab were the most depressing days of the week. Some of us got to go home for the weekend—not me. When I saw Ed come in, it seemed like he’d attended that rehab before and must have been a poster boy for recovery. Why else would they let him come up to our floor and lead Big Book studies? I asked him clumsily if he had ever been asked to sponsor any of us rehab people. His answer was, “Only a couple of hundred.” I was shocked. How could he possibly be my sponsor? I guess he read my thoughts. He smiled wistfully, saying, “Not one ever followed up with me after leaving here.” I couldn’t believe it. Not one? That was the beginning of my grasping the fatal nature of this disease. Somehow I scrambled up enough courage to ask him, “Do you have one more in you?” Ed laughed and said, “Let’s do this.”
After that, everything was different. I found myself looking forward to my daily call to Ed. We would have a mini meeting on the phone. He always knew exactly what to say.
A year later, Ed and I were still together. He had helped me work the first nine Steps. My thinking had settled down and I was beginning to consider returning to work. My weeks consisted of working the Steps with Ed, going to meetings with him and accompanying him to the rehab for that Friday Step Study. During the first year of my sobriety, that Step Study meeting was the high point of my week. I loved the fact that at the end of the meeting, I got to leave and go home. I remember those blank, scared eyes looking back at me in those meetings—anything but secure in their future. We were the only hope some of them had. Ed and I kept sharing our recovery. Sometimes I actually felt we were making a difference.
One Friday afternoon after the meeting, I asked Ed if we could have a talk. I shared with him that since my first anniversary, I had been feeling a letdown and I was worried that this was the way it was going to be from now on. Ed surprised me as usual. He smiled reassuringly as he said, “I’ve been right where you are.”
He opened his Big Book to the chapter “Working With Others,” and had me read: “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.” Ed and I sat there and pondered that same paragraph I had read many times before. Ed looked at me and said, “It just so happens that I have a gift for you today. This Big Book meeting is where you and I first met, and you are the only sponsee from here to stick with me. So, it’s yours.”
It took a few moments for this to sink in. “Ed, you can’t be serious,” I said. “I can’t possibly fill your shoes here. I don’t have what it takes to help them get sober.” He looked at me and smiled. “You’re right, you don’t. It’s between God and them. You’re just the messenger. But you’re ready.”
I led that Big Book study for three more years before handing it over to one of my sponsees from, yes, the same rehab Step Study meeting. I discovered how service is not about me or whether I think I’m ready. It’s about God working through me. And he works through me even when I’m in one of those ruts we all sometimes find ourselves in while on this amazing journey.