On sponsorship and the newcomer
I could almost begin this letter “Dear Newcomer.” The only problem with that is, I want you to know how close I feel to you at this moment in our lives. Watching new people grow renews my sobriety, I hope I never lose interest in the personal joy of sponsorship in the years ahead.
You asked me a question at our meeting last night. You asked why, coming close to your first AA anniversary, you felt a bit down and angry. When I asked whether you thought you were getting to enough meetings, you avoided a direct answer. I have seen this before in newer people–the technique of not answering a pertinent question. The other way of avoiding honest answers is to mumble about “being tired” or “busy with work.” Well–all these things may be true, but meetings are how you and I met.
The question made me reflect on the ways of newcomers and my sponsor relationship with them over the years. God surely knows, I have made mistakes. I have tried not to repeat the mistake. I have noticed this rebellion against a proper number of meetings in almost all the younger people I have sponsored. In fact, I have observed certain recurring habits with several of them.
I didn’t tell you about this last night. I have my own need to be loved and did not want to bully you. Let me correct this character defect somewhat with this letter. I won’t be likely to rationalize too much in print, because I will not have your searching face smiling at me, to be told there is a softer, easier way. If there is one, John, I don’t know it and would not be interested anyway.
My lack of discipline almost killed me before AA. Yours did also; you attempted to snuff out your young life a few short months ago. The discipline of digging into the AA program pays off in peace of mind. Being undisciplined is not cute or clever. Drunks do as they please; sober adults make plans and stick to them. You wouldn’t miss an appointment with a doctor who was going to charge you $150. Why miss your appointments with AA, which are free?
You say you don’t read AA literature but will eventually. When? Don’t wait until you are sober twenty-five years; you need it now. There is material in our books, written in the language of the heart, that you should know. You should be getting the program from every available source, not just from me. If you don’t get it now, you will have to do it later. It may be more expensive later. I should not be your only source of basic AA. After all, I may get drunk.
You say you are not sure you are ready to hold group office, even though they asked you. If the group conscience asked you, they think you are ready, and you are. Maybe they are hinting gently that it is time for you to open up to others more and stop being so self-centered. You have much love to give, John; please don’t hoard it. Some shaky newcomer who desperately needs your strength, hope, and experience is being directed to a meeting tonight by our Higher Power. A meeting you may not be at.
You told me you were very shy when you first tried AA, and AA did not work. I think sometimes shyness, or being introverted, disguises itself after a time as a desire to be super-comfortable. I went to many uncomfortable meetings in the beginning. The discomfort was within me. I am comfortable at all meetings now. This took practice. I broke the ice of shyness, and I resist when it occasionally tries to freeze over again. Isolation is bad for new people, old people, and in-between people if they are alcoholic people.
Isolation sneaks up on us. We can mask it with familiar props that are not in themselves bad. We can isolate ourselves in an attempt to clean up our apartments (and then not do the cleaning); we can isolate ourselves in churches or in sleep; we can use family, sweethearts, compulsive working, television. The list is long. The nicest way to end it is the way you and I do: together. Reach out–people can’t read your mind. Say ouch! Someone hears. Always.
I think you know that alcohol is no answer. You would not have made the attempts to help yourself that you have if you wanted to go on as you were. You would not have given me the marvelous opportunity you did when you said, “Will you be my sponsor?” You have not exactly come this far on dumb luck. You worked hard.
I found that I had to stop misusing the AA slogans after a time. I clung to their simple logic at first. As the days went by, however, I found that the Higher Power wanted me to think, at least partially, for myself. I had to explore with the mind God gave me.
You quickly learned that it is pointless to allow yourself to be hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. I don’t believe that this means we can go into a swoon and nod our way through life. I go to meetings when it snows even if my feet hurt. Guess what?–I feel a lot better afterward. I also read AA literature every day, and I have read it all many times before. Rereading it makes me feel good. It doesn’t take too much thinking to know it’s better to feel good than bad.
You move either away from a drink or toward one. People never stand still. Life is not arrival at a destination; life is travel to many destinations. You must reach your potential in sobriety. Enjoy the journey, bumpy roads and all.
Our friendship is a two-way street. I try to give, and I know I receive. As we become partners, I get more and more from you. You renew my faith and make my journey more joyous. Never think there is a superior-inferior relationship in any way. If I ever give that impression–tell me. You may be refreshingly surprised at how quickly I admit I am wrong.
I learned to do this in the Tenth Step. The Twelve Steps are my absolute guideposts for living. My old guides directed me into bars; our Steps brought me to AA and you. Is there any doubt which path is better?
When you reentered the program, you were smart enough to allow yourself to be sponsored by an energetic guy who is superb with brand-new people. His enthusiasm buoyed you up and really worked wonders. Then you asked me, because you were wise enough to know your sponsorship needs had changed. I keep growing, and the people around me change constantly. I hope you continue to exhibit this common sense.
You worry a lot about your past defects. Don’t, please, thrash around too long in guilt. Learn what you can from past negative experiences, and move on. Guilt is insidious and counterproductive. You are a perfect child of God. It shines through in your sobriety. I see it, and so do others. Make yourself see it.
Past liabilities can be turned around and become our strongest points. Childishness can become childlikeness or freshness; stubbornness or self-will can turn into energy to do good things; radical attitudes can help us empathize with the downtrodden or with still-drinking members. No need to feel guilt; simply get rid of the thing you feel guilty about. A wonderful way to do this is to reverse your shortcomings by reaching out to another drunk. It works.
You asked me to be your sponsor. Everything I believe and know best is contained in the Big Book. Chapter Five explains the program perfectly. It begins, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” Then it goes on to explain the path. Of course, you must have read it by now–no, that’s right, you told me six months ago you would read it eventually, and you haven’t yet. Oh well, I hope you will some day soon.
John, you are too young to remember World War II and the Korean conflict. It just occurred to me that a lot of soldiers received letters from their spouses or sweethearts in those days informing them that the marriage or the romance was over. These letters were called “Dear John” letters. It was ghastly for the poor guys. Now I write you, and I want you to know I will be around whenever you need me. We never lose each other in AA. Never.
I want you to think of this as a “hello letter” rather than a “goodbye letter.” I will continue to make suggestions based on my own journey. Let’s go on it together. It’s easier for both of us that way. Thanks forever for being new in AA.