He learned that a good day of service can begin with a well-made bed
When I was a boy, my mother insisted that I make my bed every morning. Well, I didn’t want to since I was just going to mess it up again that night.
Many years later, when I started going in and out of treatment, drying-out facilities and even jails, people kept telling me to make my bed and I refused. I still didn’t see the point. It’s probably not surprising then that I spent almost 25 years going in and out of AA.
But when I showed up in AA again in 1992, I was desperate. I wanted to end it all. I asked Waterfront Joe, an old dock worker from Houston, Texas, to be my sponsor. And wouldn’t you know it, the first thing he asked me to do was to make my bed every morning! I wanted to tell him no way, but I had been beaten down so badly by alcohol that I was finally willing to do whatever I was asked.
Joe explained that all the years I had been in and out of AA what I was trying to do was to “stay sober while living like a drunk.” I was trying not to drink, but I had not changed my attitudes and actions. He said that change for me would come about by taking action. I was undisciplined, as the Big Book says, and making my bed every day would start the process of practicing some discipline in my life. I would have to “act my way into better thinking” rather than trying to “think my way into better acting.”
Next, he asked me to throw my keys under the bed at night so that when I got up in the morning I’d have to get on my knees to get them back. And while I was down there, I could ask my Higher Power to keep me sober. He said he didn’t care if I believed in a Higher Power. “All you need to know is that there is a Higher Power, and you are not it,” he explained. I did as he suggested.
Joe gave me other suggestions. “Paul, you need to get a good thought in your head before you get a bad thought,” he said, “so I want you to read something spiritual every morning.” He somehow knew that I had a habit of waking up with negative thinking. So being the great thinker that I was, I figured the more spiritual books I read in the morning the more spiritual I would become. I ended up with so many books I couldn’t remember what I had read. So I over the years, I eventually reduced it down to a few that really meant a lot to me, particularly the Big Book.
For years Joe shared many suggestions that I still remember today, such as, “You can’t stay sober today on what you did yesterday. Do something for your sobriety every day.” Joe passed away sober and I’ve had several sponsors since then. I’ve come to realize that all these suggestions that these men have passed on to me—from making my bed to reading spiritual literature to practicing prayer and meditation—were all about keeping me spiritually fit.
Bill D., another sponsor, taught me so much about service and humility. “It’s not important who your sponsor is. The important thing is that you have one,” he told me. Bill also said, “It’s not important who does the job but that the job gets done.” Both made me realize that it’s our principles, not personality, that are important.
I had the privilege to serve AA as a delegate to the General Service Conference. When I was leaving for the Conference, a past delegate shared this with me: “Listen like you have no opinion.” So hard to do, but oh so important.
My current sponsor reminds me of all these phrases and more. He asked me recently, “Do you want to be happy or right?” I need these constant reminders, because even after a few years in AA, my thinking can get off the beam.
If, as the Big Book states, the “main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than his body,” then it’s vital that I keep my thinking on an even keel. By practicing prayer and meditation as encouraged in Step Eleven, I can keep my thinking on track.
We probably all have similar phrases passed on to us by sponsors. They pop up just in the nick of time so often that I call them “sponsor talk.” These men have taught me discipline, commitment, responsibility, sacrifice and love for this program. I had no idea of any of these principles when I got to AA. They help me to “make the bed in my head” each day. Oh…and guess what? I still make my bed every morning.