My respect for the concept of sponsorship waned and ebbed in the fall of 2002 – and in the following 2 years.
I remember Detective Sipowicz on NYPD Blue being a crusty, cool, seasoned New York cop.
His latent alcoholism would sometimes rise out of nowhere and I remember one scene in which he was in a telephone booth looking shell- shocked. Rain droplets condensed on the glass, filtering red cursive neon lights that said ….. well, you could imagine. No free advertising for Budweiser there. He was calling his sponsor. To talk him off his ledge. The sponsor didn’t answer and he hung up. The hanging up of the phone was sadly ceremonious, stabbingly poignant. Off he went into the rain toward the neon light.
THAT is how I perceived sponsorship. Someone to talk you off your ledge. I didn’t plan to drink again, so this was completely unnecessary. My mother agreed.
“You’re stronger,” she would say proudly. “You don’t need that like the others do.”
[Oooooo, how dangerous. I delighted in this…. ’cause she was right, I thought! DAMN right.]
But then in meetings I would see people celebrate. I would see the camaraderie between the sponsor and sponsee as they sat in the front of the room together. They would enter the rooms together, they would sit together, they would drive away together …… it was a bond I envied.
Occasionally I would listen to a lady and admire her. Usually it was the angriest of the lot, the most outspoken of the lot. I believed them. I didn’t believe the others, the far-flung hippies and their wannabe gratitude. Sometimes I would sourly think of A.A. as a “which of us sounds the BEST contest.” Whoever projected the most serenity would WIN. The grand prize would be people coming up to them at the end to praise them. I would fold my arms and resent them and their bullshit.
They say the worst punishment for the liar is not that people don’t believe him, but that he doesn’t believe other people. I spent my life bullshitting people and I didn’t experience gratitude myself so I could NOT believe in it. I did not experience serenity myself so I could NOT believe in it. What I believed in was anger, contempt, rebellion, shit-starting, verbal warfare (’cause I didn’t FIGHT anymore), rage, sarcasm, and melancholy.
So when I found those rare diamonds in the rough – the vocal and angry ones, preferably with some bitterness mixed in – I was drawn to them like a moth to a flame.
One such lady was very brash and outspoken. She took issue with nearly everything in the readings. She would complain incessantly about how shitty life is. She swore. She made no apologies. I loved her. This was the no-bullshit drill sergeant I needed. I was working up the nerve to ask her. She was sitting a few seats away from me and the reading of the day had to do with sponsorship.
“I’m NEVER going to sponsor anyone. It’s crap!” She started. She was skinny and wore lots of makeup and looked as angry as she sounded. Her eyes darted around the table, psychically daring anyone to argue with her. “I don’t need anyone calling me in the middle of the night!!!”
Insert record-scratching sound here. This wasn’t worth pursuing. I pouted and stared at the table. I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I wondered if I asked her — not tonight, obviously — if maybe she would be flattered enough to forget her commitment to not sponsoring anyone. I remembered having 2 months and relapsing. I never ever thought I’d get those two months back. I mentioned this to her one day when we were out smoking.
“Well? Those two months are gone. ” She spat the words sans sympathy. I loved it. I needed this. NO bullshit.
But it wasn’t worth pursuing. She was out of the question. Some years later I went to her anniversary — she was way less angry and far more spiritual. She was celebrating 5 years. Doing the math, I realized she only had a handful more months than me. When I was tinkering with the notion of her being my sponsor, she was about 4 months sober.
The next lady was funny. She was jolly. She sparkled. She had sarcasm and was less angry than the lady above, but there was some underlying anger I was drawn to. During a break, she made fun of someone and their gratitude. YES. She GETS it. Where I had been tinkering with the idea, it was now a burning need. It was my destiny. She mentioned a trip, a two-week vacation. Settling myself down, I committed myself to asking her upon her return. I finally saw her nearly 10 years later. She was speaking at a meeting (visiting from out of town) and now had a year and a half. That’s why she never came back. But I was on to something. She had had 14 years before – and surely she must have learned something in that time – and she sounds great with what she has now. I’m SO thrilled to see her again.
I asked another lady who led a Bible study. She was a departure from the people I normally asked, but there was definitely something negative about her when she shared. She shared her struggles and I loved her for that. Looking back, I realize she always had struggles and they were always the same. I thought I was hot shit for wanting to ask her. She had 23 years. I had been to her anniversary the year prior. Now I had her phone number. I called her and she would listen to my problems and mention a Bible passage — she wasn’t a Bible-thumper. I would have hated that. No, she was very intellectual and discussed the Bible as a metaphor and would use its literary works as a means of reflection and finding sound advice. It was different. I liked it. By now I was more open-minded about the whole Higher Power thing and I was desperately looking for something and didn’t know what. The Bible seemed like something to invest some time in.
Finally I worked up the nerve to ask her on the phone. She was silent.
“Are you there?” I queried.
“Yes. I …. I don’t have enough time.”
“Oh. I understand if you’re busy,” I stammered apologetically, wishing I hadn’t asked. Here was that feeling again: rejection.
“No. I mean …. I don’t have enough time. I have a psychiatrist and he didn’t think I was an alcoholic so I did some controlled drinking under his supervision ……..” she continued to explain but I couldn’t hear her.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered. I felt embarrassed for her and for me. The “for me” part was the worst.
“No. I mean, we could sponsor each other?” Her voice pleaded. “I don’t have a sponsor either.”
That stung. How could a woman who had 23 years go back out? How could a psychiatrist encourage such a thing? What would she want from me? I can’t sponsor anyone.
Back to the drawing board.
Another lady who I admired to pieces and was the least angry was someone I considered for the job. At this point, I was pretty sure I didn’t need to be talked off of a ledge …. but I was tired of people asking if I have a sponsor and saying no. I was even more tired of the look they would give me after …. or the “speech.” Or their cliches ….”it’s a ‘We’ program” was one that burned my ass the most. So when I started to admire this lady I was going to seize the moment. She was on the opposite side of the room. Someone talked to me. She was talking to someone else, turning her back to me. I kept my eyes fixed on her. I swear you could almost see lasers coming from my eyes and smoke billowing from her back. The person talking to me had some things to vent about. I didn’t hear a word, but nodded and tried to keep a considerate look on my face. I was consumed wondering where she was. And she was gone. She faded with the smell of the discarded coffee.
The next time I saw her was three months later. She sat wobbily in the back of a meeting with two ladies who looked alarmed. She would slur things loudly and laugh slowly. The two ladies looked increasingly distressed. The sick thing was — I now wished I had asked her to be my sponsor. Maybe she would have stayed sober.
My sponsor celebrated his anniversary. Yea. HIS. Let me finish. He has a calm about him – everyone seems to notice him. He kicks me off my pedestal when I get to be “too big” and he builds me up when I feel too small …. and he wears Harley boots, Harley bandannas and leather jackets. He rides a hog and has a soft smile and an easy chuckle. During his anniversary that night, he mentioned a woman he sponsors. That gave me an idea.