Thursday, March 1, 2012


I was just coming to from sleeping when my wife reached over, kissed me and said "I love you. See you later. I'm off to the gym." Today is training day. She likes the early shift with the personal trainer. I take the more civilized 10 AM shift because I am the night hawk. Last night, I actually turned out the lights at 11:45 PM.

We go there and stay in constant motion for an hour. Lifting, pushups, pull ups, timed planks, Peak 8 on the bike--I leave feeling euphoric because this intensity gives me an endorphin "high". I have either run, biked, rowed, swam, ridden horses, sailed, or kick boxed at some time in my life. I have to say that it has kept me fit, both physically and emotionally. It is a naturally congruent activity with recovery because I feel restored and better able to deal with what gets tossed my way by life.

It is so easy for me to slack off though and not truly push myself unless I am accountable to someone. But if someone is there taking me from one exercise to another, urging me on, I simply don't try as hard.

I talked with a fellow I sponsor about that yesterday. He and I finished up Step 12 over coffee. He was willing to do the work. After more than a quarter century in AA, he found that he needed something more. I met him at the Thursday noon Al-Anon meeting. Our energy connected, and he asked me to be his sponsor. Sponsoring a long-timer in AA can be a challenge because the programs are different.

I use a lot of AA material with my Al-Anon sponsees. They read the Big Book, the AA 12 x 12, and other AA material that I have. I use the AA fourth step inventory in addition to Al-Anon's extensive Blueprint for Progress. I believe that AA was the foundation of Al-Anon. The message is delivered a bit differently in the two programs.

I think one of the main differences that I have found between the programs is that Al-Anon has no musts--I suggest things that I would like those I sponsor to do. I am not demanding that they call every day, but I do suggest it. I don't demand that they go to more than one meeting a week but suggest it. And I don't demand that we keep moving forward one step at a time, but I suggest it.

The AA fellow I sponsor said that he would simply tell those who aren't doing the things that he asks (call every day, go to meetings, commit to a weekly schedule for step work) to find someone else who doesn't care about those things.

And herein lies the difference: I do care, but know that I cannot force anyone to do what they aren't ready to do. I tell them when they are ready to call me back, I will listen. I don't sever the connection but leave the ball in their court. I tell them that they can call me at any time. I don't pursue them over and over. I will make a call after a while when I haven't heard from them in weeks. I know that for some that phone weighs 800 pounds and is heavy to pick up! Most come back either out of desperation or when recovery resurfaces after there is a lull in whatever else they have going on.

And that is how the unmanageability of alcoholism keeps us from getting well. It seductively tells a person to stay busy with kids, husband, wife, work, play--a thousand things--rather than to take time to look at yourself. Do for others, focus on anything but the emptiness within. Stay safe within the cocoon of a chaotic life.

When I stopped filling every moment thinking about others and actually thought about myself, I realized how empty I was. Who was I? What was I beside a job, a husband, a yard man, a fixer? I had no close friends who knew the "real" me. I was a pretender.

I'm glad that I reached out, committed to doing the work with a sponsor, stayed focused on my recovery, and pass along how it worked for me to those who are willing. I am the coach who urges them along. I don't want to break them down, be a drill sergeant, but I will encourage and tell them what will happen if they follow the steps of the program. The promises of a better life will come true. And that is the truth.

P.S.--Keep those questions coming. I have gotten some good ones so far. Thanks for asking!


  1. you know...that nest to last paragraph def fills out how i feel some days...not sure what that says to me right now but...

  2. i love your writing. Safe in the cocoon of a chaotic life. powerful right there.

    thank you.

  3. very moved by the paragraph about finding a 1000 things rather than face with students to give give give to avoid living, before that, work work work with children and families.....great occupations to avoid creating a life...hmmmm

  4. I know I already asked my one question, but I have another.

    What part of the al-anon program do you just not agree with? For me, its the line in the opening that says "We can be happy whether the alcoholic is drinking or not"...though I believe at times, we can be happy, but for me, its intermitent at best. I feel it throws off the newcomer, who must balk at that. I think its a mistake to have it in there, but hey...I aint gonna go up against the WSO on it. LOL

  5. I'm glad you shared your style of sponsoring. That should have been my question! lol I have often wanted to email you and talk this do you sponsor? Thanks for sharing.

  6. The pretender...relate to this.
    I was feeling so defective that I had a large store room of costumes and masks to put on depending on the person. Like a chameleon lizard but in human form. Woody Allen has a great film that deals with this issue
    Zelig..he morphs into the folks he stands near.
    Glad I can joke about this now in the past it caused shame for me.
    There are the days I feel myself slipping again into the lizard people pleaser.

  7. Excellent post, good explanation of the difference between AA and Alanon. They are not the same, they were not intended to be the same.

    When you are sponsoring a person in Alanon, they are not alcoholic and should not be sponsored as such.

    I try not to dwell on regrets, but I wasted my 30's and 40's working too much to avoid my problems and feelings.

  8. Syd, it helps me to hear you talk about how you sponsor. I respect the fact that you use AA literature in sponsoring (I think the AA 4th step, especially the resentment inventory, is a reliable tool) and I especially like that you don't try to force the people you work with to do things. Even in AA I don't force people to do things they don't want to do, and I have never told someone to get lost because they're not doing it "right." I suppose this method is something I learned from my 10 years in Al-Anon before I came to AA. much love /G

  9. I'm sure you know, Syd, that all sponsors in AA don't use the approach that you described. I guess that's the "tough love" deal but I sponsor much more like you do and it entails a lot of just plain listening.
    Recently a newcomer in our AA community said that her sponsor gave her an assignment to listen carefully at each meeting and write down at least one gem that she heard and then they share them later. I think that's a great way to get a newbie to really listen and can't wait to use it with a new sponsee.

  10. Hi Syd,

    I enjoyed this post, how you describe Al-Anon, being a sponsor and how you suggest, but not insist. That is wonderful that you are giving back in this way, and I'm sure it is appreciated. Suggesting sounds appropriate for Al-Anon. I too liked this line - Stay safe within the cocoon of a chaotic life. So true! Take care.

  11. AA & Alanon are alike, but totally different. I have told many a woman to get another sponsor when I realize that our approaches are totally different. If they want someone who thinks sobriety should be a lukewarm thing, they can find someone else who will agree with them. I refuse to beat my head against a wall with someone who isn't benefiting from my approach. I don't think that is mean or tough, it is just knowing who I am and what I can and can't do.

  12. When I was absolutely healthy and could work out I never saw a need for it. I was able to bench my own weight, life engine blocks with no problem and stuff like that. Work was a work out and every day i got sweaty and greasy from my head to my steel to covered feet I felt god.

    Now with all the fusions and stuff that i have been through the last decade I'd really like toget some of that upper body strength back--*sigh*

    OK here is another question...I drank almost 1/5th a night for almost 17 years why is it that I never went to an AA meeting and felt like I was welcome? No one ever approached and asked first time? The coffee is there and you should go to that table there.

    Maybe it was me but I found that the longer the group had been together the more stand offish they were.

    13 years ago I did a self sign in ten day in hospital rehab and just never drank alcohol anymore.

  13. Did you find it hard doing the 12 steps in an association where you're there (in a sense) by proxy as it wasn't YOU who had the alcohol problem. You were in a codependent relationship, wouldn't you say? I got into the opposite end of a codependent relationship when I was bang on the heroin a few years ago. It was crazy. She used to follow me around and we'd have rows that lasted all day!

    Also I was wondering: are you allowed to drink alcohol as an AlAnon member? Or is it banned? Alcohol is banned in NA, even though people are there for drugs...

  14. Syd, you are awesome! The suductiveness (sp) of real life likes to creep quietly in and catch us off guard. My sponsor is a tough one. She makes me own everthing. But she's just what I needed. She also one of the biggest hearts there is, and she would walk through fire for me. Breaking broken people down doesn't make much sense to me either. Sometimes just being the quiet steady in someones life is all they need to get back on track. Keep writing, and inspiring us all. Oh can you pop over to Wisconsin and drag me to work out? I've gotten out of my routine, and need to get my butt moving....:-)

  15. Wow ~ the part about realizing you didn't have close friends who knew the authentic you really resonated with me. I was so good at keeping a distance from even the wonderful girlfriends I grew up with that when I told one about my sobriety, she were shocked. No idea how bad my drinking was (which was super serious). Still working on breaking down wall, as I am still so slow in forming sober connections. This makes no sense because I am amazingly social ~ just on the surface, I guess? Anyway, loved your post. Have a great evening...

  16. you know this is what I love about recovery Syd... I know guys in AA that got sober by barely crawing out of the puddle of ooze they'd left in the gutter, and they needed a "drill sergeant" to get them moving into the steps. Those "old timers" scared me and I listened to them at meetings but could never ask one ot sponsor me. I found a guy who worked with me like you work wth your sponsees. I would've left if I was ordered not to think, and given explicit instructions at every turn.

    I'm grateful for men like you in the fellowship who've found the way that works for them and continue to transmit it to others.

  17. You sound like you would make a wonderful, healthy, sane, and loving sponsor.
    I am jealous of your sponsee! :)


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