Thursday, August 26, 2010

"This is our lives we're talking about..."

I think the emotion that surprised me the most tonight was anger, but it was just one of many I felt concurrently. Combined, all those feelings seemed seductively familiar, like climbing into bed under a deliciously warm electric blanket on a cold night. Why I find comfort in this weird mix of sadness, anger, and envy, I'm not sure. But comforting it is, even if I'm at a loss to understand it.

So. Just what is the "proper" mood, I wonder, when you hear about the death of an ex-sponsee from a drug overdose at the same meeting where you're celebrating a sponsee's one-year birthday?

The discussion leader and chairperson mentioned John's death. When I shared, I mentioned that I had once sponsored someone named John and I'd check after the meeting to see if it was him. But they told me then and there, during my share, that yes, it's the same guy. It made for an interesting moment, I suppose. I don't remember much about the rest of the meeting.

Afterwards, I had to leave right away to pick up my kid so I was unable to get the details. For all I know, John could have died today or five years ago. I hadn't seen him in years.

I was John's first sponsor, way back when, and he made it to nine months. Then, about the time I started to fuck up my life, he started slipping away from the rooms. John had an impressive resume and was eager to be somebody once again now that he had his shit together. I had no luck whatsoever convincing him to be "just John" for a while instead. Eventually he got another sponsor (by then I was in no shape to sponsor anyone). I saw him maybe three times after that. And then no more.

My kid and I called him "Sailor John" because of a shirt he wore when we all went to a movie one time. She still remembers him fondly, even though she was only about eight or nine years old when she saw him last. A politician and activist at one time, he was friendly and easy to talk to.

They say the program isn't for people who need it, it's for people who want it. But I've seen lots of people who want it desperately and still can't stay sober. John was one of them.

Recently I heard someone say that this program is not for people who need it or for people who want it. It's for people who do it.  That, it seems to me, is more accurate.

But this post isn't about John. It's about me, and those old familiar feelings. I felt the same thing when one of my students committed suicide. I felt it again when my sponsor went back out. Both times it lasted for weeks. Sadness. Anger. Envy. All combining into a morbidly alchemical desire to jump in there with them.

In other words, triggered. 

I recognize the trigger now, and hopefully that will lessen its power. In the meantime, though, my disease is "doing pushups" in the back room, and it's working on concocting a new trigger that I won't recognize.

The fact is, I haven't been doing the program lately. Plenty of service work, yes, but not a lot of recovery. I haven't been calling anybody. I've been too busy to get to enough meetings. I stayed safely in the middle of the bed for a long time, but lately I've been wandering over to the edge now and then to peek over.

So with news of John's death, I see that now it's time to make a choice: do I keep loitering near the edge of the bed?  Or do I scramble back into the middle where it's safe, where my sponsee and I can properly, joyously celebrate an entire year of continuous sobriety?

This is, after all, our lives we're talking about.


  1. I related most strongly to John's desire to run right back out into the wild blue yonder and "get back" his life, even after just a taste of what the recovery process truly entails.

    I'm so sorry to hear this news and hate our disease. You, however, I love. So keep writing.


  2. Again I am struck by what a shocking, genuine miracle it is that I'm sitting here sober, typing this, when so many don't make it.

    How did I do it? Fuck if I know. I didn't drink, didn't die, and a lot of time went by. In all candor, I don't even think that "I" did it at all. Without divine intervention (I prayed not to be consumed AGAIN by the craving) I could not have done it. I suppose it's a gift that we work for, strange to say.

    Excellent, honest post.

  3. I feel the same way, fireblossom. Sobriety is truly a gift and I'm very grateful to have it.

    And Mark, I love you too.