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The Best Sponsor I Ever Had

It took a while to find a healthy sponsor, but eventually the right spiritual guidance came along in the guise of a Tibetan Terrier.

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By Hank Murphy

12/02/13

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When I showed up in AA in 2007 I was in very bad shape, mentally and physically. I had been poisoning myself with the equivalent of a fifth of vodka every night for over nine years. My face was puffy and my eyes were dead. My morning pep talk for the last two years had been, “have another drink you piece of crap” while I looked in the bathroom mirror. A major contributor to my addiction to booze had been trauma in my past.

My father killed himself when I was three years old and I grew up in terrifying violence. My mother was a schizophrenic who went off her meds every year. When my mother was unmedicated, she would burn everything around her to the ground, threaten people with knives, and smash windows. Sometimes she would sit at the kitchen table in her bathrobe and have full blown conversations with the devil. Or she could erupt like a volcano and throw everything she could get her hands on at me. When my mother was psychotic, it was an experience of pure terror. She was in the very small group of people with schizophrenia who are violent. The violence went on and on until I moved out my first week of senior year in high school. My nervous system was fried and I had severe post traumatic stress disorder.

The lesson was a lot of years without a drink or a drug does not mean someone is healthy or a safe person to be around.

I spent many years in therapy and found some healing there. Unfortunately, I was also medicating myself with booze and the benefits of the therapy got away from me.

When I first walked into AA I was under the mistaken assumption that people in the program were actively working on themselves and trying to get better. I was in for a rude awakening.

I never really wanted to get a sponsor. At one of my first regular meetings, however, the format specified that newcomers should find a temporary sponsor. I talked to a guy for an hour after the meeting and he seemed genuine and sincere enough to me. I asked him the next week to be my temporary sponsor.

I talked to him a couple times on the phone and everything seemed okay. Then, the following week I called him to ask a question: “I'm really not sure when I am supposed to be calling you.” I immediately knew something was wrong. He started to yell at me. I paused after he was done and asked again: “when am I supposed to call you?" I was not looking for someone to be my babysitter. I was just not sure what the relationship was supposed to be. It was becoming obvious I was dealing with an abusive and very troubled person.

I had other issues with this sponsor as well. I had been lifting weights for 24 years and I remember standing with this guru of sobriety outside a meeting. He said “never blow me off to work out” and then explained how he did not like people who lifted weights. He was saying all this while sucking on a cigarette. What I did in my life was none of his business; I was just looking for someone to do the steps with. I must have missed the line in the "questions and answers on sponsorship" pamphlet about having to justify your hobbies to a sponsor. That’s because there is no garbage like that in the pamphlet.

One night my sponsor’s rage erupted when we were driving back from a meeting at which I had received my 90-day chip. I realized that he had gone too far—a line was crossed that I was not going to allow anymore. When we got to coffee I told him I was going to leave and that was that. I learned an important lesson from this man: a lot of years without a drink or a drug does not mean someone is healthy or a safe person to be around.

After a few false starts I found a guy to do the steps with. It was no magical mystical experience for me. I had already told everything on my fourth step to my therapist over the years. Doing the steps did make me consider the issue of spirituality again and, over time, I have developed my own brand of spirituality. The most important result of doing the steps was that I was able to take a completely honest look at my inner world’s relationship with alcohol and drugs and I saw that I had lost control. Observing that my brain was telling me to drink when I really wanted to stop was a terrifying experience. The last time I drank it was for four and a half months against my will.

I appreciate this man taking time to go through the steps with me. I still talk to him every six months or so. I drifted away from him because I really did not need anything else from him. He was a solid AA and never abused me or forced any of his own opinions on me. He allowed me to have my own experience and take what I needed and leave the rest.

About three years ago I met my current sponsor and he is the best ever. There was a noon meeting that I frequented and one Saturday there he was. He was kind of short and had been around for four years. He beamed with happiness and love of life. He was quite friendly, going around the room socializing with everyone. I thought to myself “now there is a guy I want to meet,” and we have been close buddies ever since. My current sponsor is a Tibetan terrier. Yep, my sponsor is a dog. I have spent much time with this little guy and he has worked his magic on me with his unconditional love and non-judgment. The past year was quite difficult. I spent many a night with this dog sitting on my lap.

My sponsor is owned by a man that got sober around 1972 so I had the added bonus of regular talks with a longtime member of AA. We would chat away after a meeting about our versions of spirituality, or we would rail against people we considered to be AA Nazis. Their controlling rigidity is the antithesis of what is prescribed in the book. We talked about books, movies and women. He talked about what was happening in his life and I talked about what was happening in mine. No inequality here, just one alcoholic talking to another with my sponsor chiming in with his opinion at times. Generally his opinion would involve growling at someone walking by.

My sponsor does not like yellow signs on the street and he growls and barks at them. He also does not like statues of fish. He is working on his tolerance but he still picks out the strangest things to bark at. Progress not perfection, I guess. Yep, I picked the best sponsor ever for me.

When I arrived on the doorstep of AA I did not need to be beaten up anymore. I had already seen so much violence and hatred growing up and then I started to commit violence against myself by pouring poison into my body by the quart. Trying to find a way to cope with pain and destroying myself in the process was enough of a beat down. I needed to be around people who were kind.

In August I celebrated my fifth sober anniversary. I have come out of the nightmare of active alcoholism and my little sponsor Benny has helped me to do that. I think I am going to get the little guy something nice to snack on this week to thank him. There is no one path to healing. Everyone finds their own path and sometimes that path involves a little help from man’s best friend.

Hank Murphy is a pseudonym for a member of AA.

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