Angels Passing Through

By Sadie Long 03/12/15

For a newcomer, a kind gesture from a "just-passing-through angel" can be a lifesaver.


I went to my first AA meeting on May 17, 23 years ago, at the 14th Street Workshop in Manhattan. I don't remember how I knew of the clubhouse location. Maybe I called Intergroup; I don't know. But, I do know I woke up that morning, finally “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and stumbled over five blocks to the Workshop in my pajamas.

When I got there, I discovered there wasn't another meeting for two hours—I was devastated. I didn't think I could stay sober for another two hours; my hands were still shaking and I needed a drink. I sat down on the weather-beaten couch in the hallway and started to cry.

In came an elderly woman in a pink Chanel suit and a string of pearls. As I would learn, she was from Connecticut and only in town for the afternoon. She had an astonishing 30 years sober.

Chanel sized up the situation of this crying girl in pajamas and reached out her hand. 

“Honey,” she said gently. “Let's go get some coffee.” 

And she led me downstairs, down 2nd Avenue to Little Poland, where we spent two hours talking and drinking coffee and milkshakes. Then Chanel escorted me back to the 14th Street Workshop for my first meeting.

I never knew her name, and I never saw her again.

I also met the man who would, 10 years later, become my husband at that meeting.

He was also destined to become my drinking-and-using buddy when we both relapsed—he with 12 years and I with six.

After five years of spiraling with him back into the depths of active alcohol and cocaine addiction, I was finally again “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and ready to get sober again. I knew I couldn't do it with him still snorting lines on the dining room table, so I looked on Craigslist and found a shitty little apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in which to move.

Problem was, I spent my last dime on the first and last month's rent. I had nothing left over to pay a mover. 

I went to the French church with my friend Bill and told the group what was happening—if I didn't make this move, I would probably drink again.

After the meeting, a man named Patrick came up to me and said, “I'm a mover. I'll move you for free.”

Two days later, he was stuck in Connecticut on a job, but he sent one of his workers in a van to move me gratis. Bill and I, along with this moving man, carried my stuff out of the Fifth Avenue apartment I had shared with my husband (we had a rent-free apartment because he was a super), into the van, and drove over the Brooklyn Bridge to my new, drug-free home.

I did stay sober. And I never saw Patrick, or his employee who moved me, ever again.

It seems to me there are angels who pass through our lives in sobriety, often saving our lives without realizing it.

Perhaps the greatest example of angels passing through my life have been my sponsees. Yes, our relationship was usually longer than the few hours I spent with Chanel or the anonymous-moving man. But most of my sponsees, after enriching my life and my sobriety more than they could ever know, have somehow disappeared.

There was Laura, a spitfire lesbian who always made me laugh with her irreverence and sarcastic wit. When I heard Laura's 5th Step, the 5th Step promises came over me like a wave: “We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone with perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience. The feeling that the drink problem has disappeared will often come strongly. We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand-in-hand with the Spirit of the Universe.”

These promises came true for me when I heard her 5th Step much more strongly than when I did my own 5th Step with a sponsor. Laura was so grateful for my time and patience in listening to her inventory, but she never realized how powerful the experience was for me. 

Then there was Betsy, who struggled with relapse over the six months I worked with her, much as I had done before finally putting the plug in the jug. She was embarrassed every time she had to call and report another binge, but she never realized that keeping it green for me that way kept me so grateful to be out of the addiction loop. Kept me sober.

I met a new sponsee last week, and met her for two meetings and coffee, marveling at the similarities in our stories. Tonight she “fired” me, saying she found someone else. And that's fine! I want the best for her, and if someone else is a better fit, that's great. In the meantime, because of her, I found a new meeting in my neighborhood I had never been to before.

Don't get me wrong: sometimes sponsees do drive me bananas. When they call for the fifth time that day to recount the excruciating minutia of their latest encounter with the boy they have a crush on, when they belligerently refuse to follow suggestions, I feel frustrated and don't want to answer the phone. I'm not a saint!

But I do answer the phone. And I stay sober because I do. As annoying as they can be, sponsees truly are a gift.

Sponsees come and go. Some announce their departure and others simply fade away. I recently reached out to Laura after not hearing from her for more than a year. I said I was still here, and still here for her, should she wish to get back in touch. I can only hope she's still sober.

But I was taught in early sobriety that the mark of a successful 12-step call or sponsorship is that the sponsor stays sober. And thanks to my sponsees passing through my life in sobriety, I have remained sober. 

Recently, a woman came up to me at a meeting and introduced herself as “Mary.” 

“Twenty years ago I went to my first meeting and felt so nervous, wanted to run out the door,” she told me. “But you were chairing the meeting and when we all held hands to pray, you smiled and winked at me. It made me feel welcome. Made me come back.”

It seems that, for Mary, I was a “just-passing-through angel.”

Every time we smile at a newcomer, buy someone a cup of coffee, or share a laugh, we are potentially saving a life in AA. There are angels among us, just passing through.

Sadie Long is a pseudonym for a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about being on her knees.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix