Where to Draw the Line When Helping Newcomers in AA - Page 2

By Sarah Jones 06/17/13

We want to give back. But service can veer into unhealthy—or downright dangerous—territory. How far is too far? Here's how some of us have handled sticky situations.

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Money

Cash can be another source of stress. Should I loan someone money, or not? How much is too much? “I worked with a sponsee who had a ton of pride around his poverty," says John. "He would skip meetings because he couldn’t contribute to the Seventh Tradition basket. But one day he asked to borrow $100 because his daughter was coming to visit and he needed cash to take care of her.”

“For whatever reason, I agreed to help him out. I told him I’d meet him at my bank in my neighborhood. It crossed my mind he might be snowing me, but I could afford it. He kept pushing the meeting time back: a half-hour, an hour, then two. When he told me he was going to be almost four hours late I put my foot down and said I couldn't wait anymore.”

Despite what the Big Book says, today I would never allow an active meth and heroin user in my crib, no matter how badly they wanted to stay sober. 

“A switch flipped and his voice suddenly took on a sinister tone. He finally told me that, despite my protestations, he was coming anyway. Sure enough, after a bit, I got a call from him standing outside my bank. I hung up on him and he called me about a dozen times over the next couple of hours. Eventually his calls stopped, as did our relationship. I never saw him again.”

Verdict: If you can spare the cash, sure, loan it. But you have to be able to let go of ever being repaid. Otherwise, you'll cop a resentment. And if things take a darker turn, pull the plug.

Work

AA isn’t a hotbed of mental health. Yeah, we’re all sober and you run into people on the street and you’re like, “Oh my god, you too?!” That’s the fun part. But seriously, it’s a good idea to keep your AA and work lives separate. 

I once worked at a Brooklyn restaurant that was owned by an AA member, and shit got weird. I was a bad waitress, but no one told me. Yes, I dropped a tray of nine mimosas during a packed brunch service, but, like, show me how to hold a tray properly!

Then one day at the end of the summer I got fired. It seemed like it was out of nowhere because I hadn’t been given any warnings. No one said a peep. I held a resentment against the boss for a long time, to the point where I tried to avoid him in meetings. It wasn’t a good scene. It took a few years before I got over it and we were able to co-chair our homegroup together.

Josh experienced a similar situation, but from a different angle: “I don’t recommend someone for a job unless I’m absolutely certain they're professional and polite,” he says. “I did this once and the AA-er came in and copped an attitude of monstrous levels to my friend who was hiring a freelance graphic designer. The AA-er, who had barely a year as a designer, informed my friend they would be lucky to have him, as he would soon be a famous artist. Embarrassing.”

Verdict: Even more in AA than with life in general, be very careful mixing business and pleasure.

Safety

We’re dealing with real life and death shit here. Things can get gnarly. “I helped clean out the apartment of a dude who’d just died from drinking," says Matt. "He had a bunch of one-day coins and filled ashtrays. Made my head spin a little.”

You gotta stay safe! I once sponsored a girl who was addicted to meth and heroin. She couldn’t put together more than two weeks sober. I have no idea what ever happened to her. Once I met her outside of a diner in Brooklyn and she was holding a beer bottle that she smashed. She cut up her hand, then walked into traffic. That’s the kind of sponsee she was.

One night, she’d had some relationship drama and had no place to stay. She asked if she could crash at my place and I let her, even though I didn’t have a full couch at the time, just a weird love seat. She slept on that. Afterward, she constantly asked to stay at my place.

Despite what the Big Book says—“A drunk may smash the furniture in your home, or burn a mattress. You may have to fight him if he is violent. Occasionally you will have to meet such conditions.”—today I would never allow an active meth and heroin user in my crib, no matter how badly they wanted to stay sober. 

I want to go back in time five years ago and shake myself and say, “What the hell were you thinking?!” She could have stolen stuff from me, or physically harmed me. Or my cats. Sorry, Bill W., but that doesn’t sound like a safe situation for a 26-year-old girl. If I wanted to put my life in danger, I would have kept drinking!

Verdict: Find your own place to crash, kid.

Sarah Jones is a pseudonym

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