A Season of Loss

By Harry Healy 08/02/17

It’s entirely possible that I had taken this sponsee as far as I could take him. Or leaving aside my exaggerated self-regard, maybe he just outgrew me.

sad man sitting on steps
The author loses his aunt and job, and now must come to terms with loss even in recovery.

The air in the boss’s office was shot through with the metallic scent of tension. This wasn’t the first time I’d been summoned in off-hours, but it might have been the fourth, and I wasn’t anticipating any good news. Just as well, because I didn’t get any.

“Look,” said the boss, in the distinct accent of the neighborhood he grew up in, “This isn’t working out.”

He then proceeded to tear the epaulets off my shoulders, and about the only thing he left out was a double slap with an empty glove, a round trip (or allez-retour en Francais; I’ve got to think it was the French who invented this). Figurative or not, his literal meaning was crystal clear. I’d been relieved of my command. Gotten the sack. The old chop-suey. And that, I believe is Chinese.

I’ve been sober in Alcoholics Anonymous for twenty-three years, and I’ve worked a lot of jobs. Thanks largely to having stopped drinking, one day at a time, and to the principles of the program, I’ve been fired from exactly none of them. Here was a fresh reality to sink my teeth into.

This was income I was depending on, the way most people with jobs do, money that I needed to provide for my family. Gone. Compounding my humiliation and the fear of what was around the corner, the boss’s partner, the man through whom I’d come to the company, was a friend of over 20 years. He was at the meeting too, squirming mutely. Why wouldn’t he be? Marriages, divorces, the births of one another’s children, successes, failures, we shared a lengthy personal history. I guess that’s gone, too. I haven’t spoken to the man since, and I don’t intend to.

Two weeks before that, it was my honor to deliver the eulogy at the funeral of my aunt Frances, who died at the age of 88. This woman was absolutely instrumental in shaping the direction of my life, and I would not be the man I am today, whatever kind of man I think I am, without her. I loved her as much as I have ever loved anyone, and it’s a loss, a loss I consider most every day.

And then a couple of weeks back I bumped into my longest tenured sponsee at the usual Friday night meeting. If he wasn’t asking questions, and lately, he hadn’t been, he was always the king of the check-in phone call—I’m doing this, I’m going there, I have a meeting with so-and-so.

But I hadn’t heard from him. I should’ve known something was up when he corralled me on the sidewalk on the way to the diner.

“I’ve been meaning to get a hold of you," he told me. “I’ve decided to work with another sponsor.”

Here’s a guy I knew when we were young, who I worked with on a couple of jobs, sneaked drinks with, with whom I descended into the drug hells of after hours clubs to get blasted well into the next day, combining resources to buy “cocaine,” or whatever it was that kept us awake and drinking more.

I was stunned.

“I’ve just decided to change everything.” That was the explanation I got.

I have a few more years in the program than he does, but drawing on our connection, I’ve been his sponsor since the day he walked into AA. And for the record, out of the scores of guys I’ve tried to help across the decades, he is the only man that I’ve brought through all 12 steps. I know everything about him. He knows most of what there is to know about me. I’ve never been closer to anybody in the program, and this was the unkindest cut of all.

I’d like to believe that I’ve established AA as zero degrees latitude, the equator of my life. Everything else, family, career, money, is north or south of there. The guy who dumped me notwithstanding, I’m always sponsoring a handful of men, admittedly, to greater or lesser effect. I’ve got a solid meeting schedule and a great peer group. I maintain a service commitment, I pray every day, and I try to meditate.

As the losses pile up at a juncture in my life where I can ill afford them, what does this say about the expectations I have for myself, and maybe more pointedly, the expectations I have of others? What does it say about the effectiveness of AA, the years of thought and energy I’ve put into the program?

I don’t generally give in to a lot of feelings, and I don’t bother to keep track of how I’m feeling on a certain day. Feelings come and they go. They’re subject to change.

But my feelings were hurt (could you tell?) by the guy who ungraciously kicked me to the curb, and at a time of acute vulnerability.

The hop is a short one, from hurt feelings to a nagging suspicion that something is being done to me, and from there, to the most poisonous state of mind there is: self-pity.

The solution is always the same, and the solution is of God. That’s what the old-timers would tell you. And now I’m one of the old-timers.

I opened my larger print 12X12, and the pages fell open to the passage I was looking for. “When the hand of God seemed heavy or unjust,” Bill Wilson wrote in his essay on Step Eleven, “new lessons for living were learned, new resources of courage were uncovered and…finally, inescapably the conviction came that God does move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”

So there’s that.

Or as one philosopher once said, Sometimes life just sucks. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be life. So let’s run this through again, shall we?

Acknowledge, absorb, adapt.

When those guys hired me to get their start up off the ground, I told them I would help them out. I did that. They imagined for me a much larger role than I did for myself, they didn’t dedicate much money to payroll—lean and mean, you know—and my labor was sucking up a large percentage of that, a constant source of conflict. I had numbered my own days, and the race was between quitting and getting fired. They won the race.

My aunt Frances died after 88 fruitful years on this planet. She was greatly loved, singularly generous, loyal, and a woman of tremendous faith. Not every death is a tragedy, and Frances’s certainly was not. An unquestionable loss, but not a tragedy. Her health had failed, and she had hardly been herself for quite some time. The little old lady was ready for the end, and she welcomed it. If half the people who miss her miss me when I am gone, I will consider my life a ringing success. The natural order of things is often full of longing.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still smarting over losing that sponsee (to another very capable man, as it happens). But it’s entirely possible that I had taken this guy as far as I could take him. Or leaving aside my exaggerated self-regard, maybe he just outgrew me. It happens. I’ll get over it. Eventually.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix