When programs friends or sponsees who have been doing well call at unscheduled hours to say that they are depressed or that obsessive thoughts have returned, I generally start by asking one question:
How’s your prayer life?
The longer I’m in the program the more important this question seems to me. This isn’t a disease we cure. We only get a daily reprieve based on our spiritual condition. And that means exercising our spirit every day.
When I agree to take on new sponsees, here’s what I recommend:
Pray on your knees, at least once a day
Go to two Al-Anon meetings and one open AA meeting every week
Buy one of Al-Anon’s books of daily meditations and read it every day
Practice gratitude, actively, by writing a daily gratitude list
Those are the basics. And when people who have been doing well, suddenly aren’t, I have found they’ve stopped doing one (or several) of these things as regularly as they once did.
There are often good reasons for that. But the result is the same.
It happened to me several months ago during a bout of what may have been the swine flu. I was unable to get out of bed for two weeks. My only prayers were a fevered “God, just take me now.”
I didn’t attend a meeting, read any literature, talk to my sponsor. Then I got a phone call from my daughter with a request that threw me for a loop. She wanted money. It seemed like for a good reason. I didn’t know what to do.
I couldn’t reach my sponsor. My mind started its familiar spin cycle, its obsessive feedback loop. By the time my sponsor called, I had sent money and was agonizing over whether I should send more.
It took her about two seconds for my sponsor to set me straight. She reminded me that the reason my daughter needed money was because she had taken certain actions. What she was experiencing were the consequences of those actions.
Oh, yeah. I thought. Duh.
But without the tools of the program, I couldn’t think about it clearly.
I’ve seen much more dramatic examples from people who have been in the program for much longer. People who work a good program.
A very dear friend fell dramatically off the beam after she stopped praying. She experienced a storm of difficulties and after one particular incident, she just couldn’t pray. Then she started skipping meetings here and there. I visited her after an elective surgery and was surprised to find her completely undone.
Through it all, she could still give good program advice. She had been in the program a long time. She knew Al-Anon chapter and verse. But this is a program of action. Knowing everything about recovery doesn’t do a bit of good without taking the actions we’re taught in this program.
Or as I read in another blog recently, God will put wind in your sails, but he won’t raise the sail.
Another friend admitted that after 16 years in the program, he had to call his sponsor and “turn himself in.” He had lost his faith.
She had him rework step 2. At the same time, he was working with a sponsee on the same step. God makes no mistakes.
He asked himself: What did I do when I was new?
I prayed on my knees
I went to meetings
I read Al-Anon literature
I practiced gratitude
He did those things and climbed back on the beam.