I found out that my first sponsee, David R, passed away yesterday. David was a real alcoholic, he struggled to find the answer in AA and was the kind of drunk who’d been in treatment centers and involved with the courts countless times. He was, for all intents and purposes, hopeless – that’s the kind of drunk you don’t think is going to make it and then BOOM they get it and their whole life is changed… but that didn’t happen for him. He had brief moments of sobriety when I knew him, and then the crushing fall back into the disease – it was hard to watch for me, probably a lot harder to watch for his family. I feel guilt – maybe I didn’t read him the right part of the book, or show him how good it would be or … I don’t know, a million things, but it’s not about what I did or didn’t do, I tried – I reached out my hand and offered a way out, the same way that was shown to me, that’s all I was bound to do.
David is the guy I wrote about and got published in the A.A. Grapevine – ( Read story here ). I was working over nights at the Fahrman Center, a treatment center/halfway house, when David called and was suicidal. I talked to him for a good long time and eventually had the police get out there to get him – he was taken to the psychiatric unit at the local hospital, but not before he made me promise to come up and see him there and bring my fellow AA’s with me. That morning, likely before the sun came up I called all the guys on my list and a bunch of us went to see him. That phone call and follow up visits by AAs to him opened up an avenue for that hospital and the District to talk to one another, we started a pager program and started to carry the message to drunks up there – it changed things.
But David didn’t stay sober, I don’t remember when he got drunk after that – but I know he was sober for a while and he seemed happy. He kept focusing on getting his family back and how he could get sober if he had them, but I knew from the book that wasn’t the case…
“Let no alcoholic say he cannot recover unless he has his family back. This just isn’t so. In some cases the wife will never come back for one reason or another. Remind the prospect that his recovery is not dependent upon people. It is dependent upon his relationship with God. We have seen men get well whose families have not returned at all. We have seen others slip when the family came back too soon.” Alcoholics Anonymous, pp 99-100
He wouldn’t, or maybe couldn’t hear that and he got drunk.
The last time I saw David he had called me and was really drunk, he was staying at a little motel down the highway and I went to see him. He looked pretty bad, was still drunk as hell and was hard to understand. He started to talk about bad things that had happened to him as a child- but then he just passed out.
I’d get reports once in a while from friends who work in the Drug and Alcohol treatment field once in a while – and I always hoped he’d show up one day at a meeting I’d get to when I was visiting, but it didn’t happen.
I’ve cried a bunch of times today – a few times for happy reasons before I heard this news – but mostly for David. I so want to grab a slipping newcomer and just slap him silly
“Don’t you see, can’t you see this will happen to you to”
“just do what we’ve asked, and you’ll see, it’ll all get better”
but I know that won’t work… I used to hear in meetings “You can’t see until you can see and you can’t hear until you can hear” and it’s sadly so true. For some there’s nothing I can do to help them until they’re ready – and some sadly will never be ready.
I was at my current sponsor Flo’s house when I heard about David today, I was helping him prepare a memorial for his first sponsor who passed a few weeks ago. And it was just the right place to be at the right time – I find it hard to cry in front of people, even my sponsor, and he left the room. Here we were, preparing to honor the man who had reach him only to hear about the loss of a man I couldn’t reach. That’s AA for you, I was where I was supposed to be today.
The old-timers and the book say that even though David didn’t stay sober, I did and that’s a good thing – that doesn’t make me feel better at all. I want it all, I want David to be next to me at a meeting grinning at newcomers who can’t pronounce anonymity and shaking hands at the door. I want them all to get it and to have a better life and to see how a few simple rules can change the world.
I believe in Alcoholics Anonymous, because it worked for me when I worked for it – I didn’t get it when I just stayed on the outskirts and watched others participate. When David was participating and shaking hands he seemed happier than I’d seen him before – I saw change in him. But our book says others are likely to see the change in newcomers before they see it in themselves, that may have been the case with David, I’m not sure.
There is a solution, I’ve found it, it was shown to me by sponsors who had it shown to them by sponsors who had it shown to them by sponsors… it’s been working for over 75 years now. We have a lot of people to try to reach out to, I want to be the helping hand to show them the way out, I want to see them help others and watch a marvelous fellowship grow up about them. I wanted that for David, I want that for all my sponsees – the fellowship I have around me is so vast now, reach across continents, internets and handshakes – I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Rest in Peace David