When we first come into Alcoholics Anonymous, we are generally scared, hopeless, lonely, and usually very unaware of what AA is and how it works. Unless of course, we have been exposed to it through someone close to us or through a treatment centre. So when we are told to get a sponsor, we may not even know what a sponsor is and what their role in our sobriety might look like. This was my experience. I had no idea what I would find in Alcoholics Anonymous – all I knew was that I couldn’t keep living the way I was. People gave me phone numbers and one person suggested they could be my temporary sponsor, but all I could think was “just give me the golden key and maybe in a month or two months at most, I can walk out of here for good and get on with my life. And just what in the hell are the rest of you guys coming back here for every week if you’ve been sober for 5, 17, 21, 25, 36 years?!” As any AA member knows, I soon learned that AA is a way of life and that our journey never ends – we become useful to God and to others and we can share our experience, strength, and hope, not only in meetings, but in our daily lives.
There was an old man with 35 years of sobriety at my home group who would always corner me for a while after the meetings – he would ask me lots of questions and let me decide for myself the next steps I should take. He would offer me many “suggestions” as he called them – like read the Big Book, ask for help from a Power greater than myself, attend certain closed meetings, and decide for good that if I was truly an alcoholic, to trust a Power greater than myself and to start on The Steps as soon as possible.
My sponsor is basically a poster child for the suggestions in “Working With Others” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 7). Eventually, after many stark reminders that I needed to take Step 1, I trusted this man enough to call him my sponsor and to work on the remaining Steps in the coming months. And sure enough as promised by those old-timers and the Big Book, I soon found that my obsession for alcohol was lifted even though the allergy would remain. It was a struggle at times in the first year, but I had finally faced my demons in Steps 4 and 5, made amends for my wrongs in Steps 8 and 9 and was trying to practice the rest of The Steps to the best of my ability every day.
I love my sponsor. In two short years, he has made as much of an impact on me than anyone else has in many more years. I trust him completely. He is gentle, but he is firm. He speaks from his own experience. He is humble and yet he is sure of himself and his ability to help others. He is the best example of AA that I know even though his character defects have not been completely removed. He has been a true servant in AA on various levels and continues to be so. He is hungry to learn new things and he laughs and cries easily as it suits the mood, making everyone around him feel better and a part of. If I can follow his lead and learn to “trudge the road of Happy Destiny,” I have little doubt that I will be with him and with others “in the Fellowship of the Spirit (Alcoholics Anonymous, 164). I hope that I can be a shining light in someone else’s darkness like he has been in mine. I believe he has experienced the following and he often says that it is the only true source of happiness he has ever known:
“Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail. Remember they are very ill. Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 89).
I think a running coach needs to be similar in many ways to a good sponsor. They understand that as newcomers to running, we are probably very fearful and generally unaware of what to do and how we can get better. They are able to look back on their own running journey and they are able to share their experience, strength, and hope. And if they are a truly great coach, their life is a testament to the spiritual and practical benefits of consistent running. Though “perfection” is not a requirement in their methods, they need to always seek “progress” in how to make their athletes better, both on and off of the trails and the roads. They will have raced and been injured, fallen and been victorious, and been ever grateful and humble, especially following success. We want a coach that is gentle, but firm, one that serves others in this great sport and who can laugh and cry at the raw emotions when recalling his time on the roads and the trails. And finally, we want a coach to “carry this message” – the joy of running – how it can lift our spirits and transform our lives so that we can be of better service to the people around us.
I have had the good fortune to coach young people in cross-country running for the past twelve years and it brings me great joy; however, I have never had a running coach. I have made many mistakes as a result and injury and heartache have been a familiar thorn in the side. I believe a good sponsor in AA can help us avoid unnecessary injury and heartache as well, by giving us the directions laid out in our literature.
So to you no nonsense running coaches out there, Joe Gray, Ian Sharman, or David Roche: any takers for this stubborn and determined runner/recovered alcoholic?
AA Grapevine “At Wit’s End” Joke of the Week
Newcomer: “I’ve noticed that all the meetings here serve coffee, but not tea. Why?”
Old Timer: “Alcoholics have a hard time with tea.”
Newcomer: “Any kind of tea?”
Old Timer: “Sure, like…humility, sanity, honesty, integrity, resposibility, dependability