This week’s “Here’s To Your Health,” is a continuation of a medical doctor’s story: When it comes to dealing with life, alcoholics have one hand tied behind them. Our whole mental process that we used to escape, or deal with our mental twists is what made us chronic alcoholics. Nurses used to make doctors feel special and since I no longer could deal with my mental twists by using alcohol and drugs, I turned to sex and extramarital sex. Modern nurses believe that’s crap and they’re more about being professional, but I sort of miss the old days.

Three years into the affair with my nurse, I was full of fear, anger, resentment, guilt and shame and it occurred to me if I didn’t share this stuff with somebody I was going to get drunk so I shared it with my sponsor and I knew right then the affair was over. I had a mess to clean up, but the affair was over. Before I got home that night my sponsor had called my wife and told her everything—I learned a lot from that experience. I fired my sponsor and then I was all of the above and without a sponsor. In 33 years of sobriety, I’ve had three sponsors; the longest I’ve ever been without one is about three months.

In 1989, three of us started a homeless shelter in Louisville that houses about three hundred men and women where they study the book Alcoholics Anonymous for a minimum of one year. Whenever I tell my story there, I ask the men what they would’ve done if they had been in my shoes and they say, “I’d shoot the bastard—kill him.” Well, that would be the normal instinct, but after working the steps, and studying the Big Book a normal reaction was somehow transformed into a spiritual solution. Common sense thus becomes un-common sense. Sponsors are not gods, but I wouldn’t get caught dead without one. When I agree to sponsor somebody the first thing I tell them is that, I don’t walk on water, I don’t have all of the answers and I won’t be standing tall or glowing in the dark. I’m not perfect, but they can learn from my imperfections as much as from the things that I do right. We’re going to hold each other’s hand and walk this path of sobriety together–it’s a “we” program.

Too many people in AA elevate their sponsor’s to a god like status and in the beginning that might not be a bad idea because their sponsor might be the only thing keeping them sober, but our book says we should first make a beginning by believing in a “power,” greater than ourselves, it doesn’t mention anything about God. Wilson changed that to God soon after, but in the beginning it was simply, believing in a “power” greater than us. He made AA different from any other program by making it always inclusive and never exclusive. Anybody is welcome and the only price for membership is a real butt whipping under the lash of king alcohol. You pick the power whether you are Hindu, Moslem, Christian, atheist, agnostic, or Voodoo—You pick it, it’s your choice to make—so long as it’s a power greater than you.

Just about the time I start believing that I have no resentments, my first wife comes around to pickup our grandchildren and my rectum gets about the size of a toothpick—a saint I ain’t. I ask my current sponsor why it’s not working, but he insists it does work, if I keep doing it until the resentment leaves me.
After I fired my 2nd sponsor, one of my sponsorees brought me a set of the Joe and Charlie tapes and we started a Big Book study group and worked the steps together. It was the second Big Book study group in Louisville, KY and there’s 40 or 50 such meetings today that spun off that meeting.

What saved me was a man who I was sponsoring that brought me a set of the Joe and Charlie tapes. I learned from listening to those tapes that I was only working a three–step program. It wasn’t because I wasn’t willing to work them. I had chosen a sponsor who only worked the first three steps and if I didn’t do 4 & 5 and the rest of the steps, I was going to drink again and to drink again meant certain death. When a chronic alcoholic starts drinking again they very soon start consuming alcohol at the same level they were at when they quit and more because alcoholism is a progressive malady—it always gets worse, never better. I wanted more than anything in this world to stay sober because when I quit the last time I had a shotgun stuck in my mouth. I was more than willing, had a burning desire to get on with the rest of the steps–if I didn’t I was doomed.

John Barleycorn

The phantom writer of the column "Here's to Your Health". This writer is an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous and therefore must maintain anonymity. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer