At a gathering of our cohort last night, I found myself irritated by a particular meeting-goer. This was not the first time I have noticed him. 

Last night, he was generally rude and incoherent, and on prior occasions, he has been notably odorous. How do we deal with such members? Shall we cast them out? 

Let us look to the long form of our third tradition for a guiding principle: 

Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover.” So the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking? Well, any bum can claim to have such a desire! So this means any and everyone, from a neo-nazi to your neighbor’s niece, is welcome at an AA meeting. 

Since, in this life of AA, we are meant to deal with “life on life’s terms,” it follows that  we might view these uncomfortable situations as opportunities to grow; and indeed we should. However, there is a higher necessity to which we are obliged; and that necessity is to our own sobriety. 

If you feel uncomfortable at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is your responsibility (to yourself) to remove yourself from that situation immediately. For the first tradition states that though “our common welfare comes first… [our] individual welfare follows close afterward.”

Allow nothing to come between yourself and your own program. While we might hope a meeting’s secretary and/or a GSR (General Service Representative) might attempt to counsel a troublesome meeting-goer, we must “accept the things we cannot control.” And this is certainly one of them.

But in that spirit: we need also “the courage to change the things we can.” And we can keep our own shares succinct; we can remain silent while others are sharing (and keep our phones similarly muted); we can be sure we are bathed and awake and, in every possible way, unoffending. 

So in the end, I say: yes, “stick with the winners.” But never count out the losers. Because, truly, “the only constant is change.”


To receive the 12th step and sponsor a newcomer is arguably the most crucial and most gratifying component of long-term sobriety. I recently gave step 12 to my first sponsee, and I so look forward to watching him take another man through the steps. 

What makes a good sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous? Being new to the role myself, I’m hesitant to offer too many of my own conclusions, but I will pass along advice that I’ve received from more wisened members of our community. 

Tip #1: “A sponsor’s job is to take his sponsee through the steps; that is all. It is not the job of a sponsor to offer life advice.” 

Sponsorship is a sacred duty, too important to compromise under the swaying influence of one’s own opinions. The steps have been tested for nearly ninety years, and our trust in them is the implicit agreement which binds our community; it is from that trust alone that a sponsor derives his authority. 

You may find, in the course of your duties, that your sponsee has asked you for life advice. Respond with the utmost discretion; personal judgements, no matter how insightful or practiced, are sometimes wrong. 

Tip #2: “You can’t “make” them willing. The book says honesty, open mindedness and willingness are essential to one’s ability to stay sober. Those things can’t be forced on anyone… What you can do as sponsor is point out the willingness that your sponsee had in the beginning, if they start to balk in the later portion of the steps.”

Do not be disheartened by the apathy or relapse of your sponsee. The ultimate purpose of your work is not to keep your sponsee sober; it is to keep yourself sober. There is always another man who needs and wants your help.

Tip #3: “Ego has no place in sponsorship… The actual sponsor is the book; and God.” Keep ever present in your mind the foremost aim of the 12 steps: to foster a relationship between the alcoholic and a higher power of his own understanding. 

You are there to make an introduction to someone you have never met, and never will meet; to a friend your sponsee likely never knew he always had. Be reverent of the time and space he needs to cultivate that connection. If your sponsee fails to develop a bond with his higher power during your sponsorship, take heart; you have planted a seed. He will always remember the respect that you showed to this undiscovered part of himself.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you as you embark on your journey of sponsorship. Remember: though you may now be a sponsor, you are still yourself a sponsee, and we are all of us pedestrians forever on “the road to happy destiny.”

Staying “Out”

At the time of this writing, a friend of mine from the program (whom I will call “Justin”) is “out”, and has been for well over two months now. Before he abandoned his program, Justin achieved more than a year of sobriety, with multiple commitments and sponsees to his name.  

I had the opportunity to visit Justin late one afternoon last week at the room he is renting, and found him surrounded by drug and alcohol paraphernalia, halfway through an IPA. He was in good enough spirits and seemed happy to see me, but showed no interest at that time in returning to our community.    

It is not yet a year ago that a visitor to my place of residence would have found me in nearly identical circumstances. Though I would like to tell you that the intervening year has shed me of all such wayward instincts, even now, I harbor doubts about my program, and contend with bad dreams of ‘relapse’ nearly every night.  

This blog is about the positive value of sobriety, full stop. Where then do we place my contrary confession? Does it speak simply to the unfortunate but natural aberrations of my mind, of any mind? Or, being as I’m a card-carrying member of AA, is it a measure of my mental weakness? Of my failure to adopt the solution?

I feel at liberty to discuss my doubts because I can couple them with this certainty: the time that I have spent sober, attending AA meetings and working the steps, has resulted in tremendous growth and personal development. I know the same would prove true for any person with a long-standing chemical dependency.

And yet, Justin’s decision to terminate his sobriety is well within his rights as a human being, for sobriety is not morally superior to intoxication; morality is an exclusive function of our actions with respect to others.  

However, if in returning to drug and alcohol use, one finds oneself conformed to a lifestyle of self-centeredness and alienation; let not a moment’s shame prevent you from returning to the sober life that served you so well.

If shame is to account for Justin’s dalliance, I cannot know. However, I am confident time will return him to his program of sobriety; for it was clear to even the most casual observer, that no one so benefitted from its effects as much as the man himself.