One of the things about sobriety is that it gives you an opportunity to clear your head a bit. I was just talking to a new man this morning about the very same subject. We seem to begin by going through detox; then, a pink cloud; then, general satisfaction with alcohol no longer causing us legal trouble or otherwise (for that couple/three months we’re initially dry); then…..aw, crap.
I’m still me, I still have problems—some of which I was only dimly aware of before—and now my head is chattering again. “Hey kids, it’s your amigo, Ego, here playing ALL your favorite fear, self- loathing and resentment tunes ALL day and ALL of the night on KFUQ! Radio F—— YOU! Now, here’s a golden oldie that’s back in the top 5 once again, ‘Lost My Job, Lost My Kids, Lost My Car Keys’!”
We first begin practicing compassion with the newcomer. That is the first opportunity we have to do 12th Step work, even before we begin to sponsor those who specifically ask up for our help. We don’t need to be practicing the AA Principles in all our affairs yet; or, even gone through any Steps. We began our AA journey by being welcomed warmly. We came in absolutely destroyed, many of us. Jobless or about to become so; kicked out of our homes or about to be; physically ill and shaking; and, thoroughly termite-ridden with shame. It mattered not. Our new friends showed us compassion. They did it with handshakes, hugs and, most importantly, by sharing stories that demonstrated they understood—bone deep understanding—what we were experiencing. The Latin etymology of compassion is “co- suffering”. Essentially, in common parlance, active compassion is the desire to alleviate another’s suffering. When we see the newcomer, we see ourselves: what we were when we arrived; and, what we could easily become again.
We may not have much recovery, but, we’re certainly “better off than that guy,” at the moment, anyway. So, we reach out. It’s easier with newcomer/fellow sufferers. For those of us with some time under our belt, KFUQ still comes in occasionally, usually late at night; but, it’s fuzzy and not being pumped out at 50,000 watts. The suffering alcoholic, though, is certainly NOT on the AA beam and is trapped inside their own head with KFUQ coming in loud and clear. Some of these sufferers…..they’ve been coming in and out of the rooms for years. You know them. I know them. They just won’t get with St. Francis of Assisi and ask God to make them a channel of His Peace. I have seen people over the years smugly receive these people back into a meeting. I’ve witnessed shaming on occasion. I’ve seen people act compassionately to their face only to character assassinate them behind their back (I see one of those guys in the mirror every morning). I have also seen many of those people die.
Compassion is one of our spiritual tools. It has to be used to become useful. It’s also one of those tools that cannot really be used by itself. It can be so easy to grow cynical and reject the suffering retread (even the term “retread” sounds disparaging and heartless). We cannot demonstrate compassion to these sufferers unless we are practicing humility. We cannot practice humility unless we also practice the spiritual tools of patience, kindness, tolerance and love in our daily lives. In order to use these tools, we must ASK for them. They need to become part of our prayer and meditation on a daily basis. We must learn to make the self- reflection of the 11th Step a part of that daily ritual.
Instead of condemning the continually suffering alcoholic, we can look at our own lives; see where we are, perhaps, practicing some of the same character defects as that person (they don’t say, “if you spot it, you got it” for no reason, after all). If you’re angry at them for the same reasons for which you’re still condemning yourself, ask God to direct your thinking about how to improve; meditate on it. Then, pray for them. Everything that you wish for yourself, pray that it be bestowed unto them. Finish by asking God to make you a channel of His peace, that you might better practice compassion. That’s a much better station to tune in to.
~ Joey K.
from the San Diego AA Coordinator, January, 2020