Every newcomer faces it; the old-timer with 30 years coming up and saying, “You have two weeks? Way to go! That is a seriously long time!” When I first got clean and sober, this phrase nearly had me throw in the towel.
One character defect I have that my Higher Power has yet to remove from me is my intolerance of patronization. Even though I sometimes think I have all the answers, it rarely turns out I do (surprise, surprise!), but finding that out for myself is how I learn. In fact, it is one of the biggest reasons Rodney was able to save my life—I could count on honest, unbiased, and unwavering feedback and he treated me like a human being.
That does not mean I have always trusted his opinion on the first go-around, but every time, I have wished that I had followed his guidance.
After the old-timers gave me their “back-handed compliments,” I went to both Rodney and my sponsor to figure out what the deal was. My sponsor said, “For a drunk and a dopefiend, one day without drinking and using is a long time.” Somewhat unsatisfied with the answer, I went to Rodney.
“They are not blowing smoke. Look—when you go through The Steps, you generally know what to do. You have the tools to deal with life on life’s terms. At that point, it is just a matter of using those tools in your day-to-day life.
“When you are a newcomer, though, it is a lot different. You have nothing to work with. Your only coping mechanism—drugs and alcohol—is gone, and all the numbness that you enjoyed is now gone and the pain of living in your own skin is raw because you have never done it before. For guys like your dad and I, we just do what we did the day before—don’t drink or use, work with others, and trust in God. You have never done any of those before, and you do not even know how.
“That being said, yeah, two weeks is a phenomenally long time to go without drinking or using for someone like you.”
It was only then that I realized how important and truly hard those first days, weeks, and months were. From that point on, I no longer saw my time as anything other than what it really was: single days at a time, one after another.
As I saw people with time go out, too, that reality became far more apparent. True; we had the tools, but that did not necessarily mean that we would always use them. At that point, it was our choice whether or not we would suffer. Before, we did not have the luxury of ignorance.
I felt a lot better about the oldtimers’ compliments after that, and took some measure of pride in the time I was able to put together with God’s Grace. Ever since then, I have been the person telling the newcomer that exact same thing I used to hate with a new appreciation of how important it really is.