The hallmark of Twelve-Step recovery is sharing our experience, strength, and hope. This, of course, implies that you have something worth sharing. Regardless of how I acted and how much people complimented me on my talent and skills, I often felt as though I had little to nothing to offer. So, when I found myself at six months sober sitting with Gene, another newcomer, telling him my story I had to quiet the voice inside of me that was constantly diminishing me. Telling me I did not belong and never would. Telling me that I had nothing to offer. I decided to take a risk and open up to him because he was newly sober and he looked lost. Underneath the scowl and the sarcasm, he looked lost.
Gene stood out like a sore thumb in the small Virginia town. He was even younger than I, who until then was the youngest in the club – by far – at the age of 21. He had bleached-blond hair cut in a flat-top style, wore gold chains, listened to gangsta rap, and was from up north (read: A Yankee). The blue-haired teetotalers might as well have been talking to an alien. And then he had the nerve to refer to himself as “cross-addicted” because he had also used pills. But he was still just another suffering addict in need of love and compassion. Despite the fear, I reached out my hand. We began to talk and he opened up as if he had been getting ready to burst for some time.
Later that week I drove him back to his mother and step-father’s home after going out to the local diner with some of our “sober crew” after the meeting. I told him my experience up to that point and how I had gotten into the program. I had no idea what I was doing but I had been told that all I had to do was tell him what it was like for me. Surprisingly, when we were done talking and I was leaving Gene thanked me. I can still remember the visceral reaction of confusion as to why he was thanking me. I had just spent the last two hours thinking of someone other than myself. And, he had listened to me. I should have been thanking him! As I drove away I realized there was value to my story – I had something real to offer another suffering human being. And, it felt good. That is the gift we are given when we take the risk and reach out to another man who is drowning. I have since shared my story – my heart and soul – with many others and it is always the same: they thank me and I thank them for helping me to stay sober one more day. I get far more than I give. Only God could make a business model like that work!