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Ask Auntie Pinko

February 10, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I'm a Christian, and a moderately liberal democrat. I have been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for the past 9 months. In order to learn to live a sober life I have relied on the guidance of others who have gone before me in AA. I have been shown that we adhere to principles and guidelines and we don't confuse those basics with issues of sexual preference, religion, political views, etc. Rather, we impart a philosophy of not promoting any causes and an attitude of "live and let live."

Now that I'm 9 months sober my mentors are letting me into their lives on a more personal level. I'm finding that one of my sponsors, who has helped me enormously, is basically a right-wing fanatic. His hard-hitting, fundamentalist approach to AA helped keep me sober when all else had failed; however, now I'm finding he applies that same black-and-white thinking to gays, perceived liberals and liberal organizations, and just about anything that doesn't fit into his square head. I was with a group of people at his home the other day and was aghast at some of the things he was saying.

We were watching Michael Jackson's recent publicity, er, damage control performance on TV and I commented that I thought it outrageous that people would be so blindly devoted when in all likelihood the guy's a child molester. He agreed and started spouting off about how he thinks there is a liberal agenda whereby, little by little, sex with children will some day be legalized. He said the American Psychiatric Association has recently said that it's now okay to have sex with a child in some cases, as long as the child consents. Then he segued right into, "when I was a kid there were no gay pride parades... blah blah blah." I just looked at him and said he was confusing issues and he said something like "no, it's all the same type of thing."

He is a rather large, commanding person and suddenly I had some clarity - this guy wants everyone to think the way he does. "Hysterical," "fanatical" also came to mind. I got really angry and wanted to shout in his face about what a dumb-ass he is and the real truth is that our society has made great strides in cracking down on pedophiles, etc., etc. I kept telling myself to live and let live but I don't know how much of that I can take.

My recovery has brought me to a place where I'm more mindful of my own views and the types of people I want to hang with. Yet I don't want to become closed minded, the very thing I hate about him. I'm scared to cut off ties with people who care about me, but at the same time I want to be true to myself. Also, his girlfriend is my main sponsor and we're pretty close. Again, she has literally saved my life but I am losing respect for her because she seems comfortable with the way he talks. I just don't know how to proceed. Whatever insight you can give I'd appreciate it.

Thanks for your time.

Kristine,
Michigan


Dear Kristine,

Congratulations on your nine months' sobriety! AA is a wonderful program that has helped millions of people, including some of my own friends and family. Not being a recovering individual myself, I didn't want to rely entirely on my own instincts about your dilemma, so I hope you don't mind that I consulted some long-term ("black belt," I think they're called) AA folks, and have incorporated their wisdom into my response.

Many alcoholics and addicts face a daunting challenge as they begin to recover: during their drinking/using days, they acquired a network of friends who enabled or encouraged their drinking/using, and lost the support of many of their sober friends and family. As you're already aware from AA, to avoid relapsing, you have to build a new network of friends who can support your new sober life. AA, and your sponsors, can be very helpful in this.

But as you progress through the early stages of sobriety (and my sources tell me that physically, that means a year or two, and mentally it can be even longer) different kinds of help are useful to you. There's nothing wrong with developing new sponsors as you feel your needs changing. You don't have to cut your ties with old sponsors, either - you might need what they have to offer in the future. As you probably know, recovery isn't always a straight-line process - it's full of do-overs and reviews!

It's not your task, or your responsibility, to "convert" your sponsors, or show them the error of their politics, no matter how much you may value them otherwise. If particular topics of discussion have the potential to raise divisive issues, you can avoid them. It's always your option to simply say, "I have different views on that, but I don't feel a need to discuss it." And you can politely decline the kind of social contacts that will lead to such discussions. Post-meeting cups of coffee and/or phone calls focused on recovery-related mentorship are the basics of the relationship (unless you're having a crisis) and there is nothing unhealthy in keeping it on that level.

Good experienced sponsors don't expect to keep you tied to their apron strings - in fact, that's a bad sign. They want to see you growing the skills to build a variety of healthy relationships in your new sober life. They will always be there for you, of course. Twenty years from now, you'll still be able to talk to them about things that won't have meaning for anyone but the two of you. And down the road when you're sponsoring your own first "pigeon," you'll be able to get some very helpful tips from them. You don't need to "cut off ties" with anyone, but there's no reason not to set some healthy boundaries. And you do have to address the task of building a broader network of support. If you're starting to feel a need for some more nuanced mentorship, look around for additional sponsorship. Try some other meetings. Many people attend more than one regular meeting. You can look for a group whose members seem like possible like-minded social contacts. Sometimes where a group meets can be a good clue - near a college, or in a "liberal" neighborhood, perhaps, or in a public library.

Trying additional groups can help you build wider social contacts, as well. Many larger towns have an "Alano Society" or "Alano Club" that serves as an umbrella for lots of AA and Al-Anon related activities. Sometimes they sponsor group activities, like fundraisers, or trips to round-ups. Those are good ways to meet new people. A core of sponsor(s) and close friends in the program is an important resource, but if you never move beyond those few relationships, you'll still be vulnerable to many relapse traps.

Your interest in politics can help you grow in recovery, as any healthy, non-drinking/drug related interest can. Finding healthy activities and interests to replace the alcohol or drugs is one of your recovery tasks, but don't let those interests distract you from concentrating on learning the Steps and the program, and how to apply them every day. Best wishes to you for continued successful recovery, Kristine, and thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!


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