Baby Chicks - Carry the Message, Not the Alcoholic
Mar 19, 2012
I was thinking the other day of something I heard about years ago. It was a story about how important it is for a baby chick to fight its way out of the egg. It is quite a struggle, and the impulse for any kind-hearted person would be to help the little guy out. So someone did that, and the baby chick died shortly thereafter. Apparently, the struggle to emerge activated necessary muscles that the chick would need for survival outside the egg. It needed to strengthen its neck muscles with the pecking and squirming, its little legs with the kicking and scratching.
It is the same for us.
We develop muscles and skills in our emerging process in recovery that are critical to our survival in sobriety. That is why they say to carry the message, and not the alcoholic - if we carry the alcoholic, they may not gain the musculature they need for the future. It isn’t always easy to know the dividing line between being of service, and being an enabler for other negative behaviors.
When I was first in recovery, I certainly didn’t know the difference. I found myself running after women who had gone out on a run, banging on doors where they were holed up with their junky boyfriends; running to hotel rooms to drag drunk women into a detox (more than once for the same woman); I’ve been thrown-up on by women and once was peed on; I’ve held their hair while they threw up in the toilet; trying to count the number of pills that were undigested. I’ve carried women who weigh more than me up stairs. I could keep going here, but you get the idea.
I will say this - my heart was in the right place. It was. But errantly so; these things did not ultimately help any of these women. I remember calling the sponsor of some of these women who said: “I don’t run after wet ones,” or, “I don’t get involved in the madness.” I couldn’t understand it. My own sponsor, in one of these situations, got really angry with me. She said they were not willing, they were drunk, and when they sobered up and got willing they could give a call. I remember thinking this sounded wrong; weren’t we supposed to do everything in our power to help?
I really don’t know where that line is. But I do understand that no human power can relieve us of our alcoholism, and also I do understand that after many of these scenarios, I am not in a hurry to go running after someone who is out there using. I have seen that it isn’t effective. I have seen how ugly and crazy it is, and that talking to the disease is fruitless. It lies and lies and says what you want to hear. It’ll realize that the only way out is to act sorry and clean up a little and get me off their back so they can go use again.
One friend I used to always go running after would feign an utter lack of being able to do anything. She made herself seem so incompetent, as if left to her own devices she would crumple into a wad of discarded paper, like a small child. I would make calls to get her into treatment, to find people to help her move, donate money to the storage, take care of her dogs, you name it - and every time she would get a couple of months and disappear again. After one run, she picked up the phone and made some calls herself, and got herself from the crack den she was living in to a sober living, all on her own. She was literally the baby chick pecking her own way out of the shell. What I had done was tried to take the shell off for her, robbing her of the struggle that is so vital to her ability to stay sober.
There are no hard and fast rules to it; we are here to help another alcoholic achieve sobriety. Some people put newcomers up in their homes; some give rides to them; some take their phone calls or escort them to court to offer support. Keeping the metaphor of the baby chick in mind, we can listen to the newcomer and try to discern where we can really offer support, without doing the work for them.
I knew a woman once who I met at a 9 a.m. meeting. She was a little wobbly, and she was stressing about the time in between meetings at that location. There were meetings all day, but about 1 or 2 hours in between. She wanted someone to take her home and bring her back to the meetings instead of sitting there in between and waiting, if need be. I did that; that same meeting, I just sat there in between and talked to whoever was also hanging around. It was awful for me as a newcomer. I felt lame and like everyone had somewhere important to go to except me. I was the one loser hanging around the church waiting for the next meeting. But for me, it was incredibly humbling exactly because it was so uncomfortable. I conveyed this to her, and she ended up doing the same. I saw her over this past weekend at a brunch spot and she came up to hug me, and thanked me for suggesting she hang around in between meetings, because she had met some of her strongest support team members in the lull.
What do we rob people of when we make it too easy on them? The self esteem that comes from doing things themselves, on their own steam. We won’t always know where to draw the line, but its worth thinking about when we are offering to be of service. Don’t break the egg for the baby chick. And don’t let anyone do it for you! But one thing is for sure, I still, to this day, err on the side of caution. It may not ultimately help that person stay sober, but it will me!