Leading the Drunk to Water

More than likely, you have heard the saying, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” No matter how many times I have heard the adage, and have used it, I sometimes think that I can make it happen. Not the saying above, rather the message of leading others to a life, clean and sober, of following Christ, and serving others selflessly, I try to convince with conviction.

What makes me think I somehow am the measure of what is the right? I am not. What I do know has merit from experience, study, and spiritual practice. What I have experienced isn’t what brings others into a life of sober living, nor convinces an unbeliever to see Jesus as the Savior of the world. It is not my job to argue with others in AA or NA meetings that they have a distorted view of God, when they say something completely unholy regarding Him the way I personally know Him to be. I do not have a degree that makes me a word cop. I also must remember, who’s talking, where they are in recovery, and where they came from in life.

It happened again in a small meeting a couple of nights ago. A man I felt was highly educated, and certainly has a dynamic message of his coming into recovery, with the help of, and by the grace of God, made some false statements regarding the Bible. I didn’t oppose him in the meeting, but tried to “kindly” correct him afterwards. No argument ensued, but neither did I convince him of his error, and the ripple effect on others hearing him tumbling into total disbelief because of his blunder. The reason for no argument…God, I’m sure. To argue with him could kill any future opportunities with the thirsty, wanting to find the water hole.

“The main reason people in recovery do not grasp the message, is they don’t reach for it.”  Author

AA’s Big Book warns members not to play the evangelist to those still actively drinking. Doing so may hinder any chance of helping those you are targeting to share your new life with. I believe that goes for attempts to exhort others in the program to drink deeper, raise their standards of behavior to a greater height around all of those watching them in their recovery.

In other words, maturing in their sobriety, become a real example. That’s change, what we hate the most. Fear of losing friends in recovery is at risk to the ones bold enough to accept and change. Sadly, most get just enough water to make them not want to drink, (booze or use dope). That is, the water being God, and the grace He bestows that leads them to recovery. There is more.

What should I do or say to get the horse to keep drinking? Talk and pray. God didn’t ask me to be His personal sheriff in recovery. If I trust Him, I say what He gives me to say in meetings, or to sponsor-ees, and nothing more. For those spreading a distorted view of God, I am to do two, no, three things: say nothing, love them, and pray God will enlighten them, bringing them into a deeper understanding of the incomprehensible power He has to change lives those no one imagined could ever change.

The warning to me, and to you if you are viewed as a leader in recovery, perplexed by what you hear in meetings, If we truly trust God to use what we give, do not forget His purpose in us is not to judge, but to serve. We only correct, or redirect if asked for help. If I try to play the know-it-all, and believe me, I know little, (that isn’t false humility, I learn as I go, how little I know), I will ruin any chance of influencing others to follow me to the streams of Living Water, the main Message of man’s existence, and living above addictions with God’s help.

8 thoughts on “Leading the Drunk to Water

  1. Hey Keith… been a while eh? Great post, great topic.

    I agree. The practice of arguments has become pointless, particularly with alcoholics. I know I never accepted a single correction unless I was desperate for it. Preaching it at me would not have gotten through. Offering it to me as a suggestion, in love, and with the backing of some integrity of the person giving it was powerful. And this kind of input helped me get sober and grow.

    I had an early sponsor who, I believe, gave direction rather than suggestion. I experienced him as someone who simply enjoyed being able to tell people what to do and see them do it. And people in early recovery were easy pickins for him. Many anyway… he and I didn’t work out. Sadly, he has since relapsed and reportedly betrayed his home group quite badly on the way out.

    Clearly your approach to the guy must have been something wiser and softer than a confrontation. Jesus often worked through relationship. He showed people how much he cared before he gave any instruction. He gave context with his actions. He also spoke mainly to people who were hungry for what he had to say. They sought him out. A lot different than him running around busting everyone with unsolicited direction.

    Good on you for handling it well. I am certain it couldn’t have been easy.

    • Thanks Chaz, great to hear from you and appreciate the comments. I find many sponsors in AA like to “lord over” their sponsorees or anyone looking for answers. Pride in self achievement, and sober living may feel good, but can be deadly, as you know. I pray for them.
      I hope all is well with you. Haven’t seen any posts from you lately. I have done very little too…a treacherous, troublesome year for personal relationships. But God is faithful.
      I often feel I waste my time doing these, but feel it is more important to give what I can, as often as I can, for as long as I can. Maybe someone reads what they need. Keep going old friend!

      • Indeed Keith. Yes, been an inactive year for me in blogs. I really enjoy the exchange of ideas and frankly more often enjoy commenting more than posting.

        In AA, if we think about it, anybody who may have felt like a nobody walking through the doors, and maybe their life to date supported their self-concept of nobody-ness, and rather suddenly, people with less sobriety are turning to them for guidance. Kit be fist time in their lives they’ve ever been esteemed this way and they can’t handle it with any maturity cause it is brand new ground. So perhaps it goes to their head.

        Always so important to keep in mind hat we show up sick, weak, and immature…. AMong many other things. AA at its core is there almost only to help us get and stay sober. A byproduct is that we probably grow in other ways, but not necessarily. So these sorts of sponsor errors are bound to happen. In fact surprising is not more frequent.

        Hope your relational challenges you referenced are working through. Those can be the toughest things in life. Been through many.

        I’ll be around more often. See you on the posts.

      • Good points. Thanks for the encouragement. I’m very grateful for AA in spite of so many who get just enough of it to stay sober, enough God too. It is sad that their sponsoring understanding has been handed down knowledge for who knows how many generations. It’s like fixing a car just enough to get to the next stop sign, not repairing it with the necessary parts to last. Too much time involved, or the cost is too high.
        The point is, some just want to sponsor to say they are a sponsor without any thought of stretching themselves to take a little more time with sponsorees, or find ways to improve their serve, improve others lives through example, etc.
        That may never change. Though Celebrate Recovery has gained a lot of attention and had much success, I see the same problem there. People in all of these programs do, as you aptly put it, grow in other ways.
        Substance abuse is thriving. Alcoholism is reaching more young kids than ever. We need now to learn the importance mentoring effectively can have on others lives, and their families, then apply such with enthusiasm.
        I am working on some ideas regarding sponsor training, that may be effective, but simple. I must pray it out before I work it out. Blessings Chaz!

      • Thanks Keith.

        Have you read “Dr. Bob and the good old timers”?

        I recognize it was a different era then. Christianity was not as out of favour as it is today. Back then, Dr Bob, and probably others, spoke plainly of their faith in their work with others. In addition, he and his era took others into their homes. Plus early meetings were closed and often secretive.

        I’ve wondered if these factors, among others, resulted in a more penetrating and broader impact of the program on the new members? If people became Christians often through the messages of early AAs like Dr Bob, and lived in heir homes, and considered these less accessible meeting s to be a privilege, maybe this gave more opportunity for people to experience personal growth than just sobriety.

        I wonder… Living in the home of a powerful presence like Dr Bob… Who is described by all as a very relatable and influential man, how could one not be influenced to grow and improve more holistically? Seeing first hand how the likes of him solved problems, dealt with disappointments, treated his family, acted in his profession, survived on limited finances.

        I mean, versus going to today’s easy-access meetings where many are there by mandate versus seeking out the precious privilege. Staying in treatment centres and recovery houses where the immature newcomers far outnumber those with more growth and recovery. And a big one that I struggle with is the looseness sexually in current AA culture, where at least in my area, promiscuity and revolving relationships are quite normal and no harm is seen in either.

        My contention is that if we are just sober, yet not growing in other areas, we are barely any better off. Or at least selling ourselves way short. At show I would feel for myself anyway.

        I wonder if the climate of AA today provides less holistic influence versus early AA based simply on its structure. I wonder if early AA looked at sobriety as only the beginning versus today where it is more often accepted as the destination?

        For me as a sponsor and a sponsee, I both encourage others to strive for more, and look for more for myself.

        I chose a sponsor who I felt loved his wife, was financially responsible, had a work ethic, and was a man of integrity. Why? Cause that’s what I wanted to grow in. His sobriety was to me was of course an essential, it needed to be a foundation only.

        I encourage sponsees this way too…. To strive for so much more than just sobriety. But frankly I feel that’s the exception in our AA culture and many would see that as overstepping and outside issues. I don’t. I feel it is part of the continuum of sobriety. It certainly is for mine.

        My second sponsor was a great guy. We had a great relationship and he helped me a lot. Then I felt a total mind-bend when he took up with a newcomer girl less than half his age and younger than his own kids. Ended up common law with her. I don’t feel I was judging him in disagreeing with his decision. But my ability to trust his judgement was shot. I was bewildered so I sadly parted ways with him. I didn’t want this influence.

        Anyway, I’ve gone on longer than expected.

        I simply hope to be a sponsor who, as you put it, improves my serve, to help others improve their lives. This is what I feel AA culture once produced, and what it could use again.

        Enjoying the chat.


      • I have not read that book, perhaps I should. For sure those old timers had a moral compass not relevant to modern AAers, they think. These days fear of change stifles the majority. Fear of not being accepted is the biggie. I try to introduce change slowly when working with newbies. The first thing I suggest is change the language, act like you are interviewing for a major job whomever you talk to. You probably don’t throw out f-bombs to someone offering you six figures and perks.
        The idea is making little changes in words and deeds, intending to continue until death do you part. If they see they can change in one area no matter how small, it builds their confidence and they may learn to listen, see differently, think deeper, etc.
        We all enter seeking, then find, and then show. What we show flows from the sponsor we choose, and the lineage he springs from. Your experience with your sponsor is often repeated, which I will not judge, knowing it could be me. And you said it, looseness sexually is the norm, so is bad language, deaf ears, poor attitudes that never develop maturity.
        I have had two men that I feel grew into strong sobriety. Both listened well, and put suggestions into action. I always suggest BB of AA readings first, and also 1 chapter from Proverbs to learn conduct, how to live a life of wisdom, develop that moral compass the old timers knew of.
        Both are gone, one passed away sober, the other is VP of a major company, very grateful for the program.
        Perhaps sponsors should be trained with this onslaught entering from dope and drink so prevalent. Would the old timers, view AA “for drinkers only,” had they known what the future would bring?, namely drugs?
        This is good dialog, should be a forum. I can say without any doubt, prepare to serve, the war on drugs is spilling over to AA. We need to know how to help. I’m long winded too, Chaz. The dialog should not end.

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