From Shame and Disappointment to Abject Fear


At our AA meeting, a fellow admitted he had started drinking after three weeks in a treatment facility. This time he burned pretty much everything down. He had one day of sobriety, that day.

city on fire, person in fron in distress with hands over face

My sponsor and I took him out for coffee. It was a conversation I would not forget.

We listened to the returning AA for a bit. He went on about his shame and disappointment.

I was attentive and felt his pain. My sponsor, a crusty old-timer, listened, then leaned forward and said, “you say that you are feeling shame and disappointment in yourself.”

“Yes, it feels terrible.”

“Well, those feelings are all wrong. First, if you are disappointed in yourself, you are still clinging to the idea that you can get yourself sober. Second, your shame is from your belief that you yourself fell short, and your sense of failure means that you still think you can fix this problem on your own.

“I would feel a lot better if instead of shame and disappointment in yourself, you felt fear, stark terror with a touch of bewilderment.

“And you should be terrified. You were in a treatment program, you knew the consequences of drinking, and yet you went for a walk and got drunk.

“An overwhelming insanity gripped you, and despite what you know, you drank; the correct feeling for that is fear, a terror that you could be overtaken by your addiction so easily. Sure, you might feel a twinge of shame and disappointment, but those would be a background to the primary feelings of terror and fright.

“You say you have hit bottom; I don’t think so. I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think you have yet reached your bottom. You don’t have the right feelings for a bottom, and you still think you can fix this problem. You are not so afraid that you are asking for help. Instead, you are blaming yourself.

“Good luck; the coffee is on me.”

He threw some money on the table, turned to me, and said, “come on, we are done here. Let’s find someone desperate.”

We left our friend sitting, stunned. I scrambled after my sponsor; he was my ride home. On the drive home, he told me that as alcoholics, we were God’s tools for other alcoholics, and our time was precious. We had to make the most of our gift, recovery; we could not waste a moment.

The next week at our AA meeting, our returnee was there. He did not look well. We said hello and welcomed him back. Later he shared.

He said, “I was here last week and the very next day, I slipped again. I was drunk for four days, I have been sober for two days, and today, I am just hanging on… I am scared and need help.”

After the meeting, we took him for another coffee. I was assigned my first sponsee. We did not waste a moment.



Andy Crooks writing as Andy C

For Andy C, not drinking was the first spiritual awakening. He’s been blessed with subsequent spiritual awakenings as the results of the 12 steps.