Take A Penny Leave a Penny


I wasn’t supposed to be there.

On my way to one of my favourite Thursday meetings, the dynamic duo of slow drivers and driving rain conspired to thwart my efforts in arriving there at a goodly time.  I knew of the local meeting by my house, so I drove back around, grabbed a Ventastic Quintuple Mega Mocherotic High-Fat Super-Whip Grain Fed Goat Cream pH Balanced Low Foam Extra Tepid Caffeine Beverage  (TM) and made my way through the downpour to the church basement.  I knew a fair share of the people there, so it was kind of nice to mill about and soak up the alcoholic love of the room, resplendent with the aromas of stale coffee, crumbly cookies and low level fear smattered with semi-smashed ego.

I didn’t really want to be there – I had been looking forward to the Big Book meeting further away.  I looked around to find a seat and noticed a young man, coltish and sweaty.  He was leafing through the “beginner’s package” – pamphlets and other reading material given to brand new members.  There was no one sitting near him – he was alone.  I then knew why I was diverted to that place, why I had been guided there.  I knew that I was meant to be in that building, in that meeting, at that time. To see him.

I sat near him, a seat separating us.  I introduced myself and we began to talk.  I kept it simple.  I didn’t overwhelm, like I have done in the past.  I explained what was going on.  It was his first meeting ever.  He rubbed his palms on his jeans every few minutes.  His eyes darted back and forth, perhaps taking in the entirety of where he was, taking in the weirdness of the gathering – something we’ve all done.  It had been a few days since his last drink, and he looked fine.  I mean, he didn’t have the shakes or bloodshot eyes, the puffy face or lethargic speech from lack of sleep.  Or too much sleep.  He was the kind of guy you would pass at the grocery store, unnoticed, as you filled your cart with more Lean Cuisines.  As the meeting began, he visibly relaxed the grip on his coffee cup, and I scanned the room to take in the faces and vibes of my peeps surrounding me.  It felt like home.

Drop and give me twenty Serenity Prayers, newbie!!

There is something about working with others that defies sufficient description.  There is an overwhelming sense that I am supposed to be doing it, that to do otherwise would go against the grain of my core.  It’s an alignment of what I want to be doing to what I am needed to be doing.  A melding of these strong pulls that gets stronger when in concert with one another…one of the few times where what I need and I what I want stem from the same place and don’t collide – only collude.  It can be felt at a surface level as an immediate sense of being useful.  But it also resonates at a deeper level manifesting in a general and long-lasting sense of calm, sense of purpose and the deflation of being wrapped up in self.    This is not about ego, or about awaiting pats on the back.  It’s about trying to be selfless, helpful and thinking of others…something I never was for most of my life.  Strike that –  I was helpful, but only if it served me in a selfish way.  By working with others, I do get something out of it – continued serenity and sense of being of service – but it comes not of self, but out of love.

I see this support and giving and mentorship in many ways in recovery.  I see it here in the blogosphere, in many guises and forms.  Belle’s 100 Club is something that has taken a life onto it’s own.  I also see it on a smaller scale in the Twitter world – alcoholics inspiring one another through the staccato give and go that only Twitter can provide.  Shotgun Providence, if you will, filtered through the common ground of alcoholics all trying to help each other along.  Recovery boards encompass a plethora of different people in different stages of their journey, and the instantaneous response has saved many a shaking alcoholic from picking up a drink.  The shared knowledge and experience of others has also been a growing point for me and allows me an almost instant tutelage of sorts online.

And of course in AA, we have a wide range of ways we can be of service.  The fellowship itself provides fertile ground for newcomers and old timers (and those in between) to come together as those afflicted with a common problem, talking about the common solution.  Where friendships are forged and a new way of life practiced out in the arena of compassion and camaraderie.  Even someone with three days can be of help – showing the absolute newcomer the ropes about the meetings, or sharing their story, or even pouring a cup of coffee.  Others get into service positions and/or get into doing meetings in jails, institutions and detox centers.  It’s all about that simple handshake, the quick hug, the look on someone’s face when they totally get what you’re talking about.

Quick, young shropmaid - a flaggen of Folgers and a dimple of dragee for this beginner Bacchanalian
Quick, young shropmaid – a flagon of Folgers and a dimple of dragee for this Bacchanalian bedwetter!

While all these things have given me a chance to give back what has freely been given to me, and have also allowed me to share in a myriad of ways and forms, there is only one way of being of service that truly speaks to me in a deep way.  And that is sponsorship.  What has been most beneficial for me is taking someone through the work.  Being in the forewords of the Big Book is something that brings me a particular joy, a certain type of usefulness that taps my soul, a sense that I was put here to do this sort of thing.  A mind meld between me, the other man, and the Creator.  Spiritual consent bred of desperation, identification and the seeking of connection and trust.  When a man asks me to go through the work with him, I take it as The Divine’s plan for me.  I am of the mindset that God doesn’t put two people together just to help one.

When I share with another guy what I have gone through, what it felt when I was drinking, the things that were going on in my mind and spirit and body when I was active, and he responds, I know that I have been able to reach him in some small way.  And when I see him come back with questions and the willingness to continue going on, meeting in sweaty glassed coffee shops and sitting on park benches, I know that we have started something that is special.  It doesn’t mean that they always come back.  I have had men just drop off the planet, so it would seem.  Guys that I thought were getting it, only to never hear from them again.  And that’s fine.  That’s fear, that’s alcoholism, that’s the way it rolls.  I just pray for them and hope to run into them sooner than later.

 I show my protege the old invisible snake handling technique. I look fabulous.  He looks like he's waiting tables at Sushi Bargain.
I show my protege the old invisible snake handling technique, which chicks dig. I look fabulous. He looks like he’s waiting tables at Sushi Bargain.

A few people have remarked how I have the time to read and respond to so many blogs.  And recovery sites. And add in some of the other recovery things I do.  Yeah, it takes some time, but there is a reason for that time, for responding as I can.  It’s simple : it helps me as much as, if not more, than the people I might be helping.  

It’s like the take a penny, leave a penny tray you would find at the gas station or 7-11.  There may be times when I am short a few cents and take just what I need to get me through that moment.  And there are times I am swimming in pennies and want to hand them off to someone who might need it later themselves.   It’s the whole pay it forward idea.  And that is what this whole deal is.  I get to help people, because I get something much more out of it…just as others have the chance to help me, and gotten something out of it themselves.

Today I was able to talk to two newcomers on the phone.  One guy from my old treatment center who I had never met before but was given my number as a contact, and the other the young man I met at that meeting yesterday.  Both are also meeting me on Sunday at a special meeting.  What is special about that meeting?  On Sunday I will be presenting a one year medallion to one of my first sponsees.  My sponsor and my sponsor’s sponsor will be there.  The legacy demonstrated and continuing.

One drunk helping another.  One alcoholic lending a hand to another.  It’s what we do.  It’s what I need to do.  I feel it’s the reason why I was given the Grace of God to be here still.  It’s why we’re all here, in my opinion.

Take a penny…leave a penny.  What will it be for you today?  Whatever it is, it’s the right thing.


41 Comments Add yours

  1. soberorbust says:

    Great post. Its pretty cool how AA works. I would have never of thought or known if I hadn’t entered the rooms so desperate with sweaty palms.

    1. Thank you soberorbust…nice to “meet” you 🙂

      I had sweaty palms too. And sweaty everything…I was still detoxing big time at my first meeting. Shaking, chills, etc. It wasn’t fun.

      AA is pretty cool, isn’t it?

      Thanks for being here – made my day!


  2. As always, brilliant. Thanks for being such a strong proponent of carrying the message. I liked the “take a penny leave a penny” analogy – spot on. You rock!

    1. Thanks MG! You have been in inspiration lately – watching your own journey unfold…wonderful!


  3. bizi says:

    great blog post. you are doing so well with the program. proud of your work!

    1. Thank you…that’s very kind of you 🙂


  4. zachandclem says:

    I haven’t experienced that yet. It scares me. What if someone starts actually seeing me that way, and I can’t provide what they need to stay sober?

    1. I had those feelings too. I just had to dive in. Remember, you’re not the one keeping them sober as much as you are not the one keeping them drinking. We are just guides, showing others what we did. Nothing else. I don’t hunt people down, I am not an ATM, a taxi or a life coach. I am just a guy that shows others what I did to connect to a Higher Power and *that* is what keeps others sober. It’s a simple, yet beautiful thing. And it’s done all the time. Sure, people go back out. Nothing we can do other than be there for them when (or if) they come back.

      Blessings – and thank you for being here.


      1. zachandclem says:

        🙂 thanks!!

  5. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    This is wonderful. You really are valuable.

    I tried AA but didn’t connect. I achingly wanted a sponsor but felt I had to visit a number of times before broaching the subject. I wish I could call someone when I have that need, but I do not have anyone to call. I go to my flat, cook my son’s dinner, do the dishes, the kitty litter, and take to my bed and drink.

    1. Aw, thank you Noeleen….I am flattered, considering the source. Your story touches so many, and I see that by the comments in your blog. You have been so valuable for so many more folks…whether you know it or not. As to what you commented, it can be hard to find that connection at first. I mean, I knew that I belong(ed) in AA, but still had a hard time connecting to others one-on-one. I am still an introvert in many ways, but I knew that getting out there was important. Family certainly cuts into things. But there is something nice about reaching out (and having someone reach out to you) to someone who knows what it is like…a sober friend so to speak.

      Would you try AA again? It sounds like you really do want to connect 🙂


  6. Paul, you really nailed this one, so eloquent and on-point. I am not quite to the point where I just feel “the overwhelming sense that I am supposed to be doing it,” because my confidence is still a little shaky, but I do consciously feel the magnitude of what I am doing. After any service, I am overwhelmed with gratitude, for having been given this beautiful gift. I also agree, AA service is not something that can be properly described, but boy am I glad I received it, and boy, am I happy to be able to give it back!

    1. Hey Josie – from where I sit, I think what you do is much more than I do. Your service is fantastic and inspiring (you know how many people I know that started a meeting? you, that’s it!) I think you wouldn’t be doing that unless you had that knowledge deep down that this what is what you were meant to do at this point in time. You’re amazing – thank you for showing me and other was service looks like.


  7. losedabooze says:

    You are an incredible soul Paul – giving of yourself and I agree, in giving we receive so much more. Have a wonderful day!

    1. As are you, Helene. We just give back freely what has been given to us. You have an even more wonderful day 🙂


  8. lifecorked says:

    Love this! I have yet to sponsor someone, but I share my experience, strength and hope in many other ways. To be honest, I’m a little scared to sponsor one on one. I still have that fear and doubt about my ability. I find comfort knowing that God will show me when it’s time. I’m so grateful for people like you who dive into sponsorship. Thanks, Paul!

    1. Ah…your time will come. I actually pray for sponsees…or more specifically, for an alcoholic to cross my path that I can help. So it’s not always a sponsee proper, but maybe a newcomer, or someone I meet through the interweb or something like that. It comes in all guises.

      I think the fear of sponsoring hits us all. I found that if someone has worked the steps and has had the spiritual awakening then there is nothing wrong that they can do. As they say, if someone wants to get sober, there is nothing we can wrong. If they still want to drink, there is nothing we can say right. Sponsorship is still something I am learning….I have already noticed how I have changed my approach and stuff since I first started. It’s a journey in it’s own, in a way. But knowing what you have shown in your blog and comments, and in your faith and love and compassion….and your step knowledge…I can’t imagine it will take long before a woman sees something in you that compels them to ask you to help her 🙂

      Thanks for the lovely comments!

      Love and light,

  9. Belle says:

    you’re 100% right about it helping ‘us’ so much, usually more. it’s truly an amazing thing … thanks for writing about it so clearly, and for giving so much of yourself to so many 🙂 and thanks for the shout-out. hugs from me

    1. Always glad to give shout-outs 🙂

      Hugs back and thanks for swinging by!


  10. Mrs D says:

    Oh yeah, so true. The comments and emails I get are so helpful. Even the nicely considered criticisms like the one I got recently were helpful. All of this helping and sharing and discussing stuff is helpful. I’m yet to go into an AA meeting .. I got so close one night but at the last minute the rain started to fall and that was all I needed to stay indoors. I was nervous and chickened out is the truth. I love that you sat by that guy. I also love how you described him.. nothing much to look at.. ain’t that the truth about so many of us secret heavy boozers… Great post xxx

    1. Thanks Mrs. D. I recall that criticism you got recently. Not all criticism has to have the merit we give it, We have to also remember others are sick as well, and come to us from a different place. But you dealt with it very well. As for the AA meeting – thanks for your honesty on that :). Sometimes I go just to be with other alcoholics, and nothing else. In those times I don’t even say much – just feel the energy and look around and see that like that young man I spoke to, that we aren’t extraordinary. We’re everyday people with just a different problem, is all. But it’s what we share that is our strong point, our rallying cry, our way of coming together.

      thanks for the reminder, and for being here, Mrs. D.


  11. furtheron says:

    I love it when they hang about and stay, get well and start to help others.

    1. I couldn’t have put in any more succinctly than that, Graham! Bang on. Thank you for that 🙂

      I too love watching that light go on…can’t match it.


      1. furtheron says:

        It is always in the eyes. They come in blank, lost, devoid, then they often move to confused and lost, then you see that spark the indefinable something when someone holds your eye doesn’t look away and you can see somewhere in there something in the soul has switched on. Just seen it in a newcomer to our meetings about a month in and the light is faintly shining now – I hope to watch it brighten and burn. 🙂

  12. I have been away for three weeks and I have felt the crumbling of resolve, the weakening of spirit and the slow creeping invasion of selfishness. It’s not that I’ve had the urge to drink, its that I’ve felt less substantial in my own world, if that makes sense. This work, the work of “our” recovery has become the most important thing in my life and without it, I am less. Thank you, Paul, for being such a large part of the whole of my recovery.

    1. Oh KM – I certainly have missed you and your wonderful words over there in your corner of the world :(. “Less substantial in my own world” – while that comes from a place of pain, I love how you describe that. Stunning. Because I totally get it. Totally. We have our shorthand, don’t we? You are a part of my recovery too – we do it together, don’t we? Thank you, thank you, thank you for being here 🙂

      Love and light,

  13. Sober Life says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I am so very grateful for all that’s been given to me. I don’t know how people that were absolute strangers had a desire to help me. I am naturally not a giving person. I am still working on extending myself to others. In early sobriety I did a lot of service work just to keep busy, I didn’t believe that I was actually helping anyone to stay sober. I was just making coffee, or cleaning up. Same with sharing at meeting, always felt like I had nothing important to say. But all these things end up helping someone, it helped me to have coffee and a chair to sit in and people to hear sharing their stories. Now, I only wish I had more time to help but I do as much as I can, because I can’t, but WE can!

    1. What a wonderful response and share there!!! I loved it. I too have problems extending myself at times. It may sound like I am this love-give machine, but it’s sometimes difficult for me to actually put myself out there. I get selfish. I get lazy. I get stuck in my own head. But when I switch perspective like you did just now, about how even the little things help others, I get jazzed up about doing those little things, even in my selfish, lazy, stuck state. And it gets me out of those states. Works like magic, doesn’t it?

      Thank you for the wonderful comments…and yes…WE can!


  14. Lisa Neumann says:

    “There is something about working with others that defies sufficient description.” My favorite line. I feel blessed to have sponsor and coach AND I love both. I often wonder who grows more, me or them. Wonderful stuff Paul, Thank you.

    1. I might be a bit cheeky in responding to your comments with something that you yourself wrote in your latest fabulous post – “I am both healing and a healer – as we all are”. That pretty much sums it up for me and this program of action I am a part of. And you summed it up beautifully yourself. Thank you for being a healer for me 🙂


  15. destamae says:

    Awesome, simply awesome.

    1. Thanks Destamae! It’s so nice to “see” ya again! Glad the vacation was a great one!


  16. Al K Hall says:

    Thanks for the inspiring story, brother. You have such a beautiful sobriety and really set a wonderful example. If we didn’t have you around, God would have to build one of you!

    1. I learn from y’all…yourself included, Al. You live this deeply – you can see it in your posts, in your words. It is an honour to be connected to you, kind sir. Thank you for being here…and there.


  17. Erika says:

    How beautiful!!!

    1. Thank you Erika 🙂

      Keep shining (like a new penny!)


  18. Fantastic! I believe we’re all meant for different service. Some are natural sponsors; some are Big Book Thumpers; some live for the politics. I believe I’ve overcome the envy brought on by watching others who have come after me successfully sponsoring and grand-sponsoring while the most success I’ve had is getting two girls to a year, after which they decided they wanted to go no further. In true alcoholic form, of course I take on the most hopeless of cases. As soon as I made peace with my own brand of service, God blessed me with three sponsees in as many days. I suppose it only goes to show that even when I’ve got it all figured out, I KNOW NOTHING about God’s plan for me. I’m just grateful He continues to give me the opportunity to learn that. 🙂

    1. Ha ha…I just made a comment below to Cat just saying the same thing you said !! (I jump around when commenting). Good vibes in sync here. But I do understand what you say about the different services we are meant to be. I can’t see myself as a treasurer or a GSR dude. I mean, I guess I would if I were pushed (i.e.guided…lol) that way, but I don’t feel that is where my strength lies. Again, like you said, what do I know anyway??? I’ll just shut up and leave the New Employer run the shop. I’ll go fetch water and chop wood 🙂


      1. GSR was great fun. 🙂 A pain in the ass, but I love politics and history, so it was right up my alley.

  19. Author Catherine Townsend-Lyon says:

    BOY, I missed this wonderful Post…I’m always the LAST to know…LOL….Just fantastic, interesting, my blog post was a little about the same today, as to helping others and newbie’s, and of course “That Devine” hand pushing us over where we need to be to help someone. For some odd reason that has been happening to me a lot!…..Makes my heart feel good 🙂
    Thank you for your post! I was beginning to think I was somthin special….now I know I’m not….LOL…LOL….God Bless, *Author Catherine Lyon*

    1. I am just about the swing on over to Cat territory and check things out there 🙂

      Isn’t it funny how when we follow those nudges that good things happen? Hmmmm…it’s almost like something out there knows something we don’t. Glad you’re listening to the voice. Makes my life easier…and more fulfilling too 🙂

      Blessings back,


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