The Bravest and Most Beautiful


I went to my sponsor’s 5-year medallion tonight.  He celebrated five years of continuous sobriety in a packed church hall.  He was surrounded by countless friends and family as people rose, read parts of the preamble and then swooned us all with wonderful adjectives and stories about the man who first helped me when I got into 12-step recovery.  He asked if I could come tonight, and I did – he rarely asks anything of me, and of course I wouldn’t let him down.

James is a hulking man.  Has a biker build and look.  Bald, with a strong goatee and chains hanging from his open shirt.  He strides more than he does walk and he has what my wife calls “charisma” and can bore a hole in you with the intensity of his eyes.  There could be a tiger on fire fighting a ninja beside him and he wouldn’t avert his gaze for one moment while you tell him about the silliness of your day.

He was a year and half sober himself when he took me on.  I didn’t know him at all back then, but after a few times talking to him, I knew that he had what I wanted.  And he still does.  He has a passion about him that is infectious.  Amongst his talents is his ability to hold a mirror up to himself (and me when needed) and see what is really going on.  He was gentle with me and still is.  He will rarely command me to do anything, but has at times strongly suggested I do something (or not do anything).  His ego has diminished the longer I have known him.

He has done a lot of work in his recovery.  A lot.  He is in several other fellowships and works as hard in those ones as he does regarding alcoholism.  He has a childlike quality in where he asks lots of questions until he is clear about something.  No pride or ego involved.  He works well with women because he puts no pretence on and just bares himself.  His vulnerability is legendary around these parts. He is firm and gregarious and can’t go from one block to the next without being recognized or passed on for a hug or handshake.

He literally and figuratively embraced me early on, and loved me when I couldn’t love myself.  He wrapped his arms around me one day and whispered “we’re here to save each others lives, okay?”  It was more a promise than a statement.  He could always be found in the cafe’s where recovery folks hung out, or on the phone, or walking with someone talking recovery.  He lives and breathes it yet it doesn’t define him.

James has taught me, and continues to teach me, how to be a loving, strong and yet humble man in the fellowship, and to bring that into the other parts of my life.  His was the first real relationship I had with another male (other than my dad, etc.) where I didn’t feel threatened.  He shows me that being authentic is the real way to be.  Anything else is just preening.  I still am learning that one.

He has opened himself up to me in ways that only another alcoholic man can open up to someone else.  Or someone who has been wounded by life in some way.  His honesty is searing and his sincerity blinding.  He continues to surprise me in many ways with his search for clarity.  And clarity is what he seeks with abundance.  Everything he does is to bring more clarity into his life.  Working steps, helping others, asking questions, letting go.  As he said tonight in his speech, we tend to let things out, but then want to taken them back in to churn within.  Our job is to share things with God, with another, and then let them go.  Let God come in and do the healing.  And to keep near Him.

Someone spoke about how she used to breastfeed in the church bathroom because she had no choice – she was homeless with a 7-week old and that was the only place she could do it.  She was just getting sober at that time. But James was the only one who would help with the baby.  I didn’t know that.  Tonight she was breastfeeding her new 3-week old.  Now with a partner and roof over her head and job. I have seen James take people from meetings to the doctors because he saw that they weren’t well – perhaps not on their meds, etc. I have heard so many stories now about him that just make me wonder how I got so lucky to have this man cross my path and actually take me on.

He also said that being with other alcoholics was like standing amongst the bravest and the most beautiful of people.  I saw people that I knew had years of sobriety getting 30 and 60 day chips tonight.  I knew that they were brave to do so. They did it with smiles of gratitude.  Shame can keep us back out, but these people really were brave and beautiful.  It was mind-blowing to watch this all unfold, although I had seen this kind of thing happen many times before.  For some reason, it was like I was seeing things with new eyes.

The meeting ended and people cleaned up.  Everyone was swarming James to hug and congratulate him.  His family beamed by his side.  I stood alone as people bunched up in 2’s, 3’s and 4’s to talk.  I didn’t know anyone, except an old sponsee of mine who seemed to want to avoid me. I checked my phone.  I put a few chairs away.  I waited until the lights went off so that they could light the cake and sing him Happy Birthday.  When the lights went back on, I left.  I figure he’ll be free in a few days.

I left with further gratitude for this man who’s last name I don’t even know, but who has saved my life in many ways.  Who has saved many, many other men and women’s lives.  Who has touched so many countless folks in their time of need and time of joys.  This is a man who has found his way and continues to find it.  Who puts recovery in front of everything and yet doesn’t let it stop him from living.  In fact, it heightens and deepens his living.  He doesn’t walk around in a cloud of confusion, or at least not for long, and knows exactly what he needs to do when he needs to do it.  I saw tonight just how much he has impacted on others.  It was spellbinding and humbling.

One day, I would like to be James.  And like those other shining stars who I see doing the same for others.  John, Donald, Jan, Lou.  Reflecting God’s light.  The bravest and the most beautiful. But for now, I will be content to sit at their feet and shut up and listen and take my cues from them.  Anything else would be frivolous.

Happy Five Years, James.


22 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul says:

    Well written Paul. Excellent and thoughtful post.

    1. Thank you Paul. I want to be very clear and say that you are one of those men that I have been learning from. Not only here, but on other blogs you comment on. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Blessings.

      1. Paul says:

        I am honored Paul. You write one of the most honest bligs that I have ever come across. When you express yourself so eloquently, it makes it very easy for your readers to respond equally honestly. That is a rare opportunity. Thank You.

  2. Bea says:

    What a moving tribute to a beautiful, strong soul.

    1. he certainly is a beautiful soul. Even my folks texted me to tell him happy birthday. He has touched many people in my family as well. Thank you for being here, Bea. Blessings.

  3. mike says:

    “When the lights went back on, I left.” I feel you bro. Me too.

    1. Thanks Mike. I am glad that that resonated with you. Thank you for being one of the men that I learn from. Even when I don’t want to hear it 🙂

  4. You are so blessed, Paul, to have found such a hero (or for that hero to have found you!). As you are content to sit at his feet, I bet James feels he is doing the same with the hero who saved him 5 years ago.

    Please wish him a happy anniversary for me 🙂

    1. I am certainly blessed, Josie. As I am to learn from you and the others who I am grateful who stop by here. He had all three of his sponsors there talking about him. It was touching.

      Thanks for the message. I will pass it along.


  5. Dede says:

    What a wonderful person to have in your life! Blessings.

    1. Thank you Dede. I am certainly very lucky. I am also very lucky to have you here today. Made my day to see you here. Blessings back.

  6. Beautifully written, Paul. I know you mention how lucky and blessed you are to have James in your life but after reading this, I’m sure he feels the same about you. Your high regards toward not only your sponsor, but infectious mentor, have left me thinking about what type of legacy I will leave behind me as I continue to walk toward the Creator and his light.
    You are definitely on your way there, my friend. I’ve told you this before but your stories and experiences always leave me wanting to be the best person I can be. And this is something that is rare to find.
    I loved when you wrote, “He wrapped his arms around me one day and whispered “we’re here to save each others lives, okay?” It’s so important to have support from others as we continue on our sober paths. I’m a huge support system for my mother and vice versa. Wouldn’t have it any other way. With every meeting and phone call, I help to save her life as she and my boyfriend continue to save mine.

    1. Thank you Gina for your kindness. It is very important to have that support, and you with your mother – you guys certainly help each other all the time. Two alcoholics helping one another…that’s what it’s all about.


  7. What an awesome tribute to James. How blessed you and James are to have each other. In my opinion, it takes a bit of awesomeness on your part to recognize it James. And, from the limited exposure I’ve had to your presence on the blogs, I’d say you have shown us some awesomeness. Glad to have read this today. I hope your day is fabulous.

    1. Thank you. Very kind words. We all learn from each other, don’t we? I hope your day is fantastic as well 🙂

  8. NotAPunkRocker says:

    Happy Five Years to James. I am glad you have this source of strength and awesomeness (for want of a better word) in your life.

    1. thank you J. I am very lucky to have him (and others) who I can call at any time and help me go through whatever it is I am going through. And hopefully I can do the same for others. We keep it by giving it away. Thank you for always being here. I am very grateful for you. Blessings 🙂

  9. Lisa Neumann says:

    Me thinketh you are already more like him than you realize. But I love your humility. You wear it well.

    A beautiful tribute. xo Lisa

    1. Funny – I have been thinking of you the last few days, wondering how you’ve been and missing your words…and here you are. Thank you for being here. I miss your posts…but you’re a very busy woman. A good busy 🙂

      Thank you for the kind words. I hope I am learning something and from spiritual beings like yourself. You have taught me a lot and I know you will continue to teach me, whether you know it or not. 🙂

      Blessings to you

  10. buzzkilled1 says:

    Thank you. This post encourages me to attend recovery meetings. You make it sounds so meaningful

    1. Oh wow…thank you for this. This just started my day off in a wonderful way, BK. It’s truly powerful stuff and just walking in and knowing I am among “my peeps” is alone for me to breathe easy. I love the online community, but nothing beats the energy that you feel in the rooms. Blessings.

  11. sillymelove says:

    Wow, you are a very lucky man to have such an amazing person in your life!

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