How Not to Do a 12-Step Call

How Not to Do a 12-Step Call

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This post was originally published on June 24, 2015.

Are there any books in the “For Dummies” series that tells a sober member of AA how to help another AA in trouble? You know, like 12-step Calls for Dummies? The Big Book gives advice in the chapter “Working with Others” but did I carefully study that when I tried to reach out to a suffering fellow alcoholic/addict? No.

About nine months ago, I sponsored Tina, a wannabe actress/model in her early 30s. She had two months of sobriety. We hadn’t finished the second step when she went out on heroin and alcohol.

John, my sponsor at the time, suggested that I kept picking her up and taking her to meetings, which I did, as she didn’t have a car.

Tina nodded off during meetings. Besides dope and beer, the only nutrition that she consumed was a concoction of lemon juice and cayenne pepper. A bogus model agent had told her that she needed to lose 20 pounds so that she could become one of his swimsuit pinup girls, so she was on this weird juice diet. And she wasn’t overweight.

She lugged a glass jar full of this yellow potion with her everywhere.

My gut told me that Tina needed more help than just going to meetings but I followed John’s direction; after all, he was my sponsor and he knew best, right?

One Saturday, Tina called me.

“Sev, I want to die,” Tina said, sobbing, slurring her words.

“What did you take?”

“Pills, beer. H. I hate my life, Sev.”

I called my sponsor and he rose to the occasion like Mighty Mouse.

John had 40 sponsees, including me. He seemed to live for these life or death moments, while I wanted to stick my head into a hole like an ostrich.

“Do you want me to meet you at her house?” he asked.

“No, I’ll call my friend Lucy,” I said. “She lives close to Tina.” Then I asked, “What if she needs to go to the hospital?”

“She just might need a meeting.”

Really? Was he kidding?

I picked Lucy up and we drove over to Tina’s house. I knocked on the door. No response.

“Hope we aren’t too late,” Lucy said.

Suddenly, I heard this weird scuffling sound coming from the garage, like there was a gigantic rat trapped in there.

“You hear that?” I asked.

Lucy and I lifted the garage door. Tina emerged, all decked out in a 40s outfit, complete with black peep toe pumps, retro hairstyle and a black bow in her head. Even her makeup was perfect. She looked like the Black Dahlia.

On the garage floor were beer cans and the hideous lemon juice potion. A few prescription bottles peeked out from her bag. Lucy checked out her meds.

“Xanax,” said Lucy. “Tina, how many did you take?”

“I don’t know. Three. Four. Five,” she said before she burst into tears.

Instead of going into action, I stared at Tina’s hair. My God, not one strand was out of place.

Tina stumbled out of the garage and we grabbed her, before she fell on the ground.

“Call 911,” Lucy said.

I did.

A few minutes later, the cops and an ambulance arrived. As they lifted Tina, strapped on a stretcher, into the ambulance, she screamed, “How can you do this to me, Sev? How?” And then she snarled at the cops, “Where is my bag?” And then, “Sev, I hate you! I need my bag! HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME?”

And then the paramedics slammed the door.

I felt as guilty as Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire when her sister Blanche is taken away to the nuthouse.

My sponsor and I went to visit her at Palmdale Regional Hospital that night. She was fast asleep, thank God, and was released the next day. I guess she hadn’t taken enough pills for it to be considered a suicide attempt.

A week or so later, I received a frantic phone call from her mother, who lived in Hawaii. She asked me if I could help her find Tina. Apparently, my sponsee had taken the Metro down to LA and was shooting up somewhere in Hollywood.

I called Tina and asked her where she was.

“Under the bridge,” she said, all doped up.

Under the bridge. I had a vision of a bare-chested Anthony Kiedis, clad in black jeans, sprinting like a Spartan marathon runner in the Red Hot Chili Peppers video.

In my mind I replaced Kiedis with Tina. There she was running on Hollywood Boulevard in her 1940s outfit clutching her lemon juice jar, with the song playing in the background. Unlike Kiedis, whose hair flailed against a cloud-filled sky, Tina’s hair remained frozen to her head.

“Which bridge?” I asked.

“Off Cahuenga,” she said. “Shit, my cell phone’s about to die.”

As fate would have it, I had an audition in Toluca Lake the next morning. After my interview, I would hunt down Tina. She would have to sleep under the bridge one more night.

“Okay, I will get down there tomorrow,” I said.

“Tomorrow?” she said, and then her cell phone died.

Almost a minute later, Sierra called.

“Aloha, Sev! Did you talk to my daughter?”

“Yes, aloha, I did,” I said.

“Mahalo, what did she say?”

Next time do not give out phone number to a sponsee’s mother if mother is still alive. 

“Aloha, yes, I made contact,” I said.

“Mahalo. Where is she?”

“Under the bridge,” I said, without thinking.

“Oh, my God! What bridge? My baby, my poor baby.”

Sierra burst into tears.

“Don’t worry! I will track her down! Mahalo!”

After I hung up, I called my sponsor, updated him on the latest Tina newsflash and asked, “What do I do here?”

“Can you get her?”

“Is that what you would do?”

“Yes,” he said.

Well, Florence Nightingale, then why don’t you go get her?

“Well, I am not driving down there right now,” I said. “It’s almost 9 pm. I have no idea where she is. I will pick her up after my audition—that is, if I can find her.”

Instead of feeling like a sponsor, I was turning into Sam Spade.

“God bless,” he said.

Yeah, okay, Mahalo.

I drove down to my audition, which sucked by the way. Not only were my eyes glued to the sides but also my hands shook. Plus, I had smoked so many cigarettes in the car on the way to Toluca Lake from Palmdale that I probably asphyxiated the casting director and the film’s director, who coughed while I was in the room. Who the hell wants to work with a chain-smoking actress with severe anxiety, which resulted from my worrying about a sponsee who ominously dressed like the Black Dahlia?

After the audition, I drove to Hollywood via Cahuenga Boulevard. What did “under the bridge” mean? Was it code for some mysterious whereabouts? Was she under the Cahuenga pass? Where the hell was she? What would Bill W. and Dr. Bob have done?

All my calls to Tina went straight to voicemail.

I checked out the bridge under the freeway near the 101 Cahuenga exit. I saw a homeless man stumbling around, was that her drug dealer?

And then as if I had looked into a crystal ball I knew where she was.

I drove towards Hollywood Boulevard. There she was inside ACE Cash Express, charging up her iPhone and staring at the damn thing as if she was studying the Torah.

Sev Spade, private eye at your service!

While we talked on the way home, I knew that she was not ready to get sober. And I couldn’t help her. It made me sad but it was the truth. I told her that I cared, but that she needed to go to rehab. And I was not going to pick up the phone and make those calls for her, even though my sponsor suggested I do so.

Last I heard, via Facebook, she had moved to Hawaii and was engaged.

Besides moving onto a new sponsor, I finally picked up my Big Book and read the “Working with Others” chapter. I should have done that a long time ago.

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Sevasti Iyama is a recovering alcoholic from the Bronx and LA, living in the Antelope Valley desert with four pit bulls, and one chihuahua mix. She is working on a novel called From Bel Air to Welfare.