Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Why Do Some People Get Sober and Some Don’t?

Been praying for a person I know who used recently. Makes me wonder: why do some people get this program and some don’t?

Called a friend of mine who I think of as Big Daddy. He got sober in the late 1980s. He’s really tall, like my dad, and was born around the same time as my dad; Big Daddy has seen a lot of people come and go. He passed along some words from the legendary late Sally M., a woman who seemed to me to be totally batshit on the outside (I’d met her several times outside the rooms: globs of black mascara; scarlet blush; a gash of red lipstick that bled onto her teeth; wild hair; incessant, nervous chatter) but who helped a hell of a lot of people in her time. Larger-than-life in the rooms here. “Sally told me,” he said,

If you hang around these rooms long enough, you’ll see a lot of people die.

He talked about a guy who let a sponsee go because the sponsee wasn’t doing what he suggested, and kept on using. “He told his sponsee, ‘Some people just have to die,’” Big Daddy told me. “It sounds cruel, but it’s a reality—this disease kills people, and people have to know that. If you can deliver that line—‘Some people just have to die’—while letting the person know you love them and don’t want to see that happen to them, it can be a very powerful motivator.”

“I guess I just don’t buy that some people DO have to die,” I said.

But isn’t it true about any disease? Some people have to die of hypertension and stroke. Some people have to die of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer. Addiction.

And anyway, how do you “pray” for somebody? What the hell good does it do?—is what I was thinking as I washed the lunch dishes today. (My kid is home until school starts August 29. August is a long, long month, man. Thank god the heat broke.)

My mother in 1959, the year she started smoking. It killed her 40 years later, at 58.

I’ve wondered about and worried over this question a lot: how to pray for someone. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1994, I sat down that night in my room and tried to pray for her, but what could I possibly pray?—anything that came to mind seemed petulant and childish: “Please keep Mommy safe. Please don’t let her die.” Well—guess what: my mother had to die from cancer. (Actually, she had to die from her nicotine addiction, which caused her cancer.) No “prayer” or “wish” I sent out into the universe was going to change that.

Today as I prayed for this guy who used, I remembered praying for another person to whom I’d tried to make amends. Back in late 2008, early 2009, I wrote this other person a couple of letters, the first of which really pissed him off; he never responded to the second. (Yes: I fucked up the amends. Or so it seemed.) Sponsors told me to leave him the hell alone, and to Pray For Him. What I prayed was, basically, this: “Please give him all the peace and security and happiness I’d want for myself.” Whenever he came to mind, I’d put kind thoughts into my mind around him, and I’m sure it didn’t do a damned thing for him—what could it possibly have done?—but it did something for me. The next time I saw him, two years after I sent the second letter, things were Fine. I mean—the conflict had gone. We were on good terms. I was no longer afraid of him. I saw this person a couple months ago and things were still great. The change was on the order of a miracle, believe me, because for going on two decades the situation between me and this other person had been intractably bad—but it was simply a result of a changed attitude on my part.

With this guy who used it’s a little different. I already care about this person. What I need to realize is, there is nothing I can do to Make Him Stay Sober. No amount of love or understanding or patience, no amount of cajoling or reminding—none of that will make him sober, because that desire and willingness to do what is necessary needs to come from inside him. You can carry the message but you can’t force anyone to hear it or act on it.

(Program skeptics say, There’s no other disease that requires “willingness” and “desire” in order to get well. To the contrary, however: it takes a great deal of willingness and desire to heal from any of those illnesses mentioned above.)

I can still send out the same intention: “Please give my friend all the peace and security and happiness I’d wish for myself.” At the very least maybe it will give me more clarity about how to respond to him whenever I see him.


  1. Oh G that’s heart breaking isn’t it? I know exactly how that feels and how lost I personally felt. I believe in prayer and have also experienced the changes within myself after praying for others.

    Letting go, even when it’s with people, and letting God truly goes against the grain of who I am. It feels wrong and yet it’s the only answer.

  2. Praying for others has worked for me but it just takes more time with certain people.
    My neighbor for instance it took several months.
    I can look at her today and not feel anger bubble up …
    Loving Kindness Mediation in Buddhism is the same practice just more formalized.
    Check it out…

  3. This is a great post – I very much identify with struggling with how to pray for someone and have written about it extensively on my personal blog. Thank you for this – I just shared it on the Benchmark Facebook page and hope that it will prompt some others to think more on the subject.

    Hope all is well with you!

    Sherri / Benchmark Recovery Center
    (formerly Mark Houston Recovery center)

  4. I was one of those people who wasn’t going to make it. People told me that I’d die. Lots of people. I went in and out of the rooms for about a decade, give or take. My sponsor said it took a nuclear blast to give me the willingness, and it pretty much was a meltdown of the soul that brought it about. You just can’t give the willingness thing away. You can keep carrying, or sending that message as far and wide as you want, but if the receiver switch isn’t on in the recipient – well, it’s all for naught. I don’t recall all the spiritual things I heard in meetings in the darkest days of my heroin abuse. I do remember the names and faces and the places we were when people told me they thought I was going to die.

    Addiction and denial are pretty tough. I have a friend on chemo who is pretty much dying of cancer, who refuses to give up smoking. I have another friend who recently was diagnosed with COPD who FLIPPED OUT on me when I asked about her quitting smoking. It is not for me to say what will turn an active addict around. Lots of addicts die active. That’s because recovery isn’t a cure. For the ones in the rooms, maybe the best I can do for them is love them a little before they go. There’s already lots of people preaching at them, so I feel no need to do that.

  5. When I pray for others its as much for me as for the person I’m praying for. The first time I remember praying as an adult my dad was in the ICU about to die. After spending hours at his bedside I started walking out of the hospital. A force drew me into the hospital chapel. I never considered going in it before. I prayed for him. He died the next day. I was at peace and was able to grieve. The prayers didn’t change him or let him live, but they allowed me to let go.

  6. I pray for those that are sick and suffering and ask that God hold them and give them hope. That is about all that I can do. I copied this from Pam’s blog Sobriety is Exhausting. It is a good statement about letting go and how powerless we are over what others do:

    “It really doesn’t matter sweet precious normies……do what you are comfortable with. Spend all your money trying to help or spend none of your money. Take their calls or don’t take their calls. Pay for them an apartment or give them your home. Dis-own them or clutch them tight. All your pain is about you….saying this with love. Your fear of wanting them to be healthy and happy and sane. Since none of this is within your power to give them, then do what makes you able to sleep at night, do what makes life bearable for you. Your addict/alcoholic is doing what makes life bearable for them……aren’t we all?”

  7. This topic frightens me (almost) to death. Thank you SO much for writing about it, G, and thanks to everyone for the great comments, especially Syd. As a normie mom, I struggle with this daily. Thanks to al-anon I mostly understand and live in a way that gives me happiness “whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not”. But, it is so damn hard. Having someone voice my deepest fear gives me strength. Thank you.
    P.S. Yes, Buddhism’s Loving Kindness (Metta) meditation is wonderfully helpful.

Comments are closed.

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Twitter