When I started my journey of recovery the path initially seemed to be very difficult and take quite a bit of effort. Yes I was trudging the “Road of Happy Destiny,” as it is known, but I was not at all happy to be trudging. However, I did have a sincere desire along with a great deal of willingness, which was based upon a clear memory of my most recent disasters and provided a great deal of incentive. In short order I began to see that others in the rooms had found peace, joy and happiness in sobriety. I longed to have what they had so I quickly figured out that I had to do what they did to get it. One thing people talked about nonstop was that I needed to get a sponsor—so I got a sponsor. I was not really sure I wanted a sponsor or someone else to know my whole story; I was very apprehensive about having someone know who I really was but I was desperate enough to make a good go of it. At first I told my new sponsor some things, but not the really in-depth stuff. I wanted to be liked and I wanted to convince everyone and myself that I was “doing the deal”, as they say.
I recently heard a story that illustrates my experience fairly accurate and it went something like this –
After a short time trudging the road of recovery I came to a fork in the broad highway and standing at the intersection of these two paths was my sponsor. I was not sure what this was all about but I approached and looked at the two paths. The one on the left was bright, smooth and appeared very cheery. The one on the right had rocks strewn about it, deep potholes and weeds growing along it. My sponsor looked at me and said, “It is an illusion. I suggest you pause, pray and that you take the path on the right.”
“That can’t be the right path.” I thought to myself as I looked at the difficult path my sponsor suggested I take and since I had heard that everything in AA is just a suggestion I said to my sponsor, “Thanks for the suggestion but I’m in a hurry so I’m going to go down the one on the left.” My sponsor gently replied, “There is a gorilla down that path.
Certain he didn’t know what he was talking about or at least didn’t know what was best for me I proceeded down the path. After a little while on this bright, sunny path I was startled as a huge gorilla jumped out of the bushes, grabbed me and thoroughly thrashed me. This was a beating unlike I had ever had before. I struggled desperately and eventually escape—badly bruised, limping and with a throbbing headache. Bewildered I suspected that perhaps this may just have been the “dues” I had to pay for my newfound sobriety. Battered and stunned I but consoled by this thought I continued on down the path.
After a time in the distance I saw another fork in the road. Again standing by the fork was my sponsor with that “sponsor look.” You know the one—a little frustrated, a little curious but mostly loving. I approached my sponsor and stood looking at the two paths. The one on the right was bright, cheerful and smooth. The one on the left had large boulders, potholes, weeds and was uphill. I glanced at my sponsor and stood there for a minute or so staring into those kind eyes. After a bit my sponsor said, “It is an illusion. I suggest that you pause, pray and take the left path. There is a gorilla down the right one.”
I was dismayed to hear this as because I longed to take the path that looked best to me. I stood and looked at the two paths for a time, trying to appear as though I really was praying as he suggested and that I really was seriously considering what he said about which way to go. Finally I said to my sponsor, “I really appreciate all you do for me, but I think I’ll take the one on the right. Even if the gorilla is there I will be extremely careful. I will watch and avoid it. Trust me I can do this.”
A little apprehensive that I may be making a mistake but confident that I really do know all about what might befall me and how to address it off I go. As I travel down the path I stay on guard and watch vigilantly for any sign of the gorilla. As the days past during which I see no sign of a gorilla so I grow a little cocky at proving my sponsor wrong and begin to thoroughly enjoy the lovely path. One sunny easy-go-lucky day out of nowhere a gorilla appears out of nowhere and snatches me up in it’s grip before I can even react. Terrified I desperately struggle, fighting for my life and endure a thrashing far greater than the last time. After a violent struggle I at last extract myself from the bedlam, finally break free of the gorilla’s grasp and run for my life. Once the gorilla is no longer in sight I take stock of my injuries—I now have bruises in a variety of hues of green, purple and yellow all over my body and in places I didn’t know I even think was possible. I was severely limping and could hardly see through my swollen black and blue eyes. Wounded, scared and upset as I hobbled down the path I vowed to myself that never again would I do anything to put myself within the grasp of the gorilla. A few days pasted as I limped along on my journey and eventually I began to feel better as the bruises faded, the throbbing in my head dissipated and I begin to feel somewhat whole again.
In no time I once again saw another fork in the road up ahead. Sure enough, there stood my sponsor with that same sponsorly expression that made me a wee bit nervous. I approached cautiously and stand face-to-face staring into those eyes. This “stare-down” continued for a few minutes and then I surprise myself by uttering the heartfelt words, “Where is the gorilla?”
“I suggest you pause, pray and take the right path,” said my sponsor. Still in a fair amount of pain and feeling strangely humble I take my sponsor’s suggestion. I pause, I pray and turn to journey down the path to the right. Almost instantly I am frustrated because the path is strewn with boulders that I have to climb over or push out of my path. Potholes of every size make my footing uncertain and weeds growing everywhere snag at my shoes. Progress seems painfully slow because most of the time all it seems as if I was doing was moving boulders, filling potholes or pulling weeds that tangled and tripped me. However, once in a while as I walk I encounter others on the path and they share with me ideas and tools they had acquired to move boulders, fill potholes and pull weeds. Meeting these fellow trudgers and hearing their stories was a welcome relief and kept me trudging step by step. However, as the path continued steeply uphill I began to get extremely discouraged and seriously doubt my sponsor’s sanity. I started to grumble, wondering out loud if this journey would ever get any easier. Nevertheless my altercations with the gorilla were still keen in my mind making me fearful to turn back or find a different route.
One day discouraged, tired and feeling sorry for myself I was convinced I couldn’t go on any longer. I had had enough. I stopped dead on the path, threw my head back and shouted towards the gloomy sky, “This bulls##t! This is so NOT fair!
My yelling was greeted with complete silence. Defeated I slowly sank to my knees and quietly cried, “I can’t do this. Please help me!” All of a sudden I noticed my sponsor was right beside me on the path—quietly standing and watching me. Looking up at him I had so many questions, but the one that tumbled out of my mouth surprised me. “I don’t understand—tell me about the gorilla.”
There seemed to not be a sound or a movement anywhere until my sponsor started to smile, a loving grin that stretched from ear to ear. His eyes were like stars, twinkling brightly and he gave a small chuckle that broke the stillness. Then in a very loving tone of voice my sponsor said, “You are the gorilla.”
After giving me time to absorb the information he continued on. “Your old ideas, plans, and behavior made one path look correct because it was smooth and enjoyable. But you run into yourself – your unchanged self – time and time again. Each altercation with your old behaviors and self centeredness grows more and more painful. Eventually if you continue to take that path it will lead to your death. The path I always suggested, the one that appears to be difficult to you, is just strewn with the boulders of your resentments, the potholes of your fears and the weeds of your sex conduct. As you are willing to address each of those you begin to change and you corrected the part of the path where you have traveled. Look around you, behind you. Can you not see that during your walk on this path you have cleared up much of the wreckage of your past? Now look ahead—do you notice that the boulders are fewer and smaller, there are less and less weeds and potholes? See those flowers just ahead and how the path is gently leveling out?”
I looked around as instructed and was delighted to see what my sponsor said was true. Relief, encouragement and a new surge of motivation flooded over me. My sponsor reached out and grabbing my hand helped me to my feet.
Love and concerned was etched in his expression and a sense of urgency was in his voice. “One day you will come to a fork in the road and I will not be there to suggest what path to take. But if you do the work, learn from the paths you traveled and remember to always pause, pray and ask your Higher Power for guidance, even though the path may be very difficult at times your Higher Power will always walk with you and the path will be safe. And as you continue to walk in this way your path will become bright and sunny with flowers growing along its borders—not because of an illusion but because it will reflect the beauty that lies within you.”
Thank you Steve for being the first to tell me about the gorilla (also Scott, Roger and most recently Mari) and for pushing me to go directly to the Source.