Monday, December 15, 2008

Kathleene Anthony 1944-2008

My AA sponsor always signed her cards, letters and emails "Yo AA Momma"--and yes, she certainly was.


I don't remember the month, but I do remember the year, 1982. In the basement of an old building on East Broad Street in Columbus, Ohio, I was becoming increasingly restless with what I regarded as the just-so stories of Alcoholics Anonymous. The sloganeering, the shallow analysis of the psyche, the borderline-Calvinist zeal of some members, was wearing on me. I needed more, and I was getting argumentative about it.

Left to my own devices, I wouldn't have lasted out the year.

She was sitting across from me. Next to her, a very well-behaved child, about 7 or 8, was coloring and drawing quietly with crayons. Every now and then, the child would hear something and her eyes would widen. She would look at her mother, as if to say WOW! Her mother looked back, silently reinforcing, don't say anything, we'll talk later. (This exchange reminded me of my relationship with my own mother, wherein I was allowed to hear adults talk, only if I promised to be quiet.)

I remember she was quite large, even then, and was wearing green.

I don't remember exactly what she said, but the subject was gender differences in recovery, and a lot of sexist bullshit was floating around the room. I was greatly annoyed by what I was hearing and there was an accompanying tension at the base of my neck, giving me a roaring headache.

And then she introduced herself: "I'm Kathy, and I'm an alcoholic," she said, and explained, simply and thoroughly: Men in recovery talk about what they did, while drinking. ("Yeah man, we was hanging off the freeway overpass!") Women talk about how they felt. ("I cried every night!") The task in recovery is therefore: to get men to talk about their feelings, and to get women to talk about actual behaviors and how that effected the people around us.

Otherwise, she concluded, nothing has really changed, and we are not taking full responsibility. There can be no recovery.

Listening to her, I had one overriding thought: Oh dear God, who IS this person?

I knew she must be some kind of recovery professional, and might not be interested in sponsoring me. (People don't necessarily want to continue their jobs after they come home at night!) But I knew from listening to her, that she was a feminist. And ohhh my, how I needed her.

I had long ached to talk about the relationship of addiction and recovery to feminism; I needed a working-class, intelligent feminist who read books and was in recovery, and here she was, sitting right in front of me.

I was afraid, asking her, that she would say no. I could also tell, as she gave me her phone number, that she had given it to a lot of people... people who had attended one or two AA meetings and disappeared. She seemed accustomed to the request, and gave me her stock definition of "sponsor": one who takes an active interest in recovery. She didn't like the authoritarian, male-modeled sponsorships that AA then specialized in. She thought sponsorship should ideally be between peers and friends. I nodded as she gave me the spiel, inwardly thrilled that she had said yes.

I kept hearing we were supposed to call our sponsors every day, check in with them constantly like parole officers. Did she think that was necessary?

Could I call her every day? Would that be okay?

Bemused, she said yes, I could call her every day if I needed to do that. I could tell she didn't expect any such calls. (Later, she said I looked like an agitated hippie planning to go score some coke that very night... or worse.) Obviously, she'd seen my kind before.

But I did. In fact, I called her almost every day for the next five years.


What can I say about her? That she saved my life? That would be correct.

I find it impossible to list everything she did for me, but I can mention the highlights: giving me a baby shower; coming to collect me (and my child) after a devastating domestic dispute; supporting me through two divorces; being the local contact-person for my aged grandmother who had Alzheimer's disease; assigning me the daunting task of speaking for AA in various detox units she worked in (to build my confidence, she said); taking me to a country-and-western show in an RV park in Delaware, Ohio; declaring me "Support Womyn #1" during her oldest daughter's wedding... and just so much more.

At one point in my sobriety, she informed me that I needed to attend all-women's meetings, to bond with other women. Women in predominantly-male AA groups were prone to care-taking and attention-getting, and do not adequately work on themselves, she announced. (Once I began this habit, I attended mostly women's AA meetings from that point on, and made wonderful, lifelong friends. Some of the best advice I ever received.)

She was always taking in stray homeless people from AA, and her couch was a well-known Central Ohio AA pit-stop. She was the head of several detox units, and was also a psych nurse at the Columbus State Hospital.

In later years, as her health worsened and her fibromyalgia and arthritis brought constant pain, Kathy's personality underwent an almost radical change. She became nearly reclusive, and although her tremendous kindness remained, she was the victim of random street crime and learned to be suspicious. (I stopped sending any kind of gift card to her in the mail, since these would likely be intercepted before she could get to them--stolen right out of her mailbox.) She felt very vulnerable, and her vulnerability sometimes made her angry. People were not as kind to her, in her time of need, as she had been to others, and I think she found this confusing, frightening and unfair. It seemed to her that the world was going to hell in a handbasket, and in accordance with this conviction, she converted to a fundamentalist sect. And I found it more and more difficult to talk to her, so we communicated far easier online, where one can pick and choose which comments we will directly respond to. As time slipped by, she seemed more and more confused, and I knew that she was on some pretty heavy pain medication. Some conversations, she would just talk about how manageable the pain had been that week, and little else.

When my mother died, I brought Kathy some stuff from my mother's house. Practical items, cups and saucers, a can opener, some computer paper. And then I hauled out a painting by my mother. She told me she didn't want it.

A flash of the old Kathy, suddenly, as she said, "I wouldn't have had so much work to do with you, hon, if she had just done her job a little better," and then she lightly chuckled. "Not that I minded that, but I sure don't want any painting of hers," and I felt that I'd been slapped. This was the feisty Kathy who charted my Fourth Step with me, who could always tell when I was fibbing, and who resolutely forced me to tell the truth at all times.

I must have had that dumbfounded look on my face, because she added, "None of that is your fault, dear, it's between your mother and me," and lightly chuckled again.

And then, the old, shrewd Kathy seemed to slip back behind a cloud. She huddled beneath a large blanket, clearly very ill, as I kissed her goodbye.

May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem. And may Jesus and Mary welcome your troubled, tired soul into heaven, dear friend.