Answer The Call

Have you heard of the fifty-pound phone?

It’s one of those recovery clichés I’m fond of elaborating on—one worthy of the “slogan series” here at the Miracle of the Mundane.

No, the phone doesn’t actually weigh fifty pounds. In fact, the expression doesn’t change as phones get lighter. Today, we can talk to people through our watches like Dick Tracy. Not long before technology catches up with the Netflix show Black Mirror, and we will communicate globally via our thoughts transmitted through small brain implants.

No matter how our communication technology changes, the fifty-pound phone will remain fifty pounds—figuratively speaking. That’s the great thing about clichés. They are bulky and reductive because they speak to a larger truth.

The truth of the fifty-pound phone? It’s hard to connect.

I mean really connect. It’s hard when that sober friend is calling to pick it up the phone and say, “how you are you?” It’s hard when you’re having a shitty day to pick up the phone and make that call to your sponsor. It’s as if that sleek and smooth, aerodynamic piece of alloy weighs fifty pounds. It’s hard to pick up. Hard to dial—dialing can feel like you’re a crane operator moving two industrial containers instead of your thumbs.

Connection requires energy. Uncomfortable energy. You tell yourself “answering this call is not a matter of life and death,” or, “I’ll see what they say on the voicemail” or “I’ll call them back tomorrow when I’m in a better mood.”

And we’re right, usually. It is not urgent, most often.

But, the truth is that we can never assume someone reaching out for help will live through the day. We always answer the call because we know that there have been times when the only thing that stood between us and a relapse was the voice of a fellow sufferer.

Recovery calls, like the bat phone, take priority.

This Saturday I spent eight hours alone in the car, driving to and from my friend’s memorial.

He died from opioids, prescribed—at one point or another—to numb pain. The epidemic that proliferated over the pharmacy counter in America took one of my friends, and I had eight round-trip hours alone in the car to think about it.

I can’t say where the impulse came from, although I know it came from a good place. It was not that twisted impulse that tells me to drink, to self-mutilate, to gorge on food, or lust after strangers. It was that impulse that stirred me, motivated me, said, “this is the right thing to do.”

The impulse was to remember my friend. Remember him not just by going to his memorial service, but to remember him in that eight-hours on the road; remember him by refusing to take that drive alone. I placed 88 outgoing phone calls on Saturday, not including all the callbacks and phone tag. Every contact in my phone. Every sober person, relapsed person, meeting person. Every “I got this” person that I haven’t heard from in years. Sponsors and sponsees. The counsellors, and the counseled. I called them all.

I spoke with some, left messages for others. I spoke with people on Saturday that I haven’t heard from in eight or nine years. Here’s a funny trend: everyone who picked up was sober. Of course, I couldn’t reach all. Some numbers gave me an out of service signal; some haven’t set up their voicemails yet.

And there was a handful of phone numbers that no longer belonged to the people I called. Strangers picked up the phone. It had a ghostly feel to it. Strangers had assumed their phone number, the way aliens take over bodies in sci-fi flicks—at least, that’s how it felt. And I wouldn’t assume the worst about these old recovery friends who’ve lost their numbers if I didn’t have evidence that the worst is assumable.

Conversations on the drive—some lengthy, some brief; they ranged anywhere from five to forty minutes long—made me realize why I was calling every clean and sober person I know. I’m sick—achingly sick—of hearing from a long-lost friend for the first time in an invitation to pay respect to his corpse. I can’t do it anymore. It’s too fucking devastating. So I called everyone I know whose number I stored on this journey.

It helped. As coincidence would have it, my last call wrapped up while I was idling in the driveway at home. I went inside to play Sneaky Snacky Squirrel with my wife and son. Saturday is game night. At the long day’s end, I returned to the miracle of my mundane life, clean and sober.

We don’t know what a little outreach can do. A few people said the call made their day, which made me feel much better. In some calls I shared where I was going and why I was calling; in others, it was just enough to hear a clean-and-sober voice on the other line.

It’s amazing how the phone that feels like it weighs 500 pounds makes you feel light as a feather once you pick it up.

31 Responses to “Answer The Call

  • This weekend was tough for me. Going through a lot and I was thinking to myself, if I would just reach out and talk to someone who understood. The thought of finally talking to you on the phone crossed my mind, but then again I didn’t want to burden your weekend with my stupid crap. Cool how the timing of our posts seem to fit just right for the other. Thank you Mark, Ive been working out again so hopefully I will be able to pick up that phone. Great post.

  • Colin Chatburn
    7 months ago

    good one mark. go with the idea of the ripple effect.maybe your friend was ok.but maybe they’ll phone someone who’s not having a good day.and that call might help them. thanks again

  • Love this piece Mark.

  • Wow. What timing.
    Isolation has been my best friend for the last.. month? two? Doing below the bare minimum (just my obligations) and I finally reached out to a sober friend on Saturday. We’re still looking at when we can get together – but that act was enough to drain me for the rest of the night.
    Your post hit it on the head for me today. Thank you.
    Once again, I learn I am not alone in this.

    • No, definitely not alone. I should have written all the times that I couldn’t pick up the phone. For various reasons. Even when I’m available, I feel often completely unavailable for people. But, I’m glad you found a way out of that isolation. Isolation is a killer, I get it. Isn’t it exhausting too? I’m still feeling the ripple effects of all the calls. And it’s all really good stuff. Just exhausting.

  • So sorry for your loss Mark and so glad so many picked up that 50 lb phone when you called. <3
    Diana xo

  • Stephen Price
    7 months ago

    Thank you Mark. This was particularly moving for me in light of all our congregation’s losses lately.

    • I’m glad Pastor Stephen. Glad in that “it’s good to grieve” kind of way. Glad we can talk more on Wednesday.

  • Thank you for sharing. Spending time alone in my own mind is dangerous. When the pain becomes greater than the fear (…Of what? Idk), I’ll make the necessary changes. You’re a gifted writer, Mark. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Abbie. It’s always great to hear from you. That is the “get help” equation isn’t it. When the pain becomes too much and we have nowhere else to turn.

  • Mark, thanks for telling me this! I’ve lost many friends to this, and almost MYSELF!
    Glad I’m still here and that you are too!
    Thanks for the call and the congrats!
    THIS IS one of the ways this WHOLE thing works, picking up the 50 lb phone!!

  • So sorry for your loss Mark. What an amazing tribute and remembrance. Blessed to have read this today. Hugs.

  • I’m sorry for your loss. I appreciate your outreach, that day, and today.

  • That’s an impressive number of phone calls! Good on you for remembering and honoring your friend in this way.

  • Hi Mark!
    I am very sorry for the loss of your friend.
    It’s very hard for me to pick up the phone.
    It does feel like a burden.
    (Of course my hearing loss makes it harder, but I can still text or at least try hearing.)
    My motto these days, is just show up…just get to a meeting so I can help someone, just write a post, just get to yoga, just show up.
    It really helps to do this.
    Today in my AA meeting a young lady was overwhelmed with moving houses, and I offered to go help her for a few hours.
    Then another person offered.
    Her face brightened, her mood lifted, and all I have to do is to show up.
    xo
    Wendy

    • That’s a great motto to live by, Wendy. My sponsor is always telling me to just show up. Just show up, especially when I feel like I don’t want to.

      That’s great you were able to be there for the young lady who was struggling. That’s what it’s all about!

  • Hey Mark,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your friend, but I’m glad you were able to reach out to a few (or a few dozen lol) people. It’s so true that the phone is so daunting, but once you make the call it feels as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Also family game night is a beautiful thing. Thanks for following me!

    Alan

  • Was happy to see your name pop up on the phone Saturday; glad we got to chat briefly Sunday. Looking forward to the next face to face!

  • stepsherpa
    7 months ago

    Yeah the 50 lb’s of self centered fear, the “I” phone, or “me” phone. I had one for a long time. It’s still around here somewhere. It usually shows itself in desperation.

    Can’t speak for anyone else. I am alcoholic as described in the Big Book. Left untreated? Hopeless, selfish and self centered to the extreme. What can easily take me down (aside from a heavy jack in the box dose of guilt or shame) is a multitude of unresoved issues, compounded daily until I can nolonger justify myself or my condition. Sloppy Step 11. I am trapped, boxed in with people places and things, again… Sometimes like the flip of a switch I become self centered and search for emotional security in my head or with self seeking behavior I act out. Take my sickness on the road. .

    It’s an alcoholism thing according to the Book anyway. When the fear grips me? I struggle to fix myself. Being the emotional thief I am, I can nolonger give without selfish motive. So..I want, me, fix me, save me, what about me..I have expectations on everything, a reward for my being. I lack the simple willingness to humble myself. Self will run riot though usually at the time I will deny it in favor of how hard I try.

    I won’t reach out to you if you don’t reach out to me. Back to the trust issues. I am testing all surrounding waters in my head. Who can I call, who will understand, as if I already know what’s best for me so why bother calling anyone? I’ll say this and they’ll say that. Do I want to hear what I think they’ll say? Do I want to rely on what I think they think? What if people know how screwed up I am? What will I think they think of me then? Where’s my power then? Nope… I won’t be vulnerable unless you show me yourself first so I have a chance to control. I mean that’s what I want right? Control? I’m going to let you know I’m a mess but don’t offer me suggestion. Just cosign my peril and let it go at that. I’m a martyr.

    The suggestion taken. The spiritual path followed. The fellowship offered. Safety of another confidence. The AA offering. I never have to be alone again? How to take a step outside myself when I am wrapped up tight in my emotional bondage? Well? I just do it. Pick up that phone, listen to it ring, hope for a machine and then they pick up..Hello? Hi..I’m just calling. That’s all, just calling to say hello..I just do it, then I did it, then it’s over. I am somehow relieved, free again to give.

    I may be jammed up solid. I may not even know what to say. I have tried everything I have and reaching out is the last resort. How will it work? I don’t know. Will it even have any effect? I don’t know. I don’t feel good enough about myself to care for myself so why would anyone else care about me? I have nothing to offer so who wants to talk to me? I’m just a sick loser as usual. Or. I see a name on the caller ID and can’t foresee the outcome so I don’t risk it. Let it go to the recorder. Give me a chance to control the outcome. I can get better if I just try harder!

    I’ve been shown in AA to pray or ask for guidance from my Higher Spiritual source first. All reliance on God. Then humble myself by showing a willingness to interact, communicate outside myself. No reason to make others pay for how I feel about myself with neglect. No reason to not trust because I can’t trust myself or have a history of mistrust. AA is all about willingness. Willingness to believe, willingness to change, willingness to follow suggestion, willingness to pray for courage… I am willing today to be a part of life and not special needs or selfishly apart from it hoping others feed my emotional security by taking notice.

    In a nutshell? I’m not that freaken important. Pick up the phone, cope with it, be a participant.

    • The nutshell, yes!

      There is a simple principle I live by. Pick up the phone when it rings. Now, I can’t pick it up all the time, that’s true. But whenever I can, I pick up the phone. I just never know. I’d rather tell a telemarketer to fuck off than risk missing an important call from someone I haven’t heard from in a while, for example. The risk/reward is in my favor.

      On an unrelated note, sherpa, I took the toy away at bed time and the little one has been sleeping much better…

  • Hi Mark
    My sincere condolences regarding the loss of your friend. What a sad way to end a life.
    Your phone calls sound truely empowering. What an amazing exploration!
    It takes guts to reach out sometimes. Big ups to you, it really inspires us to make more of an effort.
    Take care ✨✨✨

  • I am sorry for your loss Mark. It really is such a sad end and just so heartwretnching. I need to call more people, I do tend to isolate and lock myself up a bit. Its great to catch up with old friends. xxx

    • Hurrah, you wouldn’t believe the amazing things I found out from people who did pick up the phone. It’s amazing to hear of other people’s journeys. Everyone is off and doing amazing things. Those who picked up, that is.

  • Well said. Like they used to say, “man is a social animal.” With technology we seem to have become less social, though binge socialisation is going up.

    • I’ve never heard it put like that. Binge socialism! That is exactly what is happening. I’m a binger. So, I relate.

  • Thanks for this post. It has motivated me to renew my commitment that I made early in my sobriety to always answer the phone even if I am sleeping. Where would I be today if the person I called hadn’t picked up the phone when I was in the deepest pit of my alcoholism? Thanks for the reminder that in recovery we are all in the business of saving lives.

    • I’ll tell you what, RJ. You just made my day. If nothing came from this post except for that single change, it would be worth it. It would be worth something.

  • Sorry for your loss bud that sucks. On a better note, great article I really enjoyed it and it was full of wisdom as to handle a tough situation like driving 8 hrs thinking about that. I dont think all that would have departed for that drive would have arrived at their destination. Or ever even attempted the drive to begin with. But you did and you not only made it there but back to the Mundane as well clean, sober, and ready to be daddy again. Nice fucking job my brother, great piece!

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