Be A Sherpa

Let’s start with the analogy that getting sober, in all appearances, is like climbing Mt. Everest.

It seems impossible. Yet, you hear people have done it. You’ve seen pictures. It’s just impossible for you. Then, you approach the base. You’re told you don’t have to climb it alone. You will have the support of a guide; you will have a sherpa.

Edmund Hillary is credited with first reaching Everest’s summit in a 1953 expedition with the help of his sherpa Tenzing Norgay. It was Hillary’s first attempt at the peak. Norgay, the Nepalese sherpa, embarked on two failed trips before the successful summit. It was Norgay’s failed 1952 climb with a Swiss expedition that opened up the passage for triumph the following year.

The pair was an odd couple according to Welsh writer Jan Morris who accompanied them for part of the expedition. Hillary moved like a giraffe; Norgay like a cat, she wrote. “Hillary grinned; Tenzing smiled. Hillary guffawed; Tenzing chuckled.” According to Time Magazine, when they reached to the top, “Hillary placed a small cross in the snow and Norgay left a Buddhist offering of chocolates.”

Sardar Tenzing Norgay, right, of Nepal and Edmund P. Hillary of New Zealand, left, show the kit they wore when conquering the world's highest peak, the Mount Everest, on May 29, at the British Embassy in Katmandu, capital of Nepal, on June 26, 1953. Edmund Hillary, with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, reached the 29,035-foot summit of Everest on May 29, 1953, becoming the first person to stand atop the world's highest mountain. Hillary died Jan. 11, 2008 of a heart attack at age 88. (AP Photo)

Sardar Tenzing Norgay, right, of Nepal and Edmund P. Hillary of New Zealand, left, show the kit they wore when conquering the world’s highest peak. (AP Photo)

Disagreements in philosophies, religions, or politics simply don’t matter when you’re surviving at 29,000 feet, nor do they matter when you’re staying clean and sober.

Achieving such greatness is impossible by ourselves. Often, it is our differences that provide the diversity for effectiveness. I know this much: recently expanding the horizons of my recovery, I’ve become more useful to those I help stay sober.


Sobriety is an adventure.

But every adventurer needs a sherpa. Someone to help them carry the load. Someone who has experienced the terrain, a real local.

The beauty of teamwork is the sharing of a greater glory than you could muster yourself.

In the fame that followed the ‘53 ascent, the debate stirred over whose boot first broke the peak’s icy crest. It was put on political agendas; the Nepalese looked to prove that foreigners aren’t experts in the Himalayas, and westerners being—well, westerners—claimed global climbing superiority.

But the climbers insisted they reached the summit together. Whoever first stood at the summit was unimportant.

The same goes for the collective recovery experience. Take the man who is credited as the father of the 12-step, Bill W. He was helplessly ineffective getting sober alone. Dr. Bob and Ebby T., among others, showed him the summit. In all the iterations of recovery culture I’ve seen in my 8 years sober, there is no way around the fact that long-term sobriety happens through helping others.

After the summit, Hillary threw himself into service. He founded the nonprofit Himalayan Trust to help the Nepalese people, the same people who gave him a great guide and friend in Norgay. It seems no matter how far up the mountain we ascend, working to help others will continue to elevate us to new heights.

Don’t climb the mountain alone. Whether you’re asking for help or helping, your success is shared.

If you know the terrain, you can be of use.

Be a sherpa.

9 Responses to “Be A Sherpa

  • Reminds me of a thread of conversations I was having this past week. For me, why I am here, is to love God but also to love people. I am reminded of the Good Samaritan story. Two men from different backgrounds who were not suppose to get along but doing what we were put here to do. Help others! Great work brother. Keep writing.

  • Hi Mark! Thanks for leaving your address on my blog – glad to have found you. Love the Sherpa analogy.

    Love SoberMummy

  • I tried to post a comment earlier but the Interwebs ate it. It is floating in the internet tubes somewhere.

    I did try to say that this is (yet again) an excellent post. And then I asked if you had ever seen the movie, “Love it Not Enough”. It is the Lois Wilson story. In keeping with Tradition 6 it is not endorsed by Al Anon or A.. it did get the approval of Lois Wilson’s estate. It reminds me of how neither Bill or Lois could go it alone. Support was so vital to both of their recoveries.

    • Wow. I want to watch that. I couldn’t find it on Netflix but I will find a way to it. Thanks Birdie. Maybe the old message, like some note in a bottle, drifted to someone on an emotional island and it was exactly what they needed to hear. You never know where those tubes lead, do you?

  • FAN-FREAKING-TAstic post, Mark! And you are right when you say, “Disagreements in philosophies, religions, or politics simply don’t matter when you’re surviving at 29,000 feet, nor do they matter when you’re staying clean and sober.” Boom. The struggle is too real to get hung up on personalities or beliefs.

    • Thanks Sean! Yes. It’s something I’ve learned a whole lot of since participating in digital recovery in January.

  • Hi Mark,
    I am ever so glad to read this post.
    Without all of the people who went before me, and the people holding my hand now, I don’t know if I’d be sober.
    I hope to be of help to other people, both on my blog as well as in my meetings.

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