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.”
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.