One of LifeRing’s programs is called “E-mail Pals.” Sometimes we hear from people who don’t have access to one of our face-to-face meetings and don’t feel comfortable taking part in our online groups. They often are taking a tentative first step towards lasting sobriety. “E-mail Pals” connects these people with one of our volunteers to provide one-to-one support, information and friendship by way of e-mail. It can be frustrating for the volunteers because the “tentative first step” often is pulled back rather abruptly, leaving the LifeRing volunteer wondering if they did something wrong. The real problem, of course, is that the addicted person discovers what a challenge it can be to stay clean and sober and retreats, often feeling shame and guilt and not wanting to confront their situation. They’ll try again later, we hope, with a more realistic view of what’s involved. Sometimes, though, the email pal is just what’s needed, as it seems to have been for a young man from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

William (not his real name) wrote to LifeRing first a few years ago. He and his e-pal exchanged a couple of emails but, as so often happens, he stopped writing. He wrote again, though, about a year ago, ready to try once more. William is a young, single professional who struggled with drinking for years, gaining two years of sobriety through AA before moving from his home country of Kenya to Ethiopia. There, his circle of friends was made up of other young men for whom drinking was a very ingrained pattern, although mostly within the bounds of ‘social drinking.’ For William, it clearly went beyond those bounds. He could tell that he was getting deeper into trouble with alcohol but wasn’t sure if he could escape the destructive pattern he was in — the thought of sitting home alone on weekends was very unappealing, but at least some of his friends had difficulty accepting his desire not to drink, applying pressure on him.

The e-pal provided an understanding ear and suggested alternative approaches. But the underlying message was that he would have to choose between the socializing pattern and sobriety — he wasn’t likely to be able to have both. William realized this in theory, but, as is so often the case, had a very difficult time putting it into practice. Things weren’t helped by a troubled relationship with his girlfriend. This and other outside stresses played a big role in his drinking.

A turning point came last October, when he parted with the girlfriend and also read a copy of “Empowering Your Sober Self” by Martin Nicolaus, former long-time head of LifeRing. He began to visit our online chat room and joined the Rotary Club, which is anything but a young man’s drinking organization. He was slowly knitting his sober life together, even as he struggled with setbacks. Drinking had become mostly a “special occasion” event and even those were becoming less frequent. By early December, he had quit drinking completely. He now is 3 months clean and sober.

The e-pal’s role in William’s turn-around was small. William did all the hard work and deserves all the credit. Still, there’s no question that it provided a little extra weight on the positive side of the scale. Considering the geographic and cultural distance between a young Ethiopian IT professional and an American retired bookseller, it’s a great testament to the universality of LifeRing’s approach that the two were able to communicate so well.

Here’s what William wrote just the other day:

“During this past month I have been comfortable with my sobriety and I have no regrets on stopping and neither am I missing the drink. To my program I added gratitude journaling (writing at least five things to be grateful for daily) and it has really made my mood positive and appreciative. Many of my friends are happy for me, but a small group continues to come up with all sorts of reasons as to why I quit and why I should go back to “my usual self”. Consequently I don’t hang out with them. Otherwise everything else is good and I look forward to continued success. After six months sober I’m thinking of maybe starting some kind of LifeRing meeting here. In the meantime, I will enjoy every moment of my sober life.”