He reeked of booze. And BO. I stood beside a man on the bus the other day. His swollen and busted up face caught my attention. He had a hospital band on his wrist. His dead eyes said it all. In his hand was a bag full of rattling Olde English malt liquor bottles. He stared into the middle distance while I sized him up and took him in. It was a reminder of where I came from and where I could be if I picked up again. I wanted to hug him, to let him know that it didn’t have to be like that any more. But I knew that look he had – long lost in his mind, his alcoholism, his perceived fate. He was, at that moment, a shell of what he could be, what he was meant to be. Was he one of us? I don’t know for sure, but I know regular folk don’t come back from the hospital and pick up booze before even removing the white tag on their wrist.
I mentioned this on Twitter and someone I respect (his name is Paul as well) asked if that man was perhaps an Eskimo Angel. I had never heard the term before, but soon found out what it meant. One common story used to explain the term is the classic tale of a man on a roof during a flood who prays to God for rescue. When a life raft and helicopter come, he refuses both because God will save him. Finally, an Eskimo on a kayak offers to take him to safety, and again he maintains that he is waiting for divine intervention. After he dies and accuses God of not saving him, God tells him that he sent the raft, helicopter, and Eskimo*. The idea that Creator works through others is something that I very much believe in.
Eskimo Angels are those who gently (or maybe not so gently) nudge and guide us towards recovery. They are in the background and foreground. They pray for us, work with us, take our hand and help push us to the light of wellness. They may not even know they are Eskimo Angels. They may have no idea that they are in communion with Creator in helping someone get well. In the twilight of my alcoholic lifestyle, I know now that I had many Eskimo Angels around me, hoping and prompting and encouraging me to get well. I can look back and see that I had many, many opportunities given to me, through others, to see just how bad a shape I was in. My denial, my ego and my alcoholism wouldn’t let me see through the fog though.
My wife and my parents were certainly Eskimo Angels. They are still angels in my life – they have done more than I can thank them for. A friend of a friend in 12-step shared with me his experience and hope via emails and phone calls (I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember them all) and he was an Eskimo Angel. Old employers of mine who tried to counsel me and console me when I was in bad shape…they were Eskimo Angels. The doctors and nurses who tended to me in my hospital visits, who asked if I had drinking issues, they too were Eskimo Angels. To the people who called 911 not once, but twice, when I was drinking and driving that last time – they were Eskimo Angels for sure. To the police officers who stopped me and made sure I was off the streets – they were certainly Eskimo Angels. The man from the treatment center who called me repeatedly in detox to make sure I was okay – and Eskimo Angel. The first few men who I ran into in 12 step recovery rooms. Angels, all of them.
And so on.
I don’t begrudge or resent anyone who helped me in the ways they needed to help me – either firing me, or arresting me or pleading with me or having other sorts of unpleasant exchanges. I am thankful for them and bless them daily. I have people today in my life who are no doubt continuing to gently prod me into greater growth, and I don’t know that they are doing it. Doing His work through their words and actions. I am affected by the cosmic touch of interaction via other humans. I am a bird who is riding the currents of the wind, being taken to where I need to go, without even knowing where that place is, wings spread but not flapping. The mosaic of this intermingled universal mass is much broader and wider than I can imagine. I am guided by voices that aren’t my own, and yet are part of my inner landscape. Creator, within, working through others, without.
The beauty of this recovery thing we do is that we never know if and when we ourselves become Eskimo Angels. A hug at a meeting, a timely email, a welcoming phone call, an unexpected visit…these are just some of the countless ways that we can plant the seed of recovery for the still suffering alcoholic or addict. Blogging, speaking, sharing, writing…these too are ways we communicate and carry the message of hope. Sitting down with another alcoholic and telling them our story and how we got well. Reaching out in the small and not-so-small ways. A smile and a handshake to someone new at a meeting. There are many ways that we can be beacons of light to those sitting in the darkness. Even just living a life of joy and happiness can inspire someone to want what we have. Living by spiritual principles. Laws of attraction.
I now regret not hugging or talking to that man on the bus. Or reaching out in some way. But many more will come. I am sure of that. They remind me of what it was like and what it could be if I drank again, the runaway train wreck I would become. They are truly my Eskimo Angels because Creator is holding a reflector to me, reminding me, and also letting me know I still have work to do. Carry the message. Help others. Get out of self.
Who are your Eskimo Angels? Who helped you when you didn’t even know how to help yourself?
* the story passage is from this site here explaining Eskimo Angels in more detail.