Her Pretty Little Neck

Art by Arsinoes Temple
Art by Arsinoes Temple (Click image to visit her on Etsy)

One recent afternoon, I was sitting at my desk feeling lonely and anxious when I noticed the sun was shining through the blinds in a way that felt perfect on my face.

I shut my eyes and basked in the light. For the next few minutes, I let everything go and invited God to mend the achy places in my heart. 

 Instead, he broke it open further. Which has been happening a lot, I’ve noticed, ever since I started asking God to help me grow in compassion. I should have known his answer would be to allow me to feel other people’s pain in a very real way.

The person on my heart that afternoon was a friend who relapses often and has recently been taken out again by her alcoholism. She’s someone I tried hard to help once and had to let go before I acted on the urge to wring her pretty little neck.

In the past couple of weeks, God’s been prompting me to call her again. And I’ve delayed, telling myself I wasn’t sure I heard clearly.

But sitting there with the sun on my face, I realized the real reason behind my reluctance: I enjoy my cushy life too much.

The thought sort of shocked me, but I knew it was true. I’ve gotten so comfortable in my safe little bubble of recovery that I’ve totally lost touch with the gritty, hard work of loving sick people who can’t love you back.

Sure, I sponsor women. But they’re all my friends, too. They’re perfectly nice, do the work, and make me feel good about myself. Meanwhile, I notice I no longer go out of my way to help the hard cases, invite newbies to lunch, or give my number to the jittery girl who just got out of detox.

It’s a scary realization, since there’s no quicker way to lose your sobriety than to stop giving it away.

So, I called my friend with the pretty little neck and left a message. It’s been a couple days and she hasn’t called back. No great surprise. It takes a lot of hope to pick up the phone, and I’m pretty sure she’s low on that.

She’s been in this cycle for years, you see. Rehab after rehab, relapse after relapse, and in between, promising periods of sobriety that often end in a seedy motel or in the ICU.

When she’s not drinking, she tries to find meetings where no one knows her—which is getting harder and harder. I can’t imagine how humiliated she must feel at times. To be that person, the one everyone knows can’t seem to stay sober. The one everyone knows has left in her wake a trail of people who tried to help and only got worn out.

Today, I’m wondering where she finds the courage to keep coming back.To try one more time. She might be the bravest person I know.

I also keep thinking about something Jesus said,  “What credit is it to you if you only love people who love you?”

And it dawns on me, even as I write this, that maybe God’s not asking me to help my friend, just to love her. Not because I can make a difference, but precisely because I probably can’t.

Maybe this is where compassion begins.


Author: Heather Kopp at SoberBoots.com

Heather Kopp is an author and blogger who writes about the intersection of addiction and faith. Her memoir about her recovery, Sober Mercies, was published by Jericho, a new imprint of HBG (Hachette Book Group) in Spring 2013.

39 thoughts on “Her Pretty Little Neck”

  1. I just read the comment above and I feel that same way … “This touched my heart on so many levels.” I’ve stopped giving back because I’m feeling sorry for myself. I also reason that no one reached out to me, which, of course, isn’t true. So, there you have it – big slip. The line in this post that gives me the most hope, “She might be the bravest person I know.” We all are if we keep trying to recover from our slips, yes? I’m comforted by that thought. Thanks, Heather.


    1. Oh sweet friend, your comment breaks my heart a little, in a good way I suppose. I am so glad that you read that line. I NEEDED to read that line myself and I confess it surprised me when it came out of my brain onto the page. The truth of it just smacked me. We tend to think the heroes among us are those who never fall, while it’s more likely the real heroes are those who and yet still keep coming back to try again. Is it good to relapse? No, because there’s always the chance you might not make it back. But on the other hand, once someone has slipped and come back you realize how ridiculous it is to put so much stock in accumulated days. We’re just all here in recovery doing our best to stay sober one day at a time. All worthy of the peace and serenity of sobriety and all desperately relying on God to help us. Sure care about you. I’m here if you ever need to talk. Just fb message me. Hugs and love, Heather


  2. If her shame is keeping her away from people and places who know her, and if AA hasn’t been the thing that’s helped her stay sober, may I respectfully suggest she may want to try something different? I got sober with the help of an online forum called, Women For Sobriety. What appealed to me at first, was the fact that I could access the site 24/7 and be totally anonymous. I could post and read anytime I felt the need. Their philosophy and positive program based on CBT principles “clicked” for me in a way other paths did not. I knew when I found it that I had found the place that would help me save my life. Perhaps your friend needs to try something new. womenforsobriety.com


    1. Thanks so much for sharing this. I am one of those people who believes there’s no one right way to get sober. I’m not sure an online forum would work for her, but I’m going to check it out. I always appreciate learning about other groups. We’re all so different and what works for one might not for another. At this point, it seems like my friend has pretty much run the gambit of methods and types of rehabs and therapies, etc. But the idea of anonymous help might be a good one for her–where she can really feel unseen. For me, it was so important to be seen by a community of fellow suffers and learn to let go of shame by being vulnerable to others. That’s just my story and I’m so grateful that you shared your experience here.


  3. I have read this three times now. I’m wrestling with it. I always want to fix things and people, and when I can’t I tend to walk away feeling frustrated and angry. But the idea of loving without trying to make results happen is making me think. A lot.


    1. Lyndsay, I love this comment. So honest. And yes, it goes against our instincts to love or help without putting much stock in it making a difference or leaving that as a mystery that’s up to God. Of course, we aren’t to actively reach out to every single person who is floundering, but I think for me there’s a lesson in this about doing the next right then and laving outcomes and results to God. Plus, who am I to know what is going on inside a soul? I am called to love without strings. So glad you’re reading, Heather


  4. Both your post and the comments are really moving…the idea of loving people rather than trying to fix them really speaks to where i’ve been lately on my own journey. I’ll share a few lines i read recently in Morton Kelsey’s Companions On the Inner Way (Crossroad, 1985): “I find that it is better to love badly and faultily than not to try to love at all. God does not have to have perfect instruments, and the Holy One can use our feeble and faltering attempts at love and transform them. My task is to keep on trying to love, to be faithful in my continuing attempt, not necessarily to be successful” (p. 199) Amen.


  5. Wow, very profound and I don’t know. Sometimes I have felt like your friend, because my progression was very quick and I do believe I stumbled into AA quickly. I had fellowship yesterday with my sponsor and said I was so sick of raising my hand being in the first 30-90 days. I was jealous of the people who walked in the doors and just got it right away. She has been sober 14 years and she told me something so promising, something I bet your friend needs to hear. She said Kim, don’t let me fool you. By my story it sounds like I came in and got it right away, but I tried quitting on my own for 10 years prior, and was a chronic relapser. The only reason no one saw it was because I didn’t walk through the doors. And that honesty made me feel like I had hope, and I would get better. Maybe you’re friend has gone too far but I do believe when we walk through the doors we open ourselves to vulnerability. And while I struggle I know I have an army of people that will love me until I entirely learn to love myself. I am hopeful.


    1. Kim, this is so profound and there’s much truth in it! We can never ever lose hope. And honestly, we can get so dang hung up on people’s slips or relapses that we miss the fact that the miracle IS HAPPENING! It’s just happening in a different way. You and a couple others’ s comments made me want to clarify for myself that I don’t need to give up on the idea that my friend could find lasting recovery at all–or that this is the most important thing. I need to give up on my hope that I can be the one to help or that something I do or don’t will make all the difference. As if God needs me to do a miracle! I need to give up on that creeping, insidious idea that it’s only worth helping if you get an outcome that is at least remotely what you hope for, which is ridiculous and wrong. Thanks for being part of this important conversation, Kim! And thank God you have that ARMY of LOVERS. H


      1. You are awesome Heather. You see all sides of the coin. I can’t imagine being on the other side one day. As an alcoholic who then finally gets it, I can imagine myself wanting instant gratification by helping another person. If I ran across myself I would be so disappointed!!! Because I would be unable to fix that person. This journey has tought me that I am responsible for myself and my actions are the only thing I can control. That is quite liberating but being so fresh I can imagine myself as a crazy sober person wanting and trying to fix others. I know that with help, I am the only one that can choose to stay sober.


  6. My sister, two years into her recovery, had just found out that her sponsee is in jail. Two seconds later, this post. Thank you.


    1. Stephen, so timely it sounds like. I’m sorry about your sister’s sponsee. These heartbreaks hurt but as so many commenters remind me, there is always hope and we have to trust that each person is experiencing exactly what they need to get farther down the road of healing. Some of us have more hurt than others and less hope for a better life and we’re a little sicker in terms of how far progressed our alcoholism has gotten. Thanks for commenting, friend.


  7. Oh my word, this was so timely. Like an arrow to the bullseye, and it has nothing to do with recovery (for me), but everything to do with loving and helping those in my life that have worn me out. Those I want to ignore, except I live with them. We are all so broken, and your words ” she might be the bravest person I know” were just what I needed to hear to gain perspective. I live with a very brave person, dealing with very tough things, and I had forgotten how brave he is.


    1. Jan, I’m so glad this spoke to you! You know what? When that thought occurred to me, She might be the bravest person I know, I was stuck by the same arrow of truth. It’s so hard to keep finding Love’s way of looking at things when people are difficult or broken or sick or stuck. Thank you for commenting!


  8. It works this way in Lois W’s room too. I have been cushy lately (and somewhat tired) and the thought of an edgy newbie is sometimes too much for me. Your post is a good reminder – that giving back is really what it is all about. Thank you Heather…. xo Joanne


    1. Ah yes. Of course this is Lois’s territory! So grateful for the reminder and what you said here is so true about how we get tired. But sometimes for me that is a little lie my mind tells me when in reality helping people totally rejuvenates me if only I can manage to do the simple next right thing and leave outcomes to God. Ya know? I know you do. So appreciate you, Joanne!


  9. You’ve expressed your love for her. She knows what to do and whom she can call for help. “We will love you until you can love yourself”. She has a friend and sponsor and a program that can help her. If she wants what we have.


  10. “And it dawns on me, even as I write this, that maybe God’s not asking me to help my friend, just to love her. Not because I can make a difference, but precisely because I probably can’t.

    Maybe this is where compassion begins.”

    Needed to read this. Just today found myself wanting to “FIXALLTHEPEOPLE!!” And had to talk myself down from that ledge. Love. Just love.


    1. Oh yeah, I get that one. I say to Dave in a whiny voice, only half-joking, “Barely anybody acts like they’re supposed to!” 🙂 Which of course means I need some time to recenter and remember it’s all up to me how I want to respond and I don’t have to lose my core of calm or peace, give myself over to that, if I don’t want to.. Then again, sometimes I do just get to be human and react and feel what I feel for a bit before I pull up my big girl panties again. 🙂 Balance, right?


  11. Love, and call, and NEVER lose HOPE. I WAS THAT GIRL. And I recently celebrated 24 years of continuous sobriety. Yep. I’d worn out everyone. No one thought I’d make it. But we never know what the future holds, do we? That Power Greater Than Ourselves is really just that. And we cannot fathom His/Her motives or plans.
    P.S. NOW I get to sponsor people just like I was! And I get to see how it is with the butterfly’s wings flapping in the Amazon. We effect others. No matter what. And I never, ever give up on someone just because they appear to me not to be able to get sober. That being said I don’t invoke abuse or get sucked into their sickness. Sometimes loving someone and supporting them means letting them know when they are out of line. And sometimes I need to regroup and get grounded in my own sobriety. But I always accept their calls and sometimes meet them at stupid hours for coffee. Sometimes. But not always. And sometimes they get sober.


  12. Hi Heather,

    Your blogs/travels seem to parallel my journey so frequently. Maybe it’s true that we are all very similar deep down inside, and are all traveling down the same road. I have been praying to be a kinder, gentler person. Did I mention this here before? (I am so exhausted from work, I can’t remember who I told what)

    Anyhow, I hope I am not being repetitive, but I had recently developed a rather hard shell and sharp tongue, the result of working with a particular population group that I simply gave up on because I could not get through. I turned into a person that wasn’t me, and that I didn’t like. So, I began praying to be kinder, nicer.

    Well, I soon learned that this is like praying for patience. (Yeah, made that mistake to). Our God is faithful, and just like He gave me plenty of time to learn patience by giving me opportunities to wait, He has given me some of the most frustrating, snarly and complicated situations and people to deal with in order to practice being nicer, kinder.

    While it is true that you catch more flies with honey, I am still failing at this endeavor, but I am not giving up. Each time I snarl at someone instead of showing kindness, I repent, pray for grace and continue on.

    Some days I simply pray, “Lord help me not to “kill” anyone today, and we’ll call it good.”

    I am glad He has a sense of humor and He understands me better than I understand me.

    Rambling, sorry, happens when I’m tired.

    Smiles and blessings, Nancy


    1. God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I can not change,
      the courage to change the things I can,
      and the wisdom to hide the dead bodies of those people I had to kill because they pissed me off.


  13. You are right on, Heather. Compassion is not always about helping people. It’s just about having compassion for them. It’s praying for them, letting you know you are thinking of them and to just make sure they have your message that they matter to you and to the world.

    We are earth angels that feel others’ hurts so painfully in our own hearts. God made us this way because our purpose is through helping others heal. Sometimes their healing is more possible when we step out of their own way and just send love their way.

    Your friend may want to contact Sarah Turner in the UK. She is a cognitive behavior therapist who works with women – all online. She is a savior.

    Love you you ~

    Shari 🙂


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