The term Eskimo is generally used in 12-step jargon to describe an individual who facilitates an addict or alcoholics early steps of recovery. The Eskimo may bring the newcomer to their first meeting or simply share their experience, strength, and hope so that the newcomer/using addict or alcoholic may identify and better see him or herself. I have been intrigued by this term for a long time. At first I was unclear of its exact definition, and after some research found that it is quite well defined. The stories that people use to explain the term and the term’s application to my life afford an image of the addict’s process of denial and illogicality.
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 (Mr. Sponsor Pants). This story implies that a Higher Power operates through people helping other people, and that when someone is dying from substance abuse, the individual who is in recovery from the same disease who helps them to see it and seek help through treatment and/or 12-step meetings is carrying out a Higher Power’s plan. One of my cohorts I look up to at a meeting says that he hears his Higher Power’s voice through the voices of everyone in our meeting.
The second story is similar, but I feel fits the concept more fully. A man at a bar tells the bar tender that he doesn’t believe in God because he was alone in Alaska freezing and prayed to God, and God didn’t save him, an Eskimo did. The Eskimo gave him food and brought him to his igloo. The bartender wanted to clarify and asked if this meant that God didn’t exist. The man said again that it was the Eskimo and not God (Zach W.). I like this story in particular because while it demonstrates the same concept of a Higher Power acting through individuals, it also demonstrates exactly what a 12-step Eskimo does: they give desperate addicts and alcoholics the opportunity to come out of the cold and give them warmth and sustenance.
I can’t truly say exactly who my Eskimos are. I was in denial so many times and for so long that it is simply hard to tell. When I went to treatment, I was the type to keep my drug use in my back pocket and play up my depression and anxiety. I went out three times, and kept going back to or staying in treatment. Finally I got to a sober living where they required me to go to 12-step meetings. After a brief stint of attending a program that didn’t apply to me because I was too stubborn to go to one that did apply (i.e. anything to do with substance abuse), I ended up in a room that did apply. I was just “curious.” Actually, I had been listening to the other girls in my house that actually did have drug problems. I noticed that they often were open to sobriety and at other times sounded an awful lot like I did all the time (in denial). I went to my substance abuse 12-step meeting for a month and, disturbingly, identified. Without meaning to I started raising my hand when they started asking, “Are there anything other ____ (addicts/alcoholics….) here?” I got a sponsor, and dissected my drug use and its effects on my life (unmanageability and powerlessness). Frankly, before the exercise I already knew what it was going to be. Sure enough, I completed my first step and was in fact an addict and an alcoholic.
I suppose the girls in my house were Eskimos to an extent, but then there were all the people in that initial room that helped me, too. Also, what about that guy who taught me about the 12-steps just so I would know about them if I ever needed them (he must have known I needed them). And then, there are my parents who actually called a medical radio show about my drug use a few years before I entered the program, they clearly knew what was up, and my dad helped me go to treatment the first time. If you consider the idea of the Eskimo feeding the man he rescued and sheltering him, I can add on another ten people who have taken me under their wings throughout my sobriety. They nurture me spiritually and give me social and emotional support.
It occurs to me that I am not the type of addict that had one Eskimo. I had extreme thick denial around my drug use, powerlessness, and unmanageability. I was so hesitant to admit that I was not in control, even when everyone else could see it. I did not need an Eskimo; I needed an Eskimo village, and, as my Higher Power does, my Higher Power provided an Eskimo Village to raise me into the little Anonymous Alcoholic Addict that I am today.
Mr. Sponsor Pants. What do people in AA mean when they say “So-and-so was my Eskimo”? 20 November 2008. website. 2012.
urban dictionary. thesaurus for 12-step. 25 March 2008. website. 2012.
Zach W. Thoughts on the Disease. 28 September 2010. Blog. 2012.
By Emily F.
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