Being the Bridge with Dan Sanfellipo

Step 12 magazine

by Karen VanDenBerg based on Interviews with Dan

Webster’s Dictionary has many definitions for the word “bridge.” There are nautical definitions (the bridge of a ship), anatomical definitions (the bridge of my nose), dental definitions (bridging the tooth-gap), musical definitions (the bridge of a guitar), literary definitions (a passage between scenes in a play), ophthalmology definitions (the bridge of my glasses), electrical definitions, billiard definitions, chemical definitions, railroad definitions, construction definitions, metaphorical definitions—and those are just the nouns!

In the context of my recovery and my continued quest for personal freedom, the most appropriate definition is this: a connecting, transitional, or intermediate route or phase between two adjacent elements, activities, conditions, or the like. I strive to be this type of bridge—the intermediate connection between what was and what lies ahead.

Through sponsoring other men, coaching a friend through emotional turmoil, training future competitors in Brazilian Jui Jitsu, or training employees on their sales techniques, I serve as a bridge to a better future—for them and for me.

When I am coaching lower-level belts in Jiu Jitsu, I focus on showing them something new. It could be a new move, a new variation to an old move, or a honed technique and, in the end, we both walk away with increased knowledge even if that knowledge isn’t readily mastered. This is always the case whether I’m in the gym, on the sales floor or on the phone with a sponsee. I come prepared with the experience I’ve gained, the knowledge I’ve acquired, and an action plan that has worked for me thus far.

I’ve learned an interesting lesson in being the bridge for others. I receive as much, if not more, than I give. I hear the words coming out of my mouth and they seem to solidify. I feel my body perform Jui Jitsu moves and it gets stronger. I freely share the knowledge that was given to me and it resonates at a higher level—sometimes for the first time.

When I first walked out of prison with a desire to do things differently, I sought knowledge and mentors. I looked for people who had been successful and had peace and serenity. I looked for people to show me the way—they were my bridges. I am a work in progress and my thirst for knowledge is still strong. Putting the knowledge into action is essential.

Repetition is the mother of all skills.

Action, for me, is helping others. I am no longer ONLY out for myself. I’m not confined to a square cinderblock room with only anger and my thoughts to nurture and repeat. Today I have a great respect for the journey of others and a sincere desire to be of service. The process of being the bridge provides someone else a path from where they are to where they want to be. Almost four years into a life free from drugs and alcohol, I can be a bridge for someone with less time and I am reminded of where I used to be.

My experience reinforces two slogans that keep me functioning as a bridge: “you can’t give away what you haven’t got,” and “in order to keep it you’ve got to give it away.” I never really understood what these sayings meant until I did. I know that I can only be a bridge to the place where I am, through repetition and sharing my bridge become stronger and, in order to get further, I need bridges to cross.

The bridge from my past to my present was built with mentors and repetition. I offer the bridge to anyone searching for a better way of life. On this side of the bridge there is a healthy relationship, a steady job, a nice car, a bank account, paid bills and a decent credit score. There is freedom from parole, probation and paranoia. More importantly, there is serenity and peace.

In my past I spent a lot of time burning bridges. I thought I knew everything and needed nobody. I was an arrogant, thick-skinned, frightened defender of myself. This new experience of vulnerability, open-mindedness and hunger for growth is an avenue for building bridges, relationships, knowledge and freedom.

More about Dan