More and more new people are entering Alcoholics Anonymous while engaged in a structured alcohol/other drug treatment program. Treatment centers often introduce their clients to Alcoholics Anonymous by taking them to AA Meetings in the community. Non residential Treatment Programs may include 12 Step Meetings in their client’s Treatment Plan if the Program is 12 step based program. Some are not. The new person is often overwhelmed at his first few AA Meetings. The language is foreign, the manner in which members are relating to one another is unique. Members are telling stories and laughing and crying.
The word “sponsor” is one of the words a newcomer may hear many times at each meeting (if they are ready to hear anything at all). Without fail, almost all first time new comers have the same two questions: What is a sponsor? How do I get one?
Your first AA contact might become your sponsor. The member of Alcoholics Anonymous who came up to you that first night and tried to help you feel comfortable, who shared a little of their story to help you realize you were in the right place and helped you see AA provides a solution for the demons that alcohol use to silence.
A sponsor is a teacher, mentor, cheer leader, couch and guide. A sponsor will always be in your corner, rooting for you to be successful. A sponsor can help you navigate the trail because he has walked on it. Like the GPS in your car, your sponsor will chart your journey through the 12 Steps by sharing his experience with you as well as the text book “Alcoholics Anonymous”. You may choose to take the step the way your sponsor did, the way they laid them out in your Treatment Program, the way that seems to make more sense to you or you may feel one or more of the steps really aren’t even necessary for you. All the GPS can do is tell you, “in 200 feet, turn left”. The GPS cannot turn your car. Your sponsor can not make you take the step according to his experiences or the directions in the book. Experience has shown altering the steps typically leads to unhappiness down the road. Your sponsor will always be ready to pick up the kit of spiritual tools when you are ready to do the work.
We do not know we are trusting when we are beginning to trust. The following conversation has been verbalized many, many times between a member and a first time newcomer at one of the early meetings they attended.
Member: Do you have a sponsor?
New Man: I don’t know how to get one. I don’t know what to say.
Member: You just ask, “will you be my sponsor?”
New Man: Well, OK, that seems easy
Member: Well, what do you say?
New Man: Will you be my sponsor?
Is it really that simple? It should be. A sponsor is someone who has found a solution to the problems in life in the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous and is anxious to share that solution. The sponsor, working with a sponsor himself, has incorporated spiritual principles in to his life allowing him to extend a welcome to the new man or woman and engage in a welcoming conversation. The sponsor, with the shared experience of a sponsor, has taken the steps outlined in the text, “Alcoholics Anonymous” and is willing to sit with the new person and help the newcomer through the same process.
“My sponsor wants me to call him every day, I think it’s too much and besides I don’t even know what to say”. Alcoholism manifests in rationalization, justification and denial. Alcoholics falling out of their boat, drowning in the lake, will push aside a life preserver thrown to them insisting they can swim to their boat. I want help but I will argue about the method the help is delivered .
Alcoholics function more efficiently in structure. Calling someone every day begins to establish that structure as well as accountability. The initial phone calls could be asking the questions about what you hear in the meeting and don’t understand. How can alcoholism be a spiritual malady? What are spiritual principles?
Your sponsor may suggest, if circumstances warrant, you attend a meeting a day for 90 days. This practice puts more structure and more accountability in place in your life. Both structure and accountability are like a fence holding you in the middle. It is safe in the middle.
Commitment is another word you might ask your sponsor about.
A good sponsor will be more interested in your recovery than your feelings. The sponsor may not seem to listen to all the reasons you have for being unable to do the things being suggested. Calling every day, attending a meeting every day, arriving at the Sunday Meeting early to help set up the chairs, staying late Tuesday to help clean up, standing at the door Saturday to greet people as they arrive. “Sponsor direction” doesn’t seem to have anything to do with those 12 steps or does it?
No one ever really knows until they follow the directions.
As the days and weeks go by, you gain more and more confidence in your sponsor. The relationship grows and conversations that were difficult in the beginning are very natural now. You find yourself sharing at a level of honesty you had never been able to access. The wall you have built between you and the world to protect yourself from getting hurt is beginning to come down a brick at a time.
What if I have to change sponsors? Talk to your sponsor about changing sponsors before you start looking for a replacement. Men and women in Alcoholics Anonymous want what’s best for you. Let your sponsor be involved in the process. Guidance is required to be sure you are changing sponsors for a legitimate reason and not simply because of the fear. Alcoholics have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships. The commitment to a sponsor relationship is often the predecessor to all relationships in sobriety. Don’t shortchange yourself.
Travel through recovery with a teacher, coach, cheerleader, mentor and guide and enjoy the journey.
Email your questions or topic suggestions to: email@example.com and let’s experience this journey together. You will remain anonymous.