HAVE YOU ever asked a new–or maybe not so new–person on the program who is having trouble, “Who’s your sponsor?”–only to find the person doesn’t feel he needs one?
This can be baffling. You can see that the person is confused, that perhaps some behind-the-scenes work is needed, on a one-to-one basis, beyond the meetings themselves. At least, it might be worth a try!
But how do you convince the new person that he needs a sponsor? In the early days of AA, it was unthinkable not to have one. Twelfth-stepping became sponsorship, and sponsorship meant survival! Many times, it still does.
But now, with many AAs getting their start in treatment centers, and with increasing numbers of people coming to the program in the middle rather than chronic stages of alcoholism, new people are often resistant to the idea of choosing another human being to rely on.
For any alcoholic, sobriety is new territory. The Twelve Steps and Slogans of AA make up a map for us to follow. But in this wilderness, as it often appears to be in the early going, we need a guide. A guide is someone who has been there, who is familiar with the territory. After all, it isn’t drinking we need to learn about; it’s how to handle sobriety!
“I can do it myself” is doing it the hard way. Why make it tough on ourselves? Why not use all the tools that AA provides?
“I’ll pick a sponsor later if things get rough” is an attitude we may run into. The time to choose a sponsor is before a crisis situation arises (other than the one that got you to AA). The time to build that important bridge is while the map you have just been given is still fresh in your hands.
Not that a sponsor can wave a magic wand and cast a spell of instant, contented sobriety over the one who suffers. That would deprive him of growth. But where the sponsorship relationship exists, there is an increased possibility of healing.
Beyond this, there are rich rewards for both sponsor and sponsoree. AA sponsorship is a unique human relationship, like no other in the average person’s life. It is a step beyond AA fellowship.
Sometimes, a sponsor relationship develops naturally from a Twelfth Step beginning. In other cases, a sponsor is carefully chosen. There are no hard-and-fast rules. As the new AA member begins to develop and grow in the program, sponsorship, at its best, flowers into an in-depth peer relationship. Thus lifetime friendships are formed.
Being asked to be someone’s sponsor is not an opportunity to play God. It is, rather, a humbling experience, in which it behooves the sponsor to pray for guidance. It also involves a great deal of listening. Empathy, not sympathy or pity, is the most useful quality a sponsor can cultivate.
In the large suburban area where I live, when someone has a slip and has not been seen or heard from for weeks and the question “Who’s his (or her) sponsor?” comes up, all too often the answer is that he or she hadn’t chosen one yet. Now, I’m not suggesting that merely having a sponsor is proof against slips. But a new person with a sponsor has, at the very least, someone to keep track of him in the early going, someone who knows and cares about his whereabouts and his state of mind.
Why do some people choose sponsors who live on the other side of town, sponsors whom they never see or hear from? Could it be simply lack of forethought? Or does such a person want to be able to say in effect, “Get off my back. I have a sponsor”–without really having one? This is truly self-defeating behavior.
Can a person have more than one sponsor? I believe so, although I don’t go along with the idea that you don’t need a particular sponsor if you tell everything to everybody in AA. A sponsor is a special person, one who can be trusted to keep confidences. For various reasons, I took my Fifth Step with an AA member who was not my sponsor, and I have since considered her to be my “alternate sponsor.”
Should a man sponsor a woman, or vice versa? Each situation is individual; here again, there are no rules, just sensible guidelines. I feel a sponsor needs to be, among other things, a person one can identify with; hence I prefer to have a person of the same sex for my permanent sponsor.
Although there are no specific rules about how much sobriety a sponsor should have, it seems to me wise to choose a person whose quality of sobriety inspires you–in other words, someone who has what you want and makes you feel you would “go to any length to get it.”
Sometimes, the choice of a sponsor depends on availability. In the early days of AA, a person with a few days’ sobriety might be called on to sponsor a person still drinking. In my opinion, any sponsor is better than none at all. I believe a sponsor should be chosen with care, but not at the risk–and I do mean risk–of endless procrastination. To put off selecting a sponsor because things are going well is folly. That’s the time to get the relationship started. And a newcomer should never be shy about asking someone to be his or her sponsor. That’s what it’s all about!
Now that I’m happily sober, I go to my sponsor for all kinds of advice that has nothing to do with drinking. Sometimes, she confides in me as well. We are friends now, in a peer relationship. And although we don’t see as much of each other as in the early phase of my recovery, we keep in touch.
My relationships with the few people whom I am sponsoring are among the most rewarding and meaningful in my life.
On the rocky road to recovery, we alcoholics need all the help we can get, all the tools AA provides or suggests. I believe the sponsorship relationship in AA is evidence of what my sponsor once told me: “God often seems to work through people.”
Who, me? Need a sponsor? You bet I do.