Sponsorship in addiction – what does that really mean and how does it work?
This “must” from The Big Book about sponsorship and recovery is something to consider:
To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends-this is an experience you MUST not miss. (p. 89)
What is sponsorship in addiction & why is it essential to long-term recovery?
From Step Into Action: One, Two, Three:
Getting a sponsor is humbling. Trusting the experience and insights of another sexaholic as we attend SA meetings and go through the Steps can require a big change in our “I can do it myself” attitude…
Doing without a sponsor is like piloting a ship without a rudder. The sailor is at the mercy of whatever current comes along.
What I’ve learned about sponsorship
I had my first sponsor back in 2008 as I was introduced to the 12 steps via another addiction recovery program.
It went well: he had me read some materials, purchase the Big Book from AA, and we met weekly to talk about what I was learning. I also was required to send a nightly email and answer questions in the form or writing in the morning.
Unfortunately, when I hit Step 9, I slowly stopped communicating with him. This was the beginning of the end and my own invitation to hit a rock bottom I never thought I’d hit…
When I finally came back to the program in February 2014, I was eventually introduced to the ARPSupport.org sponsorship program. This was the start of my “new normal” in recovery.
ARP Support is tough.
It’s working the 12 Steps in 90 days, and it’s strict.
The leader of ARP Support, Mark G., has shared this with me about the ARP Support program:
Abstinence is required to work the program. There really should be NO slips, if someone is serious about recovery. The 90 day program is not meant to do over and over again. Something begins to be lost when that happens. We hope that everyone who starts out has already hit their bottom and will be ready to abstain, work the program, and recover. Sadly, most aren’t. Even more sad is the reality that of those who prove not ready to abstain, a high percentage of them will never be ready. Some will, but not for a long time. We cannot help these individuals “at this time” and there is just not enough sponsors to spend time working daily with men who are nowhere near ready or willing to abstain. I no longer just reassign these men to another sponsor right away. I personally do some in-depth work with them, strictly on step one, in an effort to help them become honest with themselves about where they really are and what they can look forward to one way or the other.
Our hope is that the truth will humble and motivate them, helping them to hit bottom or raise their bottom.
There is one thing they MUST learn, and that is that acting out and working the steps do not go together!
In the meantime, they have meetings, good bishops, meetings, home teachers, meetings, missionaries in the program, did I say meetings, fellow addicts, AND above all, they have a Savior, to find needed love and support as they work at coming to themselves. Until that time, there is very little we can do for them “steps-wise.”
I feel working the ARP Support program, both as a sponsee and as a sponsor, led me to SAL.
ARP Support follows the LDS manual but adds questions that helped me dig deeper.
ARP Support is a structured way of working the 12 Steps of Recovery – something that I didn’t really do that well before.
ARP Support is not the only way to work the steps, but I’m grateful for what it’s taught me about sponsorship.
A few things I’ve learned as a sponsor:
- My job isn’t to fix the sponsee
- My job is simply to share what’s working for me and invite them to do the same or do what is working for them as long as it is within the expectations we’ve set together
- Having the sponsee call me holds them accountable
- The purpose of calls is to review what the sponsee has learned as they work their steps. It’s also to talk about what they are seeing in themselves as they apply what they are reading into their day to day interactions.
- Writing is a great and essential way to heal and surrender – things can come to the surface that never were discovered without writing things out
- Although I may review their writing occasionally, my job is NOT to critique it, correct it, or judge it. Ultimately they are writing for themselves and God, not for me or anyone else.
- If I have to call them or remind them to do their step work (which I won’t do), we need to have a conversation about their level of commitment to recovery
- If they aren’t willing to keep the commitments they agreed to when starting the sponsorship/sponsee relationship, it’s best for me to let them go until they are ready to truly commit: a common issue with addicts is that we think we can live by our own set of rules and still be ok with God – this isn’t the case and never will be
- When I have questions, I can always ask my sponsor what his thoughts are.
- I need to encourage sponsees to dig deep about their feelings and emotions. If they aren’t willing to dig deep, they may not be ready for sponsorship yet.
- The spouse of my sponsee needs to be involved in her own recovery and healing if the relationship is really going to heal: it will help her understand what the addiction is and what’s happening so she can recognize when and if the addict falling back into addictive behaviors.
Sponsorship Tools Worth Considering
Here are a few tools I’ve used as a sponsor that have helped me share my experience:
Books I Recommend to a Sponsee
- The White Book from SA
- Step Into Action Books
- Sitting in a Rowboat Throwing Marbles at a Battleship eBook
- The Big Book from AA
- What Can I Do About Him Me?
6 Practices I Encourage as a Sponsor
- Working the Steps every day: 15 minutes of reading from Step material, 15 minutes of writing
- Scheduled daily phone check-in for first 30 days – if I’m not available, leave a message
- Have 2-3 other people from groups to reach out to if sponsor is not available to talk
- Attend 12 Step meetings, preferably two meetings per week
- Practice Surrender: Daily, in the moment surrender from sponsee as he feels negative emotions or triggers
- Progressive Victory Over Lust: Practicing the Chin-Up Approach – this means looking at others, especially women, from the chin up.
Ultimately, I definitely don’t have the “right” way to be a sponsor or sponsee.
To me, it’s just like recovery: one day at a time and a willingness to learn from others.
I look forward to what’s working for you.
What are you learning about sponsorship in addiction and what tools & strategies do you recommend?
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