Thank God for Sponsors!
Like most alcoholics I am an extreme example of self-will run riot, there is not a naturally obedient bone in my body as both my parents and my teachers would testify. Yet, I have been sponsored for over 14 years. So why?
My obedience, of course, is not to my sponsor but to spiritual principles nevertheless it is a remarkable turn-around for one whose life was spent openly defying all who loved or cared enough to try and help. The change was brought about by a spiritual awakening, a psychic change or a change of thought and attitude which ever you prefer; all three are used in the big book. The miraculous part is that I trusted someone enough to allow them to lead me through the bleak and desperate times that charted the end of my twenty plus years of drinking.
It was the gift of desperation that brought me to my knees. In that wretched state I had just enough humility to acknowledge that my drinking was out of hand and that despite my best efforts and a will of pure iron (I knew I did not lack will-power, I just lacked will-power where alcohol was concerned I could not stop drinking, no matter how hard I tried. I was 'a shivering denizen in the realm of king alcohol' and I was defeated at depth. I needed a solution which had both depth and weight, frothy emotional appeal simply would not suffice. And I got it in the form of a no-nonsense, kind and loving sponsor.
It has been some years now since I worked through the steps with my sponsor and yet I am still sponsored and I still ring at least once a week to check out my thinking, talk about any issues concerning my own sponsees and seek his advice and guidance. There is a school of thought that suggests a sponsor is redundant once you have completed the steps or that they become your friend. Not this alcoholic, I need someone I look up to, respect and admire enough to follow. It is seems a bit silly to me to suggest that you no longer need a sponsor once you have completed the steps, no one would suggest that a politician no longer needs advisors once they have been elected prime minister – "surely" we would argue, "they need them more than ever!".
Bill Wilson certainly seemed to think so, "Had I not been blessed with wise and loving advisers, I might have cracked up long ago "he wrote in the Grapevine in 1961*. It would have been impossible for Bill to have a sponsor in the way that I understand it – an alcoholic who has gone before me and been taken through the steps themselves – what with him being the original member but there is no doubt that Doctor Silksworth, Father Dowling and Harry Tiebout all fulfilled part of that role for Bill. In a further letter to the Grapevine in 1966, he wrote ""Spiritual growth, through the practice of AAs twelve steps, plus the aid of a good sponsor" * He also warns us about the idea of having a direct line to God "The minute I figure I have got a perfectly clear pipeline to God, I have become egotistical enough to get into real trouble" Grapevine 1950.
My sponsor is the person who keeps my ego right-sized (for it is never going to disappear) and prevents that potentially fatal resurgence. Yet, there is no mention of sponsorship in the Big Book. The Big Book was the first literature written and the fellowship was still learning, it is chilling to think that many who contributed to the book died drunk, died that we might live. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions talks clearly about sponsorship; right from step one there is an assumption that we will have a sponsor "Our sponsors declared that we were the victim's of a mental obsession", "Our sponsors pointed out our increasing sensitivity to alcohol" *clearly in between the production of the Big Book and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the value of sponsorship had been recognised.
The twelve steps promise us a 'spiritual awakening' but spiritual growth or development, which the Big Book clearly indicates is essential to continued sobriety, was only possible for me with the help of a sponsor. I struggled so much with any concept of God, Higher Power, Spirit of the Universe – whatever it was called, I knew I did not want it! So I contented myself with using the power of the group and in the early days it was enough.
As time passed and my contempt prior to investigation was eroded as direct result of experiencing the miracle of recovery I began my spiritual quest, guided as always by my sponsor. He suggested books to read, he helped me with meditation but most importantly he provided a constant example of how to live my life guided by the principle of constant thought of others and constantly reminding me the "faith without works is dead".
It was a startling moment when I was first asked to sponsor someone – a real "Who me?" moment but I have now been sponsoring for over a decade and it has brought me much joy. I love my sponsees, I am always on their side but that does not mean I will always agree with them. If I think they are about to make a mistake which could jeopardise their recovery I will tell them so and suggest another course of action. Whether or not they listen and act on the information received is their decision. I want my sponsees to have the best recovery possible, because I believe they deserve it and because I love to see the change that takes place as they begin to see a place for themselves in the world sober. Of course I can get it wrong but I believe that if my motives are good and aimed at protecting my sponsee then God will take care of both of us, ensuring no harm comes to either party.
Recovery has brought many wonderful gifts but none more wonderful than sponsorship. When I experienced the 'certain trials and low spots' the Big Book promises, it was my sponsor who saw me through, walking ahead leading the way. Thank God for sponsors.