Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Sponsor, My Best Friend

My friends who are not in recovery have been curious about why folks in AA need sponsors. It’s true that “sponsor” sounds like somebody who introduces you to the group as “belonging to the club,” or they sound like a damn advertisement. Others have the impression a sponsor is someone who is sort of like a cheerleader, whose job is to congratulate you when you stay sober and to give you pep talks when you’re tempted to fall off the wagon. Actually these couldn’t be further from the truth. (Well, I suppose there is some truth in the “cheerleader” idea.)

You’re in AA before you meet your sponsor. And, your sponsor doesn’t pick you; you pick them. Sometimes a sponsor will offer to take on the task, but it’s your choice to say “yes” or “no.” If things don’t work out after a few meetings or what have you, you can always change sponsors. Most of the people I know asked their sponsor to sponsor them after hearing them speak or share in meetings, and quite logically, most people are drawn to a sponsor whom they like and respect or with whom they have things in common.

It’s recommended that your sponsor be someone of the same sex, but that’s not a requirement. Still, guys usually feel more comfortable relating to another man about “guy stuff,” and ladies usually feel more comfortable sharing their deepest, darkest secrets with another woman. As a gay woman, I also wanted to have a sponsor who is a lesbian. Who wants a sponsor who’s going to sit there and wrinkle her nose in distaste when you’re talking about all your love woes?

Why all the disclosure, anyway, between sponsor and sponsee?

Your sponsor is someone who has been sober a while, has done the Twelve Steps, and who has been there, done that. They know how alcoholics and addicts rationalize, blame, hold resentments, lie, cheat—the whole gamut of bad behaviors, basically, because they’ve done it all themselves. They are quicker than anybody at spotting when you are engaging in alcoholic or unhealthy thinking. They serve as a checkpoint, necessary in early sobriety: this is what’s going on in my life; am I making a proper decision, or is this potentially destructive? Is it dishonest? Will it harm anyone? A good sponsor listens, asks questions, offers opinions or, sometimes, suggests options you may not have seen. In other words, they’re basically a really close friend.

And it’s not one-sided. In pulling information out of you, they often disclose to you their own past garbage and where and how they made mistakes. So basically, you and your sponsor know each other’s shit. I mean, every last little thing. Just yesterday, I told my sponsor about a decision I am presently wrestling with and said, “I haven’t acted on this yet because I knew if I did, you’d kill me.” So yeah, I guess in one sense, she’s also a moral compass, a mom.

But the most important job of a sponsor is to work through the 12 Steps with you, to make sure you understand them (and there’s a LOT of teasing out of things for each step, especially Step Four) and to make sure you do them thoroughly. Because, once you stop drinking or using, the Steps are what AA is all about. They go roughly like this, in layman’s terms: Accept the fact that you can’t control your drinking. Understand that you can never drink again. Hand over this idea that your ego and self-will are the all-powerful gods you’ve been thinking they are. Have faith that there is something outside of you operating in this world, and trust that the Universe has a plan for you: and when you’re drinking and stuck in self-will, you’re not being who you really are; you’re not fulfilling your purpose or reaching your potential. Consider carefully how you’ve been living your life, why you are the way you are. Forgive. Start squaring your actions and behaviors with your values. Get your side of the street clean. Make amends to those you’ve harmed. Get your life in order. Peace, serenity, and a good life will result. Now share what you’ve learned with those who suffer from addiction.

In other words, give it back. All a sponsor is doing is giving it back.

And in so doing, the sponsor is reminded, in working with you, of how things once were for herself when she was using, and this bolsters her own desire to remain sober.

It’s a two-way street.

It’s how AA works.

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