What Are the Signs of a Good Sponsor?

1989 movie about Bill W. and Dr. Bob
1989 movie about Bill W. and Dr. Bob (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What Are the Signs of a Good Sponsor?

That the man who is making the approach has had the same difficulty, that he obviously knows what he is talking about, that his whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that he is a man with a real answer, that he has no attitude of Holier Than Thou, nothing whatever except the sincere desire to be helpful; that there are no fees to pay, no axes to grind, no people to please, no lectures to be endured – these are the conditions we have found most effective. After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 18– 19)

In discussion what the signs are of a good sponsor, I am looking at this from the perspective of a newcomer (or anyone for that matter) that would need to know what to look for before you are working together for awhile and suddenly realize that your sponsor is not good for your recovery.

So on initial or early contact the signs of a good sponsor are

  1. Is making the approach (went looking for sponsees and did not just sit around waiting for sponsors to come to him/her).
  2. Is a person who has had the same or similar difficulty.
  3. Is a person who clearly knows what he/she is talking about
  4. Is a person with a real answer
  5. Has no attitude of holier than thou
  6. Only wants to be helpful

 

 

  1. Is making the approach (went looking for sponsees and did not just sit around waiting for sponsors to come to him/her).

First, this should be a person who is eagerly looking for people to sponsor.  

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

If a person truly understands Twelve Step Principles and has taken them to heart, that person must believe that “intensive work” with other alcoholics/addicts is a huge key to remaining sober.  Any person who is not seriously motivated to sponsor others does not truly understand the things that are important according to the Twelve Step process and cannot give you an understanding that he/she does not have himself/herself.

 

  1. Is a person who has had the same or similar difficulty.

It is hard to truly understand the discomfort, fears, pain, anger, lies, confusion etc. that a person has to walk through, be brutally honest about and overcome in the recovery process.  It is even hard to understand how hard it is to truly start the process and take it as seriously as one should unless you have been through it.  

I am not one of these people who believes only and alcoholic/addict can ever work with another alcoholic/addict, but I do think there are man reasons why this is often the best way to go.  For example, there are some things that are simply seem ridiculous and possibly outright stupid that only a person who has been through it can understand what it is to see such things as perfectly sensible and what it really takes to be free of such things.

 

  1. Is a person who clearly knows what he/she is talking about

Oh, if only I had a nickel for every person at a Twelve Step meeting who was some kind o self proclaimed expert and Twelve Step guru that could talk a good game but when just listened to not only had no idea what he/she was talking about, but behind the smoke and mirrors really had no solution to offer.  

These people may be able to talk a big game and find lots of stuff for you to do while filling your head with quotes etc. that make you also able to talk a good game, but if they cannot offer you the ability to remain sober, what is the point.

The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 164)

How are you going learn Twelve Step recovery and be guided through the process by a person who does not know the Twelve Step process properly.  If he/she doesn’t have it or doesn’t get it, how is that person going to give it to you?

 

  1. Is a person with a real answer

This is tied to the last point.  If a person is not offering you a solution that he/she understands and is at the least going through, then that person is just going to put you in a recovery holding pattern.  Kind of like a hamster on one of those running wheels, they may have you doing a lot of work, yet you will still be getting nowhere.

 

  1. Has no attitude of holier than thou

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?  Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

All of these guys who proudly talk a tough and strong sponsorship speech and who have this aura of being better than everyone else at a meeting etc. are the poster children for the problem not the solution.  

I am astonished at the self focus and outright arrogance of some of the supposed experts in Twelve Step recovery when the materials clearly state that this is in actuality the expression of the central problem we must overcome.

How are you going to show me the solution when you are an obvious example of what not to be and what not to do?  If that person is going to take you through the steps there is one concept that you have to keep in mind before you make that commitment.:  THE FRUIT DOES NOT FALL FAR FROM THE TREE.  The sponsor tends to reproduce in kind.  If the sponsor is an arrogant fool that has missed the main point, you are likely to become an arrogant fool who has missed the point.

 

  1. Only wants to be helpful

This is also tied to the last concept.  A person who has all kinds of strings attached is still selfish and self-centered and has not truly realized that simply doing this is a huge benefit not only for you, but for them to.  In other words, this is a person who does not get it.

 

I did not write this as a list of legalistic rules that you have to check each box or dump a sponsor and go after new one after new one.   This is intended to give you not only food for thought, but a clearer idea of what a sponsor should look like.  You probably wont find a whole lot of perfect sponsors running around (especially with the state of much of the Twelve Step world these days), but how much are you willing to sacrifice and more importantly what results can you expect.

 

Stay Sober My Friends,

Wade H.

Are You Ready (Do You Know You Are Drowning?)???

3rd Rescue Method. If the arms be difficult to...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Are You Ready (Do You Know You Are Drowning?)??????

If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it-then you are ready to take certain steps.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

If you are trying to get or hoping to get recovery, then you absolutely need to ponder these two thoughts. 

  1. Do you want what we have and if so
  2. Are you willing to do anything, including some things you absolutely do not want to do, to get the lifestyle of freedom we have.

These questions are vital to any hope of recovery.

Over the past few weeks I have encountered an inordinate amount of people that are trying to begin recovery who are court ordered or otherwise brought to recovery by another individual.  When I see people like this I usually wonder what their answer to these two questions is.

I heard one fellow, when asked if he considered himself desperate say that he didn’t know.  My immediate first thoughts were, “If you do not know if you’re desperate or not; you probably are not.”   A desperate person usually knows that he/she is desperate.

I have discussed this previously, but desperation is key to being willing to do all of the uncomfortable, unpleasant and sometimes outright scary things that are asked of you in recovery.  For example:

  • People who are not desperate will not be thorough and honest about their Fourth Steps.  There will always be some things that are left off of it, minimized, softened or only partially described on it. 
  • People who are not desperate will not have the strength or desire to make amends to the people that are hardest to make amends to. 
  • People who are not desperate will not take a brutally honest look at themselves as it is too painful.

Desperation is the motivation to go towards and fight through the most uncomfortable parts of working through recovery.

We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the desperation of drowning men.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 28)

That is desperation:  The desperation a drowning person for oxygen.  In light of this example, the idea of being desperate and not realizing you are desperate is a completely foolish idea.  If a drowning person was somehow completely unaware of how desperate the situation is, that person would have no motivation to seek air. 

  • “I probably need air, but I can probably wait.” 
  • “Yeah I know I need air and could drown, but I’m just not ready yet.” 
  • “I wish I could be desperate for air like other drowning people, but I just can’t see it like them.”
  • “Yeah, I know I need air, but I’m not like those other drowning people”

All of that sounds really silly.  Well that is how the idea of recovery without understanding the concept of how desperate you are sounds.  This understanding of desperation is a big part of working Step One and is necessary to even begin the Twelve Steps.

For those of us who sponsor others or are looking to sponsor others, this is an extremely important concept.  It is how you are to know if somebody is even ready for you to work with them.  Look at this passage explaining how to get sponsees:

Do not be discouraged if your prospect does not respond at once. Search out another alcoholic and try again. You are sure to find someone desperate enough to accept with eagerness what you offer. We find it a waste of time to keep chasing a man who cannot or will not work with you. If you leave such a person alone, he may soon become convinced that he cannot recover by himself. To spend too much time on any one situation is to deny some other alcoholic an opportunity to live and be happy. One of our Fellowship failed entirely with his first half dozen prospects. He often says that if he had continued to work on them, he might have deprived many others, who have since recovered, of their chance.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 96)

The implications of this passage are that if a person is not desperate there is no sense in working with that person.  That person is better off being released to discover how desperate his or her situation is. 

On a deeper level, if you are willing to give of your time, your life and your knowledge to someone why invest all that effort on a person who is not ready.  What about the people who are ready that cannot find someone to help them while you are off wasting time with someone who is not truly ready.  It’s literally letting a desperate person who could be saved die slowly while you are trying to save a person who doesn’t want to be saved.

If you are a sponsor or otherwise work with people in recovery, this must be a major consideration.  If a person does not have this level of desperation for recovery you have to try to get that person to understand how desperate his/her situation is.  If that person cannot reach that level of desperation, you have to be strong enough to let that person go and hopefully get that understanding through life experience.

If you are a friend or loved one who is trying to help a person who needs recovery then trying to make that person work recovery in a way that he/she is not interested in is expecting that person to succeed in recovery without that desperation.  That person has to realize how desperate he/she already is and you can try to explain it to him/her.  If you cannot talk that person into that understanding then you may have to use what many people call “tough love” to help that person understand.  That does not mean punishing that person, but that does mean letting the person suffer from the natural consequences of his/her actions. 

If that person get’s locked up, he/she needs to find bail elsewhere.  If you told that person that, “Next time you are out” then the next time you have to put that person out.  If every time you give that person money for something responsible that money disappears, you are going to have to stop giving him/her money etc. all of that in the hope that he/she will realize that he/she desperately needs recovery at all costs. 

That is what people are describing when they use the term “hitting bottom”.   The understanding that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of going through recovery. 

If you are the person that is starting recovery or even if you have been working recovery, you need to look at your own desperation and ask yourself are you this kind of “ready” for recovery.  That requires some deep honesty and searching and if you cannot say a definitive “yes”, that means some deep changing of your entire mindset is necessary.

It may seem like we are telling you that complete misery must be a part of someone’s life before recovery is possible and that only the miserable recover.  In some ways that is true, but it is not the misery that is key; it is the desperation which in many cases can only be realized when miserable.  That misery can force a person to realize that he/she wants change and more importantly make that person desperate to get it.  Then that person is ready to take the steps.

 

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.