One of the challenges when working with others can be finding an ideal way to get all the expectations out onto the table from the very start. This especially true when working with someone who is completely new to the program.
Using the seven points below will lead to more effectiveness, harmony, and peace within the sponsor/sponsee relationship as well as reducing confusion and disappointment for all from the very start.
Before any step work can commence, we want new sponsees to understand why we do everything we do as sponsors. Pointing them to the first full paragraph on page 94 as our written directions for sponsorship puts everybody on the same page, literally.
The remainder of this list is an item by item examination of the directions in that paragraph. They continue to prove useful in helping newcomers know what to expect from the sponsor/sponsee relationship.
“Outline the program of action, explaining how you made a self appraisal [step 4], how you straightened out your past [step 9], and why you are now endeavoring to be helpful to him [step 12].” p.94
People want, and deserve, to know what will be required when they finally decide to do the work necessary to recover. It doesn’t take long to give a brief description of what’s entailed in each step. This is easier than you might imagine. In fact, it can all be done in less than two minutes.
Want to see? CLICK HERE to download and hear my free Two Minute Twelve Step Talk.
“It is important for him to realize that your attempt to pass this on to him plays a vital part in your own recovery.” p. 94
When we work with newcomers it is important for them to realize this. That means we aren’t going to gloss over it briefly. We are going to address it whenever it arises.
For example, whenever a newcomer I’m working with ends a step working session by saying to me “thank you”, I’ll make it a point to ask “for what?”
To which they may give a confused look and/or answer with something to the effect of “Dude, you’re saving my life.”
At this point, it’s my duty to address their confusion. As gently as possible I’ll usually say something along the lines of:
“That’s not true, buddy. You are the one who is saving my life. That’s not to say there isn’t a person in our 12 step fellowship who will save your life. There is. You just haven’t met them yet. My job is simply to get you ready for them before you meet them, just like somebody once got me ready for you before I met you.”
“Actually, he may be helping you more than you’re helping him.” p. 94
This may sound like a reiteration of the previous line, but it’s a little different.
Imagine for a moment our prospect wants to replace you. They go into a meeting and raise their hand and say “I’m looking for a new sponsor.”
Couple the fact that the term “sponsor” has become so convoluted with authoritarian notions and the fact that there are no shortage of egos within 12 step fellowships, and our prospect will likely have no shortage of people lining up to volunteer.
Now imagine instead that we try to replace them. We go into a meeting and make a similar announcement: “I’m looking for person to spend time with me and an open Big Book so I can take them through the work.”
We may find ourselves hearing chirping crickets.
The truth is that people like us, for them, are a dime a dozen; people like them, for us, are few and far between. When we find a person who is willing to actually do the work, that person is truly as precious as gold.
“Make it plain he is under no obligation to you” p. 94
Often people view this line as a way of saying that we don’t charge money to sponsor people or that we don’t have them doing chores around our house (I’m looking at you, California fellowships) While this interpretation certainly remains true, it means so much more than that.
Sometimes I’ve gotten a phone call that sounds something like this:
Sponsee: Hey man. I’m real sorry.
Me: What are you sorry for?
Sponsee: Well, I haven’t called you in about three weeks.
Me: Buddy, I’ve been happy, joyous, and free for the past three weeks. How have you been?
Sponsee: Not good. I relapsed. I’m real sorry. Remember we were supposed to get together three weeks ago to do my 5th step?
Me: Yes. I remember
Sponsee: Well, the truth is I didn’t have my 4th step done. I figured I would finish it that night. So I ducked your calls and tried to come up with an excuse.
Sponsee: But then I still didn’t have it finished so I didn’t call you the next day. Then two days turned into three and by the time I got it done it had already been a week and I couldn’t think up a reason to explain why I hadn’t called you.
Can you spot all the obligations to which this sponsee is trying to adhere? At this point, I understand it to be my job to clarify for the sponsee what “no obligation” actually means: they aren’t beholden to me in any way.
In fact, during a conversation like this I will typically respond by telling them they don’t owe me any of the things to which they just alluded:
This is what “no obligation” truly means.
“that you only hope he will help other alcoholics when he escapes his own difficulties.” p. 94
Personally, there are three reasons I hope this:
The next line reinforces this:
“Suggest how important it is that he place the welfare of other people ahead of his own.” p. 94
Already we are giving our prospect a preview of the importance of working with others.
“Make it clear he is not under pressure, that he needn’t see you again.” p. 94
If we get to step 4 and they don’t want to do it, or they decide they want to do their 5th step with someone else, or they say they’re going to skip their amends, we don’t pressure them. Addiction is going to do that for us.
Most addicts entering recovery have an abundance of people trying to control them, whether it be a spouse, family member, employer, doctor, court, etc… We are not here to tell them what to do. We simply lay the kit of spiritual tools at their feet and allow them to pick them up as slowly or as quickly as they like.
I’ve developed a printable checklist to help you stay mindful of your efforts.