Sponsorship and Service Sponsorship
If she comes back, she’ll start recognizing a few phrases – “Keep the Focus on Yourself,” “One Day at a Time,” “Live and Let Live.” She may start raising her hand, sharing her first name. Over the next few weeks, some of it may begin to make sense. But she still has lots of questions. What’s a step? What do I do if I see someone from the meeting in the grocery store? What can I expect when my alcoholic comes out of rehab? What do I tell my kids? My parents? She’ll raise some of these questions with members after meetings or on the phone. She’ll get a friendly ear, some answers to practical questions and the sense that she’s not alone. Maybe someone mentions getting a sponsor. What’s a sponsor, she asks?
- “A Sponsor is someone [in the program] with whom a member can discuss personal problems or questions, someone who willingly shares the experience, strength and hope of the Al-Anon/Alateen program.” Sponsorship, What It’s All About p 31
How do you get a Sponsor, she wonders. Members suggest that she look around in meetings, notice the people whose recovery she respects, ask them for phone numbers and start talking or texting or emailing. They assure her that she’ll know when she’s found someone who’s the right fit.
- A member shares: "When someone asks me to sponsor them, I always tell them that I believe in dating before marriage. That we should start by talking and see if we’re a good fit. Sometimes it’s just a practical thing – they work nights and can only talk in the morning and that’s when I’m working. Sometimes it’s a personality thing – they need a lot of time to talk and I’m someone who likes to cut to the chase. But sometimes it’s a perfect fit. We hear each other. We understand each other. And I feel like I can be of service to their recovery by listening, suggesting tools and providing support through the tough times.”
Our Newcomer starts to pay closer attention in meetings and take numbers from people whose shares give her hope. After chatting with a woman for a few weeks, she asks if she’d consider sponsoring her. The woman suggests that they give it a try and suggests that our Newcomer read over the first step in “Paths to Recovery” and think about the questions at the end of the chapter. They meet for lunch and talk about the first step. Our Newcomer feels a little shy at first talking about herself. And she’s not sure when she should call her Sponsor or what she should say. Her Sponsor is supportive, reminding her that we all come into program because other people have let us down – that it takes time to trust again.
- A member shares: “I call my sponsor when I recognize there is trouble in my heart and there’s no place else to take it.”
One night our Newcomer is feeling so low, she doesn’t know what to do. She can barely get the kids to bed. She feels so exhausted, so lonely, that for a moment she feels like it might not be worth it anymore. Then she remembers she’s supposed to check in with her Sponsor. She texts her instead saying she’s just not up to talking. Her phone rings right away. It’s her Sponsor suggesting they say the Serenity prayer and see what comes up. Our Newcomer barely makes it through the prayer when she bursts into tears. She talks nonstop for half an hour. Her Sponsor just listens. And then she suggests saying the Serenity prayer again. And then taking a hot shower and going to bed. Our Newcomer sleeps through the night for the first time in weeks. She calls her Sponsor in the morning and thanks her profusely. Her Sponsor thanks her, telling her that sponsoring her is a gift.
- A member shares: “Sponsorship is one of the most important ways I work my own recovery today. Being a loving witness to a Sponsee’s recovery work opens the door for me to be more loving and accepting of myself.”
- A member shares: “I’ve been fortunate in having a large hugely diverse group of sponsees and that ongoing experience provides me with an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities that people face every day, in addition to the damage done by alcoholism… Insights that I have gained have immeasurably enriched my life (and my ongoing 4th steps!!!) and I pray have helped me be a more effective sponsor.”
After attending meetings and working with her Sponsor for six months, our Newcomer’s life is beginning to be a bit more manageable. She’s calmer with the kids, she’s sleeping through the night, she’s feeling more focused and productive at work. Her Sponsor suggests that she’s ready to volunteer for some simple service. She suggests talking to the outgoing Newcomer’s Greeter at her home meeting. Our Newcomer is a bit nervous about taking this on but the Newcomer’s Greeter tells her that she’ll walk her through it. She’ll be her “service sponsor” for this service – describing the service and doing it with her the first time. Our Newcomer finds that with the support of her new friend, she really enjoys the service. She relates to the newcomers and feels good about sharing the literature in the beginner’s packets and sharing her phone number.
- A member shares: “I had to be dragged into serving beyond the group level. But the member who kept insisting I’d be a great addition to the board was there for me every step of the way. And you know what, I really enjoy it. I’m meeting new people and feel like I’m really making a contribution.”
- “Had I grown sufficiently to offer help to someone else? Did I have anything to give? Could I be there for someone else without losing myself? Fear took over for a minute, but then I remember that (s)he was not asking me to be (her) savior, only (her) helper… I answered that I would be honored to be (her) Sponsor.” Courage to Change p 179
Our Newcomer finds that listening to her Sponsee is a wonderful reminder of how far she herself has come.
- “Sponsorship gives me a chance to share intimately, to care, to practice detachment with love, and to apply the al-Anon principles more consciously than ever.” Courage to Change p 179
- A member shares: “We keep it by giving it away.”
Our Newcomer is now very busy. She has her meetings, her service, her calls to her Sponsor, her calls with her Sponsee. But somehow, even with all the new friendships and activity, her life is more manageable not less manageable. She seems to have more patience at home – and at work. Her relationship with her alcoholic is on a more even keel. She doesn’t feel so alone anymore when things go wrong. She reaches out for help and takes care of herself.
- A member shares: “As members of the Al-Anon fellowship, we accept the idea that services we perform for their own sake, services that are not overtly acknowledged or rewarded, will empower us to move toward our own recovery. Sponsorship is such a service. Traditionally a new member who has heard our story asks us to sponsor them. Likely we share some common experiences. So we hear the history that has brought them into the Rooms, and this familiarity makes it possible for us to quickly adapt our principles and slogans to their needs… The comfort of being known fully by one special person grows as our recovery progresses.”
Our Newcomer – not such a newcomer anymore – says it best. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my Sponsor, my Sponsees and the service I do. It changed my life.”