"Don't thank me...I get to love you"
I'm not sure how many times I have heard my sponsor say those words to me when I have tried to thank him for the wisdom, caring, love, support and time he has given to me. It is no exaggeration to say that my sponsor has saved me life...to which he would again say "it's not me." Of course I know that it is god through him but it is also his willingness to serve others, a little action on my part and becoming somewhat teachable. However, I do not know where I would be today had it not been for a strong, loving, giving, brutally honest sponsor. A sponsor who doesn't let me take myself to seriously, who calls me on my self pity, makes me laugh at myself, who helps me work through my resentments and who guides me in making my amends. I have sponsor who has an active, strong, daily program, which is worth passing on to the next suffering alcoholic. My sponsor is also the most spiritual person I have ever met in my life and when I grow up I want to have a program just like him.
So far during my sobriety, I have been blessed with three sponsors, two women both of whom ended up "going back out" as they say and currently my third one is a man.
The very first terrifying night when I walked into an AA meeting I met a woman who offered to be my sponsor. I had no idea what she meant by a sponsor or what a sponsor did, nor was I very teachable at that moment but I mumbled something like "ok." I didn't give a crap at that point; I was beat, tired, sick and needing a drink. Quite frankly I was somewhat scared of the "types" of people who must go to AA and once in the room listening to the sharing I thought everyone in there was a freak. Why would people willingly be discussing things that really should be kept to themselves, weren't they worried about what we all thought of them? I don't know if it was my unteachable attitude or my new sponsor's program but there was not much interaction between the two of us on a day to day basis other than seeing each other at meetings. My "program" consisted of going to meetings and sponsorship to me meant saying hi to my sponsor before the meeting or having a smoke with her afterwards. The biggest impact my first sponsor made on my life was around my second month (in her eighth month of sobriety) when she "went back out." I didn't see her again. Although, thankfully I did not, in my thinking her actions gave me a perfect excuse to drink. The cunning and baffling sickness of alcoholism kicked into high gear in my mind. If it didn't work for a sponsor type person then did it work for anyone? Were they all lying to me? Was it all talk? Was I being a fool? I should just quit, this whole AA thing was so embarrassing anyway and I felt completely ridiculous. I wondered if I had over reacted a tad bit by going to AA. Maybe I could do this on my own? Now that I hadn't drank for two months maybe I had learned a valuable lesson and would be more responsible from now on.
I have no idea why, but at that point somewhere deep inside I knew that I was been living on very, very thin ice and there were cracks running through it all around me. As much as I needed the relief of a drink, I was more terrified of having that ice completely break through and plunging into the cold hell below. As bad as life was I knew it could even get worse and I didn't even have the strength to live life the way it was. So I just kept going back to meetings. I went to a meeting every single night without fail, I was terrified not to...I was terrified to change anything about my routine of work, meeting, bed and repeat. I often felt that if one single thing changed in my life it would be to much and I would literally snap into pieces. It often was not easy since on some nights only myself and some bran new, shaking person would show up to a locked and dark building (it was a fairly small town and not a large AA group). So after that happened the first time or two I got a key to the building. Within two months by default I ended up chairing meetings, when no one else would show up, and Twelved Stepped new people who showed up for their first meeting. I didn't have a clue of what I was doing and I shudder to think of what I shared in my ignorance. I went to meetings, didn't drink between meetings and did "service work" by talking to new people and leading a few meetings. It wasn't the best of programs to say the least but I didn't know any better and I didn't have anyone to tell me differently. I now strongly believe that this service work saved my life during that time. It got me out of self and when I carried the message to another suffering alcoholic the benefits I received through doing that were exactly what I needed to get through the next day. It was the AA program at the most simplest...one alcoholic helping another alcoholic and by doing so I was staying sober.
When I was about 8 months sober, through a series of events and my past catching up with me my job came to an less than desirable end. I was completely lost, was sure that my career was over, no one would ever hire me again and I had no where to go. I was completely convinced that this was one of the worse single events in my life, from which I would have a hard time recovering. During my short sobriety I had gone to visit my friend who had introduced to AA and while visiting I went to meetings at his home AA group. I was blown away by what I had experienced in those meetings and from the message of recovery I heard from the people sharing. I had never before seen in another person the joy, strength, hope and peace I saw in those AA people. So, although I could have gone anywhere in the country to look for work, I knew that I needed to get on solid ground in my sobriety or nothing else would matter and I chose to move to that city for little other reason than the AA group. Within one week I moved, found employment, a place to live and I was adopted into a whole new AA world and family. I don't know why but that particular city has a very strong AA program, sponsorship, social life, conferences and meetings unlike any I have ever seen else where around the country. I felt I had gone to AA heaven compared to what I had just left. Immediately I met a woman who was in the same profession as I was and so I asked her to be my sponsor. She was my sponsor for about 5 months and is the person who helped me get through the 3rd step. Unfortunately, like my first sponsor she ended up also going out sometime around her second year. However, my program continued without a bump because other people in the program where also my mentors and were sharing my journey with me. I am very happy to say that my second sponsor has come back to AA and from what I hear is working hard at the program. I still get to talk to her once in a while and love her as a fellow sister on this road of happy destiny.
Right before my second sponsor went out, due to the changes I saw in her program, I knew that I needed to make a change and find a different sponsor who had what I wanted. This search brought me to my third sponsor who was a man. I am so incredibly thankful that he was willing to be of service to me because in doing so he helped changed my life, heart and program. Not only has my life been completely changed as a result of working the Steps with my sponsor, but I get to participate in the ripple effect and legacy that continues through me to my sponsees. I feel so blessed to be a part of the legacy/sponsorship line and I am so privileged to know my sponsor's sponsor and my sponsor's sponsor's sponsor. The women I sponsor also know the line of sponsorship and that is a truly remarkable thing. I am proud to say that I sponsor like I was sponsored (or do my best to do so) and I am so privileged to be able to pass the AA message on to other women. Without those who went before me and the example they have set for me none of this would have been possible. I am also truly blessed to have a sponsor who knows absolutely everything about me, what I have done and my character defects but yet still loves me. That in and of it's self is a miracle. So now when one of my sponsees thank me I get to say to them the very words I heard my sponsor say over and over. "Don't thank me...I get to love you"
Side note: there is an unwritten rule in AA that women sponsor women and men sponsor men and there are obviously good reasons for that suggestion. It is a fact that the level of intimacy that you have with a sponsor is often deeper and more meaningful than any you have experienced before in your life. If you have good sponsorship, this intimacy happens regardless if the sponsor is a man or a woman. Often for many of us the relationship with our sponsor is the first safe, open, honest and genuine relationship we have ever had in our lives. In many cases sponsorships continue until one of the two die, through all of life's major ups and downs, relationships, successes, failures, joys and sorrows. However, the very real danger is that if your sponsor is of the opposite sex you can mistake those feelings as "falling in love" or that the person must be your "soul mate" and as such be tempted to take the relationship to an unhealthy or inappropriate direction. Again I am so very thankful for my sponsor and my sponsor's sponsor because of the manner in which they conducted themselves regarding my sponsorship. Both men spent a great deal of time in prayer concerning me and if sponsoring me was indeed the correct direction to take. There was/is a high level of accountability between my sponsor and his sponsor concerning all areas of my sponsor's life. Any time I met with my sponsor or we worked one on one for Step/program work my sponsor would inform his sponsor and they would spend time in prayer. My sponsor would also not ever go or do things socially with me alone and he took the time to build a relationship with my 2nd husband. Having a sponsor of the opposite sex wasn't successful because of me, in fact quite the opposite is true. I was a damaged, hurting woman who would have been easy prey at that time in my life. In fact there were many times I would have married the short, bald Yoda (my sponsor), whom I admit I love dearly. It was only successful because I was brought into a very strong and spiritual line of sponsorship and these men saw me as nothing else but one of god's kids who desperately needed help.
I recently moved to another state (due to a Step 9 amends I made to my 2nd husband), and so right now I talk to my sponsor by calls and texts. His guidance in my life has been so essential during what has been a fairly difficult move, introduction to a different AA group, job change and rebuilding of a marriage. Right now he is also being fairly patient with me as I drag my feet a little with my current assignment. Big sigh...my sponsor is requiring that I look for a local woman to sponsor me as I continue this journey. Although I am not happy about it (at all!) I continue to be willing and follow his suggestions. So like it or not I am looking for a woman who carries the AA message, who not only has some sobriety time but who also has a great program TODAY (because I have been taught that it is not length of time but quality of program that matters) and lastly who practices the AA principles in all her affairs. So yes, I am currently looking for a new female sponsor and once I find her I will continue to be willing, I will take the action, do the deal and walk this journey with her. However, all I can say is that whoever she is, wow...she sure has some big shoes to fill.