I surrender in a place where I least expected it—sponsorship. I thought that, working on principle, under the guidance of the Twelve Steps and Traditions, I was safe from my character defects. I had been saying in meetings for months that my relationship with sponsors and sponsees is the template for all my relationships now. I still think that’s true, but not in the way I expected.
In the past month, I lost four sponsees. Two found other sponsors, and I fired two. I had previously decided not to fire sponsees because my SA sponsor doesn’t. However, my Higher Power is leading me places I didn’t expect, to become the man I cannot be on my own.
The two sponsees who left me meeting once a week, and I was responding to five-minute-long voice note “surrenders” several times per day per sponsee. It was overwhelming at times, but I gutted through and answered each point of each long voice note. They were slow to take suggestions, and had lots of suggestions of their own. In both cases, after I had listened patiently to their Fourth Step, they refused to do Steps Six and Seven. One sponsee couldn’t accept the “spiritual axiom” which says “that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.” (12&12 90) He insisted it was OK to be angry and fearful of his stepmother and wanted to go back and erase parts of his Fourth Step. Worse, he directly refused to work the Sixth.
The other sponsee, whose non-Big Book formatted Fourth Step I inherited, took 20 hours of listening. There were times I was tired, and stayed late at work to give us a private place to do the Fifth Step. He also insisted on setting our pace. With each resentment and fear, I had to ask him to refrain from telling long stories. It was a struggle, and we had to pray over each one as the sponsee justified his behavior and seemed to want to hold onto resentment and fear rather than search for his faults. I soldiered through. Then, having finally arrived at the Sixth Step, he refused to make a list of character defects or read Step Six in the 12&12 because “that’s not in the Big Book.” I ended the relationship because I don’t know how to sponsor if basic suggestions are ignored.
With the end of these four sponsorship relations, I found myself feeling dejected and inadequate. Though knowing better, I took it personally, so I had to work Steps Four–Nine on the issue. I kept feeling that I had done something wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what, since I had been so “generous.” It turned out I was giving of myself instead of giving of God’s abundance. When I was too tired, I should have drawn a boundary. When sponsees didn’t take suggestions, such as find a DSR partner, or go to 90 meetings in 90 days, I should have reconsidered working with them. When sponsees wanted to dump every doubt on me, I should have taught them to be more God-reliant instead of Mike-reliant. My sponsor taught me that my job as a sponsor is to help the sponsee find their solutions in a Higher Power, not me. Bill W. writes about this very clearly, “The minute we put our work on a service plane, the alcoholic commences to rely upon our assistance rather than upon
God.” (AA 98) In the same paragraph, Bill writes that it is right to give, but that we have to know “when and how.”
What attracted me to my sponsorship lineage is that my sponsor and their sponsors give: they are open-handed, generous, quick to serve. I thought I was doing the same thing, but there was too much of my own effort involved. For my sponsees’ Step One-meetings, I called all the old-timers I knew and asked them to be present so that my sponsees would have a good experience, only to have them drift away before starting the Fourth Step. I feel that I spent some human capital in asking favors of experienced members.
When asking my DSR partner if he found me judgmental, he reminded me that sometimes I give “helpful” advice where it’s not welcome. So my sponsees, even though no longer mine, helped me recover.
Through prayer and Step work, I have come to learn to not give of my personal store but simply let God give of his abundance. Nor am I to fantasize about how great it is that my sponsees and I are part of the same grand sponsorship lineage. I surrender my right to try to be the best sponsor. I will simply show up and serve as I am directed in meditation.
Mike M., Taipei, Taiwan