For the longest time, I have desired to sponsor someone again in AA using the 12 step recovery process. The last time I tried to help someone through them was over several years ago prior to my whole world being shaken up. At just about every meeting I have attended lately, my hand has been raised or I’ve stood up when it was asked who was opened to helping someone walk through the 12 steps and be a sponsor.
While my sobriety began on June 11th, 1995, my recovery didn’t begin until I went through the 12 steps myself beginning in October of 2007 with my first sponsor. In 2008, that sponsor encouraged me to start reaching out and helping others by sponsoring them like she was with me. Unfortunately, every time I was asked by someone, I became more interested in making friends with them and drawing a closer relationship than I was in going through the work like my own sponsor had done.
I had social get togethers with those I sponsored. I took them out for coffees and dinners. I hung out at their homes shooting pool and watching movies. I had them over to my sister’s house to go swimming. I even took a sponsee once to Florida for a vacation! If I had to make a gander about how many people I tried to sponsor this way the first four years of my recovery from addictions, it would probably be somewhere around 16 people. Sadly, only two of those have remained sober to this day. While I don’t blame myself directly for all of those that relapsed, as ultimately I know that I’m not the one that forced them to pick up a drink or a drug again, I do believe today that I contributed to it indirectly. The way I was trying to sponsor all of them was unhealthy for both me and them as I was more concerned about growing my friendships than I was in helping them to grasp their own recovery.
There were plenty of lessons to be learned through all of that type of sponsoring. But the biggest lesson took several years later for me to figure out and it was during a time where I sponsored no one and was focused only on healing me. Over those years, I began to realize I never had any healthy boundaries and if I did ever try to set any, I never kept to them. In the case of trying to sponsor someone, I never garnered much respect from any of those I was trying to help. Because I spent so much time on the social level with them, the times we got together to do the work ended up becoming more “fun time” than anything. In simple terms, to them, I was just “one of the guys to hang out with.”
I believe my first sponsor had it right with me in the way she guided my 12 Step Recovery. She didn’t hang out with me. She didn’t buy or treat me to anything except the very first coffee I had at our first meet and greet. She didn’t ask me to go out for social get togethers. She didn’t call me for a friendly chat about her own life. What she did do though was meet with me once a week for one hour where we would do the step work. I would see her and greet her at meetings and on speaking engagements and that was the extent of it. And she was the first person I ever felt enough motivation to fully do the 12 step process of any type of recovery program!
Today I have been setting and keeping to many different types of healthy boundaries. And just two weeks ago, after several years of not being asked to be a sponsor by anyone, someone finally stepped forward and said they wanted what I had and was reaching out for my help in their AA recovery.
Yesterday I sat down for the first time with this person at a local Starbucks and just like my original sponsor did, I bought him his first coffee. I then proceeded to lay out my boundaries and guidelines to him and indicated he would need to respect them or else I wouldn’t be able to sponsor him. Ironically, in doing so, he told me that made him want me to be his sponsor all the more.
So I guess it’s true that everything happens when it’s meant to. I have a good feeling this time around that I will help this person get much farther in the 12 steps then anyone else I’ve worked with. I think that’s because not only am I setting boundaries and keeping to them now, but I’m also much healthier today with God at the helm in my life and not in my backseat.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson