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September 1988

Sponsorship Is a Two-way Street

I was exceptionally skeptical the first time I heard someone say, "Sponsorship helps the sponsor at least as much as it helps the newcomer." I thought that sounded too much like what my father would say when he was giving me a whipping: "This hurts me more than it hurts you." Sure, sure.

As far as I could tell, sponsorship was yet another form of authority. I liked it and hated it that way. I wanted a sponsor to give me all the "right" answers to my problems and the problems of the world, but I would buck against him whenever he gave me unsolicited or undesired advice.

That thinking pretty much determined the kind of sponsor I became during my second year. I was an authoritarian sponsor in spite of the fact that during my eighth or ninth month I met a guy whose words, actions, and manner consistently demonstrated a sponsorship style which transcended the authority/subservient presumption. That man is my sponsor today. But I learned how to be a sponsor like he is from my sponsees at least as much as I learned from him.

I worked with some newcomers during my second year. I tried to use fear, guilt, and a drill sergeant's voice to motivate them. I gave each one reading assignments from Conference-approved literature, writing assignments, and lots and lots of lectures. I would never share from my own experience, weakness, and despair because that might tarnish my authority in their eyes.

But I did welcome one really struggling newcomer to my apartment for two days. He wanted to stay longer but I insisted that he find his own place; this turned out to be good for us both. I insisted that another call me each day from rehab. That kept the memory so green for me. Meanwhile, giving all those reading assignments kept me really busy. I had to reread all the literature I had assigned so that I could answer any sponsees' questions "perfectly" like a true authority. That's how being a sponsor began to help me.

Two of the guys fired me. Boy, what a blow to my ego. I hoped that they would find other sponsors but was secretly glad to be free of them. At least, that's what I said. One dropped me, I think, because I never opened up to him. He said I never admitted to him that I "made mistakes, too." The other told me that I was constantly criticizing him without complimenting his small steps in the right direction.

Boy, were they both right! But I didn't drink over being wrong and those two guys are still sober. So, by the grace of God, is the one who didn't fire me. It was a tough competition between God and me to see which of us was the true sponsor for these guys, but it was never close. The God of our understanding got each one of us through.

Sponsoring began to work for me later. I prayed to God to let me give more service during my third year. I knew I needed that in order to maintain my sobriety. At that time, I no longer had any sponsees. Within hours of praying for a chance to serve, God presented me with an interim sponsee. We hit it off immediately. Listening had become a lot easier for me. I tried new ways of making firm suggestions. After all, this would be a learning experience for me, too. More frequently than not, I considered the fragile feelings of my sponsee before biting off his head. I tried to toss out possibilities and suggestions without the tone of someone laying down the law. But when I knew in my gut that he needed to hear a blunt message, I gave it to him straight. Finally, and most importantly, I think, I began to share with him what I had previously only shared with my sponsor: what was going on with me. I became vulnerable. And I didn't pick up a drink, a day at a time.

I have learned many lessons from my current sponsee and from the former ones who are still in touch with me from time to time. Try sponsorship. It works.

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