Sponsorship…Lessons from the Old-timers

A.A Grapevine, May 1950 Vol. 6 No. 12 & June 1950 Vol. 7 No. 1

The Chairman tackles a tough question

THE chairman had just opened the regular weekly closed meeting when Doc slipped quietly into the room. His lips were white and his hands trembled as he lighted his cigarette. “Ole Bill just hung himself in the jail,” he muttered. “Fine sponsor I turned out to be.”

The chairman eyed Doc, “I had another topic in mind to kick around tonight, but on the strength of Doc’s sad report, and his personal reaction, perhaps we’d better give some thought to the subject of sponsorship. . .

“Let’s see, Doc. You’ve been dry eight months. Ole Bill was your first pigeon and you went all out for the old boy. You gave him the wet-nurse treatment, and good. Net result–two months sobriety, a bad slip and an alcoholic’s death for Ole Bill. . .For you, Doc, a sense of frustration and defeat. But don’t loose sight of the thrill you had in helping another alky try to regain his rightful place in life. That he failed to benefit from your enthusiasm and sincere effort to help, doesn’t make you a failure as a sponsor, Doc.

“You assumed your responsibility. You fulfilled your obligation to AA and showed your gratitude for your sobriety. You did the job of sponsoring Ole Bill in the way you thought best. Each case is different and has to be treated accordingly. But there are certain basic thoughts pertaining to sponsorship. . .With your permission I’ll act as Mr. AA Anthony and try to give you my opinions to your questions on this most important AA activity. . .Let’s have ’em.”

“Give us a couple reasons how sponsorship should NOT be used.”

“First–for personal satisfaction; second–to increase the membership role of the group, and third–by the member who’s doing the sponsoring not to ‘play God.’ In other words, the only reason for bringing another alcoholic into AA is for the prospect’s own gain.”

“How does one become a sponsor?”

“He answers a Twelfth Step call and his prospect looks to him for guidance and help in working the Program. Or, you may be asked to take over some newcomer who is not getting along too well with his present sponsor, or some member of AA may say, ‘I’d like you to be my sponsor.’ ”

“Can a man sponsor a woman, and vica versa?”

“Yes. Many successful recoveries have been recorded with man and woman sponsorships. Usually the initial call is made by a man-and-woman team, for the obvious sake of propriety.”

“How soon after a person has come on the AA Program can they become a sponsor?”

“I’ve heard of persons being dry one day and going on a Twelfth Step call, with excellent and enduring results for both parties.”

“What are some of the important things to find out about a prospect?”

“As soon as possible learn if he has a drinking problem. Does he know he has a problem. Does he want to do something about this drinking. Does he honestly want help–for himself, not because of the pleadings of family and boss.”

“Should you dig into his personal life?”

“Absolutely. Get to the root of his marital, financial and employment situations, his age, domestic relationships and drinking habits. Assure him you’re not prying, but you want to help straighten out his problems, and talking them over with someone who understands how he collected them, will release him from his alcoholic loneliness.”

“Does a person’s education, intelligence, background, age or quantity of liquor consumed, have any bearing on whether or not he is an alcoholic?”

“Experience has taught us–no.”

“Is hospitalization always necessary?”

“No. However hospitalization affords an opportunity for drying out, and time to clear away the cobwebs. Physical condition will usually answer your question.”

“What’s the best way to gain the confidence of your prospect?”

“Qualify yourself as just an ordinary person, who had a drinking problem, but found happiness and regained self respect in a new way of life offered by following the AA Program.”

“Should you pitch right into your own personal drinking story?”

“In most cases you will want to relate at least part of your drinking life. But do so in a manner that will describe you as an alcoholic, rather than the main character in a series of drunken parties and incidents. Give him the true picture.”

“He’s tried all the usual means for controlling drinking, and is skeptical about AA being able to do any more than the others?”

“Show him how you too tried various so-called controlled drinking plans, all to no avail. Tell him how you learned through AA that you drank from compulsion, that you had a disease, now recognized as alcoholism.”

“Is it wise to point out the benefits he can get from becoming a member of AA?”

“It is providing you don’t give him the impression that he’s about to take a ride on the Glory Train. He must not expect to start at the top, or even the middle of the ladder, but rather at the bottom. Because its here, and only here that he’ll learn about humility and self-honesty–two prime requisites for progress on the AA program.”

“Should you try to explain the Twelve Steps?”

“First I’d tell him about the importance of reading the Big Book. In this he’ll find a picture of himself on many pages of the personal stories. He’ll also find an explanation of the AA Program and the AA tools–the Twelve suggested Steps of Recovery. Should he ask for more, tell him your own interpretation of the Steps.”

“How about the Spiritual Phase of the Program?”

“Use your own judgement based on your observations of the prospect. You know how you felt about this part of the Program. Sound him out regarding his religious faith–if any, and try to explain what we mean by a Power Greater than ourselves. . .God as we understand Him. You can point out that you personally had never been able to stay sober working on your own, but that asking for guidance and outside help has made it simpler for you.”

“Isn’t it good to let your prospect tell you about his drinking?”

“Definitely. Encourage this. It will give you an insight into his habit pattern and will give you an opportunity to present the AA Program more effectively. Also, it will release the pressure on him. . .This is the way to arrive at a common denominator.”

“How about getting him to a meeting?”

“Arrange this as soon as possible. If you can’t accompany him, select someone whom you think will be compatible. Get him to several meetings, and quick. Tell him he can pick the group in which he feels most comfortable. Impress upon him that he’s welcome at any meeting, and can change his home group at any time he wishes.”

“How about the prospect’s family?”

“The most important move after talking with the prospect is to contact his family. Explain the principles of the AA Program. Also impress them with the idea that their boy has to do this for himself, and no one else. Point out that he is a sick man, but advice them that he shouldn’t be babied. See that they get to an open meeting and hear first hand some of the miracles performed through an honest working of the program. Try to keep in touch with them and seek their confidence regarding the progress of the prospect. Always bear in mind that the ones most interested in your pigeon have been through a lot of punishment themselves, and that they too have to make readjustments.”

“Is co-sponsoring practical?”

“An experienced older member in company with a new AA makes a most effective sponsoring team. The terror, loneliness and anguish of compulsive drinking is still fresh in the new AA’s memory. He is closer to the actual drinking problem than the older member. He can gain the immediate confidence of the prospect. Then the older member can take over and interpret the working of the program, giving the full benefit of his experience.”

“Can a sponsor turn his responsibility of a new man over to another?”

“If conditions indicate that the original sponsor can’t fulfill his responsibility he can select another man or woman, to assume his sponsorship. Explain to the prospect what’s going on. Maybe he’d like to select someone in his group to whom he has taken a liking.”

“Is it part of a sponsor’s work to get a job, clothing and a place to live for the prospect?”

“If your pigeon is really down to rock bottom, the sponsor should try to help him get going again. In the case of a man who has recently lost his job, it may be indicated for the sponsor to contact the prospect’s former boss and have a talk with him, and possibly get the man reinstated. Avoid making any promises, or in any way committing yourself as to the man’s newfound desire to live the good life. He will have to prove himself. Some bosses take a lot of explaining before they agree to try “once more”, while others are in full accord and understand the Program.”

“How long should you wet nurse a pigeon before you let him go on his own?”

The chairman smiled. “Brother, that is the 64 buck question. In fact, it brings us right back to where we started this discussion tonight. . .With Doc’s treatment of Ole Bill.

“All I can offer on that score is not to knock yourself out trying to keep a guy sober. You’ve got to think of yourself, first. If you’ve given your prospect the fundamentals and he honestly wants to stay sober, he’ll work the Program, and all he’ll require from you is friendship, and a shoulder to pour his troubles out on occasionally.”

R.G.M. Grand Rapids, Michigan

1 thought on “Sponsorship…Lessons from the Old-timers

  1. AA has its own pamphlet about sponsorship . Its called ” Question and Answers on Sponsorship ” . It is said Women sponsor women , men sponsor men , women sponsors gay man and man sponsor lesbians . I agree the person is called a Prospect or Protege not a Sponsoree or Pigeon . As far how to 12 step a person go to the Big Book page 89 – 103 .

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