Working with Others – Sponsorship or Co-dependency?

How often have we heard alcoholics and addicts share at meetings:

  • “My Sponsor told me to call him everyday for a year!”
  • My Sponsor told me to, “stay out of relationships for the first year!”
  • “I don’t make any decisions in my life until I talk with my Sponsor. In fact, my Sponsor said, “Don’t make any major decisions for the first year.”

Where do these instructions come from? Are these absurd attempts at qualifying “willingness” in our prospects? Nowhere in the Big Book does it say you cannot have relationships or that you shouldn’t work and earn money. Where does it say in the Big Book that we have to call our Sponsor everyday or before making any important decisions. Is it any wonder why there are so many co-dependent and dsyfunctional relationships in our fellowship today.

On page 18 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous there are clear instructions, based on the experiences of the original 100 recovered alcoholics, describing HOW TO WORK with other alcoholics or addicts:

But the ex-problem drinker who has found this solution, who is properly armed with facts (12 steps) about himself, can generally win the entire confidence of another alcoholic in a few hours. Until such an understanding is reached, little or nothing can be accomplished.

That the man who is making the approach (that means, we as recovered addicts make the approach to the newcomer, not the other way around) has had the same difficulty (war story), that he obviously knows what he is talking about (means he is a ‘real’ alcoholic), that his whole deportment shouts (recovered) at the new prospect that he is a man with a real answer (our common solution), that he has no attitude of Holier Than Thou (we’re not saints), nothing whatever except the sincere desire to be helpful (no crusades or missions); that there are no fees to pay (we give freely that which was given to us freely), no axes to grind, (no windy arguments or frothy debates), no people to please (no ass kissing), no lectures to be endured (we’re not here to run your life) these are the conditions we have found most effective. After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again.

Furthermore on Page 17 of the Big Book it states:

“The tremendous fact for every one of us is that we have discovered a common solution (the first 103 pages of the Big Book). We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action. This is the great news this book carries to those who suffer from alcoholism (addiction).”

Nowhere in the book does it say to get a Sponsor! It does however say in Chapter 7 of the Big Book, “Working with Others:

“Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.”

Moreover, on page 45 of the Big Book it says specifically what our job is:

“Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem”.

So doesn’t it stand to reason that our job as Sponsors is to help the newcomer find a power greater than themselves to restore them to sanity? And, we do that by showing them how to work the 12 steps, our vehicle to a Higher Power.

Tell us about your experiences. How did your Sponsor work with you? How do you work with others?

9 thoughts on “Working with Others – Sponsorship or Co-dependency?

  1. To go through the steps with a prospect quickly as outlined in the Big Book is all I need to show someone "how it works". Every other issue, "therapy, sex, marriage, divorce, relationships, legal stuff, where the prospect should eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, how they should dress themselves, who they should date, and what God they need to choose is their (newcomers’) responsibility. It is such a weight-less process, "THE 12 STEPS" if done as the book states… It is a heavy load for me or anyone to try to press my outside issues or "opinions," on anyone…

  2. My sponsor (i.e. the man who took me through the steps) didn’t take me to a meeting nor did he require me to call him everyday or give up my job or my relationships. He simply asked me three questions:

    1. Do you want to quit forever?
    2. Are you beyond human aid?
    3. What am I will to do to recover?

    I said, "anything". He said, "then you are ready to take the steps". He then took me to a coffee shop, not a meeting, sold me a Big Book at cost, and we started reading it – word for word. He asked me lots of questions such as, "Has that been your experience?" "Does that sound like you?". In addition, he had me circle certain words, high-light important passages and prayers (some call this ‘booking’ or ‘mucking’). It took a few weeks to complete the first 89 pages of the Big Book, but by the end of it I had worked all 12 steps and I knew my Big Book.

    Never did he ever give me any lectures, or tell me how to live my life, philosophize or give me his opinions about things – he shared his own experience and stuck to what was in the Big Book. He then cut me loose and said, "Carry this message to another suffering alcoholic or addict". We occasionally get together for fellowship and sometimes we share ‘Step Fives’ with each other but other than that my "Sponsor" lets me grow in my own with God.

  3. I model my 12 Step work after 4 classic 12 Steps Calls. Ebby T’s talk with Bill at his kitchen table. Bill’s talk to Bob one evening in front of the fire. Bill & Bob’s talk to the 3rd AA in the Hospital bed. Then all 3 men approached the 4th AA. No books back then. No meetings back then. Just alcoholics helping alcoholics sharing experience, hope, and strength. The program is so simple, we are the complicated ones.

  4. The big book doesn’t even have the word "sponsor" in it. It specifically says to work with others. You have often heard the one titled "Sponsor" tell you that you you the(newcomer) is helping him probably more than he is helping you. Sponsor/Sponsee is an ego based system of doing things. There is but one ultimate authority and it ain’t us.

    Its not about me helping you..its about we helping each other. Big fish -little fish is a train wreck waiting to happen. Whats that saying before the Lords Prayer we hear.’ "Lets have a moment of silence for the alcoholic who is still suffering" and if Alcohol is but a symptom I am sure that isn’t just for the one who still cant quit drinking. Suffering is suffering.

    Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. [Big Book, page 60, line 3]

    That message can be carried by a person with 3 days to a person with 35 years.

  5. This has been my biggest peeve with the fellowship.
    the fellowship for the most part believes that it is a replacement for God.

    I do not believe in the term sponsor. I find that practicing the A.A. program using a traditional sponsor means that step eleven is eliminated.

    We are going to make mistakes, if we don’t learn to trust that inner voice that intuitive thought then we are doomed to travel the road of self-will. Going to a sponsor to get answers to problems is nothing more than self will run riot —
    there is no faith in God.

  6. Thank you for this. I have recently started attending meetings again and the place I go to now has a militant style of sponsorship.

    I tried two different sponsors. They had me call them everyday (which I couldn’t do.. I kept forgetting). They had me go to two very specific meetings way on the other side of town which I hated. One drove me to a meeting with her boyfriend. I sat in the back of the car and they ignored me for the most part. I thought…. "these people are very weird".

    I can’t do this. I can’t be a follower like this. So I quit.
    I hate it at meetings when people denigrate themselves and say they are incapable of making decisions. Often people speak about how dysfunctional they are.

    If we are following this program we learn how to turn to God for answers. Its impossible to be dysfunctional and incompetent if you learn to listen to your higher power.’

    Thanks for listening.

  7. My first “sponsor” was a fellowshiper and was mostly useless so I got rid of him. My second “sponsor” walked me through the steps and that’s when that God Consciousness happened. It came between steps 7 and 8. The program moved really quickly and I was amazed at how simple it was. That was it. My 2nd “sponsor” took me through the steps and that was it. That’s what I try to do with my sponsees the best I can. Not too many phone calls just work and when finished hopefully they do the same.

  8. I had a sponsor and it clearly got to co dependency when I tried to talk to her about this and boundaries she wouldn’t respond. I had a part to play. Yet it was i that notice this and conflict between what all I was told and demanded. I go to workshops that I kept explaining I just started back to work and couldn’t take time to go to out of town ones but I did go to local ones meetings and now work on luncheon board. I thanked her and I have spiritual friend that I have for earthly counsel and support yet we support each other she has more years and experience but I’m not a replace for who she doesn’t have in her life. Not her child it’s mutual respect. Later I was told previous sponsor has enabling issues and the sisters in our little group have (most moved on for various reasons) now I understand. Placing burdens financially telling a person how and where to go is not the way. Had briefly between first and one I have now (lasted two weeks) told me to leave my job go into sells that’s what she did. One I’m a LPN and love it pays well and I contribute to now care of disabled children on vents I had no interest in sells. Her self was tied to her job. Myself worth is knowing who I am with my God if my understanding. I was labeled rebellious by the brief sponsor don’t see her at meetings we use to attend. I go throughbook with sponsee. Although the word isn’t in the book it is the definition of the what we do for others. Go through 12step questions discuss and she calls Daily required by program she’s in yet it’s ok. We will adjust when she’s on her own. Codependency sponsoring is a kept quiet disease that runs within some groups of in the rooms. . I have seen some sponsees get so upset when their sponsors do things outside the rooms like start non profit work/charities or go to church. And they have 20 something years. Wow. That’s just too much. The step work took me from total dependency on man kind who does make mistakes no matter how long in program and still have defects (we all do) yet self righteousness because of time in program should be something all watch for and be self aware. We are to be treated as adults learning a new way of life not another bondage to other people. Always study true intent of founders you’ll see how much man takes over. God is ultimate sponsor for me. And I do encourage those I work with to fulfill their latent dreams you don’t have to be a meeting junky. God brought us back to help mankind inside outside the rooms. Not to be set free from slavery of drinking/drugs to replace with being slaves to people

  9. Wow, the program outlined in the first 164 pages of the Big Book has been perverted beyond recognition. The term Sponsor has replaced friend, and has develo p ed into a codependent nightmare.

    I have heard endless stories about sponsors that require so much writing it takes two years to complete the 12 steps. Sponsirs for the most part have no training or expertise in; counseling, relationships, finances or medical care. Requiring daily phone calls, getting their advise on matters other than the 12 steps is simply unwise.

    Find a friend in the program with strong sobriety, ask them to walk you through the steps as outlined in the big book and then share what you learned with others. When at meetings and you hear terms like grandsponsor or sistersponsor steer clear that is simply codependent BS and not the way the program was written.

    May you find sobriety not just abstinence.

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