Author: Justin Mckibben
As an active member of a 12 Step fellowship, I was given the suggestion upon completing the other steps to sponsor a newcomer who struggles with alcohol and drugs. Actually my sponsor made a deal with me before we even got started on the steps that if he were to help me in my journey, it was only so I could help another person who still suffered by carrying the message of recovery. I had heard about the great things that could come from sponsorship, but I was in no way prepared for the amazing experience that I have thus far gotten from it.
Being a sponsor has changed a lot of my perspective on what the program of recovery that I have chosen to work means to me, and has opened my eyes to new levels of understanding and appreciation, and has taught me even more about myself than I thought possible. Here are just 11 things I learned from being a sponsor.
1. Have a new level of accountability
Being a hypocrite is damaging because it does not just hurt you, but it can hurt the person you are trying to help. If I make a suggestion, I should follow it myself. If I say I’m going to do something, I need to do it.
2. I still don’t know everything… and NEVER will
Whenever I want to think I know everything and I can answer any question, my sponsees ask me something I have no idea how to answer, and I have to call my sponsor. Sometimes he does not even know. Then I find myself reading through something with my sponsee to find an answer we can both learn from.
3. I can only share experience
Because I don’t know everything, I can only share my experience with my sponsees. I don’t make rules and regulations for them, I only give suggestions based on what I know, and what I think could help them. I’m definitely not there to instruct them on outside issues and advise them on every aspect of their life, but I can choose offer experience.
4. Can give new meaning to literature
At times I will read through the same pages in 12 Step literature repeatedly, and sometimes I will read those pages with a new sponsee and discuss the information, and in that reading I notice more about what I read and how my sobriety has grown, and appreciate something that is said in the literature.
5. I can’t MAKE them want sobriety
Learning that some people who ask me to sponsor them will not do the work is not always easy. It could be simply because they don’t want to, they don’t believe in it, or they even just stop calling all together. I cannot make anyone want to get clean and sober. It is wrong of me to take credit for when they’re successful in 12 Steps, and the same goes for when they are not.
6. You can’t do more than they do for their sobriety
Again this goes back to not being able to control everything and make them want it, but even further into it is the fact that if they say they are going to do the work and they keep calling and showing up it is great, but I cannot put everything into trying to help them if they refuse to do their part of the work.
7. Helps me set healthier boundaries
Having sponsees has also taught me that I have to be able to set healthy boundaries with the people I work with. As important as it is to be willing to help others where I can, and be as selfless as possible when doing so, I have to be able to resist from enabling others or co-signing destructive behavior.
8. Keeps it REALLY real
Sponsoring newcomers can keep the reality of alcoholism and addiction alive and in the forefront of your mind. Working closely with people who are fresh off the street or out of treatment can remind you of where you come from and how real the disease of addiction is and how bad it can get drinking and using drugs.
9. It is NOT up to me
When working with sponsees and they do not start changing right away, or they are having trouble understanding the work or feeling the way I have felt, I cannot get insecure about it. My sponsees sobriety is NOT up to me. The success or struggles they experience depends on their work and spiritual progress.
10. They help me more than I expected
Being a sponsor has changed my sobriety! Not just by giving me the opportunity to re-read literature and discuss new ways to relate, but they remind me of where I came from, how real addiction and alcoholism gets. Sponsees also teach me more about how amazing the changes people experience are. Being a sponsor has shown me how to see spiritual growth in other people, and sponsees have shown me new ways to look at familiar concepts through our discussions.
When I start to get complacent or if I start slipping on my program, my sponsees remind me of how important it is that I keep growing. Being a sponsor has shown me time and time again how incredible the transformation is, and how that spark of clarity and spirituality can light up the path to an awesome life that it takes only 12 Steps to travel.
My sponsor taught me a lot, and my sponsees teach me more every day. I only hope that I can continue to do service, and be of some use to my fellow alcoholics and addicts in any capacity. Sobriety is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I hope all who seek it will get to experience it, but you have to put your hope into action. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.
By Cheryl Steinberg
AA and other 12 Step fellowships promise anonymity but, don’t be confused; it’s not the same thing as ‘confessional privilege,’ the expectation of confidentiality when one confesses to their priest or, the protection of confidentiality between lawyer and client.
This is something to be aware of and consider quite thoroughly if you’re working a 12 Step program and have a deep, dark secret form your past in active addiction. It’s true, working the steps can dredge up old memories and it’s no wonder that the fourth and fifth steps are so uniformly dreaded by people ‘in the rooms.’
Newcomers to AA, NA, CA, or any other ‘A’ program who diligently and wholeheartedly work the steps are told that Step Five is the path to freedom but, does that freedom depend on the exact nature of the wrongs? Or perhaps, is should “freedom” be thought of purely in the figurative sense? That is, if you’ve committed something of a serious nature, can you only expect feeling the freedom of the weight of it being lifted off your shoulders and not necessarily that you will remain free from jail or prison?
Step 5 says that we prepare to admit to God, ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. But, how can 12 Steppers be pressured to confess and then, in turn, be convicted if the deeds are too heinous or in conflict with the confessor’s morals?
Consider that the real issue at the heart of this matter is that anonymity is not sacred – as in a confession to a clergyman – that is, a sponsor can’t absolve the penitent of their sin(s). “The problem with telling people in a meeting, you are subject to the values and mores of those in the group,” says H. Westley Clark, MD, SAMSHA’s director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. “AA cannot pressure a confession and then assure anonymity exists, it is a mischaracterization to offer anonymity…anonymity is not [sacred].”
Real Life Examples of Criminal Confessions in AA
For one guy, Paul Cox, by the time he reached his fourth and fifth steps, he began experiencing nightmares. They contained gruesome, heinous visions and, as the dreams continued and he couldn’t ignore them any longer, he was finally able to piece together that it wasn’t so much a dream but a reality: Cox, in a drunken stupor, has stabbed two people to death. In a tearful confession, he spilled it all to his girlfriend, who was also in AA. After that, he confessed a series of times, first to his AA sponsor and then other AA members and each time, they said, “Don’t drink, go to meetings and don’t tell anyone.”
It was Cox’s girlfriend who eventually went to the police. That led to the interrogation of the seven other people Cox had confessed to, including his sponsor. Cox was eventually charged with second degree murder after physical evidence collected at the scene corroborated his confession.
In another case, that of William Nottingham Beebe, when doing his Ninth Step, he wrote – and sent – a letter apologizing to the woman he raped at a fraternity house more than 20 years earlier. The problem with that is, in sending the letter to his victim, he caused more harm and injury to her – a cautionary clause of Step Nine – and was really self-serving more than anything else; he sought only to rid himself of the guilt. For his actions, his victim decided to press charges, citing that, although she recognized that Beebe had turned his life around, he doesn’t get a get-out-of-jail-free card for simply apologizing.
Much like Cox, Beebe admits he had spoken over the years to his sponsor and other AA members about the incident and it appears he had no intention of serving time for his crime. To many, the letter seemed only to serve as a way to progress his recovery, appease guilt, and justify his actions as alcohol-related.
Then there’s Jamie Kellam Letson, who confessed to her sponsor that she killed her college friend 30 years earlier. Letson’s sponsor suggested she write a letter to her dead friend and then drove her to the cemetery to read it. That was before the sponsor turned her in and used the letter as evidence.
Bob Ryder made an ‘AA confession’ that he had a dead body of a woman in his basement. His sponsor suggested that he pour baking soda on the decomposing body and, two weeks later, turned him into the authorities.
So, when it comes to criminal confessions, is anonymity a guarantee?
After what happened with Paul Cox, a legal battle ensued that shed new light on issues of anonymity and AA confessions. The cleric-penitent privilege was of course brought up and whether or not it applied to Alcoholics Anonymous and other Anonymous fellowships. In Cox’s first trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared. A second trial found Cox guilty of manslaughter. But on appeal, Federal Judge Charles Brieant overturned the conviction, and in an unprecedented ruling said that AA was a religious organization, and a confession made to a member could not be used as evidence. A third appeal overturned Judge Brieant’s decision and Cox was again convicted.
The thing is, crimes that are committed while in someone’s active addiction are still exactly that: crimes; not merely fallout from a past substance abuse episode. And therein lies the confusion, for newcomers and old timers alike. Many experts suggest caution and discretion before disclosing information to a sponsor or in an AA meeting.
“Theoretically, everything that is said in an AA meeting is supposed to be kept confidential by all the other attendees, so there would have to be a breach of the AA code if law enforcement is contacted to report a confession,” says Carole Lieberman, MD, Beverly Hills forensic psychiatrist. “Nonetheless, if an alcoholic patient of mine, who was attending AA meetings, asked if he should confess to a crime at an AA meeting, I would certainly counsel him against it.”
What AA Says About Anonymity
Although AA was founded on spiritual principles of anonymity and disclosure, the literature specifies anonymity to be expected at the personal level, that is, anonymity provides protection for all members from being ‘outed’ as alcoholics. The ‘Understanding Anonymity’ pamphlet never mentions safety from disclosure of a crime.
The executive director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse and a Faces & Voices of Recovery board member and person in recovery, Neil Kaltenecker Campbell, says an important question when considering such things, is what will keep someone sober?
“You have to own up to your past and take responsibility for saying what you did in your addiction,” she says. “Recovery is about personal responsibility.”
It’s true: many of us in recovery have dark pasts of which we’re not particularly proud. When it comes to getting sober – and wanting to stay that way, you have to decide what it is that you need to do in order to make that happen. If there are things in your past that you need to talk about, do so with your sober supports, including your sponsor. But don’t just do it for your own peace of mind; if you are serious about atoning for your sins, you have to be ready and willing to face real consequences. If you are struggling with substance abuse or addiction and don’t know where to turn, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. Help is available. You are not alone.
Sponsorship is essential in 12 Step fellowships as part of contributing to the sober community, helping others, and maintaining personal sobriety. At least that is how my sponsor explained it to me. If your sponsor says different you should listen to them, but in my belief being a sponsor is something that you must definitely do if it has been done for you, because it is explained in the 12 Step fellowships that we can only keep what has been so freely given to us (sobriety) by giving it away- sponsoring someone through the steps.
Now the question presented is one that pertains to what are commonly referred to as ‘maintenance drugs’. There are so many narcotics out there that are specifically designed to assist with the withdrawal effects of drug addiction such as methadone or suboxone. These medications are designed to help individuals who have struggled with prolonged and severe substance abuse to be able to regulate their symptoms. But many of these medications are narcotics.
Then there are also medications that are prescribed to an individual based on another condition. Some people have to take medications for severe health issues, or mental and behavioral health disorders such as depression. So the question is where do you draw the line when sponsoring people who take narcotics? Is it the right thing to not sponsor someone based on the medications they take? Are these people clean and sober?
Sponsoring People on Dual Diagnosis Drugs
Now some 12 Step fellowships specifically state they have no opinion on the issue of medications that are properly prescribed to control the symptoms of a psychiatric illness. When asked about this issue such Fellowship Services have noted that the question of prescription medication should be decided between the individual who is struggling, their personal doctor, and their relationship with their Higher Power. It has been highly recommended that telling the history with substance abuse or addiction to your doctor can ensure that when prescription medications are completely necessary, that the doctor can prescribe it knowing that the individual is a recovering addict or alcoholic.
Very few recovering alcoholics and addicts in fellowships of recovery are mental health and treatment professionals. And many don’t fully understand the difference between the usual depressions and anxieties most recovering people can expect to experience in early sobriety and any psychiatric illnesses.
Some people may falsely think that antidepressants are ‘mood elevators’ much like the other street drugs, but these are understandable misconceptions. Unfortunately such misconceptions can lead to poor advice or sponsorship suggestions.
No one but a licensed physician or psychiatrist should play doctor, so it is not up to you as a sponsor to decide what they should or should not be taking. Some addicts or alcoholics seeking sponsors in 12 Step groups must consider the potential sponsor’s attitude and understanding concerning medications and psychiatric illnesses.
The attitude of acceptance toward the nature of dual diagnosis and properly prescribed medications plays an important role in a relationship between a sponsor and the individual. Experience has shown many members of 12 step fellowships over time that honesty is the basis for successful sponsorships.
Here are a few suggestions for sponsoring people in need of medications for serious health issues or behavioral disorders, most have been taken directly from 12 Step pamphlets.
- No member of recovery should play doctor. All medical advice and treatment should come from a qualified physician.
- Actively working a program of recovery is a major safeguard against relapse.
- Suggest that the person you sponsor be completely honest with the doctor and themselves about the way they take the medicine.
- They should let you and doctor know if they skip doses or take more medicine than prescribed.
- Explain to the one you sponsor to tell the doctor that they no longer drink alcohol or use drugs, and they are trying to live in recovery. Perhaps see about alternative treatment.
- Let the person you sponsor know to speak with the doctor at once if they have a desire to take more medicine or have side effects that make them feel worse.
- Be sensitive to warnings about changes in behavior with new medication or dose changes.
- If you feel that your doctor does not understand your problems, consider making an appointment with a physician who has experience in the treatment of alcoholism.
Sponsoring Someone on Maintenance Narcotics
Now the question of sponsoring people on maintenance drugs is a little tricky, because these medications are not only easily abused to create a high, but they are also frequently addictive narcotics themselves, and in some peoples opinion should not be necessary at all as long as the person has been through a proper detox process or treatment program and is now ready to work through the program of action.
Here we enter into what I often refer to as a ‘Grey Area’. I wanted to clarify in my own mind my program is very clear. I don’t have a vast ‘Grey Area’ as to what I believe will and will not work for me. I call this the ‘Grey Area’ because I don’t believe I can speak on behalf of anyone else’s program, inventory or opinion. I am not an authority, and it is not my place- this ‘grey area’ is simply where I step into the opinion and when I do not dare tell others what to believe.
I believe that the 12 Steps, sponsorship, and service to the community of recovery to be the most effective process for achieving sobriety outside of medical detox and treatment. Maintenance drugs like suboxone or methadone can be very harmful when used too long, methadone withdrawal is often more harmful than the drug it is used to treat. It is my thought with the ideas passed down to me through sponsorship that I must be willing to be free of all intoxicating substances that bring unmanageability into my life, even those some may insist are there to help their substance abuse or addiction be manageable.
The program has taught me that I can rely on a High Power, the spiritual principles, and the sober community and that I do not need to rely on maintenance narcotics to keep me stable. I think some people feel they need these medications, and that is OK with me. As long as they can have a happy life they are welcome to it, and I am happy for them. However, I personally would discourage anyone I sponsor from taking any form of maintenance narcotics for their symptoms.
Sponsorship and working a 12 Step program is an incredible experience and one way to practice a permanent and fulfilling lifestyle in sobriety. There are those who believe also in programs of maintenance and abstinence. The best way to ensure that you get the best treatment is to be educated on the different programs available, while getting a head start on your personal health and the foundation that could help you build an amazing recovery of your own. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Recovery has a large population of men, and in sobriety most guys step up and step out of ego and immaturity (or we at least try) in order to be better men. We typically have pride, ambition, and reputation to get in our way, but a man may strive to be a gentleman’s gentleman! So there are at least 11 things only men in recovery can understand… Let’s separate the BRO’s from the boys.
1. You don’t need to be a ‘Tough Guy’
Boys will be boys, and we always want to be tough! It’s not to say we can’t be strong in our lives and stand for things we believe in, but to bully or ‘flex on’ people in recovery is just a waste of everyone’s time. The 12 Steps do not require arm-wrestling, and no matter how tough you are, your disease is right there like ‘Come at me BRO!’
2. Asking for another man’s help…and phone number….
As men, it’s not always easy to admit we need help from another man, especially a stranger. Most of the time it’s bad enough that we have to admit defeat to addiction, but now we have to find another guy, take his suggestions, and… ask for his number? Don’t be afraid, you need to make new relationship patterns, this one is no different. No BRO left behind!
3. Being part of a wolf pack…
A lot of us acted like a ‘one man wolf-pack’ when we were in active addiction. As addicts and alcoholics we tend to have our limited number of running buddies, but in sobriety we find ourselves in packs of guys who not only attend meetings and hold each other accountable, we also trust and admire our fellows. And as sobriety grows, the wolf-pack grows and the bonds are stronger. Talk about BRO-mance!
4. We find new and creative ways to make Ramen Noodles a food group…
This one may apply to the ladies a little bit, but I have never seen or heard of some of the incredibly creative combinations of meats, vegetables, and condiments to make new meals out of Ramen Noodles before living in a men’s halfway house. I’m talking about chopped chicken, bacon bits, sesame sauce, steak sauce, and diced peppers- with about 3 packets of Ramen – Chef BRO-ardee!
5. Video games can NOT be Your Higher Power….
Now hear me out on this. I know GTA5 was amazing! And it made my own life unmanageable for some time. Yes, Call of Duty is incredible, but for the spiritual program to work you have to put faith in something other than yourself, and your high score is not your higher power! You have to get a spiritual connection. But like the wireless controllers, the system has to be in sync, that’s BRO-losophy.
6. Chasing women can cause a lot of damage…
Let’s face it probably the worst addiction for a man is a woman. We may not think it’s that big of a deal, and there’s no rule saying you cannot get involved, but if we have learned anything from others experience we know that chasing girls too early in recovery can wreck your situation pretty quick. I know when I’m more concerned with the ladies and less concerned with the work I’m often missing something I need to do for myself or another alcoholic/addict. And I tend to cause damage in the process. Do NOT be a hopeless BRO-mantic.
7. Recovery women (or just all women) are crazy… (does not mean MEN are not)
So any guy who has found himself involved with a girl in recovery should relate to this. In fact, any guy who has ever been with ANY girl can relate to this a little bit. Women are crazy! Now ladies I’m not saying we are not crazy, I know I’m out of my mind in many respects. But men and women have different brands of crazy sometimes, and in recovery women are special kinds of crazy! So again, try not to get wrapped up in relationships too early. You don’t need your rehab romance showing up at your halfway house! It usually is not a BRO-meo and Juliet love story.
8. The Old… I mean ‘Long Timers’ can relate.…
The ‘Long Timer’ men in the fellowships of recovery are definitely some of my favorite characters. Because these guys are typically the rebels of another generation, and often aren’t impressed with our antics. They understand a lot of our other problems like women, but they laugh at our other issues like ‘lifting’ while they explain how hard it is to get out of bed. But they’re still young at heart dude, so show respect. ‘BRO country for old men’.
9. It’s OK to have feelings (and chicks dig feelings)… right?
It seems times have changed and emotional men are becoming more acceptable. But men still have the stigma, if they admit it or not, that it’s not OK to express their feelings or get emotional. In recovery it is important to know emotional sobriety is healthy, and being open and honest about those emotions are important. You can get a lot out of a good cry once in a while, especially if you’re a BRO-ciopath.
10. It takes a man to say you’re sorry…
Some guys think that even if they have wronged someone they should still not need to apologize. Some guys think its a weakness to have to admit to someone, especially another guy who you don’t get along with, that you’re sorry. However, I feel that it takes more courage and strength to admit you’re fault and ask for forgiveness from an enemy than to fight him. The best victory in my eyes is to turn your enemies into your allies. I think you owe that dude a BRO-pology!
11. Your sponsorship family feels like the mafia…
When I walk into a meeting with my sponsor and his sponsor is there sitting next to his sponsor, I feel like I’m Al Pacino sitting at a table with Marlon Brando and James Caan discussing the ‘family business’. You might feel the same anytime you find yourself in a room full of your sponsorship family; sponsor brothers and nephews, uncles and cousins (if your bored enough to keep track of your whole sponsor family)- or any bunch of guys with spiritual fitness and common connections you go out in public with. Now THAT is a BRO-mocracy ruled by Extreme BRO-tality!
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Television and the media are all about dramatization. It is the Medias job to do everything possible to take any situation and make it intense or entertaining in some way to draw the audience into each scene. The stand-point of most 12 Step Groups is typically attraction rather than promotion, and they do everything possible to maintain anonymity in press, radio and films. However there are many films and television shows that elude to ‘support groups’ for various addictions or behavioral issues.
These portrayals may often be entertaining, but can also be extremely misleading to those unfamiliar with 12 Step groups. Listed are the 6 most ridiculous portrayals of 12 Step Groups on TV, including films, and the reasons why they are so far from the real deal.
Family Guy- “Friends of Peter G”
The episode follows Peter and Brian as they are forced to join a 12 Step Group, due to their excessive drinking. Peter and Brian hear testimony from group members that are sad stories of tragedies caused by alcohol, and that the people in the group have nowhere to drink without being judged. The problem with this is that 12 Step meetings are NOT just a place for alcoholics and addicts to hide from judgment, and the purpose is to share experience, strength and, hope- not tragedy.
This comedy starring Dave Chappelle, Harland Williams and Tommy Chong is all about a few guys who smoke way too much weed. In one scene Dave Chappelle attends a 12 Step Meeting, and is booed off stage by the crowd when he admits he is addicted to marijuana. I cannot say I’ve ever seen a 12 Step meeting where anyone has been yelled at and rejected for their drug of choice, or where people openly compare addictions and tell someone theirs is less of an illness.
In seasons 3 and 4 of Breaking Bad (one of the most celebrated drug related dramas) one main character Jesse Pinkman attends rehab and 12 Step meetings. These meetings are always depicted in dark rooms, the characters all sit in a circle and tell dark and depressing stories, and there is a facilitator. Not very much solution is ever offered, and Jesse spreads as much disease as possible- not very spiritual, but you cannot expect much from a Meth cook. Real meetings have no facilitator, and don’t consist of back and forth arguments between two people.
House of Cards
A political drama starring Kevin Spacey takes an opportunity to touch on recovery and the character of Doug, who 14 years in recovery, exploits a newcomer for political advantages as his less than accountable sponsor. In reality, a 12Step sponsor probably won’t use your amends and character defects against you.
In this thrilling TV series about a vigilante serial killer, the main man Dexter happens upon 12 Step meetings to try and curve his addiction to killing. He takes a female sponsor, who consistently lies and manipulates him and others around them, while the two of them frequently indulge in sexual activity. This is an absolute misrepresentation of the sponsorship relationship and the 12 Step program. Dexter does however, give a great speech about the “Dark Passenger” that is relatable and powerful.
South Park- “Bloody Mary”
This is a show that takes pride in poking fun at… well, everything! So it is no surprise that they dedicated time to dramatizing 12 Step Groups to the extreme. The character Randy Marsh attends a meeting where he is called to stand in front of the group, and the entire meeting is dedicated to convincing him he is an alcoholic. Also, the meeting has characters who constantly emphasize how they are powerless, over everything including themselves, and that the only thing they have is the fellowship. No 12 Step meeting would dedicate so much time to diagnosing one man. Then Randy is obsessed with religion and avoids his friends and all situations regarding alcohol. This episode clearly promotes the stigma of 12 Step fellowships as cults of cowards, not men or spiritual and domestic growth.
Now please do not get me wrong, I love Randy Marsh and the South Park crew, Breaking Bad is a great drama, and Family Guy is a good show! But these are probably some of the most ridiculous versions of 12 Step Programs that television paints, creating a false picture of what recovery in a 12 Step meeting is like. You want to know more about the real deal? You probably shouldn’t trust the information your getting from your TV and find some real recovery.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135