When I first began attending 12-Step meetings, I heard, “Get a sponsor and work the steps.” I didn’t know what they were talking about. One evening, while standing around after a meeting a man walked up to me and asked, “Do you have a sponsor?” I said no and he offered his services. I had no idea what sponsorship entailed or what his role would be in my life. Like most social situations I found myself in at that time, I wanted to fit in, so I agreed.
Because I didn't understand what sponsorship meant, he remained my ornamental sponsor for quite some time. It took dating a woman in the fellowship before I got a clue. When I found myself in an embarrassing, painful, public break-up with a popular woman who processed her feelings about me and our breakup by putting me “on blast” in meetings, I began to call my sponsor more frequently. Hurt, angry, and resentful I started reading the literature and going to additional meetings. Having committed to 12-Step recovery, I refused to leave the program. Together, my sponsor and I worked up to the fifth step. At that point, he rekindled a relationship, got married, and moved away.
Enter my second and current sponsor. By that time, I realized the importance of step work and I wanted to complete the process I started. Spiritual smugness felt too good to stop working the steps. My new high became walking into meetings and comparing myself to others who were not working the steps. That downward comparison became my new fix. I chose my next sponsor after observing him in meetings. He possessed numerous qualities that made him ideal for me, even if I didn’t know it at the time. He seemed to lack anger, hostility, and authoritarianism. He appeared calm and relaxed which attracted me because I never felt safe around angry, hostile authority figures.
Like any addict, I am recovering from turning to drugs rather than people when I feel anxious or overwhelmed. I'm recovering from immense shame which makes me fear intimacy. I often projected my problems onto women, blaming them for my internal discord. As my recovery progressed awareness shed light on my problems with male role models. I began to recognize misinformation I received from men and society about masculinity and manhood. Through my relationship with my sponsor, I have been able to not only explore my emotional life, but take responsibility for it, remain drug-free, and cultivate happiness.
Somehow recovering addicts before me discovered an effective way to recover from trauma. I always found myself hurt by the people I was in relationships with. Addicts understood recovering people would need to turn to the very thing that may have harmed them—relationships—in order to heal. From trial, error, and ingenuity they created sponsorship.
As I progress through recovery and the 12-Steps, my relationship with my sponsor deepens. Working with him, exploring my emotional life, improves all my relationships. As we learn from our literature “we don’t heal in isolation.” Through sponsorship, I practice honesty, open-mindedness, courage, willingness, and vulnerability. Sponsorship taught me how to trust myself and others.
When men stop fronting on each other, drop their masks, and share their emotional lives with each other they develop intimacy. Many men never get that opportunity and later end up placing too much weight on women to care for them emotionally. With no men to bond with and placing too much emotional weight on women, they lose.
Last week, while sitting on a bench talking to my sponsee, I saw my sponsor in the distance, walking to his car. I felt emotional as I thought about how long he and I have worked together, how much I have learned about myself, and how much my heart has expanded due to our relationship. When anyone complains about their relationships, I remain silent. When others lament about unhappiness, I yield the floor. When someone gripes about being lonely, I stand down. Today, those are not my issues. Through sponsorship, I have been able to improve mutual satisfaction in all my relationships. Considering my sponsor’s role in my recovery, I felt myself getting emotional. My eyes began to well up and my heart felt full as I watched him walk away. I believe in the therapeutic value of one addict helping another.