When I first got to Al-Anon, one of the most perplexing issues for me was how to pick a sponsor.
I had attended meetings in another fellowship with my daughter and in every meeting, the chairperson asked who was willing to be a sponsor. That seemed helpful to me, because it at least narrowed the field, and you wouldn't have to suffer the humiliation of being turned down by someone who simply had no interest in sponsorship.
But none of the meetings I attended followed this practice. I asked about it at the first meeting. The person I spoke with said she would bring it up at the business meeting, which was that day. The next time I went to that meeting, the announcement was read that there had been this request and the group conscience agreed and would all those willing to be a sponsor raise their hand.
So many people raised their hands that I couldn't even take them all in before their hands went down again. The number of people able and willing to sponsor someone at this meeting spoke for the strength of that group. But it all happened so fast, I couldn't process it. And then the question was never asked again.
In my daughter's case, the choice of a sponsor seemed obvious at the end of a week. (Unfortunately, I hadn't yet learned that her program was none of my business, but that's another story.)
I asked someone how I should go about finding a sponsor. She told me that I should ask someone who had something I wanted.
I had no idea what she was talking about but didn't want to look dumb. Back then I thought I had to know everything.
So I approached looking for a sponsor the same way I had approached looking for the love of my life. I made a list.
The fact that this never worked with men did not deter me. I am reminded of the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
The desirable characteristics of my perfect sponsor were these: She should be the mother of an alcoholic/addict. She should have worked all 12 steps and be well grounded in the program. She should be older than I am. She should be a she.
That didn't strike me as a particularly high bar or an unreasonable set of qualifications. I didn't know how someone who was, say, married to an alcoholic could possibly understand what it was like to be a mother to one.
I wasn't looking for someone to call in a crisis. I thought I knew how to handle those. I wanted a guide to the steps. Someone who had not done them could not guide me through them. Finally, someone younger than I could not possibly have more wisdom. Right? Right?
I wanted to get a sponsor right away so I could get to work. I'm that kind of Al-Anon. Tell me what to do and get out of my way. I thought finding a sponsor would be easy.
By the end of a month, I hadn't found anyone who fit those categories. First, it was hard to evaluate potential sponsors when all I had to go on were what people chose to share. I was looking for a mother of an alcoholic. Frustratingly for me, people in meetings often shared things that did not have anything to do with their qualifiers. They had this annoying habit of keeping the focus on themselves.
I did identify some mothers. Some of them were even older than me, but they hadn't worked the steps. There didn't seem to be a single person who fit.
So I did what I finally did out of desperation in my romantic life. I threw out my list and prayed for God to guide me.
I did that with my husband, who, by the way, possesses exactly zero items formerly on my list, and we've been happily married for going on eight years. If it worked once, maybe it would work again. And anyway, what did I have to lose?
Not long after that, I was in the same meeting mentioned above. My soon-to-be sponsor lead the meeting. She's never done that since.
She was younger than I was, and her kids were all too young to be her qualifiers. But she had obviously worked the steps and seemed well grounded in the program. I don't remember the topic or a single thing she said. But I do remember that she seemed to really know what she was talking about. She mentioned seeing something on a listserve for 12-step groups. I remember thinking that if she was on a 12-step listserve, she must be pretty serious about the program. Finally, there was something about her I was drawn to.
The lightbulb flashed.
She had something I wanted.
After the meeting, I said I thought God had been speaking to me. I asked her if she was open to taking on a new sponsee and she said, "Of course. I'm always open to a new sponsee."
Turns out that in our line of sponsorship, we generally don't refuse these requests. We believe that God has brought someone to us for a reason.
But even before I learned that, I realized that her name had come up in my first meeting.
As with so many things, God was talking to me but I wasn't listening.
My sponsor has lead me with grace and wisdom ever since. I have no doubt that she is who God intended for me.
Having a sponsor was huge for me. We had a regular call time. In meetings, I could only absorb what people chose to share on a given topic. Some of it was confusing. With my sponsor, I could ask questions about any aspect of the program. I could ask for advice. Of course, I could have asked anyone either before or after meetings, but I didn't want to impose.
Even though I wanted a sponsor to help me work the steps, I found things went better when I asked for her advice before I did or said something. When I took her suggestions I felt better.
I quickly realize that sponsorship was one of the chief benefits of the program. I couldn't believe I had wasted so much time with my list.
Now, I smile when I see people who are shopping for the perfect sponsor. One woman who has been in the program for a year still hasn't found one. "I'm not looking for the perfect sponsor," she said. "I'm looking for the perfect sponsor for me."
I suggested a temporary sponsor. She worried about hurting someone's feelings if it didn't work out. I could only smile and share my own experience, then let it go. I could hear my sponsor's voice in my ear saying, "She's not hearing you."
Why is it that at times like these, the best advice I can offer seems to come from TV commercials? "Just do it," I want to say. Or "Try it, you'll like it."