Monday, March 15, 2010

What's My Line?

Having become a sponsor recently, I pay more attention when people talk about how they sponsor others. I find the variety fascinating.

My line of sponsorship is very tradition bound. My sponsor told me that ours is an old line, dating from the earliest days of Al-Anon. There was no precedent, so the early Al-Anon members went to the women in AA and asked what it meant to work a step. To this day, we still study AA literature in addition to Al-Anon literature.

That I was part of an old line didn't mean a lot to me at first. Since then, I've come to see myself as the beneficiary of generations of wisdom. I work the steps with my sponsees the same way my sponsor worked them with me. And she works them the same way she was taught by her sponsor.

Being tradition bound also means following a certain code. There are six principles we follow in our line of sponsorship. They are:

1. We are willing to go to any lengths for our recovery
2. We attend meetings
3. We pray on our knees
4. We work the steps
5. We take commitments
6. We sponsor others

Tradition also dictates a few other things. For example, whenever we are at a podium, whether chairing a meeting, speaking at an institution, accepting a chip, we wear a skirt. Old fashioned, yes. But I'm okay with that because when I appear in public, I represent more than just myself.

Practically speaking, these are the nuts and bolts:

Ideally, a sponsee will attend at least one meeting their sponsor attends so they can see each other at least once a week. In my case, I attend two committed meetings my sponsor attends, as well as one open AA meeting.

We have a regular, weekly call time of a half hour. During this time, I can talk about anything that is on my mind. I use that time to talk about what's going on in my life, ask questions, ask for advice. However, my sponsor also encourages me to call any time I need to.

One of the most important roles of sponsorship, for me, is working the steps. We all start by reading "Alcoholics Anonymous," the AA Big Book, up to the personal stories.

The next assignment is to read step 1 in Al-Anon's and AA's "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions." There is a writing assignment. Then we get together and discuss the writing. It pretty much goes like that through all of the steps.

Some of the writing assignments are short. Some are long. My fourth step took months. There are additional things along the way. A book, a gift. Prayers.

Every other month, everyone in our line of sponsorship gets together for a Big Book study. Interruptions, cross-talk, questions are all encouraged. This allows me to develop a relationship with my whole, extended Al-Anon family, women with long years of recovery and dedicated service.

I learned a lot by being sponsored. It was obvious to me that my sponsor was not flying by the seat of her pants, but was operating from an unofficial play book. There were rules, for example, for making amends. Like everything else, we followed tradition. The rules were old fashioned.

We made amends for our part of things in person. We said we were wrong. We were not allowed to justify or explain our behavior. We had to listen without interruption to the other person.

Tradition dictated what we made amends for and what we did not (the generational wisdom here having to do with doing further harm). Certain acts called for certain types of amends. There are, after all, no original sins. These things had all been worked out.

Tradition even guides our suggestions for action. There are standard "remedies" for whatever ails us.

The sponsee who is stuck in despair is often asked to keep a gratitude list for two weeks. They are asked to list 10 things, each day, for two weeks and not repeat anything.

The sponsee who is spinning out of control is sometimes asked to go clean the bathroom then call their sponsor back. Don't laugh. It works.

The sponsee who can't stop obsessing about their problems is given the assignment of calling other people in the program to ask how they are doing. The sponsee is not allowed to talk about their own problems.

The sponsee who is withdrawn and isolated is encouraged to take a service commitment.

We are taught to pray for willingness. We are taught to pray for those people we resent. The list goes on.

I know there are those who would probably chafe at something so regimented. We are Al-Anons, after all. We are control freaks who have problems with authority.

People are different, I can almost hear you say. What works for one may not work for someone else. And on some level, I agree. But what has struck me the most about this disease is how much we share in common. It's our sameness that binds us, not our differences.

It's comforting to me that there are guidelines. That I don't have to figure everything out. That I have literally generations of wisdom to draw upon.

I used to wonder if my sponsor talked to her sponsor about me. Now I know she does. I do the same. I have a sponsee who is having this type of problem, I will say. How can I help her? She will say something like, when you were going through such and such Karen (her sponsor) and I talked about it and she said....

Of course, there were times when my sponsor didn't have the answer and said so. She'd run it up the chain. Sometimes her sponsor didn't know, and it would go up again. It could be a little frustrating waiting, but I learned patience. It was a lesson in God's time. When I got my answer, it always made sense.

And even though the teaching has become cannonized, in a sense, the relationships are not. The sharing and the way we react to one another comes from who we are. It can't be learned or faked. And we can only give someone else as much as we have.

And that's why I'm glad I don't have to rely on just myself. Like everything else in this program, I can't sponsor someone well all on my own. I am not self-sufficient. But I have a Higher Power, and deep well from which I can draw.


  1. What a wonderful share. I have really been having some issues about sponsorship with my own sponsor. You sound like your have a firm foundation to share with future sponsees. What a blessing your Alanon family must be.


  2. I attend a pretty "old school" Al-Anon meeting as well. I really value the connection to the Big Book and close tie to AA. Some one pointed out to me one time that the Big Book is not Conference Approved Literature for Al-Anon--that's true) and all I could do was roll my eyes! Not every meeting is as focused on the steps and a strong sponsorship tradition, but it's been a great thing for me. Thanks for sharing.

  3. 'The sponsee who is spinning out of control is sometimes asked to go clean the bathroom then call their sponsor back. Don't laugh. It works.'

    wow, yes, it could appear too regimented at first glance, but as you kept've got generations of wisdom working here and it does lovingly expose the 'commonality' that we share....which i think is a good thing...

  4. Thanks for sharing this post. I have been thinking about Dr. T. recently and He was my unofficial sponsor. He was the one I called for wisdom. I am praying for a new one...I know I need a person to go to.

    You sound like you have alot of wisdom to draw from. God always provides for I will be waiting for the next person for the next part of my journey. :)


  5. I would say things are a little more relaxed in CoDA than at Alanon. For one thing, I've yet to see anyone wear a skirt to a meeting. We don't have a podium... people just speak from where they are sitting.
    I also was given reading and writing assignments from the big book of AA, as well as from the "12 and 12" CoDA book. We read Melody Beattie's book, together (my sponsor and me) as well. We also pray when we meet and try to meet once a week (although lately that's been hard because of trips we both had scheduled). I also call her a couple times a week (at least).

    My sponsor has sponsees in both AA and CoDA, and has been doing this for long time so I trust her guidance. I would say trust is one of the most important things about sponsorship.

    One thing that stood out about the six rules you listed was praying on your knees.
    I've never done that.
    Its something I've been thinking about lately, but it is not something I grew up with or something that has been suggested to me by my spiritual advisor or my sponsor. I imagine it is a personal choice... but I have recently been seeing some reasons why it might feel right to do just that - get on my knees - when I am talking to God.

    Even so, I wondered if all the rules and regulations wouldn't put some people off. Codependency is of extremes. Both control and submission are common. It seems like with such rigid rules there would be the possiblity of a sponsor becoming controlling of a sponsee? I just wondered what your thoughts were on this. I'm not challenging its validity, only trying to understand why the rules are important.

    Rules have been up front in my mind, recently (as you saw in my most recent post).

    thanks for posting this and for your honesty and openness (as usual).