by Joshua Hoe
So, what’s next, starting to work on the formal first step. If you are new to the program, the formal first step is when you tell your entire story (of addiction) to your recovery group.
I try to get started toward a formal first step very quickly…One of the most important and powerful things about 12 step programs is they start getting the things that you have been bottling up inside yourself out.
To my mind, the quicker that process starts, the better.
Working the First Step
I generally ask sponsees to read all of the program literature related to working a first step.
I then ask them to write down any questions that they might have about the readings and discuss them.
As we discuss the questions, I try to get them to start sharing their story of addiction from the beginning. Kind of like a verbal first draft.
I see this part of the process as a good way to get a person to start to reflect on the chronological events in their first step presentation.
The next thing I ask them to do is to start deciding which of the chronological events they will choose to make up the first-step presentation.
I then ask them to do a run-through with me – sometimes this has happened at my house, sometimes at a restaurant, sometimes at a coffee house – I usually let them decide what they are comfortable with.
The general idea is to get them used to delivering the content out loud and with as minimal a script as is possible.
I try to emphasize that because you are sharing events that you directly experienced – a full script can be a distraction – and trying to memorize things almost always comes off as forced.
I try to get them used to just being comfortable telling their story with what I call ‘memory cues’ – a short outline of all the events you want to cover usually.
I try to give as much feedback at the end as I can….but always in the most supportive way possible.
Sometimes, I have to remind myself that even talking about this stuff at all is a huge struggle.
Sometimes, I hear the first step at least one more time before they present for the group.
Usually, this ends up being a pretty hard, but rewarding, experience for the people that I have sponsored.
My basic rule is that a sponsee should try to check in every day (or as many as they can manage).
I tell them the length is not important, but that the idea is to start setting up routines that give them a structure for recovery.
Every day when we talk, I just ask how they are doing, if they are having struggles, and ask if they have any questions.
If there was reading or something we were supposed to discuss I also ask about that. I try to let them drive the conversations within any of the sub-headings.
If they are having problems, I try to share whatever experience, strength, and hope I have to share.
One thing I always try to do – but probably am not always successful at – is preface any advice with a caveat…something like this worked for me, or this might not make sense for you….something to recognize that our experiences are not universal and we each come to the answers in our own ways.
Another important thing to remember is to sometimes just listen…At least for me, my biggest problem is trying to share too much “help” when really sometimes people just want to dump their experiences.
Continuing Step Work
I generally follow the same procedure for continuing step work. Usually, guided by the process in the blue book, the 12 and 12, other program materials, and my experience.
After they finish the first step presentation – I try to give them decompression time then move to the second step etc.
It seems like for most people I have worked with – step 4 is the hardest with step 1 a close second.
Some people really like to work the steps quickly…And I have heard of sponsors that try to get through them all super fast.
But, I have also had sponsees for which this is too much too fast.
I think every person is different.
Odds and Ends
I find that maybe, for some, I am a bad sponsor – because while I am pretty involved – I really resist driving the program for them.
If they are committed to calling nearly every day (and many are) I seem to do pretty well.
How do the rest of you deal with this question of motivation?
I try never to discuss any of my sponsee problems with anyone but my sponsor – and when I discuss them with my sponsor, I never use names – only situations.
The book I read about sponsorship (put out in the group of semi-official literature) was very heavy on not talking about your sponsees with your other sponsees or meeting with them together. I try to follow these rules.
I try to be very reliable – because sponsor/sponsee seems to be a very important relationship built almost entirely on trust.
If my sponsees call – even if it is not possible for me to answer at the time – I always call back as soon as I am able.
I am not always great at this, but I try to let them know ahead of time if I will be unavailable.
At the same time, I try to mention on a regular basis that sponsors are addicts too and that I am far from perfect.
I try to follow the same process of amends and quickly admitting when I have made a mistake or have done something wrong and trying to make amends for it etc.
I also make it very known that it is entirely fine for them to fire me if I am not working for them or if someone else seems like they would be a better fit.
Sponsorship should be about their recovery, not my ego.
Meetings and Sponsorship
I generally have less interaction with my sponsees at meetings – part of this is to let them have their own relationship with the meetings…
Part of this is so they do not feel like they are ‘outed’ as my sponsees (identification should be up to them). The book seemed pretty strong on this point – and it seemed to make sense.
If they come and talk to me – of course, I am totally happy to talk and see them.
I learned what I know from my own sponsors, from books, and from trial and error. I think that this is a really great chance for all of us to share our experiences, strength, and wisdom with each other.
I hope some other folks will leave comments and share their sponsorship styles.
How do you work as a sponsor? How have your sponsors been from your perspective as a sponsee? Would love to hear your experiences, so please leave comments! Hopefully, we will all help each other!