Sponsorship, Humility, and Vulnerability

“Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seem so worthwhile to us now. Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have – the key to life and happiness for others. With it, you can avert death and misery for them.” Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 124

When I first came into Alcoholics Anonymous, I was told it was imperative for me to get a sponsor. Considering most of my resentments stemmed from relationships with other women, I resented the idea of being vulnerable with another female. My mind was instantly clouded with doubts and questions. How do I find this sponsor? Where do I find a sponsor? What if I pick the wrong sponsor? I instantly allowed my brain to trail off into the world of “what ifs” and “can nots.” After all, why would I jump into any situation that would require me to humble myself and be vulnerable? 

My initial idea of a sponsor was a glorified probation officer found in good ‘ole A.A. I envisioned a tyrannical authoritative figure, much like Miss Trunchbull in the movie Matilda. The idea of spilling my guts and reporting to another woman made me want to puke. I was still delusional to the fact that alcohol was not truly the problem, in reality, it was my solution to a larger issue. The root of all my problems stemmed from my inability to deal with life on life’s terms rather than my own. I was self-centered by nature and unwilling to change the victimizing narrative etched in the deepest parts of my brain. 

My journey through recovery has been anything but an easy road. In the beginning, I changed sponsors the same way I changed friends while I was using. I chose sponsors that I felt would fail to hold me accountable and could serve some selfish purpose in my life. The second these sponsors did not meet my expectations, I fired them. I would begin working the steps, but only with half measures. I would call when I wanted to call. I would get offended if my ideas were challenged and I hated being held accountable. The truth is, I had no idea how to be a woman of dignity and grace. I was unwilling to allow another woman to teach me how to do these things. Despite how reluctant I was to truly listen to another woman and take her suggestions, nobody was offended. In fact, they were hopeful that I would eventually stop trying to control everything and, instead, get a sponsor and really do the work.

Finally, trying to control life on my own terms caused me enough pain that I had no option but to either drink again or find a sponsor and take every suggestion along the way. I had to stop the idea that I could solve all of my own problems, and instead, rely on the guidance of someone ahead of me. 

I will never forget the day I decided to ask my current sponsor to sponsor me. She was always smiling. You could feel her acceptance and love radiating from her. I remember my sponsor being slow to speak and I felt peace just being in her presence. These were all of the characteristics I admired, and yet simultaneously the characteristics I was sure I could never acquire. As a result of my addiction, I came to hear and believe lies about my worth. This led to comparison and doubts surrounding recovery and sponsorship. I remember thinking, “There’s no way I could ask this saint of a woman to sponsor me. If she knew all of my deepest darkest secrets, there is no way she would help me.”

My timid, inner child was screaming inadequacies in my ear. Gaining courage, I politely sent her a Facebook message that read “Hi, I am in emotional pain and I wanted to know if you’d sponsor me. If I do not humble myself and get vulnerable, I am going to drink again.” Without hesitation, she said yes and our journey began.

I remember beginning the 12 Steps with my sponsor with so many questions. This time it was different. I was eager to learn and eager to take on an entirely different perspective. Working with a sponsor is not a weekly therapy session – it is so much more than that. Sponsorship is not about feelings, it is about creating a truly trusting, intimate bond with another woman/man in order to place one’s hand back in the hand of their Higher Power. I had no idea what was in store. 

I remember calling my sponsor at least 3 times a day to ask questions like: 

My car insurance is due and I have no idea how to actually pay my insurance, what should I do? 

Also, I really don’t feel like going to a meeting, can I just sit this one out? 

Without fail, my sponsor answered my calls and addressed my elementary questions. I was like a baby learning how to walk. I did not (and still do not) know anything about anything. All I knew is that my life was unmanageable. I did not want to drink again and I wanted to have the peace and genuine happiness that my sponsor had. Much like all valuable things in life, the wisdom and freedom I have found did not come without a cost. I remember sitting down with her to do the 5th Step (yes, that dreaded step where you disclose all of your secrets, regrets, and character defects to your sponsor). I was absolutely terrified to become vulnerable and divulge my most shameful secrets with her – but thanks to grace and willingness, we proceeded to dive in headfirst. My sponsor held my hand the whole way through. In fact, I remember every painful memory of my past that I shared, she related to an experience in her life. I cannot express the relief I felt.

It was after completing the steps I found, for the first time in my life, I no longer held resentment against other women. My sponsor revolutionized my view and the value I place on relationships I have with the beautiful, resilient, courageous, and sober women in my life today. I no longer view women as a threat, but rather I view them as an absolute necessity to my recovery. 

I do not find myself codependently relying on my sponsor. I actually have a healthy, accountable, and reciprocal relationship with her today. My sponsor taught me how to be slow to speak and how to be a woman of integrity. My sponsor has guided me into learning how to have harmonious relationships with people I was sure I would hate for the rest of my life. Through my sponsor’s vulnerability and my willingness to be transparent with her, I have come to know a new freedom. For the first time in my life, I am able to look in the mirror and smile. I no longer live in guilt and shame, but I have come to love myself.

Once I completed the steps, it was my turn to begin sponsoring. I remember the overwhelming fear that came over me. How could I possibly help another woman? My sponsor was quick to call me out and posed the question: “How can you keep what you have if you aren’t willing to freely give it away?” She made it explicitly clear to me that sponsorship was the remedy to my innate selfishness and the only sure way I would never drink again was to sponsor other women.

I will never forget the first time I sat down with another woman. I remember the hopelessness in her eyes as she reluctantly told me about her 14 failed attempts to reach sobriety. I will also never forget the humility that came with looking at myself every time I sat down with her. From absolutely hopeless to hopeful, I watched this scared little girl become a strong, independent, compassionate woman. I would not be half the woman I am today if it were not for my sponsor’s patience, love, tolerance, and reciprocal vulnerability with me. Sponsorship is the greatest gift my sobriety has given me. Through sponsorship, I have found myself and become the daughter, sister, mother, friend, and woman I have always wanted to be. 

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