Waiting for the Miracle to Happen
Kris and Nanci
Alcoholics Anonymous Sponsors
When people decide to stop using alcohol or other drugs, one of the first things they are often advised to do is “go to a meeting.” Soon after they are advised to “get a sponsor.” Kris and Nanci, Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors, discuss the role of the sponsor and the unique relationship between sponsor and sponsee. Finding support among a community of like-minded people is one of the cornerstones of recovery. You can find AA meetings here: https://www.aa.org/find-aa and NA meetings here: https://www.na.org/meetingsearch/. More information about sponsorship can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Twelve-Step-Sponsorship-How-Works/dp/1568381220?ref=d6k_applink_bb_dls&dplnkId=0beb1ae9-59db-4504-a705-7fb9b584d696
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by Westwords Consulting and the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan.
Mike: Anybody new to recovery is oftentimes asked, do you have a sponsor yet? Well, what is that? What is a sponsor? And what do they do? And no, It's not someone who pays you to wear a patch on your shirt, which is what one young man I worked with thought it was.
Mike: For those of you listening who are not familiar with, to support groups like Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, we're going to try to answer those questions today. My guests, Kris and Nanci, have been kind enough to share their experience of both being a sponsor and, I would assume, being a sponsee at some point, in a recovery program.
Mike: Welcome to both of you. How are you?
Nanci: Good, thanks. Glad to be here.
Kris: Thanks, Mike. Good.
Mike: Well, Kris, let me start with you. Let's do the easy one. What's a sponsor?
Kris: A sponsor is someone who has some sobriety usually they say at least a year, but mostly who, who has worked the 12 steps of the program and understands them and is willing to help someone else do the same.
Mike: Nanci, how long does it take to do the 12 steps?
Nanci: That's a great question. There are a couple of different theories on it. I think it generally is however long it takes you. I have heard actually there was a speaker tape where they talked about sort of doing like a triage and saying sometimes you just need to get through the 12 steps as fast as you can.
Nanci: And then you can go back and work them more slowly. But I think for some people, maybe it's like a step a month. It really depends. Some steps take longer than others.
Mike: I was surprised to hear you say a year. A year doesn't seem like a very long time in recovery to mentor somebody else, perhaps.
Kris: No, it, you know, it's all relative. I mean when, for example, when I got a sponsor, I already had several years of living without using alcohol, but I hadn't learned the 12 steps. I hadn't learned the program. I had never had a sponsor. So for me, maybe it was a little different. I didn't come in, you know, I had some sobriety under my belt.
Kris: Also sponsors do it differently. My sponsor went very slowly through the steps and so I actually started sponsoring someone when I hadn't even completed the 12. She thought I was ready. So I did.
Mike: Well either of you either of you. What do they do? What does a sponsor do?
Nanci: Well, it's somebody who you are accountable to and typically you're meeting with them regularly, some sponsors say you need to text or call me every day.
Nanci: I think it depends on whether it's somebody brand new to sobriety or if they've got a couple of years or more under their belt. They help you in understanding and applying the steps. You know, it's just somebody that is sort of your grounding, your centering. It's nice if you go to meetings together, at least once a week or something.
Nanci: And really, they're a mentor.
Mike: Are there are there rules, Kris?
Kris: You know, it has again everyone sponsors a little differently there. There isn't anything necessarily you know, written down. Like I said, some people say have at least a year of sobriety, although that was different with me and my sponsor.
Kris: She had some roles for me. I had to, she called our home meeting, the one where I met her. I had to come to that every week and she determined I needed at least two others a week. I had to call her every day at the same time of day, and she may or may not pick up, but I had to do it. And she said the only excuse for not doing it would be if I was dead or in the hospital.
Kris: (laugh) Y eah, I mean, people's rules are different, I guess.
Mike: Well, it's a way to keep tabs, right? I mean, when we, when I ran the treatment center, the standard thing was 90 meetings in 90 days. So you want to make sure the person is, you know, getting there, right?
Nanci: You know, I think that brings up a good point that the sponsors aren't responsible for our sobriety.
Nanci: In that you know, so typically, as I think most sponsors will say, I'm not going to chase you. You need to call me. I'm not going to start calling you if you don't because we can't work harder than our sponsee.
Mike: Well can, can women sponsor men? Can men sponsor women?
Kris: (laugh) I guess we're talking about sexual preference here, mostly, not necessarily if it's men and a woman, et cetera, but people say, you know, whatever, okay, I'm heterosexual woman, that I probably should have a heterosexual woman be my sponsor.
Kris: Or, I should sponsor that. But there aren't hard rules about that either. Just, it has to feel like the right kind of connection and a healthy connection.
Nanci: I think the idea is that you don't want to set up the possibility of there becoming a romantic relationship.
Nanci: So, for example, I have sponsored men who are gay.
Nanci: Because that's more appropriate than them working with another male. I do know somebody who has decades of experience in recovery, and when they became sober, there weren't a lot of women in the program, so they had a male sponsor. It just wasn't an option.
Mike: Well, we spent a lot of time here on these podcasts talking about women feeling safe, and that's why I asked that question. You'd want to make sure the person is feeling safe.
Mike: So I'm new, right? And I go to a meet well, let me do this, right? A lot of people who I've talked to who are new in recovery have used the word, "I'm basically an introvert", which may be why they use to begin with or one of the reasons. So standing in a church parking lot or wherever outside of a club and saying, "Go in and meet these new people!"
Mike: That's gotta be tough.
Kris: Yes. (laugh) I think when people hit bottom, you know, that's, of their addiction, that you're at the point you're where you're willing to do every anything, even if it is really hard, even if it is something like that. Because there's no other choice. You have to get help. You have to do something.
Nanci: Yeah, I, I remember going into my first meeting and I was so terrified and I couldn't figure out how everybody knew that I was new. It was just written all over my face. But by the end of the meeting, you know, when I started hearing other people's stories and realizing, oh, we have a lot in common.
Nanci: Even though it was still uncomfortable, there was a sense of safety and support that I hadn't experienced in a long, long time. But I also remember that for me, you know, I was told get a sponsor and I had a really hard time. I asked people and they were not sponsoring or they already had, you know, as many sponsors as they could.
Nanci: And, and I was really, I felt really discouraged. It was sort of like that children's book where he has little, I can't remember the animals, going around asking, "Are you my mother?"
Kris: Yeah. (laugh)
Nanci: I was like, is anybody gonna say yes to me? And I, I'm honestly, I'm surprised I stuck around. I think it could have been very discouraging.
Nanci: It didn't work out well, the person that I ended up having is my first sponsor was exactly what I needed. But yeah, it was, it was tough.
Mike: I was just gonna ask that. And Kris, you're probably gonna talk to about it. I was just gonna say, How do you find one? How do you, how do you determine, okay, in this meeting or these meetings, that's the person for me?
Kris: For me, it was very instinctual. Part of it, too, was thinking, I like how that person is. I want to be like that. (chuckle) I want to seem like I'm happy and, you know, like I'm comfortable with myself. And that I can speak openly and honestly like she does. And then there's just. You know how we meet anyone in life.
Kris: Sometimes there's something clicks and it just feels normal and some people start out I mean in my experience I would start... there were a couple people where we started out I was sponsoring and we both ended up feeling like it just wasn't the right fit.
Mike: Well, I was gonna ask that How do you know what if it doesn't click? What do you do?
Kris: Well, one usually will, will bring, when the sponsor brings it up, when I brought it up, you know, it was in a very compassionate way that I, I think it would be more helpful for you if someone else was your sponsor and I can help you with that if you'd like because I didn't feel like I was being of help that something wasn't clicking and sometimes it's the sponsee and then you just have to sort of figure out, do they really just not want to be sober (chuckle) or is it, is it the relationship?
Nanci: And a lot of times people will recommend that you start out seeing get a temporary sponsor. And that makes it easier because you, if it ends up being a good fit, you can say, "great, let's make this permanent." But if you've agreed that it's temporary, then it's a lot easier to go, "yeah, this doesn't really fit."
Nanci: And I had my first sponsor I worked with for several years. And at some point I realized that she had helped me as far as as we could together and that some of my things were very, my issues were different than what she could relate to. And so it was just sort of a natural thing. Another time I had a sponsor who moved, you know, out of state.
Nanci: Well, you probably need to get a new sponsor. But it can be awkward. I recently talked with someone who was really struggling with how to let their sponsor know that, yeah, this just doesn't feel like it's what I need. And the saying, as I saw, was, you know, look for someone who has what you want, which is what you alluded to.
Mike: So you can have, so, I'm taking, you, you can be a sponsee and a sponsor at the same time.
Kris: Yes, absolutely. It's a, it's great, actually.
Mike: So what's the difference then? I mean, how do you differentiate between sponsorship and therapy?
Nanci: You don't charge for sponsorship. (laugh)
Kris: You know, none of us should in the program should claim that we can do that. We might be able to say, you know, this is something that maybe goes deeper and is something that would be helpful for you to talk to a counselor or a therapist about, I can help you with how to respond when you feel like you want to drink or you know, things like that.
Kris: But I can't go back to your family history and decide. You know why you have this particular (chuckle) neurosis or something. That's not my job.
Nanci: Yeah, I think bringing it back to using the steps as part of addressing a problem or as a sponsor, my job is to help a person understand the steps sometimes guide them to, "hey, you're telling me you've got this thing going on."
Nanci: "Let's take a look at, you know, is this something that steps six and seven could help you with?" It's also about helping them to work those steps the first time through and then to go back to. But yeah, we're not we can't do therapy where that's not our role and it's just it's a firm boundary I guess.
Kris: It is a firm boundary.
Kris: We although, personally having learned things from going to therapy myself, that might help me in terms of talking about the steps and what might help, so.
Nanci: You can't unknow what you know.
Mike: Has to bleed in a little bit, right?
Mike: Well, what happens if the somebody you're sponsoring relapses?
Kris: I can only speak of my experience, I guess. There's not, I don't know if there's a rule about that either. I have had that happen and people, one person said that she didn't want to stay in the program. She was pretty much choosing to just go back out there.
Kris: Obviously I would no longer be her sponsor. Another asked if I would still sponsor her and she'd like to try again. And I said, yes, some people have a hard line and say, no, if your relapse were done, that's just not what we are doing.
Nanci: Yeah, I think that in general, at least in today's world of sponsorship, if the person relapses, because it happens, and it takes more courage in my mind to come back in and admit that you've relapsed than to just stay out there.
Nanci: So ideally, I think the sponsor is going to be supportive in helping you go, "Okay, now let's look at what was it". Because they say you know, your relapse starts long before that first drink or the first time you pick up that drug. If the person wants help, then you work with them. And the same thing goes the other way around.
Nanci: I had my relapse while I was sponsoring someone and I was very honest with them. I said, "Look if you don't feel comfortable working with me, I actually understand that. I'll leave it up to you." And they chose to continue and I think it was helpful because they were able to learn how to handle a relapse with honesty. And I continued to sponsor that person for a couple of years.
Mike: Well, Kris, you mentioned earlier about your first sponsor saying you need to call me and you know, no excuse and whatever.
Mike: So if you're noticing that your person isn't showing up at a home meeting or they haven't called you, do you, I'm wondering where the line is. Do you, do you call them? Do you reach out to them and say, "Hey, what's up?" Do you let it be on them to show back up? Or how, how does that, or is that another one where there isn't a fast and firm rule?
Kris: No fast and firm rule again. (chuckle) I would probably wait a few weeks, although that's what my sponsor did with me. And now that I think about it, it's so different now because people text. (chuckle)
Mike: Oh, yeah, right.
Kris: Just phone calls. So it seemed like a bigger deal if she would pick up the phone and call and say, "Hey, where have you been?"
Kris: Rather than the text, you know, where I'd say thinking about you, I miss you or so yes, I would definitely get in touch.
Kris: And then see what happened from there.
Nanci: Yeah, I was talking in a meeting the other day and I said, you know, when we noticed somebody's not at a meeting that they normally are at, that the kind supportive thing is to reach out and say, "Hey, just wondering if everything's okay." So I think it's appropriate, but we don't continue to.
Nanci: You know, unless we think of course, that there's a safety issue, like, "Wow, they've just dropped off the face of the earth. I wonder if they're in the hospital or something?" But typically it's, you know, we extend an arm and it's up to them then to respond.
Mike: You know, this is around the holidays now, right? I, we're, this Thanksgiving is tomorrow and so that's hard for newly recovering people. This, meetings become almost a second family.
Nanci: Yes, yes. And so building those relationships, which is often kind of foreign because we've had a relationship with the bottle or with the drugs.
Nanci: And we've isolated more from people or we've had very superficial relationships. That's another way where sponsorship can really help to build that trusting relationship, where this is somebody who's got your back, who will, you know, honor your secrets. You know, you can talk with them and know that it's not going to be shared.
Nanci: It's a way to learn to build trust and connection because sometimes, you know, I think you've talked about this before in a podcast that family maybe isn't really the best place for us to be around the holidays.
Kris: Yeah. Yeah. And I'd say it's, it's equally as rewarding to the sponsor. Yeah. You know, some people have said, "Well, but it's a holiday. You don't want to get your phone call." Or what. "Sure!" I mean, it's good for me to sit down and take a break and talk program or, you know, make a connection anytime and maybe even more so when I'm with my family. (laugh)
Mike: That leads me to, can you be friends?
Kris: You can. And that doesn't always happen, but it's really wonderful when it does.
Mike: Do you have to stop being a sponsor or a sponsee if you develop a friendship?
Nanci: No. It depends, I think. If, if the meetings become more about just connecting with a friend and we're not working program stuff, then yeah, and I actually had that happen with somebody who was my sponsor for a long time and we did, we just, we had so many things in common and we clicked and we have a great friendship.
Nanci: And that was the person who moved out of state. So I was kind of glad because I was like, you know, we're really spending more time just catching up on each other's lives and we're not working the way that, that I needed. And, but other situations you know, my current sponsor is a wonderful friend.
Nanci: So but when we meet first for program stuff, it's pretty closely tied to what's helping me with my recovery and my physical and emotional sobriety.
Mike: I'm sure that this year, you're both going to say that this varies too. But when you're working the steps with people, what's the hardest one?
Nanci: Oh, for who? The sponsor or the sponsee? (laugh)
Mike: Well, either. I mean, you've been both. So, yeah.
Kris: I don't know if I could, I guess. When we get to the part about talking about a higher power which comes on this in the second step? (laugh)
Nanci: Yeah, two and three.
Kris: Yeah. And three especially about turning it over and letting go is that's.
Kris: Although, I don't know, six and seven... (laugh) it was.
Nanci: Well, yeah, I do remember my first sponsor. I really struggled with the higher power thing in steps two and three and, and I really grateful at one point she says, you know, I think we've gotten about as far as we can go with this. We'll, we'll move on and more will be revealed (chuckle) as you always say.
Nanci: I just, I wasn't able to get it beyond where I was at, but you know, since then it's gotten a lot deeper. I think for a lot of sponsees, they're terrified of the fourth step, which is where you make a list of, you know you know, that personal inventory of all the things we've done horrible in our life that are, we're carrying around guilt, shame, resentment.
Nanci: But it also includes strengths, but, but there's this fear and then people do it and they're like, "Oh, it wasn't nearly as bad." Yeah, it varies.
Mike: Well, then you have to, in concert with that one, if it's the willingness to make amends where it's accepted, right? But, you know, you have people, I don't know if this happened to either of you, or anybody you sponsored, but just because you call me up and say, "I'd like to make amends", you can get hung up on.
Mike: And that's got to be hard for somebody as well, when they realize the bridge has been burned.
Nanci: Well, we talk about that. In that, the amends is not just for the other person, it's for ourselves. And so, even if the person throws it back in our face, we know that we've done the right thing. We've owned our stuff, we've acknowledged how our actions or our words have affected someone, and we've made a genuine case for what we are doing differently to minimize if it happens again.
Nanci: If we've done that, that's all we can do.
Nanci: We don't have, I mean, we're powerless over people, places, and things, so. If they hang up on us, okay, but I know I did my part.
Nanci: I think the sponsor can help with that, because sometimes, yeah, we do come back with our tail between our legs, and "Oh, that didn't go very well!"
Mike: Have you been in the audience when your sponsee stands up for the first time and gives their 12 step talk?
Nanci: Mm hmm.
Mike: What's that like, to sit there and listen to somebody who you... watched grow do that because that's a, that's a leaf shaking experience for a lot of people.
Kris: It is. It's someone who we both know in the program from meetings Alice tells people to stay until the miracle happens.
Kris: And that's how it feels when you, when you see someone who you sponsored, and it's not because you know, it's not because I sponsored them, it's because they've learned, they've chosen to learn all about it and live the 12 steps and then sharing it with other people and seeing that is, that's the miracle.
Nanci: Yeah. It's like being a proud parent, you know, it's like watching your little one grow up and get their wings and be able to stand on their own. I mean, it's, it is I get teary eyed sometimes thinking about it because it takes a lot of courage and humility and confidence and love of oneself to be able to get up and say, "This is my story and I'm no longer ashamed of it."
Nanci: Yeah, it's, it is. It's just goosebumps.
Mike: Well, I was a, I was a proud parent, but I was also a nervous parent. So that was, you know, watching that I'd be, I'd be nervous sitting watching that.
Nanci: I think at that point you know them well enough that they're probably, they wouldn't be getting up there and sharing their story if they didn't feel okay about it.
Nanci: But yes, there are definitely times that I get nervous with sponsees because you, you know, you, you're not putting them in bubble wrap. So they make mistakes and they do things. And then you're, you know, it's the unconditional love that you're there to extend your hand and help them to get back up again.
Kris: Right, and some people are more comfortable with, you know, public speaking type thing than others. That just is a given.
Mike: Well, as a Thanksgiving gift then, we'll let, we'll let you answer this as our going away question. What's the most rewarding thing that you get from this relationship?
Nanci: Oof. You know what? I can't say this is absolutely the most, but this is what popped into my head. When I sponsor someone, I, it strengthens my sobriety. Because I'm having to pay much closer attention to the steps, to my own actions to hearing another person's struggles. It just, it makes me go back and revisit where I've come from. And if that strengthens my sobriety, then I would say that's got to be the most rewarding.
Kris: Yeah. I think for me, well, two things. One is seeing that miracle happen, which we see in others too, not just people we sponsor, of course. And also kind of in line with what Nanci was saying, realizing that I've received at least as much as I've given in that relationship when I sponsor someone.
Mike: Wow. And that's a great thing to be thankful for on this holiday, isn't it?
Mike: I'm so glad we could do this because it's one of those things where when people talk about getting into recovery, you know, there's a lot of unknowns and this has helped a great deal.
Mike: For those of you listening, you know that there's links to available help attached to the podcast.
Mike: Ladies, thank you so much for being with us today, also for your dedication. I know that you said you get more back than you, you give out, but it's not easy to do either.
Mike: We invite all of you to listen in next time. Until next time, stay safe and please be there for somebody.
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