Much has been said about the idea of routine, weekly scheduled, "on-going" sponsorship meetings. Any approach which suggests that such meetings need be exclusively limited to either formal step work or the new member's latest alcoholic crisis of the moment may leave one's overall sponsorship effort a bit flat. As experienced AA's and determined sponsors we realize that there is simply "a lot to cover" which might lie beyond such a Spartan sponsorship syllabus.
The central examination of sponsorship through AA's Twelve Steps is covered at length in the main discussion on this site. Hopefully, some of that material also addresses common "crises" which might also develop, presenting themselves as immediate sponsorship challenges. However, although formal step work and "crisis management" represent the two most immediate functions sponsorship will address, there remains a potentially very relevant, very fruitful third area.
Perhaps we can characterize this third, necessary side of things as the "saturation" of the new member with all sorts of AA principles which might, at least during the moment they are offered, refer to essential background ideas concerning sobriety and recovery. We know that there is an immense body of "casual" AA ideas -- ideas which fall into this third category -- which can complete the new alcoholic's understanding of our life saving program.
After all, absolutely anything that can help should be included.
As sincere sponsors, we may as well get comfortable with the prospect of nice, friendly, routine "chat sessions" centered on important AA topics where the new member can gain a solid insight on the AA approach to successful living. Even after the steps have been completed and the inevitable crises of early sobriety have been addressed, weekly sponsorship meetings should continue. Of course, our initial commitment to assist our alcoholic friend may have necessarily centered on these first and second areas when we began our sponsorship, but this on-going, later phase will definitely "pay dividends" in the longer term.
This section of the Redux site is dedicated to making some suggestions for topics in these on-going sponsorship meetings. Even when everything seems to be going along "roses, simply roses" with the new member's development as a sober AA, we will need something relevant to discuss as we continue to meet. Naturally, we begin with what is in our primary text, but when we reach this wonderful stage of continuing sponsorship, our discussions are, happily, still quite legitimate when we roam a bit "farther afield" to explore yet more facets of the process of sober, satisfying living for the new member.
Now, we naturally expect that the meetings he is attending will introduce many of these matters as time progresses.
But what we are exploring here encompasses certain "extra credit" areas of the AA program, topics which may not have been encountered in our meetings, topics which may have been too personal or too abstract to be suitable for open meeting subjects or topics which haven't really come up until now, that is, until the new member has been able to establish a strong, robust recovery. All this material enjoys too highly relevant of a place in the full context of determined sponsorship to be neglected or overlooked.
It is five o'clock and you are just finishing work for the day. This evening you and your sponsee will be meeting for one of your weekly sessions. His step work has been completed a few months ago, he is quite happily attends AA meetings several times a week and his personal affairs have "calmed down" in a wonderful way thanks to our great program for alcoholics.What does this leave "on the table" for tonight's meeting?
Of course, as sincere sponsors, we know that there remains a great body of yet more "experience, strength and hope" which can be added. Here, Redux offers some examples of topics we have used for just such meetings. The new member's alcoholism continues even into his recovery, so why would his sponsor assume that no additional advantages might be added?
This sponsor likes the approach of creating "topic cards" which can be selected for just such casual meetings. With this approach, there will always be a quick, handy opportunity to direct such "get togethers" to a relevant side of continuing recovery ideas. Here are a few examples.
"Every steer must be in the corral before the day's work is done. Even the ones who aren't where you left them."
In the prelude to the example of inventory in Chapter 5 of the Big Book, we are encouraged to identify people and institutions which "hurt or threatened" us. These are to be the first column on our Fourth Step inventory. A page later, speaking of resentments (or, fear, which is simply the other side of the same thing), the caveat "real or imaginary" is specifically noted. "Imaginary" can be something that exists entirely within our thoughts.
One important lesson of the Fourth and Fifth Step process is the spiritual suggestion: "Don't forget your self."
In the old movie about the werewolf, the film, at one point, switched the field of the camera so it represented what the werewolf saw as it crept up on its victim. What appeared on the screen was a circle, clear in the center but with only a blurry hint of what laid around the periphery. As the monster rushed toward the helpless girl, nothing but her appeared in the wolf's view.
Recovering alcoholics can have the same problem the werewolf did. When we are threatened or frightened by what we encounter in our lives, our "field of view" collapses so we see only the problem. A frightening or threatening view of the universe -- typical in the thinking of the untreated alcoholic -- justifies our total concentration on the threat, usually blurring our consideration of what positive assets we might have in hand to face it. The result? The situation appears hopeless, alcoholism's favorite tool. (Other favorites: confusion, perfection) We forget that we are not the problem! We exist quite apart from it. We are spiritually fit humans confronting it, we are spiritual people made from something quite different than the problem.
Chapter Five speaks of "hurt or threatened" just prior to the example of the resentment inventory. On the next page these insults are expanded by being further quantified as "real or imagined." What can this tell us about what will be in the contents of inventory? What are we attempting to detect in the four column approach to examining the failure of what we had been attempting?
What did we expect from life?
What frightened us so much that we responded with an alcoholic resentment? What did we expect "life" to be compared to what we encountered? How did we perceive "reasonable responses" to the vagaries of life? How did we end up with such an unworkable "life model," and why were we so patiently unable to notice the calamity it continued to bring to us? How much of the damage we experienced was the result of being disappointed by expectations we had never examined? The approach suggested by Fourth Step Inventory is to look carefully at precisely what had threatened us. What did we "have" which could have been threatened by those people in the first column of our inventory? Did we actually "have" these things? Was the "loss" of these things what frightened us, or was it the collapse of the "pretend," alcoholic world we had constructed?
The Doctor's Opinion presents the idea that unrecovered alcoholics had lost the sense of what was "true" and what was "false." This hardly means that alcoholics were unable to determine whether or not someone was lying to them. This means that alcoholics had lost the ability to tell whether or not they were being truthful with themselves.
What is common to both? Demand to control everything. (Alcoholic Self) Obsession originates with the alcoholic world view. Survival mode is more fearful, threatened by lack of control. No control means I will have to face everything myself, and I always assume that I will not be qualified to do that successfully. History of operating this way in the past suggests that I am right.
No confidence in myself. Lack of "will power?" Trusting in self or trusting in Higher Power. Do I believe in God? Do I have a Higher Power?
Untreated alcoholism paints the world as:
unfair - dangerous - wrong - threatening - hurtful
This is the Spiritual Malady.
How can "spiritual progress" help? Depends on how it is defined. How do you define it? What result does it produce? What difference can it make? Our previous concept of world was in error; basis of alcoholism and codependency. Our new concept of the world works better, manifests "spiritual progress." All kinds of things become possible. Exactly what kind of things? How does this work? Why would I want these new things? How can they help?
We all know that the purpose of inventory (Step 4) is to bring some "fearless and thorough" reality into our view of our own alcoholic histories. Likewise, the introduction to our sample inventory in Chapter 5 speaks of "hurt or threatened." What we begin to understand, finally, is the "spiritual malady" has everything to do with the pathetic, alcoholic way in which we used to see the entire world and its people.
Let's focus on the "people" part.
In sobriety we still measure ourselves by the people around us. We see the other people in the world as younger or older, successful or not, having a nice girlfriend or not, having a nice car or not, having a great job or not. We remain human, and that means we remain competitive. Sometimes, we pick out our weakest feature and compare that. We might find ourselves having more or less acne than others, being more or less overweight, being more flush or more broke. We can get resentful about the "actions" of others, but we can also get resentful about the "features" of others. It's all world view, and that means it's all about spiritual progress.
So, what exactly does "spiritual progress" mean when we look at it this way? Can we see progress with something like this by following the AA program?
Chapter five speaks of "old ideas." Some of these old ideas must have had something to do with our relapse. Within the AA program for recovery from alcoholism, there are several different ways to look at a relapse. The AA program also suggests that we may be able to learn some important ideas from relapse which might help us avoid it in the future. To gather all the possible information, we will need to think carefully about exactly what we thinking just before, during and after the relapse. Of course, we need to focus on explanations instead of excuses.
The Disease of Alcoholism: This choice probably has more to do with excuses. It "explains" every possible failing of any type in an alcoholic's life in recovery.
The Psychology of Alcoholism: This choice includes the "coping skills" described in Chapter 5. Did we fall back into these "old ideas" about what is fair, what is right, what we deserve or why we should feel sorry for ourselves? These wretched habits are always ready to provide an endless supply of melodramatic, tantrum driving invitations to relapse -- with or without actual drinking.
The Spiritual Malady of Alcoholism: This side of the problem, of course, covers everything else. But more specifically, was the feeling of alcoholic hopelessness part of the cause? Were the three favorite tools of our disease involved -- hopelessness, confusion and perfection?
A Plan for Our Future in Recovery: If this plan deals with external events such as the company we kept or the places we visited it probably won't help that much. If it deals with paying attention to how we feel, it might! We know how we want to feel as we live sober lives in recovery. We accept the possibilities of feeling good and feeling bad, but we know the danger of feeling hopeless. Further, our AA program has given us some great suggestions!
Is "humility" an alternative to "being afraid?" When it comes to self-reliance, the Big Book offers contrasting opinions; in the Dr.'s Opinion (BB xxxi) one of the features of astonishing recovery described there is that the man appeared to have regained his "self-reliance;" however, that same trait (BB 68) is blamed as one of the reasons for alcoholic failure.
Perhaps "self-reliance" is not the same as recovery's promise of optimistic confidence in the prospect presented by life arising from a greatly improved view of everything, the result of spiritual progress. After all, a false sense of spiritual pride might imply that god will "right wrongs," relieving the alcoholic still suffering from the disease from much of the responsibility for his own work.
The Prayer of Step 3 relates a willingness to rejoin the "system," striving against poorly directed self-will. It asks that the alcoholic's "difficulties" be taken away, but does it answer the question of "why?" Is there more to that answer than "bearing witness?" The terms "honestly" and "humbly" address the issues of self, self-delusion and self-seeking. "Humility" means working constantly for a right sized view of myself, my life and my spiritual needs.
The Big Book (Chapt. 5, p. 65-66) speaks of wrong. "The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. ... The more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got."
The "wrong" idea seems to have everything to do with the "control" idea. In matters of law, the police and courts act on "wrong behavior" based on agreements about what is acceptable. In our lives as AA's however, ideas about "wrong" are usually a prelude to resentful conclusions about either "right" or "rights." Such thoughts lead us to an imaginary land where someone will impose what we consider "fairness" on others. Aren't we simply pretending, or worse, insisting, that we control what will happen, or at least, what should happen? We should hardly be surprised when we get frightened or resentful after thinking something like that!
"It's only fair..." "At least, I deserve..." "It's not right..."(someone doing it to me) "It's not right, but..." (I'm doing it to someone else) "That's flat out wrong..." "I deserve..." "It's only right..." "I have a right to..." "Everyone has a right to..." "Everyone knows what's right..."
The quote makes us think of an alcoholic tantrum, but aren't these phrases we use when we are fighting for our own way. "Wrong" means inaccurate, not unacceptable. Isn't this the rational use of AA's idea about acceptance? To honestly look at precisely how things are, what we might want, and what actions we should take to achieve our goal -- rather than insisting that some outside force change the whole matter to suit us?
The Big Book's reference to "wrong" implies that it is all right for us to judge, so long as we stop ourselves before acting on our decisions. "Judging" in that manner is probably very seldom a good idea for recovering alcoholics, one which can get spectacularly worse when we act on such a "judgement" while in an unreconciled state of alcoholic "self-craziness."
Have we considered what changes we might need to make with ourselves, then concluded that the prospects were hopeless? Did we decide instead to simply focus on others' "wrongs" when confronted with the work we needed to do on ourselves to make things better, or at least, to make things work?
The great hope of spiritual progress is neither dominating nor surviving other people. It lies with the wonderful prospect of reconciling ourselves to the "facts on the ground." We accomplish that by reconciling ourselves with ourselves. When difficulties arise, we see ourselves as spiritual people who are facing difficulties. Our first thought is "Who do I want to be while I am experiencing this matter?" "How is that person going to go through this so, at the end of it, I will feel that ‘the real I' was actually ‘who I was' during the affair?"
Spiritual progress means that we are determined to live life and feel fine about how we did that. Deciding to take action and make changes is an entirely human idea. As recovering alcoholics, we need to start that process with a clear view of "the real me" first, then plan the changes we decide on with the intention of remaining the "real me that I want to be" when they are completed.
The effectiveness and success of AA depends in a large part to the effectiveness and success of our sponsorship. We found that all of this was made available to us when we needed it the most. How could we do anything less now that we are on the "giving end" of the operation instead of being on the "receiving end?"
When we enjoy the spectacular benefits of the AA program, we can be even more determined to make it work as well as possible and to keep it working. That "proper use of the will" is manifest when we make certain that there will always be a new generation of dedicated AA's to fill our meetings, openly share the benefits of sobriety and continuously offer the hand of good sponsorship to those who seek it.