This is a question that was received from a sponsor regarding his sponsee. Although giving “advice” isn’t necessarily the best thing all the time, if it’s asked for, we can share our opinion based on our own experience. If you have questions that you’d like to discuss, please submit them here. Thanks for all your interaction in this group discussion.
I have a sponsee that I’m having a hard time getting to understand that he needs to work the steps and write things down.
I feel like I could just have a pre-recorded message for when he calls because it’s always the same thing, literally.
I’m not trying to row his boat, but he honestly doesn’t do anything to change his situation. He blames his wife for just about everything. In fact, I received a call today from him where he was saying that he couldn’t stand to be around his wife right now because “she won’t work on her recovery to help the relationship.”
I’m kind of at a loss as to what to do.
One of the things that I told him was that he’s caused a lot of pain and it will take a long time to make up for it, if it’s even possible.
It’s hard to see this happening when you know how to fix it.
If it were me, I would set some boundaries with him. (ie. “Talking about what your wife is or isn’t doing is Not. Your. Problem. Your problem is that you’re a sex addict and your wife doesn’t trust you at all. Period. So get over what she is or isn’t doing and work on YOUR recovery – you have a lot to be working on.”
That may be harsh but it’s true for me and my own situation.
I would say boundaries have been one of the most important things for recovery for me.
His wife will never feel safe if he continues to have expectations for her to work her own recovery.
I think we as addicts don’t even realize that we are lying to ourselves and believing it. That’s where I’ve been.
It’s hard to surrender the outcome and realize me fixing it won’t last, especially long term. The sponsee has to realize it for himself. I can share my experience but that’s it really.
Hope and Healing Admin says
I would perhaps go so far as to stop being his sponsor. To me, the role of a sponsor is to guide someone through the process of working the steps. If he is not ready and willing to work them, the steps won’t work.
I do general 12-step support and I simply won’t sponsor someone who isn’t ready to do the work. THAT may sound harsh but to me the role of sponsor is very specific and purposeful. It would sort of be like being asked to be a trainer if someone won’t come into the gym.
Miracles happen with willingness. And sometimes it just takes time for someone to become willing. That is not something I can force someone to be. That is between that person and God.
Amen! Had a conversation about that last night and an ongoing conversation about sponsorship has been happening.
Sponsorship has to have boundaries, just like a marriage that has been affected by lust addiction has to have boundaries. If a sponsee isn’t willing to stay within the boundaries set, I have to lovingly detach until he’s ready to work the steps and follow the path.
One of my favorite quotes that keeps coming back to mind when thinking about sponsorship and working the steps is in the Big Book:
“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” (Chapter 5, The Big Book, p. 58)
If a sponsee isn’t willing to follow the path, I don’t have to make him. But I’m not going to have negative emotions come to me because of his choices – and they will because I’ve felt them.
Thanks so much for your comment!
Two things come to mind in these situations.
First, is the person working with a QUALIFIED therapist who can help with the relationship side of things. If not, get one. Sponsors are not therapists.
Second, when I bump into situations that I have not dealt with personally I try to think of people that I know that have been in that situation. Then I ask the person if they would accept a call from my Sponsee to help them know how they overcame the situation.
Kevin B says
Hope and Healing Admin,
You said pretty much the same thing I was going to say. If my sponsee won’t look inward to solve the problem, he is not ready. When I first started sponsoring I would try everything I could to help lead a sponsee to do what he needs to do. However, I have found that it did not work even once. I eventually had to let them go anyway because they never progressed. I had one sponsee I struggled with and was afraid to let go. However, I did. He was angry with me when I let him go and didn’t talk to me for about a year. However, he came back to me after that year and thanked me for stepping down as his sponsor and letting him know he wasn’t doing what he needed to. He said it hurt, but it was exactly the thing he needed. He went on to become ready, got another sponsor as well as a therapist and is now well into recovery. Also, we are best of friends with a great love for each other. We will reach out and gain strength from each other.
Sometimes the BEST and ONLY thing that we can do is step down as their sponsor and tell them why.
I believe that boundaries are very important. With any relationship there needs to be boundaries for both people to feel like they matter. When a sponsee contacts me he expects me to respond in a timely manner. Also I think that it’s important that my sponsee should actively work his program. If both of us are doing these things recovery can start to happen. I feel that you should reaffirm the boundaries and if the problem persists then it may be time to move on.
I think the best thing a sponsor can do for a sponsee is be there for them when they are ready! A sponsee can only progress when they are ready! And if a sponsee is working his recovery and hits a road block and reaches out for help/support/insight that is when a sponsor helps the most.
It is up to me as an individual to work my recovery, but when I am new to the process and need help, realizing I need help, and reach out to an experienced sponsor, that sponsor can be a lifesaver! I think the best thing a sponsor has done for me is just to be a level head, who knows what I’m going through, in my time of need. They can’t stop the storm but they can help me understand how to navigate it efficiently.
One thing that’s hard for me about waiting on a sponsee is that, there’s a part of me, probably the addict part, that wants to reach out, ask them how they’re doing, take care of them, push them, call them out, or whatever.
I’m learning that this isn’t my place as a sponsor at all. I have to “let go and let God.”
What I’ve discovered is that setting some boundaries up front for a sponsee is helpful for both sides. Granted, no sponsor is perfect by any means. But setting some boundaries and expectations is only helpful in my experience.
What I’ve seen, and I could be wrong, is that sometimes a sponsee may be getting a sponsor simply to check it off his list of “I’m good, look at me, I’m trying,” and then do nothing with it.
I had a sponsee that told me the reason he was getting a sponsor was because his therapist and wife had told him to. For me, that’s not the purpose of sponsorship at all and does neither the sponsee or the sponsor any good.
I agree with a lot of what has been said. Sponsorship is an extremely hard thing to navigate. It’s hard to know what the RIGHT thing is. Some of us may have to go through a few sponsors before we figure out that we are not the exception. As a sponsor I have to continuously find ways to completely let go of the decisions my sponsees need to make on their own. “Row your own boat” as is often said. I can’t row my boat while trying to hold on to theirs and vice versa.
I agree that sponsorship is hard. One realization I had today while talking with a sponsee is this: when I’m asked for my opinion and I share my experience, it’s a great reminder on where I’ve been, what I’ve been through, the bad decisions (and good ones) that I’ve made, and how I can identify with where the sponsee is in the current moment – at least in some way.
I also have to be willing to say, “I don’t know…”
Rowing my own boat is a great answer. Thanks for the comment.
Jon R says
Any thoughts or suggestions on a Sponsee who is actively working the steps – inasmuch as they are daily reading, journaling, attending meetings, writing their inventory, etc. – but they are not getting any sobriety. They are acting out multiple times daily and have been since entering the program.
I kind of feel like I need to put up boundaries and point to “Step 0” in the white book – the section entitled “We Stopped.” And tell them that if they can’t use the tools of the program (meetings, surrender, literature, etc.) to string together some positive sobriety, then the program is useless. That’s the end goal and we can’t just be in the program but never stop changing our actions.
However, I feel like I am inviting them to leave the program if I say this, which seems harsh.
First off, thanks for the comment Jon!
One thing that comes to mind is an equation I read about in the Rowboats and Marbles eBook:
A leads to B and B leads to C.
A is debilitating negative emotions.
B is lust.
C is acting out in our addiction (could be a long list of things).
If a sponsee is still in the C’s of his addiction, he definitely is still “lusting like a gentleman.” And ultimately, he probably hasn’t even TOUCHED the A’s in his life that are causing him to stay in the cycle of acting out.
What’s he numbing by acting out?
What’s his addictive cycle?
Has he set any boundaries for himself?
Ultimately, I can’t control the outcome of a sponsee’s choices, but it states pretty clearly in the White Book:
“We stop practicing our compulsion in all its forms. We can’t be “sober” in one area while acting out in another. There can be no relief from the obsession of lust while still practicing the acts of lust in any form…We stop feeding lust…Now, we stop; and then, in our surrender, the power of God becomes effective in us.” (p. 64)
It goes on to say, “Without sobriety, there is no program of recovery.” (p. 83)
“Without sobriety we have nothing to offer anyone.” (p. 185)
Sometimes, setting a boundary and detaching is all a sponsor can do to really help the sponsee see life as it really is.
My thoughts – hope they are helpful.
Kevin B says
You said, “However, I feel like I am inviting them to leave the program if I say this, which seems harsh.” I understand this feeling and I struggled with similar ones. However, I have come to realize that when I am feeling that way I am being codependent. This codependency gets in the way of me doing what I know I should do. I have gone through this experience enough now that I have faith that the best thing for the sponsee is to be served some harsh reality. Change will not come in comfort.
I second Nate, his issue is the A’s. Maybe your sponsee was like I was. In the 90 ARP to be honest my sponsor wasn’t super fantastic, and never made mention once of debilitating emotions, or how the affect me. I was never the sort of guy who consciously turned to lust for coping, as in I never said, “I’m mad at my wife or my dad, or life, so I’m going to go look at porn!” This caused me confusion because everything I was learning early on through SAL, reading books, or watching specialized therepy etc. said that my stress, anger, resentment etc. was the real roots of my problem. I simply thought I acted out because I liked to look at hot girls. I knew though that there was no way my addiction was special, so I worked the program, and began focusing on how I was feeling, and what those feelings did to me. It all started making sense though, when I was having a really stressful day at work, and by this point had maybe 3-4 months of sobriety. while driving down the road I noticed for the first time my brain causing me to start looking around for women to lust after, and I realized for the first time I was looking for a lust hit, not because I wanted to just look at a girl, but because I was in pain. Everything about recovery changed for me at that point, and I finally saw I was just like everyone else, looking for a way to cope. Maybe this helps. All the best.
I don’t see that this person has the humility yet to recover. If he doesn’t think or realize that his addiction is his own, and he is responsible for his recovery, then he is simply not ready. He may say he knows it is his fault and that he is ready, but resentment is a way of trying to pass blame for not wanting to be accountable for the consequences our actions have caused. At least it is for me. It doesn’t seem like he wants to do what needs to be done, as though he feels his addiction is special compared to every other addict in history, i.e. not wanting to write and do step work. He sounds like he still hasn’t accepted that recovery is not just being sober, and no one but himself can force him to see that.
I recently had an experience with my sponsor who probably could have said to me that what I was talking about was not the problem, that I needed to work my own recovery. Don’t get me wrong, I think one of the biggest advantages of having a fellow addict as a sponsor means that he is seeing right through all of the manipulation I have perfected in my many years of acting out. However, my sponsor took the opportunity to really focus on and teach me how to really surrender. He ended up praying with me over the phone. It was a moment I will never forget. So, sometimes it is necessary for my sponsor to kick my kiester and give me the wake up call and sometimes it helps for him to say, “that’s tough and I may not be the person to help you with that, but I know God can help…I’d be honored to help you surrender that.”
Thanks for the article, Nate.
Dick Rucker says
I just don’t understand when I know it is wrong I still find myself going back to it. As a Christian, I pray and ask for forgiveness and I’m able to go for a while but will find myself going back to it. My marriage relationship is not a good one as my wife is very critical of me on various issues and thus I don’t want a sexual relationship with her. I’m praying that will change.