Wisdom of Sponsorship Part C

Special Issues

C.1. Firing a Sponsee (This section is looking for your story.)

C.2. Other addictions, medical, and mental health issues (Knowing our limits)

There are many issues that can prevent a successful working of the program. Some of these are other addictions.

"One sponsor stated that a sponsee needed to go to Alcoholics Anonymous as his getting drunk every day was preventing him from working this program." Dave R

"I can't work with someone who is continually using weed." Bruce M

C.2.1 When a Sponsee has other problems By Anynomous

One of the most difficult times I have ever had as a sponsor was with a man I'll call Job. He came into the program with many years of success in AA. He knew the Steps and had worked them and was open-minded enough to recognize that he needed to start over in SAA. He asked me to be his sponsor, read, prayed and called me daily for a year, did Step work and attended 2 to 3 meetings a week.

He would get clean for weeks to months at a time and then relapse. After a while, we noticed that he always relapsed around some emotional crisis. What I realized (but he didn't) was that Job had a very serious psychological problem other than his addiction.

The nature of his problem is not important; the impact of it on his recovery is. Through no neglect or fault of his own, his mental health problems destabilized him so much that he could not muster the resources of the program to keep himself from acting out. He became very discouraged and self-critical when this happened.

We literally tried everything I had to offer him to maintain abstinence from acting out. There was nothing more I could do as a sponsor to help him.

This points out a reality about being sex addicts that we often don't discuss: many of us have other mental health problems as well. This is true for people in every recovery program not just SAA. Sponsoring a person who has additional mental health problems is very difficult.

There is one distinction to be made here. Many of us came into the program with depression or anxiety problems because we were living the life of a practicing addict. With all the pain and stress of that lifestyle it's no wonder we were an emotional mess. Getting into recovery and working the Steps changes that lifestyle and the emotional turmoil fades. Many of my sponsees have come into the program having been given one of these diagnoses only to find later that SAA helped improve their mood and was a lot cheaper than an antidepressant. Sponsoring them is about introducing them to the program and pointing out that the more they work it the better they feel.

Job and others like him come to us with problems more complex than just addiction. In fact, the addiction may be an important way that they cope with the distress these problems cause. Their emotional crises may actually be worse in the short term if they don't have their sex addictions to fall back on. We know that in the long run, their lives are further damaged by acting out. But look at the horrible choices that are left to them: act out to ease some of the emotional pain now, while paying a price later, or don't act out now, and suffer a worsened mental health crisis. This was the choice Job faced.

What do we do as sponsors? The first thing is to remember that we are there to help a person work the SAA program; they are best served if we do not try to act as mental health professionals as well. Even those of us who are therapists find that it is important not to mix counseling with sponsorship. We can support these sponsees in seeking counseling and encourage them to integrate their sex addiction and mental health recoveries. (We can pray that their counselors support the same approach.) Second, we can help them adjust their programs to fit their needs. This may mean taking the Steps slower and not as deeply as other sponsees, encouraging them to explore with the therapist some of the things that come up in their Step work, or deferring to what the therapist suggests to the person about working sex addiction recovery. At an extreme, it may mean helping these sponsees accept that for a while, they can work on abstinence in the good times and it is OK if they act out in the bad times. While it pains me to write this (because I believe that abstinence is absolutely essential to recovery), for their survival it may be necessary for them to act out in the bad times. Looking back, this was probably true for Job. It may not be that way for long, for with the help of a capable counselor they can eventually avoid or lessen the impact of the bad times. They may need us to help them accept their need for intermittent abstinence in the near term.

There may be some readers who protest: "The program is all that people need to recover from any problem." While I agree that it can help any problem, I would also point you to the insight of the AA founders as stated on page 133 of the Big Book. "God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons. Most of them give freely of themselves, that their fellows may enjoy sound minds and bodies. Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward."

(This originally was marked as Oct Nov 97, but I can't find this in that issue online)

C.3. Threats, legal issues, money, and restrictions

C.3.1 A Sponsor's Ten Rules for Confronting a Sponsee

As an addict, my response to confrontation about my behavior was dysfunctional, driven by my shame and fear I would lie and deny all accusations. I would attempt to distract my accuser in any way possible. I would blame and counterattack, even making false accusations. I would expend huge energies with minimization, rationalization or justification. When truly caught without even a lame excuse, I would make empty promises merely to placate. While sometimes I "got away with it", these gains were often short-term, in the long run ineffective and harmful.

With recovery came more healthy choices. I have made mistakes and had relapses. Confrontation is now an opportunity for me to grow. When confronted, I am able to listen, reflect upon myself and my behavior, and admit my wrongs. Amends are quick and easy. I no longer feel ashamed and fearful. I no longer have such a huge ego to maintain. I don't have to exert myself by finding or inventing another's sins. This is freedom!

With long-term recovery, I am confronted less often because I'm not acting out. As a sponsor, I'm confronting more often than I am confronted. I confront as a response to what I perceive as impaired thinking. This is different from giving advice. I have developed a set of rules about confronting a sponsee, and wish to share them here.

  1. Always be gentle, caring, loving and supportive.
  2. Wait and listen carefully first.
  3. Ask permission to respond.
  4. Always be gentle, caring, loving and supportive.
  5. Reply based on personal experience.
  6. Reply based on the 12 steps and 12 traditions.
  7. Always be gentle, caring, loving and supportive.
  8. Be specific about an issue; do not respond to details.
  9. Remember the goal is to help, build up and guide.
  10. Always be gentle, caring, loving and supportive.

Rich W PBR Volume 10 Issue 2 Apr May 1998

C.4. Sponsoring people in Prison (This section is looking for your story.)

C.5. Remote sponsoring (This section is looking for your story.)

C.6. Sponsoring between sexes and sexual orientation

C.6.1 Male Sexual Orientation

One of the common struggles that I see with some newcomers are those around sexual orientation issues coupled with sexual addiction. One of the people I have sponsored, "Bob," usually dated women and liked being with them, but -all his acting out was anonymous sex with men. He had grown up in a family and religion that rejected homosexuality and, even though he had left the church and many of his family's attitudes behind, he was very self-condemning over the possibility that he might be gay. When he came into the program, he was considering suicide because he believed he was a hopeless case.

Bob was not able to accept my reassurances that he was a good person whatever his orientation may be. He could identify with being a sex addict, but because his acting out was with men he thought that there was no way he could be healthy and gay at the same time. He wanted to get "fixed" from. all of this, get married and have children. Still he believed that it would not be fair to involve a woman in his life while he had these problems. Bob could not see that sex addiction and his feelings about his sexual orientation were two separate, though related, issues.

Yet this is the first thing that I suggested that he try to do-separate them. I reminded him that while everyone has a sexual orientation, not everyone is sexually addicted. Then I told him that sex addiction is not about who or when or how we act out, it is about why. The "why" is some deeper pain that exists regardless of any other circumstance in our lives.

Then I suggested that he work on recovering from sex addiction for at least six months before he even considered trying to figure out his sexual orientation. I suggested that the shame he felt around the addiction was so great that it made working through his orientation questions impossible. The two sets of shame got confused and all too often the acting out started up again to manage the shame.

Bob and other sponsees with sexual orientation issues have found that this works: separate the addiction and orientation issues, then address the addiction first. When they have spent the time getting recovery from their addictions, they have found that the program has given them a whole set of new tools to help them with this (and many other) life problems. In fact the self-acceptance of recovery usually made the self-acceptance of their sexual orientation (whatever it was for each) a lot easier. In short, after getting into recovery each was able to make peace with himself."

Anonymous PBR Volume 14 Issue 4 Sep Oct 2002

C.6.2 One Woman's Experiences

Being a female in mostly male meetings left a void as far as sponsorship goes. I could not ask a man to sponsor me. At the 1996 international Convention I heard several women talk about having a gay male sponsor and how well it had worked for them. I came home and felt pitiful, worked my 5th Step with my therapist and kept sliding in and out of sobriety. I whined about no sponsor but never did ask God to take care of this for me.

This year I bottomed out on compulsive sexual behaviors I had successfully controlled even before 1 cam into the program 2 years ago. I was scared and felt I had no where to turn. I kept going to meetings and I began to understand that I was working the program and it was not a "we" effort. No where was I turning to my Higher Power for help. I really needed help. Recently we had a brother from another state move into this area who was working a solid program. He firmly believed that by working the steps, recovery was possible and shared at every opportunity what working the steps meant in his own life.

I asked him to be my sponsor. I had hoped that because he was sober and seemed to have found what I desperately was seeking but also that he was gay that this would work. He agreed to meet with me and at the first meeting he was totally unimpressed with my past step work and the first thing he told me to do was get up every morning and make my bed and get on my knees and pray for God's will and the strength to carry it out. So we began our sponsor/sponsee relationship. My best friends can not believe that I would actually do anything a man told me to do!

I also heard at the 1996 Convention that when the student is ready the teacher will come and that theory holds true for me. Every day since having a sponsor has been a sober day. I will have 90 days of sobriety soon, the most I have had in recovery. I was able to work a formal first step in group with his guidance. I was able to give an anonymous television interview and help to prepare a three day television news report on sexual addiction with his support. As I prepare to work my third step I know that having a sponsor is a gift from my Higher Power. My trust level for men has been a 0[Zero]. My ability to admit to any man I need something from them has been a 0[Zero]. Working with my sponsor is helping me to change those long held attitudes

Every day God continues to fill me as I continue to empty out the garbage and unwillingness I have had all of my life to follow His plan for my life. Each day is a gift and I now understand better how this program of recovery works. I hope there will be a day when I can return all that my sponsor is doing to help and encourage me. Only when I give back will I continue to get well.

Sincerely, Carol T [Iowa] PBR Volume 9 Issue 5 Jun Jul 97

C.7. When a sponsor acts out

"When I was at a national convention about five years ago, I went to a sponsorship seminar. In it I heard lots of good stuff, but one thing really amazed me. The presenter, and several other old-timers in the discussion, said that they would never have gotten even 6 months sober if they had not started sponsoring others before reaching that mark. (They did emphasize that the sponsor needs to be at least one step ahead of the sponsee, and I don't encourage my sponsees to start sponsoring others until they have finished step 5 and have at least 30 days sober.) As a result of this discussion, I kept my eye out for people that I thought I could work well with, and offered my services as sponsor to people when appropriate. Although I had sponsored others, I had never been intentional about who I chose or what I required, and as a result, they had not proved rewarding for me or for my sponsees. Immediately after choosing my first sponsee (I had about 30 days sober) I had my longest run of continuous sobriety - 16 months. That was about three and a half years ago and I remain his sponsor. Before that time, I was unable to break the 6 month mark." Bruce B PBR Volume 13 Issue 2 Apr May 01

C.8. Sponsorship Contract

Eighteen years ago as a newcomer in a fairly new program where there was still not a lot of long-term sobriety, I saw a number of our group members helping to "sponsor" one another. I had no real guidelines to teach me how to do that. My adventures in sponsorship have led to various iterations of a contractual agreement for the participants.

This agreement has evolved for a number of reasons. I have seen people come to the program and, without structure, never start to work the steps or get a sponsor. I have also seen people who used the sponsor as a sounding board, felt some temporary relief and continued to do the same things over and over. As one of my old-time friends in recovery said, "You can water a plant too much". The first time I had to tell someone that they had not yet had enough pain, it was very difficult. I let them know that I cared about them, but that they were wasting, my time and theirs. I let them know when they were serious about making the needed changes, I would be there for them. I also let them know that their repeated, behavior was like watching someone take a cigarette and continue to burn their bodies, except that the scars were on the inside. It was too painful for me to watch. Over the years, I have also seen people get confused about the intimacy that develops between a sponsor and a sponsee.

I developed the contract as a blueprint for establishing the preliminary framework for the sponsor/ sponsee relationship. This contract clearly sets the tone and boundaries by outlining an accountability plan. It teaches the newcomer how to begin the process of recovery by incorporating some of the tools of recovery, and it aids the sponsor in estab-lishing goals. As part of this commitment, both the sponsor and sponsee date and sign it.

My contract follows:


You can expect from me as your sponsor:

  1. Availability to work on your boundaries, fire drills, circles, and steps. We can do this by phone, and/or by meeting in a safe, non-threatening place.
  2. Guidance-not friendship or a sexual relationship.
  3. Safety-I will stress your well being and safety. If I think you are placing yourself at risk, I will tell you. If I see pitfalls, I will address them.
  4. I will talk with you in times of goodness and also in times of distress.
  5. Honesty-I will share my own process of recovery as part of the 12th step. (Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to other sex addicts, and to practice these principles in all our activities.)
  6. I will not judge or shame you.
  7. I will continue to work my own program.
  8. Boundaries-I will be clear in my communications about my limits AND limitations.

SPONSEE I have several expectations and desired commitments from you as a sponsee:

  1. Respect my boundaries.
  2. Contact me at least twice a week for the first six weeks. We will renegotiate then.
  3. Call at least two other people from the program at least once a week. (This helps ex-pand your network and gets you comfortable with talking with others. This is especially important if you are having a crisis and need to talk during a time I may be unavailable. If you already have some familiarity, you will be more likely to call.)
  4. Be truthful.
  5. Before becoming involved in a new or old sexual relationship, discuss it with me and/ or your therapist.
  6. Attend at least two SAA meetings a week, more if you are having difficulty. If you can't get to SAA, attend another 12-step program, one that deals with issues around sex, alcohol, drugs or food.
  7. If you go out of town, get a list of meeting options IN ADVANCE.
  8. Start working the steps. Make the commitment to yourself. Start within the first three weeks. I encourage you to share any of our discussions and work sheets with your therapist. I am not your therapist. I am a recovering sex and relationship addict. My role is to help you work this program of recovery which may be an ADJUNCT to your therapy.
  9. Make contracts with me and/or your therapist for your behavior.
  10. Report secret behavior to your therapist and/or sponsor.

This contract is just the beginning point. I start to help them build their program by making suggestions regarding footwork, literature, meditation, service, etc., as the relationship continues. Recovery is a process, and as a sponsor I can help guide them on this journey.

A friend in recovery, Bill W. (permission given to use his name), has used my contract and customized it to suit his style. He added another item to the sponsee commitments. "Find a new sponsor if your current sponsor does not maintain sobriety or violates any of the above commitments, or if doing so will enhance your recovery."

I think by sharing discussions about sponsorship, we can strengthen our own practice by learning from the wisdom and experience of others.

Marilyn S. PBR Volume 18 Issue 5 Sep Oct 2006

C.9. Sponsee's and Relationships

Sponsees and Their Relationships By Anonymous

Sex addiction does terrible things to relationships. Young or old, gay or straight, single or married, male or female, we hurt the ones we love by our behavior. At some point, they grow unwilling to put up with us and they give us the ultimatum to get help or else. For many of us, that is the beginning of the path that led us to SAA.

When we get into recovery, most of us feel like we owe something to these people for all the pain we caused them. And we do. The challenge that most of us have is figuring out exactly what we do and, often just as important, don't owe them. A sponsor's help here is usually vital.

Consider the nature of most intimate relationships involving an active sex addict. There are few, if any, healthy boundaries. The relationship has often degenerated to a point where the loved one is trying to control the addict's behavior. Trust is at a minimum. High doses of pain are being meted out daily. No one listens. Everyone is needy. The addict is identified as the source of all problems in the relationship.

Most of my sponsees came into the program with some version of this relationship life. When they started to get some recovery, they often found that the situation at home hadn't changed. Most either felt guilty and said that they needed to prove their trustworthiness or they got mad and just wanted "to get everyone off my back."

At the same time, the loved ones were demanding a lot. Some wanted their addicts to suffer more pain and guilt, especially if he or she was feeling better from having a spiritual experience early in recovery. Some wanted to know the entire story, check out every SAA contact, see any written step work and contact the sponsor to check up on the addict. Still others wanted the addict to quit giving so much time to SAA because they felt they were owed all the undivided attention and material pampering the addict could give. Worst of all, some demanded all of this. And more.

Most of my sponsees who came from these relationships were torn. On the one hand, they could see that SAA is a path to health and that what the loved one wants is actually pretty unhealthy. On the other hand, they ask themselves if they have the right to say no to these demands. Some promising recoveries have been thrown away because sponsees felt they had to give in to these demands no matter what the cost. Unfortunately, the cost was often the end of their abstinence and eventually the end of the relationship.

As a sponsor, I don't tell my sponsees how to handle their relationships. I do try to help them see that a relationship with an active sex addict makes everyone emotionally sick. Our loved ones are sick with their own disease, just as we are. The addict is not the only source of problems in the relationship. However, we cannot expect that the loved ones are going to get into their own recoveries at the same pace that we do. We do owe them the same patience that was extended to us.

Then I encourage the sponsee to look at the demands the loved one is making to see what is realistic and healthy. Is anyone helped if the addict is forced to suffer more pain or humiliation? Can trust be earned or is it a choice? Is it healthy for someone to control another person's actions, or does the addict need to take responsibility for his/her own behavior? Can one person make another person happy or can we each only do that for ourselves? Is that loved one truly helped by hearing all the details of the acting out or is that really just a form of martyrdom? Can a relationship really be healthy if two people are spending every moment together and one of them (the recovering addict) is being treated like a doormat? Finally, is there really going to be any possibility of a healthy relationship if the addict doesn't give full energy to recovery? These are hard questions. Their directness is aimed at helping the sponsee see the need to focus on recovery and to see that the loved one is not owed any of the sick things demanded.

Finally, sponsees need some guidance on how to move toward a healthier relationship. I offer two ideas: first, the best we can offer anyone will come only if we put our recoveries first. We do no one any good by not getting well.

The second idea comes from the suggestion that Al-Anon offers their newcomers in dealing with their loved ones. It is important for us to "detach with love." For our sake and for theirs, it is important to detach from the old patterns of the addiction-tainted relationship. That may lead to the death of the relationship. Usually what seems to happen, however, is that it lets both parties attend to their own recovery needs and leads to the rebuilding of a new, recovery relationship. My sponsees who focus on their own recoveries and detach with love usually see themselves and their relationships get healthier.

PBR Volume 15, Issue 6 Nov-Dec 2003