Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Practice of Sponsorship

Over the years, I have learned certain ways to begin (and to end) my meetings with sponsees:  To begin, I start with:  Please share with me what you've done to stay sober since we last met?  I want a high level but somewhat detailed summary of the basics of whatever they've done since we last met with the intent to stay sober: e.g., number of meetings, instances of trying to help others, step work, prayer/meditation practices, gratitude list writing, physical exercise... whatever they've done with the intent to stay sober and improve the quality of their lives. 

When they've finished with that (it shouldn't take but a few minutes), I then ask them what I can do to help. If they are going through the step process, I check in with where they are with the step they are working on...

Usually, once the struggle of the week/month comes up, the issue of "wantingness vs willingness" inevitably comes up. Everyone (including me) struggles with something and who better to share that with than a sponsor.  

I don't like wallowing in the weeds of these struggles, but some of that's necessary in order to get to the deeper roots of these struggles. Most of us like to spend (waste) energy on what's wrong with others or what others should be doing and for me, that often turns out to be a total waste of time. I like to say those people are doing what they need to do -- the only question for them to ask themselves is: "now what do I need to do (or not do)?".

I find that most people already know what they need to do or not do, but they simply don't want to do (or not do) it!  So I usually just ask them, based on everything you learned so far in your recovery, what do you think/feel you should do or not do?  Once they tell me (and it makes sense), I ask them, "Well, what's keeping you from doing or not doing that?"

Inevitably, it comes down to them admitting that they simply don't want to do or not do what their gut tells them they should. I call this the notwantingness problem: where we end the analysis of what should I do once we get to the seeming roadblock of notwantingness. 

I usually confront the "I don't want to" statements with a gleeful Tony the Tiger: "Grrreaaattt!".  If they are a new sponsee, they look puzzled at my seeming inappropriate joy at their conundrum in life. I explain that the reason for my joy is that they have arrived at the Challenge of Notwantingness and that only when we get here can we practice the long tested and valued A.A. principle of Willingness.  

Turns out Notwantingness is the essential prerequisite of Willingness: most of us don't need willingness to eat a chocolate chip cookie (or a drink of booze or other drug of choice). No, willingness is only called for when we don't want to do something. So, it's a good sign whenever we're confronted with Notwantingness!  That's where the real productive and life changing work begins!  Willingness!

Then I remind them of something one of my sponsors is still fond of saying: The secret to long term sobriety (he has 40+ years), is learning to do things you DON'T WANT to do, with people you DON'T WANT to do them with!  

Of course, they are the ultimate Deciders since it's their life and their responsibility.  Not mine.  I do share with them that their fear of doing X is based on the Seeming Problem of Incompetence: they are afraid not because they are incapable of doing X, but rather, because they've never done X sober. That just means they are incompetent and the only remedy for incompetence is taking action, making mistakes, getting up, learning what not to do, trying again....

At the end of our hour, I always close by thanking them for distracting me from what I thought were my real problems but are now either forgotten or less problematic than I thought they were. And ultimately, my problems are examples of my own Notwantingness calling me into The Land of Willingness. 

Take care!

Mike L

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