I know the regulars to this blog are aware that I’m a member of AA and that I also wrote a dissertation on the fellowship as well. A major part of the program is carrying the message to other alcoholics, to help those that are still in the throes of alcoholism and share what has helped me stay sober. A key aspect of this is sponsorship. I have not been much of a sponsor in the twenty years that I’ve been in AA. I have a couple of theories about why I don’t have much of a “family tree.” I think the biggest reason is that I’m not an “order giver.” A lot of people who come into AA expect someone to give them orders on how to not only pursue the twelve steps, but just about every aspect of their lives, “call me everyday,” “pray on your knees,” “go to these five meetings” and on and on. There are plenty of men in the rooms who take up that role and help a great many people get and stay sober. I never responded to that type of sponsorship so I can’t really fake it and be the drill sergeant that so many seem to crave. The other reason I don’t think I’ve done much sponsoring is that I’m afraid that I’m not going to get it right, that I’m not going to relate the program as well as my sponsors have over the years.
The reason I’m writing about this is the fact that I’ve recently picked up a new sponsee. We have started working together and we’ve started going through the Big Book and working the steps. As we got started, I could feel myself doubting what I was doing, not connecting with the material. Then it hit me, a true revelation. I know a lot about Alcoholics Anonymous. I know, I know, I’ve been sober a long-ass time, I wrote a dissertation about AA, and as I was talking to this new guy I realized something I’ve been doing wrong all these years. One of the keys to teaching is not only knowing the material, but being able to connect with the material and in a sense make it ones own. I’ve never been able to teach from someone else’s notes. Sure, I’ve borrowed from other folks, been inspired by many, many teachers, but I’ve always had my own style. All this time and I never realized that I wasn’t being true to myself when I was sponsoring someone. I was trying to go by the notes of other people, to bring their style and their way of doing things to my approach to others, my step work. Of course it never felt right, because it wasn’t right. I’m not saying that I failed the people I sponsored in the past, but I wasn’t connected to the material the way I needed to be to be an effective teacher. Ultimately, that’s what being a sponsor is really all about, teaching someone, guiding someone on the path of sobriety. I can’t take people down the path that my sponsors took me down, just as I can’t teach a class the same way my mentors taught me. As my sponsee and I were working together, I realized I needed to just be myself. I’m not saying that I know better or that I’ve got some inside track now. Nope it’s just finally embracing who I am, and it’s not my former sponsors or all the great people I’ve been inspired by. I’m an alcoholic who has been sober for twenty years; who has read a great deal about AA and has lived a life with God and the twelve steps. It’s hard for me to believe, but I might actually know what I’m doing.