The four of us are sitting around my small living room. Four women, four different recovery experiences, four different lengths of sobriety. Different childhoods in dysfunctional families. Different ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds. Ages: 32, 60, 63, and me, 53. One, nine, two, and sixteen years sober, respectively. Each of them at some point in their recovery asked me if I’d sponsor them.
Sponsorship in a 12-step recovery program is a weird and wonderful relationship. It’s mentorship with a very specific task: work the 12 steps with someone who needs to work the steps. That’s the wonderful part. The weird part is how complicated this kind of relationship can be because we’re human, we’re complex and we’re alcoholics and drug addicts, and our lives depend on this relationship being a successful one. You’re newly sober. You’re told to go to meetings, get a commitment, and a sponsor. Criteria for sponsorship: you want what they have, but you only know these people from meetings. What happens when they take the show on the road is something you can only know from direct experience of them in their lives. Maybe what they have that you want is a car, a job, a spouse, a house, and kids, if you’re into that. Maybe it’s the person’s relationship with their higher power that peaks your interest, or it’s that they seem kind, generous, compassionate, and honest. Or they’ve just been sober a long time and have lived through the ups and downs of life sober. Until you’re in relationship with them you have no idea how it’s all gonna go. It’s going out on a blind date and hoping it works out. It’s showing up and hoping the person is who you think they are. It’s hoping they can help you get some recovery--both emotionally and spiritually. It’s hoping they don’t turn out to be crazy and controlling like your mom.
We start reading Step 1 out loud, going around in a circle and sharing our experience of powerlessness and unmanageability in our lives, both in active addiction and now in recovery. The relationships I have with these women started because despite how much fear they might have had, how vulnerable it made them feel, and risking rejection, they asked me if I would walk them through the steps, be a loving and supportive witness to their journey of healing and recovery, and be there any time they might need to be talked down off the ledge. I’ve worked the steps with them, listened, encouraged, and challenged them to grow. Being in relationship with them, I have learned compassion, resilience, patience, and love. They have talked me down off the ledge on more than one occasion and saved my life countless times. These women have challenged me to be a better sober woman. They have what I want in spades.