How to Get Started Sponsoring in OA

Yesterday’s Sponsor Training was inspiring. If you weren’t able to make it, this recap can give you some ideas about your own sponsorship opportunities.

Speaker One: How to Get Someone Started with the Food

Our first speaker focused on step one, and especially on helping a new sponsee define their plan of eating and gain abstinence. Here are three key points that our first speaker made:

  1. Share what you eat and how you created your food plan
  2. Everyone gets to develop their own food plan, and our role is to support them as they implement it
  3. Honesty is the most vital and crucial thing a sponsee needs in step one, and it’s our job to point this out and help them find it.

Speaker Two: How to Guide Someone Through the Steps

Next, our second speaker shared how to guide a sponsee through the steps:

  1. Share up to the level of your experience with the steps
  2. Remind them that this is a program of action and that the steps are the program
  3. Don’t listen to the doubts inside that say “My program isn’t good enough.”

Sponsorship: A Getting-Started Guide

We also passed along a copy of OA’s official sponsoring guide as well as Sponsorship: A Getting-Started Guide. This locally produced collection of Seacoast OA members’  experiences with sponsoring is now available on our Recovery Resources page. Here’s three key ideas from it as well:

  1. Just do it! Get started right away whether you have doubts or not—it’s worth it!
  2. It takes courage to ask someone else for help: Tell sponsees what a privilege it is to work with them and that everything they say is confidential
  3. We’re there to be as helpful as we can, never to judge, chastise, or belittle.


Finally, we wrapped up with a wonderful Q&A that everyone in the room contributed their experience to. Here are a few questions, answers, and comments you may find helpful:

Q: How do we best help someone who is slipping?

A: Be gentle, we OAs are filled with enough shame. Tell them that hope is far from lost, and perhaps try offering this OA nugget, “simply resume.” It’s important to also help them trace the root cause of the slip so they can see the warning signs next time. For chronic slips, you might also try working with them on OA’s “Been Slipping and Sliding” worksheet or its “Strong Abstinence Checklist.”

Q: What do I do when a sponsee is constantly making excuses?

A: Remind them that this is a deadly malady that requires us to work hard for the solution. But we must remember that the motivation must come from within a sponsee, not from us. We are there to pass along our experience, not to enforce our suggestions, and everyone arrives at recovery in their own time.

Q: Do we continue to sponsor someone after they have completed the twelve steps?

A: Even when we have worked through all twelve steps, we remain chronically ill people who need the help and support of others. If we are “full” perhaps this sponsee will now require less intensive work, opening some time for you to work with others.

Wrapping Up

Everyone in the room had three things we seemed to all agree on:

  1. We will not be perfect sponsors
  2. Another’s inability to recover is not our fault, and another’s success is not ours to claim but God’s
  3. We cannot play therapist, nutritionist, or doctor to a sponsee—it’s not good for them or us!

If you couldn’t make it, we missed you. We’ll be doing this again in the fall, and we hope to see you then, and hear your experiences, too!

Tradition of the Month: Our Primary Purpose

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

The fifth tradition reminds us to keep it simple, silly. When we get into grand planning and big ideas, we addictive personalities often go astray. We can overreach and find ourselves diverting our individual and collective energies away from what we do well and into what we think we might do well. And that gets us in trouble.

After all, we’re still living with the faulty mind that needed OA in the first place. When we write our fourth step inventory, we see how our mind can twist things around. We see how we can at different times be grandiose or unreliable, generous or selfish, well meaning or indifferent. With this kind of brain, we often take on projects we can’t deliver on, get resentful with our inability to complete them, and find ourselves frustrated that the fruits of our brainstorms don’t inspire commitment and devotion to our ideas in others. As the Big Books says, the addict is, “even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony.”

As individual OA members, if we don’t make it simple, we’re simply not going to make it. The same is true with our meetings and at the intergroup level. In our individual lives, when we focus, laser like, on what our Higher Power guides us toward, we usually feel purposeful. Inside we probably feel calm, or at least we sense a lack of conflicting emotions. When we act out of selfish interest and ignore our Higher Power, we will likely feel torn—our spiritual Spidey Sense will tell us that we’re not aligned with God’s purpose.

As a meeting or an intergroup, whenever we work to carry the OA message of hope, we feel assured. We are doing the work our Higher Power has set out for our organization at every level. When our motives and activities align with this goal, locating the group conscience doesn’t feel like grasping for the walls in a dark room. Instead it sometimes feels as though the answer was apparent all along, and we merely had to confirm it. In situations such as this, divisive votes need not be taken because substantial unanimity will be obvious to all participants.

Many situations, typically minor ones, arise that test the fifth tradition, and almost always with the finest intentions. Perhaps a book produced by an outside organization appears on the literature table, photocopies of a trusted (non-OA) food plan circulate during meeting time, or someone requests the intergroup to place an outside event on its website. In none of these cases has anyone gone about trying to harm OA or its members. But in such cases, it is the duty of our members to gently ask whether our primary purpose is reflected in these actions.

As the above examples suggest, tradition five is closely related to tradition six, which tells us to avoid doing anything that aligns us with an outside enterprise. Tradition five, however, goes a little further, by alerting us to potential dangers with inside enterprises. It is not, for example, our job to dispense nutritional advice or to host workshops on how to eat well. Most of us may well have the same trigger foods and dietary needs from our food plans, but we are not a diet-and-calories club. Those clubs have their job to do, and OA has its, which is to carry the message of hope.

We can make it simple for ourselves, our groups, and OA when we focus on carrying the message. When we sense division among members, we might lean on tradition five and ask whether everything we are doing is leading to the single goal of getting this message to compulsive eaters.

Step of the Month: Step 5

  1. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Imagine that you’ve decided to clean out your house. There’s too much stuff in there bogging you down, covering every surface, stuffing every closet. You’re constantly reminded by the clutter that it’s time to pare down. When you finally do it, you realize that you need to determine what stays and what goes, so you make a list as you sort through all the stuff.

Once the list is made, you need to get rid of everything that’s not useful, so you pick up the phone book and call for a dump truck. Then you ask a friend to come by and help you carry all the dreck out of your house. The driver arrives and backs up to the house, and you and your friend load the items you are throwing out into the truck, one by one. As you go, you carefully tick them off your list.

That’s exactly where we are in step five. Just prior, in step four, we made our list of the damaging attitudes, behaviors, thoughts, and situations that have gotten in our way. They have weighed us down, and every time we think about our lives, they are there to remind of us why we have sought comfort in food. But the trick is that making a list of our ugliest characteristics isn’t the same as getting rid of them. We need to expose them to the light of day where they lose their potency. We need to share them with another, understanding person who will see our humanity instead of judging us. We need to share them with God to demonstrate our continuing willingness to let go of what has blocked us from a relationship with our Higher Power.

Reading out our inventory to another person and God is how we load up the psychic dump truck so that our emotional and spiritual junk can be taken away from us.

* * *

The Big Book tells us that “a solitary self-appraisal seldom suffices.” We must reveal our darkest secrets and our tiniest missteps if we want to recover. Why? Because we have used food to bury our feelings alive. All the resentments, fears, and self-loathing remain inside of us, squirming to get out. If we leave even one or two behind, we will soon feel the need to beat them back with food once again.

Were that the only benefit of step 5—to expose our worst thinking to the disinfecting power of sunlight—we would be much better off than before we reached OA. Yet there is a further benefit from this step that pushes us onward. The OA Twelve and Twelve tell us “Through the fifth-step process, we begin to see reality.” Our damaged thinking begins to right itself:

All our striving to get ahead has been useless. We are neither above nor below the rest of the human race; we’re a part of it, shaped by the same basic needs and desires as all our fellows. Those of us who have belittled ourselves or felt we were worse than others also gain a new perspective. In talking honestly with another person about ourselves, we begin to feel a sense of relief. Someone knows all about us and still accepts us unconditionally. (47).

So we disinfect our insides, and we change our attitude about ourselves and others. And even that’s not all. We also learn, by watching our sponsor, how to listen. We will be grateful for that person’s help and support and will look forward to a time when we can sit in their chair, listening to another’s inventory with the same compassion and identification we were given. It is yet more motivation to continue through these steps and achieve the fullest extent of the spiritual awakening promised in step twelve.

Depending on how much we’ve written, reading our fifth step may take an hour, hours, days, even a month or more. No matter how long, this quiet, intimate, sometimes sad, and not infrequently hilarious process takes, the benefits can last a happy, joyous, and free lifetime.