In OA, when we hear about sponsors, we often hear primarily about food:
- I give my food to my sponsor every day.
- My sponsor helped me develop a food plan.
- I’m honest with my sponsor about my food.
- My sponsor helped me get back on track food-wise.
- I was having cravings, so I called my sponsor.
We can’t get abstinent without a lot of help, so it’s no wonder that these common themes emerge about sponsors!
In OA, although we sponsor up to our level of experience, a sponsor is ultimately someone who guides us through the Twelve Steps. That’s because the OA program is the Steps. Without them, we are supporting one another on a diet. With the Steps, we each can have the spiritual experience that leads to lasting recovery.
The writers of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous included an appendix called “The Spiritual Experience.” In its one-and-a-half pages, they make sure we’re really clear what this experience means. They use a form of the word change five times, upheavals once, transformations once, and alterations once. That’s about once in each paragraph in this brief appendix.
This repeated usage of these carefully chosen should make clear to us the idea that change and spiritual experience are inextricably related. They may even be synonymous in the context of recovery.
So what’s that got to do with sponsors? Plenty as it turns out. If we could have changed ourselves to end compulsive eating, then what are we doing in church basements, hospital rooms, and community centers on a weeknight or weekend morning? We’ve tried and tried and tried to make the changes necessary to bring about normalcy around food and to solve our lives. No dice.
The Big Book goes to great, gentle lengths to show us why we can’t do it ourselves. In a nutshell, our brain has been compromised by the disease of addiction, and we are defenseless against it. Many of us even tried using religious means to beat our compulsion without success. What we didn’t know, and what the founders of AA want us desperately to know is this: We are powerless and cannot change ourselves by any act of willpower on our part.
Here’s where we stand: We have to change, but we can’t do it for ourselves. We’ve tried asking others to change us. Doctors, counselors, family members, food clinics, diet professionals, celebrity physicians, or just plain celebrities. We know from these experiences that no human power can save us from compulsive eating. So, we can’t do it. Another person can’t do it for us. That means it must come from a Higher Power. And that is why we must have a spiritual experience to change.
But what do we know about spiritual experiences? Not much, really. So if we can’t do it ourselves, that means we’re going to need someone to show us the way. We must find someone with experience doing and living the Steps. If it’s worked for them, then they can pass on their experience, and we can enjoy the fruits of the spiritual experience as well. A sponsor cannot change us, but they can show us the path they took and give us suggestions for how to pick our way along that path. They can also provide us with encouragement if our spirits flag.
The change in our food is merely one of many changes that must be made for us to outlive our disease, but it’s just the first one. For the full effect, we’ve got to get spiritualized too, and for that, we’re going to need our sponsor very, very much.