What to do as a sponsee

The Big Book devotes a chapter to working with others. OA has a pamphlet just about how to sponsor. Many meetings ask for active sponsors to identify themselves. Members speaking at a meeting or generally sharing often talk about how they work with others. But when it comes to being a sponsee, we hardly hear more than “I did what my sponsor suggested.” That’s great advice, but what exactly does it entail?

Once we’ve gotten up the courage to ask someone to guide us through the program, the real work begins. We often talk about HOW in our meetings: Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness. These form a strong foundation for getting the most from our sponsor/sponsee relationship.

Honesty is obviously the most important attribute we can bring to our work with a sponsor. We are used to being dishonest. We minimize, overdramatize, fantasize, and downright lie about our food, our feelings, our relationships, and our life circumstances. With our sponsor, we have an opportunity to finally be absolutely honest about ourselves. We can tell them exactly what’s happening outside and inside us, and particularly about how the illness of compulsive eating is affecting us. There’s no point in bs’ing our sponsor. They’ve encountered people just like us so many times, and they see right through us. We don’t worry about what they might think of us, we just tell the truth. All of it. We can’t get better without it.

Open-mindedness buds from the branch of honesty. When our sponsor suggests an action to take, do we instinctively react negatively? Do we immediately shut down the possibility of taking that action? When our sponsor suggests considering the idea of a Higher Power, do we put it in our mental shredder because we know there is no god? Do we insist to ourselves that even if a god exists, it won’t help us? Or do we belay the orders our mind wants to give us and pause to examine the fact that a spiritual solution has worked in our sponsor’s life? We have for years and years been closed-minded. We have thought we had all the answers. We have thought that we must take the edge off of life with food because our feelings were too much for us. We have thought that we were broken and unfixable, unloveable, and unredeemable. By being honest with someone for the first time, we see that our thinking is unreliable. By being openminded, we become able to receive truths we had denied and apply some of those new truths to our lives.

Once we are openminded enough to actually listen to our sponsor, we can get willing to take action. OA is all about taking action. We can’t think and feel ourselves out of this disease. if we could, we would have done it already! So it’s time for action. If we have open-mindedly heard our sponsor’s suggestion to attend a meeting, we use our willingness to get our butt into a seat. If our sponsor tells us that they see a food becoming problematic for us, we can try going without it and observe how our mind and body respond. Willingness is indispensable, because it is a decision maker. We have long responded to invitations with “I’ll think about it” or “maybe I’ll try that.” We’re only lying to ourselves because everyone on the green Earth knows that’s code for “I’m too scared to use the word no.” When we adopt willingness, we can say yes or no. If we are willing, we say yes. If not, we say no thank you. With our sponsors, we probably need to be extra willing. If they recommend an action, it’s likely because it works.

Taking the HOW framework further, we might also consider making a commitment to thorough action in OA. We’ve many times made decisions and been willing to do something about our food then failed to take action, follow through, or do the job completely. In OA, our sponsors remind us that the program is only effective, if we finish the job. This means doing the Steps, observing the Traditions, and using OA’s tools. It means doing something even if we don’t want to or are scared to. If we commit to an action, we need to stay honest about it. We addicts are often unreliable, so when we agree to do something or be somewhere, we do it. We have to walk the talk of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness if we’re going to get anywhere, and when we’re in the food, blowing things off or canceling at the last minute is one of our favorite moves. We are developing integrity, something we may have elsewhere in our lives, but not around our food and personal well-being.

Being a sponsee is kind of simple. We need to adopt a teachable attitude that’s encapsulated by HOW. Then we follow that up by doing what we say we’ll do and saying to our sponsor what we do. It’s we, ourselves, who make things complicated.

Measuring our compassion

An idea that courses through virtually every spiritual tradition is compassion. Dictionary.com provides this definition: “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” As we work through the 12 Steps of OA, we begin to feel truly compassionate, perhaps for the first time, as our hearts and minds become aligned with our Higher Power.

Some of us have simply been too self-centered to feel compassion. We may feel a distance from suffering and shut our minds to it, or we may dismiss it because we are not, ourselves, in the moment, experiencing the same suffering as another person is. If we are people pleasers, we may think we brim with compassion, but do we? What motives do we have in helping others? Is it possible that we seek the approval of others? Or that of the person suffering? Do we do help out of guilt or out of sympathy or empathy? Who are we really trying to help—ourselves or the other person?

When we get through the 12 Steps, we do not emerge as saintly peacemakers, and we certainly couldn’t keep it up even if we did. We are human beings, we are prone to the same pratfalls of ego, the same biases and stubbornness that any person has. Just because we are more reasonable than we were doesn’t mean we are entirely reasonable. We are works in progress, and compassion is a very good measuring stick for our spiritual condition.

See, the great thing about OA is that as we get better, we are learning how to help another person get better. We can measure our compassion by our willingness to help another addict. Judgment is the opposite of compassion, and through it we claim to ourselves that we are different than another person. Do we judge an OA member for how they work their program? For their size or the speed of their physical recovery? Do we judge them for talking about The Steps too much during meetings or for talking too much about personal problems? How often have we judged another person’s recovery by what they look like across the room from us—only to learn that they’ve already lost more weight in OA than we have to lose in the first place?

Our twelfth Step tells us that we must help others with our affliction, if we are to live long and happily. To do so, we must develop compassion by countermanding the judgments that appear in our heads. After all, the person we are judging is just like us!

Outside of OA, we have even more opportunity to measure our compassion. We need only look at the front page of the newspaper. Pick a tyrant, a political figure, a drunk driver, a shooter, a serial killer, a child abuser, or an animal abuser, anyone whose actions set your anger ablaze. Then ask yourself what terrible suffering must have led them to their present state. Ask what awful mental illness, cruel experience, or deprivation could lead a person to such hideous actions. Our recoveries do not depend on determining who is right or who is wrong; they depend on our willingness to be helpful to God and others. If the person you picked from the headlines asked you to help them stop eating compulsively would you?

When we close ourselves off from compassion, we judge. When we judge, though, aren’t we really trying to separate ourselves from what we are afraid of and from what we believe are the worst parts of ourselves? Anytime we point the finger at another, aren’t three of our fingers are pointing back at ourselves?

If we are to live and prosper in OA, we must help others. If we must help others, we can’t allow our mindless judgments to get in the way of our spiritual work and attitude. We must flip our judgments back over to compassion. We must remind ourselves that we are works in progress, and that God is turning our defects into assets daily. Otherwise, we’ll spend our time yelling at the radio or TV, complaining about those we love, and sitting in meetings wondering why everyone else seems more at ease than we are. Or else just eating.

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.

Q&A

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!

Announcing two exciting Seacoast OA events!

Seacoast OA is excited to announce events in May and June that can help us all make progress with our programs. Everyone is welcome!

Sponsor training

First on Saturday, May 16th, we’ll be offering our first ever sponsor training workshop. This one-hour session will cover the basics of sponsoring. You’ll hear from two local members with experience sponsoring, receive official OA literature on sponsoring, get time time for  questions and answers, and more. The session is free and does not require advanced registration.

Who should attend:

  • People who want to start sponsoring
  • People whose sponsors have suggested they begin sponsoring
  • Sponsors and their sponsees
  • Anyone who wants to sharpen their sponsoring skills

Details:
Saturday, May 16th
10:30 to 11:30 AM, immediately following the 9:00 York meeting
York Hospital Medical Office Building, 16 Hospital Drive
Basement conference room
Please share this flyer with your groups

Workshop on Steps 4 through 9

Following up on our popular March workshop on Steps 1 through 3, this afternoon workshop takes us through the “action Steps.” Learn about what the 4th Step inventory is and how to give it away in Step 5; why the 6th and 7th Step are crucial to our recovery; and how to make amends to repair the relationships in your life. Bring a pen, a notebook, and your copy of The Big Book because we’ll be doing this important work together!

This workshop is free, but we ask that you register ahead of time so that we have a headcount for the room and any materials.

Details:
Saturday, June 13th
1:00 to 4:00 PM
Portsmouth Community Campus
100 Campus Drive, Portsmouth, NH
Directions are on this flyer, which we encourage you to share with your groups
Register by email

We’ll see you in May and June!!!