The Myth of Sponsorship: Share Guidance With The Newcomer

The Myth of Sponsorship: Share Guidance With The Newcomer from Alcoholics Anonymous

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In the 1940’s, the A.A. Beginners’ Meetings ‘s provided a safe and structured environment where newcomers TOOK all Twelve Steps and recovered from alcoholism, as well as a place where those who had been through the Steps learned how to sponsor those who were just starting on their spiritual journeys. The Beginners’ Meetings fostered participatory sponsorship and many newcomers were sponsored by two or more A.A. members, the sponsor and his or her apprentice(s). The term the early A.A.’s used to describe this relationship was co-sponsorship.

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Key Concepts from the 1940’s Beginner’s Meetings

Wally P., author of the book, “Back to Basics: The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners’ Mettings” and an A.A. archivist, interviewed many of the A.A. pioneers from the 1940’s about the early program of A.A.

Here is what Wally discovered about A.A. sponsorship in the 1940’s:

1. Don’t put barriers between the newcomer and Step Twelve. Help the newcomer get to Step Twelve as quickly as possible, so they can experience the life-changing spiritual awakening that occurs as the direct result of taking the Steps. Reassure the newcomer that our program of recovery will relieve their alcoholism/addiction. Show the newcomer that the process is simple, straightforward and that it really works.

The program takes only a few hours to a week at best to learn. Bill W. started working with other alcoholics as soon as he finished his last treatment which was a 5 to 7 day stay in the hospital back in the 1930s.

“My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems….I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic (addict) would save the day.” (Alcoholics Anonymous.15)

“…the broker had worked hard with many alcoholics on the theory that only an alcoholic could help an alcoholic, but he had succeeded only in keeping sober himself. He suddenly realized that in order to save himself he must carry his message to another alcoholic.” (Alcoholics Anonymous. 3rd ed. xvi) “Hence the two men (Bill W. and Dr. Bob) set to work almost frantically upon alcoholics arriving in the ward of the Akron City Hospital.” (Alcoholics Anonymous. 3rd ed. xvii)

Ebby T. was only 60 days sober when he passed the solution over to Bill W.

“But he (Ebby T.) did no ranting. In a matter of fact way he told how two men had appeared in court, persuading the judge to suspend his commitment. They had told of a simple religious idea and a practical program of action. That was two months ago and the result was self-evident. It worked! (Alcoholics Anonymous. 9)

2. It’s the responsibility of the Sponsor to call the newcomer! Demonstrate that you are there for the newcomer by checking in with them on a regular basis. Remember, the newcomer is very ill and needs your encouragement and support.

I’ve heard many sponsors tell their sponsees to call them everyday as a way of showing their willingness and if the fail to do so, they’re fired by their sponsors. I understand the notion of trying to gauge the newcomer’s willingness, but measuring the newcomer’s willingness by their ability to phone daily is like a doctor telling their patient, “you have a terminal disease and I need to treat you daily, so you must call on me daily to make sure I give you the remedy.” That’s not the way it works. The doctor realizes the patient is sick and it is the doctor who calls on the patient regularly to see that their remedy is administered as required. It’s the same way with the suffering alcoholic. Their minds and bodies are sick. It’s our responsibility as recovered alcoholics to call on the newcomer, to make sure the newcomer gets our common solution so that they too may recover.

3. Read the appropriate parts of the “Big Book” to the newcomer. The newcomer is in no physical or emotional condition to read, let alone comprehend, the “Big Book” by them self. Therefore, read and explain the appropriate parts of the book to the newcomer, specifically those 50 or so passages that pertain directly to taking the Twelve Steps.

This is an approach the “Muckers” of the Greater Toronto area developed in the early 1990’s. The Muckers focus is the Big Book; they use no other text. The emphasis is on the first 89 to 103 pages of the Big Book, which have not been altered since originally published in 1939. The process of one alcoholic or addict guiding another through the Book takes between 24 and 30 hours, usually done in 2 – 3 hour sessions, typically over a period of 2 – 3 weeks. In the process, the newcomer circle words and highlight passages and writes comments and notes in the margin of their Big Book. That’s way they are called Muckers, because they muck up the Book! During this period of “being booked”, the individual actually performs the first 11 steps of the program. By teaching it the “Mucker” method to other newcomers they complete Step Twelve.

4. The healing is in the sharing not in the writing. Sit down with newcomer and guide him or her through the Fourth Step inventory. If necessary, write the inventory while the newcomer does the talking. this will help relieve any anxiety or apprehension the newcomer may have about this part of the program.

So often I hear of alcoholics relapsing on Step Four. Why? Because they’re sponsors cut them loose and tell them to go do an inventory. Most alcoholics are either too jittery and sick to write out their inventory, or too afraid to look at the carnage of their past, so they relapse instead. By taking the Step Four and Five journey together, both recovered alcoholic and the newcomer can uncover the character defects and make efficient headway to Steps Six and Seven.

5. Assist the newcomer with his or her amends. Work together on the newcomer’s amends. Be the first person the newcomer sees after an amends is made. Once again, when I work with newcomers, I assist them in mapping out their list of amends and how to possibly make them.

6. Share guidance with the newcomer. Show the newcomer that you believe in and are practicing two-way prayer on a daily basis. Again, I am always doing Step Three and Seven prayers with newcomers and encouraging them to meditate on the answers rather than calling me for advice.

7. Co-sponsor the next newcomer. Have the newcomer accompany you as you work with the next person. This way, the newcomer will gain confidence in his or her ability to guide others through the recovery process.

One of Cleveland, Ohio A.A. founders, Clarence S. writes in a pamphlet on A.A. sponsorship: “Additional information for sponsoring a new man can be obtained from the experience of older men in the work. A co-sponsor, with an experienced and newer member working on a prospect, has proven very satisfactory. Before undertaking the responsibility of sponsoring, a member should make certain that he is able and prepared to give the time, effort, and thought such an obligation entails. It might be that he will want to select a co-sponsor to share the responsibility, or he might feel it necessary to ask another to assume the responsibility for the man he has located.” (A.A. Sponsorship Pamphlet. 1944. Clarence S.)

Thus we grow. And so can you, though you be but one man with this book in your hand. We believe and hope it contains all you will need to begin. We know what you are thinking. You are saying to yourself: “I’m jittery and alone. I couldn’t do that.” But you can. You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself. To duplicate, with such backing, what we have accomplished is only a matter of willingness, patience and labor. (Alcoholics Anonymous.162-163)

Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends — this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives. (Alcoholics Anonymous. 89)

Cameron F. Toronto, ON

P.S. How do you work with newcomers? Let us know, we like to hear about your experiences working with newcomers.

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