Did I Pick the Wrong Sponsor, Or Is it Me?

By Chaya Hurwitz 04/14/14
After four years of thinking about asking someone to sponsor me, someone finally asked to be my sponsor. But I'm not sure it was a good decision...for either of us.
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A bad fit? Shutterstock

More than four years after stepping foot in my first Al-Anon meeting in a church chapel with red low-pile carpeting and a giant cross on the dais, I finally got a sponsor.

And now I’m not so sure I picked the right one.

Of course, considering I wavered so long before working up the guts to actually ask someone to be my sponsor, I’m the first to admit that I am anything but a perfect 12-stepper, waffling in my participation, my dedication to the program—though never my enthusiasm—undulating like a wave that rebels against the pull of the tide. I’ve gone to four meetings a week; I’ve gone to zero meetings a week. I’ve read Courage to Change every day; I’ve gone months without picking it up. I never once considered “dropping out” of Al-anon, and it’s undoubtedly been one of the best things to ever happen to me, but I’m also one of the laziest people you’ve ever met when it comes to doing things that are good for me, whether it’s yoga or oatmeal or working my way through the 12 steps. I’m motivated by a desire to make my life better, but I’m also ruled by fear.

And so, after four years of thinking about asking someone to sponsor me, then asking someone to sponsor me who I’d never even met (he said no), to rehashing with my therapist my inability to commit to asking someone to be my sponsor, to admitting that I was petrified to ask someone in case a) he or she said no again, or b) he or she said yes and I found myself stuck in a bad relationship filled with 12-step homework and obligatory coffee dates, I finally found myself in a situation where someone sort of, kind of, asked me to ask them.

“I can’t wait until you ask me to be your sponsor,” said Future Sponsor one day during a meeting break.

I was relieved, I was excited. At long last, I was finally on my way to achieving this much hyped about recovery people raved about in meetings but that had thus far eluded me. I now had someone to call, someone to walk me through the steps, and (cue Sally Field) I liked this person, I really liked this person.  Everything she shared about in meetings sounded like a canned interview from Charlie Rose…but in a really good way. She’d made my short list of potential sponsors I’d ask were I ever to get around to asking. She was an old-timer in the program: confident and practical and sharp-witted. Best of all, she had this altruistic yet authoritative Al-anon-esque air about her that I longed for in a mentor. The kind of sponsor that would show up for coffee with a stack of dog-eared 12 step books and pamphlets and gently walk me through each chapter in my own way and at my own pace. She’d reach for my hand, and I’d take it.

Except that hasn’t exactly happened. For starters, there’s been no coffee (or iced tea or soda or beverages of any sort), and while I’m not looking for someone to divvy out orders in militaristic fashion—Hut! Step One! Hut! Step Two!—I’m starved for structure. Based on my sponsor’s suggestion, I wrote a first step. She gave it a read, and her feedback was helpful and encouraging, but I felt myself thinking…wait, that’s it? Now she’s suggesting I write a second step, and when I asked where to begin, she sent me another email with a few more, fairly loose, suggestions. And this is all well and good, but I’m thinking I need something more.

Not that I’ve been a model sponsee. I don’t call as much as I want to call, mostly because when I do call I feel like I’ve got to drum up some theatrical Broadway performance about everything going on in my life. The pressure to entertain is unbearable! Then again, the few times I have called, my sponsor accused me of being argumentative and cut me off when I wasn’t even halfway through complaining about whatever it was that I was complaining about. She wanted to get right to the solution—“Stop arguing with your husband”—but how could I do that without purging myself of all the pent-up frustration and anxiety I felt about the problem? If my sponsor wouldn’t let me vent, who would? What kind of sponsor doesn’t let you scream at her about your shitty life?

Then one day my sponsor called me. She sounded panicky, impatient. It was night and the sky was inky black and she was lost trying to find the address of a meeting that she was leading (I told her I’d go, but between work and my kids, I was just too exhausted to do anything that might make me feel better). She was begging for directions, and I felt put on the spot. I can find my way around any city in the world just by sheer instinct but I’m the absolute worst at helping anybody else figure out where they’re going because I’m from Boston and we just plain suck at it. “Head toward the mountains,” I told her. “I don’t know where the mountains are!” she shouted. "West!" I said. "Turn around and head west!" "But I don't know which way is west!" She was frantic, I started to sweat. She was lost, and I was lost and, well, thank God, someone beeped in on her end and she hung up on me.

And as my iPhone clicked, it occurred to me: maybe I’m not cut out to be the type of sponsee that my sponsor wants—or needs—me to be. Maybe we're just not right for each other. 

Chaya Hurwitz is a pseudonym for a regular contributor to The Fix.

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