I got asked for the first time in years to sponsor someone. The first thing I said when she asked was:
“I’ll let you know, I might be almost 20 years sober, but I’m still bat shit crazy.”
“I know.” She said “That’s why I asked you. We seem to have the same kinda crazy.”
“Well ok then”. I agreed.
This sponsorship thing has shifted so much for me over the years. I use to be so engrossed in how well my sponsees did. I was pretty confident in my sobriety in my first decade and was pretty certain I knew what there was to know about getting & staying sober. I was very eager and willing to shovel the black and white of the big blue bible into any newbie that was willing to listen to me pontificate.
I look back now in shock that there were actually a few sponsees who acquired their first year of sobriety with me still as their sponsor. My methods at the time now shame me. I was short tempered, impatient, and harsh. It was what I had come to know as the 2x4 approach. It had worked, for me, so I thought.
My loud boisterous voice has been known to be pretty intimidating. Fear may have caused some women to choose a seat rather than the one next to mine in meetings. But I was sober and thought that was enough to qualify me to support others.
I believed in the 12 steps and the power they have to help people get sober. This within itself was a positive passionate attribute that I unfortunately held like armor. My lance was the ability to clearly describe with accurate judgement exactly what was wrong with all of the people in the rooms…who weren’t me. I was, more often than not very loud and aggressive when delivering the message of hope!
I recall one of my most shameful moments; while dropping off a young vulnerable woman (although I didn’t recognize at the time just how vulnerable) to an empty home. She was stuck in her addiction, repeatedly relapsing, losing her kids to CAS, going to treatment, she was in her 20’s and killing herself and harming her kids. I was scared for her, and when I get scared I get angry. (I have trouble deciding which tense to use here)
Raising my voice to what I was used to as stern and authoritative, but was significantly harsher then what made her comfortable; I told her in no uncertain terms that if she kept going this way she would lose her kids and probably die. I scared her…
There’s this idea in AA and possibly in the recovery world that “scare” tactics work. They use to ‘seem’ to work at least; that’s what the 2x4 approach was all about. It’s what I was familiar with in my family, in church, (recovering catholic), in competitive sports, (there was a time when I was recruited for my athletic ability) and now in AA.
Frightening people into submission is not just in AA, it’s still common in many households to intimidate children into following orders.
Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada states;
“Parents, and guardians and teachers who stand in the role of parents, may “correct” children with “force” that “is reasonable under the circumstances.” This prevents a criminal charge of assault and, if such a charge is laid, it provides a defence.” (https://www.lawnow.org/the-law-of-spanking/) This section of the Criminal Code essentially makes spanking legal.
In some countries beating your wife is still not only accepted, it’s expected. A quick reference of some of the most affected areas in the world: https://www.theclever.com/15-countries-where-domestic-violence-is-legal/
It’s no wonder then that the aggressive sobriety of the aging elders is often still tolerated.
Gabor Mate, a Canadian Physician who has worked with addicts for 20+ years believes that addiction is a result of trauma. If you’re not familiar with his work, google him or watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-K2JTTdcmY. He’s not the only one, there is a plethora of professionals now linking trauma to addiction.
If this is the case 12 step rooms are full of traumatized people. One of my favorite AA lines is; “We don’t get here ‘cause we’re well.” Ain’t that the truth! The 12 steps are awesome. They saved my ass…but after I got over being sober, the reality of my inability to manage my emotions has become increasingly more evident.
This inability has lost me career opportunities, relationships, family and homes. Essentially, I threw a shit ton of chances out the window because I couldn’t handle the stressors in my life. Now, after some hard work I acknowledge that the things that I have experienced have caused certain changes in my brain and altered how I process emotional stimuli. This new found knowledge makes me responsible to manage these affects with strategies that I have needed to locate outside of the rooms. Unfortunately not everyone in the rooms has had the opportunity or the ability to acquire this knowledge or help in healing their own trauma.
AA isn’t alone in being a healing space full of hurt traumatized people; you will find them gathered in many places. Churches, hospitals, shelters, support groups, volunteer committees. And often these people (myself included)are trying their best, but sometimes they injure more than help each other since they’re working without full knowledge of their own trauma.
I have had to take a good long look at what has caused that scary behavior I exhibited earlier in my recovery. I believe I am still working on healing these traumas and in turn I continue to become a more effective sponsor.
These changes needed to be managed by me. No higher power was going to ensure that I did what was necessary as someone with a health issue as identified in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual - I am responsible in managing said illness. Mood disorders, PTSD, substance abuse disorder are all recognized by the DSM which is the leading source for professionals in the field. In my experience it can be dangerous when those with mental health disorders are unsupervised in their support of other traumatized people.
That woman I mentioned earlier, that I yelled at, stopped coming to meetings. I don’t know if I had anything to do with that, but I do know that the interaction influenced me and was one of many experiences that have pushed me towards working more diligently on my own healing.
I won’t be screaming slogans at this new young woman.
The newest of sponsees called me today in what I can only interpret as a panic attack. She shared with me what was going on and I listened. I told her how what she was going through sounded really hard and I acknowledge that absolutely she should be feeling everything that she was feeling. I shared with her what the big book says about these situations and I told her about a situation I experienced which was similar. I told her what I did to manage that time in my life and how it turned out; the good the bad and the ugly parts. She laughed and cried while on the phone with me, and had a plan for the rest of her day.
I am so grateful that I get to practice a gentler trauma informed style of sponsorship. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out. Regardless that woman didn’t take a drink today, neither did I but we also didn’t allow our emotions to cause any more damage, a successful day by any drunks’ standard.
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