Sponsorship in CoDA – Workshop held in Birmingham 21/4/07
The speaker began by stating how the role of sponsor in a one-to-one situation is a GIFT from recovery; ideally a mutual and balanced relationship and very much a two-way street. The sponsored member may have much to give.
She clarified the role of the sponsor as someone who will take the sponsee through the Steps, and share experience, strength and hope. The sponsor’s ego ideally needs to be out of the equation – the codependent need to ‘fix’ is no more appropriate here than in any other relationship. So it is important that the sponsor takes care of themselves first, in terms of time and energy boundaries, and that the negotiations are for the needs of both. It may be that sponsees new to the programme are particularly needy at a particular point, and the sponsor needs to be clear about what they can really provide; over-reaching can lead to co dependent feelings of victimhood, martyrdom or resentment which will not ultimately benefit the sponsee. Setting boundaries avoids any ‘rescuing’ behaviour and protects the sponsor. Negotiation and dialogue between the two people is absolutely crucial.
And, as with any other relationship, it takes TIME for the sponsor/sponsee relationship to develop and deepen.
Harking back to the issue of keeping the sponsor’s ego out of the equation, she stated how rewarding it can be to see sponsees flourish, but to remember always that it is their Higher Power that does this, not the sponsor! There is a risk that the initial impetus to become a sponsor may be driven out of a codependent need to fix. If a sponsee is continually raising the same question without taking on board the answer, for example, this may raise issues for the sponsor about not being heard – but they then need to let go the outcome. If a sponsee is not working the programme and stays stuck, it may be appropriate for the sponsor to let them go rather than staying with them in their problems.
The whole relationship can be a real gift to the sponsor, serving as a constant reminder of the steps and seeing issues from the sponsee’s perspective. The sponsor needs also to be aware that the sponsee may just need to be listened to, without any feedback. Issues may also arise for the sponsor, around boundaries, dependency, fear of conflict, the need to control and the need to ‘fix’. These, too, can be a gift – ideally the sponsor needs to be willing to receive these messages. It may nevertheless be appropriate to terminate a relationship which really is not working – in CoDA as anywhere else.
The speaker then went on to describe sponsorship as a tool, one of many available tools on the road to recovery. It is important to refrain from advice-giving, to share experience, strength and hope – and let God. However, all relationships are valuable in that much insight can be gained – whether the relationship is ultimately successful or not.
The sponsor really needs to understand their own relationship with God before embarking on a relationship with the other person; an understanding which will minimise the risk of them standing in the way of the sponsee’s Higher Power.
The speaker then stated the need for courage to confront difficult situations. There are many potential lessons here about intimacy, healthy communication and only giving what you have available to give.
There is also an issue of manageability without being controlling. Being available every day can be a challenge, for example, though this may sometimes be appropriate. If a sponsee leaves a message, it is fine to leave a reply, but not then to ‘chase’ the other person. It is a matter of trust to let the other person manage their own life and to let go of the outcome.
In conclusion, she stated that though it is challenging to work as a trusted tool, it is also an opportunity and a gift to work through one’s own painful, codependent side. Sometimes being forced out of self-centredness and self-pity to focus on another person can be a gift, too. The sponsee will also receive the benefit of wisdom. At the end of the day, though, the sponsor is a guide only, not a fixer, therapist or coach.