There are far less female sponsors in Alcoholics Anonymous than there are male. Have you ever been to a meeting where they make a sponsorship announcement and only a handful of women, or none at all, raise their hands to sponsor? I’ve witnessed this trend at almost all of the AA meetings I go to, especially young people’s meetings. This phenomenon probably has to do with the higher relapse rates among women and generally the lack of fellowship that I have witnessed, especially among competitive young females. When I came into the rooms of AA, I said many times that I hated other woman or that I didn’t trust other women. Since then I have heard many other newcomers say the same thing. The problem wasn’t that I really disliked or was mistrustful of other women; I was competitive, jealous and attention seeking. I didn’t get the type of attention I was looking for from girls so instead of immediately sticking with strong sober women, I had male friends or unhealthy female friends. Luckily, I found a strong female sponsor, and through the steps, hard work with her, and work with others, I was able to change my attitude towards women. From the sponsor-sponsee relationship I discovered a strong fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous.
I remember the first time I met my sponsor. It was outside a large AA meeting in Los Angeles and even before I saw her I was intimidated. When I saw Devin I was even more afraid; she was exactly the type of woman I avoided, confident and beautiful. One of the first things Devin asked me was if I was willing to do whatever it took to stay sober. I had about sixty days sober and I was yet to start the steps. I deeply felt that something was missing, so I told her yes, I was willing to do whatever it took. Once I got into the book and started my step work I was able to take a look at my negative perception of other women. Slowly there was a shift in my perception and behavior. One exercise Devin had me do was go to one woman’s meeting every week and get at least three women’s phone numbers. This was a struggle for me. I found it difficult to reach out to anyone but her and generally didn’t feel accepted, because I was unable to accept myself. Regardless, I did it, and at best it made me interact with other women and see how irrational my fear was.
The first big shift that I felt was when I read my fifth step to Devin. I clearly saw in the fourth column of my inventory how unhealthy the few female friendships I had were. I saw my own self-seeking behavior, jealousy and competition with other women. I began to see that behavior stemmed from a lack of love, acceptance and forgiveness for myself. When I read my fifth step to Devin I got all those things I lacked. I felt accepted, loved, and connected. It was that connection that I had been searching for in my using and also in my early sobriety. She told me that she used to act out in similar ways and rather than regretting and being ashamed of it, I should form new healthy bonds and work with other sober women. The connection that I got through that sponsor-sponsee relationship was my first positive experience with female fellowship.
The next big shift happened for me when I got to the <a href=”http://theeasiersofterway.com/category/12th-step/”>twelfth step</a> and began sponsoring other women. At first it was a radical experience walking up to a newcomer girl after a meeting to ask if she had a sponsor and give her my phone number. I had no other agenda than wanting to be of service. I found reaching out in this way easy and rewarding. Unlike when Devin asked me to go to women’s meetings and get phone numbers, I actually enjoyed this. I found myself in a different mindset than I had been just a few months before. I was genuinely excited to be talking to other sober women.
One of the greatest gifts my sobriety has given me is the ability to sponsor other sober women. I take my sponsees through the steps the same way that Devin took me through them. I ask them to call me everyday, and take them through one step a week. I offer firm deadlines, and we meet once a week to discuss the step work. I always ask, just like Devin asked me, if they are willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober. It is an incredible experience hearing a sponsee read her step work.
I currently have one active sponsee. She just finished making her amends and is starting a daily written inventory. She is a shining example of a young person in sobriety. Melanie is 19 years old, and came to California for sober living. We meet once a week to go over her step work and talk about what is going on in her life. Although we have almost no material similarities, I relate to her on a deep level and her experience reminds me of my own struggles in early sobriety. Many of the things that bother her on a daily basis are things that I still struggled with. Working with her makes me feel connected to another person, and reminds me of what I have to work on. She is helping me stay sober just as much as (if not more than) I am helping her. I truly can’t wait until she can start sponsoring other women and experience the greatest gift of connecting and giving back.
I have had a few other sponsees in the past, and from many of those relationships I have learned how to maintain healthy boundaries. The first sponsee I had was a woman named Kira. I approached her at a meeting I was secretary of, and asked if she needed a sponsor. I talked to her a couple times after this meeting before she actually called me. As soon as she did, we got started on her step work and we met once a week to go over it. However, Kira constantly wanted me to drive her places because she didn’t have a car, or sometimes asked unreasonable favors. Before I worked a program I thought loving someone meant doing everything they asked and generally being overly generous, but now I have a different perspective. The only time I went out of my way was when it involved driving her to a meeting or doing something I thought was imperative to her sobriety. I never enabled her when she was lazy or entitled, but instead held strong with my boundaries. Helping sponsees and being connected has nothing to do with what we physically do for them, but rather how we honestly and openly communicate.
My second lesson in healthy boundaries came when Kira relapsed. After her third step she stopped calling me and stopped responding to my texts. I knew that she had relapsed and I was incredibly worried that she was in serious danger. Even though I knew that there was nothing that I could do for her unless she reached out for help, I wanted to fix everything. I talked to my own sponsor and came to a place in myself where I was able to pray for her with a reasonable detachment. I knew that getting emotionally worked up about something I could not control only caused me distress, so instead I gave it up to my higher power. I have had this experience with the vast majority of sponsees that I have had. Unfortunately, the odds are against us and people do relapse. Every time I see a woman fall out of the program it is because she stops doing step work and gets disconnected because she hasn’t built a fellowship of strong sober women.
Having a fellowship beyond just a sponsor has helped keep me connected in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Recently I started working with another sponsor. I went through the steps with my first sponsor twice, and after completing them the second time I realized I wanted a different experience. This time I picked a sponsor because of her strong spirituality. I am currently trying to expand my spiritual understanding of the steps. I still talk to my old sponsor. I don’t see it as switching but rather an expansion of my fellowship. There are a few women I talk to regularly about what it going on with me. I talk to a few women who attend my homegroup meeting and I always try to stay after the meeting to honestly talk about what’s going, and hear how they are as well. I meet with my current sponsor every other week but we communicate every day. I am currently doing a written tenth step every night where I simply state the good, the bad, and the ugly from that day. My sponsor responds in the morning with a simple thought or word of advice. Doing the steps with a second person has expanded my connection to the fellowship and helped me discover more about myself.
Sponsorship was my first introduction to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. The number of female sponsors in AA will greatly increase if we reach out to newcomer women. It is our responsibility to reach out and encourage them to find the fellowship and work the steps, so that they can in turn sponsor, and give back to the next newcomer. We can’t just tell people about the beauty of connecting to people in AA. We have to experience it for ourselves by giving back.