June 19, 2013

A Broken Link in my Primary Program

For well over a decade, I chose to dwell in a 12-step community, as it evolved from its early inceptions in internet recovery.

It is my primary program: the place where I feel most "qualified" for participation.

For years I chose to struggle, to learn, and then to address the gaps in its literature by writing on topics bridged by Alanon.

Instead of asking questions that no one in our program could answer, I found my own answers and wrote on them.

I stuck around to address all the criticisms others had made of our program, hoping to give it structure. 

Then came the day when someone shared that they had a sponsor "fire" them. And there was some beginnings of discussion about this, with several people sharing personal experience. Then I shared a more neutral bit inspired by Alanon literature and material discussed in a meeting.  Along came a long-timer who said it was against the rules to discuss private relationships in a public setting.  WTF?

This person's fear, was that talking negatively (the discussion to me was actually pretty compassionate and balanced) about sponsorship, might dissuade folks from being sponsors. I felt instead it was a teachable moment.

So I wrote this person privately, a quiet plea for them to realize that when a person is fired during a crisis, this is a painful experience and to please consider that this ("kicking someone to the curb") might not be a good practice to condone.  

 But I was told I was enabling victimhood.. keeping people from dealing with their inventories...They were having none of my attempt to appeal to reason.  Nope. They told me that they did not care what I thought! They did not want to hear from me again, period. (I missed that last paragraph in their email, in my eagerness.)

Wow. It stunned me. A long-timer who refused openness to dialogue?  A long timer who maybe, just maybe, did not really understand that ours is a program where we can reason things out...  This just shouldn't BE, in my humble opinion.

Oh but it was. Reality. 

I'd hoped to appeal to their better nature  not to shut down a discussion on a topic (the sponsorship relationship) that might help folks understand the complexity of such a commitment. Well, I see in hindsight this to this recipient of my email, my plea for a second look was criticism... 

Whew... what a huge difference in perceptions. And what a place that forum had become, when someone with several years recovery under their belt, doing service was not open to having their open anger on a public post.. gently questioned.   
I would argue their anger asked for a response, and it was in danger of shutting down a discussion and frightening the folks who avoid conflict. 

But no. Back to my part:  Today, three weeks later, I can see that what I shared may have struck this person wrongly, because it came unsolicited.  In my mind, I was appealing to reason. But, in speaking up, I was criticizing. 

When I got this person's reply, curt and dismissive,  in black and white:  that they did not care what I thought.  It said do not write me again. I did not read that final paragraph. and so I responded with a second appeal and an apology.

I was told, never email again.  This is something I know I would not have done to anyone ever, on this forum. I have never blocked a person's emails, but once, in fourteen years.

In a meeting that would have gotten worked out... we would have had a topic on Sponsorship and heard a range of viewpoints, and no one person would have shut us down.

Guess what? Smitty doesn't give up easily. Alas. 


  1. I think we always feel we know best or at least think our ideas should be heard. But when someone doesn't want to hear it then there is no point in giving it.

    I can't imagine where I would be if my sponsor had fired me, she could have and that would have to be part of my own growth process. 20 years later she doesn't sponsor newcomers anymore.

    People get stuck sometimes comfortable where ever they are not making progress. As a sponsor you want someone to work the steps and get past being a victim.

    Sorry that you got in the middle of that it is hard enought to do in person I can't imagine dealing with it email.

  2. Yes, being "fired" has been part of my growth process, too. But my latest thought when I sponsor someone is to be sure they have a crisis call list. I can't be the person's only source of help.

    That said, the particular story of the person who was "fired" was one in which the person had face-to-face and regular phone contact. The person was in the midst of crisis, and the Sponsor told them to call a crisis line. And not contact the Sponsor again until they had seen a psychiatrist and had medications stabilized.

    I'm thinking... the Sponsor has a part in that piece, somewhere. They needed to set boundaries a lot earlier, perhaps. Personally, I hate hardline sponsorship. I think it gives program a bad name.

    It also does not care for people in emotional crisis very well. The Sponsee got over it, however, it was not good program to kick someone to the curb.

    Of this I am sure. My problem with my primary program is that it has such limited literature and so little good online experience that folks don't get the difference between someone acting out of victimhood, and acting out of a place of trauma.

    I found that scary. When it comes to mental/emotional illness, compassion is the first place to start. Even I need it from time to time and I am not a newcomer. Every once in awhile I stumble into a childhood trigger, and when I choose a Sponsor, especially one who has supposed recovery in my area of vulnerability, I count on them to coach me through it.

    Not kick me to the curb and tell me to call a crisis line.

    I am the last person to act as a victim... but in black and white my appeal for compassion could sound like I am asking to be "enabled" I guess.

    Folks need compassion in this program, even when they are sturdy and well. I give it to others, without enabling..surely others can do the same?

    Just thinking out loud here. Not to argue, but to seek my personal understanding...I do appreciate alternate viewpoints.. to keep me honest.

    Best, Smitty

  3. I don't like the word fired because sponsorship is not a job--it is a calling from my HP and an essential part of Step 12 of carrying the message to others. I believe that in the situation you describe, it is best to let the resentment go. There are many sick people out there who go to 12 step meetings. Kinda like the insane people running the psychiatric hospital sometimes--LOL. But I agree that compassion is needed. And a face to face to discuss why someone no longer wants another to sponsor them. It needs to be done with the principles of the program in mind.

  4. I really like this understanding.... sponsorship is a calling..... not a job. Thanks Syd too for the other piece. I keep having too high expectations for myself and others. Eventually, I will remember that many people, including me, have chips on their shoulders and nails in their heads that keep bumping others.


I welcome your thoughts. Keep me honest~