This post was originally published on August 1, 2014.
I had been considering changing sponsors for a while when I decided to finally do it.
As an alcoholic, I anticipate tragedies everywhere I look so I believed that this switch would mean the end of an era—that I’d lose friends and what I considered to be my sober family. But I knew that my recovery stood at a critical crossroads and I needed to take action.
I’ve heard many myths about what the ideal sponsor is supposed to be —from life coach to guru to newly found parent. Thankfully, I don’t always believe what I hear. In the earliest days of AA, the word sponsor wasn’t even included in the lingo, after all. And in countries like Italy, they still don’t give it as much weight as we do here in America. When I went to my first meeting in Turin, Italy, I listened to humble stories of low bottoms but never heard words like grand-sponsors and sponsees. In the rooms here in Los Angeles, however, I’ve heard several people brag about sponsors to die for. In my early days I’d listen to this with a mixture of envy and judgment. I wasn’t searching for some kind of co-dependent relationship or unrealistic ideal; what I wanted was a healthy connection with the right person who’d help me recover. And that required telling someone who’d helped stay sober for two years that I needed to go in another direction.
My long-term dislike for confrontation has turned me into an expert at avoiding it. When I’ve had to deal with breakups or even just arguments with partners, friends and co-workers, I’ve either instigated a fight, acted like such an asshole that the other person would leave outraged or run away before the debate would even take place. My fear of not having a valuable enough voice would cause me to try to walk out of uncomfortable situations with zero liability and, as a result, I never truly grew up. It’s just another example of the life skills I’m learning today that I should have pocketed back in high school or college.
Today I care deeply for the people that loved me when I wasn’t able to love myself. My old sponsor is among them, and when I decided to trust my instincts and make a change, I knew that the old version of me couldn’t possibly keep up with what the task required.
My perceptions are always exaggerated and out of proportion so for the entire week that preceded our scheduled meeting, the conversation ahead of me seemed like the hardest thing anyone would ever have to face in sobriety. I’d ask myself if I’d actually be capable of taking responsibility for my decisions and feelings and also confront somebody I cared for without causing a scene or, even worse, harm. I didn’t know if what terrified me the most was the idea of disappointing her or if I suspected I wouldn’t be able to stand my ground and speak the truth with grace.
I sincerely meditated on what I was after and what my true needs were. It was clear to me that I wasn’t looking for either a best friend or a psychologist. I knew what a sponsor should and shouldn’t be. But I missed the connection I’d once had with my her and desperately needed to work the 12 steps. My recovery lacked something important and it had nothing to do with having some fictional perfect sponsor.
So, after making sure I wasn’t running away from my already scanty step work, I made a list of pros and cons about my sponsor. I also called friends I knew who had been there before, asking for suggestions and actually listening to what was offered to me—an interesting process and something I’d never considered before. Finally, one Wednesday morning in June, I was able to take action.
The conversation took place in person, only lasted 10 minutes and wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I’d feared it would be. I told her how grateful I was for what she had done for me, and that my decision was nobody’s fault. “Whatever is best for you and your sobriety, Alice,” she said. It was clear that she understood what I needed because she next made sure that I had a new sponsor in mind; she of all people knew that my wandering around without a guide was risky.
Again and again, whenever I remember to pause, run my thinking by another sober alcoholic and not impulsively react to each and every thought that clutters my brain, situations are rarely as dark and catastrophic as they seem to be at a first glance.
When we walk into the rooms for the first time, we are vulnerable and confused, having reached such a level of desperation that we are willing to do whatever it takes in order not to disappoint more people than we already have. But after that original desperation diminishes, ego jumps back into play. I had to remind myself that it’s okay to not find the right sponsor the first time out, and it’s also okay to feel awkward talking to that person about it.
The lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that when we have honest and clean relationships with the people in our lives, we don’t have to fear confrontation. Changing sponsors was, for me, a rehearsal for life; I practiced how to make a choice that was best for my well-being and how to be responsible for it without getting loaded or running away like a childish, feral cat. Though I felt uncomfortable when I told her, it lasted a millisecond and was more than worth what came next: the beginning of a new journey.