Sunday, August 4, 2013

Limits, Surrender, and Letting Go.

I have been working with a sponsee for the last few months, who has been the most difficult person I've ever sponsored. We've had many of those circular conversations which result when someone is so focused upon one subject that "all roads lead to Rome." We've gone around and around and around until my patience has been exhausted, and I've had to say "I have nothing else to offer today, you might find it helpful to read some program literature and talk to your Higher Power, I'm going to get off the phone now."

Yesterday this sponsee called to say that at the last meeting of my home group, she'd gone up to a newcomer who was in terrible pain and said something distinctly judgemental and unkind. I was taken aback and flummoxed; what was the point of this? I listened to the rationalisations, the justifications and the excuses, and then suggested that it had been none of her business, and she had violated the spirit of Al-Anon by saying something unkind to a woman who had been suffering, and who had attended a meeting in search of help.

An Al-Anon meeting is meant to be a safe place for all of us, why on earth this sponsee would have decided to go up to a woman who was in obvious pain and sorrow, and choose to say something mean, is beyond my understanding. I have had other times when I've felt that I'm being of no help to this woman. I seem to have nothing to say which is of any use to her, and we cover the same ground repeatedly. I wonder if our personalities are so diametrically opposed, that I am more of a hindrance than a help. Nothing I offer seems to even register upon her, it's as though I'm speaking to someone who is so turned inward that she is deaf to any input from outside herself.
I continue to repeat basic principles, only to have them challenged and argued about, and hearing one more time, "Yes, but what if...."

This sponsee is still ferociously fighting Step One: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

She has not even begun to consider surrender. 

I know that I was this way when I was new to Al-Anon, and I believe that I must have driven my first sponsor up the wall with my stubborn refusal to surrender, and my complete unwillingness to even consider letting go. It wasn't that I was in opposition to the principles of the program; I was terrified. I couldn't begin to imagine what it would feel like to surrender and let go. I'd spent so much of my life up to that point with an iron grip on the few things I felt I could hold onto, and the rest was just a whirling miasma of fear, dread, anger and resentment. I was a mess, as this sponsee is a mess, and not only that, but I was bound and determined that nobody was going to change my thinking.

I'll never forget one conversation with my first sponsor, in which she said to me with some exasperation,  "You're like a drowning victim, going down for the third time, blindly refusing to be rescued, because you're still convinced that you can do it on your own!"

I recall quite clearly, looking at her in surprise, wondering, "Is that really how I look to her?" Which thought kept coming back to me over the next little while, until finally I asked her, "Do you think I'm stubborn?" She looked at me in astonishment for a moment, and then fell into one of those completely helpless uncontrollable laughing fits. She was overcome, howling, taking off her glasses to wipe her streaming eyes, finally subsiding into  "Oh dear. Oh goodness, that was priceless."
When she finally managed to regain the power of speech she said to me with great affection that I was without doubt the most pigheaded sponsee she had ever worked with.

I was hugely offended, and she could see it in my face, she knew me well by that point, but I think she'd reached the place where I am now with this sponsee - all effort spent, nothing else to give, and uncaring of how she looked or sounded, she had done her best, and it was all that she could do. The rest was up to me.

Fortunately, I decided that I would prove her wrong, and began the task of forcing myself to consider an alternate opinion to my solidly constructed, opaque beliefs. I learnt in spite of myself the glorious freedom possible with surrender and letting go, and it has made my life a thing unrecognisable to that woman of almost 29 years past.

God grant me the strength to carry on with this sponsee in loving kindness, with no judgement.


  1. Thanks for your post. Really resonate with your statement that working AlAnon's 12 Steps have "... made my life a thing unrecognisable to that woman of almost 29 yrs." Not sure how it works for you. In situations like this, my buttons are pushed because I believe I am putting too much time in with no feeling of reward. This is a slippery slope for me. I came into AlAnon believing I was a genius at creative problem-solving, that AlAnon would give the right tools to get 'him' to stop drinking. When he died about 6 mos. later, I began to wake up to the facts of life re: this crazy disease, that not everyone is going to recover. It has helped me to let go of my own sponsees' paths of recovery. I give what I can, what I hope is most helpful. What they do with it, is what they do with it. Today, when this comes up for me, I can recognize my attachment to a certain outcome by the tension in my tummy, solar plexus, neck & shoulders. "Here I am again." I take a deep breath, release the tension in my body, release whatever beliefs I have that don't serve the situation, inc. my judgments of myself, release the person I am seeking to assist realizing that if they could do any better they would & then ask my Higher Power for guidance. This sponsee is on my path; what's she here to teach me?

  2. I have never been a sponsor. I cannot imagine the patience it must take. I've had three sponsors and I think I've let them all down in one way or another. I think it is my willingness or my stubbornness. I'm not sure.

    I will pray that you have the strength to carry on with this sponsee and that you are able to share your experience, strength, and wisdom with her in a way that helps her make any necessary changes in her life.

  3. Thanks for your post. Recently, I had to tell a sponsee that I could no longer serve as her sponsor. I reached a point where to continue to listen was enabling her to be sick. I realize that plenty of members including my Sponsor listened to me ad nauseum. However, after five years, nothing was changing and it was getting bad for my recovery because it was on the cusp of giving advice ("fixing") to get to the bottom line.
    There are Al-Anon members who have serious mental and physical issues. In this case, the member was morbidly obese, a right wing religious fanatic/fundimentalist, and a parent who was sure it was her duty to straighten out her 40 and 45 year old sons' lives. I told her that it is very hard to listen to God's will and to be open to the changes HP wants to bring into my life when my mouth is running. So, I resigned. I don't know if she has another Sponsor. But I recognize that my Higher Power was telling me to let go. I helped this woman get started with the program--going to meetings, reading literature, and she even became our group's GR. But, I felt HP would bring someone else intor her life who could help her with the next steps of her recovery.

  4. Thanks for this post--I haven't had a sponsor yet in my 17 months with Al-Anon, but then again, most people in the group have said I embraced the program very fast. We recently had a woman from another group start coming to ours group, and I have been so annoyed by her self-pity and whining. Thank you for reminding me that we have to be gentle with those who bug us for not putting the program into practice, even after years.

    And my prayers are with you as you wait for the results of your biopsy. Hoping all will turn out well, and thankful that you have some caring people in your lives, as well as a HP who loves you and cares even more.

  5. I too am thinking of you and your medical procedure. Please let us know how you are.

    Regarding dealing with difficult people, there comes a point for me where I don't think I can continue on with a person who isn't willing and wanting the program. I had that happen recently. I asked him if recovery was a priority and he said that it was not. So I said that I thought it would be better if he called me when it was. I can now spend time with others who do want recovery. BTW, I had been working with this man for 2 years and we were on Step Six. He didn't remember taking the fifth step! I think that this is a program for those who want it, and not necessarily for those who need it.