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.