A centerpiece of 12-Step programs is an oddity known as sponsorship. I call it an oddity because it is my observation that that’s how it seems to most people … particularly men … walking into a meeting for the first time. In most meetings, if there are newcomers present, someone with 12-Step experience is asked to describe sponsorship. There is no script … each person so asked will describe it in their own way based on their own experience. It would probably sound something like this: Sponsorship is a tool of the program, a mentor who’s already worked the steps and can guide you. A sponsor is someone you can call with matters you don’t want to discuss in the meeting, someone who eventually knows your story so you don’t have to start from scratch when you call. A sponsor gives you someone to listen to your ideas and help you work the Steps. And a sponsor keeps you Accountable.
This isn’t a commercial for 12-Step programs. I happen to believe there are many ways to navigate this life but it was a sponsor who first taught me about being Accountable. Oh, yeah, as a kid I was clearly Accountable to my parents, at least what they found out about. I was brought up Catholic and for 18 years believed I was Accountable to God, but had a choice of what to say in the confessional. I spent a fair amount of my life going it on my own. I still had a moral code … largely the one my parents and church had taught me … but I saw myself as being Accountable only to myself. What a concept. I’ve gradually rebuilt a belief in a Higher Power that is the source of my moral code but I follow it because it’s what I see as my purpose, not to avoid roasting in hell. There are two problems with being Accountable only to yourself and an often-silent God, unpunishing God. The first is Ego, that remarkable ability we have to confuse our own will with God’s and to overlook faults in ourselves that we see so easily in others. And the second is our Ability to Rationalize, to delude ourselves in exactly those areas where we struggle the most. I need someone, or number of someones, who hold me Accountable for doing what I believe. If I am to be truly held Accountable, that someone needs to know what I believe and what I’m doing. A sponsor learns both by spending time in meetings and working the Steps with me but so does a friend with whom I’m honest. Still, I’m not Accountable if my sponsor and friend are unwilling to tell me what they think and I’m unwilling to listen to what my Ego sees as criticism. It is a good friend indeed who will speak up when I need it most and brave my displeasure with what they have to say.
I’ve been fortunate to have a wife and friends and sponsors who have done just that over the years. Thank you.