People

Chapter 2: Sponsors at the Gate

DISCLAIMER: Cogniventus.com has not been approved of, nor endorsed by, and is not affiliated with, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. or any service entity of A.A.W.S., Inc. This website’s currently Featured Project, “100 Years of Extravagant Promises,” is not AA Conference-Approved Literature; it is non-fiction commentary submitted here for non-commercial single-use, and gives Fair Use citations, for educational purposes, of limited sections of the 2nd Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1955, which has been in Public Domain since 1983.

Preface: The Twelfth Step is the first Step that anyone experiences in AA—the reaching out of one alcoholic to another. All too often it sets the tone for a Candidates experience of AA, and the inability of a Sponsor to understand the different requirements of the Immediate Gate and the Gradual Gate.. Because of this, we are placing “On Sponsorship” before “How it Really Works” in order to raise the bar on the idea of “Working with Others.” The New Founders created around the idea of “sponsorship” a profound responsibility to not only work with others, but also be the flagship bearers of AA’s Oral & Written Traditions, to guard AA’s spiritual inheritance which, partly because of the absence of authentic Sponsorship, is in grave danger of being fully squandered.

New Founders pioneered the practice of Spiritual Triage…and Cogniventives demonstrated how to Manage Recovery Risk…

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Alcoholics Anonymous, pp 89-103
The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp 106-125




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WORKING WITH OTHERS, page 89

7.1 “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure your own immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other spiritual activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail. Remember they are fatally ill.”

7.2 “The kick you will get is tremendous. To watch people come back to life, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.”

7.3 “Perhaps you are not acquainted with any drinkers who want to recover. You can easily find some by asking a few doctors, ministers, priests and hospitals. They will be only too glad to have your help. Don’t start out as an evangelist or reformer. Unfortunately a lot of prejudice exists. You will be handicapped if you arouse it. Preachers and doctors don’t like to be told they don’t know their business. They are usually competent and you can learn much from them if you wish, but it happens that because of your own drinking experience you can be uniquely useful to other alcoholics. So cooperate; never criticise. To be helpful should be your only aim.”

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100 Years of Extravagant Promises, pp 16-33

“We can’t well content ourselves with the view that all these recovery failures were entirely the fault of the newcomers themselves. Perhaps a great many didn’t receive the kind and amount of sponsorship they so sorely needed.So we AA’s failed them.” Bill Wilson, 1961

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THE CALL TO SPONSORSHIP

2.1 Each generation within a community of conscience struggles to uphold tradition while staying vital & relevant in changing times. Simply practicing the principles and carrying the message of the community is not enough: someone must take responsibility for the care of the message and the preservation of the principles. Nine Supreme Court Justices stand guard over The United States’ constitutional inheritance, walking a fine line between the literal and intended meanings in their Written Tradition. Tribal shamans protect the community’s Oral Traditions, walking an even finer line between prophecy and possession in their revelatory ecstasies. Who takes responsibility for keeping the Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions vital & relevant in changing times? Who are the guardians of AA’s spiritual inheritance?

2.2 In the New Founder Movement, Sponsors are the custodians of AA’s unique historical application of the perennial Surrender-to-Win teaching to the problem of alcoholism. At their best, AA sponsors are the guardians of the collective Oral & Written Tradition left by alcoholics who have taken the Twelve Steps within a Fellowship rooted in the Twelve Traditions. Ideally, an AA sponsor represents an unbroken line of transmission that can be traced back to Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob, or Clarence Snyder.

© 2019 Michael V. Cossette

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WORKING WITH OTHERS, page 90

7.4 “When you discover a prospect for Alcoholics Anonymous, find out all you can about him. If he does not want to stop drinking, don’t waste time trying to persuade him. You may spoil a later opportunity. This advice is given for his family also. They must be patient, realizing they are dealing with a sick person.”

7.5 “If there is any indication that he wants to stop, have a good talk with the person most interested in him – usually his wife. Get an idea of his behavior, his problems, his background, the seriousness of his condition, and his religious leanings. You need this information to put yourself in his place, to see how you would like him to approach you if the tables were turned.”

7.6 “Usually it is wise to wait till he goes on a binge. The family may object to this, but unless he is in a dangerous physical condition, it is better to risk it. Don’t deal with him when he is very drunk, unless he is ugly and the family needs your help. Wait for the end of the spree, or at least for a lucid interval. Then let his family or a friend ask him if he wants to quit for good and if he would go to any extreme to do so. If he says yes, then his attention should be drawn to you as a person who has recovered. You should be described to him as one of a fellowship who, as a part of their own recovery, try to help others, and who will be glad to talk to him if he cares to see you.”

7.8 “If he does not want to see you, never force yourself upon him. Neither should the family hysterically plead with him to do anything, nor should they tell him much about you. They should wait for the end of his next drinking bout. You might place this book where he can see it in the interval. Here no specific rule can be given. The family must decide…”

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2.3 Sponsorship as such is not a displacement activity to relieve anxiety & boredom. Sponsors are not Big Book study-buddies, lifetime AA companions, friends, parental figures, or confessors. Sponsors are not just alcoholics who have taken the Steps and are fulfilling a mandate to help others. Most importantly, Sponsoring other alcoholics is not a way to immunize yourself against drinking.

2.4 Although Sponsorship is not covered in the first 164 pages of the Big Book, by 1944 Clarence Snyder had already written the first of many pamphlets that would eventually come through the Conference-approved pipeline. Before Big Book publication many meetings were invitation only, with prospects screened to protect any individual who was not yet “willing to go to any lengths,” and to protect the group from disruptive influences. Being “sponsored” into an AA groups meant being vouched for by a member. Things have changed.

2.5 What today’s Sponsor does is unclear, but a quick trip to the dictionary will give you a better idea of what is a New Founder Sponsor:

A sponsor is someone who takes responsibility for somebody else during a period of education or apprenticeship.

Sponsoring someone into AA means taking responsibility for that candidate for a specified time and purpose in their Twelve-Step Recovery: a beginning and an end; in between, an intense training program giving the Candidate a chance to enter a roaring stream of sobriety that now rolls back through four generations. Being sponsored into AA Recovery means learning a loose set of strategy & tactics that, when allowed to work, engineer a technology of sober living that is self-maintaining, and continuously adapts to any attempt to start drinking. Although an intense personal relationship often develops between Sponsor & Candidate, Sponsoring & being Sponsored always occurs within the context of a Fellowship that balances liberty with security.

2.6 To laissez faire Steppers obsessed with staying on their side of the street, the challenge of taking responsibility for another alcoholic may seem odd, unseemly. But taking responsibility is

© 2019 Michael V. Cossette

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not taking over, and being “willing to go to any lengths” does not mean being willing to do anything a sponsor says. Candidates are actively involved in determining, with the sponsor, what boundaries best serve their training. Sobriety requires hard, demonstrable skills that we detail in Chapters 5, 6 & 7; a desire to stop drinking is not nearly enough.

2.7 Sponsorship requires a different set of skills than just being sober, a different level of Knowledge. First Founders are fond of the epigram: “You can’t pass on what you don’t have.” New Founders prefer: “You can’t pass on what you do have unless you know how to pass it on.” Getting a PhD in Synthetic Organic Chemistry doesn’t mean you will be any good at teaching Synthetic Organic Chemistry. Expertise in theory & practice does not automatically translate in the ability to transmit that theory & practice to another.

2.8 To Work the Steps oneself is not the same as taking someone else through the steps, and any would-be Sponsor who thinks they can take on a candidate without preparing may be assisting in their destruction rather than their recovery. Working the Steps does not automatically capture the true spirit of Steps, just as painting a picture does not automatically make you an artist…

2.9 In promising “a spiritual experience as a result of these Steps,” AA takes its place among communities of conscience rooted in a transformative experience of a First Founder. There have been many others throughout history, each surviving and flourishing because someone took responsibility for the transmitting and distributing to the next generation the core message and principles arising out of the root transformation.

2.10 Transmit & Distribute is the key: not very melodramatic, not very spiritual, but deadly accurate. In fact, the Big Book can best be seen as an extended sales pitch by Wilson for a technology for sober living. But such a technology must be more than just Steps and Stories. Telling stories may be effective at attracting candidates, but only the development of a set of discriminating

© 2019 Michael V. Cossette

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skills that we will enumerate in this Chapter can pass on an experiential tradition to the candidate. We may identify to get sober, but we compare to stay sober.

2.11 Sponsors control the transmission and distribution of a technology of sober living. As problem drinkers, they used alcohol to change the way they experienced the world—a technology of feeling. As alcoholics, they used alcohol to change the way the experienced themselves—a technology of being. With the aid of a sponsor a candidate now creates a technology of becoming—a way of experiencing themselves and the world in an ongoing relationship that is always fresh, vital, and alive.

2.12 Moving from a Power-based to a Knowledge-based solution to alcoholism—the primary purpose of this Big Book Sequel—also changes the nature of relationships within the Group. There has always a natural tendency to allow a power discrepancy to develop between the two. Attempting to get around this, you often hear of “co-sponsoring,’ which sound quite egalitarian, but it usually means co-dependent and has nothing to do with transmitting an unbroken lineage of Oral & Written Traditions. If you want what I have our relationship is not equal, and it is up to each of us to draw clear boundaries so that no abuse, intentional or otherwise, can occur.

2.13 Perhaps the Master-Apprentice relationship best approximates sponsorship as we see it—a skilled sponsor uses the language of its Written Tradition and the storytelling of its Oral Tradition to help the candidate craft a pragmatic sobriety that also injects beauty into every sober breath.

…transcription to be continued…MVC

© 2019 Michael V. Cossette

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