Sponsorship in SCA

“Sponsorship is two people with the same problem helping each other to work the program. It can provide a framework for a sexual recovery plan and for doing the Twelve Steps, and can bring emotional support at difficult times.” — The Tools That Help Us Get Better 

ORIGINS OF SPONSORSHIP

The words “sponsor” and “sponsorship” were not to be found in the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, the basic text of AA, otherwise known as the AA “Big Book.”[1] Sponsorship is an aspect of Twelve Step recovery that evolved over time. In essence, sponsorship is a form of personal guidance or mentorship. Originally, AA members were asked or even assigned to watch over newer, prospective members of the Fellowship. There were no special requirements for being what we now call a sponsor, except that the member doing the helping had more experience of sobriety than the newer member. It could be weeks, or days more of sobriety than the new prospect. In time, a bond often formed between the two parties, owing to a common desire for recovery. Sponsorship took hold in AA, and spread to the other Twelve Step programs that grew out of AA.

UNDERSTANDING SPONSORSHIP AND GETTING OR BECOMING A SPONSOR

In the beginning, both sponsor and sponsee may ask what this sponsorship idea is all about. Whether it be through reading SCA literature, or hearing about sponsorship from more experienced members of the Fellowship, we begin to construct a concept in our minds. During meetings, some groups ask for a show of hands, of those who have a sponsor, and of those who are willing to be sponsors.

If we are looking for a sponsor, this is a good time to take note of who is raising their hands, and when. Do we want to choose a sponsor who also has a sponsor? Or is it enough that this person is willing to be a sponsor? The primary attribute of a sponsor is that of having the experience of recovering—to whatever extent—from sexual compulsion. This is someone who understands experientially what we are going through, unlike someone who merely studies sexual compulsion, or knows about it only from an intellectual point of view. Many members of Twelve Step programs will say that a sponsor provides a listening ear and objective input, and guides the sponsee through the process of working the Twelve Steps.

Just as having a sexual recovery plan is no guarantee of achieving or maintaining sexual sobriety, having a sponsor is no guarantee of getting or staying sexually sober either. We may think of sponsorship as a “practice relationship” for our other relationships. It is often valued for being a somewhat formalized relationship in a sometimes-solitary world. As sexual compulsives, we have a strong tendency towards isolation. Sponsorship can be both a bridge and a catalyst to bring us out of isolation. It can help us engage more readily, effectively, and healthily with the larger world – including within the SCA Fellowship. Both sponsor and sponsee must come to terms with their readiness, willingness and ability to engage in the sponsorship relationship.

How do we know when we are ready to be sponsored? It often begins with the First Step of SCA’s Twelve Steps: “We admitted we were powerless over sexual compulsion – that our lives had become unmanageable.” When we can make this admission, it is easier to accept the help of another. After all, we could not stop acting out our sexual fantasies and behaviors—our sexual compulsion—unaided for very long. Yet knowing how hopeless a situation can get may not be as effective a motivator as wanting to live a better life. Sponsorship extends this hope of a better life. It is a more personal mode of carrying the message of recovery from sexual compulsion. The message is simply this: if you want to stop acting out, you can; furthermore, a spiritual life can be had which is happy, joyous and free.

So we decide that we are ready to be sponsored. How then, do we go about getting a sponsor? One member set a goal of asking three people in two weeks a question such as: “Without making a commitment at this time, I was wondering if you are available to sponsor, and how would it be if you sponsored me?” After two weeks, that member had three people from whom to choose. The first time doing this exercise, however, our friend was uncomfortable with the choices. If or when this happens, like our friend did, we merely set another two-week period, and ask more potential sponsors the same question. We may just ask one person from the outset. We are sure to find a sponsor.

In any case, we begin the process. Trusted Servants of meetings we attend can be asked to suggest a sponsor for us, and some SCA groups assign temporary sponsors to newcomers. Other groups have experienced members who offer their sponsorship. We can listen at meetings for sharing with which we identify, and then ask that member if they are willing to sponsor us. The prospective sponsee is always free to decide on his or her own sponsor without pressure. Still, if there are many false starts, it is relevant to ask the question “When will I be ready?”

This question of readiness applies to prospective sponsors as well. How many times must an experienced member of the Program be asked to sponsor another member before agreeing to do so? Sponsorship has a way of providing additional cohesion to a group. We examine for ourselves the consequences to our group, of declining to sponsor others. After all, SCA’s Fifth Tradition is that “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the sexual compulsive who still suffers.” Many of us have found that “To keep it, you have to give it away” – we assist others in their recovery to maintain our own sexual sobriety. Then too, the SCA Statement of Purpose reminds us that “Our primary purpose is to stay sexually sober and to help others to achieve sexual sobriety.” Sponsorship is a way of working the Twelfth Step: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to sexually compulsive people and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Sponsor and sponsee each must arrive at their own conclusion regarding readiness.

To ask someone to sponsor us may be an incredible leap of faith. We may feel vulnerable. Our past history in the area of interpersonal relationships may cause us to hesitate. Many of us are embarrassed about our romantic and sexual behaviors, which have often been selfish, sordid, secretive, furtive and a source of shame. However, this may be an opportunity to change old patterns and open up to an unfamiliar honesty, starting with our new recovery relationships. Before disclosing too much information, one may ask the other if there are any “deal-breakers.” Agreeing on temporary or interim sponsorship may provide the reassurance we need that SCA is indeed a safe place for us to recover from sexual compulsion.

THE ROLE OF A SPONSOR OR SPONSEE

To some, a sponsor is an authority figure—a kind of boss—and we are afraid of entering into yet another power struggle. So an examination of our motives will be helpful at this time. Perhaps we can look at what sponsorship is not, in order to see its outline more clearly. A sponsor is not a potential sex partner, is not our Higher Power, is not our parent, is not our therapist, and is not our employer, or employee. No one is paid to be a sponsor. Likewise, a sponsee is not a child, is not a minion, and is not a target for seduction. It is especially important for both sponsor and sponsee to keep the words of the SCA Closing Statement in mind: “In the spirit of recovery from sexual compulsion, we suggest that sex between members not be treated lightly. Sex between people new to the fellowship and other members is discouraged.”

 

One group had a “trophy sponsor,” a good example of recovery who was clearly respected by that group. We say “trophy,” because to some in this group, having that person as a sponsor seemed to be a way of acquiring their fellows’ respect – a kind of status symbol. By the same token, not all sponsors are immune to the pride that sometimes goes with having large numbers of sponsees.

This popular sponsor, having a number of sponsees and not wanting to be overextended, asked two questions of newcomers who were also prospective sponsees. This was because the sponsor was troubled by saying “no” to a program request, and wanted to be of maximum usefulness to the members already being sponsored. The first question was: “What brought you to SCA?” If the answer was “The bus,” the potential sponsor would attend to other prospects. However, if the answer was more or less an admission of powerlessness over sexual compulsion, and of unmanageability, the prospective sponsee was asked the second question.

The second question was “Do you hear what you need to hear at meetings?” This was an attempt to find out the newcomer or prospective sponsee’s level of open-mindedness. The answer spoke of the potential sponsee’s ability to ask for help, and ability to accept help. The answer also informed the sponsor’s subsequent interactions with the member. A good guide in these situations may be to ask ourselves whether we can be helpful to the prospective sponsee, and in what capacity. It is also sensible to consider our other commitments, and weigh our ability to spend sufficient time with a new sponsee, especially if we have a number of others, before agreeing to sponsor someone. 

Sponsorship, like many Tools of the Program, promotes growth. Sponsoring another is not confined to a certain stage of the program, or length of time in recovery. By sponsoring others in SCA, we become more responsible and mature in our own recovery. We get to see life from the point of view of the Program, and concentrate on sound, recovery behaviors. We get the opportunity to grow into this new life of recovery.

WORKING WITH A SPONSOR OR SPONSEE

When we find someone who agrees to explore sponsorship with us, we may want to meet in a public place initially. This can be thought of as an interview. It is an opportunity for us to get to know each other, and see if we are compatible. It is helpful to gauge if there is a sense of trust between the individuals, particularly for the prospective sponsee. We share our stories, exchange contact information and begin to establish boundaries. We could even have questions prepared ahead of time: Will there be assignments, or suggestions? How often do we meet in person? What methods of communication are we to use: telephone calls; voice mail; email; letters; text, or some other means of contact? Who calls whom, how often, and how soon is contact expected to be returned? Upon

answering a call, we can say things like “I have five minutes to talk,” or “Can I call you back in half an hour?” or “I cannot talk now.” We can disclose times it is acceptable or not acceptable to call. We can say whether it is permissible to leave messages or not, and if there are any limitations on the kinds of messages that can be left.

At some point in this “interview,” or a discussion of sponsorship, the two reach a mutual decision as to whether an agreement is reached regarding sponsorship, or if there is to be further discussion. Many members, when asked to become a sponsor, tell the potential sponsee that they need time to decide. This can take the form of prayer and meditation, consulting with one’s own sponsor, and the like. Some new sponsors will specify a “trial period” of perhaps 30 days, when either sponsor or sponsee can terminate the relationship without hard feelings. We do not leave the matter of sponsorship up in the air: we want a clear understanding of whether or not a sponsorship relationship exists. 

Sexual Compulsives Anonymous – A Program of Recovery, also known as the SCA “Blue Book,” tells us that “The sponsor/sponsee relationship is not a marriage. If it doesn’t work we simply get another sponsor. However, continuity is valuable. A sponsor who knows our story and has an ongoing sense of our situation is helpful.” It also emphasizes that “Confidentiality is an essential ingredient of sponsorship. There are many things about our sex lives that we share about openly at meetings, but there are often other aspects about ourselves that we have great difficulty revealing. Sharing our sexual secrets is a crucial part of the process of healing. We can only do so when we know that our secrets are safe with trusted confidants. The sharing of sponsors, sponsees and other SCA friends is equally confidential.”

In SCA, individual members define sexual sobriety for themselves. Abstinence is determined by—among other things—not engaging in our personal bottom-line or acting-out behaviors. Therefore, we are encouraged to share our sexual recovery plan with our sponsor.

The sponsor is not expected to determine what is on the sexual recovery plan, but to provide feedback and suggestions. We are careful to avoid a sexual recovery plan that is too heavily weighted in one direction or the other—a plan should be neither too strict to allow us to achieve and maintain abstinence from our bottom-line behaviors, nor too lax to keep us moving in the direction of healthy sexuality. Some sponsors and sponsees will arrive at an agreed framework for establishing and amending the structure of a plan. SCA recommends that members share their sexual recovery plans with another SCA member, preferably a sponsor, and this extends to changes to a plan. There is also SCA literature on the subject of how to write a sexual recovery plan.

IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF SPONSORSHIP

Understanding, acceptance and patience are important in sponsorship. We create a safe environment for sharing and expressing ourselves if we avoid getting angry or taking things personally when, for example, a slip is disclosed, program wisdom is communicated, or some viewpoint, desire or need is expressed. This goes for both the sponsee and the sponsor. As is defined in The Tools That Help Us Get Better, sponsorship is a two-way street, and the sponsor is working the Program alongside the sponsee. There is a natural tendency for a sponsee to look up to a sponsor, but it is wise for the sponsee not to put the sponsor on a pedestal, or base his or her sobriety on the sponsor’s. Our First Step does not depend on any other person, but rather on ourselves.

Generally, a sponsor ought to be kept up to date, and know when some significant event has occurred in the sponsee’s life. This saves time in getting current, when some other crisis may be imminent. We want to emphasize the importance of encouraging any member who has had a setback in recovery to stay connected to the Program. This can help prevent a slip from turning into a relapse. A sponsor is generally a focal point, and is often the first point of contact with SCA in challenging times. Contact with a sponsor can therefore help us prevent the compulsion from taking hold again. This interaction is part of discovering how to work the Program and negotiate life while staying sexually sober.

Ongoing contact between a sponsee and a sponsor can establish a baseline measure of daily life. The sponsor gets to know when the sponsee is in need of help, or doing just fine. Both parties develop a sense of commitment and accountability, which was unknown to us in our acting out days. This is active, deliberate recovery, and an end to our isolation. In recovery, and when being sponsored, we find the courage to acknowledge our need for help, to ask for help, and to accept help. It is important to remember that help may sometimes arrive in forms we do not expect. Regular contact with a sponsor can help us keep the focus on our recovery. To paraphrase a personal story in the AA Big Book, when we spend time on our sexual compulsion, its influence grows; when we spend time on our spiritual recovery, it grows. Where we choose to spend our time is up to us. 

SPONSORSHIP AND WORKING THE TWELVE STEPS

Sponsors provide crucial help and guidance when working the Twelve Steps: they can help us determine how to go about taking a Step, when to move forward, and when to linger on a Step. The details are worked out between the sponsor and sponsee, but usually a sponsor will actively encourage a member to progress through the Steps, and point to relevant and helpful literature in the process. Some members choose to share their written First Step work and sexual histories with their sponsors, or to review them verbally. A sponsee will often look to a sponsor for help with forming an understanding of a Higher Power, as is outlined in the Second Step: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  Also, with relating to that Higher Power as is outlined in the Third Step: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” Sponsors often assist with suggestions for how to go about taking the personal inventory involved in the Fourth Step: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Our sponsors often, but not always, hear our Fifth Step: “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” We can expect to receive feedback from those who hear our Fifth Step, but caution against elevating anyone to the level of “expert” in how we view them, and against the sponsor assuming that status without credentials. After all, we are simply “two people with the same problem helping each other to work the program.” After hearing our Fifth Step, a sponsor can reassure us that we are in the right place in SCA, and encourage us to stay in recovery and press on with the Steps. A sponsor can also emphasize that recovery is possible and worthwhile. The self-examination and disclosure involved in the Fourth and Fifth Steps are challenging, and our problems can seem overwhelming. It means a lot to most members to know that they have someone in their sponsor who is prepared to accept and continue working with them, regardless of their past.

At this point, contemplating what we have uncovered in our Fourth and Fifth Steps, and facing our Sixth[2] and Seventh[3] Steps, we may ponder action in additional areas, working on other aspects of our health, or even seeking other means of recovery. Whether that means more action than simply proceeding to the next Step, such as revisiting aspects of our earlier Step work, getting another sponsor, joining another Twelve Step program, or getting a sponsor in another Twelve Step program, we push ahead with our recovery. While SCA has no opinion on outside issues, even other Twelve Step programs, the individual is free to find their own way.

Some SCA members find that they benefit from seeing helping professionals in the field of recovery from sexual compulsion, along with attendance at SCA meetings. Many of us have experienced trauma of one kind or another in our lives, including sexual abuse or exploitation in some cases. SCA has no opinion on therapy as such, but the AA Big Book makes clear that one should not shy away from seeking outside help for health problems where that help can augment the AA program, or do what the AA program is not designed to do. Chapter 9 of the AA Big Book, “The Family Afterward,” page 133, has this to say: “We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative. We, who have recovered from serious drinking, are miracles of mental health… But this does not mean that we disregard human health measures. God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons…Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward.” Very few people in SCA will say that theirs is the only way to recover from sexual compulsion, however it is expressed. A sponsor can help us sort through what we discover as we pursue our recovery, and help us find ways to address it. A sponsor can also help us see ourselves more realistically, and accept our shortcomings and challenges as we work to bring healthy changes into our lives. Recovery is there for us, if we work for it. Recovery is a lifelong pursuit and goal, but it is always attainable, one day at a time.

As sexual compulsives, we tend to avoid taking responsibility for things we have done, and harm we have caused. Conversely, we may sometimes take responsibility or blame ourselves for things done by others, where we actually bear little or even no responsibility. A sponsor can be invaluable in helping us to complete our Eighth Step[4] list of those we have harmed, and in determining amends to be made as part of our Ninth Step,[5] including where it may sometimes be best to leave things well alone. A sponsor can help us view our Tenth Step[6] work of continuing to take personal inventory objectively. Many of us will not have paid attention to spiritual practices before coming to SCA. Even if we have, how we go about them in recovery may very well be different. A sponsor can share personal experience and understanding of the prayer and meditation that are involved in working the Eleventh Step.[7] Sponsors can also impart their knowledge of the various ways of carrying the message of recovery that form part of working the Twelfth Step.[8] In general, a sponsor can relate how others in SCA may have approached their Step work. Knowing its value, a sponsor will often encourage a sponsee to get involved in service, emphasize the importance of service in recovery, and convey first-hand experience of various kinds of service and outreach. The input and support of a sponsor can make all the difference. 

SPONSORSHIP IS A TOOL OF THE PROGRAM AND NOT A SOLUTION

We often find in time on the road to recovery that some of our old problems will seem trivial, and that our perspective on our other problems will improve. Sometimes, though, when we are at a low point in our recovery and want to hear words of encouragement from our sponsor, we may be disappointed. Making errors and encountering setbacks is part of finding our way. Our sponsors are only human, and fellow sexual compulsives to boot. They cannot solve our problems for us. The Second Step tells us that we “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The Third Step reminds us that we “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” The Slogans tell us in general terms to take it “One Day at a Time,” and that “This Too Shall Pass.” Though we may have little else, as members of SCA, we see that we are not alone in our struggles and that things will change, if we follow the example of others who have persevered with their recovery before us. Ultimately, we are each called in recovery to look to our Higher Power for guidance, protection and care.

Roadblocks, difficulties and shortcomings in the sponsorship relationship are an opportunity for the sponsor to learn from the sponsee, and vice versa. Again, we are “two people with the same problem helping each other to work the program.” The addictive process of sexual compulsion is constantly looking for ways to work its way into our lives. SCA literature speaks of sexual compulsion as being cunning, baffling, powerful and insidious for good reasons. Rebounding into compulsive behaviors as a result of disappointments or failings in sponsorship (or indeed in our recovery or lives in general) is a trap of which we must beware. No one knows everything, and sponsors can at times be blunt, or fall short. However, “sponsor-shopping” until we hear what we want to hear could be a problem too. Staying with one sponsor works fine for most of us, even when a sponsor disagrees with a sponsee. Forthright communication is essential to the growth and maturity of any relationship, so long as it is done in a manner that is open, honest, respectful and considerate. Some of us have been friendly confidants and then discovered that expectations of sponsorship have been imposed on us without our consent.  If either person detects an unhealthy dependency, the problem can be worked out and used as a growth experience. Sometimes, the problem cannot be worked out, and we decide to end a sponsor/sponsee relationship.  This too can represent a growth experience.

Reintegrating sex into our lives as a healthy element is a delicate matter. A sponsor often introduces and encourages the sponsee to use the Tools of the Program as part of the process. The Tools That Help Us Get Better are resources, and can be thought of as ways in which we open the door for our Higher Power to show up in our lives. The Tools are often merely concepts to us initially, then they become practical mechanisms when we first start using them as part of our resource list. They change with use and refinement into solid assets, upon which we can depend on a daily basis when we need help. The sponsor can only guide and support the sponsee in this process however. It is up to the sponsee to take the actions necessary to make the transition from a life driven by the compulsion and run on self-will, to one where the principles of the Program are being practiced on a daily basis, and which depends upon a Higher Power for its source of strength.

The problems that bring each of us to SCA are different. Likewise, members sometimes move on for reasons not readily apparent. Sexual compulsion simply proves too strong for some. With other members, departure is a clear and deliberate action; they felt their needs were not met. Sometimes a sponsee can outgrow the sponsor. Others drift away, never to return, once they get a sponsor. Some leave the group when their reason to attend has been satisfied. It could be that they wanted to get their relationship back, get their job back, save money or recuperate. Did they get what they wanted? It is hard to say why individuals leave exactly, since they may often have trouble perceiving their reason for attending meetings in the first place. AA has a saying, which SCA has adopted: “The Program is not for those who need it, it is for those who want it.” As SCA members, we can only carry the message of recovery from sexual compulsion, and be willing to receive it ourselves. We cannot make anyone else recover. Nor can a sponsor, or anyone else, recover for us.

VARIETIES OF SPONSORSHIP

Most of the discussion in this review is concerned with a formal sponsorship arrangement between two members, who might typically attend the same meetings. Bearing in mind that sponsorship of this kind evolved in Twelve Step programs over time, and that there are no requirements to have a sponsor or engage in sponsorship like this, it is important to note that members are free to have a sponsor as they work the Program, or not. Also, that a member can have more than one sponsor. For example, some members find that for certain areas of their lives, a second sponsor with specific knowledge can be helpful where their main sponsor does not have particular experience. We let both sponsors know if we are working with a second sponsor. Some members engage in distance sponsorship, where sponsor and sponsee do not typically meet in person, but communicate by telephone, email, and the like as a result of being geographically remote. Some members co-sponsor each other, with each individual being the other member’s sponsor.

Sponsorship does not necessarily have to come from a designated individual. SCA literature in many ways can provide a form of sponsorship in helping to guide a member in their recovery, including this publication. Sponsorship can come from our groups, and sharing at meetings. It can also be informal. Sponsorship can happen spontaneously among two or more members over coffee after a meeting. We can receive sponsorship when we call a program helpline. We should therefore be careful to distinguish between having a particular sponsor in a formal arrangement, and the underlying, perhaps more significant concept, of receiving sponsorship. Sponsorship is a Tool of the SCA Program that most members find enormously helpful. However, a sponsor is optional, and sponsorship is open to a wide variety of arrangements and interpretations.

SPONSORSHIP IS PART OF A SPIRITUAL AWAKENING

The answers to our questions are revealed in time, as we work the Twelve Steps. Getting a sponsor can promote a sense of hope. A sponsee’s responsibility is to summon as much honesty, open-mindedness and willingness as possible. Some say this Honesty, Open-mindedness and Willingness is part of working the first three Steps, and HOW it works. As we move through the Twelve Steps, we improve our relationships with our Higher Power, ourselves and with society at large. We become willing to sponsor others as part of our Twelfth Step,[9] although we are by no means restricted to working all Twelve Steps before we sponsor someone. This spiritual awakening we speak of is, after all, an awakening to the way our Higher Power manifests itself in our daily lives. Sponsorship and helping others awaken to their Higher Power can bring about recovery, growth and healing that would otherwise not be possible, and thereby change the world.

[1] Sexual Compulsives Anonymous derives from the first Twelve Step program, Alcoholics Anonymous.

[2] Step Six: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

[3] Step Seven: “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.”

[4] Step Eight: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

[5] Step Nine: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

[6] Step Ten: “Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

[7] Step Eleven: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”

[8] Step Twelve: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to   carry this message to sexually compulsive people and to practice these principles in all our   affairs.”

[9] Step Twelve: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to sexually compulsive people and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

© 2018 International Service Organization, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous.