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What To Do When Your Sponsor Relapses

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The bond you form with your sponsor will inevitably be a bond unlike any other. For perhaps the first time in your life, you will completely open up to another human being. You will share personal facts that you previously swore you would bring to your grave. You will be honest about your failures and your triumphs, and learn how to communicate openly and effectively. You will learn the fine art of reaching out for help, and you will come to rely on your sponsor for guidance, support, and unwavering compassion. For perhaps the first time in your life, you will comprehend the innate altruism of humanity – you will develop a real and reciprocal friendship.

It is not uncommon for newly sober addicts to hold someone with a much apparent insight and experience in high esteem – after all, you initially ask your sponsor to take you through the steps because he or she possess something admirable and desirable – something that you want. It will likely seem as if your sponsor has got it all figured out. He or she has probably been sober for several years, has a job, is in a relationship, and works a pretty solid program. Your sponsor talks to you about God in a way you understand, explains the inner-workings of addiction recovery so eloquently and enthusiastically you may assume they themselves are the AA poster child. Yes sir, you sure picked a good one. This is someone who will never let you down – you’re sure of that. Maybe the first person in your life who will not let you down. And thus, up on the pedestal your sponsor goes.

What you might fail to remember is that just the same as you, your sponsor is a recovering addict – susceptible to fallibility and just as human as the rest of us. While it may seem impossible for your role model in recovery to slip back into his or her old ways, it is just as likely that someone with 3 months suffer a relapse as someone with 25 years. It is important to remember that addiction is a highly non-discriminatory disease – as soon as we stop doing what we need to do for ourselves in order to maintain spiritual fitness, we become vulnerable to picking up. Because of the way we inevitably feel about our sponsors, watching them go back out can be absolutely crushing. It is completely normal to begin questioning your own sobriety. Was everything my sponsor passed onto me valid? Is my sobriety inherently flawed? Did I play any role in this? My sponsor is such a hypocrite – he always told me to reach out for help, why didn’t he reach out when he needed help? How can I choose a sponsor who won’t let me down? Will I ever be able to trust anyone in the program again?

Before you let your understandably racing thoughts get the better of you, take the following seven steps.

     1. Call up another AA member/sober support with double digit sobriety, let them know what happened, and ask them for guidance.

In vulnerable situations such as these, it is crucial that the first thing you do is reach out to another alcoholic, explain what happened, and ask for advice. Talking to someone who is (and has been) working a solid program of recovery will help to confirm the fact that AA does work. Talk to this sober support about complacency and honesty, and what getting complacent and failing to enlarge your spiritual life can mean for your sobriety. Ask them how they manage to stay sober on a day-to-day basis. Request the phone numbers of other men or women who have multiple years in the program, and give them a call if need be. Surround yourself with people who are solid and stable and doing ‘the right thing’.

      2. Get to a meeting and raise your hand.

One of the best things to do in any precarious situation is to get to a meeting and openly share your struggles. Chances are, several of the people sitting in that meeting have been through the exact same situation at one point or another, and they will be able to share their experience, insight, and personal solutions. If you need to, go to more than one meeting – there is no limit to reaching out and asking for help and guidance. As difficult as it may be to put things into perspective, try to remember that everything happens for a reason.

      3. If your sponsor is willing and able to talk to you, give him or her a call.

Depending on the situation, you may be able to offer your sponsor some emotional support. If it was a one-time slip and your sponsor wants to jump right back into the program, perhaps you can offer to take him or her to a meeting. If your sponsor is willing to have a conversation with you, sit down and find out what happened. Was this relapse a long time in the making? Most of them are. Did your sponsor stop going to meetings altogether? Stop praying and meditating? Fall away from the 10th, 11th, and 12th steps of spiritual maintenance? Was he or she involved in a toxic relationship? Find out the details so that you do not make the same mistakes. Of course, if your sponsor is still actively drinking or using, it is best to stay uninvolved. Say something along the lines of, “Help is available when the pain gets great enough – you know where to find me. Until then, it is best that I love you from a distance.”

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     4. Let your sober friends know what is going on.

Make some phone calls and let your friends know that you will be requiring a little extra support until you are able to find another sponsor. When your sponsor relapses, you are liable to undergo an awkward stage of no sponsorship (though it is up to you to make this gap as small as possible – go out and find another sponsor as quickly as possible). During this brief stage, you will need to rely on your close friends for support. Let them know what is going on, and find someone who can call on a nightly basis and check-in with – just to avoid falling out of the groove. It may be difficult to trust people right now. You likely feel betrayed and let down, and the idea of finding another sponsor may seem nothing short of unfathomable. Remember – your sponsor was human, and humans (especially alcoholic humans) are liable to fall short occasionally. You will find a new sponsor in time, and it will eventually become clear as to why this specific person was placed in your life at exactly the time he or she was.

      5. Pray for your sponsor.

This one is pretty simple – incorporate your sponsor into your daily and nightly prayers. After all, your sponsor did not relapse in order to betray or hurt you. Your sponsor relapsed because he or she was in a great deal of pain and likely could not see another way out. The disease of alcoholism is cunning, baffling, and powerful, and all alcoholics are susceptible to relapse if they move away from their programs of recovery. It happens to the best of us. It never needs to – but sadly, it does.

Above all else, remember that your sponsor relapsing is not a reflection of you or a reflection of Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole – it is merely a reflection of his or her humanness, fallibility, and personal weaknesses. In AA, we learn that we have the amazing capability to learn from the mistakes of others, therefore avoiding our own potential slip-ups. Take this as a learning opportunity. Look at the mistakes your sponsor made and recognize that even though one may be expertly feigning a deeply spiritual lifestyle, not everyone in the rooms is doing as well as they appear to be. Surround yourself with positive people – men and women who are authentically doing the right thing, and constantly striving to enlarge their spiritual life. No one is perfect, of course, and everyone will struggle from time to time. But being open and honest about all personal problems (at least with one other individual) is the key to success in recovery. It is likely that your sponsor felt self-imposed pressure to be a ‘shining example of AA’ seeing as he or she was a role-model for other, newer alcoholics, and therefore kept some potential internal struggles locked up inside. In truth, sponsees are usually helped largely by seeing that their sponsor still struggles with real-life stuff from time to time, and asks for help when help is necessary. Look at this experience as an ideal opportunity to learn and grow in your own sobriety. And remember why we are always nice to the newcomer – because one day, they may be sponsoring us!

Are You Or A Loved One Struggling?Yes

Do you find it nearly impossible to overcome your addictions? Do you find yourself in and out of recovery, not being able to sustain any length of time sober? If so, there’s no reason to feel alone because Elevations Health is here to help. Our world-class facility offers many group and individual therapy programs. Through the development of specific treatment plans, we can address your addiction history and your goals for recovery. Call us today at 866-200-3224.

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