Mysterious recurring problem with sponsees - Whats my part?

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Mysterious recurring problem with sponsees - Whats my part?

Postby TrailerTrashDood » Tue Aug 30, 2011 4:37 am

Here is something that has been bugging me off & on, for quite a while.
Since the economy tanked in 2007, I have been more or less unemployed, and therefore doing a lot more service work with sponsees. For some reason, I have always been very good with newcomers, especially guys that "normal" AAs just do not want to have to deal with. I seem to get various insane surfers, skaters, gangsters, punk rockers, the occasional homeless "gutterpunk" (if you're familiar with that subculture...), largely because I'm more or less your typical, tired old punk rocker type, myself...
I go to a large AA meeting hall in Southern California. There are hundreds of people a day who visit this place -- at least 7 or 8 daily meetings with 35 to 100 people per meeting. There are a vast amount of people who float anonymously in & out of this place, and many smaller meetings nearby. Because of LA traffic, I usually only go to the late meeting which has a lot of youngsters and newcomers, although there are a lot of people who attend regularly and with stability. Also, surprisingly (to me) there are a lot of younger people who are very serious about their sobriety, and don't treat the hall like a social club or hangout spot.
I have a reputation here as being a bit of a nut, although people seem to like me in general. The reason (most) people here seem to think I'm totally out of my mind is because of the way I sponsor: I absolutely INSIST that sponsees call (or see) me every day, go to daily meetings for at least the first year, get a couple of commitments so people at meetings get to know them, and READ THE BIG BOOK as well as meeting me a minimum of once a week for a couple of hours, to do step work. We also all go to each others' chips, cakes, meeting leads, etc., to support each other. My goal is to maintain a kind of "circle" of sponsees where everyone supports each other in some way, within the large, ever-changing amorphous blob of a group. I don't see myself as the center of the "circle", rather more like one of its spokes.
In my 22 years of sobriety, I have found this "formula" to be a pretty good MINIMUM standard for maintaining sobriety while progressing newcomers through the Steps. (Most people here cannot comprehend that the 12 Steps are simply a somewhat rudimentary way for "faulty" people to get a previously impossible connection with God. The majority of people here think AA means "going to meetings".) Obviously, I didn't invent this formula myself, and nothing I do is in any way new. I like to keep as close as possible to the way they did it in the 1940's, when AA had a very high recovery rate.
The problem is this: There are so many people who go to fancy (and not-so fancy), money-grubbing rehabs, "sober livings", different kinds of therapy, "Sober College", religious stuff, etc - that "my" way of doing things is seen as being totally oddball, quaint, eccentric, and a bit off. However, feelings wheels, equine therapy, aroma therapy, gestalt therapy, WORKBOOKS invented by degreed, non-alcoholic Social Scientist employees of various "rehabs" which are then given to their residents/victims as a substitute for working the Steps as directed in the Big Book, and many other diversions are now accepted as part of "recovery", and AA specifically. (There is a big rehab in Pasadena which calls AA an "Aftercare Program", as if they invented it themselves as an afterthought to their super-fabulous, famous, expensive rehab programme!)
When I sponsor guys, at first they are all about this strange, "old fashioned" type of AA (which to me, of course, is the ONLY type of AA, in case you have not figured that out by now...) They think of it as a kind of quaint, punk-rock "Do-it-Yourself" type school of thought which also matches their badass self images.
However, as sponsees move into the 4-8 month stage and start to get more comfortable in their lives, they usually tend to start comparing their insides with others' outsides and seriously questioning the need to do all this work and/or maintenance. They almost always, universally wind up point blank refusing to go to meetings, do step work, call me daily, or various combinations thereof. They no longer "see" it as being "necessary".
I just got "fired" by a sponsee (12 months sober) who decided it is "disrespectful" for me to bring up issues related to his 4th Step that he does not want to have to deal with. He has an outpatient counselor for some kind of CA State program he's enrolled in (instead of going to prison for 5 years) - his counselor is LIVID because he won't work with me or get another, (more polite) sponsor. It turns out the counselor has been trying to get him to face the SAME issues for the last 6 or 8 months. Another sponsee (6 months) regularly hangs up on me, pretends his "i-Phone" won't take my calls, texts, or voice mails, and basically does everything at his own leisure and convenience. He is usually going in & out of relapse mode, but I can't really do anything, no matter what I try to "trick" him into doing the basic maintenance.
I don't go too far with babying people, but most guys I get struggle with depression or other issues, so sometimes I give them some slack & the benefit of the doubt, even though I probably shouldn't.
I could go on, ad nauseum - but hopefully you get the idea. I usually wait a lot longer than I really should, to "fire" people, although I really hate to. Most of the guys I get are totally desperate when they first come in, or have sponsors who won't return their calls or do any work with them, and they feel abandoned and/or desperate. (A lot of sponsors won't say "no" to an AA request, but they don't follow through with anything after that, either. Or they want as many sponsees as they can get, regardless of how much free time they have..) By the time we part, my sponsees are for the most part, quite cocky and sure of themselves, and at best, barely willing to do a small amount of work.
I have a general rule that I don't chase people around, and I won't put more work into their recovery than they will. However, usually (to my detriment) I get somewhat attached to my sponsees while they are in their "gung-ho" early stages of recovery, then suffer the emotional consequences if and when I have to cut them loose for lying, not doing the work, or whatever. I feel I'm fairly liberal about this and give them a lot more slack than I really should in the first place - even though people at this hall consider me to be a big hardass compared to other sponsors. (I usually have 5-8 sponsees at any given time, depending on who hates me at any given time... lol.)
I have put a lot of work into removing as much fear (of sponsees' relapse, unknown dangers, prison, etc) and ego ("my" crew, not being "successful" as a sponsor, etc) as possible from the way I sponsor. I specifically do not treat sponsees as friends or as people to "hang out" with, as a lot of others here do. Also, because I seem to get the really hardcore guys, I put a lot of thought into trying to maintain a balance between being more involved than other sponsors usually get in their sponsees' lives & sobriety, while not getting all codependent about it -- although that is a thin line to tread, indeed...
The typical way people sponsor here is to give sponsees some type of "workbook", maybe calling or seeing each other once a week or so, or at social events at the hall. I started a Big Book Step Study meeting there, because so many people were calling me at night, asking for hints on how to tell their sponsees to work the steps. (??!!??)
There is NO way any of my guys would stay sober with this unstructured, "workbook" sensitive-feelings, approach. They are all in their early 20's and most of them already have multiple felonies (California still has the medieval 3-Strikes Law, where you get mandatory 35 years to life in prison for the 3rd felony, even if its very minor), 5150/5250/5350s (forced incarceration in mental hospitals), serious legal issues, and/or serious addictions to other drugs - mostly heroin.
There is NO way any of these guys can afford to screw around with relapses. It really breaks my heart if I have to let them go - if they absolutely, positively, have to fall out and start doing whatever they feel like doing, once they have a few months sober and are therefore "cured".
People seem to like me, but I am a terrible salesman. I am constantly beating myself up for not being Vince Lombardi or Tony Robbins. I feel that I could somehow be more effective in motivating these guys to keep going, but it seems that no mater how rough their previous life has been, once they receive the "Holy Trinity" (a job, a vehicle, and something to f**k), then they seriously consider the need for Step Work and other maintenance to be strictly "optional". Most of my sponsees have to fight a lot harder to get and maintain sobriety, for a variety of reasons...
My sponsor of 15 years has 36 years sobriety. His advice is that I seem to know what I'm doing and to just shut up & keep doing it. So at least I have his vote of confidence, but he only sponsors people with long term sobriety and is good at dealing with issues that come up with people with many years.
The only reason I don't feel burned out or bad about what I see as my "failures" is through more or less constant prayer & meditation.
My friend works as a counselor in an inner-city drug rehab close to where I live in LA. He says he goes through about 12 sponsees to get one that actually stays sober in the long run. To my horror, I am beginning to think he is right. What do you think about all this? (If its even possible to address this meandering post - I'm not even sure what the question was in the first place, anymore... lol)

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Postby Dallas » Tue Aug 30, 2011 6:07 am

Thanks for your post! I really enjoyed it, probably because I identify with some of it, and your way of sponsoring is similar to the way I've been sponsored. And, pretty much the way I sponsor.

I think your sponsor is right. Just keep doing what you're doing. It's keeping YOU sober. And, that's really the purpose of sponsorship. It keeps us sober... regardless if the others stay sober or not. That was pretty much the same result that Bill W. had with sponsoring, too. He would do his best -- and the one staying sober was him. He got depressed about it for a while and had to be reminded that -- he was staying sober. :wink:

Also the stats w/ your friend that's a rehab counselor sound about right. Lucky to get one in 12 that are going to stick w/ it for the long haul.

What you may discover down the road is: how many of those guys call you back when the easier softer way has failed them, and once again, they have lost all. And, even if they don't call you back -- at least they got a fair and honest shot of "what it's really like and how it really works."

Thanks again!


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Postby merckx » Tue Aug 30, 2011 7:49 am

I just had a similar conversation (how tough should I be) with my sponsor, about my first sponsee! He didn't call me for 2-3 days and I was back and forth about calling him. My sponsor told me to wait for him to call. Yesterday we were supposed to meet together and he didn't show up. Needless to say I have not called.

What I have to remind myself is that it is God who does something for me that I can not do for myself. God is the one who will "do" for my sponsee, not me. That means I can't take credit for successes or failures. I was reading a devotion this morning that dealt with focusing on what God can do through me instead of what I can do for God. At the end of the day it's not about me, it is about God. After all I am powerless.

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Postby Dallas » Tue Aug 30, 2011 10:48 am

One thing I've learned from my own discoveries is: God won't do anything for me if I don't take the action.

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Postby TrailerTrashDood » Tue Aug 30, 2011 11:43 am

I like to think of it like this: God's job begins when the sponsor's resources are totally exhausted. Its up to me to do my job, or I shouldn't have agreed to do it in the first place. There are many other ways to be of service. I see people who don't put in any work sponsoring, then throw up their hands and say "Its God's will, not mine" when their sponsee has a relapse, or worse. If it were totally up to God, we wouldn't need a textbook, meetings, peers, or sponsors/sponsees, etc...
I was so excited to see that 21 people had at least looked at my post, since I posted it at 3AM. (Its only 9:30 AM the next day...) I had to go make coffee before I could sit back down & read what was written this morning. Thanks for taking the time to look at this, it means a lot to me.
As for Dallas' response: I am sponsoring a guy now who I sponsored about 10 years ago, he "came back" to me for the exact reason you said. He could NOT stay sober, then somehow in the murky depths of his brain he remembered that therapy does not get you sober, so he called me. Now he's sober AND in therapy! It seems the order you do it makes all the difference! Who would have thunk it?

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Sponsee Update - for what its worth...

Postby TrailerTrashDood » Tue Aug 30, 2011 2:38 pm

I JUST got "fired" by the sponsee with 6 months who I mentioned in the above post.
He's very upset with me because I always "pin him down" to his commitments, this inconveniences him. Yesterday he IM'd me on the computer postponing some Step work he was supposed to do today, but hung up on me when I asked him to set a future time. When I rang him on the phone instead, he hung up on me and pretended he didn't get the call. (If it was a missed call, it would have gone straight to Voice Mail instead.) He says its "inappropriate" for me to mention any of this to him later on in person, when there are other people around who might hear us talking. (We were in a mostly empty parking lot at 11:30 PM. I guess he was planning to be sick on Step day Tuesday, because Monday night he was fine...)
This is the same guy who desperately called me every day for a month at 3 or 4 AM, when he was alone in his room hallucinating and hearing voices. He had no problem manipulating the phone at that point, I used to have to talk to him for hours. (He also had no problem keeping appointments, when he was scared sh*tless of what would happen if he started using again...) I had to wake up, talk him down for an hour or three, then try and go back to sleep myself.
I rather enjoy helping people and doing oddball stuff like that, but at this point I've HAD IT.
I really can't sponsor any more people.
They come in all beat down, willing, and humble - but 6 months later they act like spoiled brats who want the Red Carpet treatment, and are totally indignant when they don't get it.
This stuff is seriously draining me, I feel terrible.

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Postby Dallas » Tue Aug 30, 2011 3:13 pm

TrailerTrashDood wrote:If it were totally up to God, we wouldn't need a textbook, meetings, peers, or sponsors/sponsees, etc...

Isn't that the truth! :lol:

Why didn't I think to say that first? :lol:

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OK so maybe I didn't frame my questions very well...

Postby TrailerTrashDood » Sat Sep 03, 2011 11:21 pm

Greetings, everyone. So its been a few days & I've got a few people to look at my post, but so far no answers really. I'm the only one on the planet who thinks that my sponsees should go to meetings daily, make progress in reading & Step work, and stay in contact? The culture here is so self-indulgent & permissive, it seems like everybody thinks that everyone else should just go ahead and do whatever they want, then blame it on God when they go out. In my 22 years of sobriety, I've lost a LOT of people that I was very close to, because people have a common tendency to slack off as soon as they start to get what they want, in life. For me, its pretty easy to spot a sponsee going into full relapse mode as a direct result of lack of maintenance - but when I say something about it, I'm "overstepping my boundaries" (according to them, lol) because they just don't want to hear about it, no matter how I tell them. Maybe I'm just out of my mind or something. Who can say?
In any case, these are the 3 choices I've worked out RE: sponsoring people.
1: Just give up and let them do whatever the hell they want, then blame it on God when they have a relapse. At least that way they'll like me (in the mean time), and also everybody else here does it this way, it seems.
2: Same rules I have now: Go to a meeting a day, meet up weekly at a MINIMUM to do Step work, call me every day, make sober friends that they can bounce ideas off of, get home group, get commitments, etc... Strange as it may seem to you all, this formula works for SURE, so long as sponsee is willing. But instead of getting all involved with helping them & really caring about what happens to them, just fire them as soon as they screw up, and don't get emotionally connected with them in any way. I don't like to fire people, but I don't like to watch them slide into total complacency either - and usually thats what eventually happens.
3: Don't sponsor.
What do you think? Based on what I KNOW happens (I've never told anyone they were going to relapse who didn't relapse), I really don't see any wiggle room in here.
PS: My sponsor says, now I know why he won't sponsor anyone with less than 10 years... LOL

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Postby cue » Sun Sep 04, 2011 8:15 pm

Trailer, I can identify.
I've been trying to get a sponsorship workshop going in our group for a while now as we all seem to have problems with it, but it's a tricky beast to get to grips with :? . I think (although I know what my sponsor would say about that :lol:) there is a lot of fear around how to sponsor people cos we all have such varied experiences with it and it does involve judgement.
My experience of sponsorship was quite good. My sponsor was hard when he needed to be and could also listen when I was having difficulties. It was a fine line though and it's something I get wrong still. I started sponsoring a guy when I was about three months sober. Sometimes I thought I was too hard on him and sometimes too soft. Most of the time I was wondering what the hell do I say to this guy and praying that I wouldn't get in the way of him finding his own higher power. He's still sober today.
Most of my sponsees since then have gone their own way. Some of them have moved on to other sponsors. I seem to attract guys who want to just do the steps and then move on. Some of them sponsor theirselves :roll: Some of them went back out.
Most of them come to me all willing and then start arguing with me about me being so serious, so I can identify with you even though you sound much more hardcore. I don't have a solution for you but I'm glad you shared your experience on it :) .

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Thx for the response...

Postby TrailerTrashDood » Sun Sep 04, 2011 10:33 pm

Thanks for the response. I think I forgot to mention that the reason I come off all hardcore, is because none of these guys can afford to screw around or go back out. For some reason, those are the kind of guys I get. If it was just some kid that wanted to experiment & try to get sober for a few months and see what happens, I'd do it differently.

Anyway, I already let it go. At this point, its technically no longer any of my business or concern.

I know I did the best possible job I could, and did better than anyone else I can think of who they know - but I'm always interested in improvement because it makes me feel inadequate and ineffectual when this happens.

Its pretty obvious that if someone's in full relapse mode & just is NOT trying to hear anything from me no matter HOW I say it, then they're gonna make up any excuse (which may or may not seem totally real to them, at the time) to get pissed off & leave.

But I'm always looking for some kind of "end run" around that "relapse mode" thinking, even though it probably does not exist...

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