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)