The 12 Step Sponsor’s Tool Kit: Step 2

As a kid, I used to watch WWF wrestling on television. My father told me it was fake, that the wrestlers were just actors pretending to beat up on each other. To my young eyes, it sure looked real. I just couldn’t imagine getting in the ring with one of those gorillas.

And yet as an addict, I had gotten into life’s wrestling ring with a 500-pound gorilla! And I lost every fight. Soon I chose not to fight the monster, but let it remain the champ. And it was killing me slowly.

Step two is like being introduced to tag-team fighting. When one wrestler got tired he would ‘tag’ his team mate in order to leave the ring while his wrestling partner took over. Higher Power is my team mate that takes over when I haven’t got anything left.

If I’m foolish enough to get in the ring with a 500-pound gorilla, there had better be a powerful back-up fighting for me!

In Step One we admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable. If there is any hope at all of winning the fight with the 500 pound gorilla, there’s got to be a Power greater than myself.

And hope is what causes us to believe. Hope is what makes us willing to believe, and remain open to the possibility of a Higher Power. For without hope, all is lost.

Remember the big hole in the ground? The only way we’re going to successfully stop digging and ‘look up’ is to acknowledge the possibility of a Power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity… and proceed to climb out of the hole!

The only way David slew Goliath was to rely on his Higher Power. One smooth stone and a sling shot… and it was over before the giant could draw his sword.

If your sponsee wants to overcome, he/she is going to need a higher Power. Insanity is a sure death in which there is no hope of recovery. But sanity can be restored by faith in a Higher Power!

The 12 Step Sponsor’s Tool Kit: Step 1

My daughter owns a condo on King St. W. in Toronto, Canada. From the ninth floor she enjoys a great view of the west end of the city. And if you lean over her balcony a little bit and look to the east, you can see the tall buildings of the downtown core.

The reason she has such a great panorama of the city is simple: There are no tall buildings blocking her view.

Her mother and I dropped by for a visit one gray November day, and did our usual look-see from her balcony on the ninth floor. I don’t like looking down from a high-rise balcony, but the spectacle below us begged my observation.

Just across the street I saw a huge cavern where a parking lot once existed. I’m guessing this hole in the ground must have been at least one hundred feet long. But what was even more amazing was its depth.

From the ninth floor we could see all the way to the bottom of this rectangular crater. The three of us tried to estimate how far down it went. My wife thought it might be thirty feet deep, and my daughter and I guessed it had to be at least fifty.

But the sad realization soon became painfully obvious: A very tall building would soon block our wonderful view.

As I gazed into this huge hole in the ground, I reflected on my own addiction. I thought about how I had dug my own pit – not unlike the abyss I gazed into from across the street. The hole was deep, and it was unlikely that I would ever be able to climb out of it.

Beginning with a foundation

It wasn’t until I ‘hit bottom’ and decided to stop digging that recovery could begin for me. I came face-to-face with my own powerlessness. I admitted that no amount of will-power or ‘white-knuckling’ would ever get me out of that pit.

Strangely enough, it turns out that admitting to my powerlessness was the very thing that I needed to do – the thing that was necessary to begin my climb up and out of the hole in which I was trapped.

And the hole that I dug for myself? Well, it actually became part of the foundation beneath a beautiful, tall building which now represents my life in recovery!

The 12 Step Sponsor’s Tool Kit: Introduction

You agreed to be someone’s sponsor. Good for you! This is how it works for everyone in the program. You gained recovery from your addiction with the help of a sponsor. And now you are ‘giving back’ by helping another addict who still suffers.

Your sponsee is no different from you. He/she brings the same ‘baggage’ as you when you first got started in 12-Step recovery. Here are two of the most common items:

  • Shame

Shame is what fuels the addiction. It is one of the reasons we act out so compulsively. Your new sponsee feels like a ‘zero’ and will want to hide and isolate from others. He/she may try to avoid the truth by withholding information – even though you were the one they approached initially for help.

  • Denial

Denial plays a big part in keeping sponsees stuck. It’s how we addicts deal with shame. We remember what we did, but minimize (deny) the pain, the risks and the consequences of our past actions. Denial will jeopardize your sponsee’s very first step and make it impossible to move forward in the program.


Before starting any 12-Step work with your new sponsee, there are certain boundaries that need to be established. You are entering into a relationship which requires certain ‘recovery agreements’ that help to establish mutual expectations and goals. Always agree to a ‘contract’ that clearly defines these expectations.

Here are 10 suggestions:

1. A permanent address: Your sponsee needs to be settled with a permanent address and phone. Constantly moving around from one location to another is not conducive to recovery.

2. Take medication as ordered by a doctor: If your sponsee is on medication, they need to commit to taking their ‘meds’ while you are their sponsor. Self-medicating is not conducive to recovery.

3. Call every single day: A good line of communication is necessary to successful recovery. Your sponsee is learning to stay connected and avoid isolation. Encourage your sponsee to call you every day

4. Get a journal or notebook: Your sponsee needs to record his/her experiences while in recovery. It’s important that they learn to be more mindful of their experiences in early recovery. It will also be necessary to record their progress through the 12 steps.

5. Meet once a week: Sometimes long-distance communication is necessary; but nothing can substitute a face-to-face, belly-to-belly meeting between a sponsor and a sponsee. Be sure to meet one on one regularly.

6. Never miss a meeting: Your sponsee needs to commit to regular attendance at local meetings. Attend as many meetings with your sponsee as possible.

7. Set bottom lines: Help your sponsee set his/her bottom-line behaviors. This will help define your sponsee’s sobriety and help you both to accurately measure the progress of your work together.

8. Record sobriety date: Everyone in a 12 step program needs to know when they began the rigorous work of recovery.

9. Maintain abstinence: Your sponsee must commit to total abstinence while working the steps. Half-measures are not acceptable.

10. Get a copy of the basic text: Most 12 step programs have their own Big Book (similar to A.A.) Your sponsee needs to become familiar with the basic text of the program and any other conference-approved literature.

Next week we will continue with The 12 step Sponsor’s Tool Kit:  Step One

The Gifts of recovery: Wisdom

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Trying to decide your next course of action can be a real challenge if you are not clear on what belongs to God (the things I cannot change), and what belongs to you (the things I can).

Knowing the difference can enormously influence your decision-making.

Trying to fix a situation when you have no power or control is wrong. It will only lead to anger and frustration. You cannot act on a circumstance directly. You can only work on yourself. The only thing over which you have any control is yourself.

Another rendering of the Serenity Prayer may help to clarify: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change who I can… and the wisdom to know that it’s me!”

So, how will we know we have increased wisdom?

In a word: Clarity.

We have been so fuzzy in our thinking – not really knowing what we wanted. We had blurred lines instead of clear boundaries. We would find ourselves in certain situations without really knowing what to do.

Most of the time we just floundered.

Wisdom and clarity go hand in hand. If wisdom is the ability to make good decisions, then clarity is the necessary prerequisite. You can’t be fuzzy in your thinking when you make a decision. And good decisions are not made by accident.

There’s nothing mysterious about wisdom. Get clear on the things over which you have control, the things for which you are responsible.

Wisdom will follow naturally.

The Gifts of recovery: Courage

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Before we can do, first we must be. Courage will not appear until serenity shows up. But there is something else that initiates courage: Love. I’m talking about the desire to make the necessary changes, changes that only we can make.

It’s like the joke: How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one – but only if the light bulb wants to change.

“The courage to change the things I can” is possible if there is love – the desire to change.

I always enjoyed watching the movie, The Wizard of Oz. As you may recall the foursome – Dorothy, the scarecrow, tinman and the lion – were off to see the wizard, hoping to get what each of them desired. Dorothy wanted to get home; the scarecrow wanted brains; the tinman wanted a heart; and the lion wanted some courage.

In the end, it was their love for each other that got them what they desired. And it was the lion who showed his courage by rescuing his comrades from danger. When you love someone enough, and want something bad enough, you do what it takes to reach your goals.

Before you can do, you must be. In order to change, you must have serenity. Serenity is not some mellow state of being that looks like lethargy and feels something like “I really don’t care.” Serenity is full of love and desire, the kind of desire that gives birth to courage.

And when you have courage, you are ready to take action – ready to change the things you can.

The Gifts of Recovery: Serenity

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

One of the first gifts a recovering addict receives is the gift of serenity.  It’s not by accident that ‘serenity’ is the first gift mentioned in the Serenity prayer.  Before courage and wisdom can be granted, serenity must appear.

Serenity is not a skill we can develop – like playing guitar, or learning to speak a foreign language; nor is it a goal we reach for – like losing 20 pounds in 4 months.

Serenity is more like fruit that grows on a vine.  The vine doesn’t need to expend any energy by trying hard to focus on the production of fruit.  The fruit just simply grows when the conditions are right.

The 12 step program is designed to create the proper conditions for the peaceful fruit of serenity.  By surrendering our lives over to the care of God, we begin the process of recovery that restores us to sanity.

Sanity is the result of putting everything – how we live our lives – back in its proper order.  Insanity is the result of a life lived in chaos.  But a life lived in its proper order allows the precious gift of serenity to grow.

Are you still waiting for serenity to show up in your life?  Keep working the program by putting your life back in its proper order.  And when you’re not looking, serenity will show up just like grapes in a vineyard.

It’s time to let go

Step out of the rush. Step into this present moment.

It’s time to slow down. You can do it. Anxious thoughts and feelings will take you no-where. Instead, live as though you have all the time in the world…

Go ahead… Slow it right down…

It’s time to let go. Let go of what? Let go of the thing that you have in your possession – that thing you have held on to for years. It’s the thing that holds you back. The thing that keeps you from moving forward…

“What the hell are you talking about? I’m not hanging on to anything!”

Well, perhaps it feels more like that thing has a hold on you. You’ve tried to let go of it. But it won’t let go of you.

You’ve heard the expression “monkey on your back”? A problem. An anxiety that won’t leave you alone. And it’s driving you nuts.

“What can I do? It won’t let go…”

Step out of the rush. Step into this present moment. You can do it.

Go ahead… Slow it right down…

It’s time to let go.

Procrastination: The fear of moving forward

I’m a procrastinator.

“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” I say to myself.

In high school I habitually put off what I should have been doing (like studying) in favor of what I’d rather be doing (watching TV). What was important got postponed till the last minute.

Needless to say, I got poor marks.

When I began college, my procrastinating worsened. My studies soon took a back seat to sex addiction. I spent every available minute outside of my classes in sexual fantasy, voyeurism and porn.

Procrastination had become a way of life for me.

The only thing that didn’t get postponed was my sexual acting out. Fantasy could last all day. And my sexual urges were given instant gratification.

In recovery I still find myself procrastinating. Even though the compulsive sexual acting out has stopped, there are things that I avoid doing – things I’d rather do tomorrow.

Are you a procrastinator? Are you forever putting things off until “tomorrow”?

The 12 step program is a recipe for action. You must take action. Those who procrastinate never finish the Steps.

Are you still working the steps? How long has it been since you started? Are you stuck on Step 4? If you’re stuck, you’re procrastinating. And I understand why you’re putting things off…

You’re afraid to move forward. And it’s okay to feel afraid. Just don’t let it keep you stuck.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other… one day at a time.

“Until the pain of remaining in your addiction becomes greater than the pain of letting it go, you will never move forward”

Out of Order!

The sign on the vending machine read, “Out of Order.” Crap!

After my disappointment subsided, I began to feel angry. It was late. I was hungry. And the restaurant was closed. “What kind of a motel doesn’t fix the only vending machine on the premises?” Crap!

I hated that hand-written sign. “Out of Order” may as well read “Sucks to be you, Bud!”

But that vending machine wasn’t the only thing broken.

My life wasn’t working either. There should have been a sign hanging around my neck. “Out of Order” would have summed it up accurately.

A full-blown sex addiction can do that to a person. Everything was screwed up… my job, my finances, my relationships, my marriage…

My life was broken, and it hurt.

When I fully committed myself to a 12-step program, I began to experience a change. Things started to get better. My life didn’t feel so out-of-order.

Even the program had a certain order to it. I had to do Step 1 before I could move on to Step 2. I was instructed not to move on to Step 3 until Step 2 was complete.

There’s nothing “willy-nilly” about recovery. It’s a return to order.

For many years I thought I enjoyed my out-of-order life. I associated “orderliness” with boredom. Life seemed so dull and depressing for those who lived orderly. (They must have felt very restricted!) But the pain of a life that was out-of-order became greater than the pain of living a life of orderly conduct.

I’m learning that life lived in its proper order is actually… desirable!

I still see hand-written signs posted on vending machines. But I never want to see the words “Out of order” describing my life ever again.

Watching everything come together in an orderly fashion is not dull. It’s not boring when sanity replaces chaos. It’s exciting to watch how my life is slowly repairing itself all because I’m learning to do things in a certain way.

No more “Out of order!”

“Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits them all.”

I was never a very good liar.

As a kid I failed miserably trying to fool my friends at school.  My smile would give it away every time. And my parents always knew when I was withholding the truth. Even when it was important, I’d blow my cover with a guilty look, or an excuse that didn’t make any sense at all. Lying just wasn’t my thing.

Somewhere along the way, I fell into the grip of a powerful addiction.

This was not an addiction to drugs or alcohol. No one could smell it on my breath, or see it in my eyes. It didn’t impair my driving or slur my speech. In fact, there were no obvious signs that I had a dependency problem of any kind. But underneath the exterior of my ‘normal’ life there was something very wrong. Something I was able to keep a secret for well over thirty years.

It matters little what addiction I have (I’ll let you speculate which one). What’s more important are the lies I told in order to keep it a secret. My wife used to tell me that it wasn’t so much the addiction that bothered her as it was the lying…

Like an actor in a play, I wore a mask to disguise my true identity. I never removed the mask, even when the show was over and everyone had gone home. I was never able to fully reveal my true self.

The lies kept me isolated from everyone.  I soon became a hollow man – a shell of someone who didn’t exist. My outward persona was a sham.  My inward person was a fantasy. What started out as a form of protection was now sucking the life out of me.

It’s not the sin that destroys a man, but the lies required to cover it up.

But as I learned to tell the truth I began to heal and grow spiritually. Telling the truth was a big part of my journey back to sanity.

“Tell the truth, and tell it quickly.”