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.