The One Thing Lacking To Stay Sober

I was talking with a sponsee last night who recently slipped after getting 90 days. Since then, he hasn’t been sober for more than a few days at a time. I’ve sponsored him for over a year, and he got to 60 days when we first started working together, followed by brief sobriety then slips. He described his moods during both 60 and 90 days as climbing the walls – sounds like white knuckling to me.

I’m a firm believer that recovery is for those who want it, not for those who need it. I’m not “my way or the highway,” but I offer the blueprint that got me sober as an option as a sponsor because there’s no one true way to recover. I’m open to other methods of recovery as it ultimately helps my recovery.

This sponsee has years of sobriety in other 12-step programs, so he’s read the Big Book cover to cover, sponsors others in other programs, etc. So he’s subtly resisted my suggestions and decided to do things his way throughout our relationship. Many times he’s said he doesn’t know how he’ll ever recover from this disease. He’s broke, single, middle aged with no job skills, etc. Each time, I’ve pointed out that he’s gained sobriety elsewhere, so if it’s possible there, it’s possible here.

He expressed doubt again last night, saying what’s the point, I’ll never get sobriety, etc. I first said there’s no doubt you’re aware of your powerlessness. Then I asked him to rate his desire to beat this disease on a scale of 1 to 10. He said 50. Then I asked him how far is he willing to go to get and stay sober. He said he would do whatever it takes because he’s tried so many different things.

Then I said, “Here’s the thing. I’m not patting myself on the back, but I have over 6 years of sobriety. Our stories are almost identical, and we both come from abusive childhoods. What I do works for me, and there’s a really good chance it’ll work for you. So why haven’t you followed any of my suggestions?”


After awhile, he said, “You’re right.” I told him that he’s admitted powerlessness and he has the desire, but there’s one thing lacking to stay sober: willingness. He’s not willing to do whatever it takes, despite what he says. Here’s how I know.

As I said, mine and my sponsee’s stories are very similar. The only difference was I did experience longer periods of abstinence, followed by an horrifically epic 2 year relapse. But, I tried everything I could think of to get sober. But I wouldn’t go to meetings, get a sponsor, go to a therapist. I can do this by myself, I thought. That’s not willingness… that’s willfulness.

So, back to my sponsee. He then said he was conflicted over his career because he was beginning to see that it was fueling his addiction. So I asked him, “so if it came down to it and you had to choose between your career and sobriety, what would it be?”

More crickets. “You may hit that crossroads at some point,” I said, “for now, just keep asking yourself: am I willing to do what it takes to get sober?’ If the answer is no, then ask for the willingness.”

After a long pause, I switched subjects. “Did you remember to make the list of people who harmed you?”

“Oh yea! I finished that as soon as we got off the phone the other day.” Much more enthusiastic sounding.

“Alright, I was wrong. You do follow some of my suggestions. Now I want you to pray that they get exactly what you want for yourself.”

“Oh.” Not so enthusiastic.

“What are three things you want for yourself?”

“I’m broke as fuck, so money. I want to be happy. And no more drama.”

“So, prosperity, happiness, and peace?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“So make the prayer simple. Don’t even bother with starting with anything like ‘God’ or ‘Dear heavenly father.’ Make it simple. ‘Please give __________ prosperity, peace, and happiness.’ Do that for every name on the list.”

“EVERY name? It’s a long list.”

“Yes, every name, every day for two weeks. Even if you don’t mean it right now. And if you can’t bring yourself to pray for someone on the list, pray for the willingness to. 'Please give me the willingness to pray for __________‘s prosperity, peace, and happiness.’ And you know what? Since my last 4th step, I have a list of people who’ve harmed me, so I’m going to pray for them too, just like I’m asking you to do.”

When I compare my recovery journey to my sponsee’s journey, I see that our struggles to stay sober were because we weren’t willing to do whatever it takes. Trying to do it by ourselves and ignoring advice from those who have been where we’ve been and are where we want to be, despite our best efforts, is willfulness.


I was going to quote the awesome parts of this post. Then I realized every single letter was spot on. Not a wasted word in the entire post. Love, love, love it.


That was an excellent post. Thanks for putting it down on the forum.


I can relate to this quite well. Also I wanted to get it back to the top of the board so more people get to see it! :wink:


That’s the problem with these :fire: posts. There’s nothing that can be added because it’s all been saidand nothing to disagree with bc it’s 100% accurate.


Just gotta keep on pushing it to the top!


The way that you articulate yourself shows exactly how sincere you are!

Your sponsee is very lucky to have you as their sponsor!


Thanks for sharing. Awesome.:two_hearts::bird:

1 Like

Words of wisdom on willingness worth repeating. Thank you for sharing. Ive had struggles with a sponsee, but i have struggles with my explanations of my past troubles and suggestions how to help him. Im lucky to have a wise sponsor that suggests things to me to be a better sponsor but i still struggle. You sound like a fantastic sponsor and im grateful you shared. Thanks again.


Morning bump.

1 Like

This is great. Is there any way we can get all posts like this into one place, so they can be easily accessible? Techy guys?

1 Like

Thank you for the kind words! No, sponsoring isn’t easy and it baffles me sometimes. In fact, I say to sponsees in the beginning that this is what their disease has come to. They’re asking someone who spent $250k on porn, strip clubs, hookers, and girlfriends over two years over his wife, 2 kids, a house and business – for help. If that doesn’t scream, “rock bottom,” I don’t know what does!

But the community deserves the credit for what I said as I got the ideas and concepts here.

I definitely don’t have all the answers, but my recovery has taught me that I don’t have to. I just need faith that the answers will come to me if I’m patient.


Your presence here is so needed and welcome Neal!

I’m from a super rural area and I would really benefit from working a 12 step program. No SA, SAA or SLAA meetings from 120 miles in every direction. I really love where I live and am blessed with having just purchased a home with acreage. I don’t really want to leave, nature is therapeutic for me. But that isn’t exactly doing whatever it takes. I’ve been able to get to 235 days without acting out. However, I’m tiptoeing around bottom line behaviors at times and definitely not living lust free. What does “sobriety” mean for you?

1 Like

My first sponsee went out after like a week. Then tried the geographical switch. I have not heard from him in months. I pray that he is doing ok. But he definitely had a case of the “not-quite-ready”. Hopefully in his new city he found a new path.

I was going to do exactly the same thing!! After about the 5th thing I wanted to quote I gave up. It couldn’t be quoted. All of it was perfect.

1 Like

My God. You are an awesome sponsor. I hope your sponsee gets what you are saying.

1 Like

For me, sobriety comes down to abstinence + spirituality. From my personal experience and from watching others in recovery, can’t have one without the other for very long. I mean yeah, it’s possible to be abstinent minus spirituality, but many of us know at least one dry drunk. How’s that working out for them?

Also from my experience and watching others, the best chance at maintaining sobriety is to get abstinent first, then develop spirituality. I know some atheists who have years of sobriety, and I know hardcore worshipers who are in church every Sunday that can’t get more than a day. It’s not necessarily religion.

The spirituality part was the hardest for me to wrap my head around, but as a 12-stepper, the key for me was two parts: surrender and faith. Again, can’t have one without the other for very long.

Also, sobriety for me is a process. It’s not linear with clear cut objectives and milestones. It’s not, “If I go to X number of meetings and work Y number of steps and pray Z number of times a day, I’ll be sober.” It’s more like a meandering journey. Sometimes it goes light speed, other times it slows to a crawl, and everything else in between. So that means my sobriety compared to someone else’s is like DNA. It’s made of the same building blocks, but no two are the same.


You have a great way with words my friend. Everything you’ve said rings bells with me and where I am in my journey at this time. Can’t have abstinence without spirituality!! Surrender and faith!!!
Will you be my sponsor, pretty please :joy:

1 Like

So incredibly hard to watch. I have a former student (He is now late 20’s) Back in my very late drinking career, we’d run into each other on Broad Street and have a few; that kind of thing. I wasn’t aware that he has also struggled w some other substances and “I was fine, so he was fine too” I thought.
After I quit, he expressed desire to do the same, and while I didn’t consider myself sponsor material, I did talk to/counsel/consult with him. It’s now been 5 years, 4 months, 7 days for me and he’s still at least drinking.
You just sit and watch. “How can he continue to do that to himself? He’s seen what it did to me. He sees how much my life has improved.” But I look back and I knew. I knew how destructive it was. I knew how I wrecked my life. I knew I was wasting days w my children. I knew I wanted that anesthetic, but not how much pain it caused on the back end.
Here is the paradox: I am dumbfounded now that I can see it clearly, but someone who can’t see it clearly, simply can’t see it clearly. The thing wrecking you keeps you from seeing that it’s wrecking you.


This is a great point. “Willingness to do whatever it takes” I believe looks a little different for everyone. For me, one of the reasons I moved to the sticks in my early sober days because driving past my old haunts kept triggering me. I’m not a country living person, but I think it was a great decision. It also took me farther away from meetings, so there was a trade off.

It took a little effort on my part, but I found a way to go to meetings. Also, I really took advantage of the AA guideline that basically says a meeting consists of at least two people gathered for the purpose of recovery. Lots of phone meetings, lots of phone calls and meeting people halfway for coffee. Last year, I finally got up the guts to start a meeting 10 minutes away. Lot of effort and time, but well worth it.

When I wasn’t willing to do whatever it takes, this is what my recovery looked like:

Sporadic meetings.
If I went to meetings, getting there late and leaving early.
Not getting a sponsor.
If I got a sponsor, not doing what my sponsor asks.
Not talking to anyone in recovery outside of meetings.
Not reading or reading very little.
Not volunteering for service.

This is 12-step, but my effort would have probably been the same regardless of what recovery treatment plan I tried. The point is, I get out of recovery what I put into it.